Have you ever played Laser Tag before? It’s a game where you are armed with a computerized flashlight gun that you aim at another person’s computerized laser receiver pack. It’s kind of like a backpack. What you do is you get split into teams and then you aim the laser at the targets on the other person’s pack and you get points for zapping them.
So, I was playing at Frankie’s recently. They have a giant room where about 20 people can play at once. The Red Team and the Blue Team. Our team thought we were doing pretty well. We thought that we were really zapping the other team and racking up a lot of points.
But on the scores afterwards, our team got dominated. Why? One of the little kids had been zapping his own teammates. He had a giant negative score which was dropping our total score down.
He didn’t know who was on his team.
And it cost the team.
It’s hard to have unity when you don’t even know who’s supposed to be on your team. Today we are continuing our disciple series and we’re going to discuss that key issue of UNITY in discipleship. We want to learn (1) who is for us (2) what is against us and (3) how to remain united. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Who is for Us
This lesson starts in Mark 9:38 with a report from the Apostle John about a commotion going on up the road. He says, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop because he was not one of us.”
A couple of notes:
First, what the man is doing, he’s doing this In Jesus’ name. That means he’s probably shouting, “In Jesus’ name.” He’s telling people, “I’m doing this in Jesus’ name.” He’s handing out bumper stickers that say, “In Jesus’ name.” His Twitter handle is @InJesusName. Everything he’s doing – he’s doing for the sake of Jesus’ name.
Which can be either a good thing or a bad thing:
Giving groceries in Jesus’ name? Good thing.
Stealing groceries in Jesus’ name? Bad thing.
Running a 5k in Jesus’ name? Good thing.
Running a drug dealership in Jesus’ name? Bad thing.
Building an orphanage in Jesus’ name? Good thing.
Building a strip club? Awful.
The man’s actions are God pleasing. He’s driving out demons. Demons are bad. Jesus is good. The Bible describes demons as angels that rebelled against God and are constantly at war with him. Jesus is God’s son who loves his Father and is constantly at peace with him.
The point? This man being opposed to demons is a good thing. He’s not misrepresenting Jesus in anyways.
And what he’s doing to the demons isn’t very easy. It says, “He’s driving out demons.” About 5 sermons ago, we talked about how very real and very powerful demons are. They are supernatural beings. They tend to defeat humans in temptation after temptation. There’s a reason that humans get very nervous when watching them in a movie.
But this man is driving them out.
He isn’t ‘’trying to drive them out.”
He isn’t “attempting to drive them out.”
He isn’t “failing to drive them out.”
He’s doing the job.
Which makes John’s tattling a bit surprising.
Is John against demon driving out?
Is he for demon rights?
Nope. Look at his reason: “I told him to stop because he is not one of us.” (v.38b)
“He’s not one of the 12.”
“He’s not one of the apostles.”
“He’s not a part of our club Jesus.”
“You hired us to be demon-caster-outers, Jesus. Not that guy! He’s out of turn!”
And at the end of this report, John must have been feeling pretty good. Feeling like he did the right thing. Feeling like he did what Jesus wanted. I bet he even had his palm open above his head -- waiting for Jesus to slap him a high five.
But Jesus leaves him hanging.
“Don’t stop him. No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.” (v.39-40)
Think about it logically for a second:
If this man is casting demons in Jesus’ name,
And Jesus is against demons…
And this man accomplishes his task…
A task only possible if God empowers him to do so…
He’s on God’s side.
And if this man is on God’s side…
And John is on God’s side…
Then John and this man are on the same side.
And if John is opposed to this man…
And this man is on God’s side…
Then, John is opposed to God himself.
About 7 years ago when I was a pastoral intern, I remember hanging out in the fellowship area eating donuts and drinking coffee with one of the elders in the congregation. A young man approached and was really excited. He said, “I’m super pumped because I’ve got a couple of my coworkers getting together for a Bible study this week. It’s gonna be awesome. A great chance for me to share Jesus and I’ll try to invite them to church afterwards.”
And before I could say anything, the elder responded sternly: “You can’t do that. You’ve gotta run that by the elders first. You aren’t really qualified.”
I asked him why he said that. “Because he’s not an elder. He’s not a teacher. He’s barely even a member of this church.”
And I said, “Oh, that’s right. I forgot about Matthew 28. It says, “Go and make disciples of all nations– if you are one of the elders of the church – otherwise, sit on your hands and don’t do anything except clean the restrooms.”
The problem there was the same problem John had and it’s the same problem that threatens our unity today--mistaking those on our side for those against our side.
This is really John’s fault more than anything. Look again at the first verse. What is John’s reason for assuming the man is wrong? He “saw” someone driving out demons.
He didn’t talk to him.
He didn’t investigate him.
He didn’t have a conversation.
He saw (and he saw something good) and he reacted.
Guys – the problem was pride. John didn’t want to consider that someone else could even be in the club because it would ruin his own status – at least in his mind.
Don’t think it doesn’t happen here either!?! I’ve heard it before.
Hey! He can’t fix that toilet at church because he’s not part of the maintenance crew. I am!
She better not bring cookies for fellowship because she’s not a part of the cookies for fellowship group.
Honestly, their opinion isn’t really all that important because they haven’t been here 25 years like I have.
Pastor should tell them that person to stop saying “Amen” during the sermon because that’s not how we do it here – so that person should stop or get out!
Listen. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” That’s the reality expressed by Jesus himself. If someone is a believer in Jesus, they are not our opposition. They are on our side. John, that demon-caster-outer-guy is not against us, but for us. Stop opposing him!
Take a moment. Look around.
Do you see the people here today? These people – are not against us.
They are for us.
God doesn’t want us to fight with others on our side; but fight for others on our side.
Why? Because he fought for them.
Just like he died for you; he died for them.
Just like he shed his blood for you; he shed his blood for them.
Just like he shared this message of love with you; he has shared that message with them.
We are not against us – but we are for us.
II. What is Against Us
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have some opposition. In fact, there is something that’s very much a part of this church right now and was very much a part of the church back then – that threatens unity and should not be a part of his church.
What is it?
