Tuesday, February 12, 2019

First Pillar of Witnessing

A couple of weeks ago we had an interesting situation in our teen Sunday School class. A lady that had been attending the church for a couple of weeks decided to sit in on what I was teaching the youth. Now, that’s not a problem, I encourage anyone that wants to, come and see what the teens are learning. Because the same thing I teach them on a Sunday morning is what I usually teach adults on Wednesday night. 
The teen Sunday School class is a place where we get into the more complicated teachings of the Bible, and where the teens are taught how the Bible interacts with the world around them on a more intellectual level, than they would get on a Friday night. If you have ever been to one of my Summer Adult Sunday School classes or my Wednesday night Apologetics classes, then you’ll know how deep we will go.
This past year I started a teaching a new subject to supplement two other subjects that I teach. These first two are Basic Beliefs of Christianity and World Religions. This new one is called Counter Arguments, where we review an argument from someone of a different belief system, and we both de-construct their arguments, and give a response to it. 
Well the week we started this with the teens, was the same week this lady decided to sit in. And it didn’t sit right with her. During the video, she interrupted a couple of times. Then after the video she proceeded to tell me that I was the worst teacher. That I was filling the teens heads with evil ideas, and things that were not of the Bible. 
So I asked her to ask the teens what they had been learning about for the past twelve weeks. It was the first subject on Basic Beliefs of Christianity. A class mind you, that one adult told me they were way past their college years, and couldn’t follow that type of teaching anymore. This isn’t easy stuff. After they had told her about all that they had learned, which I was impressed with on it’s own, she still said that what I was teaching them wasn’t needed. That all they needed to know was that Jesus loves them. 
That’s when I challenged her to give me a reason that she would tell someone whom she she was sharing the Gospel, how and why the Gospel is true. She told me because she knows it is. I told her that’s great, but what if I don’t believe in God? What would she tell me? She said that I just needed God.
This spiraled into a situation where every time she said something, I asked her show me in the Bible, show me in history, show me in anything. All she could say is, I know that Jesus loves me, and that’s all that matters.
Now it’s true, the only thing that matters in this world is that Jesus loves us, because it’s that very reality that salvation is rooted in. But, what about the person that doesn’t believe Jesus is real? That he even existed? Or who struggles, not with the reality of Jesus, but the reality of pain and suffering around them and the question of how can a good God allow evil?
I told her quiet frankly, and with as much love as I could possibly muster at the moment, that her type of Christianity is where we have a tendency to fail as Christians.
We have allowed ourselves to fail the people around us, by not being solid enough in our own application of the Bible, so that the world around us may know that God is real and active.

And so for the next two weeks, in preparation for Clay Jones coming to speak on the 24th, I want us to take our last week of legacy and go a little more in-depth with it.
So if you have you Bibles, we’re going to root ourselves for the next two weeks in 1st Peter, chapter 3, starting in verse 8.
Last week we talked about how a component to eternal worth legacy was our witness. Our testimony, of how God has worked and is working in our lives. For the next couple of weeks, we’re going to go deeper into what that looks like.

Now as we open up to 1st Peter chapter 3, verse 8, let’s get a brief overview of the letter Peter is writing. 

This Peter is the same Peter in the Gospels. The same Peter who always seemed to open his mouth and say dumb things. The same Peter that at one moment proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, and then the next moment, rebuked Jesus for saying he was going to die. This is the same Peter that denied Jesus three times, and then was restored to Jesus through three questions. It is this Peter, that we see the biggest growth out of all the twelve disciples.
Now he is writing to believers who are throughout Asian Minor, and he is writing to them for a very specific reason. This reason is found in his closing words, in chapter 5 verse 12, “With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.”

The whole purpose of Peter’s writing is to encourage the believers to stand firm. Firm against what? Stand firm while going through persecution. Stand firm in their marriages. Stand firm in seeking godly leadership for the church. Stand firm in their submission to governmental authorities. And stand firm in their trust in God.

And it’s towards the middle of this encouragement to stand firm that we come to chapter 3, verse 8 of Peter’s first letter. Let’s read.

8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. 11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

There are two main points from this passage that I want us to focus in on. The first one is the most pressing, and encapsulates the second. Peter tells us, be like-minded…sympathetic, loving…compassionate…humble. He tells us, not to repay evil, or respond with insults, but instead repay evil with blessing. Peter implores us to do good, because it can deter others from doing evil to us. But Peter adds and encourages us in verse 14, that even if we experience suffering for doing good, it’s better, because God’s blessing is for us. Then verse 16 finalizes this doing good, because if we are doing good our conscience will be clear and shame will be brought on people for their treatment of us, as we do good in Jesus’ name.
Paul has a similar idea in 1st Thessalonians chapter 4 verses 11, and 12, “11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

Why is this important? Because of what is happening around us today. I want to share with you some statistics.

