Weekly Sermon

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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 think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Rom. 12:3). Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves (Phil. 2:3).  While high regard for self may be a virtue in the secular world, it is a Spirit quenching attitude in the realm of the Holy Spirit. 

Rule #3

The power of the Holy Spirit is given to God’s people for one primary purpose — to enable us to be effective witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  The promise to them — and to us — is clear and precise.  Jesus’ disciples will be empowered by God Himself for the task of winning the world.  Humanly speaking this task is impossible. It is a fact that our human words, by themselves, have no power to convince anyone that Jesus is the Christ. But when our testimony to Jesus is bathed in the power of the Holy Spirit, hearts are touched and many respond to the gospel message.  Conversion — new birth – takes place. 

In Acts 4 we see the consequences of this promise.  “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all (4:33).  After Pentecost, when they were filled with power from on high, they testified to Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, and many were converted.  The church grew and spread like wildfire; baptisms were in the thousands. It is the power of God’s Spirit which guarantees the success of the church in fulfilling the Great Commission. 

When the church today is empowered by the Holy Spirit, evangelism will be successful.  Lost souls will be drawn to Christ and to His eternal Kingdom. If the power of the Spirit is absent in the church, nothing will work.  There is no substitute for spiritual power. No church growth expert can help a church which lacks spiritual power. A revival will have little effect on a church lacking the power of the Holy Spirit.  The latest new program on the religious market will fail unless it is empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

The practical consequence of this truth is clear.  Since spiritual power is given to Christians to enable them to be powerful and effective witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we must have a desire to share our faith.  If we have no interest, no desire in seeing others won to Christ, we have no need of spiritual power. If we have the desire, evidenced by our engaging in activities designed to win others to Christ (prayer for the lost, personal evangelism, mission giving, etc.) then God will supply the power — the spiritual gifts we need as we trust Him to do so – “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). 

People desire power for different reasons, not all of them noble. Some might think that possessing spiritual power will make them superior to others.  Others might think that spiritual power will make them happy and contented. Some might want to “try” spiritual power just to see what it is like. Others might think their self-esteem will be enhanced if they had the power to heal, or some other spiritual gift.  Some might think that spiritual power would draw them closer to God, and thus give them greater assurance of His love. 

All of these motives are leading us in the wrong direction.  Spiritual power is given to enable us to be effective evangelists for Jesus.  You shall receive power — you shall witness unto me.  If we seek spiritual power for some motive other than to witness unto Jesus, we seek in vain.  We see this connection between spiritual power and effective witnessing over and over in Scripture.  John the Baptist was said to be full of the Holy Spirit, but to what end? Luke 1:16 says, “Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.”  John’s spiritual power was given to enable him to bring many Israelites back to God by pointing them to the Messiah.  

The greatest miracle of Pentecost was not the mighty wind, the tongues of fire or the ability to speak in unlearned languages.  The greatest miracle was that 3000 souls responded to Peter’s sermon in which he simply recounted some of Jesus’ deeds.  

Later on we read in Acts 4:31 that …they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly.”  The disciples had just been commanded by the authorities not to speak any more of Jesus. They refused to be intimidated.  Instead they prayed for more power from God, and the Holy Spirit filled them with divine power once again — and what was the result? THEY SPOKE THE WORD OF GOD BOLDLY.  They were strong witnesses unto Jesus. They would not give up their commitment to evangelism just because the authorities did not like it.

One final example to drive home this point. Barnabas is described in Acts 11:24 as “…a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.”  His spiritual power enabled him to bring many to faith in Jesus.  The power of the Holy Spirit has many wonderful side effects. It does make us feel better — it does bring great joy to us — it does draw us closer to God — BUT ITS PRIMARY PURPOSE IS TO EQUIP GOD’S PEOPLE TO DO THE WORK OF EVANGELISM. 

How do we know when the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives? Does His presence mean that miracles will happen as I bear witness to Jesus? We cannot establish a general rule in response to this question.  If the Holy Spirit determines a miracle is needed in a particular situation, then He will bring forth a miracle. In the above references the “sign” of the Holy Spirit’s working was seen primarily in the boldness of the disciples, and the result of lost persons being drawn into a saving relationship with the Son of God. This leads us to a fourth basic principle or rule.

Rule #4

Spiritual gifts come in various shapes and sizes.  This is clear in I Cor 12:4-6 where Paul states, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.” Paul then gives us a sample of what he means by listing nine examples of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 13:8-10). Some are clearly in the miraculous realm (miracles, healings, discernment of spirits, tongues), while others seem to be less spectacular (wisdom, knowledge). 

When Paul takes up the subject of spiritual gifts again in Romans 12:6-8 most of the gifts mentioned are unspectacular in nature. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.   If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”  Service, teaching, encouraging, contributing, governing, showing mercy — these are words that apply to Christian and non-Christians alike. Unbelievers serve, teach, give, etc.  However, when God’s Spirit is working in and through the believer, these common acts are lifted to a higher level. 

From the biblical data examined we may define a spiritual gift as follows — a spiritual gift is any service rendered in the name of Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit which builds up the Body of Christ.  Spiritual gifts may result in new conversions, or in strengthening the faith of believers. These results cannot be achieved apart from the working of the Spirit.  

It is not important whether our service to Christ seems miraculous or commonplace.  Our task is to expect that God will work His gifts through us as we walk by faith. Since there is such variety in the gifts of the Spirit, there must be no jealousy in the church over who has what gifts.  We leave that to God, and we rejoice in the gifts manifested through the lives of others. According to Scripture, we are all gifted spiritually. Let’s use our gifts for the glory of God.


THE HOLY SPIRIT AND CHRISTIAN CHARACTER

(# 5 in series: The Fruit of the Spirit)

Warsaw Christian Church, (date) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Galatians 5:16-26

You may wonder why I am spending three weeks talking about Christian character. It is because I believe the way we live our lives day by day is the best evidence that our faith in Jesus is real. Genuine faith brings the Holy Spirit into our lives, and the best evidence of His presence is seen in the way we live. The Holy Spirit transforms us and leads us to live increasingly Christ-centered lives. Yes, it remains true that we do not earn our salvation by the way we live. Eternal life is forever a gift won for us by our Savior at Calvary. Our Christian character does not earn salvation for us. Rather, our growing Christian character is a sign that our faith in Jesus is real. 

When we speak of Christian character, we need to specify what we mean. Paul gives us examples of those behaviors which constitute Christian character.  He refers to them as the “fruit of the Spirit,” meaning that these attributes are manifested in our lives as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts. Paul contrasts them to the “works of the flesh,” those things which are not compatible with Christian character. He writes to the church in Galatia, “The acts of the sinful 

nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, faction and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.   But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:19- 25).

Others have observed that the simplest way to remember the nature of Christian character (the fruit of the Spirit) is to recall the life of Jesus. He is, of course, the prime example of Christian character.  Christians need to study His life carefully and regularly so that His character begins to rub off into our lives. 

Paul gives us some of the specifics, beginning with love.  When the Holy Spirit is active in our lives love is manifested. Paul uses the word “agape,” which means a love which is characterized by benevolence and compassion. It is a love which seeks to promote the highest well-being of others, whether friend or foe. It is a love which is always asking, “What good can I do in this situation?” Since salvation and spiritual growth are the highest of all values, those who love are seeking to act toward others in ways that will help them in their relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  It was this kind of love which drove our Lord Jesus to the cross to die for the remission of our sins. Divine love does not weigh the personal cost, but acts to promote the highest well-being of others. 

Christians are also persons of joy. They are not gloomy, but cheerful.  They have a deep sense of joy which flows out from their innermost being as they relate to others.  That joy tends to remain constant, unaffected by negative outward circumstances. It is that contentment of which Paul spoke in Phil. 4:11 where he said, “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”  Since the Christian knows that He has been redeemed and that heaven is his final destiny, these truths cause a joy which does not ever go away entirely, even in the midst of personal pain or tragedy.  Those who walk with Jesus find this joy growing ever stronger and steadier as they progress through life. 

Christian character is also marked by the attribute of peace.  It is the quality of which Paul spoke when He referred to the peace of God that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7). Those who are at peace with God are at peace in the center of their being, and as was true with joy, that peace does not end when unpeaceful events intrude into life.  As with all the fruit of the Spirit, this sense of peace may wax or wane depending upon whether or not we are walking in the Spirit. Paul does not exactly spell out what he means when he said, “keep in step with the Spirit.” From the whole tenor of Scripture, we can say He means at least to live life with the goal of serving Jesus by following His teachings.  The more that goal is followed, the more we experience the fruit of the Spirit in our daily lives. 

The first fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 6 is love. As we study the Bible, we learn that love really includes all nine items mentioned by Paul. In other words, if you have love you have everything. Consider briefly the other fruit of the Spirit mentioned by Paul. Patience is love in action when dealing with persons who might otherwise irritate us. Kindness is love in action seeking to express good will toward others.  Gentleness is love acting without harshness when we encounter bad behavior in others. Faithfulness is love seeking to act in obedience to our Heavenly Father. Goodness is love acting on behalf of the well-being of others. Self-control is love keeping our old nature in check when it tugs at us to move away from obedience.

Jesus said that the sum of Christian character is love. Hear His words: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40).  When Jesus said that all the law and the prophets hang on the two great commandments, love for God and love for others, He is saying that when such love is the motive behind your life you are living in obedience to God’s law. He is also saying that as we study and apply His commandments to our lives we are learning how to love. Therefore, we do not steal or covet, lie or murder, not simply because we fear punishment but because we know love abhors these sins.  We worship only the one true God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, not using His name lightly, not placing others persons or things above God (idolatry), because of our love for God. All the ethical and moral teachings of Scripture are amplifications on the word “love.” Those who wish to see the fruit of the Spirit grow in their own lives are continually looking to Scripture to learn more about how to love God and our neighbors.

Since the fruit of the Spirit is produced in us by the power of the Holy Spirit, we should make them an object of prayer. While we are busily praying for ourselves and others, we must not forget to ask God to increase the fruit of love in us. We should pray with 1 Cor. 13, the great love chapter, open before us, that we may deepen our understanding of the nature of divine love. 

This does not mean, however, that if we just act lovingly in ways that seem loving to us, we are pleasing God. For example, the homosexual person may feel that homosexual love must be pleasing to God since God is love.  We must always remember that we do not define how love acts. It is God who tells us in great detail how love acts in the various circumstances of life. God’s moral law contradicts the idea that homosexual love can be pleasing to Him (see Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom.1:26,27). 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10). God defines how love acts. 

A man may be attracted to his neighbor’s wife, but biblical love compels him not to act on those impulses, and then to repent of his lust.  The moral law found in both the Old and New Testaments informs us how love is to act. Love does not set us free from the moral law in the sense that we can disregard God’s moral law and decide on our own what constitutes love.  Love searches out the Word of God in order to learn from God’s viewpoint how love is to act. 

Why do we not make images of God to aid our worship?  Because we love God and He tells us not to worship in this manner in the Ten Commandments.  Why do we refuse to hate our enemies? Because Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. The point is that once we have understood the central place love holds in the Christian life, we are not free to abandon the Scriptures and practice love as we see fit. Divine love drives us ever deeper into the Scriptures where we learn how love is to act. 

A love which disregards Scripture leads to what the theologians call “antinomianism” (living life without reference to the law of God). On the other hand, those who search the Scriptures in a loveless manner fall into the trap of legalism, the false teaching which says that salvation can be found by keeping the law.  It cannot! When divine love invades the human heart that love embraces every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.

The above discussion leads us to this conclusion. Those who love God will also love His Word, searching it diligently to learn how love expresses itself. The Holy Spirit empowers the life and witness of all who seek to manifest biblical love.  When we lose sight of love or begin to define love in ways inconsistent with biblical teaching, we resist the ministry of the Holy Spirit. 

Those who wish to live a Spirit-filled life do not begin with the idea of receiving raw spiritual power.  As stated earlier, our first thought should not be of working miracles in the name of Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit.  If we seriously desire to live a Spirit empowered life we begin with Christian character. The quest to manifest Christian character must be with us daily.  There is much confusion in the church today created by those who claim spiritual power, but who do not manifest a consistent Christ-like character. The church must always reckon with those like Simon the magician who are attracted to spiritual power divorced from Christian character (See Acts 8:9ff).

Many have accused our primary founder, Alexander Campbell, of a rationalistic faith, devoid of the Holy Spirit. I believe the Holy Spirit worked powerfully in his life because his focus was not on spiritual power per se, but on how the church and the individual Christian must be built on the foundation of Christ alone and Scripture alone. His determination to define how a loving Christian is to act by reference to Scripture alone guaranteed the Spirit of God would work mightily through his work and witness. 

The Spirit’s presence in his ministry and those associated with him was not marked by supernatural healings and undeniable divine miracles. The Spirit’s presence was manifested by numerous conversions to Jesus Christ as the biblical Gospel was proclaimed; by his clear call to Christian unity based on Scripture alone; by his desire to see the world won to Christ; and by his determination to restore the church to the standard found in the New Testament. 

Before we leave the theme of Christian character and move on to spiritual power next week, we need to focus on Paul’s words to the Galatians. “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?   Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? (Gal. 3:2,3).  

Paul reminds us that we received the Spirit initially, not as a reward for keeping the law, but by hearing the gospel message and believing.  By faith alone the Spirit of God enters the believer’s heart and life. The mistake made by the Galatians is often repeated in the church today.  Many falsely believe that our growth in the Spirit is some kind of achievement. We may throw ourselves into church work thinking we shall experience growth in Christian power.

Paul admonishes us to recall that spiritual growth, like conversion, is entirely a work of the Spirit. He does not mean that we simply sit around and do nothing.  Christians do engage in good works. The mistake occurs when we think our works merit for us spiritual growth and power. Paul’s point is not that we become passive, but that when we engage in good works we do so in faith, trusting that the Spirit of God will work in us and through us.  The difference may seem minor, but it is major. Whenever we think that the things we do obligate God to grant us spiritual growth or power, we err greatly. This is a reminder to bathe all our efforts in faith and prayer, asking God to graciously be present as we serve Him. The Spirit does not come in response to our works, but in response to our faith. 

There is a very wrong attitude we can carry with us in our service in God’s kingdom. We can have the attitude that as we put forth our best human effort to serve God, He must reward us with the blessings of the Spirit.  Behind this idea lurks the dangerous notion that God owes us something. We need to recall the words of Jesus when He said, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” (Luke 17:10). Who can say to God, “I have done everything you told me to do?” Most of us can say, at best, “I have done some of the things you asked me to do, but even my obedience falls far short of your commandments.” Even if we could say we have done all that God asks us to do, Jesus says we must still carry the attitude of an unworthy servant. If we have not done all He commands (and none of us can live up to that standard) the only proper human attitude before God is one of humility.  How foolish we are if we think our service to God will merit us growth in the Spirit!

When we live life in humble reliance upon the grace of God to grant His Spirit to us in all that we say and do, we are admitting to God that apart from Him our works are totally inept.  It is in such an environment that growth in the Spirit takes place. We begin in the Spirit, and we live and walk in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit thrives in a humble heart which is full of faith.  The moment we think we have deserved God’s favor we are resisting the Spirit.

Therefore, we do not say to ourselves, “I shall try harder to be more loving, to manifest all the fruits of the Spirit.” Rather, we say to God, “Father, I want to manifest godly character in my life, and as I feebly make the effort to act with more love, with greater patience, etc., I pray that Your Spirit will take my weak human efforts and make them strong in the Lord.” 

We do not “build” Christian character.  Only God can accomplish that great task, and He does so when our whole being is centered on Jesus — when our hearts desire is to please Him — and we trust God to work in us to accomplish His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). 

When you think of striving to build Christian character, think love. When love truly motivates your words and deeds you can be sure the Holy Spirit is working behind the scenes. After all, “God is love,” and if love is absent from our words and deeds, the Holy Spirit is also absent. Aim at love and you will find the Holy Spirit at your side. 


THE HOLY SPIRIT AND CHRISTIAN CHARACTER

(# 4 in series: The Word of God and the Spirit of God)

Warsaw Christian Church (9/1/19) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Various

Last week we examined Christian character in relationship to Jesus Christ. This morning we look at a second proposition concerning the development of Christian character:  the importance of the Bible. In our desire to walk in the Spirit we must bear in mind that — THE HOLY SPIRIT NEVER OPERATES IN A MANNER WHICH CONFLICTS WITH SCRIPTURE. Or, to state it in a positive manner, THE HOLY SPIRIT OPERATES IN AND THROUGH THE WRITTEN WORD OF GOD.

In Ephesians 6:17 we learn that we are to take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  Just as a sword was the instrument used to conquer the enemy in ancient society, God uses Scripture to conquer the minds and hearts of His enemies.  As we live in harmony with Scripture, proclaiming biblical truth in biblical language, the Holy Spirit uses God’s own words to penetrate and change the hearts of God’s enemies, making them into God’s loyal subjects.

The implication of this truth for the development of Christian character is of highest importance.  If we wish to walk in the Spirit, if we want the Holy Spirit to be active in our daily lives, we must love God’s Word.  We must study it, reflect upon it, digest it, memorize it, and most important of all — LIVE BY THE WORD OF GOD

Psalm 119 gives us numerous inspired statements concerning how we are to regard God’s Word. In reading just a few examples, ask this question: “Do these words reflect my present attitude towards Scripture?”  “Oh, let me not wander from your commandments. Your word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you” (10,11). “Give me understanding and I shall keep your law; indeed I shall observe it with my whole heart” (34). And how about this one: “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of coins of gold and silver” (72). If someone offered you several thousand gold coins in one hand, and a Bible in the other, which would you choose? 

When we adopt the attitude toward Scripture reflected in Psalm 119, we can be sure the Holy Spirit will work mightily in our midst.  This is an unchanging, eternal, divine truth — GOD’S SPIRIT WORKS IN AND THROUGH HOLY SCRIPTURE. As we begin to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, as Jesus expressed it in His encounter with Satan, we shall know what it means to live a Spirit-filled life.

The practical conclusion is simply this.  If we want to lay hold of the Spirit of God, we cannot do so directly.  The Holy Spirit is a divine person who comes to us first through our faith in Jesus, and then in a life committed to obey God’s Word. As we hide God’s Word in our hearts and walk according to the light it shines upon our path, God’s Spirit will be with us and within us, empowering us to live a God honoring life.

Pentecost is instructive, teaching the very truth we are examining. After the apostles experienced the coming of the Spirit in a miraculous manner, with loud winds, tongues of fire, and the miracle of being able to speak in unlearned languages, a crowd gathered.  Peter preached about Jesus. He simply recounted some of His deeds, affirming that He was the Messiah, the Christ of God. As Jesus was lifted up in the words God inspired, many were cut to the heart. They cried out, “What shall we do?” They had rejected the Messiah, and now were perhaps fearful of the consequences.  But good news reached their hearts. Instead of divine judgment they were told to repent, to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sin, and they, too, would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The numbers may vary for us today. Three thousand were converted to Christ on the day of Pentecost.  There are probably not 3000 people in the area where we live who have not heard the message of Jesus.  We may not see those kinds of numbers respond to the gospel, but one thing is certain: When we proclaim Jesus in the language of Scripture, the Holy Spirit works with us and changes the hearts of some, drawing them into the kingdom of God and the fellowship of the church.

Many congregations cannot follow this simple program of seeing the Spirit operate through the Word of God because they do not believe the Bible to be the Word of God.  How sad it is to recall that the General Assembly of our former denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a few years ago, failed to pass a resolution which asked the church to affirm that the Bible is our highest authority in matters of faith and practice, a resolution I wrote.  It is difficult to imagine a church group — a fellowship of Christians committed to Jesus Christ — refusing to acknowledge the Bible as our highest authority, but it has happened in several mainline denominations. 

One Disciple pastor wrote in a book these words cou  Consider the sweeping nature of that statement, and the effect it will have on the life of the church if the Spirit works through the Word of God.  This pastor declares that no Disciple institution — no college or seminary, no regional office, no national office, no local church — not a single institution anywhere, believes that the Bible is the literal Word of God. If you believe the Bible is a human document subject to the errors found in all human documents – – – that it is not the inspired Word of God – – – you are in the wrong church.

Now please hear this point.  When we reject the Bible as the authoritative Word of the Living God, even though we may continue to pay lip service to the Holy Spirit, we are effectively cut off from the mighty ministry of God’s Spirit.  After all, the Holy Spirit inspired the words of Scripture, and when those words are rejected so also is the Divine Author of those words.

It should come as no surprise to us to learn that many of the so-called “mainline” denominations are in a state of spiritual and numeric decline.  Our former denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) had close to 2 million members in the 1960’s. The 2017 yearbook shows a membership of 411,140. That is about a 77% decline. You would think it might occur to the leadership that denying the authority of the Bible is not a good idea! We live in a church environment where the prevailing mood among many mainline denominational leaders is to doubt the infallible authority of God’s Word.  We need to hear and believe the Word, and when our faith is added to God’s written Word, the Holy Spirit is active in our lives. When we approach God’s Word with doubt or unbelief, we resist the Holy Spirit. Once we begin to doubt and question the truthfulness of Scripture, spiritual renewal is absolutely impossible.

After I helped found and then worked for Disciple Heritage Fellowship, I had a plan for the renewal of the church. My plan for the renewal of the church — local, regional and national – was very simple. We need preachers who will boldly proclaim Jesus in the language of Scripture, preachers who are unapologetic in their demand that Christians are to live by every Word that God has spoken.  We need congregations who will hear and believe biblical truth, who add their faith to the proclamation of the Gospel, and who obey the truth. That is my entire program for transforming the church. One biblical sound preacher added to one biblically sound congregation equals the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. 

Well, it’s fun to point to the other guy and declare, “This is why we are having a problem.” Liberal theology, with its open rejection of the authority of God’s Word, is a serious problem in many denominations yet today.  It is not, however, the only problem. Another problem involves the congregations who pay lip service to Scripture but do not practice what Scripture teaches.  Whether you openly deny the inspiration of the Bible, or affirm it but do not practice what it teaches, the result is the same — the absence of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

How are things in our personal lives and in this local church?   In view of the fact that the Spirit works through the Word, I raise a few questions for personal reflection. How much time is given to serious Bible study in our congregations? I do not know the answer; I am simply asking the question. I am sure we would all agree that the Bible is more important than the TV, but I suspect there are Christians who give more time to the TV than to the Bible. There are Christians who are never involved in a formal Bible study class or program, and I am sure there are some seldom read the Bible privately. How can the Holy Spirit work mightily in a church where Scripture is affirmed, but neglected?  That’s a rhetorical question with the obvious answer being, HE CANNOT.

For example, the New Testament teaches much about forgiveness.  Jesus seemed to anticipate that we would offend each other on a regular basis, and so He taught much about the necessity of forgiveness. The word “forgive” in its various forms occurs over 60 times in the New Testament.  Clearly, we are to practice forgiveness. Jesus warned that those who do not forgive others will not receive God’s forgiveness (Matthew 6:14,15). Are some of us still smarting from old wounds? Are some of us nursing an unforgiving spirit?  How can the Holy Spirit work among people who do not practice fundamental Bible ethics? I need not labor the point. It simply will not do to say, “I believe the Bible from cover to cover, and I believe the cover too because it says HOLY BIBLE.” We must practice what the Bible teaches if we want to experience the presence and power of the Holy Spirit working in our midst. That includes a forgiving spirit. 

I have mentioned before that FBI agents must learn to distinguish real money from counterfeit.  How do they proceed? Do they study different kinds of counterfeit money so they will learn to know the various types?  Not at all. They don’t even look at counterfeit money during their training. They look only at real money, becoming so familiar with it that they can spot a counterfeit immediately. 

We need to become so familiar with Scripture that we can tell quickly the difference between the Holy Spirit and false spirits.  I am amazed at how gullible some church members are. Some new speaker shows up at a national convention and blatantly introduces Asian religions into the church, denying the sufficiency of Christ and the Christian revelation, and many respond by saying, “Isn’t this wonderful. Isn’t she profound? I just sense the spirit’s presence here as she speaks.”  This is not a made-up illustration. This happened at a church convention I attended some years ago, The speaker substituted three Asian deities for the Christian Trinity, and the audience went giddy with their approval. 

John cautions us to test the spirits to make sure they are from God, for there are other spirits at work in this world which are not from God. As we immerse ourselves in Scripture we will not be deceived.  Take seriously Jesus wonderful statement which is so often quoted out of context. We hear only this part — YOU SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH, AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE. The context is this, “If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free“(John 8:31,32).   A disciple of Jesus is here defined as one who continues in His word — one who lives in Scripture, believes Scripture, practices Scripture.  It is the pathway leading to truth and freedom. It is the pathway leading to the fullness of the Holy Spirit, to a life where Christian character grows ever stronger.  Is it your pathway?

A life focused on Jesus, a life devoted to living by biblical truth, a life in which our aim is to grow in Christian character may not seem “supernatural” enough for some.  Perhaps what some mean by “supernatural” is “spectacular.” We need to realize that when the Holy Spirit is quietly building character in the Christ-centered life, while that life may not look “spectacular” it is definitely “supernatural.”  I don’t believe we are equipped to handle the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit until we have walked with Jesus, asking Him to work in us by His Spirit, and enabling us to grow in Christ-like character. I close by repeating what I said last week. The surest sign that one is a true Christian, born again by the Spirit of God, is seen in a consistent, long-term life of obedience to Christ as He is revealed in Scripture. Genuine faith always produces Christian character.


THE HOLY SPIRIT AND CHRISTIAN CHARACTER

(# 3 in Series)

Warsaw Christian Church (8/25/19) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Texts: Galatians 6; John 15:26

What does it mean to believe in Jesus? Biblically, faith moves in two directions. To believe in Jesus means to trust Him as Savior, the one who has provided the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. But faith also means to trust Jesus as Lord. That means we believe Jesus to be our Master, the One we follow daily. Faith in Jesus as Savior will take you to heaven.  Faith in Jesus as Lord will lead to a life of obedience, and the Holy Spirit will walk with us. 

I believe the development of Christian character is the best and highest evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. There are those who say that those who work miracles present the best evidence of being Spirit filled. Divine miracles, however, have been faked in numerous documented cases.  I think of the example of the California evangelist who used a small microphone in his ear through which he received information from his wife, deceiving people into believing he had a miraculous gift of knowledge. The supernatural can be imitated. Even Pharaoh’s magicians could make snakes out of rods in imitation of the miracle wrought by Moses (see Exodus 7:10 ff.). The one thing which cannot be faked is Christ-like character manifested over a long period of time.  Consistent Christ-like character is the most reliable evidence of a Spirit-filled life. 

As has been said many times before, faith, repentance, and baptism constitute our initial response to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who thus respond are assured of God’s forgiveness, and they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and the gift of eternal life. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell within the person.  This is no dry, abstract truth. It is a truth which brings the living God into our lives, a truth which causes us to live as persons who are alive to God (Rom. 6:11). Conversion is a life changing encounter wrought by the Holy Spirit. Those in whom the Spirit of God dwells begin to reflect more and more the character of Christ. The fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 6) becomes increasingly evident. While moral perfection forever eludes us in this life, moral improvement is a sign that we have been truly born of God’s Spirit.

Growth in Christian character through the ministry of the Holy Spirit does not take place in some automatic fashion.  If it did there would be no need to discuss the matter. While it is the Holy Spirit who makes us holy, He does not normally operate independently of the human will. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit can be “quenched” (1 Thess. 5:19), or “resisted” (Acts 7:51).  He can also be “grieved” (Eph. 4:30). These negative words certainly imply that the Holy Spirit’s ministry may be retarded or even extinguished by the believer.

On the other hand, there are things we may do which enable us to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16, 25). This implies living life in a way which enables the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us. Let’s review some of the basic things we do in order to “walk in the Spirit.” 

We must first assure ourselves that we have properly responded to Christ and are truly converted. (Those who feel uncertain if their conversion is genuine may need to review the first two sermons in this series.) Once we are persuaded that we truly are citizens of Christ’s kingdom through the new birth, then we begin to do those things which enable us to walk in the Spirit. One way to approach this is to ask the question, “According to Scripture, what is it that the Holy Spirit wishes to do in the church and in the world?” If we engage in those activities which are dear to the heart of God, will not the Holy Spirit walk with us, enabling us to more effectively carry out God’s will for the world? I believe He will. 

One thing very close to the heart of God is His Son. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus Christ. This is clear in the Gospel of John. This truth has significant implications for the development of Christian character, or walking in the Spirit.  I wish to say two things concerning how this takes place. First, THE HOLY SPIRIT NEVER, NEVER OPERATES INDEPENDENTLY OF OR CONTRARY TO JESUS. Second, THE HOLY SPIRIT NEVER, NEVER OPERATES IN A MANNER WHICH CONFLICTS WITH SCRIPTURE. (The second point will be developed in the next sermon.) 

Those who wish to know the reality of the Holy Spirit as He develops Christian character in us will become immersed in the life of Jesus.  Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (John 15:26).  The Helper, the Spirit of truth, will testify unto the one who is the TRUTH, even Jesus.  The point is that as we live life centered on Jesus, the Holy Spirit will be at work in us. But what does this mean from a practical standpoint?  Let’s look at some particulars

Two things are prominent in a life centered on Jesus.  They are, (1) obedience to His commands, and (2) a continual reliance upon His blood shed at Calvary which covers our disobedience.  It may seem contradictory to speak of obedience as critical, and then to speak of what to do when we are disobedient. These two items, however, must always be kept in balance.  If we focus only on our obedience and neglect the cross, we end up as Pharisees or hypocrites. The moment we assume our obedience is of such high quality that we no longer need the cross, we are about to fall from grace.   If, on the other hand, we become careless in our sins and give up the struggle to be obedient disciples of Jesus, we are abusing the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. The gift of the Holy Spirit which we receive when we believe in our crucified Savior enables us to live life on a higher plane — a life of ever-increasing faithfulness — a life where obedience to Jesus is our highest priority. Is this you? Is this me? 

Martin Luther said it this way:  a Christian man is simultaneously both just and sinful.  We are just (righteous) because in Christ our sins have been washed away through His blood, and because we live a righteous life in the power of the Holy Spirit.  We also remain sinners because even on our best days we fall short of the divine perfection required of us, and so we constantly cling to the cross for the remission of our sins. We appear each week at the Lord’s Table to be reminded that in His broken body and shed blood we are forgiven. 

When we walk in the light of these two truths we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.  In both cases our eyes are fixed on Jesus. We follow Him as faithful disciples and the Holy Spirit strengthens us.  We look continually to His cross to cover our failures and the Holy Spirit strengthens us. If we come to the place where we are careless or indifferent about obedience, we are no longer walking in the Spirit.  If we foolishly take our eyes off the cross and begin to imagine that we no longer need the forgiveness it provides, we are also no longer walking in the Spirit.

The bottom line is simply this:   If we want to walk in the Spirit, with the Holy Spirit empowering our lives, leading our steps, inspiring our understanding, developing in us a holiness of life, our lives must be centered on Jesus.  A Jesus-centered life is a life lived with our minds eye ever focused on Jesus.  It is a life in which our ultimate concern is to live in harmony with His will. The Jesus-centered person is forever asking these questions, “How may I please Him in this situation?  How may I be faithful to Him in this decision?  How can I best serve Him in my family life, in my job, in His church?  How can I live so as to bring glory and honor unto the name of Jesus?”

When our minds and hearts are truly centered on Jesus, His will becomes our first priority.  His will becomes more important to us than our own wishes. His will is so precious to us that we gladly live our lives in a manner which conflicts with secular, social norms.  We resist being conformed to the world because we would rather conform to the mind of Christ.

Christ-centered persons cry out like Isaiah the prophet, “Here am I Lord, send me.”  They can identify with the apostles when they declared, “Lord, we have forsaken everything to follow you.” That is what Christ-centered persons do. Christ-centered disciples hear the words of Jesus, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me,” (Luke 9:23), and we say, “Yes, Lord.” Or do we? 

I ask you to pause for a moment of self-examination, asking the question, “Is this meAm I a Christ-centered person?”  We must not make the mistake of assuming that the Holy Spirit will work in us when our commitment to Jesus is weak or half-hearted.  We dare not assume we can live a Spirit-filled life apart from a life filled with Jesus. We can know nothing of the presence of the Holy Spirit apart from a Christ-centered life. 

