Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A Little Bit of Hagar

As we jump into Genesis chapter 16 verse 1, I want to gives us the context of what is happening. Starting in Genesis chapter 12, God started working specifically with a man named Abram. Calling him from his family to a land that God would eventually show him. Eventually in chapter 15, God made a covenant with Abram with the promise of a child to carry on Abram’s lineage. But Abram was getting up there in age and so was his wife Sarai. Now when God made the covenant with Abram, he never disclosed how the child would come about, which brings us to where we pick up verse 1 in chapter 16 of Genesis.

1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived…

So my wife and I took a different approach to having kids, we went with adoption. I can’t see my wife Marika wanting to go this route. But this was a common practice of the time, getting a woman pregnant and then making that child your heir. Were they a true heir? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that they came from the husband, but no, in the sense that the child would come from a lesser person. See Sarai is the head woman of the household, she is the governess, Hagar is nothing, mere property. Hagar does not have the status that Sarai does. But that all changes when she gets pregnant. Let’s continue on.

…When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”
6 “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

Since Hagar now is carrying the only heir to Abram’s lineage, she has gained more status. She now hows leverage in the family. Where once she was merely a slave, she is now the mother to Abram’s future. This gives Hagar power, and she starts to use it. 
But I love this exchange between Sarai, and Abram. Remember, it was Sarai’s idea for Abram to sleep with Hagar, but Sarai is turning it around on Abram, making it his fault for their current situation. And if we were making this into a series, we could stop right here and talk about the parallels between Abram in this situation, and Adam at the beginning of Genesis, but we’re not, so let’s move on.
Abram, trying to be smarter this time around, turns the whole matter over to his wife, and just leaves the room. And that’s when things get bad for Hagar. I’m thinking that before all this took place, Hagar was probably dealt with fairly. Even though she was a slave, she had gained enough esteem in Sarai’s eyes to be nominated to bear Abram’s child. But now, every time Sarai looks at Hager, all she can see is her own shortcomings as a wife. So what does she do? Sarai takes all her anger out on Hager, so much so, that Hagar runs away.
Let’s keep going.

7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.
9 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”
11 The angel of the Lord also said to her: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery.
12 He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”

This interaction between the angel and Hagar, and the theological implications of what comes out of this conversation, to me, gives us some interesting insights into God.
Up to this point, God has spoken to people that seem to follow a certain path. I don’t know if you have ever thought this thought: God cannot use someone like me. I don’t know about you, but the thought has passed my mind, that there are those that are useful to God and then there are those that are not. There are those that are a part of God’s plan and then there are not. Abram is a guy that is a part of God’s plan. Sarai is a women who is a part of God’s plan. Hagar is not a girl that is a part of God’s plan.
God’s plan that we see work itself out in chapter 21 of Genesis is that Sarai would become pregnant in her old age, and her son Issac would be born. Through Issac the nation of Israel would come into being, and through Israel, the messiah Jesus would be born, and through Jesus, salvation would come.
But Hagar was not a part of that plan. She was the human’s effort to make God’s plan happen.
And to me, I have felt like I am not a part of God’s plan. I’m not a Abram, I’m a Hagar. To me, people like Billy Graham, RC Sproul, C.S. Lewis, and A.B. Simpson are like Abram. Men and women who are useful to spreading God’s word in a way that I cannot. 
Have you ever felt like that? And up to this point in the Scriptures we can almost get that feeling. We learn about Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and his family, and then Abram. All that we see in the first few chapters of Genesis, is God dealign with people to work out his plan. And then we get to Hagar, the one that isn’t a part of God’s plan.
The one, that out of all of these people, I feel like I can relate to the most.

But then she has this interaction with the angle of God. This slave girl, who was used for her womb, and then mistreated for it. This girl that wasn’t a part of the plan, but who has been talked to by God. Look at this interaction.
God doesn’t hold anything back. He recognizes her and calls her, Hagar, space of Sarai. God knows Hagar. He knows her name, he knows her place in society. And he asks her, to share what is happening in her life, where is coming from and where now is she going?
Hagar answers by saying she is running from Sarai, but gives no destination. 
So God gives her a destination, and that destination is to return to Sarai. Return to the hardship she is escaping. Return to the life where she was being used. And where only suffering awaits her. 
What kind of God would want anyone to return to such a place? How could God want someone, who isn’t a part of the plan, to return to an abusive situation?

