Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Counterfeit Sermon Series Week 2 - “Well Dressed Wolves”

  Every once and-a-while someone will leave notes at the front door of the Church. Most of the time they are left in the afternoon when know one is here, and so, I never get to see the person’s face who leaves them. This past July, one of those notes was left. Whereas most notes are tracks, flyers, or some sort of advertisement, this one was different. This one was a written prophecy. In the first two paragraphs the writer tells of God’s judgment on America because it has rejected him. The writer points to Covid-19 and what has happened since March, as the beginning of God’s judgment.

But it’s in the third paragraph where the prophecy happens. This what the writer states, “The Lord Jehovah has issued this warning. America has less than four months before a massive earthquake will devastate the State of California and there will be more destruction to follow.”

So the prophecy is that, by either the end of October or the end of November, depending on when the four months starts, there will be a massive earthquake that will devastate California and more destruction will follow. 

It seems to be a pretty specific prophecy: four months, massive devastating earthquake, located in California.

If you went through our summer series in 1st Corinthians, you should know that I believe what the Scriptures teach, that all gifts are give by the Spirit at his discretion, that includes the gift of prophecy. And so the question must arise, how do we know that this prophecy is true, and that the writer is indeed speaking on behalf of God?

It’s this question that brings us back to our current sermon series, Counterfeit, where we’re learning to see the counterfeit teachings around us, and that are specifically coming from the progressive or woke church. 

Last week, as we began this series, we talked about the need, especially today, to be on our guard for unbiblical teachings that would call us away from God and his Word. To do this, we came to an understanding that the best approach to recognizing counterfeit teachings, is to know the real teachings of Scripture so well, that we can easy tell the difference when a false teaching comes into our life. 

We also talked about how combating counterfeit teachings must start with us. Before we can truly dive into combating the counterfeit teachings that surround us, we must ask God to root out anything that we believe of his Word that isn’t found in it. Because if we’re not willing to have ourselves face the crucible of being changed by God’s Word, we will fall to the counterfeits that desire to draw us away.

But before we dive into the specific counterfeit teachings that are making their way throughout churches, let’s take this week and focus on those people that would draw us away. The false prophets, teachers, and as John puts it his first letter, the antichrists that go out from among us.

To really understand those who are false prophets, teachers, and antichrists, we must understand God’s simple standard by which to judge such people. The person who left the letter containing the prophecy of the massive earthquake in California at the entrance to the church building, puts themselves in a position of speaking future events on behalf of God. Will it happen? We will have to see. But let’s look at three passages from the Bible that speak to the clues that God gives us in determining if a person is speaking on God’s behalf or their own.

First let’s take a look at Deuteronomy chapter 18 verses 15-22. Moses is speaking to the Israelites about prophets that come after him. In fact, the point of the passage is to talk about a specific prophet that will parallel Moses in many ways. Let’s read about this prophet in Deuteronomy 18, starting in verse 15.

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name.

This is future prophet is fulfilled in Jesus. Now we cannot go into all the details of why, but here are a few. Both Moses and Jesus were saved from the infanticide carried out by a king. Both Moses and Jesus were brought out of Egypt. Both Moses and Jesus spoke from a mountain giving commands from God. Both Moses and Jesus performed miracles in front of God’s people. And in Moses’ ministry things like the serpent being raised for people to be healed, and Jesus’ death through crucifixion parallel each other. 

In fact this is why Jesus says in John 5:39-40, 45-47, “39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life…45 But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

And so, Moses’ prophecy of a future prophet like him, is fulfilled in the life of Jesus. But then what about false prophets? False speakers on behalf of God. As we continue reading, we are given our first two clues as to how to distinguish a false representative of God from a true one. Let’s keep reading in verse 20 as Moses continues to relay to the people what God had said to him.