I don’t want to belabor this point, but I do want to drive home its importance. The Holy Spirit is connected to Jesus in an absolute bond.  Just as Jesus Christ is one with the Father, so also He is one with the Holy Spirit. As we commit ourselves to Jesus without reservation, the Holy Spirit will empower our lives.  Christian character will grow and flourish. The moment we begin to compromise our faith in Jesus Christ we are resisting the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

There are two kinds of persons in the world in reference to the Holy Spirit — the haves and the have nots. Those who trust in Christ, who have repented of their sins and been baptized in His name, are the “haves.” They have received the Holy Spirit.  Among those who have received the Holy Spirit, further division may be noted. Those who live their lives in loving obedience to Jesus will know first-hand the presence and power of the Spirit. The Spirit’s presence will be noted in them by their maturing Christian character. Those Christians who begin to compromise their faith will resist the Spirit.  This will result in ever increasing conformity with the world.

I think that some congregations get off track when they talk about spiritual renewal. Sometimes churches look for new programs, or they tamper with the worship service, or they change the style of music.  We need to make sure we understand the difference between form and substance in the Christian life. The substance of the Christian life is faith and loving obedience to Jesus. The form has to do with how we express that faith. Christians can sometimes become attached to certain forms and assume that God can only work through our preferred forms.  A traditionalist (I must confess that I am in this class, for the most part) prefers the old ways, the old hymns, and may assume Jesus is not honored when the old ways change. A contemporary thinking person may assume that God cannot really be worshipped unless we sing modern choruses and adopt modern ways. 

Any time we lock on to a certain form and assume that God cannot work apart from that form, we have erred greatly.  If the traditionalist is living a life of loving obedience to Jesus, then the Spirit of God is present in and through those traditions. If the person who prefers a more upbeat, contemporary worship style is living a life of loving obedience to Jesus, then God’s Spirit is present in those new forms of worship. 

If we prefer to be quiet and reverent in church out of loving obedience to Jesus, then God’s Spirit will be present in our worship.  If we want to shout “amen” and raise our hands in praise to God out of loving obedience to Jesus, the Spirit of God will be present there also.  On the other hand, God’s Spirit will be absent from that traditional, quiet church which is not living in loving obedience to Jesus, and all the shouting and loud singing in the world will not bring the Holy Spirit into a group of Christians who are compromising in the area of faithfulness to Christ.

If the church is centered on Jesus and the Holy Spirit is at work in and through the congregation, does this mean the church will grow in size?  Numerical growth is a possibility in such an environment, but not a certainty. In our contemporary, self-centered, pleasure-seeking society, a faithful church will not necessarily experience great numerical success.  A church which teaches it members to be faithful to Jesus Christ in all things may not attract today’s pagans, especially when there are other churches around which focus on entertainment and promise health and prosperity to the members.  Our focus must ever be on faithfulness, helping Christians to understand that the consequences of faithfulness in this life will vary from person to person and church to church. Jesus faithfulness led Him to the cross, being abandoned even by His closest disciples.

If we wish to see spiritual renewal come to our personal lives, the substance of the matter is this.  PRACTICE LOVING AND FAITHFUL OBEDIENCE TO JESUS. The Spirit of God is present and active in that kind of environment, and in none other.  The name of Jesus is like a magnet attracting the Holy Spirit to those who honor that name. My advice to any congregation is preach Jesus, teach Jesus, pray in the name of Jesus, baptize in the name of Jesus, live as disciples of Jesus, obey Jesus in all things, honor Jesus, worship Jesus, lift up the name of Jesus — and the Holy Spirit will be with you and bring times of spiritual refreshing.  The membership will grow noticeably in Christ-likeness. This growth in Christian character – – – in Christ likeness – – – is the most important sign of the Spirit-filled life.

Next week we will look further into the important topic of Christian character. 


BORN OF THE SPIRIT

Warsaw Christian Church (8/18/19) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 3:1-15; Titus 3:5-7

One New Testament description of Christians is that they are “born of the Spirit.” Several key texts teach this very important truth. We begin with Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3.  Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again before he can see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). This suggests that we humans are totally blind in regard to the reality of the spiritual realm until God brings about a new birth.  We do not even “see” (perceive) God’s kingdom apart from rebirth. It seems clear from this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus that no one will ever be converted unless the Holy Spirit is actively working in the human soul. 

Jesus then explained this new birth as one of “water and the Spirit” (John 3:5).  The word “water” in this text has caused some confusion.  Some say it must refer to the water which accompanies natural birth.  Others say it refers to the water of baptism. I prefer a third option which translates the Greek word “and” as “even.” This makes the verse read, “Except a man be born of water, even the Spirit.”  The Greek word “kai” can be translated as “and” or “even,” and this option makes the most sense to me (see Strong’s Concordance/Dictionary # 2532).   Nicodemus would never have understood the word “water” as referring to Christian baptism which was not yet established. Water is often used in Scripture as a symbol for the Holy Spirit (see Isa. 44:3; Ezek. 36:25,26).

Clearly the emphasis in the passage before us is on the work of the Holy Spirit, not on the word “water.”  The Spirit brings about this new birth which Nicodemus lacked. Even though he was a devoted Jew, when Jesus came a New Covenant was introduced rendering the Old Covenant obsolete. Nicodemus can no longer rely on the Old Covenant. He needs to be reborn under the New Covenant. The new birth is a work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, whose actions are mysterious (John 3:8), comes from above like the wind and changes the human heart.  As stated in last week’s sermon, this work of the Spirit does not take place independently of Scripture. The Spirit works through the Word of God. Peter writes “… having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever (1 Peter 1:23) We are said to be born again through the imperishable seed which is the Word of God.  There are not two separate “new births,” one by the Word and one by the Spirit. Rather, the Word and the Spirit work in harmony to bring new birth to the human soul. 

In the gospel, God the Father is acting too, granting us forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit’s presence awakens us to new levels of understanding concerning the person and work of Jesus. We feel in the depths of our being that we are forgiven.  The great sin burden is lifted, even for those who, like myself, had no idea that sin was a burden prior to conversion! In ways difficult to describe, “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God . . . (Rom. 8:16, NKJV).” There is mystery here. If you ask, “What does the Word do, what does the Holy Spirit do, and what does our free will do?” You have asked a question impossible for the human mind to explain satisfactorily.  

It seems clear that God’s actions and our actions do not always occur in the order outlined by Peter in the Book of Acts.  What Peter gives us in Acts 2 can best be described as a typical order of events. We hear the Gospel, we believe it, we repent, we are baptized, and we receive the Holy Spirit. However, in the case of Cornelius’ household, the gift of the Holy Spirit preceded baptism (Acts 10). Simon the magician helps us to realize that one can follow these outwards acts of confession of faith, repentance and baptism hypocritically.  In his case the Holy Spirit was clearly absent throughout the process (Acts 8). Thus, while we must insist that faith, repentance and baptism all be given their rightful place in our doctrine of conversion, and while we must insist that forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit are granted in every case of true conversion, God does not rigidly follow a particular order of events. That is clear from the Book of Acts. 

In Titus 3:5-7 we note again the presence of the Holy Spirit in conversion. “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 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life”(NKJV).

“The washing of regeneration” could refer to baptism which by this time was a well-established practice.  Some believe it is a symbolic reference to the washing of the soul which takes place when we enter God’s kingdom. Remember that little Greek word “kai” also means “even,” so the verse could read “washing of regeneration, even renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Regeneration simply means a new birth or a second birth, and when that event occurs our soul is “washed” as part of the process.  Water cannot wash the soul. The Holy Spirit washes the soul. Paul also mentions that the believer is renewed by the work of the Holy Spirit.  Is he speaking of two things (washing and renewal) or one thing (conversion described in parallel language)? 

While I am open to changing my mind, at this point I believe Paul speaks here of the single moment of conversion. The human soul is “washed,” cleansed from all sin, and renewed by the gift of the Holy Spirit. We become new persons because of this miraculous transformation. If the Holy Spirit renews us, we simply will not remain the way we were.  Persons who confess Christ and join the church but remain unchanged are either hypocrites like Simon the magician, or persons who have not been fully and/or correctly instructed in regard to the biblical doctrine of conversion. 

One additional verse helps us to see the connection between the act of believing the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion. “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth,  to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:17-19, NKJV). 

God has chosen or decreed that those who come to salvation do so through the combined and coordinated ministry of the Word (the Bible); the Spirit and the human will.  We must, of course, hear the gospel. We must embrace the traditions which are recorded for us in Holy Scripture since we have not had the privilege of hearing Paul or the other apostles directly.  The Holy Spirit works in the human Spirit as we hear the gospel, pulling us in the direction of faith. When faith is born in the human heart, a new desire to set aside our lives in God’s service arises.  We call that the doctrine of sanctification. We find that we want to please God. His will moves into first place, surpassing our own wishes and desires (although a struggle often takes place in the human soul as we shall see later in this sermon series). 

Over the centuries, one of the major debates in the church has been to try and clarify the role the Holy Spirit plays in conversion, and the role of human free will.  It seems to me this is a fruitless debate. Scripture simply informs us that we must “freely receive” the gospel, choosing to place our trust in Christ. Scripture also informs us that the Holy Spirit is active in conversion, as is the Word of God.  Some want to argue that the Spirit must convert us before we can choose to trust in Christ, while others argue that human choice acts first followed by the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

One of the primary founders of the Christian Churches, Alexander Campbell, tried to avoid these debates where no clear biblical direction was present. Those who emphasize the Spirit acting first, prior to our choice, create a situation where it seems we humans must passively await the converting work of the Spirit. If we must wait for the Spirit to convert us before we will take any interest in the things of God, it makes salvation seem impossible for us to experience.  We also wonder why God converts one and ignores another since all are equally unworthy.

When free choice is placed before the converting work of the Spirit, we have yet another problem.  How can man’s fallen will choose to embrace Christ? The Bible says that none seek after God (Rom. 3:11; Psalms 14:2-4). We unredeemed humans are described as being dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-5).  How can a person who will not seek God and who is dead in sin exercise free will and embrace Christ? 

How do we solve this problem?  It seems to me that the solution is to simply admit that the explanation of the process of conversion is not fully revealed in Scripture. Nowhere does the Bible say the Holy Spirit does 75 % of the work, the Bible 20% and the human will 5%, or whatever percentages you prefer. We know from Scripture that the gospel must be proclaimed, and that those who hear it must respond with faith, and that the Holy Spirit is active in the process. The Holy Spirit and the human will are both active in conversion, but it is impossible to define specifically how they interact with one another. When we try to explain what the Bible does not explain we get into trouble! 

The conversion story of Lew Wallace might help us understand the mystery of the new birth. Wallace was the governor of New Mexico and a skeptic. He denied that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, the Savior of the world. He decided he would write a book which would prove to everyone that Christianity was a myth. He studied all he could find on that period of history when Jesus supposedly lived. He studied the New Testament. When he was four chapters into his book which was going to disprove Christianity, something happened. His study convinced him that Jesus was a real person. If He was a real person, perhaps what the New Testament says about Him is true. Wallace wrote these words: “I fell on my knees to pray for the first time in my life.  and I asked God to reveal himself to me, forgive my sins, and help me become a follower of Christ.” He then tells how he woke up his Methodist wife to tell her he had received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. He then learned his wife had been praying that as he wrote his book trying to disprove Christianity his eyes would be opened to the truth of Jesus Christ. Beware of praying wives! Oh yes, later on Wallace wrote the book “Ben Hur.” 

In this true story we see all three factors in operation. The Bible was read, the Holy Spirit was at work, and Wallace made the decision to follow Jesus. Which came first? Which one exerted the most influence? I don’t know and I don’t care! Clearly the Word, the Spirit and the human will were all active. That is good enough for me even though I cannot explain how the three interacted.

It is important, however, to give all glory and praise to God for our salvation. If He had not sent His Son into the world, and if the Holy Spirit were not active whenever the gospel is proclaimed, we would never come to saving faith. While the human will is active when we come to faith, it is a serious mistake to boast of our salvation as if we had achieved something (See Eph. 2:8-10). We are saved by the grace of God who has acted on our behalf in Christ Jesus, not by some heroic human act of believing. 

If we desire that the Spirit of God should work actively in the hearts of others, we must lift up Jesus before them.  We can pray for others, but they must still hear the gospel. We may ask the Holy Spirit to change the hearts of our unredeemed friends and family members, but He will not normally do so apart from the Word of God.  We have within our grasp the means of bringing others into the presence of the Holy Spirit. We have the story of Jesus which the Holy Spirit uses to change hearts. Let’s use it!


THE HOLY SPIRIT IN TODAY’S’ CHURCH

(# 1: How He Works in Unbelievers)

Warsaw Christian Church (8/11/19) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Primary text: John 16:7-11

The purpose of this sermon series is to examine carefully what the New Testament says in regard to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  In the spirit of Alexander Campbell, one of the primary founders of the Christian Church, I will seek to avoid personal speculation, seeking diligently to say only things which are clearly supported by the Bible. 

A second goal is to give to this church information which will be practical and helpful.  The ministry of the Holy Spirit is of vital importance to every believer in Jesus. My prayer is that this series will help you enter into a fuller Spirit directed life and ministry within the Body of Christ. I urge you to do as I have tried to do.  Set aside all preconceptions on this subject and to listen only to the voice of God as He speaks to us in and through the text of Scripture.

This series will proceed in this manner.  I have examined the New Testament teaching pertaining to the Holy Spirit.  I have then sought to arrange the appropriate texts into four specific categories. (1) The Spirit at work in unbelievers; (2) the Spirit’s role in salvation, (3) the Spirit and Christian character; (4) and the gifts of the Spirit.

It is rather commonly asserted today in some of the cults and in some schools of liberal theology that the Holy Spirit is accessible to all persons, regardless of religious belief or affiliation.  The New Testament presents a very different picture. Let’s’ turn our attention to that inspired document. Listen carefully to these words from John 14:15-18: “If you love Me, keep My commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17 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. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. Two things are clear, The Holy Spirit is unknown to the world at large. He is known and received only by those who trust in Jesus. 

John continues; “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned” (John 16:7-11).

Jesus explains to believers two aspects of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. First, Jesus repeats that those who believe in Him will receive the Holy Spirit. Then the emphasis changes to “the world,” the unbelieving world. As the Holy Spirit works in the life of the disciples of Jesus, a threefold “convicting” ministry takes place in the lives of unbelievers – – those who are of this fallen world.  Notice that this ministry of the Holy Spirit to unbelievers does not take place directly. The Spirit does not work directly on the minds and hearts of the unbeliever. The Spirit has been given to the Christian who has faith in Jesus, and as the Spirit works in the life of the disciple His presence has an effect on unbelievers. 

That effect is threefold.  He convicts (convinces, persuades) the unbeliever in three areas: sin, righteousness and judgment.  The implication is that if the unbeliever is to come to faith, he must be persuaded to change his mind in these three areas. The Christian must therefore be aware of these three areas in order for the Holy Spirit to carry out this convicting ministry.  The Holy Spirit cannot convict of sin unless sin (which leads to guilt) is the topic of conversation in our relationship with the non-Christian. He would not normally convict someone of sin if the topic of conversation is, for example, the weather or last night’s ball game.  Sin, righteousness and judgment must be the major topics the Christian presents to the unbelieving world.

This concept goes against much modern thinking.  Today the idea is popular that the church must appeal to the world.  Through contemporary music, drama and anything else that appeals to the worldly man, the church seeks to attract the lost.  While churches using this methodology may indeed attract large numbers of people, we have no promise that the Holy Spirit will work through such means to change the hearts of persons.  Once a church goes down the entertainment path it is hard to turn back. The church must keep on providing first class entertainment to keep folks attending. Focusing on sin, righteousness and judgment is difficult to fit into this approach. 

The important question is not, “How many people are attending your church,” but “Are the people attending your church being converted and growing in Christ?”  The issue comes down to this:  Do we trust in human methods to build the church, or do we trust God’s Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit? 

A moment’s reflection should convince any student of Scripture that in the ministry of Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles there was never any effort made to attract the unbeliever by using worldly means. They were not entertainers. They simply proclaimed divine truth, and the Spirit of God worked through them.  I fear that when the church tries to appeal to the lost through entertainment it is a sign of a loss of faith in the power of the gospel. It may mean that the church no longer takes seriously the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit. Large numbers in church mean nothing unless people’s lives are being transformed by the power of God.  God’s Spirit works through His Word, not through cleverly devised human entertainment.

Our text states that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin in regard to the ministry of Jesus.  We used to speak of people being “under conviction” because of their sins, feelings of overwhelming guilt have gripped the heart. I do not doubt that this takes place.  On the other hand, most persons in my acquaintance, including unbelievers, admit they are sinners. The problem is not simply to lead persons to acknowledge their sins. Once the Son of God entered the world and suffered at Calvary, our problem in relationship to sin radically changed. The issue to be resolved now is whether or not we sinners will believe in Jesus who has taken away our sins. The “sin” mentioned by Jesus in the text is one particular sin, the sin of refusing to believe in Jesus.

When Jesus died on the cross, He took away the sins of the world. John the Baptist declared, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  In 1 John 2:2 the apostle says, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”  Since Jesus has atoned for the sins of the world, the issue between God and the world is now centered on the cross.  While we humans are guilty of many “sins,” our real problem is our failure to believe in Jesus who has taken away our sins.

It is at this point that the Holy Spirit comes to our aid.  As the church lifts up the name of Jesus, resolving with Paul to “know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2), the Holy Spirit moves on the heart of the unbeliever, drawing Him to Jesus.  Failure to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, is the mother of all sins. The Holy Spirit is given to believers,  and then works in the lives of unbelievers as Christians proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified. There is now but one sin that will send you to hell – – – the sin of failure to believe in Jesus. 

The next work of the Spirit is to convince or persuade the unbelieving world in regard to righteousness.  Jesus told His disciples He would soon depart and return to the Father. What does this departure have to do with convincing the unbeliever of “righteousness?” Jesus clearly relates the two with the word, “because.”  Once we have come to faith in Jesus, we need to understand how it is that we are acceptable to God. We know that our own righteousness will not stand up before the pure holiness of God. Paul understood this when he spoke of standing before God not having a righteousness of his own, but the very righteousness of God which comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith (Philippians 3:8,9). 

Leon Morris says, “ here Jesus means that one thing the Spirit would do would be to convince people of the fact that the only righteousness that avails in the end is the righteousness believers have because of Christ’s atoning death.” The world needs to be persuaded that the only righteousness acceptable to God is God’s own righteousness manifested in the life of Jesus.  When we trust in Jesus, two wonderful things happen. First, all our sins are forgiven. Second, the righteousness of Christ is credited to us.  God now sees us as persons cleansed from all sin and clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. Since we are conscious of our own sins and failures, it takes the persuading power of the Holy Spirit to convince us that God now sees us as having the very righteousness of Christ.  The Holy Spirit works continually in our hearts to convince us that we are forgiven and righteous — all because of Jesus Christ and what He has done for us.

We have two choices as we anticipate standing before God on judgment day.  Either we must persuade God that our own righteousness obtained through keeping the law – – – through our personal obedience to the commands of God – – – is sufficient to pass the divine scrutiny, or we must be clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Only a fool would opt for the first choice, rejecting the second choice which focuses not on us, but on what Christ has done for us.

This verse helps us understand the tension we live under as Christians. On the one hand, in spite of our efforts to live as faithful disciples of the Master, we realize daily how far short we fall from the divine expectation.  This awareness can be very depressing. We realize also that we are “in Christ” and that His righteousness is our righteousness.  This causes great joy. What we must do is constantly remind ourselves that we are in Christ, and His righteousness allows us to live in the presence of God.  As we live life focused on Christ, we grow spiritually. As we live life focused on our own sins and failures, their hold on us grows ever tighter. 

We must continually lift up the righteousness of Christ, reminding those who believe in Jesus that His righteousness is ours.  While this truth was seen initially when we moved from unbelief to faith, we must forever battle the tendency to focus too much on self and too little on Christ.  As Jesus is proclaimed in the church in harmony with Scripture, the Holy Spirit works in our minds and hearts to persuade us that we are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Thirdly, the Holy Spirit speaks to the heart of the unbeliever concerning judgment.  Jesus declares that the prince of this world (Satan) has been judged. During the time of my life when I embraced liberal theology, I did not believe Satan existed. I distinctly recall that when I experienced conversion to Jesus Christ, I became aware of the reality of Satan at the same time I became aware of the reality of Christ.  Just as the Holy Spirit mysteriously works through the gospel to persuade us that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, He also persuades us of other spiritual truths, including the truth that Satan is real. Then, continuing to work through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit shows us that Satan’s power over us has been judged. 

Satan is described in Scripture as our accuser (see Rev. 12:10). He accuses human beings of sin against God, and His accusations are true since we have all violated God’s holy will.  Satan, the first to rebel against God, apparently delights in seeing us also rebel against God. He seems to obtain some demented enjoyment in watching us fall into sin, and unceasingly reminds God concerning the horrible nature of our iniquities.  He reminds God that divine justice requires Him to cast us into hell. He is like the prosecuting attorney who points a finger at us and cries, “Guilty, guilty, guilty…”

However, Jesus is our defender, our defense attorney.  He is at the right hand of God ever interceding for us (Heb. 7:25). His blood was shed for the remission of our sins and provides the answer to Satan’s accusations. It is as if Jesus says to Satan, “Yes, Richard Bowman has sinned and deserves to go to hell, but I have atoned for his sins and now he trusts in me and his sins are forgiven.” Thus, Satan’s charges against us cannot stand because of the atonement made on our behalf by the Son of God.  Satan has thus been judged as our text says. All of this is spelled out for us in Scripture, but in our unredeemed state of mind it all seems like so much poppycock. The Holy Spirit makes Jesus real to our human spirit when we embrace Him with true faith.  We also begin to see more clearly the reality that Satan has been judged and defeated.

This enlightening, convincing work of the Holy Spirit in the heart moves us from unbelief to faith. Biblical ideas and truths we may have heard about for years suddenly become alive in our minds.  It is as if someone turned on the lights. When Paul stated that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3) he was undoubtedly referring to this “convincing” ministry of the Spirit.  One can certainly repeat the words, “Jesus is Lord,” without the aid of the Spirit, but one cannot truly believe those words – – – JESUS IS LORD – – – unless the Holy Spirit has completed His persuading work.

This threefold convincing ministry of the Spirit can be summed up in the word “conversion” or “new birth.” The Holy Spirit brings us to true faith in Jesus Christ. He does not do this independently of Scripture, but works in and through biblical truth. 

Our task as Christians is to lift up these biblical truths.  When we proclaim Jesus as the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the Holy Spirit works through our testimony to touch the hearts of those with whom we speak.  As we speak of Jesus unbelievers realize that through faith in Him their sins are forgiven; that His righteousness is imputed to them; that Satan has been judged, and we are free! The Holy Spirit is actively working in the heart to convince and persuade that it is all true. If we bypass Jesus and these biblical truths and try to attract unbelievers to Christ in some other way — modern music, drama, inoffensive sermons — we are wasting our time. More importantly, we are disobeying God’s way and replacing it with our ways.  Our ways will never succeed. We need to embrace and practice God’s way.

We continue this series next week when I will be talking about what it means to be born of the Spirit. 


1st Peter # 7: PETER’S PARTING WORDS TO THE CHURCH

Text: 1 Peter Chapters 4 & 5.

I am going to finish our study in 1st Peter this morning. We haven’t looked at every single verse but have tried to focus on the highlights. Today we will be looking at the final two chapters, concentrating on 4 main points.

We begin with the command to serve Christ for the glory of God. In verses 7-11 of chapter 4 Peter lists some practical duties that should be present in the life of every Christian. He wants us to have fervent love for one another; he wants us to be hospitable without grumbling; he wants us to use our gifts to serve one another; he wants us to rely on God to work in us and through us in all things. Then he gives this summary statement: “That in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ…” (4:11). 

Do you hear what Peter is saying? Whatever you do, whatever words you speak, seek to glorify God and God will be with you and bless your work. If we seek honor for self, or for someone or something other than God, God is removed from the picture. Consider what this means. Every time we make a decision it will either glorify God, or it won’t. Shall I go to church this morning, or sleep in? Which decision is most likely to glorify God? When we avoid Bible study in favor of some other activity, is God glorified? When we gulp down our meal without a word of thanks to God, who is glorified? When we refuse to forgive one another, who is honored by that decision? When we refuse to practice the biblical doctrine of tithing (10% of your income for Kingdom work) because we can’t afford it, who is glorified? Peter wants us to glorify God in all our decisions, a challenging task indeed, but when we pursue that goal God will be at work in us and through us. That in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ…” (4:11). 

If what I have just said gives you some feelings of guilt, you are not going to care much for the next section either. In addition to seeking God’s glory in all we do, we are also called to suffer for the glory of God. The sum of the matter is in 4:16: “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.” This verse is not about suffering in general; sickness, car wrecks, financial woes, etc. It is about suffering as a Christian. 

We know that Christians in many countries suffer severe persecution today simple because they trust in Jesus. Some preachers want us to believe that following Jesus will bring blessings upon blessings — a beautiful, pain free life. Recruitment posters for our country’s armed forces may emphasize seeing the world or getting financial help with college, but the harsh truth is that enlistment in the military carries serious risks. The crew and families of the USS Cole were reminded of that on October 12, 2000, when terrorists caused the deaths of seventeen and injured dozens more while the ship was refueling in Yemen. The 292,131 service men and women killed in battle during WW 2 learned of the terrible risks involved in serving in the military. 

Likewise, dare we present the Christian faith like a recruitment poster that talks about the “perks” of being a church member without letting people know that one’s life may be on the line for following Christ? Yes, there are wonderful perks available to those who follow Christ, but there are also appalling risks involved in enlisting as a disciple of Jesus. Don’t tell Christians in China, or North Korea, or Iran, or Saudi Arabia that following Jesus means that “everyday with Jesus is sweeter than the day before” as one of our hymns expresses it. 

Yes, we are greatly blessed in this country.  We do not face severe persecution from the government. Our “suffering” may involve losing friends, being unpopular with certain people, being privately despised by others, or considered to be intellectually naïve for believing in Jesus. This kind of opposition can be painful, but Peter says if we hold up under suffering as a Christian, whether that suffering is major or minor, God is glorified. 

What is your life about? Is it about living daily in such a manner that your daily decisions glorify God? Do you glorify God in your minor sufferings that you may endure as a Christian? Our text declares that life for the Christian always moves in one direction – – – to glorify God.

Third, Peter directs us to shepherd the flock of God (5:1-4). We are reminded that the Christian faith is not just a personal, individual matter.  Of course, there is a personal side to our faith. We must make that personal decision to place our trust in Jesus, to believe in Him as our Savior and to follow Him as our Lord. Once that decision has been made, we become part of a flock, Peter’s metaphor to describe the church of Jesus Christ. 

The elders and pastor are given the primary task of serving as shepherds of the flock. However, we all have the responsibility to care for one another. The pastor and elders have the responsibility to make sure the church stays on track. We know that churches drift away from Christ and reject the absolute authority of the Bible. I was taught in seminary that the virgin birth is a myth, the resurrection of Jesus is a myth, that all miracles are myths, that John’s Gospel was not written by the Apostle John but by the later church using John’s name to give credibility to the book. I learned that the worldwide flood in Genesis is a myth…etc. If you ever tolerate a preacher who speaks such things, I hope you will politely ask him to move on! If he refuses, throw the bum out!  

The elders have to keep an eye on the pastor to make sure he is preaching the Bible. All of us have the responsibility to help one another with our love and prayers. Shepherding the flock means we all work to care for one another, particularly spiritually, but in others ways as well. We want to make sure none of us goes astray. 

Peters final word of advice to the church is to live humble lives before God, and resist the devil (5:5-11). If we humbly submit to the rule of God, we will have no trouble dealing with Satan.  However, Peter wants us to be clear that Satan is alive and operational on planet earth. Yes, he has been defeated by Jesus Christ, and those who stay close to Jesus will be protected from his deceptions. The problem is there are too many Christians who do not live close to Jesus! Our text says that Satan goes around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. He is, as it were, on the hunt. He is looking for persons who are not living under the protection of Jesus. 

On the positive side we should never be overtaken by Satan. The battle of Antietam in 1862 was the bloodiest day of the Civil War. In twelve hours, there were ten thousand Confederate casualties and even more on the Union side. “At last the sun went down and the battle ended, smoke heavy in the air, the twilight quivering with the anguished cries of thousands of wounded men,” wrote one historian.

Though the battle appeared a draw, Union General George McClellan was able to end Robert E. Lee’s thrust into Maryland, forcing him to retreat across the Potomac. This was possible because two Union soldiers found a copy of Lee’s battle plans and delivered them to McClellan before the battle.

In some respects, we are no match for our adversary, Satan. But as with General McClellan, our enemy’s plans have fallen into our hands. We know his strategies to entice us with lies, lust, greed, hatred and the like. With such knowledge, given us by God’s Word, and God’s Spirit within our hearts, we too can resist the enemy’s advances. When Satan and his demonic friends see that we have given over much of our lives to deceit, lying, revenge and the like, you might as well throw open the door of your heart and say, “Come in, Satan.” Oh, we would never do that, but we are doing exactly that when we step away from the life of faith and into the life of sin.  Satan notices when our faith has become dormant and moves in for the kill. Don’t let it happen to you. Make sure that your faith in the Son of God is always active and Satan will leave you alone. 

As we say goodbye to First Peter let me summarize the text for this morning. 

  1. First, we learn to serve for the glory of God. In the center of our minds is the thought, “How will this action glorify God?” 
  2. Second, we suffer for God’s glory. While our suffering may be miniscule in comparison to what happens elsewhere in the world, if we encounter suffering because of our faith in Jesus we accept it, and the result is that God is glorified. 
  3. Third, we remember that we are part of a flock, the very body of Christ. We care for each other. We watch carefully what is taught in the church making sure it is in harmony with Jesus Christ and the Bible. 
  4. Finally, we submit to God with humility, always being aware that we have an enemy who is looking for an opportunity to devour us. The moment we allow the shield of faith to droop, Satan and/or his little demonic buddies are there eager to destroy your soul. 

Peter has really given us a prescription for living a successful Christian life. As these four principles are active in our lives, we can be sure of two things: God will protect us, and He will bless our lives and make them useful in His Kingdom. 


1st Peter # 6: BE PREPARED!

Warsaw Christian Church (7/28/19) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Peter 3:13-17: And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

In these few verses Peter broches the subject of being a witness to Christ. As we have already seen, we witness in two ways: by our words of testimony, and by the way we live. Both are necessary. Our behavior may reflect our faith in Jesus, but the words that explain the Gospel must be added to the example set by our Christian lifestyle. Peter says we must always be ready to give an answer (words) to anyone who asks us to give a reason for our hope in Christ. 

Here is the basic idea. Unbelievers notice your way of life.  You live with hope. You seem to be content. Even when you suffer the light of hope still burns brightly. How can that be? You need to be prepared to explain that it is Jesus who fills you with hope. 

How do we prepare to be a faithful witness to Jesus? Peter says it begins with sanctifying God in the heart. What does that mean? It means to entertain accurate notions about God; of his nature, His power, His will, His justice, His goodness, and His truth. We are not to conceive of God as being motivated by such passions as drive we humans. We are to separate Him in your heart from everything earthly, everything human, everything fickle, from every human weakness. Consider that he can neither be like man, feel like man, nor act like man. Ascribe no human passions to him, for this would desecrate, not sanctify Him. As the prophet said, ““God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? (Numbers 23:19). 