Look at the very next verse:
If anyone causes one of these littles ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. (v42)
Do you know what a millstone is? It’s a giant 500 lb circular rock that was used to crush grain. The idea was that the grain would come by on an old-fashioned conveyer belt and the stone which was flush with the shelving would roll on top of it, instantly crushing it.
Millstones are great for crushing grain.
They are excellent for grinding flour.
They are super stones in the bread making process.
They are also TERRIBLE flotation devices.
Jesus says, “It would be terrible to have a giant stone like that tied around your neck and to be hurled into the sea – because you would drown.”
Do you know what would be worse?
Leading a little one to sin.
Because sin is not in unity with God.
Sin is opposed to God.
And people who lead kids to sin are not in unity with God…
…they are opposed to Him.
We aren’t just talking about having an at home school where one of the classes is: “Thievery 101.” No one besides Robin Hood does that. The reality is this subtler. We teach kids by being an example.
Otherwise, if we said out loud what we teach kids by our actions, I don’t know that we would teach them:
This morning kids we will be learning how God’s Word is important, but not as important as sleeping in and videos games.
Listen here kids – these four-letter words that I am saying – those are great ways to sinfully express your anger. Try it!
Follow my example children – Do you see how I am terribly I’m treating your mom? Yelling and screaming at her? Guess what – that’s how you should treat all women.
Our examples teach kids.
Our sinful examples teach kids to sin.
Teaching kids to sin is teaching them to be opposed to God’s kingdom.
And here’s how opposed to God’s kingdom sin is:
“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed then to go into hell where the fire never goes out. If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to go into hell where ‘the worms that eat them to don’t die and the fire is not quenched.” (v.43-49)
By the way! It is absolutely awful to lose body parts. No one ever wants that to happen. In fact, it’s so bad that amputation is one of the last resorts in surgery – something doctors turn to only when amputation stops certain death from spreading.
Amputation is awful.
But amputation is nothing compared to being wholly amputated from God’s kingdom.
That’s called hell.
And no, don’t go home and amputate your hand. The reality is if you want to rid yourself of sin, you’d have to amputate your own heart! The point of this section is not go and do some kind of horror movie thing.
The point is that sin is awful.
Sin is dangerous.
And the only hope against sin…?
It all depends on his mercy. No amount of cutting, plucking or maiming could save us. There needs to be a wholesale removal of our entire sinfulness from our souls.
And that’s what Jesus did. He did a wholesale removal of your souls’ sins. With divine, surgical precision and accuracy, he remove the entirety of your sinful being and took it to the cross and he completely eradicated it.
Jesus has separated sin and its consequences from your body.
Jesus has separated what separates you from unity with God.
Jesus has united you with his Father’s kingdom.
Jesus has united us into his Father’s kingdom.
And now He calls us to separate ourselves from the real cause of disunity: sin.
III. What Now
(1) Fight the Real Cause of Disunity
Again – this doesn’t mean cutting off your hand, but it does mean cutting off that anger at another member of this church.
It doesn’t mean cutting out your foot, but it does mean cutting out the bad example for your children.
It doesn’t mean plucking out your eye, but it does mean looking deeply at your heart, examining your thoughts and plucking out every bit of sinful pride, envy and racism that could ruin ministry here.
It’s kind of like that pair of pants that always gets lint on it. Do you have one of those? It’s the one that you like a lot but it seems to be a magnet for doghair, lint, and little pilly things. And for whatever reason it’s always a dark color and the little pieces are light colored. Embarrassing. You get a lint roller. You get a piece of packaging tape. You go repeatedly and repetitively over that pair of pants until it’s clean.
Do that to your heart.
Ask God for wisdom and in seeing the ugly realities that are there.
Ask God to empower you to separate yourself from the things within you that divide the kingdom of God!
(2) Celebrate Unity
Because it is a pretty amazing thing that God does. He takes people with completely different background, completely different races, completely different cultures, and completely different ACC basketball teams and he unites them. He unites them in the saving blood of Jesus our Savior.
That’s worth celebrating!
To be honest – that’s how the disciples should have reacted! They should have run over to that guy, hoisted him on their shoulders and thanked him for their hard work. They had someone else to share the load with – someone else whose faith in Jesus was so strong that he felt compelled to head to demon possessed people, say nothing more than “leave in the name of Jesus,” and God worked through him to drive the demon out!
We need to be doing the same thing.
We celebrate the additions to our family.
We celebrate the guy who is excited to post invites on Facebook and the guy who passes paper invites to his friend.
We celebrate the one with vision for Precious Lambs, the technical skills to build the building and the teachers with the skills to help kids build with Legos.
We celebrate the woman who makes delicious double chunk chocolate chip cookies for fellowship and the woman who brings Brussel sprouts!
We celebrate because we’re on the same side and it’s worth celebrating that unity!
Speaking of, we have a bit thing coming up. We have this year’s Easter celebration. We have two services. We have an awesome Easter breakfast. We have an egg hunt for the kids. We have two different but incredible musical plans for the services. We have the awesome opportunity to reflect on our risen Savior AND we have an incredible chance to plant the message of Jesus in the hearts of North Raleigh.
Here’s the truth. If we’re too busy planting seeds of discord in our own home, then we will miss out.
But if we work together…
If we plant together…
If we share the awesome message of Jesus together!
This year’s Easter harvest will be one for the ages.
To God be the Glory!
Ever been on a family vacation before?
It always sounds so nice. You get in the car, everyone has their seat and pillow from home. Dad’s driving. Mom has the directions. The bag with all the food is in the back seat for Brother to turn around and deliver snacks. Sister is in control of the DVD player. It sounds nice. The family on a trip together.
But then dad takes the turns on the highway a bit too fast -- Sister is feeling sick to her stomach.
Mom is distracted by sister and forgets to tell dad to turn on I-75. The car goes an hour out of the way.
Dad needs some trail mix to calm himself down, but there’s not any left. Brother ate all of it!
Sister won’t let anyone put any DVD in that isn’t an iCarly original – so that you hear the theme song in the back of your head the whole time.
Sometimes it’s easier to travel alone.
No one to complain about driving.
No one to give wrong directions.