We’re seeing a walk away from the Church in our society. Pew Research did a study back in 2014 where only 13% of the non-christian population said that any type of religion was very important, while 21% said is was somewhat important. But combined, that still doesn’t equal those that say it’s not important at all, at 39%.
When asked about what is the source that people turn to for their moral compass, only 7% said any type of religion. 
Why is that? Research by the Barna group might point to about 27%-36% of people thinking that the church is full of hypocrites. This could be a reason, but there’s more to it than the statistics show. 

But this is to the first point of Peter’s words to us, we have to live lives that are focused in loving. Loving God, and loving people. The two greatest commandments of God, and the commandment that all the other hang on.
This is what the second point is wrapped in. If we are not loving, if we are not forgiving and seeking forgiveness, if we are repaying evil with evil, and insult with insult, the second point Peter makes is mute. The second point doesn’t matter.

This is why Paul says in 1st Corinthians 13, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

Knowing that, now we can get to Peter’s second point in this passage. Verse 15 says, “15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”

In fact Jesus said in his high priestly prayer in 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.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

The love we show, the unity that we are intended to have are key factors in our witness to the world. Paul says without it we have nothing. Jesus says with it the world will know that he was sent, but without it how are they to know?
A life that is wholly focused on loving God and people is what God desires of us, it is integral to our sharing the Gospel with people. That means when we mess up, we need to ask for forgiveness. That means we must give forgiveness to people. That means we must check our mouths, and ask should I say this or not? We need to speak truth, and do so in love, so that people would be saved from destruction.
This is the first pillar of a good witness, someone who’s life is wholly focused on loving God and loving people. 

Next week we’ll tackle the second pillar which is found in verse 15. But before we can get there, we must come to this decision in our lives, to live out the love that God desires us to live. Not in our own power, but in the power of the Holy Spirit living in me. 
We must press ever deeper into understanding the depth of God’s love for us, so that that love may flow over to others.

My challenge to you this week is this: Ask yourself, am I living the first pillar of my witness? Am I living in compassion? Am I living in love? Am I living in forgiveness? Or can someone point to me and say their just another one of those Christian hypocrites? This first pillar has to be in place first, or no matter how strong the second pillar is, the whole thing will come crashing down.
So does your life actively reflect the love of God, or is it dormant?

My prayer this week for you, is Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3, “16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Let us be people who witness both with our lives, and with our mouths, so that people will be pointed to his eternal life, that is found only in Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Legacy Series Week 4: Legacy of Witness

Several years back, the town had a local charter school. It mainly focused on high school, but served several towns in the area. In it’s last two years of operation I was able to coach their baseball team. During this time, the church had moved Marika and I over to Herb Kell’s home, which the church rented for us, as our family began to grow. One of the great perks of that house was the fact that it had a hot tub. Which, during the baseball season, I took full advantage of. Being a pitcher by trade, I threw batting practice of about 25 pitches to each player. We tended to have between 10-12 players, so at the minimum I was pitching 250 balls every offensive work out, which was twice a week. That means every week I was throwing about 500 pitches, only hitting the players once or twice.
Suffice it to say, that when I got home, my shoulder was hurting. And so I would spend anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour in the hot tub, usually alone. One night I was sitting in the hot tub looking towards the eastern mountains and three orange lights appeared in the sky. They shown for a few moments and then disappeared. They didn’t make a sound like a fire cracker and they didn’t explode like one either. They just appeared and disappeared. I had never seen anything like that before. And of course no one was around to share the experience, so my mind started to run through the possibilities. And of course, my mind settled on aliens. I mean, I’m a logical being, and so it must’ve have been aliens. 
I told wife, trying to get her to help me figure it out, but that got me no where, because she didn’t see it. I talked to a few more people, but all I got was some weird looks, as if I was crazy. It wasn’t until a few days later, when I was talking to Zee Still. She also saw the lights, which was a big relief because I knew now that at the very least I wasn’t crazy. But it wasn’t until later that I heard that it was a military exercise that happens from time to time. Since then, I have seen the lights serval times. Sometimes in the east, sometimes in the west. This past summer I even got to share it with the interns, and of course I told them the truth. It’s the aliens, and I tell them the story of the UFO Marika and I saw under a tarp going down the road, but that’s a story for another time. 