20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

The first two clues that we have from this passage are these. First, a false messenger makes prophecies that do not end up happening. Who remembers Harold Camping, who predicted the the rapture in May of 2011? Billboard signs were all over the US, warning people, that Jesus was soon to come. But it didn’t happen. Yet if we knew that he had predicted similar things back in 1994 and 1995, the Church would’ve not even have blinked at him, because we already would have known that he was a false prophet. Why? Because he had made future predictions, on behalf of God, that didn’t come true. Now, are you ready to hear some names that have made predictions, on behalf of God, that never came true? Pat Robinson of the 700 Club fame, predicted in 1976 that the world would end in 1982. Ed Dobson who was a Dean at Liberty University, who led the group the Moral Majority, and was a pastor for a number of years, predicted that Jesus would return in 2000. There are more, but these were Christian pastors making future predictions, on behalf of God, that were not fulfilled. In biblical times, those men would be taken out of the camp and stoned to death. But today, they and men and women like them, sell books, telling us when the world will come to an end, and when it doesn’t, they wait, and try it again later, telling those around them, that it was a spiritual coming, or a spiritual destruction. 

Should we take seriously future predictions? Yes, in fact Jesus in Matthew 24:42 states this, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”

We as believers, must always be prepared for the hour of Christ’s return, and we must take seriously every claim from those that say they know of something that only God would know of. Because if it comes to pass, we can praise God, because we were already ready, even before the prediction. And if it doesn’t, we know that the one who spoke it was not speaking from God, but from themselves, and we should not give them room to continue in their false ministry. 

The second clue that a person is a false prophet, is that they speak in the name of other gods. That means that they are speaking as if other gods are telling them to do it, or to point us away from the God of the Bible to other things. 

In the ancient world, this was literally pointing to the worship of idols of stone and wood. In our modern world, we can see this when teachers or speakers use pop-psychology as a basis for their teaching. Need based sermons that make us feel good about how God is going to take care of us, and make sure nothing happens to us. Or sermons that are more interested in helping us achieve the best life now, with riches of monetary and physical value. 

Today the gods of comfort, ease, and wealth in this world are the gods that some pastors preach, and who live in homes that would make the most wealthy of ancient kings wonder at. People like Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, and Jim Bakker to name a few. Though recently Benny Hinn did repent and ask forgiveness for not preaching a biblical Gospel.

Listen to what Peter says about such false teachers in his second letter, “1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping (2 Peter 2:1-3).”

This is why I say that the modern gods, are gods not of a religious pantheon, but of greed for the things of this life.

Let’s look at two more clues in two other passages of Scripture. The first of these and our third clue, comes from Deuteronomy chapter 13, in the first 4 verses. Moses relays this from God, “1 If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, 2 and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” 3 you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.

Our third clue comes out of our first two. In the first clue, God tells us an obvious way to tell when a prophet is false: if their prophecy doesn’t happen, they’re not from God. The second clue, is if the prophet speaks in the names of other gods, then they’re not from God. We might think, these are simple to recognize and reject. But what if the prophet says something will happen and it does? Well, God also gives us a clue to recognize if that prophet is from him or not. And it’s a simple question, does the prophet point us to God and call us to repentance before him, or does the prophet call us to worship other gods? 

See this is the slippery slope, we see the signs of the prophetic word, and we say, it came true, then we must follow what this person says. Cultists and Mediums work on this very thing. They make, usually, a mild prediction that could happen at anytime. Something vague, like a heatwave in Arizona, or an earthquake in California, or a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. And when it comes true, people flock and believe anything and everything that person says. 

People want the flashy predictions and miracles so that they can know that what they believe is real. This is why, in an interaction with some Jewish leaders, Jesus is quoted saying this in Mark 8:12, “He sighed deeply in his spirit and remarked, ‘Why do those living today demand a sign? I tell all of you with certainty, no sign will be given to this generation.’”

But even if the prophecy comes true, God gives us a way to recognize, if a person is truly talking on his behalf. If they make the prediction and it comes true, and then they point us back to God, they are from him. But, if they point us to other gods, then they are not from God and should be treated as a false prophet and teacher. This is why, in the vision that God gave us as a church here, the last part of it is to point everyone back to Christ’s life. Because that’s our job, to point others back to Jesus and his work.

The final clue that we’ll talk about today, comes from 1st John chapter 4, verses 1-3, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”

This final clue to know if someone is a false prophet or teacher is that they deny the physical work of Jesus in salvation. This denial comes in several ways. They might deny that Jesus was a historical figure. They might deny that Jesus was physically human, believing instead, that he was just a spirit masquerading as a human. They might deny that Jesus died on the cross. They might deny that Jesus’ work on the cross was complete for salvation. They might deny Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead. Or they might deny Jesus’ physical return one day.