No one else to eat the trail mix.
But what about following Jesus? What about spiritual travel? Is it nicer alone or together?
Today we’re continuing our series called Follow and we’re discussing what it’s like to follow together – as a church family. We will hear about some of the biggest threats to following together and be reminded of the blessings. Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Divisions in Corinth
Our lesson comes from 1 Corinthians 1. A bit of background – 1 Corinthians is a letter written to a young church that was in a city called Corinth. The Corinthians had first learned about Jesus from a follower of Jesus named Paul. They were the ones who told them that they were sinners; that they needed a Savior; that Jesus was that Savior.
At first, the people were so excited about this message. They loved having salvation. They loved having freedom from sin. They loved the peace of God.
But then…something happened.
Paul left. Another Pastor – Pastor Apollos – showed up and took their place. It doesn’t appear he taught a much different message. He taught that they were sinners; that they needed a Savior and that Jesus was that Savior. (Same thing; same message.)
But Apollos must have done things a bit differently. (Maybe he didn’t choose the same worship music as Paul; maybe he bought a different kind of coffee for morning fellowship – I don’t know). Regardless, it started to cause some people to long for their past pastor.
I really miss Paul. He was so sarcastic.The type of guy you could grab a beer with and still be convicted.
Ok sure. But I’m a fan of Apollos. He’s no nonsense and he’s getting stuff done.
But some of his ideas are different. He doesn’t do things the same way that Paul does things. He’s #NotMyPastor.
Speak for yourself – I’m an Apollos guy. Times are changing. His way is better.
Well, I’ll always be a follower of Paul – first and foremost. I’m not a follower of Apollos.
I am. You can stay stuck in the past with the Paul way of doing things.
And then – into that culture – somehow the church became familiar with the teachings of a guy called Cephas (aka Peter). Peter was one of the original 12 disciples. Peter spoke with Jesus for 3 years. Peter must have introduced himself to them. Told about how he saw the resurrected Jesus and shared his ideas for the church of Jesus going forward.
Picture Peter the accomplished author you might find down at the Christian bookstore. A group of people moved to the area from Peter’s church in Jerusalem, joined the church, and ran every idea from the church council by the Apostle Peter.
Putting the sermon after the Bible study? WWPD (What Would Peter do?) – I don’t know if he’d think it was a good idea.
Welcoming Gentiles into the same congregation as Jews? WWPD? I’m not so sure.
Chocolate chip cookies for fellowship! WWPD? I think he’d buy Oreos.
Suddenly a shift started to take place in the church. Instead of one united group, there were different groups. They weren’t united Christians. They were Paulians, Peterites and Apollosians. A group of Paul followers would gather over here and badmouth the Barnabas brotherhood. The Barnabas brotherhood would meet over there and discuss ways to stop Apollos’ outreach plan. And Apollos’ selected church people would snap Instagram photos with the #ApollosChurch until it was trending.
Word got to Paul – the guy who first told them about Jesus. There weren’t phones back then. There wasn’t Snapchat. He couldn’t just TWEET his displeasure. So, he wrote a longhand letter. These divisions are one of the first things he addresses.
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”’ another, “I follow Cephas,” still another, “I follow Christ.”
I think this is interesting. Paul’s appeal is not for people to revert to doing things his way.
It isn’t for people to listen to all of his ideas.
It’s for people to stop be divided and started being united.
He asks some pretty poignant questions to get his point across:
(1) Is Christ divided? Are the Jews class A of Christians and the Gentiles class B? Did Jesus die once on a cross for the rich and once on a side street for the poor? Does John 3:16 say, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him and likes country music goes to heaven, but whoever believes in him and like rap music goes to a different heaven"? Not any worse, just not the same – not so that I have to listen to your country music the whole time I’m in heaven.
(2) Was Paul crucified for you? The quick answer is NO; he’s busy writing this very letter. Paul wasn’t crucified. Apollos wasn’t crucified. Peter, although some tradition suggests that he was eventually was crucified, was not crucified yet! And even when he did die – it didn’t have any incredible redemptive work. Ask the kids – Jesus died on the cross – not Paul, not Peter, not Apollos, not anyone or anything else.
(3) Were you baptized into the name of Paul? How would that have even sounded? “I baptize you in the name of Paul the Pharisee, Paul the persecutor, and Paul the reformed Christian missionary?"
And I love Paul’s parenthetical aside, “I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)” Paul’s point isn’t that he didn’t want people to be baptized. (Baptism brings forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation. Things that Paul treasured dearly and dedicated the latter portion of his life preaching). Rather, Paul’s point is that people would have used being baptized by him as some kind of special badge that would have furthered division.
It’s like bringing home a gift for your kids. Maybe you get them each a PEZ dispenser. What if you got the PEZ dispenser for everyone in your family accept your middle child? How’s that go over? (“You love them more than me.”)
It’s the same thing with adults though. Imagine if your boss at work gives everyone a Valentine’s card with a PAYDAY chocolate attached to it. (Get it, PAYDAY?) What happens if you look around the office and you see everyone else has a delicious, chocolate, salty candy bar and you don’t? Division! You get angry. You whine.
Paul recognizes that – even with something as incredible as Baptism. As if people would wear ball caps that said, “Baptized by Paul” and others were visors that said, “Blessed by the hand of Apollos.”
TRUTH: People love taking good things and making them into divisive things. In the case of Baptism, they had taken something incredible – baptism – which unites you with God and with believers and they were now using it as a thing of division.
II. Divisions at Gethsemane?
Careful. Because the devil is still at work today. He is still trying to sabotage the church just as much as he did back then. He is still trying to sabotage our ministry here in Raleigh – just as much as he did then. By taking neutral things – even good things --- and making them into divisive things.
Here are three things that I think we have to be especially careful of.
Did you know it’s not sinful to engage in politics? It’s not sinful to watch political shows either. But what has happened is our country has such an incredible divide between the Republican and Democratic party – that we no longer view each other as people we politely disagree with. But people that we violently oppose! And let them know as much on Facebook and every other social media site we can get onto.
That can’t happen in this church.
That can’t happen when we are dedicated to sharing Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t Republican. Jesus wasn’t Democrat. (Neither of those were even around back then.)