But it’s this idea of witnessing an event and sharing what we have experienced that we are going to talk about as we come to the end of our legacy sermon series. And as we talk about witnessing, what better place to jump into, but Acts chapter 1?

So if you have your Bibles, open with me to Acts chapter 1 verse 1. And as we get into God’s Word today, let’s catch up with the last several weeks in our legacy series.

In the first week of our legacy series, we talked about about the difference between leaving legacies of eternal worth rather than of temporal wealth. Saying, that temporal wealth legacies are easily destroyed and usually last one or two generations. But the legacy God desires us to leave, is one that works with him to produce things that are of eternal worth. A legacy that is focused on eternity, is a legacy that has it’s focus on Jesus and making his glory the most important thing in our lives. This legacy builds up rather than tears down, and moves beyond the right now, into the world to come.
In the second week, we started to ask the question, how can we have enteral worth legacies? It’s here that we started talking about different components of this legacy. The first one being trust. Is the trust I have in Jesus so real to people, that people realize I have it? Or is my trust in Jesus so light weight, that people cannot see it in action, and therefore do not realize that I even trust in Jesus as my Savior?
Then last week we talked about making sure that the Word of God is central to our lives. Do people understand that I build my life upon God’s Word, or does it not show? Has God’s Word transformed me, or have I been changed by other forces? Is there dust on my Bible, or is it highlighted and marked up?
There are other components that we could cover, but it’s these two, and the one that we’re going to talk about today, that are a good place to start.

So now, let’s get into our last component of leaving a legacy that is of eternal worth. Let’s start reading in Acts chapter 1 verse 1.

1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But 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.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

There are a couple of similar accounts within the Gospels of this sending out of the disciples. But the thrust of this passage is in verse 8. “But 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.”

The disciples wanted a question answered that they had been at the forefront of their mind, probably as long as they had been following Jesus. That question dealt with when Israel would become a great nation once again. They wanted Jesus to be the conquering King, and now that he had conquered death, they wanted him to conquer earth.
But Jesus tells them that, that information is not for them, but rather they have their own job to do. Which is to be Jesus’ witnesses to the world, starting where they were at in Jerusalem.

And it’s this word witness that I want us to focus on. What is a witness? One of the things I teach our teens as they are going through our leadership program, is to ask questions about the text. Because a lot of the time we assume we understand words or phrases that are being used, but that can get us into trouble from time to time.
So let’s ask, what is a witness? Well there are two parts, there’s the noun and the verb. The noun would be someone who sees something happen. They have experienced an event. Like I experienced those three orange lights in the eastern sky. The verb, would be that person relaying what they have seen. Like how I told my wife and others about the lights.
And in Jesus’ telling the disciples that they would be his witnesses, he was telling them that they would be both a person who has witnessed, and one who would be relaying that witness. In other words, they were a witness witnessing. And in fact that is what the Greek language is implying here. Martus is the word used in this passage. It means both a person who is a witness, and a person who witnesses.
But what’s interesting about the Greek language, is that the same word can have a different spelling, but mean the same thing.

A little later on, in Acts 4:33, were told this about the disciples, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” 
The word witness in English isn’t there. Instead we see the word testify, which is the action of the witness. And the Greek word that is there is Marturion, a variation of the word Martus, but their meanings are the same. It’s a witness witnessing.

And so we have two words in English, witness and testify. One is the person, the other is the action. In Greek we have one word, Martus, with a variation of it Marturion. They both imply a person and their action of telling of an event they have experienced. 

But, the big question is what are they witnessing to? Right? Because that is the definition of a witness. Someone saw something, they’re a witness, and if they tell someone, then they are witnessing or testifying to what they saw.
So the disciples are witnessing to what? To the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. What do we call this? This is the Gospel. And you know what, there’s a passage in Matthew that talks about the Gospel being witnessed.

Matthew 24:14 says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

That Greek word for testimony is Marturion. And what were the disciples to do? They were to be the witness of the Gospel to the whole world. 

Now none of this should come as a surprise if you’ve been to any amount of church services. Especially in the Alliance, we like to talk about sharing the Gospel with people. There are tracks, acronyms, guides, and a whole lot of other information out there about sharing the Gospel with people. So us talking about sharing the Gospel is not something new. But the question we are asking today is, are we leaving a legacy of sharing the Gospel to those we desire to leave a legacy to?
Are the people that we will be leaving behind known how to share the Gospel by our example? Or do they have no idea what it means to be a witness and give a testimony about the Gospel?