Because the reality is, there is no one that is not a part of God’s plan. Hagar was not a part of one aspect of God’s plan, but she was still a part of God’s full plan. She might not have had a staring role like Abram and Sarai, but she still had a role to play.
This role would eventually lead to strife for the decedents of Abram, culminating in the Islamic religion thousands of years later. This child Ishmael, would be the ancestor to Muhammed, the founder and greatest antagonizer to the Jewish people. The story of Ishmael is of great importance from the muslim point of view, because he gives a direct connection to the promise of God to Abraham.

It was Abram and Sarai’s lack of trust and waiting on God, that will lead their descendants and the rest of the world into a place of terror for generations. The strife of the middle east today, has it’s roots in the lack of trust that Abram and Sarai displayed, by taking Hagar to bear a child.

But let’s see how the story ends. 

13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael. 

In this moment, we not only see that the slave girl Hagar plays a role in the plan of God, but that it goes deeper than that. Hagar doesn’t merely encounter God, but comes to realize a monumental theological reality of God: God sees the unseen.
What I find fascinating about this passage, is that Hagar does something monumental, she gives God a name. A name of who God is to her. God is not only the Creator God of Genesis 1 and 2. He is not only the Just and Wrathful God of the flood. And he is not only the God who deals with certain people who are a part of his plan. No, God is the God who sees. In Hebrew God is the El Roi, the God who sees. The God who cares for every person and creature on this world.
Hence why Jesus says in Matthew 6:26, 28-30, “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?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”
God doesn’t just look at the people that can work out his plan, he looks at every person. Big, small, rich, poor, useful and useless.

It is so easy to think that God does not see us in our circumstances. To not hurt, when we hurt. To not care about the things that we care about. But the reality is, that’s not true. God sees us in our hurt. God sees us in our doubt, and pain, and suffering. But the question is, do we see God in it? Hagar could have dismissed the angel, dismissed the words of God, continued on her way, but she didn’t.
She realized that that God saw her in her suffering. That he cared for her. This gave her the strength to return to her pain, to her abuse, because she knew that God was watching. She knew that God had not abandon her.

Which brings us to you and me. 2018 has come and gone and 2019 is going as fast as it can. Some of us are going into it full of joy and confidence. Some of us are going into it with hurt unimaginable. But God is with us both. He has not abandon us, he does see us, and is wanting us to do as Hagar did, to trust him. To push forward into wherever we find ourselves at the moment, by pushing closer to him. Trusting him more today, than we did tomorrow.

As we sing our next song, my challenge for you is this. Hagar named God. She named him something that he was to her. He was the God who sees. My challenge to you is this, there are four tables around the room, each one with a piece of paper and several pens. My challenge to you is to write a name of God on one of those pieces of paper. Who is God to you. Is he the God who sees? Is he the God who protects? Is he the God who provides? Who is God to you.
As we go into the rest of the year, may he be the God, whom you can trust. Who sees you every moment of the day. Amen.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Second Pillar of Witnessing

Several years back we had a teen in the youth group named Richard. At about fifteen years old he had declared himself an atheist. One day I took Richard out for lunch and began to ask him questions about why he was an atheist. The first words out of his mouth were, “Well I believe that there is a god.” For the rest of the conversation we unpacked what it meant to be an atheist, what he actually was, which was a believing agnostic, and the facts of who Jesus is. 
To my knowledge, Richard has never accepted Christ. I’ve also watched Richard’s life go through several chaotic seasons. One of which was having a child with someone, and now barely able to see the child. When I see him around town, or on facebook I pray that God will one day take this espoused atheist and bring him through the cross into new life. 
But it was through conversations like the one with Richard, that I have come to realize to see the standard of having an answer in all seasons, we as believers need to not only know the Bible, but also know how to recognize and respond to other belief systems. Because if I hadn’t understood where Richard was coming from, I might have accepted his understanding of atheism, and not seen through his misunderstanding. And now, I have a better understanding in which area to pray for him.

That is why it’s important for us to witness to people, and as we’ll talk about today, having an intelligent response ready. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be in 1st Peter chapter 3, verse 8.

As we again open the passage of 1st Peter chapter 3, verse 8 from last week, let’s look back on what we have perviously talked about.

Last week when we talked about 1st Peter, we read through the entire passage and talked about how there are two pillars of witnessing. Last week we talked about the first pillar: living a life that is wholly focused on loving God and people. Without loving people, without showing and asking for forgiveness, without living lives that reflect Jesus in word and deed, our witness suffers because it cannot even begin to be taken seriously.
How many of us want to listen to someone we know is cheating on their spouse, talk about being faithful in marriage? How many of us want to listen to someone tell us how to handle our money, when they’re swimming in debt? Isn’t this why it’s so hard to listen to politicians? When you know someone is not living the life that they purport to live, everything they say is tainted. And it’s the same way with our witness. If we are to be an effective witness for the Gospel, we need to live the life Christ has saved us to live. Does that mean a flawless, never stumbling in our walk kind of life? No, that means a life that understands it’s need for a Savior, and is loving, truthful, and forgiving to others, and is humble enough to seek forgiveness.
And it’s in this understanding that love is the cradle in which we share the Gospel, that we can get to the second Pillar of Witnessing, which is simply the Pillar of an Intelligent Response.
So let’s again read 1st Peter chapter 3, starting in verse 8.