 Do not confine him in your conceptions to place, to space, to emptiness, even to heaven, or to earth. Endeavor to think worthily of the immensity and eternity of his nature, of his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Avoid the error of the heathens, who bound even their greatest gods, to fate, as many well-meaning Christians do the true God by limiting Him to certain decree. Conceive of him as infinitely free to act or not act, as he pleases. Consider the goodness of his nature; for goodness, in every possible state of perfection and infinitude, belongs to him. Ascribe no wickedness to him; nor any work, or purpose, or decree, that implies it. This is not only a human passion, but a passion of fallen man. Do not suppose that God can do evil, or that he can destroy when he might save; that he ever did, or ever can, hate any of those whom he made in his own image and in his own likeness, so as by a positive decree to doom them, unborn, to everlasting perdition. Or, what is of the same significance, pass them by without affording them the means of salvation, and consequently rendering it impossible for them to be saved. Thus, endeavor to conceive of Him; and, by so doing, you separate Him from all that is imperfect, all that is human, all that is evil, all that is unpredictable, all that is changeable, and certainly all that is unkind. Ever remember that he has wisdom without error, power, without limits, truth without falsity, love without hatred, holiness without evil, and justice without severity on the one hand, or capricious tenderness on the other. In a word, that God neither can be, or say, or purpose, or do, anything that is not infinitely just, holy, wise, true, and gracious. He hates nothing that he has made and has so loved the world, the whole human race, as to give his only-begotten Son to die for them, that they might not perish, but have everlasting life. In this manner, sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and you will ever be ready to give a reason of the hope that is in you to every serious and candid inquirer after truth. (Comments from Adam Clarke’s commentary, edited). 

In a word, think of God has having such immense greatness and goodness, that He is beyond our comprehension. Think of God in the language of Scripture and you will think accurately, and you will sanctify God in your heart, 

Once we have sanctified God in our hearts, having a good, clear picture of who God is, then we need a clear understanding of the Gospel. The Gospel is a simple message contained within the pages of Scripture. You don’t have to be an expert on biblical content to witness to the Gospel. The Gospel contains the following key points.

  • The world God created has rebelled against Him. In spite of humanity’s failures God still loves us. 
  • Jesus Christ is God’s Messiah promised in the Old Testament, the Son of the living God.
  • God devised a plan to redeem the fallen human race. 
  • Jesus Christ, God’s beloved Son, went to the cross, suffered and died to atone for our sins. He took upon Himself the judgment we deserve. 
  • God promises to forgive all the sins of those who trust in His Son and grant them everlasting life in heaven. 

That in essence is the Gospel, the good news. While the words used to express the Gospel will vary, the heart of the matter is expressed in the above five statements. Once we have a clear picture of God in our minds, and a clear understanding of the Gospel, we are in a position to share our faith. Peter calls upon us to be ready to defend the faith.

He adds that we must defend the faith with a proper attitude, in a spirit of weakness and fear. We are not to talk down to others or treat them like fools.  Do not permit your readiness to answer, nor the confidence you have in the rightness of your cause, to lead you to answer flippantly or arrogantly to any person. Defend your faith with gentleness and fear, unless while you are speaking you should forget His presence whose cause you support, or say anything unbecoming the dignity and holiness of the Christian faith which you espouse. We should never speak of Jesus in a manner inconsistent with that heavenly temper which the Spirit of your indwelling Lord does produce in the hearts of those who trust Him. 

Perhaps you are thinking, well, I don’ think I would be a very good witness.  Isn’t that the preacher’s job? Yes and no. It is my job, but it is also your job. Part of my job is to encourage and equip you to witness to others about Jesus (see Ephesian 4:11-12). Why is this important? Consider for a moment another aspect of the Christian faith. Let me poll the congregation. How many Gods are there? How many Saviors are there? How many paths to God are there? And here is the hard question we must answer: what is the destiny of those who die without faith in Jesus? We are all familiar with John 3:16, but let’s read on in chapter 3. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 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.

Several things are clear in this passage. First, God loves us. Second, He sent His Son to save the world. God is on the side of salvation, not condemnation. However, vs. 18 makes two very clear points: Those who believe in Jesus are not condemned. That’s the good news. The sad news follows; those who do not believe in Jesus are condemned. Why? Because of their failure to believe in Jesus. What does it mean to be condemned by God? It means eternal separation from Him in that place of endless gloom called hell. 

God has tied His salvation to one person, Jesus Christ His Son. It’s Jesus, or hell. That is why it is so important that we do what we can to be faithful witnesses unto Him. We need to do what we can to encourage family members, friends, and enemies to trust in Jesus. 

The construction of the Golden Gate Bridge was so risky that newspaper reporters dubbed it “Dance of Danger.” Workers on top of swaying catwalks and high towers, sometimes hundreds of feet in the air, would be blown by powerful winds. Predictions were that for every $1 million spent, one life would be lost. Engineers on the Golden Gate Bridge, however, believed the risks could be lowered. When construction began in 1932, numerous safety measures were put into place and strictly enforced: mandatory use of hard hats and prescription filtered eyeglasses, implementation of a no showboating policy (cause for automatic firing), use of tie-off lines, and establishment of an on-site hospital greatly reduced the casualty rate. After nearly four years of construction and $20 million spent, only one worker had died. The most effective safety device, without question, was the use of a trapeze net. This large net, costing $130,000, was draped sixty feet below the roadbed under construction, extending ten feet to either side. This net caught so many falling workers that the newspapers began running box scores on the total number of lives saved. Workers saved by the net were said to have joined the “Halfway to Hell Club.” Beyond that, the net freed many of the workers from an often-paralyzing sense of fear, which helped them work more productively.

We are like those workers on the bridge. The winds of sin blow strongly. We would all be blown away, falling into hell were it not for the safety net. Our safety net is a person, Jesus Christ. If we fall into His arms, trusting Him as our Lord and Savior, we shall be saved. Otherwise John 3:18 tells of our fate. ; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. If you believe those words you will do whatever it takes to make sure people hear and understand the Gospel. 

Years ago, Jonathon Edwards preached a famous sermon entitled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” It is similar to the Golden Gate story. He envisioned the lost as dangling over the pits of hell held only by a thin line. If the line breaks the lost are plunged into hell. It is not a popular sermon today. We don’t like to think about hell. I think many people think everyone goes to heaven. After all, God is love. How could a loving God plunge anyone into eternal darkness? Do you want to base your understanding of God on popular opinion, or on the Word of God? 

In our text Peter urges us to be ready to defend the faith, to be ready, willing and able to point people in the direction of Jesus. He is the only safety net, and those who are relying on some other way to enter into heaven will learn too late that Jesus alone is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one comes to the Father accept through Him (John 14:6). No one means – – –  no one. Let me put it in stark, simple terms. You either trust in Jesus or you go to hell. Oh, Richard, but that statement is not politically correct. True, it is a statement that people of other religions find offensive. News flash! I am not trying to be politically correct, but biblically correct. The Bible clearly teaches that you either trust Jesus or you go to hell. Do whatever you can to point others to Jesus. 


LIVING BEFORE THE WORLD, 1 Peter # 5

Warsaw Christian Church (7/21/19) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: 1 Peter 2:11-3:9: Peter writes these words in Chapter 2:11-12:  Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.

When Peter addresses those who are “beloved” he refers to those who have trusted in Jesus and been redeemed through faith in Him. He speaks to Christians. We are described as “sojourners and pilgrims.” Let’s do a little word study. A sojourner is from a Greek word meaning “one without the right of citizenship,” a foreigner. The word “pilgrim” is from a Greek word meaning, “a resident foreigner.” Peter says to us that while we are citizens of an earthly country such as the United States, we have a higher citizenship in the Kingdom of God.  Our highest allegiance is to the Kingdom of God. That is our primary citizenship. That makes us resident foreigners in any other country. 

Yes, I am proud to be an American. But Peter reminds me that I am merely a resident foreigner here. Because when I accepted Jesus, I entered into a higher, greater, eternal kingdom. My highest allegiance is to God. Yes, I am proud to be an American, sometimes. There are other times when I am ashamed and embarrassed by events taking place in this country. I take no pride in a country that allows millions of human beings to be slaughtered in the womb. The right to life guaranteed in our constitution does not apply to babies in their mother’s womb. When I hear mothers screaming that they have the right to kill their unborn babies I am appalled. Oh, but a fetus is not a human being, they say. Well, what is it? A fetus is a tiny, immature human being, I don’t want to dwell on this issue but if you are “pro-choice” I would be glad to discuss your point of view with you.

I mention the abortion issue simply because it is perhaps the most egregious example of American policy I totally reject. I won’t take the time to mention other issues. It would take too much time. The point Peter makes is that as citizens of the Kingdom of God that Kingdom takes priority over all other kingdom. God’s Law always trumps man’s law. We live in America as registered aliens, if you will. Peter doesn’t want us to think of ourselves as Americans, or Russians, or Germans, etc. He wants us to understand that salvation has made us citizens of another country, the Kingdom of God. That is our primary citizenship. 

Lest we misunderstand his point and decide that we are to be rebels in our native country, Peter goes on to say we are to live in submission to human governments (vss. 13,14). We are to be good citizens. One good thing about America is that we are free as Christians to express publicly our disagreement with US policy. There are countries where those who speak out against the government are imprisoned or killed. If you openly opposed the policies of Josef Stalin you were sent to a lovely vacation site in Siberia, or you were executed. America is far from perfect but we can be grateful for the freedom we enjoy and pray it will continue. 

Notice next that Peter “begs” his listeners to act in certain ways. The Greek word means to urge, to admonish. Begs is probably not the best translation but it does communicate the idea of a very strong request. Peter strongly urges us to turn away from fleshly lusts, meaning sinful desires. He wants us to act like citizens of the Kingdom of God rather than citizens of this world. We have been given a wonderful gift – – – the forgiveness of all our sins and eternal life. We have been adopted into the family of God. When we give in to our old sinful desires we are acting like citizens of this world when we need to be acting like citizens of God’s Kingdom.

Peter reminds us that how we live in this world is observed by the Gentiles, a figure of speech referring to unbelievers. When unbelievers see that Christians give in to the same sinful desires that they do, what is the conclusion? Christianity is a fraud.  It makes no difference in how people live. Peter is urging us to live life on a higher plane. He wants our conduct to be seen as “honorable” by unbelievers. He admonishes us to live reflecting goodness, truth, mercy, love, joy, peace and all the fruits of the Spirit. When unbelievers see how the lives of Christians have been transformed, they are much more likely to hear our message about Jesus. When so-called Christians act just like pagans will pagan unbelievers be attracted to Jesus? Probably not. 

This is the point Peter is making. On the day of visitation, which is the day of final judgment, the idea is that the unbelieving pagans will be led to conversion – – – to  faith in Jesus – – when they see the high quality of our lives and therefore when the day of judgment comes, they will glorify God for the good works they have seen in us that led them to salvation. Jesus expressed this same idea in the Sermon on the Mount. He urges us to so live our lives that men will see our good works and glorify God. Unbelievers see all the evil and sin that plagues the world.  They hope for something better. When they see a Christian who lives a new kind of life characterized by love, joy and peace they are much more likely to be attracted to the Savior who alone can give such a life. We witness to Christ in two primary ways: by the words we speak about Jesus, and by the life we live. And the words we speak ring hollow unless they are backed up by a life that increasingly reflects that we are marching to the tune of a different drummer – – – even Jesus. 

The theme of living your faith before men continues on into chapter 3. The word “submission” is used regularly as a significant part of our Christian duty. The Greek word in this context means “voluntary submission.”  We freely submit to certain institutions and people. First, he mentions that we submit to the government. I touched on that earlier. Peter’s summary about our relationship to government is expressed in these words: Fear God. Honor the king (2:16). Fear God is first because we cannot submit to government rules which conflict with God’s will. Since we have no king it refers to the President and other government leaders. In terms of our relationship to the outside world, we are to Honor all people.” In short we are to be good citizens who are seen by others as decent, good people who respect others. 

We are also to submit voluntarily to those who have authority over us in the work place (2:18-25). We do our best to be known as hard working, good employees. Even if we are working for someone who is cruel and unjust, we are to endure the suffering patiently. Peter makes this interesting point. If you are a poor employee and you suffer for it patiently, what credit is that to you? He adds but if you are suffering unjustly and you bear it patiently, that is commendable before God. 

This reminds Peter of the suffering of Jesus (2:21-25). The suffering of Jesus was 100% unjust. He was reviled but He did not revile in return. He suffered unjustly but He did not threaten those who caused the suffering. In fact, we know from the Gospels that He prayed God would forgive those who caused His suffering. Peter sets forth the suffering of Jesus as an example we are to follow (2:21). 

Then comes that controversial passage calling upon wives to submit voluntarily to their husbands (3:1-6). All I can say is if you don’t like this passage you can take it up with God on judgment day. I am sure He will be interested in your opinion! But seriously, let’s consider what submission means. The Greek term used is a common military term. . A private submits to a sergeant, a Lieutenant submits to a Captain, etc. The submission is only in military matters. A General cannot tell a Captain how to live his private life, or what kind of car he should drive. The Captain only submits to the General in military matters. If the General prefers Chevrolets and the captain prefers Fords, the Captain need not submit to the General’s automobile preference. If, on the other hand, the General says that a certain military exercise will be carried out in a specific way, the Captain must submit. He cannot say “I disagree and we will do it my way.” Submission does not mean the submitter is inferior. A private may have more native intelligence than a General. As men, they are equal. The submission only applies to those areas where the General has military authority. 

Here is the point regarding wives submitting to their husbands. It is not a total, absolute submission covering every area of life. Husbands are not called to be dictators who have absolute control over their wives. In a marriage husbands have certain responsibilities, as do wives. They submit to each other. If the husband is working the wife submits to his decisions regarding his work. She does not submit to him if he tells her how to organize the kitchen. He submits to her (see Eph. 5:21 which calls for mutual submission). I submit to Marie when it comes to operation of the back hoe! I submit to her when it comes to medical issues. She submits to me in church matters, and in deciding which baseball teams we shall cheer for! The ideal is that we submit to one another in those areas where each of us has certain responsibilities and expertise. Well, I don’t have time to pursue this issue any farther. If there are questions, we can discuss it in Bible study. 

In 3:7 Peter address the husbands. He stresses two things: be understanding with your wife, and honor your wife. This dispels the idea that husbands are to be in total control, no questions asked! To be an understanding husband you must listen to your wife and respect her opinions. In order to honor your wife, you must respect her as a person and see her as valuable, not as a slave who may be ordered around.

Peter wants Christian homes to function in an orderly manner. Chaotic Christian homes do not set a good example to the unbelieving world. Just as an army cannot succeed unless there is order and respect for authority, a Christian home cannot succeed where chaos rules.

Peter closes this section with a beautiful summary of how we are to live as Christians. I close by quoting from chapter 3:8-12:  Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.  For “He who would love life And see good days,
Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit.
11 
Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers;
But the face of the Lord is
 against those who do evil.”   As we live out our faith in the world and in our homes, may those who are lost and without hope be drawn to the Savior as they observe how we live. 


1 PETER # 4: JESUS CHANGES EVERYTHING

Warsaw Christian Church (7/14/19) Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Text: 1 Peter 2:4-10: Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

The Roman Empire dominated the ancient world into which Jesus was born.  One of their beliefs was that there are many gods. You may take your pick of which gods you will worship. Many of the Roman intelligentsia believed it didn’t matter because all gods were myths anyway. The common man believed in the reality of the gods and assumed it did not matter which god you embraced. Zeus, Mars, Jehovah? Take your pick. 

Jesus arrives on the scene and declares emphatically that He alone is the way….that no one comes to the Father except through Him. In our text He is the cornerstone, the stone rejected by men but exalted by God.  Our text sees two kinds of people. Those who believe in Him will never be put to shame, while those who disbelieve stumble over Jesus, rejecting Him and appointing themselves to face the wrath of God. 

Peter describes God’s building as being made up of stone, but he is clearly speaking metaphorically.  Jesus is not a literal stone, nor are we. The foundation of God’s building is His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. There is but one foundation as Paul stated in 1 Cor. 3. If your life is being built on any foundation other than Jesus, that foundation will fail you. If a person wants to be a part of God’s building, he has to place his life upon the foundation Stone, Christ Himself. But note what this verse says: the living stone was rejected by men.

What is our problem? Why would anyone reject the kindest, most loving man ever to appear in human history? The simple but sad truth is this.  We want to do our own thing. We want to build our lives any way we choose. We want to be in charge. We want to have the last word on how we shall live. Of course, we are free to do whatever we wish, but if your life is being built on some foundation other than Jesus you are a lost soul. There is no peace with God, no meaningful life apart from faith in Jesus 

What is your foundation? An older book which I like and haven’t read for years is entitled, “Ideas Have Consequences.”  The basic idea of the book is fairly simple. The ideas you embrace come out in your behavior. If you embrace certain ideas as important your behavior will reflect those ideas. A few simple examples. Do you believe it is important to save money for the future instead of spending every dime as it comes in? If you believe that you will have investments which you are saving for the future. Ideas have consequences. After open heart surgery about ten years ago I became convinced I needed to adopt a healthier lifestyle. So, I lost about 80 pounds and I continue to watch what I eat.  Even though I am below my weight goal I keep going to Weight Watchers. And I adopted a regular exercise program. I do these behaviors because I am convinced they will lead to a better life. Ideas have consequences. 

Hitler believed that the Jewish people were behind all of Germany’s problems. He convinced the German people that if they rid the land of Jews life would be much better. So, he convinced many in Germany that the Jews were sub humans and he inaugurated a program called “Endlösung der Judenfrage” or “Final solution to the Jewish Question.” The result was Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka, Sobibor, and many other death camps which saw the death of 90% of Polish Jews and 2/3rds of Europe’s Jewish population. How could a civilized country that produced Bach, Beethoven, Shiller, Goethe, Luther and so many other great musicians, writers, and spiritual leaders fall into such barbarism? What we believe always turns into actions. Ideas have consequences.

Bad ideas always produce bad behavior. Here is the good news. Peter talks about those who are building their lives on the only reliable foundation, Jesus Christ. If your life is built on the foundation of faith in Jesus Christ how will that impact behavior? If I really embrace the idea that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, Lord and Savior, how will that effect my decisions? In a nutshell if I believe in Jesus, I will want to live my life obeying His commandments. I will want to honor Him with my daily decisions. There are lots of specifics included in living life under Jesus authority. Without going into the specifics, the basic question is this: does my daily life and do my daily choices reflect the fact that I am a believer in Jesus? Are His commandments uppermost in my mind each day? What we really believe is always clearly revealed in our behavior. Ideas have consequences.

We sometimes break down our lives into the three “T’s” – – – time, talent and treasure. Does our use of time reveal our deep faith in Jesus? Does the use of our talents reveal our deep faith in Jesus? Do our financial decisions reveal our deep trust in Jesus? “Wait a minute, pastor. Haven’t you been telling us that salvation is a free gift than we cannot earn by our good works? Now it sounds like you are saying we must do good works in order to be a true Christian.” No, that is not what I am saying. Salvation is a free gift given in response to faith alone, apart from our good works. What I am saying is that if we really believe Jesus Christ has redeemed us from sin, death and hell, we will want to honor Him as we live each day. You don’t have to follow Jesus’ commands to earn God’s favor. God’s favor has already been granted to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We obey the commands of Jesus out of love and gratitude for what He has done for us.  Ideas have consequences. 

Our text concludes on a different note. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. Peter addresses those who do believe in Jesus. He is pointing out another radical change that occurred with the coming of Jesus. Just as our daily life changes because we trust in Him, now we learn that God’s great program for the world has also changed. In the Old Testament era God was dealing almost exclusively with Israel as the people of God. But when Jesus came everything changed.

Many of the Jewish people thought of Israel in terms of a country with boundaries. Paul makes it clear in the New Testament that “Israel” always had two meanings. “Israel” did refer to that nation with boundaries, but Paul distinguishes between physical Israelites and spiritual Israelites in Romans 9:6 where he says, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” He goes on to make it clear in Romans 9-11 that the kingdom of God consists of both Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus as God’s Messiah. That is also clear in Gal. 6:6 where Paul refers to the Israel of God. The Israel of God is not an earthly nation.  The kingdom of God cannot be located on a map. Scripture says the kingdom of God is within you. It is a spiritual kingdom. 

Where does the nation of Israel stand in the plan of God today? The same place the United States, or England, or Russia, or France or Germany or any other nation stands. Whether Jew or Gentile, today you enter God’s invisible kingdom via faith in Jesus Christ. When Jesus came, everything changed. All who believe in Jesus are the seed of Abraham, heirs of the promises God made to Israel (Romans 4:16). 

In our Wednesday Bible study those who participate will remember the parable of the wicked vinedressers in Matthew chapter 21. The vineyard refers to Israel. The parable ends with the owner of the vineyard sending his son, who is killed by the vinedressers (physical Jews). The parable ends with this statement from Jesus. “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (Matthew 21:43). What nation has lost the right to the kingdom of God? The nation of Israel, of course. What is this new nation that receives the kingdom? Surely the church of Jesus Christ, It is a spiritual kingdom, not a land with boundaries.  It is made up of believing Jews and Gentiles who constitute the kingdom of God in its present earthly manifestation. It is the Israel of God. 

All of that is to say this. In our text Peter describes Christians in language once used for the nation of Israel. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people…That is language once used exclusively for Israel. Now it refers to the new Israel, the people of God from every nation, Jew and Gentile alike united in Christ. We Gentiles who were once “no people” by God’s mercy we are now the people of God. 

Elsewhere Paul expressed this drastic change in these words: Gal. 3:27-29For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. The wall that divides Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free has been broken down.  Christ has destroyed the wall that divides Jew from Gentile. There are only two categories of people in the world; believers in Jesus and unbelievers. 

There is a new holy nation. Again, you will search in vain on a map to locate it. It is the Kingdom of God alive within the hearts of people all over the world. People of every race, every language, every color. All having one thing in common – – – Jesus is alive in their soul.  They are men and women of true faith. 

The conclusion of the matter is simply this: when Jesus came everything changed. Faith in Jesus saves, but ideas have consequences. Saving faith is revealed by a life of faithfulness. We are not saved because of our faithfulness; rather, our faithfulness reveals our faith. Israelites are no longer the exclusive people of God. Believing Jews and believing Gentiles constitute that new nation, that invisible Kingdom of God that dwells within. This new nation, the church of Jesus Christ, has no physical boundaries. It is not made up of church buildings. The people in possession of faith are adopted into the family of God, citizens of the Kingdom of heaven. The first apostles and disciples of Jesus were accused of turning the world upside down. That’s what Jesus does.  He turns lives and nations upside down. Has that happened in your life? Paul said to a Philippian jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” But how can I know I am truly saved? Has your world been turned upside down? 


HOW TO LIVE A GOD PLEASING LIFE

Warsaw Christian Church (7/7/19) Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Text: 1 Peter 2:1-3

This morning we continue our study of 1 Peter looking at key verses in Chapter 2. I may not get beyond the first three verses because they are bulging with divine truth! Peter writes: Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.  Chapter divisions in the Bible are not part of the inspired text. Such divisions have been made in the early years of the church and are open to question. It would seem more appropriate to place these 3 verses at the end of Chapter 1. The word “Therefore” with which our text begins relates to one of the main themes back in Chapter 1, which was holiness. 

Peter says, “therefore,” since you are called as redeemed children of God to holy living let me remind you of what that means. A holy life is a god pleasing life. I assume we all want to live lives that are pleasing to God. He then describes things we are to “lay aside.” He lists “malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and evil speaking.” And do not fail to notice the word “all” repeated three times in the text. I think he is telling us that disciples of Jesus do not say, “Well, nobody’s perfect so I will try to lay aside malice 50% of the time.  I will lay aside deceit 75% of the time.” Holiness means we confront the sins in our life with a desire to lay them aside …100%. Is this easy to do? By no means! But it is something we must strive to do if we take seriously the Gospel of Jesus. 

The Greek words translated “lay aside” are commonly used to refer to the laying aside of a garment. You take off your coat and lay it aside. Or I can take off my watch and lay it aside. The idea is clear. Whatever is out of harmony with the will of God (our sins) are to be laid aside, removed from us entirely.  If you take one arm out of your coat you have not laid it aside. If you look at two sins and declare, “I will lay aside this one, but not that one.” You have not obeyed Peter’s instructions. 

Peter’s threefold use of the word “all” in our text reinforces the idea that he is telling us that we should never compromise with disobedience. How much malice are we to lay aside? All. We don’t use the word “malice” much today. It means “the intention or desire to do evil; ill will.” It is the intention to do harm to someone. Synonyms include hatred, spite, meanness, nastiness, cruelty. Do you have any desire to hurt someone, or do you rejoice when someone you don’t like suffers? If any malice is lurking about in your heart, lay it aside— all of it. It is poison to the soul. Peter reminds us that malice and faith in Jesus are incompatible. 

Next Peter mentions “deceit,” a word with which we are more familiar. It describes the intention to mislead someone or some institution. Synonyms include “dishonesty, treachery, deception, trickery, sham, pretense, duplicity, fraud.” The old King James Version uses the word “guile.” God never seeks to deceive anyone. When we engage in “deceit” we have stepped away from the will of God. Now put on your thinking caps.  In the past few weeks have you been thinking of a way to mislead someone, to practice deceit? Do you ever deceive the IRS about your income? Do you ever deceive your church friends by trying to appear holy while you are hiding you sins? You need to lay aside all deceit, every bit of it. It is poison to the soul.

Years ago I was going on a DHF trip with Kevin and Linda Ray. On the way to their van I stepped into some dog excrement. I did not realize it but when I get into the van, we all realized it! Something far worse is to step into sin and ignore it.  It creates a stench in the nostrils of God. Lay it aside quickly. It is poison to the soul. 

As James said: “But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment” (James 5:12). In other words, speak the truth and avoid the judgment/discipline of God. When you say “yes” make sure “yes” is the truth. Once you go down the path of deceit you may get caught up in your own lies. Walter Scott put it like this. “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” If you always tell the truth you will never have to remember what lies you told in order to make yourself look good. 

Peter next commands us to lay aside all evil speaking. Even if you don’t know much German you may have heard the phrase “Kaffeeklatsch.” We know what “kaffee” is. Klatsch is the German word for “gossip.” A Kaffeeklatsch is a get together where we can engage in gossip. I have had the experience of saying negative things about a person when I did not know all the facts. When I learned the facts and realized I had come to a wrong conclusion I felt ashamed. Why do we do it? If there is a common sin that Christians fall into, this is it. Gossip. Have you ever decided that you are going to work hard at laying aside all evil speaking about others? If you listen to the news you realize that our politicians love to speak evil about their opponents. Both major parties do it. If you want to learn how to improve your evil speaking, listen to the politicians. They are experts at it. If you want to practice your Christian faith, lay aside all evil speaking. It is poison to the soul. 

Do you know why God in His Word through Peter admonishes us so emphatically to lay aside all malice, all deceit and all evil speaking? It is because God loves us. Why do human parents try to warn their children about the consequences of drug abuse, or alcohol abuse, or even the possible consequences of tobacco use? Why do Christian parents urge their children to practice sexual morality, and to obey the will of God? Because they know that failure will harm their children. God knows that the routine practice of these sins will only bring harm to us, and so He speaks to us out of love. They are indeed poison to the soul. 

God calls us to a life of holiness, but how do we achieve such a life? First, we identify those things which are outside the will of God and we lay them aside. Next, Peter gives us another duty that will enable us to achieve a holy, God pleasing life. “Laying aside” is a negative duty. Now he exhorts us to a positive duty. Listen again to God’s Word: as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.  The word of God is compared to milk. Anyone who has ever fed a bottle to a hungry baby knows that they go at it with great earnestness! I have heard that a hungry calf may suck so hard on a bottle that the bottle collapses. 

The surface meaning of this passage is clear. Just as babies thrive on milk, so Christians thrive on the Word of God. Elsewhere Scripture contrasts the milk of Scripture with meat. Milk is for baby Christians; meat is for those more advanced in the things of God. But that is not the metaphor here. Here the Word in its fullness is compared to milk. We are to desire the Scriptures like a baby desires milk. 

What would happen to a baby who was given a teaspoon of milk daily? He certainly would not thrive; he would not grow and become big and strong. What happens to Christians who dabble in the Bible? Maybe reading only a verse a day from their devotional booklet? They will not become strong Christians.  Strong Christians “desire” the Bible.   Peter here speaks in the imperative mood. He is issuing a command. You desire, crave, and yearn for the sincere milk of the Word. And the craving and yearning are to be constant.

The word “desire” in Greek (epipothēsate) means to crave, yearn, and long for the Word of God. It is a strong word, very strong. It paints the picture of being an absolute essential — of hungering and thirsting after the Word of God. If a Christian is to grow, it is absolutely essential that he hunger and thirst after the milk of the Word of God. Too many believers crave the Word now and then, sporadically. Growth can come only as we live in the Word day by day by day.

Notice the word “pure.” “the pure milk of the Word.”  It means unadulterated, unmixed with anything else. We do not add to our knowledge of God through philosophy, literature, science, even Christian books. Such books are not wicked. We can learn many things by reading on a wide range of subjects. But if we want to know exactly what God says we go to only one source, the pure milk of the Word found only in the Bible.

Why do we have Sunday School? To teach the Bible so that we may grow thereby. Why do we have a worship service? Yes, to pray and sing in honor to God, but also to preach the truth of Scripture so that we may grow thereby.  Why do we have Wednesday Bible study? To teach the Bible that we may grow thereby. 

In the early years of our nation the pilgrims and Indians at times fought battles. On one occasion the Indians attacked a village destroying every home. Only one pilgrim was killed. Most abandoned the village when they realized they were under attack by a superior force. The one man killed remained in his home, seated in a chair with his Bible in hand. He had told others that as long as he had a Bible in his hand he was protected. He learned the hard way that such was not the case. 

The Bible is not a good luck charm, a rabbit’s foot that will ward off all evil. It is God’s Word in its pure form. It is meant to be read, studied and put into practice that we may grow stronger and stronger in our Christian faith. Do you know why some Christians are weak, unable to cope with the problems of life? In many cases it is because they are under nourished. They spend too little time drinking the pure milk of God’s Word in Scripture. 

Do we have to be avid Bible students to be saved? No, you have to trust in Jesus to be saved. Can I be a strong, mature Christian and neglect the Bible? No, you cannot. Jesus saves, and the Bible is the milk that God provides to help us grow strong in our relationship with Jesus. 

The Psalmist referred to God’s Word as “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). In the ancient world which lacked electricity if you walked in the woods on a starless night away from a city it was pitch black. We have all probably been in a cave when they turned out the lights and the darkness was total. You cannot even see your hand no matter how close to your face you hold it. Trying to find your way in total darkness is a disaster. 

The Bible is not only pure milk that nourishes us.  It is also like a lamp or flashlight that we shine ahead as we seek to negotiate our way through life. It shows us how we may live to please our Creator. But if our knowledge of Scripture is weak, we find ourselves stumbling into sin and foolish decisions on a regular basis. You would not to want through dark woods without a flashlight. Don’t try walking through this dark world without the word of God lighting your way. 

Peter concludes this small section of Scripture with these words: if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious. These instructions are for those who have found that God is a gracious God. Have you tasted and found the Lord to be gracious? Our salvation is by grace. God bestows upon us the grace of forgiveness when we trust in His Son. In addition, He graciously gives us the pure milk of His Word that we might grow strong in our relationship with Him. He gives us His Word as a light unto our paths that we may not stumble through life in spiritual darkness. We need Jesus to become a Christian. We need the Bible to become strong Christians. How much spiritual milk have you had to drink this past week, month, year? Not too much? How’s that working out for you? 


OUR FATHER’S GOD TO THEE

Warsaw Christian Church, (Independence Sunday, 2019) Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Text: Psalm 33: 10-12:  The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect.11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever, The plans of His heart to all generations.12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, The people He has chosen as His own inheritance. 

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. I was pleased to see recently that the Supreme Court refused to have a World War One memorial in the shape of a huge cross removed from public land. The cross will remain. On this Independence Sunday I want to remind you once again of God’s hand in our history. 

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 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, one of the chief architects 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 which knowingly recognizes God as the source for national law. The laws created in our founding years were laws based on biblical truth. This is why the Ten Commandments appear in many court houses around the nation, including the Supreme Court, a practice which 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.

Our founders understood this. The first charter of Virginia, dated April 10, 1606, indicates that one of their purposes in coming to 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.” Many of our early founders and leaders believed that America would be the means that God would use to bring the whole world under the banner of Christ. To say that many have lost that vision would be an understatement.

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, the only God who has the attribute of existence! All other so-called gods have a problem.  They do not exist. 

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, deliberately rooted in a Christian worldview. 