There’s an old adage that says, “Never discuss politics or religion in polite company.” Why? Because these are two areas of life that can get heated. But because we are taught this, people see no need for Jesus, because his witnesses have decided it’s not a topic that needs to be talked about. And look were that is leading us today. We have a large swath of a generation that has walked away from Jesus. Not to mention our current state of politics.
There’s another saying, “Preach the Gospel and if necessary use words.” This is attributed to a man named Francis of Assisi, but one it’s a false attribution, and two it’s unbiblical. We are to be witnesses of and witnesses to the Gospel.
Hence the reason Paul says in Romans 10:14, “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”

You and I, at the moment we accept Jesus, became witnesses of the Gospel. So what does that mean? How am I a witness of the Gospel?

What is a witness again? Someone who sees something, and then relays it. So the question we need to be asking is, what has Jesus done in my life? How has he effected me? How has the Gospel changed my life? Now, who can we share that with? Who has God brought into your life that needs to hear the message of Jesus? The message that has changed you?
Because this is the last component of leaving a legacy that is of worth that we’re going to be talking about, being a witness of the Gospel. Both in the noun and the verb sense.
Because if we are not a witness to people, then what are we leaving behind for them? Aren’t we just leaving behind a story from a book? One that we might read daily, but no one has heard how it has changed us? Aren’t we leaving behind a belief? A trust that, to us, might be real, but to others, they don’t know why we trust in this Jesus? And aren’t we leaving behind a legacy that wasn’t eternally focused, because we did not think it necessary enough to speak about it?
And what does that tell the next generation? If we are not a witness, or we’re scared to be a witness because we don’t want to offend or lose friends or make situations awkward, doesn’t that tell them, that Jesus is a personal life choice, and not a transformational movement from death to life?

In these past weeks I’ve had several legacy stories shared with me. One was from a lady who’s two grandson contacted her. One thanked her for showing Jesus to the family, and the other asked her to pray for him as he is seeking a raise at his employment. Here is a grandma that is sowing an eternal legacy.

I want to end this series with a reading from C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce. In this book, Lewis gives us an image of heaven and hell. In the eleventh and twelfth chapters, he writes this, “But once more my attention was diverted. ‘Is there another river, Sir?’ I asked.
“THE REASON why I asked if there were another river was this. All down one long aisle of the forest the under-sides of the leafy branches had begun to tremble with dancing light; and on earth I knew nothing so likely to produce this appearance as the reflected lights cast upward by moving water. A few moments later I realized my mistake. Some kind of procession was approaching us, and the light came from the persons who composed it.
“First came bright Spirits, not the Spirits of men, who danced and scattered flowers-soundlessly falling, lightly drifting flowers, though by the standards of the ghost-world each petal would have weighed a hundred-weight and their fall would have been like the crashing of boulders. Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honor all this was being done.
“‘Is it? ... is it?’ I whispered to my guide.
“‘Not at all,’ said he. ‘It's someone ye'll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.’
“‘She seems to be ... well, a person of particular importance?’
“‘Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.’
“‘And who are these gigantic people . . . look! They're like emeralds . . . who are dancing and throwing flowers before her?’
“‘Haven't ye read your Milton? A thousand livened angels lackey her,’
“‘And who are all these young men and women on each side?’
“‘They are her sons and daughters.’ 
“‘She must have had a very large family, Sir.' 
“‘Every young man or boy that met her became her son-even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter."
“‘Isn't that a bit hard on their own parents?’ 
“‘No. There are those that steal other people's children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.
“‘And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.”’ I looked at my Teacher in amazement. 
“‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end?’”

Where will our legacies end? Where will ripple in the pool dissipate? If it is a legacy of temporal wealth, it will end sooner than we would like.
But if it is an eternal worth legacy, showing trust, build on God’s Word, and spoken about through our witness, who knows when the ripple will end. Only God knows the work that he will do through his servants.

My challenge for you this week, is to do two things: First, write down your witness of what God has done in you through Jesus and his Gospel. Write it down in a simple, direct and loving way. And in a way that you are comfortable speaking out loud. Then, go before God, asking him to give you people to witness to. 
Remember, Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:20 that he will be with us. And we’re told in Acts 1:8, that the Holy Spirit is upon the believer. So let us be Jesus’ witnesses to the Gospel. Both as the noun of who we are, and the verb of what we’re relaying.

Let us be the people who God has called us to be, people that desire legacies of eternal worth. Not for our glory, but the glory of God who has saved us. Amen.