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.

Now last week we focused on the verses 8-14 and 16, this week we’re going to zero in on verse 15.

There are three phrases to this verse. First the, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.” This idea of revering Christ as Lord, means to make sure that we are treating him as holy. So we must ask ourselves do I treat the name of God with respect. Not only by not using it as a curse word, but also by keeping my word and being faithful to show that I am a follower of his to the best of my ability? 
This is a large part, because if we are not revering Christ, if we are not treating him as holy, are we really following the Holy God, that calls us out of sin and into new life? Is the Gospel we share really about the need for the shed blood of Christ to bring us victory over sin? Or is it a side note, something that isn’t a need, but rather just a ticket out of hell?
And it’s this holiness that we hold tightly to, that gives us a reason to share the Gospel, because even though God is slow to anger, abounding in love, and gracious to anyone who would accept Jesus’ death and resurrection, there will be a time when the holiness of God must stamp out sin in the final judgment. And when that happens, there will be a lot of people bound for eternity in the lake of fire.

So it’s God’s holiness that spurs us into the next part of the verse, “Always be prepared to give and answer…” 

Let’s break this down, 
First, “Always…” meaning, unceasingly, perpetually, on every occasion. This means that no matter what time of day, occasion, or mental state we find ourselves, we must be ready to encounter someone that needs to hear the Gospel. That’s a lot to be asked of, because there are times when I’m tired and I don’t want to deal with anyone, but I must be ready.
Second, “be prepared…” meaning, having all necessary preparations done beforehand. That means we shouldn’t have to do a lot of research after the fact, but even if we don’t know the subject, we need to be able to say, “I don’t know, let me get back to you.” And then be able to know where to find it. One of the things I am trying to do myself, is make a little cheat sheet on my phone. So when I’m asked a question I don’t remember, or I’m not familiar with, I can go check it out. But I will tell you this, once you get several of the most common questions asked of you, you will be prepared, because they are so common and overlap.
Finally, “To give and answer” meaning, a properly, well-reasoned reply, thought-out response to adequately address the issue(s) that are raised.” That means, our answer must make sense. God is an orderly God, and our answers need to be reflective of that order. They must be logical, thorough and concise. Whenever I’m asked a question, I tell people, do you want the bumpersticker answer, which won’t answer your question, or do you want the real answer, that it might take a while to get through. That’s because deep questions, require deep explanations to do the question justice.

So now, how do we do this? Well, there are two approaches I find in the New Testament. I call them, the Jewish approach, and the Gentile approach. Let me explain.
The Jewish approach is how the early believers shared the Gospel with the Jewish people. Peter in Acts 2 shows this approach. He shows them the Gospel through the unfolding of the Scripture. Peter did this by starting with an Old Testament prophecy and used it to spring into Jesus being the Messiah. In the modern landscape, we need to open the Word of God to the people that say that they hold it in high esteem. Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness, and Jews, to name a few. That means we must know the Word of God for ourselves. We need to understand where Jesus claimed to be one with the Father. We need to understand where in the Old Testament can we find the Trinity. And we need to be able to show the Gospel throughout the entire Bible.
Now, the Gentile approach is best seen in Paul’s discourse in Acts chapter 17. Paul looks at the world of the Athenians and then uses a common understanding both through nature, and through their own poets to reach out to the Gentiles. This approach recognizes that there are people that do not hold esteem for the Bible, and therefore we must show how the Gospel is relevant to them through their own world.

Now let’s give a little rubber to this road, and show how these two approaches can tackle a few common questions that people might have.