In other words, they are rejecting the core of the Gospel. This is why earlier in 1st John, John writes these words, “22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also (2:22-23).”

And so, from the Scriptures we can glean at least four clues to see if a person is falsely representing God. They make prophecies that don’t come true, they call people to follow other gods, then there’s the possibility that they’re prophecies do come true but they still call people away to other gods, and finally they reject the work of Jesus in it’s totality, picking and choosing what they desire to follow, rather than what God has said.

And so, when someone says they speak on behalf of God, we must look for the clues to see whether they do or not. This is why I make the pledge to never make a prediction on my own accord, to never call you away from the God of the Bible, and to never diminish or deny any part of the Gospel message. 

We need to be on guard for the false teachers and prophets in this world that would desire to expand their own kingdoms rather than the kingdom of God. We need to hold accountable those that speak presumptuously on God’s behalf, so that the truth would not be seen in disrupt in the world’s eyes, as the Scriptures say in 2nd Peter 2:3. We must vocally speak out and reject those that speak on behalf of God, yet are found to be a false prophet and teacher. 

So, this is my challenge for you today, we all have our favorite pastors or teachers we follow that build us up in the faith. This week, apply these four clues to distinguish a true speaker of God from a false one, to your favorite pastors and teachers. Apply it to me as well, because I am not a perfect teacher, and you need to keep me accountable in that. But if you find one that fulfills even one of these clues, reject their teaching and influence in your life. Because, though they might make you feel good and might speak godly truths, they’re slowing creeping in counterfeit teachings into your mind that is distorting the Word of God in your life. There are many good godly biblically based teachers out there, let us reject those that are not. Don’t hold on to ones that are peppering their teachings with counterfeits, getting fat of their congregations. Instead hold tightly to the unchangeable Word of God.

Because if we are willing to examine those that we follow, then we will be better at knowing the godly from the false, when they speak. Let us be people seeking godly teachers, those that God has raised up to help us seek him deeper. Amen.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Counterfeit Sermon Series - Week 1 - “The Counterfeit Stops With Me”

  Last year, around the height of the winter season, I was greeting people as I usually do in the foyer when they come in for worship. Janet, our treasurer, was standing at the picture area ready for the next person to put up on the wall. As I was greeting, I noticed she was talking with a well kept man with long hair. She directed the man to me, by way of, “this is our Pastor.”

I said hello and the man asked me a question that took me aback for a second. The man asked, “Is this a progressive church?” It took me back because I had never been asked that. But I knew what the question meant. The man meant, do you teach progressive Christianity? Do you affirm homosexuality? Do you leave open other ways to God other than Jesus? Do you teach a naturalist science over the miracles in the Bible? 

I responded with, well we teach what the Bible says. I then asked him to come in and listen and he can decide for himself. I half expected him to turn around right then and leave, but he did enter into the sanctuary and sat down about midway on the right hand side, if you were looking from the platform to the front of the building. I went about my greeting and when I got up to welcome everyone, he had gone.

I have had encounters with people that believe in a progressive Christianity, but never have I been asked if I taught it. Most people listen and hear what I say, and I hope they come away with the understand that I do not teach it. Progressive Christianity teaches that there is progress in understanding God beyond the rigid teachings of the Bible. And so I do not teach progressive Christianity, because it’s not what Jesus taught. Jesus taught the unchanging Word of God from the first utterance of Genesis, to the prophet Malachi. And so, what can I teach, but what Jesus taught? 

In fact it was Jesus who spoke these words in Matthew 5:17-19, “17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

So if I am going to be a true disciple of Jesus, I must not set aside the teachings of God. But over the last few months I have listened to pastors do just that. As an example from one experience recently in our nation, is the aftermath of George Floyds death. This was a terrible thing, though there might have been some illegal things going on, his death was not only tragic for himself, but also for his community, and our nation. But from this, I have listened to pastors embrace snippets of Progressive Christianity. 