Jesus is our God. He is our Savior. He is the Savior of your friend who votes in a different direction.
Don’t let politics get in the way and ruin the message of your Savior.
Culture is a great thing. It’s a view into God’s mind. That he created us so very different with so many different backgrounds, different food favorites and different styles of wearing our hair. It’s beautiful. Thanks to culture we have the ability to go to the Chinese restaurant on Monday, get Mexican on Tuesday, grab some soul food on Wednesday, try an Italian pizzeria on Thursday and finish it off with Japanese sushi on Friday.
Culture is great. But the temptation is to make it into something that divides – (See: Racism)
Racism has no place in the church. Jesus died for all. It says in the Bible Jesus died for Jews and for Gentiles – which means -- everyone who isn’t a Jew.
Don’t let culture get in the way and ruin the message of your Savior.
(3) Worship Styles.
I bring this up because we will be moving to two different services on Easter. Those two services may be different. One might be a more traditional style of worship (with robes and organ and old school hymns) while the other might be a more contemporary style of worship (without robes and with a band and new school songs).
Both are good. Both are different expressions of culture. Both share God’s Word.
Both could cause division.
Whether it’s “I’m a Traditional Christian” and "I’m a Contemporary Christian.”
Or whether it’s “I’m an early service Christian” and “I’m a late service Christian.”
Don’t let these causes division. Traditional worship didn’t die for you. You weren’t baptized into the name of Contemporary worship.
You were baptized into the name of Jesus.
III. Jesus Unites
In fact, Jesus died to stop division—division between us and God. Our sins had divided us from him. Read Isaiah 59:2 “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear.”
There’s this picture of this big thick bulletproof glass. You can see someone on the other side. It’s someone you love. You wish they could hear you. You’re banging on the glass for them to hear you and notice you and let you in.
But they don’t.
That’s the picture of sin and God. We see him. We know his power. We see the value in being with him. But our sins separate us. In a cruel, cruel joke reminding us how unworthy we are to approach a holy, divine God.
But Jesus is like a wrecking ball. Jesus comes in and smashed through the wall. Jesus comes in and knock down our sins. Jesus comes in and removes what separated us from God. Jesus unites us to our Heavenly Father.
TRUTH: God is not a God of division. God is a God of unity.
Paul recognized that. Look at how he continues the letter: Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Look at that again – “The cross, the message that Jesus died for us, destroys our sin, and unites us with God the Father, is a message that divides.” Unbelievers call it foolishness. It doesn’t make any sense – some Jewish guy, a carpenter, died a few thousand years ago, and because of him I’m right with God?
But that same message that divides unbelievers is the message that unites us. It is the power of God.
It is the power for salvation for the Jew.
It is the power of salvation for the Gentile.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who got along with Paul.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who really liked Apollos.
It is the power of salvation for the girl who votes Republican.
It is the power of salvation for the girl who votes Democrat.
It is the power of salvation for the Italian, the German, the Iraqi, the African American, the Hispanic, and the Native American.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who likes guitars.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who likes organ.
It is the power of salvation for all of us. It is the one, incredible, power of salvation that unites us all!
IV. What now?
(1) Focus on What Unites
That’s such an easy thing for us to do. To point out what’s different. But there’s so much that’s the same. We all have eyes. We all have noses. We all have hands and feet. We all have a need to be connected with family and friends. We all have a need to be connected with God.
Check out verse 26: “Think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong…it is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is saying – Stop thinking about what makes you different. Think about what makes you the same:
Y’all were sinners.
Y’all were ignorant.
Y’all were in need of a savior.
And all y’all have a Savior. That Savior is Jesus. He is your wisdom.
(2) Boast in God
That’s Paul’s conclusion on this first chapter. He says in verse 31, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” Because what’s boasting? Boasting is speaking openly and proudly about something you like or accomplished.
The problem with boasting is that is usually causes someone to feel awful who hasn’t accomplished what you are boasting about.
Boast in Jesus. Don’t boast in your favorite style of worship. Don’t boast in your favorite political party.
Boast in Jesus.
Boast in God.
Boast in the one who actually and completely unites us in every way.
Then, you are able to follow together.
Then, you are able to follow peaceably.
Then, you are able to help each other on the road to heaven.
A brother of our passed away this past week. I won’t give every detail, but know that he was an older gentleman who had struggles with his lungs. He also didn’t have a lot of family in the area. He lived alone.
That’s a hard thing to go through alone.
I had gotten the message that it wouldn’t be much longer while I was in Arizona. It’s hard to do bedside ministry from Arizona. But…here’s where following together comes in.
Pastor Rockhoff helped with a visit.
One of our elders helped with a visit.
My wife graciously drove me late at night for a visit.
I wasn’t there at the exact time of his death. But one of our elders was. From what I heard about his final minutes – as he was struggling and life was leaving him – our elder was blessed to be able to share with him God’s Word. Literally – reading the blessing.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.
And the Lord gave him peace.
And the Lord brought him into peace.
And he now lives in eternal peace.
That’s following Jesus.
That’s following Jesus together.
Lord help us do that now and always. Amen.
Have you ever heard of Angie’s List? It’s an online service that lets you hook up with various contractors in all kinds of areas. From painters to dry wallers, from lawn care to carpet care, from lizard wranglers to sheep shearers -- you can find the professional you need on Angie’s List
But you might wanna shop around. The truth is there are usually more than one company you can go with. Take plumbing, for example. If you need a plumber, you might like Plumberee – with lots of experience and fine craftsmanship, but a fine way of breaking the bank. Then again, there’s Bargain Plumbers less expensive, but so is their work. There’s Plumber’s R. Us. A bit corporate in its structure – so you know they can get the job done, but bad customer service. Then, there’s Frank’s Plumbing. Not as well known, but you can almost always get him on the phone and he does a fine job -- just as long as you don’t mind the smell of cigarettes that he brings with him everywhere he goes.
Who do you choose? The wise person shops around first, before making his decision.
Is the same thing true about grace? The last couple of weeks we’ve talked about the blessing of grace that Jesus brings. It’s without cost. It covers even the worst of sinners. It lasts into eternal life. It brings forgiveness for all your sins.