There are several groups in the Jewish approach category that do not believe that Jesus and the Father are one God. They also tend to believe that the New Testament has been corrupted. So where can we go? The Old Testament. Where’s a good place to go in the Old Testament to show that Jesus and the Father are one?
What about the prophecy of the virgin birth? In fact, we just covered this in our Apologetics class this past week. One part of the prophecy is found in Isaiah chapter 9, verses 6 and 7. It reads, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”

This is a good ol’ Christmas passage that we share about the birth of Jesus. You know who also agrees that this is talking about Jesus, and that it is a part of the virgin birth prophecy? Muslims, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
So let’s go through it real fast. The title Wonderful Counselor we’ll come back to as a little cherry on top to this whole thing. So this child born of a virgin, who these other three religions agree is Jesus, is called, Mighty God. That’s El Gibbor in Hebrew, meaning mightiest among the gods. But wait second, isn’t Yahweh of the Old Testament Mightiest among the gods? Yet this Son to be born is called the Mightiest among the gods. Interesting, but there’s more.
Next, this Jesus is called Everlasting Father, or Abi-Ad, or Father of Eternity. Wait a second, I thought he was the Son, not the Father? Yet, the Son is used in connection with the Father. Interesting, but there’s more.
Third, this Jesus is called Prince of Peace, Sar Shalom, wait, I thought he was the Father? But if he is the father shouldn’t he be the King? Yet, he’s called both the Father, and the Prince, meaning the Father and the Son are one. Which is what we see in the New Testament, when Jesus proclaims in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” Isn’t interesting that then after Jesus makes this statement his Jewish opponents in the very next verse pick up stones to kill him? Yet, this very statement by Jesus was prophesied hundreds of years in the Old Testament itself. 
Finally, in the last sentence of this passage, it says, “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” This could be read like, the overwhelming passion of Adonai the Sovereign Over Everything will perform this.
Put it all together and this is what it says, it is with overwhelming passion that Adonai will send this Son who is the Mightiest among all gods and who is both Father and Prince. This Son is one with the Father, and his name is Jesus.
And what’s the cherry one top? Who does Jesus refer to as the Counselor? In John 14 and 16 it’s the Holy Spirit. So we see the Trinity in the prophecy of the virgin birth. With that basis, we can now move into the New Testament and talk more about Jesus who is fully God, and one with both Father and Spirit and what that means for salvation.

But that’s just the Jewish approach to sharing the Gospel. Sharing with people that hold high esteem for the Bible. What about the Gentile approach or sharing with those that do not hold high esteem for the Bible?

One of the hotly debated topics right now is, “Do we need God for morality.” There’s a lot to this, but I’m only going to give you two quotes from atheists. The first one comes from Julian Baggini, from his work, Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, “If there is no single moral authority [i.e. if there is no God, then] we have to in some sense ‘create’ values for ourselves… that means that moral claims are not true or false in the same way as factual claims are… moral claims are judgments [that] it is always possible for someone to disagree with… without saying something that is factually false… you may disagree with me but you cannot say I have made a factual error…(p. 41-51)”
In other words, without God there is no morality. Each of us has to create a moral framework for ourselves. So where would we get morality from? 
Well, another quote by an atheist would point us to that fact. John Steinrucken from his book, Secularisms Ongoing Debt to Christianity, states, “Those who doubt the effect of religion on morality should seriously ask the question: Just what are the immutable moral laws of secularism? Be prepared to answer, if you are honest, that such laws simply do not exist!”
In other words, without the God giving humanity an understanding of morality, morality is in the eye of the beholder. And therefore, no moral claim is better than any other moral claim.
And with that, we use the two atheists to confirm that without God there are no morals, and that our the morals that we current employ here in the modern world actually come from the God of the Bible. Which now we can move into the next question does God even exist, which is another question to answer, but we’re not going to tackle here.

These are two biblical approaches to sharing the Gospel, but there is still one part of the verse we have not yet covered. This is the phrase, “But do this with gentleness and respect…”
Here’s the thing, people live in darkness. They know no other reality accept the darkness that surrounds them. So we must share these truths with all the gentleness and respect we can. Not being jerks, not getting upset, and not name calling. We must present the Gospel as clear, direct, logical, truthful, and respectful as we can. Because that is what we are called to do. 

When facing the world we must remember three statements from Jesus. First from, Matthew 10:16, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” This is what Peter is picking up in his letter: being ready, with a response and doing so with gentleness and respect.
Then Jesus says in Mark 13:11, “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” As we study God’s Word, let’s not worry about the times when we get to share, but rather rely on the Holy Spirit to bring what he wants shared to us at that time.
And then finally what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit in John 16:8, “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment…” It is not our job to convict the world of sin, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job. Our job is to present the Gospel in the cradle of love, with the most intelligent response we can offer. Leaving the results in God’s hands.

So my challenge to you this week is to think back in your mind about the most common questions or challenges to the Gospel you or others have ever faced, then do research both for the Jewish approach, and Gentile approach in answering those questions. Not for the glory it could bring to you, but for the glory of God, who seeks and saves the lost, and who calls us into his work.

May we be the people that are as wise as snakes, and as innocent doves, as Jesus desires us to be, being alway prepared and in love sharing the Gospel. Amen.

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.