One pastor called for Christians to look at the outward skin of a man over their heart. In one case it was in our Alliance denomination, where one pastor said that the current president, who I believe is a godly placed man, should step down and should be replaced by a black man. Not anyone specific, like Derwin Grey, who is a well-known and godly pastor in our denomination, but just a general black man. I called him out, telling him that when it came time to elect a new president, I want the next one to be a godly man, and if he happens to be black then so be it, but godliness is what we should desire from those that lead our denomination, not skin color. Because it was God who told Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).”

In the last few months I have heard the calls from pastors to bring about reparations for the sins of people that were once paid with blood. This is a foreign idea to Scripture, because it is God that says to his prophet Ezekiel, “Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. 20 The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them (Ezekiel 18:19-20).”

It has always been the struggle of every Christian to follow closely to the Word of God, and yet not allow our sinful inclinations, desires, or cultural mentality, to sway us to reinterpret it for our own causes. For there is only one cause that matters, God’s redemption work. Only when the Holy Spirit changes the heart of a person can justice happen. Only when the heart of stone that rejects God, is replaced with the heart of flesh can mercy happen. Only when the heart that is corrupted by sin, is replaced with a born again heart, can love truly change the communities around us.

But justice for one but not others is not justice, but rather a just-us for a different group. Mercy for one, while the plight of others is rejected, isn’t mercy it’s simply more for me and none for thee. And preaching love that rejects what God says is true isn’t love, but deeper bondage for those that need to be set free. 

When we replace the straightforward teachings of God, we begin to separate ourselves from God himself. And this isn’t something knew, in fact God’s Word is sprinkled with caution and warning of false teachings and teachers.

In Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus warns, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

In Matthew 24:4-5 Jesus says, “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.”

And in 1st John 2, the Apostle John writes, “18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us (v.18-19).”

And this is the situation we find ourselves in today. There are many teachers and teachings that surround us in our cultural, that desire to reinterpret God’s Word to match a cause. And there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing, and people who are anti-christs who are calling not only the world, but God’s people away from God’s teachings.

And so, for the next two months we are going to be unpacking the counterfeit teachings of progressive Christianity or what is becoming know as the Woke Church. But we are going to unpack these counterfeit teachings through knowing the true teachings of Scripture. Walter Martin in his book the Kingdom of the Cults wrote this in 1965, “The American Banking Association has a training program which exemplifies this aim of the author. Each year it sends hundreds of bank tellers to Washington in order to teach them to detect counterfeit money, which is a great source of a loss of revenue to the Treasury Department. It is most interesting that during the entire two-week training program, no teller touches counterfeit money. Only the original passes through his hands. The reason for this is that the American Banking Association is convinced that if a man is throughly familiar with the original, he will not be deceived by the counterfeit bill, no matter how much like the original it appears. It is the contention of this writer that if the average Christian would become familiar once again with the great foundations of his faith, he would be able to detect those counterfeit elements so apparent in the cult systems, which set them apart from Biblical Christianity (pg.16).”

So in our series on counterfeit teachings, we will be not only  showing how the counterfeit is wrong false, but more importantly, what the true teaching of Scripture is, so that when we see the counterfeit we will know it quickly.

And as we do this, my intent is not to slander, or demean or denigrate anyone, but rather as Paul instructs Timothy in his second pastoral letter, “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth… (2 Timothy 2:25)”

And so to the best of my ability, I will try to be as gentle in correction as I can.

But how do we, right now, see if we ourselves are being deceived by false teachings that have crept their way into our lives? Because if we’re honest, there are things that we hold to that are in opposition to God, even in minor ways. 

Simple sayings like, “God won't give you more than you can handle.” Well, someone should have told Paul, because he wrote this in 2 Corinthians 1, “8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead (v.8-9).”

Or the saying, “We’re all God’s children.” And even though God did create us all, John reminds us in the first chapter of his Gospel that, “12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (1:12-13).”

Or what about the saying that every kid likes to say, “The devil made me do it.” Except though he is a tempter, James tells us that, “but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed (1:14).”

We must be willing to have our beliefs and our motives run-through the filter of God’s Word, so that it can be changed. Instead of reinterpreting the Bible for our own cause, we must seek the Shepherd and his voice, as Jesus said in John 10:27-30, “27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” 

So as we walk this path of revealing and correcting counterfeit teachings that pull us away from God, we must understand, that we must start with ourselves. We each need to be seeking God as the Psalmist did in Psalm 139, where they wrote, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (v.23-24).”