But…the wise person shops around first so…
What about Buddha? What type of grace does he offer?
What about Mohammed? I hear he has a good plan.
What about doing your best, trying your hardest, and earning some grace with the human spirit? That’s the American ideal. Plus you can get away with a lot more sins.
After all, doesn’t it kind of depend on your geography?
Different gods? Different traditions? Different religions?
Today we are finishing our series called Surprising Grace by looking at the exclusivity of grace. We’ll see why Grace must be from Jesus and how that’s true, no matter who you are or where you’re from. Before we do that, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Shopping Around for Other Options
Today’s account is taken from Revelation 5:1-12. Revelation is the final book in the Bible. It’s written by the Apostle John. It’s called Revelation because it’s a revelation that John received from God. A revelation of the future.
That’s why it has to be from God.
Remember: Time is like a jump rope. You and I are on the jump rope. Somewhere within this tiny ½ cm. It means we can only see behind us – as much as is preserved by history – and we can’t see too far in front of us – only making best guess predictions.
But God is of the timeline. He’s eternal. He sees everything from 6000 years ago to 15 years from now like it’s happening before his eyes.
That’s why God was able to tell John about the future in this revelation. He could see it happening. So, when we read Revelation, we find out about the future. We find out that sometimes – the future is comforting. Sometimes it’s scary. And sometimes…well…it’s strange.
John fell to his knees. The sight before him was too much.
For starters, there were these beasts. 4 incredible, terrifying beasts watching his every move. They were kind of like earthly beasts – and kind of not. One looked like an eagle. One like a lion. One like an ox. One like a man.
But they were only like these things. They were radiating. They were flying. They each had eyeballs all over them. Each eyeball blinking in tune with John’s every movement.
The beasts weren’t the only ones watching John. Surrounding him were 24 smaller thrones. Each throne had 24 elders – dressed in white and crowns of gold on their heads (v.4) Long, flowing, divine white hair gently flowing in the breeze – as if they were floating on water.
But the gentleness was interrupted. Flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder came from the center of the room. There stood a gigantic throne. There was a bright light radiating right in front of it. A white, bright light. The bright kind that makes you squint your eyes if you don’t have a pair of sunglasses.
But this light wasn’t coming from the sun. It wasn’t even coming from outside. It was coming from an ethereal rainbow that had fashioned itself at the top of the throne – marking and identifying the one who sat upon the throne.
Whose throne was it?
If John hadn’t figured it out yet – the melody of the elders made grew until it was at a thunderous level made him certain:
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (v.11)
John again looked to the ground in horror.
He was before God Almighty. He was before the Creator of heaven and earth.
He was before the one who makes volcanoes explode, tectonic plates shake, and flood water engulf the earth.
He, a sinner, was standing before the All holy, sin hating God.
But God wasn’t fixated on him. Not at the moment. At the moment, God was fixated on what he had in his hand.
It was a scroll. An ancient version of a eReader or book. Divine parchment tightly rolled up and sealed tightly with seven seals. (5:1)
What was in the scroll? Well there’s two books mentioned in the book of Revelation. One is called the Book of Life. That’s an important book. Because there is written the names of every person who has life – every person who is allowed to enter into heaven. Picture it like a divine guest list – only the bouncer isn’t some tough looking Italian guy named Guido.
It’s God himself.
Meaning this scroll was important. Without it, there was no way of knowing who it is that is allowed into heaven.
And…for whatever the reason, God wasn’t opening it.
In fact, one of the angels, a mighty angel, the king angel with bulging veins in his biceps and a heart tattoo on his left delt, started shouting in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” (v.2)
No one moved.
He repeated himself. Louder. “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”
John looked around. Why wasn’t anyone trying to do it? Sure, the seals looked intimidating, but they were in God’s throne room. Why wasn’t he burly angel giving it a try? Why didn’t the ox-like thing try smashing it with his hoofs? Why didn't the eagle like thing try dive bombing it from on high? Why didn’t the 24 elders work together to develop some kind of divinely inspired Rube Goldberg machine to open it up?
But none of them were making their way to the scroll.
None of them were lifting a hand to break the seals.
Mostly, they were just shaking their heads – their divinely, haloed, eye-filled heads.
John began weeping. If that scroll wasn’t opened, then he wasn’t getting into heaven. Then, his friends weren’t getting into heaven. Then, none of his loved ones and fellow believers were getting into heaven.
v. 3 No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside of it.
Pay attention here. Because this has everything to do with God’s grace. Because we need God’s grace to get into heaven. We need God’s grace to get our names onto the pages of the Book of Life.
And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could write our names in there. In fact, they couldn’t even open the scroll or look inside of it.
Not anyone in that throne room. Not the mighty angel. Not the eagle. Not the ox. Not anyone on below that throne room either. Not Zeus. Not Hades. Not Hercules. Not Buddha. Not Mohammed. Not Vishnu.
Not a president. Not a king. Not any member of congress. Not a brilliant scientist. Not a billionaire business man.
Not even a guy who tries really hard and does his best and hopes that it’s enough to get his name in the book of Life.
There is no one else. No one who can get your name on the Book of Life.
No one who can win your forgiveness.
No one who can offer you’re an eternity in heaven.
II. The Exclusive Answer
“Do not weep!” cried one of the elders. His mouth agape in excitement. “Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
John took a deep breath. Of course! A lion. Lions are the King of the Jungle for a reason. They have majestic manes and fierce teeth for sinking into their prey. They have powerful jaws and swift, fierce claws. Lions were some of the most muscular and magnificent creatures on earth. A divine, heavenly version of it would have no problem destroying those seals!
John looked up with excitement. He covered his ears anticipating this miraculous roar!
But what he saw wasn’t a Lion.
It wasn’t fierce.
It wasn’t intimidating.
It didn’t roar.
Then, I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne. (5:6)
John turned his head in shock! A Lamb? Lambs aren’t intimidating! They don’t have claws – they have unbalanced hoofs. They don’t have majestic manes, but soft, gentle wool. They don’t roar – they baaa!