Abraham Lincoln declared, “I do not know Where the Ship of Life will finally take me; but there is one thing I do know: I know the Pilot of that ship, and I have been assured all along the way by the touch of His hand on mine.” Woodrow Wilson said, “our civilization cannot survive materially unless it is redeemed spiritually. It can be saved only by becoming permeated with the Spirit of Christ.”  Can you imagine a President today suggesting that our future security as a nation depends upon our trust in Jesus Christ? 

In more recent years Franklin Roosevelt said that the Bible was our “fountain of strength.” Lloyd Collins, president of a Baptist College, was a personal friend of Harry Truman. Shortly after he became President, Truman said to Collins, “I want you to pray that God will always give me the wisdom to make the right decisions for the welfare of our country.” 

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 take 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.” Just recently I learned that an atheist attempted to scrap our national motto. The Supreme Court rejected his motion and our national motto still stands: IN GOD WE TRUST. That is a sign that there is still hope for our country. 

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 demonstrate very clearly that our national laws and institutions were based on the Christian/biblical worldview. This book I am holding up I have mentioned before, contains over 700 pages of quotation after quotation which proves one simple fact. It was a Christian consensus that brought this nation into existence. 

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.” How did that work out for you, Joe?

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. I have always assumed that at the time of the Revolution most Americans were Christians. In fact, Christians made up only about 25% of the population. However, many of the leaders were Christians and they had a profound influence on the makeup of our country. Yes, 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 is 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 which freely choose 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.” But we dare not forget the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “If any nation does not listen (to me), I will completely uproot and destroy it” (Jer. 12:17).


FIX IT, DADDY

Warsaw Christian Church (Father’s Day, 2019) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Luke 12:13-15

Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” 15 And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness,[a]for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”

In his book Father Care Charles Paul Conn tells about his two-year-old daughter, Vanessa, who was given a helium-filled balloon at Sunday school. It was bright blue and seemed almost alive as it danced and floated on the end of her string as she ran through the halls of the church pulling it along behind her. But the inevitable happened. The balloon bumped into the sharp edge of a metal railing and popped. With a single, loud “bang,” it burst and fell to her feet.

She looked down and saw what had been her beautiful balloon, now a forlorn wad of blue rubber. It took her only a moment to regain her buoyant mood, however, as she picked up the remains of that balloon, marched cheerfully to where her father was standing and thrust it up to him. “Here, Daddy,” she said cheerfully, “fix it.” Dads can fix anything!

I like this reading for Father’s Day.

 Fix it,  daddy,” she lisps at two, showing this god in her life, her scraped knee.
“Fix it, Daddy,” she says at four, tearfully producing her broken balloon, purchased from the vendor at the parade.
“Fix it, Daddy,” she says at six, struggling with her jacket zipper on her rush out the door to school.
“Fix it, Daddy,” she says at eight, confidently wheeling her dented and lopsided bike toward him as he gets out of his car after work.
“Fix it, Daddy,” she intones righteously at 10, after coming out loser in a knockdown, drag-out battle with her stupid, tyrannical and absolutely impossible brother.
“Fix it, Daddy,” she pleads at 12, in the first of many struggles with her mother over whether she’s old enough to wear eye shadow.
“Fix it, Daddy,” she sobs at 14, when her image hits rock bottom, because she didn’t make the cheerleading squad.
“Fix it, Daddy,” she asks at 16, exposing her first broken heart over a lost love.
“Fix it, Dad,” she says at 18, when the college she wants doesn’t want her.
“Fix it, Dad,” she implores at 22, sending along her mangled checkbook stubs and a 1040 form.

“Fix it, Dad,” she begs at 24, when she witnesses a rare conflict between Dad and Mom.
“Fix it, Dad,” she writes at 26, explaining that she wants a quiet wedding officiated by a priest and a rabbi.
“Fix it, Dad,” she prays at 30, when her baby is in the hospital and her husband is overseas.
“Fix it, Grandpa,” she insists at 40, as she turns her contrary 12-year-old son over to him for the weekend.
“Fix it, Dad,” she begs at 45, when he tells her his heart is faltering and needs repair.
“Fix it, Father,” she prays at 55, as she kneels at her dad’s funeral, praying that he will find peace and realizing that from now on, he will be fixing things for her in a way he never could before. Author – AUnknown

Well, I don’t agree with all the sentiments expressed in that reading, but I still liked it. Sometimes our lives become broken like that balloon. “Here, Daddy,” we say to God, “fix it.”  I wish I could join those preachers who assure you that if you trust in the heavenly Father all will go well.  You will enjoy life. Life will be filled with blessings. Whatever you want just ask God and He will grant it to you. Even when problems arise God will always bail you out.  Just believe and enjoy a pain free life. Yes, I wish it worked like that but we all know that is a distortion of the Gospel.

In our text we encounter a man fixated on money. We don’t know the details but it appears that his brother has some control over the family inheritance. The man approaches Jesus and asks Him to straighten this out. He wants his share which is under the control of his brother. Jesus has come to preach the Kingdom of God, not to settle family disputes. Jesus’ response suggests that the man’s problem is greed. He is money centered. Jesus cautions him that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. The man is worried about his inheritance. He should be concerned about the state of his soul. What do we learn from this text?

First, we learn that Jesus does not always do what we ask Him to do. Just as human fathers have to say “No” to their children, so also does our heavenly Father. No matter how much faith you have, if you ask Jesus to do something for you that is contrary to God’s eternal purpose, He will not act. It would seem that common sense would tell us that, but there are those who tell us if we have enough faith, we can get God to do whatever we ask. I recall one TV preacher telling that his son wanted a boat so that father and son could spend time together on the lake. The preacher said, “Ask God for a boat,” and lo and behold two boats were miraculously given to the boy. I have some comments I would like to make about that episode but I shall keep quiet.  You may draw your own conclusions.

Just as was the case in our text, sometimes we ask God to act on our behalf and He says, “No!” Our problem is that with our limited understanding of reality we are often uncertain as to the will of God. We are told that we may ask for whatever we wish, but as Christians our highest wish is always that God’s will be done. His will trumps our wishes.

Lesson # 2: It is always wise to invite our Father into your life situation. The man in our text was wise to ask for Jesus’ help. Jesus answered his request by telling him he was obsessed with money.   He did not do what the man requested. He did tell Him what he really needed to hear. So, do you want a boat, or a new car, or a bigger and better house? Go to Jesus with your request. Even if He doesn’t provide your request, He will be pleased that you have come to Him, seeking His wisdom.

Or if you have asked for His help with a personal problem, a health issue, a money issue or any kind of worldly problem, and He has not done what you asked Him to do, yet He will be with you.  His presence will guide you through the difficult situation you face.  Just to know that He is with you will compensate for the lack of the answer you hoped for.

You may know the remarkable story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his journey to the Antarctic in the first part of the twentieth century. I had never heard this story but read about it recently. It was Shackleton’s dream to cross the 2100 miles of this wasteland of ice and snow by foot and by dogsled. He didn’t make it that far, however. His ship was stopped by an ice pack and finally sank. He and his men started out trudging over drifting ice-floes trying to reach the nearest land–nearly 200 miles away, and the nearest human outpost–nearly 1200 miles away. They towed behind them a lifeboat weighing nearly one ton. When they finally reached waters clear enough of ice to navigate they faced waves as high as 90 feet. 

Finally they reached South Georgia Island only to discover that they were on the wrong side of the island. They had to cross a 10,000 foot high mountain range that had never been crossed before.

When they finally reached their destination almost seven months after beginning their journey, they were so bedraggled that their friends did not recognize them. But here is what is particularly significant: To a man those who completed the journey reported that they felt the presence of One unseen accompanying them on their perilous trek. Somehow, they knew that they were not alone, God was with them.  Did He deliver them from all the perils of the journey? No, He did not. But He was with them, and that is worth more than 1000 answered prayers

What is your concern this morning? Whatever it is, cast your burden upon the Lord. He may grant your request, or He may not. But if you ask Him, He will be with you and will sustain you through any and every trial.  Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” If I can believe that I can endure anything life throws at me.

A third and final lesson from our text is to grasp onto God’s eternal purpose.  Yes, God cares about our individual daily problems, but He also wants us to never forget the big picture, His eternal purpose.  We are familiar with the picture of Jesus weeping besides the tomb Lazarus. Why was He weeping? He knew what He was going to do and He certainly understood God’s eternal purpose.  He wept because he identified with the pain of Mary and Martha.

Certainly, Mary and Martha learned that day that God can fix any situation. But we know that raising the dead was an unusual experience, one that we probably will not see in our day. But Jesus also gave to Mary and Marth and us a glimpse of the big picture – – – God’s eternal purpose. He said to them: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11: 25).

Jesus not only solved the immediate concern of Mary and Marth but He also revealed to them God’s eternal purpose. Lazarus was called out of death into life, but then he had to die again. You may present a problem to Jesus like the man in our text only to learn that He is not going to resolve your earthly request. But He wants us to never forget the big picture, namely His eternal purpose to grant everlasting life to all who trust in Him. If I understand and believe God’s eternal purpose, even if He does not always solve all my earthly problems, all is well.

I like the story told in a Christian magazine where a grandmother wrote in to tell about her 6-year-old grandson. The boy’s pastor had died. He learned that a new pastor would be coming soon, directly from seminary. When the boy heard that announcement, he told his grandmother that he was not going to church anymore. “Why” asked grandma. The boy replied, “When they get their pastors directly from the cemetery I’m staying home.”  I guess the boy wanted nothing to do with a pastor from zombie apocalypse! Of course, he was confused by the word “seminary” which sounded to him like “cemetery.”

Lazarus had a cemetery experience and was raised back to life. More importantly, he had the promise of eternal life. Jesus raised him to demonstrate to us that He is indeed the almighty Son of the Living God – – – the one who has power over life and death, the one who controls our final destiny. Those who believe in Him He will raise to eternal life. Those who reject Him will hear the awful words, “Depart from me…” One day we will face our own cemetery experience. Those who cared for us will feel sad. Tears will be shed. Some will wonder why God didn’t work a healing miracle.

Like the man in our text, sometimes we go to God and say, “Fix it, God.” and receive a clear “No” answer to our request. Please do not forget the big picture. God will always be with those who trust Him as they go through difficult times. That is a blessing. An even greater blessing is seen in God’s eternal purpose – – – to redeem forever all those who trust in His Son. Whatever our need is God can fix it. He can even repair broken balloons. But even if He doesn’t, we can look forward to God fulfilling His eternal purpose in heaven.

In our text a man asked Jesus for help in resolving a problem between himself and his brother. Jesus said “NO”.  Just like a human father there are times when our heavenly Father says “no.” It is always a good thing to present your problems to God. However, be prepared! There will be times when our prayer requests receive a “No” answer. But when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ He will never say “no” to those who have placed their faith in Him. To those He will say, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… (Matthew 25:34).


AUTHENTIC MARKS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Warsaw Christian Church (Pentecost, 2019) Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Text 1 John 4:1-8: 1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.5 They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them.6 We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 1 John 4:1-13 (NKJV)

John admonishes us in his first epistle to “Test the spirits.” In his day and in every age of the church there are false prophets among God’s people, and John says to us “BEWARE!”  Do not believe everyone who claims to speak for God. This warning raises the question as to the means we must use to distinguish between spiritual truth and spiritual falsehood.

At the time of our history known as “The Great Awakening” this whole issue was under discussion.  Correctly discerning the Holy Spirit was an issue of concern to Jonathan Edwards, and so he sat down with his Bible and wrote a wonderful treatise called, “Marks of a Work of the True Spirit.”  He found several marks in our text which he felt were evidence of a true work of the Holy Spirit. I want to share four of those marks with you. I believe a careful reading of our text will help us see two things clearly:  first, whether or not the Holy Spirit is really at work in our personal lives; and second, whether or not the Holy Spirit is truly at work in our church.

1. FIRST, WE NOTE THE MARK OF JESUS.  John writes, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.   Wherever the Spirit of God is truly at work, it is affirmed that Jesus, the Messiah, took on human nature.  The Son of God, who is God from all eternity, did not cling to His Godhead, but emptied Himself, and took on the form of a servant and was obedient unto death, even the death on the cross.  There is only one true Jesus, although there are many false Jesus’ to be found in today’s world. Wherever the Spirit of God is at work, the Jesus of Scripture, born of a virgin, who spoke as no other had ever spoken, who worked great and mighty miracles, even raising the dead; who went to the Cross in our place, there to suffer and die for the remission of our sins; who was raised from the dead and then ascended into heaven, from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead; that is the Jesus to whom the Holy Spirit bears witness. There is another Jesus in Mormonism, another in Islam, another in the New Age Movement, another in the Jesus Seminar.  The Devil does not draw us closer to the real Jesus. He diverts our attention from the real Jesus and presents us with a false Jesus.

In the Jesus Seminar, for example, we are told by the scholars who make up that group, that we find two Jesus’ in Scripture.  First, there is the Jesus of history, the Jesus who really lived in ancient Israel. This Jesus, according to the scholars, is a Jewish peasant, a mere human being, a wise teacher – – – but He is not the Son of God.  We do read in the New Testament of a Jesus who is the Son of God, but He is fictitious, according to the Jesus Seminar. He was an invention of the early church. The church transformed the humble Galilean peasant into a miracle working, divine being.  Jesus Seminar scholar Marcus Borg says that while many Christians believe that Jesus “was the divinely begotten Son of God, whose mission was to die for the sins of the world, and whose message was primarily about himself – – – about who he was, his salvific (saving) purpose, and the importance of believing in him. But (continues Borg) this popular image of Jesus is not a historical image.” (Lecture at Culver-Stockton College, Nov. 4, 1991).  In other words, the Jesus in whom you and I believe does not exist, according to Dr. Borg. The church created this divine Jesus, evidently because the real Jesus wasn’t jazzy enough. The church had to spice up the story; throw in a few miracles, toss in the resurrection, and make Jesus into a divine figure.

Is the Holy Spirit at work in your life; in our church?  If He is, we will be driven to an ever deeper love for the real Jesus, the Jesus of Scripture.  And we will turn away in horror at every attempt to denigrate or reinvent this Jesus.

2. I must move on. Our text points to another mark of the presence of the Holy Spirit. John writes, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.

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. Therefore, when we are being touched by 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.

John’s explanation for this is simple and logical.  Before conversion, we have only one spirit at work in our lives, the spirit of antichrist.  So, we are drawn quite naturally to the things of this world, and away from Jesus and the things of God. But when we are born again, born of the Spirit, we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and He is infinitely greater than the spirit of antichrist.  Therefore, we feel a much stronger pull towards the things of God, and a much weaker pull towards the things of this world. It’s a matter of simple logic.

The spirit of the world is the spirit of sin and selfishness.  It is forever asking, “What’s in it for me?” But when the Holy Spirit fills the soul, the question changes: “What can I do to serve my Lord Jesus?”

3. The third mark of the Spirit is found in these inspired words from John: “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.”  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.

The devil hates the Bible.  He hates the Word of God. We learn that right from the beginning, in the Garden of Eden.  God gives a clear word to Eve, but Satan casts doubt upon that word. “Hath God said?” “Eve, God lied to you.  He wants to keep you down, but if you will listen to me I will raise you up. I will make you like God, and then you can be your own God. God is selfishly trying to keep you from being like unto Him.  Do as I say, and you shall be as God.” And our first parents turned away from the simple word of God and plunged the human race into ruin.

When the Holy Spirit who inspired the words of Scripture dwells in you, He creates in you a love for the sacred oracles.  When a genuine revival is taking place, there is a remarkable turning unto the Scriptures. The devil would never attempt to create in us a love for the divine Word. When men fall in love with the Bible, gladly embracing its wondrous truths, ever seeking to know more of the mind of God, that is a genuine mark of the Holy Spirit. How important is Scripture in your life?

4. Finally, the fourth authentic mark of the Holy Spirit is summed up in the word LOVE.  John writes in our text, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  The language here is plain and compelling.  God has showered His love upon us in Jesus, our atoning sacrifice. Since God so loved us, should we not also love one another?  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 divine Spirit dwells in us is the same thing as saying that love dwells in us.

The spirit of Satan fills the heart with thoughts of revenge, jealousy, contention, strife, anger, hopelessness, despair, fear and the like.  The Spirit of God fills the heart with love and forgiveness. 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.  When love for others is joined together with a love for Scripture, and a love for holiness, and a love for Jesus, only one conclusion is possible.  The Holy Spirit is at work. These are the marks of His presence. They are the marks of spiritual renewal in the life of an individual, and they are the marks of true revival in the life of the church. Would Satan deceive us by creating such attributes in the human soul? Would he draw us to Jesus? No, he would not. Would Satan draw us away from the world and deeper into the things of God? No, he would not. Would Satan create in us a deep love for the apostolic Scriptures? No, he would not. Would Satan create in us a deep and forgiving love for God and for one another? Of course not. Such marks can only be created by the Holy Spirit.

May each of you, my dear friends in Christ, become intimately acquainted with the heavenly Dove and may these glorious marks of His presence be seen in you in great abundance.   Amen.


BE HOLY

Warsaw Christian Church (6/2/19) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: 1 Peter 1:13 – 25

Last week Peter talked about the wonderful salvation we have through faith in Jesus Christ. It is a salvation that is incorruptible. It will never decay but will endure throughout eternity. It is a salvation reserved in heaven for us. God’s divine power guarantees the salvation of all those who trust in Jesus. Because God has forgiven all the sins of those who trust in Jesus a glorious, indescribable future awaits us.

As we continue in chapter 1 of First Peter we learn about phase two of our salvation. Phase one is given to us as a gift.  We possess the gift of eternal life. Paul declares that while the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life (Romans 6:23). In phase two we participate with God in the process of becoming holy. Peter says in vs. 14 that we are to live as “obedient children” In verse 16 we read, “Be holy, for I am holy.” Peter is quoting Leviticus 19:2.  God is the speaker. He declares that I am your holy God, therefore you be my holy people.

God’s very name is “holy” according to Isaiah 57:15. Our first task is to discover what it means that God is holy. It is a concept difficult to translate into English although its meaning is fairly easy to grasp. To be holy is to be separated, set apart, and different. Morally, it means to be pure, to be sinless, righteous. Something holy is set apart, separated, different from all other persons or things. The word “holy” applies to God in a unique sense. We will never be holy in an absolute sense. Holiness in reference to us mere mortals is in reference to our moral character. Holy people are moral people.

God is holy in an absolute sense. There is nothing in creation to compare with God. He is utterly different, totally unique. Perfect in righteousness. His character is flawless. God is 100% dependable. What He declares, He will do. God is absolutely holy.

When you think of living a holy life, what comes to mind?  I suppose some people think of holiness strictly in negative terms: no fun, no beards, no tattoos, no jokes, hours of prayer, no card playing, no movies, no smoking, only read the Bible, 100% teetotaler, etc.  Pastor Brian Lowry uses global warming to illustrate what it means for us to be holy in a more positive sense. I don’t care what your opinion is regarding global warming or climate change. I am using it simply as an illustration. I have edited pastor Lowry’s comments. Global warming seems to be on everyone’s mind. Scientists are running tests in their laboratories. Political candidates are dreaming up “green” policies. The heavyweights of Hollywood are filming public Service announcements and organizing benefit concerts to warn of the dangers of global warming.

Now even you can do your part in fighting global warming. Have you heard about the “carbon footprints” we all supposedly leave behind us? Stop at the site http://www.carbonfootprint.com and learn how these “footprints” are “a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced.” In other words, by the fuel we burn on the way to work and the hair products we use, and if we own flatulent cows, we leave a “footprint” in the wide, growing path of global destruction.

This gets me thinking about a more inconvenient truth — sin vs. holiness. For every act of rebellion — every vicious word, every selfish act, every unhealthy state of mind — we press our sin footprint on the wide, growing path of spiritual destruction. Every time we sin, acting in a manner that is contrary to holiness, we damage the spiritual environment of our world. What kind of “sin” footprint do you leave? The good news, of course, is that we can leave another kind of print, a holiness print. With every act of forgiveness, every kind word, every selfless act, every good work we perform in honor of Jesus, we can impress upon the world our holiness footprint. And that is what we are called to do. We are to stomp the face of the earth leaving behind footprints of holiness.

When God tells us to be holy because He is holy the reference is to our moral character. What is our goal in life after we have been redeemed by placing our faith in Jesus? We are to strive for holiness of life and character. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount “You therefore must be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).There are two things to be said about this verse. First, Christians are “perfect” because their sins have been forgiven. Note these words of Scripture: “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14). By the offering of Himself Jesus made on the cross we have been perfected. We are an imperfect people because of our sins against our holy God, but if our sins have been forgiven we have been made perfect. Jesus did this for us.

But Jesus did more than die for us. He also gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. Did you notice that word “holy?” The Holy Spirit who dwells within our spirit leads us to a new kind of life. True Christians do not say, “Well, now I have been saved and I can live my life as I please.” No, that is not how true Christians think. By faith we have been reborn.  We turn away from our old way of living and we live a new life characterized by obedience to Christ. Another word for “obedience to Christ” is the word “holy.” Christians live a holy life characterized by righteous living.  We want to do what is right and pleasing to God.

While these two aspects of salvation are both present in the life of a Christian, namely the forgiveness of sins and holy living, they must be kept separate in our minds.   They must not be scrambled together as though both contribute to our final salvation. Luther warned, “He who tries to get to heaven by means of a holy life, good works, and personal merits, deceives himself. He who does not confess himself a sinner can find no access to the Lord Jesus…” In other words our holy living which is always manifest in the life of a Christian does not increase our chances of eternal life. Eternal life is a gift, pure and simple.  We receive that gift by trusting in Christ crucified. Theologian Donald Bloesh said it like this: “Once we have faith, however, we are challenged to demonstrate our faith in a life of good works. Our works do not earn or procure our salvation, but they show whether our salvation is genuine.”

As I said recently in our Wednesday Bible study, “Faith is invisible.” I cannot look at a person and see whether faith is alive in his soul.  Anyone can say, “I have faith,” but how do we know that is true? Our good works, our holy living, reveal the presence of faith. James said it clearly: But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’  Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).    

Martin Luther and John Calvin, the two men who were most influential in bringing about the Protestant Reformation, were adamant that salvation is a free gift of God. It is a free gift bestowed upon the undeserving, which includes all of us.  We receive the gift of salvation only by faith. Once we have faith, however, we are challenged to demonstrate our faith in a life of good works. Our works do not earn or obtain our salvation, but they show whether our salvation is genuine. The life of the Christian should be one of determined devotion to Jesus demonstrated by a life outpouring with love and service to God.

Sometimes the question comes up, “Can I be a redeemed, saved Christian and not live a holy life? Can true faith exist without holiness of life?” While the Bible is clear that we are saved by faith alone, it is equally clear that wherever faith is present so also is holiness. Christians struggle to resist sin and temptation, striving to live holy lives before the Lord. God’s word in Hebrews 12:14 seems to settle the question of whether faith can exist in the heart while holiness if absent in our behavior: “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. The words are transparently clear. Faith and holiness go together. They are like love and marriage in the song from the past – – – they go together like a horse and carriage. A person who does not demonstrate some degree of holy living cannot be a person of faith. Hebrews 12:14 says in a straightforward manner, without holiness no person shall see the Lord. It is clearly important that we take holiness seriously if we hope to see the Lord.

Pastor Craig Barnes shares this illustration about what holiness means. He writes, “When I was a child, my father brought home a twelve-year-old boy named Roger, whose parents had died from a drug overdose. There was no one to care for Roger, so my folks decided they would raise him as their own. At first it was difficult for Roger to adjust to his new home. Several times a day, I heard my parents saying to Roger, “No, no. That’s not how we behave in this family.” “No, no. You don’t have to scream or fight or hurt other people to get what you want.” “No, no, Roger, we expect you to show respect in this family.”

“In time, Roger began to change. Did he have to make those changes to become part of the family? No. He was part of the family by the grace of my father. But did he have to work hard because he was in the family? You bet he did. It was tough for Roger to change, and he had to work at it. But he was motivated by gratitude for the amazing love he had received. Do you have a lot of hard work to do now that the Spirit has adopted you into God’s family? Certainly. But not to become a son or a daughter of the heavenly Father. No, you make those changes because you are a son or daughter. And every time you start to revert back to the old addictions to sin, the Holy Spirit will say to you, “No, no. That’s not how we act in this family.”

We have been adopted into the family of God by His grace. We are to live our lives in a manner appropriate for God’s children.  We are to pursue holiness, not to earn God’s favor, but because we want to please the One who graciously redeemed us, adopting us into God’s family.

Peter reminds us that there are two factors which work in harmony to produce a Christian. In 1 Peter 1:23 he tells us that we are born again through the word of God which is incorruptible. God’s Word revealed in Holy Scripture lives and abides forever. Here we have God’s guarantee that He will guard and protect His sacred book forever. How did you learn that Jesus is God’s Son and Savior of the world? Probably some person told you the story initially, but ultimately we all learned about Jesus from the Bible. We were not alive when Jesus and His apostles were proclaiming the divine message. The Bible has survived through the centuries in many languages and translations, but they all tell the same story.

When you hear the story of Jesus from the Bible and believe it, you receive all the benefits of the Gospel, most notably the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. I can quote John 3:16 in English and in German. The meaning is the same in either language. The Word of God is incorruptible and it lives and abides forever. Open your heart to the message of Jesus and you will be born again.

Peter then tells us what else we receive when we believe in Jesus. In verse 22 we read this. “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart…” When we are saved we obey the truth and we love one another with a fervent spirit. How does that happen? Peter says “through the Spirit.” When we are born again through believing in Jesus as He is revealed in Scripture, we then receive the Holy Spirit who leads us into living a holy life characterized by obedience and love.  That is holiness.

Let me close with a simple idea that illustrates holiness. Never speak a word or perform an act that you would not do if Jesus were standing beside you.,,,,, and He is.


A CERTAIN SALVATION

Warsaw Christian Church (5/26/19) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: 1 Peter 1:1-12

While Peter did not write as much as Paul, what he did write is full of wonderful spiritual truths. Marie and I were blessed at the recent conference at Ozark Christian College to hear a series of sermon dealing with this epistle. I was very much inspired and decided to do a series on 1 Peter. These are my own sermons but I am sure some ideas from the conference will sneak in!

We begin with Peters profound words concerning the certainty of salvation. We all understand that life is short and death is certain. What then? While we may struggle with doubts about what comes after death Peter had no doubts at all. I pray his confidence will inspire us.

After his introductory words Peter begins to think and write about the salvation we possess in Jesus Christ. It begins with the Father and the Son who have chosen to have mercy on the fallen human race. 1 Peter 1:3 (NKJV) 3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…Our translation says “according to His abundant mercy.” I like Kenneth Wuest’s translation: “impelled by His abundant mercy.” God’s love for His fallen creatures was so great that He felt impelled to act to save us. God was not simply merciful but He bestowed upon us abundant mercy.

Had God decided to give us a little bit of mercy He might have said, “I will provide 75% of your salvation but the rest is up to you.” I know if I had to work to merit 25% of my salvation I would fail and end up in hell. However God’s mercy was given to us in abundance. He provided 100% of our salvation when He gave His Son to die for us, then to be resurrected from death demonstrating that He is indeed the Savior of the world.

It could be no other way. Remove God’s abundant mercy from the equation and we have no hope of salvation. Man is just so sinful he has only one hope: the hope that God will have abundant mercy upon him. Just think how we have treated God. We have…Ignored Him; rebelled against Him; violated His commandments;  neglected Him; failed Him; cursed Him; doubted His existence; abused His church; used His name as a curse word…in short, we have sinned against God in many and various ways. God has but two choices: damn us forever, or extend the hand of mercy to us. I hope you are thankful that He chose the second option. I am so very thankful for God’s abundant mercy.

The result of God’s abundant mercy is this: 1 Peter 1:3-4 (NKJV)  “according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4  to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you…” Wow! We have an inheritance. What do you do to earn an inheritance? Usually nothing. Inheritances are left to you usually by family members who loved you. They have earned what they give to you freely. As a Christian you are in the Father’s house, and He has given you an inheritance.

When my parents died I received a small inheritance. Where did that money come from? My Dad earned it. I did nothing to earn it. It was given to me as an inheritance. Peter declares that our inheritance awaits us in heaven. As we await that glorious day we now possess a “living hope.” That means two things. First, we serve a living Savior. All other religions follow the teachings of men long in the grave. Mohammed is dead; Buddha is dead; Confucius is dead; Joseph Smith is dead; Zoroaster is dead….they are all dead save one: Jesus Christ is alive and He is our living hope.  Not only that, we have also been begotten again or born again. Jesus Christ lives in those who trust Him as Savior and Lord. Our living hope, Jesus, lives in us.

Peter describes our spiritual inheritance as “incorruptible.” I received my parents inheritance in 1996.  Where is it today? It is gone. Some bills were paid off and the rest was spent on who knows what! It was hardly a fortune! That was a corruptible inheritance. It was nice, but temporary.  The inheritance we receive from God in incorruptible. It cannot be destroyed. It will endure forever. It will never “fade away.” Nothing can ever defile it. Peter add it is “reserved in heaven for you.”

In the 1980’s I bought my first new car, a Plymouth Valiant.  Where is it today? It has suffered corruption and is probably somewhere in a junk yard. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a new car that remained new throughout your life? No rust, no mechanical issues, a car that was not subject to corruption. Yes, it would be nice but we know that will never happen. The only thing we have that will never suffer corruption is our inheritance from God. But how does it become ours?

Listen to the next verse: 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 1:5). We receive the incorruptible inheritance through faith – – – faith in Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of the world. Do you possess faith in Jesus? (Say amen!) As long as faith is alive and active in your heart you have a guaranteed salvation. Peter tells us we are shielded by God’s power. If you are protected (shielded) by the power of God what person or devil can rob you of your salvation? Is there any power anywhere in the universe stronger than the power of God? I don’t think so!

Faith in Jesus connects us with the omnipotent power of God and there is nothing in all creation that can separate you from God’s love when God’s power is protecting you. That is the way Paul expressed it in Romans 8:39 where he declared “nothing can separate us from the love of God…” Well, there is one thing that can separate us from God’s saving grace – – – unbelief! Peter is clear; it is through faith we are shielded by God’s power. The salvation we possess now will be finally and fully revealed when our Lord returns…. if our faith is alive and active. Faith in Jesus is the glue that holds the whole salvation process together. Remove faith from the situation and our salvation collapses like the walls of Jericho! Faith in Jesus brings the power of God into our lives and secures our relationship with God. No faith, no salvation.  No faith, no relationship with God. Hebrews 11:6 says it simply…Without faith it is impossible to please God. The word impossible in the Greek language has a tricky meaning: it literally means …. IMPOSSIBLE!

Peter’s description of how salvation is obtained and retained is so fantastic. What a glorious future we have if we will abide in Jesus by faith. That’s the good news. Now Peter leads us to the bad news. To put it simply, Peter tells us next that trusting Jesus does not mean an easy life. In 1:6 he tells us that heaviness in our souls may come. Our faith will be tried. Temptations will hound us. Such things will follow us throughout life. God wants to see how serious we are about trusting His Son. He wants to sort out those whose faith is dependent upon blessings, and those who have a “no matter what” faith.

I am what is called a “fair weather fan” when it comes to sports. I am a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan. They have won 11 world series, tops in the National League, and 19 pennants. However, when they lose 2 or 3 games in a row I give up. I stop watching them play on TV.  I switch to the history channel and watch the Germans lose WW 2 over and over again. Or I watch Colombo reruns. I am definitely a fair weather fan. Win or I give up on you.

My son-in-law, Mark, is a lifelong Cub fan. The Cubs went years and years without winning a World Series. Mark remained a faithful Cub fan, no matter what. His faith was finally rewarded in 2016 when they finally won the World Series, the first time since 1908. It was a dry spell that lasted over 100 years. Mark was not around in 1908 so he had never seen his beloved Cubs win a title, but he lived with the Chicago Cub motto, “wait until next year.” His faith finally paid off, and who knows . . . the Cubs may win another series title in the year 2116!