My challenge for you this week is simply to come before God and pray every day Psalm 139:23-24. Take this week to prepare for the rest of the sermon series, but seeking God to correct any misconception or teaching that has crept into your life, so that we can change according to God’s word and not anyone else’s.

We cannot be people correcting anything, unless we are willing to be corrected ourselves. It’s hard, I know, but we must allow God to correct, because it’s in his correction that we are led on the everlasting way. Amen. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Action Time

Coming to the end of studying a book of the Bible is a great accomplishment. Especially when studied with a group of brothers and sisters walking through it together. 

So we enter our final week in the letter of 1st Corinthians, where we will be picking it up in chapter 16 starting in verse 5. And as we come to the end of our study, let’s do one final recap of the overarching themes of this letter.

As we’ve talked about every week since chapter 1, Paul writes this letter to the Corinthian Church to bring unity to a Church in disarray. The Church was inundated with issues that were causing divisions in the Church in two main areas. 

These two main areas, were the personal relationships that the believers had with each other, and the time when the Church would come together for worship. In both of these areas, and with all the issues that went with them, the underlying problem was a focus on self. 

And so Paul gives us the best way to bring about unity, and that’s through agape love for one another. A love that looks to seek the best for others before self. It’s this agape love that Paul called the Corinthian Church to put into action when he brought up the collection for another Church far far away. By getting the Corinthians to focus on others by taking up a collection, Paul gave them physical way to put agape love into action. 

And it’s with this understanding of having agape love as our foundation to combat disunity, that we come to the final stretch of Paul’s letter. So let’s read these final verses and then see what the Holy Spirit wants to leave both the Corinthians and us today.

5 After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you—for I will be going through Macedonia. 6 Perhaps I will stay with you for a while, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7 For I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.

10 When Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. 11 No one, then, should treat him with contempt. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers.

12 Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity.

13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.

15 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, 16 to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. 17 I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. 18 For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.

19 The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house. 20 All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

21 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.

22 If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.

24 My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Paul’s final words here seem to be just a list of Paul’s itinerary and simple instructions. But if we look closely, we’ll see within the list Paul again calling the Corinthians to engage in agape love. The love is to be extended to Timothy, who is Paul’s young protege and might easily be scoffed at because he is not on Paul’s level of authority. And so Timothy’s arrival gives the Corinthians an opportunity to extend some agape love. 

Following this, Paul brings up Apollos, who at the beginning of the letter one’s one of the leaders that the Corinthians were fighting over. This gives us a little insight into how Apollos didn’t want to go to the Corinthians, with it almost seeming because he doesn’t want to fan the flames of those who elevate him over others. This now brings us full circle, and it’s almost as if Paul is giving the Corinthians insight into what their actions cause. It’s almost as if Apollos is avoiding the Corinthians, like a person avoids someone else all costs.

But’s here in verse 13, that Paul embeds three actions the Corinthians need to take, almost as if he is summarizing the chapters between the first mention of Apollos and the his final words. This first action is to stand firm in the faith. This is a common phrase Paul uses throughout his letters. It’s a call to Christians that we must persevere in our trust of God. That we must dive ever deeper into God’s Word, that we must be prepared to share the Gospel, and that we must be ready, as 1s Peter 3;15 reads, “…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…”

This leads us into the second action, which is be courageous and strong. The actual greek phrase is “Be a man”, but it’s the same it’s the same as the modern phrases, “man up” or “Cowboy up”. The implication is to be courageous and strong. And so, when we encounter hardships and trials we are to always fall back on the strength of God. We are always to rely on him as our strength, as the prophet Isaiah records God saying in Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

And finally in verse 13, Paul calls us to the action of agape love. Everything we do, every word, every deed, is to be done with and through the agape love of God. Love that fights for truth, who seeks justice, and who shares the Gospel even in adversity. This is what calls us to in Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” And what Jesus said hung the words of the prophets in Matthew 22:37-40, “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

And so Paul is summarizing his whole call to unity by calling Church to take our calling form God seriously. To be firm in our faith courageous in it’s execution, and loving in the process. 