How was this creature – a creature of nursery rhymes and preschools – supposed to be the one to open the seals?
And this one wasn’t even in good health? It was looking as if it had been slain. (5:6) It looked like it was limping along. It needed to be held. It needed to be nourished. It didn’t need to be trying to open up these incredible seals.
John looked around. Is anybody going to stop this?
But no one else shared his concern. In fact, the others in the room – the elders, the winged creatures, the mighty angel – God himself – smiled at the sight of the Lamb and erupted into a magnificent song….
…to the Lamb:
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain. (5:9)
Suddenly, it hit John.
The Lamb. The Lamb of God. He had heard that before.
He had read about it in the Old Testament – as the blood of innocent lambs foreshadowed this moment.
He had heard it from John the Baptist as he pointed at his leader “Look! The Lamb of God! Who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
He had seen it from his fellow disciple Peter who wrote, “-- a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:1
That’s who the Lamb was.
That’s why he was slain.
That’s why he alone could open the scroll.
Because that Lamb was Jesus!
Brothers and sisters, understand this! There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth who can open the scroll.
There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth who can get you into heaven.
There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth whose grace is enough for your eternal life.
No other being than Jesus Christ.
The Bible is simple then.
The Bible is clear.
God’s eternal vision has been revealed to you.
Do you desire forgiveness for your sins? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire to lose your guilt? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire to escape hell? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire eternal life? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire peace with God? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire eternal joy? Trust Jesus.
There is no one else who can provide these things – because the only one on the spiritual Angie’s List for salvation is The Lamb – Your Savior, Jesus Christ!!!
III. What Now?
(1) Celebrate this Exclusivity
Because what do they say? The only thing you don’t want to talk with people about are politics and religion. But…as this past election showed us – we had no problem talking politics. I’m friends with most of you on Facebook. I know this.
So why not religion?
Better yet…why not your Savior?
Better, better yet…why not the only one who provides forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation?
The elders didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
The four living creatures didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
The mighty angel didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
Even John – stopped being nervous and frightened and as he watched Jesus open up that scroll shouted: Worthy is the Lamb!
You do that too. In fact, why do you get on your Smartphone today and make that your status. #WorthyIsTheLamb
Don’t be afraid to let others know who it is that you trust. Don’t be afraid to let them know who it is they can trust.
(2) Celebrate Diversity
Because notice what it says about the Lamb in verse 9 You are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
I love that. It means Jesus is your exclusive king no matter who you are.
It doesn’t matter what tribe you’re from. Which may be the closest Bible words for “race.” This is key, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, Asian or Latino, middle Eastern, Native American, combination of the above.
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And it doesn’t matter what language you speak. He’s the answer if you speak English or Spanish. Italian or German. Nigerian or Malawian. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Sign Language…even if you speak in emoji!
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And it doesn’t matter where you live. It doesn’t matter if you live in America or Iraq. Whether you live in Russia or China. Whether you live in Mexica or Canada. It doesn’t matter if you live in Durham or Cary or Chapel Hill or Knightdale or Morrisville or South Raleigh or North Raleigh or anywhere else on this planet!
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And if Jesus is king of us all – that means we’ve got to celebrate that diversity just like Jesus does. We’ve got hug those from different backgrounds. Speak with excitement – show excitement – to those who speak different languages. Grab hands and go to work with those from different places.
Celebrate Diversity because that’s what Jesus celebrates!
(3) Celebrate Unity
Because diversity…sometimes leads to division. I fear it’s happened to America. There’s so many different people in America that we let our differences get the best of us and we fight.
The same is true in Raleigh. It’s a global, multicultural, multigenerational community. It’s started to get divided.
The same could be true for our church. More and more God has enabled us to reflect the global, multicultural, diverse community that He will have in heaven.
How do we stay united?
Look carefully at verse 9 again You are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom.
Did you hear that?
Not many kingdoms.
No a White kingdom and a Black kingdom and an Asian kingdom and a Hispanic kingdom.
Just a kingdom.
Jesus creates only one kingdom.
And we stand together as one kingdom, by remembering who it is that created that one kingdom.
And that’s kind of what happens at the end of the section. Everybody remembers that it’s all about Jesus and they started shouting – despite their differences – despite some being angels and some being lions and some being elders and some being many-eyed-flying-ox-like creatures.
Then, I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice, they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"
But that’s not it. Because then, John prophesies about us. And he says this:
Then, I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea and all that is in them saying – (and since you are one of those creatures – please, say it with me ) “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!”
And the elders said “Amen!”
And I say “Amen.”
The other day a few of the preschoolers were playing in the block center together. They had taken down the blocks, settled onto the carpet, and built a foundation, when they began discussing design plans.
“I want to build a castle for Elsa!”
“No, I think we should build an ice cream shop for the Transformers.”
And without a clear focus in designs – the building got difficult.
“That block is for Elsa to sing on!”
“No, it’s for the Transformers to eat ice cream on.”
And each one grabbed a hold of the block. They pulled. They tugged. Someone fell over. And there was lots of crying.
And no one built anything.
It’s hard to work together with others in a building project. People are so different. We have different ideas. Different likes. Different dislikes.
If it’s hard on a small project, how will it work on a big project? (Like a Preschool Expansion? Or sharing the Gospel in all of North Raleigh?)
Today we’re continuing our series called Building Project and see how Nehemiah was able to get an even greater group of people work together on the even bigger Building Project of Rebuilding Jerusalem. As we learn about how they worked together, we can grab a few tips for working together as a church here. Before we study, let’s say a prayer and ask God to bless us. O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Nehemiah’s Crew
The section describing Nehemiah’s crew is found in Nehemiah 3. If you get a chance to read the whole thing, it’s one of the chapters that can be kind of difficult to read. There are names that are hard to pronounce. There are place names that are hard to pronounce. It’s kind of repetitive.
Which teaches us one important thing right away: This is not fiction. If it were, it would be terrible fiction. Dr. Seuss would never include such mundane details. If J.K. Rowling wrote like this, Harry Potter would never have been that popular.
But beyond the historical, true vibe that we get from this detailed information is an incredible portrait of Nehemiah’s work crew.