I think you get the point, but let me spell it out. Fair weather Christians tend to turn away from any serious following of Jesus when life doesn’t go well. They encounter a difficult situation and cry out, “God must hate me to allow this problem into my life!” There are those who encounter a pastor who failed them, or a church member who hurt their feelings, or they or a loved one gets sick, etc.…. and they drop out of church.  We can only hope that they do not finally turn their backs on Jesus. We need the kind of faith that sustained Richard Wurmbrand through 11 years of imprisonment and torture in a communist prison. He said, “A man really believes not what he recites in his creed, but only the things he is willing to die for.”

Mature Christians are those who have made the decision to follow Jesus no matter what. They thank God for the good times and they remain faithful when pain, disappointment or tragedy strike. When their faith is tested they pass with flying colors.  They refuse to give up on Jesus or His church. Yes, pastors are imperfect, Christians are imperfect, but we are following Jesus, the perfect one. He is our Savior, and we will remain true to Him no matter what. I like the hymn, “Be Still My Soul” written by Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel. I heard it in my truck recently when I was thinking about Marie and the loss of her brother. Here is the first line: “Be still my soul! The Lord is on thy side; bear patiently the cross of grief or pain; Leave to thy God to order and provide; in every change He faithful will remain. Be still my soul! Thy best, thy heavenly friend, through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.”

There are wonderful blessings that come to a Christian, but the best ones come in heaven, not now. During this life we encounter thorny ways, the cross of grief and pain. But as faith remains this life will lead to a joyful end.

What kind of Christian are you? I hope you are like my son-in-law is with his Chicago Cubs: a faithful fan whether they win or lose. I pray you are a faithful Christian no matter what is happening in your life. I hope you are not like me with the St. Louis Cardinals, a fan when they are winning, a drop out when they are losing.

We have all confessed our faith in Jesus.  Probably most of us have been baptized in His name. Have you ever gone before God in prayer and declared, “Lord, I am in this for the long haul.  I will continue to trust you and be a disciple of your Son . . . no matter what.” If you have never made that commitment will you get alone somewhere today and pray that you will be faithful to God . . .  no matter what?


MARY, MOTHER OF JESUS

Warsaw Christian Church, Mother’s Day, 2019, Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Luke 1:46-55

I want to begin today by saying, “Happy Mother’s Day” to all the Moms here today as well as to those who serve as Mom substitutes. You deserve to be celebrated on this special day because of the incredible impact you have on so many lives. A good mother is such a powerful example of God’s love. Many mothers are willing to do almost anything to communicate their love to their children. Some even try desperately to keep up with the changing styles popular with young people nowadays. Good luck with that.

Reader’s Digest magazine recently published some amusing texts from mothers who weren’t aware of the most current acronyms young people use for texting. You know what an acronym is. We use them all the time. An acronym is a word formed from the first letter or first few letters of each word in a phrase or title. For example, R.I.P. is an acronym for “Rest in Peace.”  Or F.B.I. is an acronym, of course, for Federal Bureau of Investigation. Young people use acronyms all the time when texting.

One mother wanted to know the meaning of some acronyms she had seen so she texted her son. “What do IDK, LY & TTYL mean?” she asked in her text message. Without explanation, the son texted back: “I don’t know, love you, talk to you later.” Those, of course, were the meanings of IDK, LY & TTYL. Mom didn’t get it. She thought he was ignoring her with his message: “I don’t know, love you, talk to you later.” She replied: “OK, I’ll ask your sister.”

Another mother texted her son: “Your great-aunt just passed away. LOL.” The son replied: “Why is that funny?” Mom texted back: “It’s not funny, David! What do you mean?” The son texted: “Mom, LOL means Laughing Out Loud.” Mom replied: “Oh, no! I thought it meant Lots of Love.”  It’s hard to keep up nowadays.

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 imitate. On Mother’s Day we think of women like Deborah, Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene, and of course, Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  It used to be a popular name to give a baby girl. Probably not so much today. My mother’s name was Mary. Marie is the equivalent of Mary if several European languages. 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 the qualities of her motherhood in order that we might discover some of the factors that contributed to her success as a mother. While some Christians want to exalt her to an very high position position, 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, aunts, grandmothers – – – all women who have an influence on children.

Mary became the mother of our Lord by means of a miraculous conception. The Savior was born of a virgin. He had an earthly mother without an earthly 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. Mary’s explanation of how she became pregnant would surely be met with ridicule. Like her Son, she knew what it was to be despised and rejected.

The eternal God chose to clothe Himself in human flesh and 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 wonderful qualities. Mary was a devout worshiper of the true God. She was the kind of woman God would select to bring His Son into the world. She was a young woman who realized her dependence upon God. She was quick to be obedient to the will of God as it was revealed to her. She was thankful that God choose her for this special mission. She was a faithful Jew who would play a key role in ushering in the New Covenant.  Note these qualities in Mary.

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 she responded, “Be it unto me according to your will.” Mothers who approach parenthood in that same spirit will find their task will 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.   

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 piety and her love for God. She prays, “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46).  She praises Him for regarding her lowly estate. Mothers today who live by faith will also have a song in their hearts.

Mary worshiped the mighty God of Israel “For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name” (Luke 1:49). Mary worshipped a great and mighty God who could do great things. If He wanted His Son to be born of a virgin He had the power to make it happen. She worshipped a holy God, A God who is righteous in all His ways; a God who will never deceive us in any way; a God we can always depend upon to keep His Word.

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 merciful 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.

There is pain associated with the birth experience. There are greater pains along the pathway of life for some mothers, and Mary became acquainted with these pains. 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. However, mothers with strong faith are given the wisdom to deal with their children.

Later 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. “Who does He think He is? He acts like He and God are on a first name basis!” Sibling rivalry has caused pain to many a mother. Again, the faith of Mary will be a strong help in handling such rivalry.

Mary no doubt experienced great pain when Christ was rejected by the people of His own 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). I still have a copy of the first sermon I preached at Lake Harriet Christian Church in Minneapolis.  It is not a very good sermon but the congregation did not try to march me off a cliff! No mother wants to see her son rejected by others. I am sure Mary was deeply trouble by this reaction to her Son. If you have a child rejected by society, Mary would certainly identify with you. We do not pray to Mary as she is not a goddess, 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.”

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.

Following our Lord’s resurrection 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, when we see Jesus.”

Mary is a good model for the modern mother. Hers was a life of great faith, as evidenced in her song, “the Magnificat,” our text for 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 good 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.”


WHAT HAPPENS TO DISOBEDIENT CHRISTIANS?

Warsaw Christian Church (5/5/19) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Texts: Hebrews 12:3-11; 1 Corinthians 3:9-15; 2 Peter 2:20-21

I have said, and Scripture declares, that salvation is a free gift of God. The gift is given to one and all on one simple condition: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. So, if I have true faith on Jesus, even if I fail to serve Him, I will go to heaven, right? That is correct. We are saved by grace, through faith, not by our good works (See Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is given to us freely by a God who loves us. Okay, we have got that idea clear in our heads, right? Next question: what happens to disobedient Christians? Since all of us fail the obedience test, what happens to believers in Jesus who disobey His will? To make it personal, what will happen to you when you sin against the God who redeemed you?

 The Bible can be confusing if we don’t read carefully. On the one hand the Bible clearly teaches that we are saved by grace through faith, not by our works. On the other hand we find lots of warning about what happens to disobedient Christians. When we trust in Jesus and enter His kingdom we need to understand that we belong to Him. He has purchased us with His own blood. Luke wrote these words: Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28). When you declare your faith in Jesus you become His possession.  You are bought and paid for. You agree to submit your life to Jesus. Salvation is the free gift of God which cannot be lost as long as faith is present. God will never disown you for bad behavior if you are trusting in Jesus. Neither will He turn a blind eye to our bad behavior. Today we will be looking at the consequences that come to disobedient Christians. I have selected three texts that address this issue.

But first, a quick word about repentance. If we disobey God, recognize the fact, and repent, praying that God will both forgive us and help us to rise about the particular act of disobedience. Those who sincerely repent of their sins can avoid the negative consequences.

First we look at a text from Hebrews 12, focusing especially on vss. 5,6.. “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are  rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.”  The language here is harsh. Notice these three words in the text: Chastening, rebuked, scourges. This is an important spiritual truth.  It speaks to the question, “How does God feel about me when I am unfaithful?” If you believe that God is angry, eager to inflict pain on those who disobey Him, you will find it impossible to love God.  We normally avoid persons (or God!) if we think they only want to harm us.  Stalin controlled the old Soviet Union through the use of power and fear. He would have persons close to him randomly executed just to keep everyone on their toes. If Stalin invited you to dinner it might be a pleasant experience, or it might end up in your being shot. I doubt that Stalin was loved. Feared, yes, but you cannot love someone who may arbitrarily decide to have you executed.

If you think of God as a heavenly Stalin you will fear Him, but you will not love Him. Why does God send painful discipline to His redeemed children? Is it because He is angry? No, our text says He is acting out of love. Verse 6 of our text is clear: “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” We are not told anything about the nature of divine discipline.  We are just told that it is painful at the time, but it comes to us from a God who loves us.  I suppose almost any painful experience can be seen as divine discipline.  Whenever some painful, unpleasant experience enters your life, you probably can’t go wrong to view it as divine discipline and seek to learn from it. It is a time for serious reflection and prayer, opening our hearts to whatever message God is sending our way. Our text says that while divine discipline is painful, if we receive it as a gift from a God who loves us, afterwards God’s discipline lead us to a sense of peace and sets us again on the path of righteousness.

If you are thinking, “But I never experience divine chastening.” If that is true it is a bad sign. God only chastens those who are His redeemed ones whom He loves. When you place your trust in Jesus Christ, believing He is your Savior and Lord, you become a child of God. If you are a perfect Christian you will not need chastening. If you are in my category, an imperfect Christian, brace yourself.  God will be working behind the scenes applying discipline to your life to help you to grow in faith.

If you are an unbeliever you will escape divine discipline. The bad news is this. Our text refers to unbelievers as “illegitimate and not sons.”  Those who are not in the family of God will not face divine discipline, but will face the awesome and final judgment of God. You do not want to be in that category! God’s goal for those who lack faith in His Son is to have them exposed to the Gospel that they may hear and believe.

God is not looking down upon us thinking about what He can do to make us miserable. God loves us and has nothing in mind for us except love. He uses the suffering caused by sin and trials to correct and discipline us, to stir us to draw near to Him in trust, dependence, and love, and to live like we should. Our text warns us: DO NOT DESPISE THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD. Learn from it.

In addition to divine discipline disobedient Christians must face up to another consequence of their unfaithfulness.  This brings us to our second text, 1 Corinthians 3:9-15: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 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…”

So, if disobedient Christians are still heaven bound, why worry about serving Jesus? Disobedient Christians will experience God’s discipline all through life, and they will enter heaven unrewarded. While heaven itself is a free gift, we learn from this text that some enter heaven and receive great rewards, while others enter heaven with few rewards. . Vs. 14 is clear. Some will be rewarded. God does not forget those who served Him faithfully. Vs. 15 is also clear. Some will enter heaven unrewarded.

Think of the obedience factor on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 is the lowest end of the scale, while 10 means your are always obedient, without fail. I assume no one here is living at the 1 end of the scale. I also assume that none of us are living at the 10 end of the scale. We all fall somewhere in between those two extremes. Our lives are a mixture of stubble and gold. The question to answer is this: Do you care about pleasing God? Do you really want to enter heaven unrewarded? We are not told anything about the nature of the rewards given for faithful service, but we can assume they will bless us for all eternity. Those who render only feeble service to God will receive feeble rewards. While we can never earn God’s love which is given to us freely as a gift, we can earn rewards for faithful service. In heaven the unrewarded and the rewarded will mingle together. There will be no jealousy in the hearts of the unrewarded, just a realization that the rewards of the faithful could have been there’s if only they had served more faithfully.

Do you have to be faithful to the church with its various ministries in order to go to heaven? No.  Do I have to tithe to go to heaven?  No. Do I have to win souls to enter heaven? No. Do I have to care for the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, to enter heaven? No. All you need is faith in Jesus. But if you serve Jesus faithfully, you will be rewarded. If you don’t, you won’t.

One final point from our third text, 2 Peter 2:20-21.  Listen carefully to the Word of God. 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.

There are those who say that salvation cannot be lost.  Once saved, always saved. I respect that position. I would, however, state it like this. Once saved it is very hard to lose your salvation, but not impossible. Peter seems to describe saved people who lose their way. They escaped the pollutions (sins) of the world through faith in Jesus. But, sin recurs and completely overwhelms them. Faith is abandoned. They once knew the way of righteousness but they turned away. I am not sure what Peter means when he says,  For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness… but I hope none of us never find out what that means personally. It can’t be a good thing!

I believe faith is sustained and nourished by faithfulness. If we let faithfulness slip away, faith may slip away as well. I don’t think this happens easily or often, but it is surely a warning for us to take seriously. We are freely given the gift of eternal life and as long as faith is alive that gift remains. If we ignore the discipline of God and care nothing for His rewards, we may end up abandoning our faith. Faith thrives in the heart of the obedient.  It wanes in the heart of the disobedient. 

Those who finally turn away from Christ do not do so suddenly. It is not a situation where a person has strong faith today and turns away tomorrow. Note these words from Hebrews 2:1: Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.  Drifting is a slow process. Christians do not drift toward obedience. Faithfulness to Christ requires discipline, determination, hard work.   We drift toward compromise; we drift toward disobedience;  we drift toward prayerlessness; we drift away from Bible study; we drift away from regular attendance at the Lord’s Table – – – slowly, one step at a time, some drift away from Christ. If the drift continues unabated one day they realize they no longer believe in Jesus. Don’t let it happen to you.


TITUS # 3: SALVATION AND SANCTIFICATION

Warsaw Christian Church (4/28/19) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Titus 3

This morning we conclude our study in the Book of Titus, focusing on Chapter 3. In verse 1 Paul urges Christians to obey the government. We are under orders to submit to those who have authority over us. We have seen before that this is not a command without exceptions. We are not to obey the government if those in authority interfere with our faith commitment. If the government establishes laws which conflicts with God’s Law, we are to obey God rather than men. (see Acts 4:18-20). We are to be good citizens, but our highest allegiance must always be to God.

Then Paul moves into one of his finest statements where he links together the two sides of the Christian life: salvation and sanctification. Salvation is that term which means that our sins have been forgiven; we have been adopted into the family of God; eternal life is our destiny. Sanctification is the term that refers to how we live once we have believed on Jesus. Those who have received salvation are the saved ones, the redeemed ones, the inheritors of eternal life. Those who are sanctified are the ones who put their faith into action, whose life in characterized by the doing of good works.

Paul then gives a snapshot of what we were like before we came to faith. Listen to verse 3:

For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.Apart from Christ Paul says people are foolish, disobedient to God, deceived about the nature of reality, living for self and for pleasure, with envy and hatred filling the heart. That is what it means to live life without faith in Jesus Christ. Paul adds that the redeemed ones, before they came to faith, used to live in this manner. One or more of those descriptive words fits every person who has not received Christ’s salvation. When I think back to those days before I became a Christian I find all those words to be accurate descriptions of my behavior. The worst of it was that I enjoyed living a self-centered life, until that day when I was face to face with a situation that had no solution. It was when my life was badly messed up and I knew not where to turn for help that a neighbor introduced me to the living Lord Jesus, and my life has never been the same since.

Which brings us to Paul’s description of salvation. Listen to his grand words. . But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 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, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (3:6,7).

In these words of Paul we have a summary of the basic elements leading to salvation. There are those who tell us that all religions are alike. I would correct that and say that most religions are alike. There are really two kinds of religions. All religions with one exception teach that if you want to get right with God you have to perform well. If you do the right things, keep His commandments, do the proper rituals, maybe you will perform well enough to be accepted by God. The basic idea is that you must earn God’s favor through your own deeds. People who follow this path are always left wondering . . . have I done enough? The answer to that question for all of us is always the same . . .no, we have not done enough.

I mentioned that all religions are alike with one exception, and that is the Christian religion. It begins, not with us or our performance, but with this: when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared. Something happened in history. Something appeared, and that “something” was a “someone.” Jesus appeared and revealed to us the source of our salvation. It begins with the kindness and love of God, our Savior. Our efforts to please God are never , never enough. Try as we may we always fall short of God’s expectations. If you think you can earn God’s favor by your good behavior, guess what? You will run into a brick wall. You will fail, and you will remain separated from God in that eternal place of doom and gloom called hell.

Paul is asking us . . . pleading with us . . . to turn away from self and look to the kindness and love of God revealed in Jesus Christ, our Savior. American Express tells us not to leave home without it, referring to their credit card. Paul tells us not to leave this life without it . . .faith in Jesus Christ our Savior. Don’t leave this world without faith in Him.

Paul continues his description of salvation.   ….not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us…” God does not say to us, “Well, you have failed me but if you get your act together and live a perfect life from this point forward I will save you.” Rather He says forget about trying to earn my favor through works of righteousness. I am going to bestow my mercy upon you. How are we saved? We are saved by God’s kindness, love and mercy. God’s grace and mercy are everywhere in the book of Titus as we have seen.

There are several parables that reveal to us the mercy of God. Probably the best example is in the parable of the Good Samaritan. You know the story. A man is beaten and bloodied by robbers, left on the side of the road to die. Two “spiritual” leaders of Israel see him but hurry past, leaving him to his sufferings. Along comes a Samaritan, a man hated and despised by the Jews, and he binds up the man’s wounds and pays for his future care. He was merciful. He saw a man in need, a man who was an enemy. He could have ignored the situation and who would have blamed him? He had no obligation to reach out to this Jewish man, but he did. He extended mercy to an enemy.

We are enemies of God in the sense that we have trashed His will under foot. He could have turned His back on us and let us rot in hell and who could blame Him? He created us to live life under His authority, promising great blessings to the obedient. We said, “No thank you,” and continued in disobedience even to the point of crucifying the Son of God. We deserve to be cast from His presence forever. Our disobedience has placed us under the influence of Satan, who beats us up and leaves us bloodied. Jesus is the Good Samaritan who comes and binds up our wounds.

The amazing, almost unbelievable good news is that in spite of everything God loves us. He loves the world made up of people who disobey Him. How many humans are there who resist God? 100%. We have all sinned and fallen short — far short — of His glorious will. Paul tells us that God not only loves us but He also decided to show us mercy. Mercy is love taking action to do something to remedy our hopeless situation.

And what action did God take to show mercy to us? You know the answer. He sent His only begotten Son into the world. Jesus was the promised Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. A good example of such prophecy is found in Isaiah 53:3-6: He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.But Hwas wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

How God must love us and want us to return to fellowship with Him. We are the ones who have gone astray, and He was willing to bear our iniquity. By the suffering of the Messiah we have been healed of that fatal disease called sin. Like the Good Samaritan, God the Father sent God the Son to bind up our wounded souls. The Good Samaritan could have ignored the bleeding stranger by the side of the road, but he chose to show mercy to him. Jesus Christ had no reason to take on the consequences of our sin, but He chose to show mercy. Driven by love, He was willing to endure the cross for our sakes.

Why are we counted among the redeemed today? Because of God’s love and mercy. We are saved, redeemed, by a merciful God. Paul continues to describe how this event takes place and its consequences. First, he says we are saved by the washing of regeneration. I think that means that when we trust in Jesus our souls are washed clean. We are regenerated, or born anew. Our sins are all forgiven so we are washed clean on the inside, renewed by the Holy Spirit. As soon as faith connects us with Jesus this regeneration and renewal takes place. When God’s love and mercy are mixed in with our faith the end result is the washing of regeneration which finally leads to eternal life. .

This is what God’s love and mercy have brought to us – – – eternal life. To whom do we give all the credit for this glorious gift? To God alone be the glory. How much credit do we receive for salvation we enjoy? Not much: maybe 5%, or maybe 2%? How about 0%? When you receive a gift from someone you gain no credit. All you do is accept the gift. Elsewhere Paul says the gift of God is eternal life. Out of God’s love and mercy flows the gift of eternal life.

Paul’s final word on the subject is found in Titus 3:8: This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men. Those who have received God’s gracious gift of salvation should be careful to maintain good works. Good works are works that please God. Good works are those things we do in obedience to God’s commands. But if God has given us salvation as a free gift, why do we have to concern ourselves with good works? Can’t I just believe in Jesus, receive the gift of salvation and live my life as I please? Perhaps for a time, but not permanently. Here’s why.

When God imparts the gift of eternal life He also renews our inner nature. He gives us new thoughts, new desires, centered on doing His will. We saw this in chapter 2. Remember these words?   (Jesus) gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. God not only saves us, He changes us. He redeems us from every lawless deed and purifies us so that we become zealous for good works. True Christians do not engage in good works because they have to. They want to! Those who lack this “want to” are either hypocrites, or very immature Christians who have not thought very deeply about what it means to be a redeemed disciple of Jesus.

Those who are truly saved feel the nudging of the Holy Spirit in the direction of obedience. They want to be in church, in Sunday School, in Bible study unless a higher Christian duty takes them elsewhere. I have heard preachers say that those who do not actively serve Jesus are not true Christians at all, but hypocrites who are Christian in name only. I would not go that far. If you have true faith in Jesus you are a saved, redeemed Christian who will finally be in heaven, even if you do not serve Him faithfully. Unfaithful Christians face two problems. They will experience divine discipline, and they will lose rewards in heaven. I can’t expand on these points today but this will be our subject for next week.


CONDEMNATION? NO! SEPARATION? NO!

Warsaw Christian Church, Palm Sunday/Easter, 2019, Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Romans 8:1-4; 34-39

What a glorious day is Easter! Jesus rose from the grave, and that same Jesus says to those who believe in Him, “because I live, you also will live.” But is it true? I read in the news that the tomb of Jesus has been discovered. If His bones lie in a coffin, then He did not rise. A film maker by name of Cameron put a film together affirming that he had found the tomb of Jesus, bones and all.

Here is another secular article on the resurrection. In April 2002, the well-respected Oxford University philosophy professor Richard Swinburne used a broadly accepted probability theory to defend the truth of Christ’s resurrection. He did this at a high-profile gathering of philosophy professors at Yale University. “For someone dead for 36 hours to come to life again is, according to the laws of nature, extremely improbable,” Swinburne said. “But if there is a God of the traditional kind, natural laws only operate because he makes them operate.” Swinburne then used Bayes’ Theorem ( I have no idea what that is!) to assign values to things like the probability of God’s being real, Jesus’ behavior during his lifetime, and the quality of witness testimony after Jesus’ death. Then he plugged the numbers into a probability formula and added everything up. The result: a 97 percent probability that the resurrection really happened.

I don’t know about you but I am going to take the word of the Apostles of Jesus over that of a modern film producer. 97% is good, but I believe in the resurrection 100%.  I believe Jesus rose bodily from the grave exactly as recorded in the four Gospels. There is no tomb containing His remains. He rose from the Tomb and is alive forevermore. Many benefits flow to us because of the resurrection. I want to share two enormous benefits we receive because Christ rose from the grave.

I recently read a story about a German soldier whose name was Jörg Gerkner. He fought in North Africa under Erwin Rommel, a rather famous German general also known as “The Desert Fox.” When British General Montgomery defeated the Germans at Tunis in 1943 many German soldiers became POWS. Jörg Gerkner ended up in a POW camp in Fort Denny, New Mexico. He became depressed. He thought, “I am a condemned man. I’m a POW.  I was part of the Nazi war machine and for the rest of my life I will live as a condemned man.” In 1945 he managed to escape from the prison camp. He took on various odd jobs, always moving from job to job for fear he would be discovered. He obtained false identity papers and married an American woman. After years of moving from job to job he finally shared with his wife his real identity.  He said, “I am a POW, a man condemned.” She said, “The war has been over for years.”  She persuaded him to go to the office of immigration and naturalization. At age 64 he learned that all the POWS from his camp had been released and pardoned. He quickly became a naturalized US citizen. The poor man lived most of his life thinking he would be condemned if discovered only to learn that he had been pardoned years ago.

I wonder if any of us are living under the pressure of condemnation this Easter Sunday?  We believe in Jesus but, like Jörg, we may wonder if we will escape divine condemnation. In Romans Chapter 8 I want to point out two things that happened when Christ rose from the grave. We look first at Romans 8:1: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 

We begin with the word “therefore.” This takes us back to the previous seven chapters in Romans. In Romans 1 Paul outlines the horrible record of the human race. His conclusion is found in Romans 1:18:  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.  In a word, condemnation.  In Rom.2:11 Paul reminds us that those who sin will perish. In a word, condemnation.  In Rom. 3:23 we learn that all have sinned. The result? Condemnation. Rom. 6:23 informs us that the wages of sin is death. In a word, condemnation. Paul wonders where deliverance is to be found in Rom. 7:24. Who will set me free from this body of death?  In a word, condemnation.

We find a lot of condemnation in Romans. In those same earlier chapters Paul also proclaims the good news that our sins can be pardoned. He presents Jesus Christ as our crucified and risen Savior. Then, in Chapter 8 he recounts some of the benefits that come to us as believers. The resurrection is foundational for Paul. He declared in 1 Cor. 15:17-18: If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. Why is our faith futile if Christ was not raised?  Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God. He claimed that His death would be an atonement for our sins. But what if He died and was buried as Mr. Cameron would have us believe? It would mean that He was just another human being, another prophet who died and went to His grave. No one who is a mere human being can atone for the sins of the world.  When Christ rose from death it confirmed to the apostles that He was indeed the Messiah. Those same apostles who fled for their lives when Jesus was arrested and dragged off to Golgotha, when they saw the empty tomb on Easter morning they must have exclaimed, “Hallelujah! He really is the Messiah!” If Christ is still in the grave somewhere, your sins have not been forgiven. Once the apostles witnessed the resurrection first hand they found the courage to proclaim the name of Jesus in a very hostile environment. “He is risen” was at the heart of their proclamation.

Now, let’s move back to Romans 8:1. Paul, also a witness to the living and resurrected Christ, proclaims that benefit # 1 is that we will never face condemnation. Like Jörg, we can live with a fear of condemnation, but those who are in Christ Jesus will never, ever face condemnation. Once that reality is lodged in your soul, a great weight is lifted from us. The promise is not for everyone. It does not say it is for those who believe in God, or even those who profess faith in Jesus. It does not say it is for those baptized and who have their name on a church roll. The promise is for those who are IN CHRIST JESUS. Paul’s point is that Jesus is alive, and by faith we enter into relationship with Him.  Our soul is united with Him and we are in Christ.

The New Testament wants to make sure we know the difference between real faith and professed faith. Real faith places us into a living relationship with the resurrected Jesus. A mere profession of faith (words that do not sink deeply into the soul) does not. The question we need to answer this Easter is not simply, “Do you believe.” I suspect all of us would say, “Yes, I believe.”  We also need to ask the question, “Am I in Christ?” True faith brings us into a living relationship with our Lord.  

What a blessing it is to live each day with the feeling that if I die today I will not be condemned. What a joy it is to live life in Christ – – to know the reality of His promise, “Lo, I am with you always.” It doesn’t get any better than that.

Romans 8 begins with “no condemnation.” It concludes with “no separation.” That is the second great blessing of the resurrection. Listen to the words of Paul, words often read at funeral services. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:34-39)

Paul argues that the death and resurrection of Jesus result in two great blessings: No condemnation (Who is he that condemns?); and no separation (Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?)  Paul outlines the various difficulties that we encounter in life. Trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, danger, sword, death, demons, things present or things to come, powers, heights, depths – – – and perhaps he thinks to himself, “Can any of these things separate us from the love of Christ?” and the answer screams from his pen:  nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

Why did Jesus endure the cross? Why was He gloriously resurrected on Easter? Because He loves us.  At the cross He removed all condemnation from us. When He rose from the grave He lives to enter into fellowship with all who trust Him.  He loves us with a love that can never be taken from us. The love of God is no guarantee that we will be free from trouble in this life. There is a false teaching which is widely circulating in the church today that through faith we can get whatever we want from God. Healing, money, cars, boats, fancy homes – – – whatever. If we will just pray and believe God will do what we ask, He will.

When you hear that kind of teaching, remember Paul’s words in Romans 8. Christians are assaulted by all kinds of problems. We get sick, we have pain, we have problems with neighbors, children, friends, relatives.  We experience regularly the words of Job: Man is born to trouble . . .” (Job 5:7). But no matter how rough life becomes, one thing never changes. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

I close with a story from history that illustrates this grand truth. Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse, was the 3rd child of Queen Victoria, Great Britain’s longest reigning monarch. She is the great grandmother of Phillip, the husband of England’s present Queen Elizabeth. She married Prince Louis of Hesse, king of a small German state. Several of her children contracted diphtheria. One of her daughters died of the disease, and her youngest son fell ill. Princess Alice was warned by her doctors not to be around her children while they were ill because the disease was so contagious. The princess was standing outside her son’s bedroom one day and she heard him say to his nurse, “Why doesn’t mommy kiss me anymore?” When she heard that she threw open the door, embraced her son and smothered him with her kisses. A short time later Princess Alice succumbed to the disease. Her love for her son could not endure separation from him, even if it killed her.

The spiritual application is clear. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, filled with fear and dread about the future. God’s love moved Him to extend mercy to us. Jesus went to the cross for us, smothering us with the loving grace of God, removing all condemnation from us. He rose so that we can live life now and forever in His loving arms. Place your hand in the hand of Jesus, and nothing will ever separate you from His love. Easter means – – – No condemnation; no separation. It doesn’t get any better than that.


TITUS # 1: DEFINING A MATURE CHRISTIAN
Warsaw Christian Church (3/10/19) Richard Bowman, Pastor

We don’t focus much on the little book of Titus (3 chapters). I want to spend a few weeks seeking for some great truths revealed in this small epistle. By way of introduction, Titus is one of Paul’s companions. The church has been established on the island of Crete. Paul gives to Titus both doctrinal and organizational instructions he is to implement in the Cretan churches.

Paul refers to himself as a “slave” of Jesus Christ as he begins this epistle (1:1). Some translations say “servant” but the Greek word for slave (doulos) is used here. Some translators thought slave was a negative word and so they avoided it. Servant sounds so much better. But Paul says he was a slave of God. This is striking, for the last thing a person wants to be is a slave to anybody. Yet this is exactly what Paul claimed. In fact, he proudly declared that he was the slave of God. What did Paul mean?

I hope we understand that we also are called to be slaves of God. Paul is not speaking only of himself, but of all who claim the name of “Christian.” God paid the high price of the blood of His Son to redeem us. We have been bought and paid for by the sacrificial act of God Himself. Paul amplifies this truth in 1 Cor. 6:19-20: “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? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. As a Christian we have forfeited the right to determine our own course in life. We belong to God as willing slaves. We have been bought with a price and our goal in life as blood bought believers in Jesus is to glorify God.

The will of a slave belongs totally to God. He was completely subservient to God and owes total allegiance to the will of God. We pray each Sunday, “thy will be done.” Do we mean it? Whose will is really in control of your life? Is it your will or God’s will? Slaves do not argue with the master. They do as they are told.

Peter is a good example of a man who at times forgot he was a slave. You recall the familiar exchange that takes place in Matthew 16. Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do men say I am?” What is the latest scuttlebutt concerning my identity? The disciples reply, “Some think you might be Elijah, or some other prophet, or perhaps John the Baptist.” Then Jesus asks His disciples the direct question, “Who do you say that I am?” Before anyone else can respond Peter blurts out the answer, “You are the Christ (Messiah) the Son of the living God.” Jesus praises Peter for that response.

Then Jesus explains that He must go to Jerusalem where He will suffer and be put to death. I can imagine the mouths of the disciples dropping open in shock when they hear those words. Peter again takes charge. “Guys, don’t worry about this. Let me have a private chat with Jesus and I will straighten out His thinking. He is obviously mistaken about that death business. He just praised me for declaring that He is the Son of God. Clearly I have a good understanding of things and I can clear this up. The Son of God, killed by His enemies? No way.”

So Peter takes Jesus aside. Jesus, he says, “this will never happen to you.” Jesus then shocks Peter with His response: “Get behind me Satan!” As we try to read between the lines of this text we might describe what is happening in this way. Jesus says in effect to Peter, “Did you not just declare than I am the Son of God?” Peter, “Well, yes I did.” Jesus, “Are you also the Son of God?” Peter, “Of course not! You alone are the Son of God. I am your humble servant.” Jesus, “Who do you think knows about the future, you or me? Peter, “You, of course – – – oh, I get it. You are the Master and I am the slave. I will stand behind you and obey your leadership.” Jesus, “That sounds like a good plan.”