And it’s with this that Paul gives his final acknowledgments of people like the household of Stephanas and greetings to the Corinthians from people like Aquila and Priscilla.

In the final three verses, Paul first writes a warning to those who claim to love God but don’t that there is a curse on them. In other words, don’t play with being a Christian and claiming you love God, when you are in consent opposition to the work of love done by the Holy Spirit.

Paul proclaims Maranatha, which is translated as, “Come, Lord!” which is a call for the return of Jesus, and that he would come soon.

Finally, Paul ends with an encouragement of his own love and desire that God would bless them by his grace.

So ends our summer series into 1st Corinthians. And as we walk away from this letter, let us too take the challenge of being firm in our faith, courageous in opposition, and loving through it all. I want to challenge you this week, to take each of these are work on it. 

For being firm in your faith, I want to challenge you to pick on thing about the Bible, God, or any topi that concerns your faith that you don’t really know much about and research and become firm in it. That might be topics like, “Can I trust the Bible?”, “How do I know God exists?”, or “How do I share the Gospel in an straight forward say way?”.

For being courageous, seek God’s strength in prayer and have something like this for your prayer, “God be my strength and shield and move by your Spirit to enable me to stand strong in your truth.”

Finally, seek God to move in his love through you. In interactions that could cause you to act harshly, pray for God’s love to work in you and through you to other people. Let God’s agape love, be at the forefront of you mind this week.

Let us take the call of 1st Corinthians seriously, that the unity of the Church would be strong even in our differences. Because as Jesus spoke in his high priestly prayer of John 17:22, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Let us be one as God is one, amen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Summer Series on 1st Corinthians: Week 21, “Sharing in Pain”

  Since we’ve been back from vacation the week has been pretty exhausting. Tuesday Marika and I, with help from Mary Kay, put in the carpet in the new office space. Wednesday we drove down to Yuma to get doors and trim for the new offices. Thursday I worked in the office to catch up on two weeks of back work. Friday we went back down to Yuma to get some antibiotics for Marika and return the doors we bought on Wednesday because they were the wrong size. Then when we got back, I worked in the office again until about 8pm. Then Saturday morning I worked on getting the new office furniture set up, and after that spent several hours putting up pictures in our house. 

I was pretty exhausted with all of it. And about 3 in the afternoon yesterday I just wanted to sit and be left alone. But, then my daughter Navi wanted to plan Uno, and she is very persistent. That’s when the song, “I Just Want Talk About Me”, came to mind. I just wanted a minute to myself, but that wasn’t happening, and so I played four games with her. 

There are times when we do need to have some self time, but sometimes self time will get in the way of what needs to be done. Sometimes self time makes us miss out on the things that are important in life. 

And it’s this idea of self time or self-focus that brings us back into our study of 1st Corinthians, where we’ll be entering into the final chapter of Paul’s letter. And as we get into 1st Corinthians chapter 16, let’s bring ourselves back up to speed on what we’ve been talking about so far.

Over the course of the last twenty weeks, we have dove into Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth that was going through a time of conflict. Paul writes to them so that unity would be restored in their fellowship. In the letter, Paul focuses first on the problems that the believers were dealing with in their interpersonal relationships with each other. These were issues like, judging, quarrels over who was a better leader, business practices, and arguments over secondary issues of the faith. Paul deals with these interpersonal issues in the first ten chapters of this letter. 

In the second half of the letter, Paul addresses the issues that were causing disunity in the corporate worship time of the Church. These issues showed their head when the Church gathered for the community worship of God. Issues like Communion, head coverings, the gifts, and even the teaching of the resurrection, were all issues that Paul had to call the Church back to unity in.

And so after Paul deals with all these issues, we come to the last chapter of the letter, where Paul is going to call the Church to where their focus and ours needs be.

So let’s tackle one of these focuses today by reading together 1st Corinthians chapter 16 starting in verse 1.

1 Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3 Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.

Let’s stop there, because in these four verses, Paul challenges us to have our focus in the right place. Here we see Paul calling the Corinthian Church to take up a collection of money every week when they meet together as a corporate Church body, like we do here on Sundays. Paul is asking for a collection from several Churches to help the Christians in Jerusalem. See in the area of Judea a severe famine was spreading, and the overcrowded city of Jerusalem was being hit especially hard. 