Nehemiah exits his house at the first hint of sunlight. He’s got a tall cup of coffee in his hands that he sips as he picks up his morning bagel. Then, he heads to the Northwest corner of the city.
Good morning Eliashib!
Nehemiah watched as a large, jovial man made his way over to him. God’s blessings, Nehemiah! We’re hoping to get the second layer of brick set today.
Nehemiah smiled. Eliashib (3:1) was a hard worker. Still, it was strange to see him working like this. He was high priest. In fact, all of the people working with Eliashib were priests. There were men who usually were in the temple. They wore fancy robes. They wore fancy jewels. They worked with incense and prayer books.
Now? They were wearing cut off sleeves. They had traded in their quills for hammers. They smelled less like incense and more like they had been working outside.
A few blocks down Nehemiah met up with Uzziel and Hananiah. (v.8) This was an interesting pairing indeed. Uzziel was a goldsmith. Hananiah was a perfumer. The two of them were rivals. In the marketplace, they were each vying for the attention of the consumer.
“Buy a new golden bracelet for your girl?”
“Don’t spend your money there, his gold is fake. Get some perfume for her.”
“Perfume? Ha! Only if you’re trying to attract skunks.”
The desolation of Jerusalem had made money scarce and the marketplace difficult.
But these two weren’t fighting. They weren’t even running the business. They were building the wall together.
Hand me a hammer!
Nehemiah turned at the sound of a heavy accent. There were some of the men from Gibeah and Mizpah – cities over 30 miles away from Jerusalem. Country folk. They had heard of the project from some traveling merchants and came into town with a leather tent on their back. They had promised Nehemiah that they would help and they certainly were helping. Even though they didn’t live in Jerusalem, they knew how important this project was to restoring glory to Israel and to God.
As far as those men had come to help with the project – a few steps later, Nehemiah came across a group that came a much shorter distance.
Benjamin! Grab my tool belt while you’re in there.
Nehemiah shook the hand of Hasshub. He was repairing the wall that was literally a few 50 feet away from his house. Apparently, he had been running back and forth to his home all morning to grab forgotten tools and shove an extra Jewish Pop Tart into his mouth.
Still, Nehemiah admired his desire. When Nehemiah mentioned the project, Hasshub and Benjamin were some of the first men to sign up. They knew the destruction. They knew the need. They knew the importance of returning Jerusalem to its former glory.
Those are only a few of the names. We don’t have the time to talk of Rerum and the Levites, Binui the ruler, or Baruch, the zealous and hardworking.
Still – one thing is certain. As Nehemiah looked around that morning, he saw something beautiful.
Not the project. It was far from done. It was still in progress. In fact, the city was dustier, dirtier and as a result – uglier than ever, but that was only the materials. As he looked around and saw people coming together – different people with different cultures and different ideas, all working together on the project – Nehemiah saw something beautiful.
He saw people working together for God.
II. Lessons for Our Crew
It’s the same thing that’s going on here at Gethsemane. We’ve got something beautiful going on here. I’ve been here five years and when you stop and look around, it’s beautiful!!!
But we’ve got a big Building Project going on. That’s a test of our ability to work together. How can we work together in the same wonderful way that Nehemiah’s crew did? Remember a few lessons:
(1) The Building Project Needs You
Did you notice this phrase: “they laid the doors and bolts and bars in place”? (v. 3, 6, 13, 14, 15) It appears 5 times in Nehemiah 3.
How many times do you pass doors and stop and think, “Man, I am thankful for whoever put the hinges on that door in the right space. It opened so easily. I’m so thankful. I should find out and write a letter.”
Probably, you don’t. We take it for granted. And I’m sure that the people in charge of bolts and nuts and the little tiny hinges hidden in the back portions of the walls must have known that they weren’t going to get a lot of accolades.
But what happens if you don’t have doors?
You can’t get into anything.
It’s like 1 Corinthians 12:15. If the foot should say “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body.
Imagine if your foot was thinking that. “I wish I were a hand. I’m sick and tired of being all cooped up inside this shoe. I wish I was free to move and high five and play video games. Instead, I sit. I stay on the ground. I’m not nearly as important as a hand. I’m not as cool as a hand. Or as good looking as a hand. The body needs the hand, but it doesn’t need me.”
But then, when the foot gets its wish and becomes a hand, suddenly the body…doesn’t go anywhere.
It’s so easy to feel like there’s not a lot you could do to contribute to our Building Project. You might think, “I don’t have a lot of money. I can’t preach like pastor. I can’t do architecture drawings; I don’t know anything about preschool and I don’t know the difference between a bandsaw and a handsaw. I’m not that valuable to this congregation.”
But that’s the devil talking.
If you think that you aren’t that important to this congregation because you don’t have the skills and money and talents like others, you’re wrong.
God thinks you matter. A lot. He died for you. He hung and bled and died on the cross for you. He saved you from your sins. He rose triumphantly to save you from death. He washed you in your baptism to make you a part of his family. He offers you his true body and blood to reassure you that you have a part of him.
He wants you a part of His Building Project. He wants you to be a part of adding soul after soul to his kingdom.
No matter what you do.
If you do painting, then do painting for the Glory of God.
If you do singing, then do singing for the Glory of God.
If you do friendly, then do friendly for the Glory of God.
If you do numbers, then do numbers for the Glory of God.
If you do speaking, then do speaking for the Glory of God.
If you do giving, then give for the Glory of God.
If you do anything, then do something for the glory of God.
(2) Our Project Needs More than just You
But be careful. Once you are invested in God's kingdom, the devil works a second trick.
It is described in 1 Corinthians 12:2. “The eye cannot say to the other body part, ‘I don’t need you.’” Imagine if your eye started to think, “I’m the best. I get to see beautiful, color changing trees. I get to watch Simone Biles do Olympic flip after Olympic flip. I get to read tweets and blogs and newspaper articles. I am the most important part of this body. No one and nothing is as important as me. Especially your ear – all you do is sit there, looking all open and kind of dopey.”
But if the ear packed up its bags and moved to Vermont, the eye struggles. “I see the doctor, but I can’t understand what he’s saying. How serious is the injury?"