When Peter correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah he apparently got a little puffed up about his wisdom. He thought He knew better than Jesus. He forgot who the Master was and who the slave. That is never a good idea either for Peter or for us. Slaves listen to the Master and obey. They do not argue!

Being a slave to God means you have the highest and most honored profession in the entire world. The believer’s slavery to God is no cringing, cowardly, or shameful subjection. It is the position of honor; the honor that bestows upon a man the privileges and responsibilities of serving the King of kings and Lord of lords. God has taken a word men fear – – – slave – – -and transferred to the word the highest of honors.

And where does slavery to God lead us? Paul mentions several words in Titus 1:1-2: Slaves of God become His elected servants. Faith in Jesus puts us into a special category. We become God’s elect; God’s chosen people. Slaves of God are immersed into divine truth. Those who submit to God’s rule are led ever deeper into divine truth. It is as if God shines a large spotlight on the pages of Scripture so that His slaves understand ever more clearly the divine revelation.

Paul then mentions that slaves of God are led into godliness. The Greek word means a piety characterized by a Godly attitude leading to behavior that is pleasing to God. In other words slaves of God are led by the Holy Spirit into behaviors that are good because they are divinely inspired.

The best is left for last. What is the end result for those who chose to live as slaves of God? Paul says in verse 2 that God has promised us eternal life. Paul adds that while God can do anything, there are some things He cannot do. For example God cannot lie. He is incapable of lying. He is a God of truth. When He promises us eternal life you can take it to the bank! Who would not want to be a slave and receive all those glorious benefits? Where do I sign up?

You sign up by confessing with your mouth and believing in your heart that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, Lord and Savior of the world, crucified for us and resurrected from the grave. There is one more topic we need to explore. It is a topic we have examined before. It is the contrast we must make between saving faith and discipleship (another word for slavery).

In Chapter 3:4-7 of Titus Paul writes this: But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 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, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. We will return to these profound words later. For now I simply want you to notice that Paul is stating clearly that salvation comes to us freely from the grace of God. We do not earn God’s salvation by the good works we do.

Here is the point I hope we can all embrace. All Christians are slaves of God. You cannot say, “I believe in Jesus but chose not to be His slave.” It doesn’t work that way. We are saved by grace by the love of God through the sacrifice of Jesus. We have been bought with a price, that price being the precious blood of Jesus. We have been bought and paid for. Faith in Jesus brings us into slavery. How well we function as slaves is another matter. We can be faithful slaves, or careless slaves. We can be hard working slaves or lazy slaves. What happens to careless, lazy slaves? Let’s look at the worst case scenario.

Paul makes it clear at the end of chapter 1 that some profess faith but deny Christ by their works. Listen to Titus 1:16: They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work. It is possible to claim to believe in Jesus but the way we live gives the lie to that profession.

Once again we are face to face with the relationship between faith and works; between a verbal confession of faith and the quality of our discipleship (slavery). Paul is clear: good works do not save us or add anything to our salvation. What good works do is reveal, sustain and build faith. Those who profess to be Christians but whose lifestyle is more about self than about God – – – their lack of interest in doing the works that God has commanded reveal the hypocrisy of the profession of faith.

Think of it like this. Salvation is like a coin with faith on one side and slavery on the other. You cannot accept salvation and reject slavery. The more faithfully you perform as a slave, the more your faith grows. Unfaithfulness leads to a weakening of your faith and may eventually lead to the death of faith altogether.

One final thought. Why would any of us resist being faithful slaves to the one who loves us and wills nothing but our good? Why do we turn away from His will in order to carry out our own will which leads only to pain? The irony is that those who are slaves to Christ experience the greatest freedom. Those who refuse to live as Christ’s slaves live in bondage.

I titled this sermon “Defining a Mature Christian” A mature Christian is a believer who willingly declares, “I wish to be an obedient slave to my Savior Jesus.” When that declaration is backed up with an abundance of good works, that is a mature Christian.


ACTS OF THE APOSTLES: THE CONCLUSION

Warsaw Christian Church (3/3/19) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Acts 27,28

Paul appealed his case to Caesar because of his Roman citizenship and in the last two chapters of Acts he heads to Rome. In Chapter 27 we have a lengthy, blow-by-blow description of sailing to Rome, the violent seas ending in a ship wreck on the island of Malta. Paul is bitten by a deadly snake. The natives of Malta expect him to die, but Paul is not affected by the viper bite. The natives are so impressed that they round up sick folk and bring them to Paul and he heals them.

Then, on to Rome where Paul is placed under house arrest. He has a guard with him at all times. Paul calls the leaders of the Jews together and once again proclaims his innocence. He again explains that Jesus is not anti-Jewish. He is rather the fulfillment of the hope of Israel. He receives the usual response. Some believed, many did not. The Book of Acts ends with Paul preaching to any and all for 2 years while under house arrest. The Bible does not tell us what finally happened to Paul. The early church fathers tell us that he was condemned to death by Nero and decapitated.

As we have reached the end of the Book of Acts it remains to summarize the main points we have covered. In terms of the big picture what do we learn in this book that relates to us today.

We note first of all the improbability of the church surviving in the first century. There was much opposition to the message of Jesus both from Jews and the Roman Empire. How was it that a small band of disciples of Jesus, men and women with no status or influence, were able to spread the Gospel to the very ends of the Roman Empire? Peter and Paul are the main subjects in the book and they were men who believed so strongly in Jesus that they would not be denied. Their faith in Jesus Christ was total. It was by faith that they went to virtually every corner of the Roman Empire proclaiming the name of Jesus. They took to heart the great promises of Jesus. Mark 10:27:  But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”

Mark 9:23: Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Matthew 19:26: But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 17:20: So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.

It was by faith that the Gospel conquered the Roman Empire. We live in a different time with different obstacles. But one thing remains the same. Those who live by faith will accomplish the purposes of God. Whether your mission is large or small by human standards, faith will always lead to victory. As this little congregation in Warsaw, MO lives by faith we will accomplish God’s will for this church. We serve a great and powerful God, a God whose power cannot be defeated. When we place our faith in this all powerful God, we cannot be defeated. The first big picture principle we learn from the Book of Acts is FAITH. Live by faith, walk by faith, pray with faith, and you will see the mighty hand of God at work in your life.

The second big principle we learn from the Book of Acts is this: Those who live by faith will be protected by God until their task is finished. Peter and Paul were often beaten and imprisoned. Many plotted to put them to death. We read about the time when Paul was stoned so severely he was dragged out of town dead. The disciples prayed, and Paul arose to continue his mission. God wasn’t finished with him yet. Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake which should have ended his life. He shook off the viper and continued his ministry. God wasn’t finished with him yet. If you walk by faith whether your life is long or short, God will accomplish His purpose in and through you. No disease, no enemy, no accident can take you out of the picture until God has accomplished His purpose in your life – – if, if, IF you live by faith.

Third, the church of Jesus Christ cannot be defeated. Jesus spoke these words about His church.  And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not [a]prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). The church not only survived in the hostile environment of the 1st century, it grew and prospered until today there are churches all over the world. According to the 2010 census Christianity is the world’s largest religion with 2.2 billion adherents. That is about 1/3rd of the world’s population. It began with a handful of believers, a group smaller than our church.

Fourth, the work of the Holy Spirit is central in the Book of Acts. I have said that it was the unwavering faith of the early Christians that allowed them to succeed in their mission. To that I would add this figure of speech; faith is like a magnet that attracts the presence of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to every true believer in Jesus. However, He does not work automatically in our lives. He works when we walk by faith.

The early Christians did not triumph because they were educated. They had no slick evangelism programs. They had no means of mass communication. Their primary tool was faith, and faith brings the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit brings success to our endeavors. We have seen before several warnings Scripture gives us about the Holy Spirit. He can be resisted, He can be quenched; or we can live by faith and His presence will work in and through us. The practical question we must all ask ourselves is this: is the Holy Spirit at work in my life? If not, why not?

One possible reason is that the Bible is not true. Maybe the Holy Spirit is a figment of Paul’s imagination. If you think that way you are probably in the wrong church. We believe the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God. What it affirms about the Holy Spirit is true. The Spirit of God does indeed inhabit the people of God. He works in us unless we are resisting or quenching His presence. We resist Him when we fail to apply our faith to life situations. When faith is strong the Holy Spirit goes to work.

Fifth, The Book of Acts is Gospel centered. The church has two basic purposes. One purpose is to help believing Christians grow stronger in faith. We do that here primarily through Sunday School, preaching and worship on Sunday morning, Bible study class, and other group events. Why do we want stronger Christians? That leads to our second purpose, which is to reach others with the good news that Jesus saves! We gain some idea about the strength of our group faith by how successful we are in leading others to the Savior.

As we went through the Book of Acts perhaps you noticed the main focus of the church. It was without a doubt their compassion to share Christ with others. Using the Old Testament Scriptures Paul and others attempted to show that Jesus was and is the promised Messiah. Yes, churches today do other things but our main purpose must always be to proclaim the name of Jesus.

I think this has two primary applications for us. First, we are to do what we can in Warsaw, Missouri to see that other are exposed to the Gospel. Many of us have family members and friends who do not seem to take Jesus very seriously. If we cannot speak to them personally about Jesus we can certainly pray for them, that their hearts would be open to the truth. If you have a family member or friend that needs Christ, above all pray for them regularly. If you cannot share Christ with them personally pray that they will encounter someone who can. In this way you are working to perform the primary task of the church, to see others drawn into the Kingdom of God.

Second, our personal influence is very limited. We cannot personally go into the entire world to share the Gospel as Jesus commanded. But we do have a way to extend our personal influence. It is called money. Our money can go to Africa where missionaries labor to present the Gospel. Our money can go anywhere in the world. Our church supports several missionaries, and as our income increases we can increase our support for missions. We also support Ozark Christian College, in my mind one of the finest Christian institutions in the United States. Money we send to OCC helps to train ministers and missionaries who serve all over the world. You will not be able to fulfill the Great Commission with your personal presence, but as you support the outreach programs of this church you are helping to fulfill the Great Commission.

Finally, the Book of Acts tells us how Paul hated the Christians and persecuted them. Many ended up in prison or dead because of the anti-Christian work of Paul. Then we learn of his conversion and he becomes the most influential of all the Apostles. This radical change in Paul should remind us that there is always hope for salvation in even the most hardened sinner. Never say of anyone, “He will never become a Christian.” If God can reach Paul He can reach anyone. Keep on praying for those in your sphere of influence. Nothing is impossible with God.

These are the big picture items we can learn from the Book of Acts. Our founding fathers of the Christian Church movement had one major goal in mind, and that was the goal of being a New Testament Church. Let’s work at being a New Testament Church. . As we put these principles into action in this small congregation, I believe God will bless us.


ACTS CONTINUED: PAUL’S TRIALS CONTINUE

Warsaw Christian Church (2/24/19) Richard Bowman, Pastor

This morning we are going to skim over chapters 21-26. I want to pick out a few highlights to focus on. We note first of all that Paul visits the house of Phillip the evangelist in Caesarea. Phillip has 4 daughters who are prophets (21:9). We discussed the role of women in our Wednesday Bible Study. Here we note women playing a prominent role in the early church. We won’t go over that discussion again, but clearly women did preach, teach and prophesy in the early church. I see no reason to exclude women from such roles in the church today.

Also in Chapter 21 Paul is planning to go to Jerusalem but he is warned that he will find nothing but trouble there. A prophet named Agabus warns Paul that the Jews in Jerusalem will bind him and turn him over to the Gentiles (Acts 21:10-11). Paul declares his willingness to die in service to the Lord Jesus (21:13). Paul does go to Jerusalem where the prophecy of Agabus is fulfilled. Paul is bound and beaten by the Jews and turned over to the Roman occupying army.

In Chapter 22 Paul asks to speak to the Jews who oppose him and permission is granted. Paul recounts his life as a faithful Jew and then describes his conversion on the road to Damascus. The Jews are deeply moved by Paul’s speech! They cry out that he is not fit to live (22:22). The Romans plan to beat the truth out of him when Paul plays his Roman citizenship card (22:25). It was not lawful to scourge a Roman citizen who had not been accused of a crime. Chapter 22 ends with Paul brought before the Sanhedrin.

In chapter 23 Paul, being a wise interpreter of reality, addresses the Jewish leadership again, but he notices that some are Pharisees and some are Sadducees. The Pharisee’s believe in the resurrection, the Sadducees do not. So Paul proclaims the resurrection of the dead. This causes an internal battle between these two Jewish parties. The Pharisees want Paul set free, the Sadducees want him put to death. The argument between these two opposing parties becomes so violent that Paul has to be rescued by the soldiers and returned to the barracks.

The Jews hash out a plot to capture and kill Paul, but Paul’s nephews informs the Roman commander of the plot. The commander gathers up a force of 270 soldiers who take Paul to Caesarea. He is brought before a Roman governor by name of Felix. On to Chapter 24.

Felix listens to Paul but does not know what to do with him. He procrastinates for two years, all the while hoping that Paul will offer him a handsome bribe. As Chapter 25 begins we find that a new governor, Festus, has replaced Felix. Paul continues to proclaim his innocence. The Jews present at his hearing before Festus want Paul returned to Jerusalem. They have a plot to ambush Paul and kill him. Chapter 25 ends with Paul once again playing the Roman citizen card. He appeals to Caesar and Festus proclaims, “To Caesar you shall go.” Unfortunately, Caesar at that time was Nero, not the kind of guy you want to trust with your life.

On to Chapter 26. Paul is still in Caesarea. King Agrippa enters the picture. Festus presents Paul to him and Paul makes his defense once again. Festus states that Paul is crazy (26:24). I assume he thinks Paul’s conversion experience was some kind of hallucination. And surely anyone who believes that a dead man rose from the grave alive must be off his rocker.

After relating his vision that occurred on the road to Damascus for the third time, Paul tells Agrippa that he is only obeying what he was told to do by Jesus in that vision (vs. 19). He summarizes his message in vs. 20. After hearing and believing the message of Jesus, men should repent, turn to God and do works befitting of repentance. We saw last week that repentance is a precondition of faith. Jesus is a Savior for sinners, and sinners who are unwilling to admit their unfaithfulness and seek for forgiveness will never come to faith. Jesus is not simply a philosopher who brings to the earth new and wonderful ideas. He is a Savior of sinners. If you cannot admit you are a miserable sinner whose transgressions have separated you from God, there is no hope for you because you will never repent, and thus never come to faith.

Paul appeals to King Agrippa, a Jew. Paul knows that Agrippa is familiar with the Old Testament prophets. He asks the king to think about what the prophets have said, appealing (no doubt) to how the prophets point to Jesus. Agrippa is impacted by Paul’s message about Jesus. He makes the following reply to Paul: “You almost persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:28). His comment inspired a hymn in our hymnal which we will sing as our invitation hymn in a few moments, “Almost Persuaded.” To be “almost persuaded” is not enough. Those who are almost persuaded but hold back from full faith in Jesus remain outside the Kingdom of God.

Some think Agrippa spoke sarcastically. One of the problems with written language verses spoken language is that you cannot detect tone of voice with written language, and tone of voice often impacts meaning. Agrippa could have said, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian” with a sneer, or he could have spoken the words in a matter of fact manner… We leave that to the scholars. Either way Paul had an impact on the king.

We are not told what held Agrippa back from believing in Jesus. We can assume that his position of privilege prohibited him from surrendering his heart to Jesus. He was the 8th and last king from the Herodian dynasty. Although a Jew he owed his position and power to Rome. He was not about to risk his position of privilege by becoming a Christian. Paul’s preaching was persuasive, but King Agrippa refused to move beyond “almost” and remained a non-Christian.

I can only wonder how many people there are in the world today who have heard the Gospel, and have the feeling that they should respond to Jesus with faith, but something holds them back.

Some give lip service to Jesus, almost believing, but holding back because they have fallen in love with some aspect of this world. It could be money, it could be a sinful lifestyle, it could be power or prestige, it could be fun and pleasure – – – there are many allurements in this life that hold people back from true faith. No doubt there are many like King Agrippa who will say, “I am almost persuaded” but I cannot make a full commitment to Jesus because He might change my life in ways I do not want to change.

The Apostle John put it like this:  Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone lovethe worldthe love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15) If there is anything in this world you love so much that it keeps you from trusting in Jesus as your lord and Savior, you must set it aside. Jesus will not tolerate a secondary or tertiary position in your life. If He is who He claimed to be and if you believe He is who He claimed to be He must have first place in your heart.

I hope none of us are in the position of wanting to believe but are holding back because we love other things more than we love Jesus. I hope none of us are “almost persuaded” but something is holding us back from full faith. Almost persuaded was not enough for Herod Agrippa, and it is not enough for us.


ACTS # 19: RETURN TO EPHESUS
Warsaw Christian Church (2/17/19) Richard Bowman, Pastor
Text: Acts 20
We are in Chapter 20 of the Book of Acts. I want first to examine some events that took place in Troas. Notice in 20:7 that when the disciples came together on the first day of the week, they broke bread. The first day of the week was Sunday. One of the reasons for coming together on Sunday was to break bread together. This is a clear reference to the Lord’s Supper. Jesus had commanded the observance of the Lord’s Supper. The disciples were to take the bread and cup in remembrance of Him. They recalled that they were to take part in this act of remembrance until Jesus returned. And so they came together every Sunday to break the bread and drink the cup, remembering the cost that was paid for their salvation.
The founders of the Christian Church saw this verse as a reason to celebrate the Lord’s Supper weekly. We are one of only a few church groups observing weekly communion. Our founders wanted to get away from church tradition undergirded by man-made creeds. They were determined to base the teachings of the church on the Bible alone. While there were times when I think our founders failed to correctly understand the Bible, I believe they were correct concerning the Lord’s Supper. If the early Christians practiced weekly communion, they wanted to follow their example. Christian churches all over the world are known by the practice of weekly communion.
There is no direct command in Scripture to celebrate communion every Sunday. Churches are certainly free to determine their own practice. However, this example from Acts 20:7 has determined the practice for our churches from the earliest days until today. I for one want this weekly reminder that my salvation has been secured for me by Jesus. I want to remember His suffering at Calvary for me. I want to remember the tremendous price that was paid to redeem me. I want to remember how much God loves me. The weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper helps keep me grounded in the Gospel of Jesus.
Next I want to focus for a few moments on what happened at Troas when Paul preached until midnight. If my sermons put you to sleep you are being biblical! Paul preached until midnight. A young man named Eutychus is listening to Paul from a third story window. While Paul is preaching the young man falls asleep and falls to the ground. Luke says, “he was taken up dead” (vs. 9). Scholars disagree on whether he was really dead or just seemed to be. In any event he was either dead or badly injured. Paul stretched out on top of the young man reminiscent of Elijah resurrecting the son of a widow in Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-24). The young man Paul put to sleep with his long sermon arises restored to health. Personally, I think the young man was dead, but in any event a miracle of healing occurred.
Now, if you should fall asleep during my sermon and collapse and strike your head on a pew and die from your injury, I do not have the gift of healing and will be unable to resurrect you. So, you had best stay awake!
Jesus did give healing powers to His Apostles. Both Peter and Paul performed miracles equal to those performed by Jesus. We have seen examples of that throughout the Book of Acts. Are there those who can perform miracles of healing today? Again, as with other issues we have discussed, the church is divided on this question. Some say that miraculous healing gifts operate in the church today. Others say that healing miracles were used by God to establish the ministry of Jesus and later on to establish the church, but such miracles do not occur today. Whatever your position on that question you are welcome in this church.
I tend to believe that miracles served their purpose in the first century, but I have never seen a person today who could do what Jesus, Peter and Paul did. Allow me to clarify. I do believe in miracles. We do pray for the sick and sometimes miraculous recoveries take place. I just do not believe that individuals have a special gift of healing that allows them to lay their hands on the sick and they are instantly healed, or raised from the dead. I am willing to change my opinion when I see someone who has such power.
I want to spend the rest of our time looking at some key passages in Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders. He summarizes his preaching in verse 21. . He mentions two parts to his message: repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Wait, I thought salvation had but one requirement: faith in Jesus. Why does he now introduce a second condition, namely repentance?
Perhaps you remember me talking about preconditions that must be in place before faith can blossom. I have said, for example, that humility is a precondition that allows faith to be born. Repentance is another precondition for faith. A precondition is defined as something which must take place before something else can happen. We must have faith to be saved. Humility is a precondition. You will never exercise true faith without humility. Persons who are full of pride and arrogance will see to need for a Savior. I said in Bible study that humility is the soil in which the seed of faith can grow. The same is true of repentance. Jesus Christ is a Savior of sinners. If we will not admit that we have sinned against God and thus have merited a front row seat in hell, we will never come to faith.
Repentance is simply saying to God, “I am sorry. I have sinned against You. I need your forgiveness. I need your love.” And God has declared to the world that forgiveness is available through His Son Jesus. Those who trust in Him will have all their sins pardoned. They will be promised a place in Paradise. Repentance, like humility, is the soil in which faith can grow. It is not an additional requirement added to faith that we must fulfill.
What the Scriptures tell us that the one condition required for salvation is faith alone – – – faith in Jesus Christ. But what if I hear that message and I am full of pride? I don’t think I need a Savior. Only the humble will be willing to admit their needs and trust in Jesus. Humility is thus a precondition to faith. Or when I hear the name of Jesus proclaimed and I have the foolish notion that I am good enough to be saved on my own merits and therefore I have no need of a Savior, I will see no reason for repentance. Repentance, like humility, is a precondition of faith.
Only those who see their need for God and who approach Him with humility and repentance will see faith born in their hearts. Is repentance a requirement for salvation? No, it is a precondition for faith to be born. I hope that is clear but I must move on.
Paul declares in 20:16-17 that he has proclaimed the full counsel of God. He has not withheld anything of importance in proclaiming the Gospel. Therefore if there are those who will not believe his message and are damned, it is their own fault. He declares his innocence of the blood of those who die without faith.
There is here an important application for us. We also have the full teachings of Paul. In the books of Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians etc. we possess the full counsel of God. If you own a Bible you possess the same data Paul preached in Ephesus. We have both the capability and responsibility to embrace the message of Jesus found in the four Gospels and in Paul’s epistles. We are in possession of free will, the ability to weigh information and make decisions. We will be saved or lost depending on what we do about Jesus. If we are lost we can blame no one but ourselves.
Paul issues another warning in 20:29-31. False teachers will arise in the church. Even from the inside there will be those who teach error. Those who embrace error will be lead away from simple faith in Jesus. There were false teachers within the church in Paul’s day and there are false teachers in the church today. Paul says this very clearly and he is an inspired Apostle. Churches should never give unconditional loyalty to any pastor or leader. You need to make sure that whether it is myself or someone else, what we are preaching and teaching is salvation through Jesus Christ alone and other biblical truths.
Some of you were here a few years ago when a “street preacher” visited our church. To make a long story short, he offered to come in to our church, correct my anemic preaching and get this church moving in the right direction. Our leadership was wise enough to know that you don’t allow a strange, one time visitor to take over our pulpit.
A more subtle situation was the relationship between this church and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Under the leadership of Bob Minshall this church examined what was happening in the wider church – – – the General Assembly, our colleges and seminaries – – – and voted to leave the denomination and function as an independent Christian Church. I certainly commend Bob and the elders and board of this church for their careful examination of the situation and then voting to cut ties with the denomination. Whenever faith in Jesus is compromised it is time to take action.
If I should ever have a mental breakdown and start preaching that there are many paths to God and we don’t really need to follow biblical teachings, I have high confidence in our leadership that they would smell false doctrine and send me packing, as well they should.
I have covered several topics this morning from Acts Chapter 20. Next week we will sweep through chapters 21-25. Guess what we shall find? Paul is once again in trouble; more beatings, more jail time.


ACTS # DEMETRIUS THE SILVERSMITH

Warsaw Christian Church, (2/3/19)   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 very rich 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 considered the most magnificent building ever constructed in the Greek world, surpassing even the Parthenon. It 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 statues 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 the image of Diana in the temple had fallen from heaven, a sign that Diana was a real goddess, a vindication of her reality. Yes, a large stone did fall 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 basically 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 religion 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 the king sized silver image of Diana, hinting that this might increase their faith. People are so naive I sometimes felt guilty about my persuasive powers. But, on the other hand, 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 very rich 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 headed 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 own money making scheme and he was trying to horn in on my territory. For two years this Paul preached in Ephesus, telling people to enter the Kingdom of God 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 popularity 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, fine; and if he wanted to preach about Jesus, fine. But he was not content with that. He told the people that Diana was a phony; that man-made gods are not gods at all; that 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 was giving 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 market place. If religion begins to cut into your profit, something must 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 simply 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 together and I made a little speech. I called together the other craftsmen whose business was hurt 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 of those in the crowd were Gentiles.  The Jews were perpetual trouble makers in the Roman Empire, and the crowd went wild when it was 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, 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 the crowd 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 just 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 totally 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, and 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.


ACTS # 17, PAUL IN EPHESUS

Warsaw Christian Church (1/27/19) Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Text: Acts 19

You may have noticed I skipped over chapter 18. In that Chapter Paul is at Corinth, and from there to Antioch. The essence of Chapter 18 is found in 18:28: “…he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.” We notice also more opposition to Paul’s message (18:17), mostly coming from the Jews.  Paul ministers in Corinth for a year and a half winning many to faith in Jesus and establishing a church there (18:7). More could be said about chapter 18 but I want to focus this morning on Chapter 19 with Paul in the city of Ephesus.

Chapter 19 begins with an interesting (and puzzling for some) episode. I am hoping you are not aware of some of the problems raised by biblical scholars about this passage. I am going to try and simplify the passage without going into the scholarly debates, focusing on what I think is fairly clear in 19:1-7.  Paul encounters 12 “disciples.” We sometimes use the word “disciple” as a synonym for a Christian, but that is not always the case. You could be a disciple of many different teachers. You could be a disciple of Aristotle, or Plato, or some other ancient teacher. You can also be a disciple of Jesus. These 12 men are clearly not yet disciples of Jesus. They are not fully Christians. They are ready to become Christians but they haven’t yet heard the full story.

They are disciples of John the Baptist. Perhaps they had been in Jerusalem and heard John preach.  John preached the coming of the Messiah, but these men apparently returned to Ephesus before encountering the message of Jesus. Paul asks them what seems like an odd question. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Luke does not tell us why Paul asked that question. We can only surmise that Paul sensed that something was lacking in these 12 men. They apparently were not reflecting the grace and power of the Holy Spirit in their words and actions.

They reply that they have never heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul asks them how they were baptized, and they reply that they had received John’s baptism. Paul explains that John’s ministry was pointing to the coming of Jesus, that they should believe in Him. They are then baptized again into the name of Jesus. Paul lays his hands upon them and the Holy Spirit falls upon them, signified by speaking in tongues and prophesying.

What are we to make of this rather strange episode? First, there is a clear message on salvation. Salvation necessitates full sincere belief in Jesus and the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Note Paul’s question. A possible translation of the Greek is: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit, having believed,” or “…when you believed?” These 12 men were disciples of John, Jewish proselytes, who were still looking for the coming Messiah (Acts 19:2-4). They evidently were not yet Christian believers. They had not been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their faith was incomplete. They believed what John had preached, that the Messiah was coming, but they did not know He had already come in the person of Jesus Christ. They must have left Jerusalem before Jesus was revealed by John. They had repented of sin as preached by John, but they had not yet received the saving presence of the Lord Jesus in their hearts and lives.

Paul does not scorn their incomplete faith. He does not rebuke them for not grasping the full message of John. He approached them in a positive manner. He pointed out that they had done well by repenting of sin, for John did proclaim the baptism of repentance. But John did something else: he proclaimed to the people that…  that they should believe on Him, which should come after him [John], that is on Christ Jesus.”

A person can repent and be baptized and still not have received Christ into his life and heart. That can still happen today. There are people who receive baptism but who have not received Christ. One can confess Christ and still not have the Holy Spirit. One can be baptized in water and not receive the Holy Spirit. When Paul looked at these men who were disciples of John the Baptist, he saw they were lacking something. The lack was visible, and he suspected what it was. They were not bearing the presence and fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  

Genuine faith in Christ always brings the Holy Spirit. “After you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after you believed, you were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephes. 1:13). If the Holy Spirit is absent, true faith is absent. We hear the message of salvation, we believe it – – – really believe it, and are then sealed with the Holy Spirit.

Our text tells us that faith can be sincere, but incomplete. These 12 were sincere in their faith as far as it went, but it did not go far enough. . Note carefully the text: these men believed in the coming Messiah preached by John, and they had even repented and turned from their sin to God. But they still lacked the presence of Christ, that is, the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. How many are in our churches today who have confessed Christ and even been baptized but still have never accepted the truth of God’s Son. There are those who call themselves Christians but lack the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Salvation necessitates full belief, believing the truth that Jesus is the Son of God in the fullest sense; believing without doubt that He is the Savior. Such faith brings the Holy Spirit and the new birth.

What would you say – – – what would I say in answer to Paul’s question? Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?  We have seen in the Book of Acts that the Holy Spirit may come before baptism (Cornelius) or after baptism (the 12 Ephesians disciples). Here is the point. Regardless of when He is received, His presence or lack thereof determines who is genuine and who is not. The critical question to ask is this: how can I know I have received the Holy Spirit.

Well, I confessed my faith in Jesus and according to Acts 2:38 I have received the Holy Spirit. True, assuming the faith confessed is genuine. A few weeks ago we saw that Simon the magician confessed his faith and was baptized, but it was done hypocritically. He was not a redeemed soul. Here is the bottom line. When the Holy Spirit has truly been received and is alive and active in our souls, our lives change radically. What is the evidence in your life and my life that we have in fact been born of the Spirit?  

Let’s turn to another Scripture from the lips of Jesus. John 7:37-39: 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…

As a true spring is ever supplied with water from the great deep, with which it has communication, so shall the soul of the genuine believer be supplied with light, life, love, and liberty, and all the other graces of the indwelling Spirit from the indwelling Christ. We can summarize these changes wrought by the Holy Spirit under three headings.

  1. Cleanse: Just as fresh, pure water cleanses the body, the Holy Spirit gives us a sense of internal cleanness. The burden of sin which we carry is forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ, and we have a sense of being spiritually clean; clean on the inside. John expressed it in these words: 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 (1 John 1:7). As we live life with faith in Jesus we experience the living water of the Holy Spirit cleansing us inwardly from sin, removing from our souls the spiritual dirt and filth created by sin. When we know we have been washed, cleansed by the rivers of living water, we know that we have received the Holy Spirit.  Only He can give us this sense of being washed, cleaned, on the inside.
  1. Renew: The Greek word “renew” or “renewal” means “to make new” (Vine’s Dictionary). Paul expressed it like this: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).  It is the Holy Spirit who recreates us, who make us new. The old way of life passes away. A new way of life springs forth centering on the will of God. Paul expressed it this way 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 believe this “washing” is not a reference to water, but to the rivers of living waters which flow to and from the inner man at the moment of salvation. It is the water spoken of in John 7, that living water which makes us into persons different than we were before. Faith in Jesus changes us. If you have not experienced a significant change in your way of life….your interests, your words, your behavior…. it is time to reexamine your relationship to God. The Holy Spirit always renews those who trust in Jesus.
  1. Empower: The third word is empower. At the dawn of the new age inaugurated by Jesus, he said this to His disciples: But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit empowers us, but what does that mean? In our text it means He empowers us to be faithful witnesses to Jesus.

We know, as believers in Jesus, that we possess a treasure beyond any earthly treasure. We want others to possess this treasure, this pearl of great price (see Matt. 13:44-46). Through our personal life style, our witness to others, our giving, our prayers, we seek to draw others into God’s Kingdom. As we live and walk in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, He gives us the wisdom, the words, the courage to share our faith with others. The primary reason we are empowered by the Holy Spirit is to be witnesses unto Jesus. That is what Jesus says. What does your life say? What does my life say?