And so in the city of Antioch a decision was made to call the other Churches of God to come together and take a special collection for the believers in Jerusalem to help them out. And so, Paul is calling the Corinthian Church to join forces with the other Churches in this endeavor. 

Let’s take a minute and put this calling for a collection into perspective. In the whole of this first letter to the Corinthians, Paul has been addressing a lot of issues, but at the core of everyone of these issues is a me first attitude. 

Think about it, everything from who is the best leader, to should I speak in the corporate worship time, all revolves around looking to myself first before others. In chapter 13, Paul gives a more excellent way of bringing unity to the Church, he calls us to love one another. This is based in Jesus’ own words of loving God, and loving our neighbor as ourself in Mark 12. The answer to unity is sacrifice of self. Looking to another’s needs, and looking for their betterment. Self-focus is the underlining issue from which all other issues that were causing disunity stemmed.

James in his only letter writes this, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (4:1-3).”

Unjustified conflicts arise when we desire ourselves above other people. Hear me clearly on this, there is a difference between justified and unjustified conflicts. A justified conflict is taking a loving stand on what God calls us to. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” 

When we as followers of Christ follow him, there will be conflict with those who don’t. This type of conflict is inevitable, but even in those situations, we as believers must show as much love, mercy, and grace we can. 

But the conflict we must avoid is unjustified conflict. We must avoid self-focused desire that would lead us to have conflicts with not only the world, but with our fellow believers.

And the course of action that Paul gives us as a tangible way of helping us to avoid self-focused conflicts, is addressing the needs of other believers that are far away from us. Now we might think, well they’re far away, wouldn’t it be better to help those right next to us? And yes, helping those next to us would be good as well, but when we seek to help those whom we will never see, we focus on problems we are not dealing with.

Think about it like this, if I know a person and their struggles my heart should break for them, because they’re right there in my life. They’re pain is my pain, I can watch them struggle and so better sympathize with them, and so helping them should be the easy choice. But when the pain isn’t at our door step it’s easier to push it aside. A great example of this ability to disassociate ourselves from the pain of others, happened over this summer. 

I think we all have heard about the protests and the riots in other parts of the country. Well an ESPN reporter by the name of Chris Palmer sent out two posts on Twitter about these protests and riots. The first was in support of the riots. He tweeted this, “Burn that s-word down. Burn it all down.” But not to long afterward Palmer tweeted this, “They just attacked our sister community down the street. It’s a gated community and they tried to climb the gates. They had to beat them back. Then destroyed a Starbucks and are now in front of my building. Get these animals TF (the f-word) out of my neighborhood. Go back to where you live.”

Palmer was in support of the riots until the riots affected him. And we can be the same way sometimes. When we’re affected by pain it’s easy to respond, but when the pain isn’t close, we can easily become indifferent.

And so Paul gives us a way to begin to think about others who’s pain we cannot feel, but who’ pain we can help. This is what God is calling us to today. Right now, we have fires up and down the west coast. Right now hurricanes have beaten down communities on the southern an eastern coasts. Riots have destroyed lives from coast to coast. But here in Quartzsite our summer, though slightly impacted by the virus, has been pretty much the same as any other summer. 

And so, I want to call on you Church to take up a special offering for these affected communities of believers. 

See in the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, that we are a part of, there is a branch that deals with going into communities and helping, this branch is called CAMA Services. Starting next week, we are going to take a special collection to send to CAMA Services to help these affected communities. We will take two weeks for the offering and then send it off to help. 

Are there other ways to give? Yes. This is simply one way, through which we can make sure our brothers and sisters in these areas are being helped. Paul writes to the Galatians, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (6:10).”

This is my challenge for you this week, seek God, asking him what you will give to this collection. Paul states in the above passage, “…each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income…(v. 2)”

This isn’t to out give each other, but rather seeking God to meet the needs of others who’s pain we might not feel, but we can help. In addition to seeking God in this collection, pray for those in the fires, in the hurricanes, and in the riots. 

Let us begin to be challenged, as the Corinthians were challenged, to quail the possibility of disunity in our midst, by looking to help our brothers and sister in the Lord whose pain isn’t our own. Amen.