We began with Paul’s encounter with 12 men in Ephesus who were partial Christians. They believed the message of John the Baptist, but they had not yet encountered the One of whom John spoke. Paul set them on the right path. They learned that when you place your trust in Jesus at least three things change: the inner man is cleansed (our sins are washed away), renewed (we are changed radically by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit) and empowered (receiving grace to bear witness to others concerning the way of salvation). Cleansed, renewed, empowered – – – Is this your experience?


ACTS # 15: PAUL IN ATHENS

Warsaw Christian Church (1/20/19) Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Text: Acts Chapter 17

Paul continues on hi second missionary journey. My focus this morning will be on his ministry in Athens, but before we head to that great ancient city I want to summarize the earlier part of chapter 17.

In 17:1 we find Paul in the city of Thessalonica. We learn the nature of his ministry. He goes to the synagogue for three Sabbaths and reasons from the Scriptures. Those who follow Paul’s example today will do likewise.  We will reason with others, using the Bible as our textbook. The only Bible Paul possesses is what we call the Old Testament. Paul has one goal in mind. He explains that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from death, proving that He is indeed the Messiah (17:3).

Paul is following the example of Jesus.  On the road to Emmaus following His resurrection Jesus revealed to two disciples many of the references to His life, death and resurrection found in the Old Testament. Indeed, one of the main purposes of the Old Testament was to reveal things about the coming Messiah. Jesus fulfilled those prophecies with great exactitude leading to but one conclusion. Jesus was and is the Messiah, the redeemer of Israel and the world.

Many believed Paul’s message, but not everyone. Some protested that Paul was proclaiming another king in competition with Caesar (17:7). Paul and his companions were also accused of turning the world upside down (17:6). That’s what Jesus does. He turns individuals upside down. He turns families upside down. He turns villages and cities upside down. He turned the entire world upside down!

Basically Paul and his entourage were told they were not really welcome in Thessalonica and they moved on to Berea. Again, Paul goes to the synagogue and preaches Jesus. We are told that the Bereans were more fair minded than the Thessalonians. They listened to Paul, then they searched the Scriptures (Old Testament) to see if what Paul was saying was true (17:11). Many Bereans came to faith, but the trouble makers from Thessalonica  showed up and stirred up the crowd (17:13). So, Paul moves on to Athens.

Athens was certainly one of the great intellectual cities of the ancient world.  It was filled with great memories of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, of Sophocles and Euripedes, of Pericles, and of Demosthenes. In its Agora, Socrates had walked with his pupils; here was the Academy of Plato, the Lyceum of Aristotle, the Porch of Zeno, the Garden of Epicurus. The Parthenon, the most beautiful of temples, crowned the Acropolis. Standing on its glorious height, the writer saw pages and pages of the ancient history of Greece and Athens spread out as on a map. The view is unforgettable.  How will the Gospel of Jesus fare in this great city with its long history of great thinkers and philosophers?

Paul is frustrated when he saw all the idols present in Athens.  One ancient writer by name of Petronius satirically remarked that in Athens it was easier to find a god than a man. Paul again goes to the synagogue to proclaim the name of Jesus (17:16).  He encounters certain schools of philosophy active in Athens, namely the Epicureans and the Stoics. To understand what Paul was up against we need a brief lesson in Philosophy. The Epicureans were atheists; they thought that the world was formed by accident and was not created. You could say they were the early proponents of the big bang.  While they tolerated a certain belief in the gods they treated them as phantoms that were without influence upon the world and upon life. Basically the gods were a myth. At death body and soul dissolved and dissipated in the elements thus ending forever the existence of man. You live; you die, followed by eternal bye-bye. Epicureans had no interest in morals or spirituality; their highest aim was gratification.  Pleasure was the essence of this philosophy. Whatever produces pleasure is good. If you find pleasure in sin and crime, that is good. If you find pleasure in art and literature, that is good. Whatever brings you pleasure is good. This was a doctrine which could not produce anything but selfishness and sensuality when men took it seriously. This was a philosophy diametrically opposed to Christianity.

The Stoics believed God was merely the Spirit of Reason of the universe.  The soul was physical and at death it was burnt or absorbed into God, similar to what is believed in Hinduism. The Stoic moral code called for an grim apathy. Pleasure was not a good thing, nor was pain evil; reason was king and decided what was good and what was evil. He who followed reason was perfect and sufficient in himself. When reason saw no more meaning in life, the Stoics advocated suicide as the most reasonable thing to do. Its first two leaders died by their own hand, and the Romans who felt attracted to this sterner philosophy often followed their example. Stoicism was the philosophy of human pride. Seneca, Epictetus, and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius espoused Stoicism. Again, this was a philosophy totally at odds with Paul’s Christianity.

When Paul encounters these men of ancient wisdom they refer to him as a “babbler”.  Others were dismayed because Paul preached the resurrection of Jesus (17:18). As is still the case, however, these wise men loved to debate. They wanted to hear more of Paul’s strange doctrine.(17:19). They loved to debate and they especially loved to hear new ideas (17:21). They want to hear more about this strange idea of Jesus being the Son of God who was resurrected from the grave.

Paul speaks and tries to relate his message to something familiar to these Athenian philosophers. He commends them for being “religious” (17:22). He makes mention of the many statues and altars devoted to various gods he observed when entering the city. He mentions one altar in particular with the inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD (17:23). It’s as if the Athenians worshipped many gods, but in case they overlooked one they had this altar dedicated to the unknown god. Paul begins from that point and declares “the one you worship without knowing, I proclaim to you” (17:23). He declares there is a God who created the world, a God who wants humanity to seek Him (17:27).  This God is not far from any of us because in Him we live and move and have our being (17:28). This unknown God is not represented by gold or silver idols, things made of stone. The true and living God does not dwell in buildings made by man (17:24). This God has made Himself known in Jesus Christ and in His resurrection. This God will judge the world, and He commands all men to repent and trust Jesus.

How was Paul’s message received by these enlightened Athenians who loved to discuss ideas? As was usually the case, some mocked Paul. Who can believe in a God who has a Son who was crucified and rose from the dead (17:32)? Still others wanted to hear more, and a few believed Paul and repented and embraced Jesus. The unknown God became known to a few.

Let’s attempt to make some practical application from this text. First, we notice that the main emphasis in Paul’s preaching was Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected. That was the case in Thessalonica, Berea, and in Athens. Paul declared this principle later in his visit to Corinth when he said, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).  Yes, there are other matters to preach about in presenting a full biblical worldview, but foremost people need to hear that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who bore our sins at Calvary, was resurrected from death, ascended into heaven where He now sits at the right hand of God the Father.

I hope when I am dead and gone the churches I served will remember that my sermons were focused on Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected. If that is not the case then I am a failure in my role as a minister of Jesus Christ.  Luther referred to the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ Jesus the article by which the church stands or falls. If we get Jesus correctly we are on target. If we fail to understand the centrality of Jesus we fall.

We also lern from Paul’s visit to Athens that when you proclaim the name of Jesus there are three kinds of responses. Some rejected Jesus outright and mocked Paul for preaching such a strange doctrine. Others were undecided and wanted to hear more from Paul as they tried to make up their minds about this Jesus. Finally, a few believed Paul’s message.. Our text names a few of the new believers, indicating there were a few others who camew to faith who are not named.

Have you ever been mocked? I have probably mentioned before an event around 20 years ago where a dialogue was arranged involving Disciple Heritage Fellowship, that group which I co-founded in the middle 1980’s. We were the conservatives in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We were dialoguing/debating with those who were on the liberal side of the denomination. I presented a paper affirming that Jesus Christ is the only Savior of the world, using appropriate biblical passages. The liberal Disciple pastor who followed me began by accusing me of hating Jews, Moslems and Hindus because they don’t believe in Jesus and if Jesus is the only path that leads to God, I must hate those who do not believe in Him. He also accused me of hating homosexuals because I affirmed that biblical view that such behavior is sinful. I was stunned. Of course, I don’t hate anyone.  I just want everyone to know Jesus. Basically I was mocked for affirming a biblical view of who Jesus is.

We have to be prepared for the fact that we live in a world where the biblical Gospel is deemed repugnant to many people. But consider this. Suppose you tell 100 people about Jesus, and 99 reject your message, and reject you with mocking, accusing words. Only one repents and believes in Jesus. Is it worth it? Did I enjoy being called a preacher of hate? No, I did not. If I had the opportunity would I preach Jesus again in a crowd of liberals when I knew I they would reject the message and probably engage in some mocking language against me? You bet I would! My mission when I was seeking to persuade churches and denomination leaders to embrace Jesus is no different than my mission here. I want to lift up the name of Jesus and encourage any and all to trust in Him. Our task is not to worry about how people will respond to our message. Our job is to proclaim the name of Jesus, the Son of the living God, the only Savior of the world, the only hope for those who are lost in sin.

Paul was mocked by the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in Athens. He was called a babbler. So what did he do? He left Athens and went on to Corinth. And what did he do in Corinth? He proclaimed the name of Jesus. And what are we supposed to do in Warsaw? We are to proclaim the name of Jesus. But what if proclaiming Jesus doesn’t work and our church declines? What is plan B? There is no plan B.


ACTS # 14: TROUBLE IN PHILLIPI

Warsaw Christian Church (January 13, 2019) Richard Bowman, Pastor

In Acts 15 Paul begins on his second missionary journey, a journey which continues through Acts 18.  In Chapter 16 we find Paul in several cities. The Holy Spirit blocks him from going into Asia (16:6). To us this verse seems strange. We are told that Paul was forbidden to preach the Gospel in Asia (really Asia Minor or modern Turkey). We are not told why. Paul may not have known why he was forbidden, but he does not argue with God. Paul did preach the Gospel in Asia Minor (Turkey) later, so the command not to go there was temporary.

There is a lesson here for us. The Holy Spirit guides His people in ways we do not always understand. I will put it like this.  Those who walk in faith with a sincere desire to serve the Lord Jesus will be guided by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it may be an inner hunch, a niggling. At other times He guides us in ways we simply know not how. We just pray and ask for His guidance, and the Holy Spirit leads us in ways we may not understand.

I have told part of this story before but perhaps a personal illustration will shed some light on this issue. When I reached retirement ago (many years ago!) I felt well enough to continue serving as a pastor in a smaller church that could not afford a full time pastor. I was interviewed here and by a church in northern Missouri. I don’t know how it happened but both churches extended a call for me to come and serve as pastor, on the same Sunday.

Both churches had positive factors going for them. If I may speak frankly, the church in northern Missouri had some positive factors that this church did not have. The pay package was larger, and they had a very nice modern parsonage. And it was somewhat larger than this church in terms of membership. I remember vividly the other church had a handicapped young teenager who came up to me and said, “I hope you will be our preacher.”  That kind of tugs at your heart. And when I learned the vote count was twice as many negative votes here than at the other church (two negative votes here, one at the other church!) I was sure I should head north.

So why did we decide to come to Warsaw? Less money, no parsonage, and as I later learned, lots of wood ticks! My first impression was that we should accept the call to go to northern Missouri. From a strictly human perspective that made sense. As we prayed we decided that we should come to Warsaw. I really can’t tell you why. I can say now in hindsight that the right decision was made. Joan was blessed by this church and spent her last 9 years of life content. She felt inadequate as a pastor’s wife, but you made her feel welcome. I can’t really explain the how of it, but I believe the Holy Spirit led us here. I could say more about how this church has blessed me, but let this suffice.

I love the promise 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 cannot always explain how it works, but as we trust the Lord, He directs our paths. The hardest part for us is found in the words “lean not on your own understanding.” Setting aside our own thoughts about what we think we should do can be very difficult. Paul wanted to go into Asia Minor. If you were to ask Paul, “How did you know the Holy Spirit was directing you away from Asia Minor?” He might have said, “I don’t know how, but I just know He was leading us in a different direction.” Our job is to trust.  His job is to guide our steps. You do your job and He will do His.

As we continue with Paul’s second missionary journey he has a vision in which he sees a man saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (16:9). Paul obeys and heads to Philippi. A woman named Lydia is converted (16:14,15). Then Paul encounters a demon possessed girl who follows them around. She is a local fortune teller who makes money for the men who control her. She keeps crying out, “These men are servants of the most high God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation” (16:17). Well, what she says is true, so why is Paul annoyed to the point where he cast the evil spirit from her? Paul does not want a woman demon possessed to bear witness to his ministry. Many intelligent people in Philippi would know she was a phony fortune teller, and if she was praising Paul and his message, the intelligentsia would assume that, like the woman, Paul was a fake.

So, the demon spirit is cast out of her, much to the chagrin of those who profited from her predictions. Now she is useless as a prognosticator. Her controllers have lost their source of income. When you mess with people’s income be ready for a severe reaction. Paul and company are brought before the magistrate, and accused of teaching anti-Roman doctrines. They are beaten and thrown into prison (16:20-24).

At midnight we find Paul awake. He is moaning and groaning about how difficult it is to follow Jesus. He is ready to give up and return to his life as a Pharisee. While we would understand such a reaction that is not what happened. Paul is not moaning and groaning.  He is not complaining about how hard his life is. Actually, he is praying and singing hymns (16:25).

What a lesson for us. Yes, life can be hard. Life is often unfair. At times it seems that wicked people prosper and believing Christians are treated unfairly. Paul’s imprisonment is totally undeserved. Psalm 37 and Psalm 71 discuss this theme extensively. Yes, sometimes the wicked prosper. Yes, sometimes the unjust seem to live a blessed life. The Psalmist reminds us to look at the big picture. How will it end for the wicked? Their good life built on wickedness will come to an end, and they will face the justice of God and when that occurs their earthly prosperity and success will mean nothing. Doing what is right will always be rewarded in the end, and doing what is wrong will always reap bitter consequences.

So, when life throws you in jail unfairly, pray and sing hymns. That is what Paul did. And in Paul’s case he experienced an immediate result. The God who violated Roman prison laws when Peter was miraculously set free did it again. An earthquake occurs, the prison walls crumble, chains fell off the prisoners, as God engineered another jail break. It seems that God had no respect for unjust Roman law which collided with His Law. When the jailer realizes that the prisoners are free he decides to end his life. Paul stops him declaring that all the prisoners are present and accounted for. The jailer is petrified. He falls at the feet of Paul and cries out, “What must I do to be saved?” (16:30) He probably overheard Paul and Silas praying and singing and is impressed with their faith and the actions of their God.

Paul gives his familiar one line answer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved…” (16:31). Let’s reflect a bit on that answer. First, notice what he does not say.

Ø He does not say, “Believe in Jesus and be baptized…

Ø He does not say, “Believe in Jesus and obey His commandments…

Ø He does not say, “Believe if you are one of the elect, predestined to salvation. If you are not one of the elect you cannot be saved.

The application is clear and simple. If you were to ask Paul that same question you would receive the same answer. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved…” Yes, it is true that many things flow out of true faith, but it is faith alone which saves us, bringing us into an eternal relationship with God.

What kind of man was this jailer prior to his conversion? Ancient jailers were probably not the friendliest of people.  I am sure he did not say, “Welcome to our jail. I am here to make your stay as comfortable as possible.” He pays no attention to the fact that Paul and Silas had been beaten and were bloody (16:23). He simply throws them into a cell and binds then in chains.  We might assume he feels no compassion for these prisoners.

But then things change. The jailer ministers to Paul and Silas, washing the wounds they had received from being beaten. He eagerly listened to Paul as Paul taught more about the Christian faith (vs. 32). He and others in his household were baptized with water (vs. 33). Were these behaviors necessary in order to be saved? No, faith alone is the one requirement for salvation. These subsequent behaviors were performed gladly and freely because faith brings the Holy Spirit who changes our hearts, giving us a new desire to live in obedience to our Lord.  

The jailer was changed from a hardened, uncaring task master into a compassionate believer in Jesus Christ. That is how we can tell when faith is genuine. Faith alone brings salvation, but we dare not forget that true faith changes us. It creates in us a desire to serve our Lord Jesus Christ. We serve Him through our concern for others. We serve Him through involvement in the various ministries of His church. We serve Him by having forgiving hearts. We serve him by the godly use of our time, talent and treasure.

Can a person have true faith and live a self-centered life with little thought of rendering service to God? Only God knows our hearts, but I have to wonder about those who say, “Yes, I believe! Yes, I am a Christian!” and then show more interest in serving self than in serving God. Only God knows who truly belongs to Him verses those who profess faith hypocritically.

When Jesus described conversion as a new birth (John 3:3) his meaning is plain. When we are born the first time a radical change takes place. We leave the comfort and warmth of the womb where we are sustained entirely by the mother and enter into a world where we have to breath on our own, where there is pain and discomfort, where there is love and hate. The first birth brings about radical changes. Life in the womb is completely different than life in the world. Jesus certainly suggests a sweeping change takes place when we are born again.

We see that change in our text when a rough and tumble jailer is turned into a caring believer. We have to ask ourselves – – – where is the evidence in our behavior that we have truly been born again? Can we live a self-centered life where the basic focus of our lives is me, me, me and then claim to be true Christians? I leave it for you to answer that question for yourself even as I must answer it for myself.


ACTS # 13: CONFLICT IN THE CHURCH

Warsaw Christian Church (January 6, 2019) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Acts Chapters 14 and 15

I am going to run briefly over chapter 14. It describes more of Paul’s first missionary journey. Paul and his entourage preach Jesus in the city of Iconium. Many believed, many did not. They are run out of town (again) when they learned of a plot to stone them. They flee to Lystra. Paul heals a crippled man and the locals decide that Paul and Barnabas are gods. Barnabas is called Zeus and Paul is called Hermes (Acts 14:12). Paul and Barnabas are shocked and make it clear that they are mere mortals. Even though they denied their deity the crowds still wanted to offer sacrifices to them (14:18).

Meanwhile, the Jews from Antioch and Iconium tracked down the apostles and declared them to be false teachers (14:19). Paul was stoned and dragged out of the city and left for dead. However, God is not done with Paul and He raises him up and Paul moves on to Derbe. These first missionaries move around to several more cities ending up in Antioch where they remained for a long time.

What we see once again in Chapter 14 is how difficult it was to be a Christian in the first century. We don’t know if Paul was actually dead but many commentaries believe he died, and God raised him up. If he had not actually died but was severely wounded, the fact that after prayer he got up and went his way suggests a miraculous healing.

My main focus this morning is on chapter 15. It is a very important chapter where we see the church struggling with the question, “What is really necessary for salvation to take place? “Let me attempt to summarize the chapter. All the important church leaders are called together to a council in Jerusalem. Some of the Pharisees have become Christians. They believe in Jesus.  They also believe that in order to be saved you must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses (15:5). Jesus is the Jewish Messiah so one must first adopt Judaism and then accept Christ to become a Christian.

Peter addresses the council. He reports how Gentiles are receiving the Holy Spirit simply by trusting in Jesus.  He reminds his fellow Jews that Israel had failed to keep the Law of Moses, so why should Gentiles be required to do what Israel had failed to do? He asserts that salvation comes to us freely by God’s grace. A letter is sent out declaring that the church leaders have spoken. Salvation is through grace alone, through Christ alone, through faith alone. While that specific language is not used in our text it is clear from the rest of Scripture that this was their intent.

Here are some other passages that reveal clearly how the early church viewed salvation, using the old King James Version. .

“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).

“But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).

“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).

“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephes. 2:8-9).

The New Testament is quite clear regarding how salvation is obtained. John 5:24 gives the divinely inspired summary. First, we must hear the word of the Gospel. We must hear the message that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, our Savior. Once we hear the message, if we believe it we receive a wonderful gift: everlasting life. When faith is born in the heart we pass from death to life.

The counsel in Jerusalem is clear. The Old Testament based on the Law of Moses has served its purpose. The Law of Moses really served two purposes. It demonstrated to Israel and to the world that we humans are unwilling and unable to obey the Law of God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20). The Law, when taken seriously, leads us to despair. Suppose God said to the world, “All who can swim across the Atlantic Ocean will be saved.” At this stage in my life I might make about 20 yards, Michael Phelps would go much further, but no matter how good a swimmer you are no one can swim across the Atlantic Ocean. Of course, God doesn’t ask us to swim the Atlantic, but He asks us to do something equally impossible: to keep His commandments faithfully without fail throughout life. He does indeed promise salvation to all who keep His commandments.  I have met a few people who thought their obedience to God was so perfect that they earned a reserved seat in heaven. I have a word for such people —— hypocrites! We cannot swim the Atlantic and we do not obey the Law of God. So, the first purpose of the Law is to convince us that we are hopelessly lost. God expects our obedience and we fail miserably.

Once we realize that there is no hope for us in the Law of God as a means of salvation, we are ready for the Good News. Paul said the Law is our schoolmaster leading us to Christ (Gal. 3:24). In Acts 15:11 Peter, after making it clear that the Law cannot save us (15:10),  expressed it like this: “we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved…”  Grace is undeserved favor which we receive when we trust in Jesus. This basic message was sent to all the churches via a letter.  They did throw in a few other details to satisfy the Jews, but not as additional things required for salvation.

The basic question in Acts 15 is this: what role does ritual play in salvation? The Jewish Christians were adamant: unless you are circumcised you cannot be saved. Those advocating this position were highly educated, well regarded students of Scripture. If their viewpoint prevailed it would destroy the Christian Gospel. They argued that in order to be saved you needed faith in Christ, plus the ritual of circumcision.

The issue remains hotly debated today. The ritual under discussion has changed from circumcision to baptism. Some declare that in order to be saved you must have faith in Christ plus the ritual of baptism. Is the ritual of baptism necessary in order for salvation to be complete? Are we saved by faith in Jesus, plus baptism?

The answer should be clear to all who think seriously about the entire teaching of the New Testament. God has only one Son who loves Him supremely, only one Son who has proven His love by obeying God supremely, even to the point of suffering for all the sins of the world. And God loves His dear Son supremely. Could God add anything to the plan of salvation, anything that would divert man’s attention from His Son, especially in the very first moments of salvation?  Would God want a man’s mind to be upon anything other than His Son?  Does He want our attention focused upon some ritual instead of focusing his attention solely upon His dear Son? Is it possible that something else is needed to guarantee salvation other than Jesus Himself?  Is there really a ritual, an ordinance, that can reach out and save a man from death?

Does this mean we can dispense with baptism and our other ritual, the Lord’s Supper? Of course not. They have a proper place in the life of a Christian. The Jerusalem Conference was called because of what happened in Acts 10. Cornelius, a Gentile, heard the Gospel from the lips of Peter, believed it and entered the Kingdom of God. That is clear because the Holy Spirit came upon him. This happened without benefit of circumcision or baptism. Cornelius was redeemed by hearing and believing the Gospel. Once he trusted in Jesus his salvation was secure.

After his conversion he was baptized, and undoubtedly partook of the Lord’s Supper. Rituals have their place, but it is Jesus who saves us, not circumcision, not baptism, not the Lord’s Supper. The ritual of baptism portrays our desire to die to our old way of life and live a new life in Christ. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of how our salvation was secured. It has nothing to do with anything we do, and everything to do with what Christ did for us. His body was broken and His blood was shed for us.

There are many things Christians do following receiving the free gift of salvation by trusting in Christ alone. Why do I preach? What do Sunday School teachers teach? We are not trying to earn God’s favor, a favor we already possess. We are trying to pass on to others the salvation that we have received. We support missions in this church, local and worldwide. We pray for one another. We encourage one another. We sing hymns of praise. Do we have to do these things in order to be saved?  The answer is an emphatic NO! We do these things because they are a part of the new life we have received from God.

Are you saying that if I simply trust in Jesus I can avoid performing Christian rituals, I can avoid the church, that I am not required to serve Jesus? No, I am saying that if you trust in Jesus you will want to perform the rituals He commanded, you will want to serve Him through the Church He established. Faith brings a new birth, and that new birth brings a new way of life. We are saved by faith alone, plus nothing. But, as Luther said, “Faith is never alone.” True Christians do not say, “Well, what is the least I can do to guarantee my salvation.”  True Christians (or perhaps I should say mature Christians) say, “I am so grateful that Christ has secured for me the free gift of eternal life. I want to serve Him out of gratitude for what He has done for me.” The church struggled and debated about the issue of salvation in Acts 15. The conclusion? Salvation is a free gift given to all who trust in Christ Jesus. We know there are many areas of disagreement among churches and denominations. We have been discussing in Bible study the role of women in the church. Christians disagree over the issue. What about speaking in tongues. Some say yes, others say no. Are the body and blood of Jesus actually present in the bread and the cup? Some say yes, others say no. The list goes on.

Christian may never agree on some of these matters. We want to get one things straight in our minds. Jesus Christ is God’s Son, our Lord and Savior. If you get that right you are in the Kingdom of God even if you are not certain about some other doctrines. The Jerusalem Council settled the matter for all time for the church. What is required for salvation? Faith in Jesus, period.


A SHEPHERD’S STORY

Warsaw Christian Church (Christmas Eve, 2018) Richard Bowman, Pastor

(A First Person Sermon)

The life of a shepherd is very routine.  Not much exciting happens unless you have to cope with a bear, lion or a wolf. They are always lurking nearby, waiting for an opportunity to grab a sheep. Most of our time was spent guarding the sheep.  We also had to watch out for human predators. Thieves were numerous and clever. The minute you dropped off to sleep a thief would sneak in and run off a sheep or two. Sheep need constant care because they are a defenseless animal. Once they were caught by a lion or bear, it was over. Sheep who wandered away from the flock did not live very long.  The owner of the sheep held us accountable for every lost sheep, so we were constantly vigilant. A good shepherd was able to keep the flock together and fight off all intruders. I was proud of the fact that in all my years as a shepherd I had not lost a single sheep.

We were always on the lookout for green grass and water to feed our flocks. Sometimes we walked far from home in search of sustenance for our flocks. Being a shepherd was no job for the weak or the lazy.  Because of all the walking we did we had to travel light. We had a rod and a staff, a bag for food and a sling. We also used dogs to help keep the sheep together. Fortunately sheep are gregarious, a communal animal. Every now and then an ornery sheep would wander away from the flock, and I would have to go and find the wanderer before he got into trouble.  

I think you can understand the stress we were under. You simply had no time to relax. Between watching for strays and keeping an eye out for wild animals or thieves, your nerves were constantly on edge. We also had to give attention to the newborns, to expectant ewes, and sick animals.  You just had to stay continually focused on the job at hand. Each flock had several shepherds. This allowed us to take turns watching the sheep and gave some time for rest.

Some looked down on the shepherd. They considered it a dirty job, not a job for the upper class of society. We Jewish shepherds always believed that we had a special place in the heart of God. Our great God Jehovah compared Himself to a shepherd in the 23rd Psalm. It was our favorite. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” If God can compare Himself to a shepherd we felt that gave a lot of dignity to our profession.

If I were to give you a detailed description of my daily tasks, you would be bored very quickly. However, there was one very unusual night I want to share with you. It was a dark and quiet night. The wild animals seemed to have disappeared. The sheep were strangely quiet, as if they expected something to happen. Suddenly everything lit up and it was brighter than daylight. We shielded our eyes from the bright light. To tell the truth, we were terrified.  What could this mean? How could the dark night suddenly turn to day? I peeked through a crack in my hand and saw something I had never seen before. It was an angel of God. It crossed my mind to wonder what an angel of God was doing out in the fields in the midst of all the sheep.

The angel spoke. “Do not be afraid,” he said. “I have good news to share with all people. Today, in the city of David, a Savior has been born.  He is the Messiah, the Lord. You will find the child lying in a manger.” The Messiah has been born? And God is notifying us? While I wondered about what was taking place the scene changed. Suddenly it was no longer just a single angel.  The heavens were filled with angels, and they sang out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Then, just as suddenly, it was over. The angels were gone. We shepherds gathered together. I for one wanted to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. As we talked together it was soon apparent that we had all seen and heard the same thing. The Messiah has come! God’s Savior is born! I cannot possibly explain the excitement we felt.  The greatest event in human history had taken place. God reached down to fallen humanity, offering to the world His peace and good will. And we lowly shepherds were a part of it.

Half our group hurried off to Bethlehem to see if we could catch a glimpse of this miracle baby. The other half had to stay with the sheep. As if guided by an unseen hand, we quickly found the stable where the Messiah had been born. We rushed in, and I gazed upon this babe. He looked like any other baby, and yet there was something about Him that sent shivers up and down my spine. It hit me. I am one of the first to gaze upon the Messiah. What a privilege! What a joy! I wanted to say something to His mother but I was speechless. I just stared in wonder at this gift from God.  

The next few weeks were busy for me. I told everyone I met that the Messiah was born. I told them about the angels who appeared in the sky. I told then everything. Everyone seemed astonished at the story I told. I think some were skeptical. Perhaps they thought that all those years with the sheep had made me a little daft. I knew that what I had seen and heard was the truth. Even though I met with a lot of skepticism, I kept telling the story. I believe God wants us to tell the truth whether or not anyone listens.

I went back to tending the flocks, but that night changed my life forever. Whenever I felt discouraged I just closed my eyes and remembered that night. I could close my eyes and see that angel once again.  I could hear that heavenly chorus singing again, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

For me, it was a night unlike any other night; an unforgettable night.  For you, 2000 years later, it meant that the Savior had come. God’s Messiah is a Savior. He is a Savior for all people. He will be your Savior if you place your trust in Him.  May you know that peace and goodwill which the Messiah brought into the world that night.


ADVENT # 4: COMFORT YE MY PEOPLE

Warsaw Christian Church (12/23/18) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Isaiah 40:1-11

I recently read a story about a man who worked for the Post Office. I don’t know if it is a true story or not. According to the story this postal workers job was to process all the mail with illegible handwriting. One day, a letter came to his desk addressed in shaky handwriting to God. Not knowing how to forward it to God he thought he should open it to see what it was about. He opened it and read these words:

Dear God, I am a 93-year-old widow, living on a very small pension. Yesterday someone stole my purse. It had $100 in it, which was all the money I had until my next pension check. Next Sunday is Christmas, and I had invited two of my friends over for dinner. Without that money, I have nothing to buy food with. I have no family to turn to, and you are my only hope. Can you please help me? Sincerely, Edna

The postal worker was touched. He showed the letter to his fellow workers. Each of them dug into their wallets and came up with a few dollars. By the time he made the rounds, he had collected $96, which he put into an envelope and sent to the woman. The rest of the day, all of the workers felt a warm glow for the kind thing they had done.

Christmas came and went. A few days later another letter came from the old lady addressed to God. All of the workers gathered around while the letter was opened. It read: “Dear God, How can I ever thank you enough for what you did for me? Because of your gift of love, I was able to fix a glorious dinner for my friends. We had a very nice day and I told my friends of your wonderful gift. By the way, there was $4 missing. I think it must have been those thieves at the Post Office. Sincerely, Edna.”

Have you ever tried to do a good work and then get criticized? It happens. Edna jumped to a conclusion and criticized the very ones who helped her. At any rate their kindness brought comfort to Edna, which brings us to our text.

If any people ever needed a word of comfort it was Israel. Like Edna, they found themselves without hope. In 587 BC the city of Jerusalem, the temple and the Jewish armies had all been destroyed by the Babylonian Army under Nebuchadnezzar. Ten thousand of Israel’s best citizens were marched off to Babylon in what is now modern day Iraq. Many of those left behind were imprisoned.

In the course of time, the exiles to Babylon married, built homes, had children and settled into their new land. They might as well accept Babylon as their new home. The prophet Jeremiah told them they would be there for 70 years. So they did the best they could in their new surroundings. Still, they were away from home and from the temple–away from everything that gave them their sense of identity. These were years of longing and mourning for what had been.

To make it even worse, the prophets made it unmistakably clear to the people that the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon were not due to Babylonian strength. They were, instead, a well-deserved punishment from God for the unfaithfulness of the Hebrew people. It is in that context that Isaiah comes on the scene with this much welcomed message, “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 . . .”

That was good news for the Jewish people who were feeling God-forsaken. Isaiah assures them that God has not forsaken them at all. God has forgiven their sins and has reclaimed them as His own people. What good news that was for them and what good news for all those who seek to be God’s people today.

This message of comfort and sins forgiven is not just for Israel. We have all fallen short when it comes to obedience to God. We also need a word from God that brings comfort to our troubled souls. There may be someone in this sanctuary today for whom the greatest comfort I could give you is to utter these words, “You are forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ.”  These are God’s words to you this morning regardless of your past: “You are forgiven.Jesus Christ has atoned for your sins.”

But please note this. God did not forgive Israel because they deserved to be forgiven, nor does He forgive us because we deserve forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is attached to His love for us, a love which reached fulfillment that first Christmas when our Savior was born. We read these remarkable words in the Gospel of John. Jesus is facing the cross, the incredible pain and humiliation of crucifixion. He says: “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (John 12:27).

We have no right to demand that God forgive us. If we are to be forgiven it must be initiated by God, and that is precisely what we learn in the pages of the New Testament. God’s love moved Him to send His Son to be our Savior. Jesus did not ask the Father to save Him from the cross because He understood that He was sent to us to receive the punishment, the judgment, our sins deserve. While there are many wonderful things we can learn from Jesus, His primary purpose in coming was to bear our sins on Calvary.

Many stumble over the Gospel because they feel so unworthy. Rachel Naomi Remen is Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. She is especially known for her work with cancer patients and is an outstanding writer.

In her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal, she tells about an event that changed her life forever. She writes that in the beginning of December the year she turned thirteen, her father declared bankruptcy. It was a devastating thing to happen to their family just before Christmas. The result was that the family that year made homemade Christmas presents for one another instead of exchanging store-bought gifts. Rachel knit a colorful muffler for her Dad, and, using copper wire, she made a bracelet for her Mom. In spite of their financial situation, Remen says, the morning of Christmas was as lively as it had always been–the presents, though they were homemade, where just as festive as ever.

Young Rachel ran her eyes over the gifts, and noticed that among them lay a small velvet box. Rachel knew that such a box was not likely to contain something homemade. She looked at it with suspicion. While she looked and wondered what could be inside, she heard her father say to her, “Open it . . . it’s your Christmas present.” Rachel unwrapped the present and found in the small box a pair of twenty-four-karat gold earrings.  “Come on . . . put them on . . . they’re yours,” said her father. She ran straight into the bathroom, closed the door, and put them on her ears. Cautiously she looked into the mirror. Then something sad happened. All Rachel could see was how absurd those expensive earrings looked on her homely 13 year old face.

With tears rushing down her cheeks, she headed straight to where she had left her father. “How could you do this?” she shrieked at her father. “Why are you making fun of me? Take them back. They look stupid. I’m too ugly to wear them. How could you waste all this money?” She flung the earrings to the floor and burst into tears. All this while, her dad said nothing. Then he came to her, held her in his arms and whispered, “I know they don’t look right now. I bought them because someday they will suit you perfectly.”

Isn’t that the way it is with us? We are not worthy of the great gift God has given to us beginning with the first Christmas. Sin has made us ugly, undesirable, unworthy. Our heavenly Father says to us, “I know you aren’t worthy now, but as you trust in my Son I intend to make you beautiful once again.”  

God has brought comfort to our souls. He has done everything that needed to be done to secure our salvation. I ask you now to close your eyes for a moment and in your mind gaze upon Jesus hanging on a cross. —– Two thoughts come to my mind when I contemplate the cross. I am grieved that it was my sins that placed Him there. I feel sorrow over my sins. I say to God, “I am so sorry that I have so violated your will and that your Son who never sinned even once was willing to absorb my punishment.” That is repentance. Can anyone look upon the suffering Savior and not feel grief over the fact that it was because of our sins that He had to suffer, and He suffered willingly because of His love.

The second thought I have when I look upon my bleeding Savior is faith. I want to say to Him, “Blessed Jesus, I thank you for your great love.  It is beyond my comprehension. I trust you now and forever as my Savior and Lord.” That is faith.

Yes, you can look at the cross in different ways. Some look at the cross and conclude, “It’s all a fairy tale. I don’t believe the biblical story. God taking on human form and being born as a baby in Bethlehem? Ridiculous, nonsense.  No intelligent person can believe that.” What do you see when you view the cross?

Israel was comforted and forgiven and given another chance. They messed up the second chance, the third chance, and every chance again and again. God “decided” to create a new way to bring us fallen humans into a relationship with Him. No matter how many chances we receive to try again to obey the Law of God, we fail. A New Covenant was brought into being requiring nothing from us accept faith in the Son of God.

Paul summarized the Gospel many times in his writings. A good example is found in Romans: “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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17). Or consider these inspired words: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.” (Romans 3:21-22).

Who receives the comfort, the benefits of the Gospel?  All those who believe, all those who have faith in Jesus. Israel was comforted for a season. Jesus provides permanent comfort to all who believe in His name. God’s word to Israel applies also to us. 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 . . .” Your sins, my sins have been paid for.  Jesus paid the price at Calvary. To know we have been forgiven and have been granted a place in heaven brings great comfort to our souls. May we all receive divine comfort this Advent season as we trust in our Savior.


ADVENT # 3: THAT ELUSIVE WORD “PEACE”

Warsaw Christian Church (12/16/18) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Philippians 4:4-7

Peace, we all long for it but it seems so elusive. The world we live in is hardly full of peace. I recently read about a peace march that took place in Los Angeles a few years ago. Before they had gone too far, however, the peace march stalled-out. About half of the group had disbanded because of petty bickering within the group. The remaining marchers quickly argued about who had to walk and who got to ride in vehicles. Following that was a dispute over a dress code. Finally, they decided to settle some of the conflict with an election, but there was disagreement over who could vote. Eventually they came to an agreement, allowing even the children to vote, but then the election was declared invalid. The ‘peace march’ ended with a large percentage of those assembled refusing to speak to one another. And we wonder why nations cannot get along!

Let’s hear the word of God from our text: Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your [a]gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

What a wonderful benediction! 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. These words are so important as we look forward to Christmas. Peace is so central to the message of Jesus. The angels that sang in the heavens at Christ’s birth of peace on earth, goodwill toward men remind us of the great hope that Isaiah described hundreds of years before Christ was born: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” (11:6) Peace in the animal kingdom, and notice that phrase: “a little child shall lead them.” Could that be a reference to the baby born in Bethlehem who will one day bring peace to this troubled planet?

Every year at this season our thoughts turn again to that beautiful word “peace.” We long for the day when the wolf and the lamb will be friends, and more importantly, when men and women will live in peace together. We long for peace; peace in the world, peace in our homes, peace in our hearts. We long for peace but it seems so elusive. It seems that holding on to peace is sort of like trying to hold on to a greased pig!

Ever since Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden we see nothing but conflict. Nations can’t get along. Families can’t get along, and sometimes we toss and turn at night because there is no peace in our hearts. There is a story of a young Norwegian soldier during WW II. His mother and father and his entire family were killed in that terrible war. It was a tragic situation. On Christmas Eve he was alone for the first time. He was very depressed. He came out and stood by the edge of a Norwegian fjord and in his frustration and bitterness, he shouted into the sky: “Glory to God in the highest” . . . and the fjord echoed back . . . HIGHEST Highest. Highest. He shouted again, “And on earth, PEACE,” and the fjord echoed back. . . Peace . . . peace . . .peace. The young man sat down and cried. There was no peace. Peace for him was only an echo that began to fade and fade and fade far away. It seems that way to us as well.

Peace, we all long for it but it seems so elusive. Every year people gather in Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. Armed soldiers mingle with the crowd outside the church. There are body searches, metal detectors, and security booths. How sad that on the night we honor the birth of Christ there must be armed guards present to protect against acts of violence.

How can we find that peace which transcends all understanding? There is but one place. Peace comes only through Jesus Christ. I like the story writer Gordon McDonald tells about a Nigerian woman who is a physician at a great teaching hospital here in the United States. This distinguished woman came out of the crowd one day to say something kind about the lecture McDonald had just given. She introduced herself using an American name. “What’s your African name?” he asked. She immediately gave it to him, several syllables long with a musical sound to it. “What does the name mean?” he asked her. She answered, “It means ‘Child who takes the anger away.’”

When McDonald inquired as to why she would have been given this name, she said, “My parents had been forbidden by their parents to marry. But they loved each other so much that they defied the family opinions and married anyway. For several years they were ostracized from both their families. Then my mother became pregnant with me. And when the grandparents held me in their arms for the first time, the walls of hostility came down. I became the one who swept the anger away. And that’s the name my mother and father gave me.”

McDonald concluded, “It occurred to me that her name would be a suitable one for Jesus.” In the same way that this woman as an infant brought so much love into a family that old grudges and animosities faded away, so the Christ child brought love into human society, enough love so that if each of us lived in His love, all anger and all hatred in our world would quickly drain away. We call Jesus “The Prince of Peace,” and indeed He is. It is Christ Jesus alone who brings peace to troubled hearts, peace to troubled families, and peace to a troubled world. Those who trust in Him receive that peace of God which passes all understanding. Because we have read the entire story in the New Testament we know that nations will never achieve peace, terrorism will continue, mass shooting will occur, conflicts will continue to take place in families – – -until Jesus returns. The Jesus who came in Bethlehem is coming again. The world peace we long for must await His return.

Our task in the meantime is to demonstrate the peace of Jesus to others in our daily lives. Lucinda Norman wrote an article in Lookout magazine titled “An Atmosphere of Calm.” She describes her Christmas shopping experience at a busy mall. It was far from a peaceful experience. People had been pushing, elbowing and cutting in front of her all day. Hardly able to take it anymore, she says, “During a 10-minute special [which featured a 10% discount off of the already 25% discount], a woman grabbed a lace tablecloth from my hands. I looked her straight in the eye and grunted, ‘Mine!’ and yanked it back. I won. By 4 o’clock in the afternoon, my mood was belligerent.”

At a mall restaurant MS Norman met some friends and flagged down a server and said, “I need hot tea, now!” The lady snapped at her and said, “I’m not your server. Wait your turn.” She said, “Lady, I’ve been waiting my turn all day, bring me some tea!” But the waitress ignored her.

A few moments later, a friendly young man came to her table smiling and said, “I’m Rob, your waiter.” After he took the order she noticed that Rob stopped to help the rude waitress with her tray. He greeted the other customers and staff. In the midst of dozens of hurried shoppers and restaurant staff he conducted himself in a polite, unhurried atmosphere of calm. When he refilled her tea, Lucinda noticed a silver ring on his right hand made of connected letters. After he walked away, she said to the other ladies at the table, “Did you notice that our server is wearing a ring that spells Jesus?”

From that moment her attitude changed. This one young man’s example had reminded her of the peace that Christ came to bring. This young man had apparently spent time with the Lord. For the rest of the day, she enjoyed shopping, opened the door for others, let people in front of her at the checkout line. That’s what Christ does when he comes into a life. He takes away anger, takes away fear, takes away selfishness, takes away greed.

In a world torn apart by conflict, can you be a peacemaker? While we await that final eternal peace which Christ will bring to the world, will we do our best to manifest His love and peace to others?

Frederick Buechner tells an interesting story about a Christmas pageant. He writes, “The manger was down in front at the chancel steps where it always is. Mary was there in a blue mantle and Joseph in a cotton beard. The wise men were there with a handful of shepherds, and of course in the midst of them all, the Christ child was there, lying in the straw. The nativity story was read aloud by my friend with carols sung at the appropriate places, and all went like clockwork until it came time for the arrival of the angels of the heavenly host, as represented by the children of the congregation, who were robed in white and scattered throughout the pews with their parents.

“At the right moment they were supposed to come forward and gather around the manger . . . and that is just what they did except there were so many of them that there was a fair amount of crowding and jockeying for position, with the result that one particular angel, a little girl . . .who was smaller than most of them, ended up so far out on the fringes of things that not even by craning her neck and standing on tiptoe could she see what was going on. ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill among men,’ they all sang on cue, and then in the momentary pause that followed, the small girl electrified the entire church by crying out in a voice shrill with irritation and frustration and enormous sadness at having her view blocked, ‘Let Jesus show!’” She was upset because she couldn’t see Jesus.

And that is the secret that will lead to peace. “Let Jesus show!” Let Jesus be seen. Trust in Jesus! Follow Jesus! Those who trust in Jesus receive a taste of that eternal peace He will bring in the future.


ADVENT # 2: WHEN HEAVEN CAME DOWN

Warsaw Christian Church (12/9, 2018) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Luke 6:1-3

I recently read an apocryphal tale about some criminals who stole a steel safe from a store. They thought they could break it open and take all the money inside. They beat it with a sledge hammer, they tied it to the bumper of their car and dragged it for miles, they threw it into a fire; they tried to blast it open with gunpowder. It was all for naught. They finally gave up and discarded the safe in an empty field.

The safe was found and traced back to the owner. The owner turned the combination and shortly the safe was open and his money safe. Salvation is like that. Some try hard to win God’s favor, but all for naught. They work hard trying to please God, they make great sacrifices to win God’s favor.  Martin Luther, when he was an Augustinian monk, worked and worked, even punishing his own body in an effort to win God’s favor. Nothing seemed to work until he learned from Scripture that salvation is a free gift received by faith. Today we look again at that simple combination that opens the gates of heaven. It has nothing to do with how hard we work. It has everything to do with what God has done for us.

Four hundred years before Christ, Plato, the great Greek philosopher, sought to penetrate the mystery of reality. He described the human condition like this: Humanity is imprisoned in a cave. He is shackled in a world from which he cannot escape. He wears blinders so that his perspective is limited to what is directly in front of him. Before him are only the shadows of real objects. Given these restraints, he is able to view only a small part of reality, to comprehend a tiny fraction of truth. No wonder Plato’s name lives even today. His was a brilliant recognition of the human situation before the coming of Christ. Plato taught that the only thing humanity can see are shadows in a dark cave.

Plato was a great philosopher, but even the simplest Christian believer has an advantage over this noble Greek. The simplest Christian believer knows that into that dark cave of the human condition God has shone a wondrous light. That, of course, is what Advent and Christmas are about.

One of the ancient church fathers was a man named Origen. He tried to simplify the message of this season with an analogy: Suppose, he said, there was a statue so large that human eyes simply could not take it in. How could we ever grasp the essential form and substance of this statue? Origen’s imagined solution was to make a small copy of the giant statue to an exact scale but much reduced. Then humanity could see what the greater statue was like.

Origen went on to say this is what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. He shows us what He himself is like within the bounds of our human ability to understand. Here, then, is the first glorious truth about Advent and Christmas. God has come down to us in Jesus Christ. Christ is an exact replica of Godreduced to human size. What is God like? Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father . . . I and the Father are One.

Theologians call it the incarnation. Our great, awesome, enormous, omnipresent God is so great that we humans cannot begin to grasp what He is like. He is compared to the statue that is so large the human eye cannot take it all in. So, God poured Himself into a human body so we could understand better who He is.  God is like Jesus. “The Word became flesh and dwelt amoing us.” says John.  What is Advent all about? God has come down to us in the person of Jesus.

I like the story told by Al Lindgren, a professor at Garrett Evangelical Seminary. He tells about taking his junior-high-school son fishing years ago. It was one of those days when the fish wouldn’t bite, so the two of them had a lot of time to talk. Out of the blue his junior-high son asked, “Dad, what is the toughest thing God ever tried to do?” Even as a minister, Al said that the question caught him off guard. He didn’t know what to say, and so like a good teacher he answered a question with a question. “What do you think it was, son?” His son responded, “Even though you’re a minister you don’t know much about God, do you, Dad?” The boy then proceeded to answer his own question.

Since taking science in school, I thought the creation of the world might be the hardest thing God ever tried to do,” he said. “Then, in Sunday school we got to talking about some of the miracles, like Jesus’ resurrection, and I thought that might be the toughest thing God ever did. Then after thinking some more and talking to others, I decided that no one knows God really well. So now I think that the toughest thing God ever tried to do is to get us to understand who He is and that He loves us.” Al Lindgren could simply say to his boy, “Son. I think you’re right. That is the hardest thing that God ever had to do and there was only one way he could do it.”

God wants us to know what He is like, so He wrapped Himself up in the person of Jesus so we could see Him more clearly. That is the good news of the Gospel. God came down to us to reveal Himself to us, and He did it in such a way as to reveal the divine humility. Reflect again on the birth of Jesus. How did God reveal Himself? Under very humble circumstances. If I were in charge of the universe (scary thought!) I would have had Jesus born in Rome or Athens, or perhaps Jerusalem. Bethlehem? Born in a stable? Placed in an animal’s feeding troth? It just doesn’t seem very Godlike. This is God’s Son, Savior of the world! That God allowed His Son to be born in such humble circumstances teaches us something about God. God was willing to humble Himself for our sakes.

There was a small book from Doubleday  entitled, “Dear God.It was a collection of Children’s Letters to God. One young man wrote, “Dear God, was there anything special about Bethlehem or did you just figure that that was as good a place as any to start a franchise? Your friend, Jim age 12.”

We learn from the Christmas story that God has come to us in a human package in the person of Jesus, and we learn that He did this in a very humble manner. He wants us to understand how much He loves us. We also learn from the Christmas story that when God came down to us He lifted us up. He did not lift us up because we are worthy, but because He loves us.

There is an amusing story about a church having an outdoor Nativity Pageant. They decided to use live animals in this pageant. It was quite a challenge because the church was located in the very heart of downtown in a large city. The evening of the pageant everybody was busy making preparations. Nobody noticed that the donkey that was to be used in the pageant wandered off and trotted down the street. He caused quite a commotion. Finally he entered a nearby bar.

Obviously, one of the customers was startled when he saw a donkey come into a bar. The customer pushed his glass aside and decided he had had enough. The bartender tried to calm him by saying, “Oh, don’t let that donkey bother you. He belongs to the Methodist Church up the street.” Thinking about that the man decided it was definitely time to leave! Well, there are some donkeys in the Methodist Church, in the Presbyterian Church, in the Baptist Church and in the Christian Church. There are donkeys both inside and outside every church. Truth is, all of us act like donkeys at one time or another. I have, have you? Sometimes we bray too much! Sometimes we wander away from God’s will. But when Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem of Judea, all of us donkeys were raised to a new level. We have been transformed from donkeys to become beautiful horses. Humanity has been lifted up.

How have we been lifted up? When Jesus came to us He opened the door of salvation for the human race. This was the message of John the Baptist. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord…. All flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Have you seen the salvation of God?  Have you embraced that salvation by trusting in Jesus? How have you responded to the wonderful news that salvation has been made available to you? I read an interesting story that pertains to this issue. One of the most popular gifts people purchase today is gift cards. But according to estimates the typical American home has an average of $300 in “unredeemed” gift cards lying around unused. According to government estimates, between 2005 and 2011, $41 billion in gift cards went unused. Wow! That is truly amazing.

Marie and I love restaurant or Amazon gift cards. As Marie says, “You don’t have to dust them.” And I assure you they do not go unused. But with so many gift cards unused I imagine companies like it when people buy them. What good is a gift card that is thrown into a drawer and forgotten? What good is God’s gift of His Son if we do not open our hearts to receive His love? What good does a Savior do for those who will not trust Him?

We are the recipients of the greatest gift of all. A $50 gift card to Cracker Barrel is wonderful, but trivial in comparison to God’s gift of His Son. The God of all creation has become the babe of Bethlehem. The babe of Bethlehem became the Lamb of Calvary. Because of Jesus our salvation has been made available. It was on our behalf that God humbled Himself, and the salvation that He offers is free to all who will receive it. We do not have to do something grandiose in order to earn our salvation. There is no material gift that we can offer the Christ child in return for what God has done for us. We are like the young fellow at college who couldn’t get home for Christmas. His Dad was funding his college costs. He sent his Dad a set of inexpensive cuff links and a matching inexpensive tie clasp. Along with these gifts he sent a little note. “Dear Dad. This is not much, but it’s all you could afford. Merry Christmas.” What we give to God is “not much” in comparison to what He has given to us.

God has come down to us. God humbled Himself to reveal His love to us. Knowing how thick headed we are He made salvation simple. It is freely given on one condition. Trust in my Son. In this season of gift giving and receiving, make sure you have received the greatest gift of all.


THE ONE WHO CAME IS COMING AGAIN

Warsaw Christian Church (12/2/2018) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Luke 21:25-36

It seems like we just celebrated Christmas, but here we are again at the first Sunday in Advent. The lesson from Luke’s Gospel is unsettling. It is a description of the last of the last days. Listen to these words: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken . . .” 

That is scary language! Nations in anguish; signs in the heavens; the roaring of the seas; people fainting in terror. Hollywood would have a great time with special effects to portray that scene.

I read about a minister who described the final days with great drama. “Thunder will boom,” he cried, “lightning will strike, rivers will overflow, the sky will be in flames!  There will be mammoth storms, floods and earthquakes!” A little girl in the congregation looked up at her mother and whispered in a loud tone heard by others. “Mommy? will I be let out of school that day?”

Some of you may be old enough to remember a radio broadcast that took place in 1938.  I was only 2 years old so I don’t remember!  Orson Welles broadcast a radio dramatization of H. G. Wells’ story War of the Worlds. This broadcast was intended to sound like a report of an invasion of the Earth by Martians. The broadcast, which was carried all across the U.S., was so realistic that it almost caused a nationwide panic. Actor John Barrymore was among those convinced that the Martians had landed. He managed to contain his fear until it came to the point at which the invaders were allegedly marching down Madison Avenue. Rushing out to the kennel in which he kept his twenty prized St. Bernards, Barrymore flung open the gate and released the dogs and in great distress he shouted at them, “Fend for yourselves!”

Well, I don’t know if his dogs were saved from the Martians, but the actor was quite embarrassed. Of course, there have been several instances in history when Christian folks have gotten stirred up by some misled would-be prophet who convinced them the end of the world was at hand. Some people sold their homes, left their jobs, neglected their responsibilities–all because they believed that the end was at hand.

Most of us think of Advent as that special season in which the church prepares to celebrate the coming of Christ at Christmas. It is a season of joyous anticipation. But there is a Second Advent in Scripture, one that is far more disturbing, but also exciting in a positive sense. It has nothing to do with chestnuts roasting on an open fire and visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads. Luke describes it in our lesson for the day: “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

That’s a mysterious image: “coming in a cloud with power and great glory . . .” It is intended to be mysterious. Clouds are the biblical symbol of mystery and of the presence of God. “He is coming with the clouds,” says Revelation 1:7. “Lo, I am coming to you in a thick cloud,” said God to Moses on Mount Sinai. A cloud symbolizing the divine presence covered the tabernacle in the wilderness according to Exodus 40:34-36. A cloud shrouded the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant, a place where the presence of God dwelt according to Leviticus 16:2. And a cloud of glory, the very majesty of God, filled the temple of Solomon at its dedication in I Kings 8:10-11.

A more familiar scene takes place in the New Testament. Jesus and three of his disciples are on a mountain where Christ is transfigured. Matthew tells us, “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah’” Then we read, “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’” (Matthew 17:1-9). When the New Testament says that Jesus is coming in a cloud with power and great glory, it is a powerful symbol of mystery and divinity.

Those are interesting words though for a modern world: “a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son . . .’” We hear much about the cloud nowadays. In today’s world we associate the cloud with our computers. When tech companies say your data is in the cloud it has nothing to do with white fluffy things in the sky. Your computer data isn’t actually in heaven. It’s stored somewhere here on the earth–lots of “some where’s,” actually, all over the world. I’m told that computer companies like Amazon and Google have built a vast network of servers housed in huge warehouses in widely scattered locations–some the size of a football field. That’s where the cloud resides as far as computer users are concerned. Not on Mount Sinai, but anywhere that tech companies can find sufficient power to keep their servers humming.

The Bible tells us that at the end of time Christ is coming in a cloud, but that doesn’t have anything to do with computers. When Luke says that Jesus is coming in a cloud with power and great glory, it is the biblical way of saying that at the end of days, Google or Amazon won’t own the cloud. God will control the cloud and all the clouds that ever existed, and Christ will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.

The second advent of Jesus ought to fill us with excitement about the future. It is easy to look at everything going on in the world today and feel a sense of despair. Mass shootings, political fights, wars around the world, hurricanes, fires – – – where will it all end? It will end with the return of Jesus and the inauguration of His eternal kingdom. Do not despair!  God is in control and His will shall prevail in the end.

People are always looking for signs that the return of Christ is near. We simply do not know when that time shall be but we know it will be, sometime. We are not in despair over the state of the world because we anticipate a new heavens and a new earth. How is it that the early Christians faced persecution and death with such bravery? Because they knew this life was only temporary. They were living in anticipation of eternity.  

Advent reminds us that the victory is already ours. Theologians speak of “realized eschatology.” That is a fancy term that means we can live now in the light of Christ’s final victory, even though that victory is yet to be won. Let me give you an example.

When I was 9 or 10 years old I was hoping to get a new bike for Christmas. Like most kids I hunted around to see if the desired gift was hidden away somewhere in the house. Our basement at 1408 Millman Street in Peoria, IL had 3 sections. The first section was a finished room. The second section was the furnace room and coal bin. (Yes, I am old enough to have grown up with a coal furnace!) For you youngsters coal is a kind of black rock that burned in a furnace and gave heat to the house. The third room in our basement was unfinished, with a dirt floor. It was used simply for storage. I sneaked into that room and there it was, covered with paper – – my new bike. Don’t you love to outsmart your parents? Did they think I would not look in the only room in the basement where a bike might be hidden?

In my mind I was already riding that bike even though I did not yet possess it. I was already enjoying the gift I did not possess, but I knew Christmas would bring that bike to me. That is realized eschatology — enjoying the wonder of a gift you do not now possess but you know for sure it is coming. We do not yet experience the wonder of life eternal, but we know it is coming if we continue to trust in Jesus.

We live in a world ruined by sin and Satan. Even though the final victory has not yet been won, we have read the final chapters of the Bible and we know a glorious future awaits us. Christmas means that our Savior has come, and He who came once will come again to bring final redemption for His people. Hallelujah! Come Lord Jesus!


ACTS # 7: STEPHEN, THE FIRST CHRISTIAN MARTYR
Warsaw Christian Church (9/30/18) Richard Bowman, Pastor
Text: Acts 6:8- through 8:4

I was one of the first among the Jews to trust in Jesus the Nazarene. I came to believe that He was God’s Messiah, the One sent to redeem Israel. I believed He was the Son of God sent to be the Savior of the world. I lived at a time when it was costly to be a disciple of Jesus. I notice that you worship is this very pleasant church building. I do admire the simple beauty of your sanctuary. I understand that the authorities will not come calling this morning to arrest you and cast you into prison. I am thankful for the circumstances in which you live. I hope you are thankful too.

It was not like this is my day. There was a sharp division among the people of Israel. There were two opposing camps which could not be reconciled. The Jewish leadership consisting of such persons and groups as the high priest, the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Sanhedrin along with many other high ranking Jewish leaders, – – – all convinced that Jesus was a false prophet. The other group consisted of those who believed in Jesus and were convinced that He was the promised Messiah.

If you aligned yourself with Jesus the Jewish power structure was against you. If you wanted to be a Christian you had to be absolutely convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. There were very few hypocrites in the first-century church. Those who were wishy-washy about Jesus gave up on Him when they faced persecution. Those who had true faith stood with Jesus no matter the cost. I hope you are all in that category. Here is my question for you. If the day comes (and I hope it never does) when it will cost you dearly to be known as a Christian – – – will you stand with Jesus?

I was greatly blessed by God when I became a disciple of Jesus. The Lord gave me the grace and power to perform great signs and wonders among the people. There were those who observed my ministry and began to question me. I think they thought I was operating under the power of Satan. They accused Jesus of being in league with the devil so it was only natural to also so accuse me. As I dialogued with these men, God gave me the wisdom to refute their charges. Unable to defeat me by logic they did what people do. They made up lies about me. I understand this sort of thing happens in your culture as well. I understand you have two major political parties who do not agree and rather than trying to win the day with logical arguments, they often resort to lies and name-calling. Some things never change.

My enemies decided to spread rumors about me, that I had spoken blasphemous words against Moses – – – and even against God. They whispered these lies far and wide and soon a crowd gathered demanding that something be done to put a stop to my ministry. They wanted to squash the name of Jesus. The authorities were only too happy to oblige and they seized me and dragged me before the Sanhedrin. The lies kept increasing. Now there were those who charged me with the crime of speaking against God’s holy temple. They said I quoted Jesus who declared that He would destroy the temple. They accused me of changing the customs of Israel which Moses established. These were serious charges. I realized that no matter what I said I was not going to convince the Jewish leadership that Jesus was the Messiah.

However, the high priest did give me the chance to respond to the charges made against me. I simply recounted the basic history of the Jewish people. I spoke about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our fathers in the faith. I reminded them of our captivity in Egypt and how Joseph came to our rescue. I spoke of Moses who was skilled in the wisdom of Egypt. He was a mighty prince in Egypt but then had to flee into the wilderness when it was learned that he had killed an Egyptian. In the wilderness of Midian Moses encountered the living God in a burning bush. I spoke of Joshua and the kings of Israel leading up to David and Solomon who built the temple of Jehovah.

So far, so good. Who could argue against our ancient history? I got into serious trouble when I came to my main point. Here is what I said, word for word. “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” (Acts 7:51-53).

Needless to say, my words were not well received. I accused them of killing the Messiah, just as their forefathers had killed the prophets who foretold His coming. I accused them of being stiff-necked and of resisting the Holy Spirit. Was I too harsh with them in speaking the truth? I pushed them into a corner where they had but two choices. Either believe my words and repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ or follow through with their charges of blasphemy against me. I saw their angry faces, their gnashed teeth. It seemed clear they would not believe my words.

I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as I faced an angry crowd. When you are in a difficult situation as a believer in Jesus the Holy Spirit will always be there to comfort and sustain you if your faith abides. I knew I was going to be killed. I looked up towards heaven and saw something glorious. I saw the very glory of God, and Jesus was standing at the Father’s right hand. He was watching – – – He was waiting for me. I told the crowd what I saw and this only increased their anger. They rushed toward me and dragged me out of the city. They had decided that Jesus was a false prophet, which made me also a false prophet.

The punishment for blasphemy was stoning, and one by one they began to throw stones at me. To be honest I was so full of the vision of God that I barely felt the stones. I cried out to Jesus: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” I uttered a final prayer, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” Yes, what they did to me was a horrible sin. My only crime was faith in Jesus. I remembered the prayer of Jesus when He was on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” In my case, I do believe those who stoned me were acting in ignorance. They assumed their spiritual leaders knew what they were doing and they just followed along in ignorance. Well, the bad news that day was that I was stoned to death. The good news is that I was with Jesus that very same day.

You may be wondering, “How could I pray that God would forgive those who stoned me.” I suppose I could have asked God to curse them, but what good would that have done for me, or for my murderers. To die in bitterness with an unforgiving spirit is not wise. God, through His Son Jesus, forgave all my sins. How could I do less than ask God to forgive my enemies? I suspect many if not all of you have had people do harm to you. I hope – – – I pray, that you can forgive.

I remind you of the words of our Lord after He had given the Lord’s Prayer. He said, “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:15). There is a severe price to pay when we refuse to practice forgiveness. Jesus’ words are plain. If you do not forgive others, God will not forgive you. If you leave this life unforgiven by God you do understand what that means, right? It means eternal condemnation. I believe a forgiving spirit is a much better option.

Well, I was not present for the final chapter in my earthly history but I learned later that this is what happened. There was a man named Saul who was present when I was stoned to death. He was in full agreement that I deserved to die. He was one of the main persecutors of Christians. After my death, his hatred of Christians grew and he raised havoc in the church. He would hunt down Christians, dragging them from their houses and having them sent to prison. The church was scattered as a result, but that turned out to be a good thing. Those who fled Jerusalem and went to other areas in the ancient world took their faith in Jesus with them and proclaimed His name all over the Roman Empire.

I died at a relatively young age. The truth is it doesn’t matter your age when death comes. Whatever our age, death comes to us all. What matters is how you have lived, not your age at death. If you die serving Jesus it will be a blessed death, whatever your age. If you die in unbelief even if you live for 100 years your death will be an eternal tragedy.

There is a principle here and I will close with it. You cannot outsmart God. Whenever the devil or his minions do something to crush the church, God always counteracts their actions and causes the church to grow. It will always be that way. Stick with Jesus and you will end up on the winning team. That day which seemed in some ways like the worst day of my life turned out to be the very best day of my life. I went to be with Jesus. It doesn’t get any better than that.