If you think that you are more important to our Building Project or to our congregation than others, you’re wrong. Others matter too.
God thought they mattered. He died for them. He hung and bled and died on the cross for them. He saved them from their sins. He rose triumphantly to save them from death. He washed them in baptism and made them a part of this family. He offers them the true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper to reassure them that they are a part of Him.
And since you are a part of Him, they are a part of you.
Nehemiah’s group knew this. It’s why they were on the same page.
Some worked on the Sheep Gate -- where they brought in the sheep for sacrifices at the temple. Very important.
Some worked on the Fish Gate – where they brought the fish in for the marketplace. It was a bit fishy smelling, but equally as important.
Some worked on the Dung Gate – essentially the restrooms! Also important.
Everyone is important here. No matter what they do.
Can you help me make sure that they know that?
Whether it’s someone on the front lines of evangelism or in the back printing off the invites.
Whether it’s someone giving a large amount of money to the project or a large amount of prayers.
Whether it’s someone telling a bunch of people about Jesus all at once or someone telling one other person about Jesus all by himself.
We are all important. Important to making this whole thing work.
Treat each other like that.
(3) Don’t be a Tekoite
Verse 5 says, “The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.”
I think that’s a very interesting because this is the only part of chapter 3 that’s negative. The Tekoites worked on the wall, but apparently they weren’t very agreeable. They were stinkers.
Which leads us to a very powerful truth, if you work well with others awesome. If not, others will notice that, too.
If all of us are Tekoites, being selfish and only thinking about ourselves, then not a lot will get done.
Don’t let the devil stall our project. Don’t be a Tekoite.
(4) Remember Ezer, Son of Jeshua
Do you know who he is? He makes an appearance in verse 19. It doesn’t say much about him. It simply says that he was involved in a section of the wall near the armory. That’s it.
I have feeling that not a lot of people knew that. I have a feeling that plenty of people walked by that wall without so much as ever knowing the name of Ezer. Essentially his work was forgotten.
Except…not everyone forgot.
He is in the Bible.
That’s because God didn’t forget. God doesn’t forget the works of faith done to his glory no matter how small. From sanitizing a Pre-K toy to loading the dishwasher after Fellowship. From loading a sermon onto the website to handing a bulletin to a visitor. God remembers it all. It’s to His glory.
Rest assured that whatever you do, big or small – he sees it all.
And it’s all to His Glory. Amen.
It’s been an eventful week. Three separate shootings – in Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas -- have captured the attention and the anger of our nation.
There have been protests against police and protests for the police.
Angry words on Facebook; angry videos on YouTube.
Anger at the police. Anger at racism. Anger at the media. Anger at the shooters.
Anger at white people. Anger at black people.
Anger at each other.
Originally this was going to be a series entirely on anger within a family – and I still plan on mentioning it – but the unfortunate events of the past week have left me convinced we need to examine this at a greater level. We need to examine this as a diverse family of God. If we want to continue living, growing, and serving North Raleigh together as a diverse community of believers – we need to discuss how God’s Word wants us to deal with anger – especially when it comes as the result of seemingly racist events.
Today we’re going to do three things:
(1) discuss the root of anger
(2) examine how God dealt with his anger
(3) learn how God wants us to express anger
Ready? Let’s pray to God and ask his blessing on this difficult discussion.
Strengthen us O Lord by the truth; your Word is truth. Remove our anger and hatred from our perceptions, O God. Instead, open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you want us to believe. Amen.
I. Getting to the Root of Anger
Our study of anger actually starts in John 2.
John 2 is very interesting. In it, there is yelling and shouting. Some people are waving their hands in desperation. Others are taking cover. The sheep are bleating. The cattle are stampeding. Money is being tossed to the ground; Tables are being flipped in the air. A whip is cracking and keeping all who were trying to stop the mayhem at bay.
It almost kinda sounds like an out of control protest.
But it’s not.
It’s Jesus...sweet, kind, mild mannered, turn the other cheek and let children come to him, Jesus.
(John 2:14-15) In the temple courts, Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of the cords and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.
It’s one of the most interesting sections in the Bible. At first glance, it appears Jesus was in the wrong. He lost his temper and was seemingly violent.
But…Jesus is without sin. He’s God. Scripture is clear on that. 1 John 3:5 says, “In Jesus, there is no sin.” 2 Cor. 5:21 says, “Jesus… had no sin.’ 1 Peter calls him “a lamb without blemish or defect.”
And if what Jesus did was sinful here, He couldn’t have died for our sins. He would have had to die for his own sins. As it is, he rose from the dead proving that he didn’t sin – not any other time in his life – and not here either.
Reexamine the situation. The people at the temple had been using the temple to worship God. Right outside the doors of church – in the outer hallway – were all kinds of sellers and money changers (like a flea market in church). People were bartering and making sales. Customers were shouting at poor prices. Sellers were driving up the market. Greed and deception were replacing worship and meditation. These sellers were distracting people from the truth of Scripture. They were leading them from faith to unbelief.
They were distracting people to hell.
Can you understand why Jesus’ was angry? (Not wanting people in hell sounds like a righteous reason to me.)
Follow the logic then:
Jesus was angry.
Jesus was sinless.
Anger isn’t sinful.
So: Anger isn’t sinful; therefore I can be as angry as I want and it isn’t sinful.
Is that true? Can our anger be totally, completely righteous -
With God? Absolutely.
With humans? Probably not.
Ephesians 4:22 says this, “Put off your old self which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.” That’s an interesting phrase. Deceitful – as in – seems good, but isn’t. As in, seems righteous, but really isn’t.
I think that if ever there was a righteous reason to be angry, people not attending church to worship God seems like a perfect example of righteous anger. As a pastor – that’s a very common feeling. At about 3 in the afternoon as I’m going through attendance, I get angry that there weren’t more people there and I feel really righteous in that anger. I think, "Aren't I awesome God?"
But can I let you in on a secret? The devil loves to deceive pastors. He loves to deceive me. Too often my righteous anger isn’t, “because I’m concerned for spiritual welfare,” or “because God’s Word is at the bottom of your list, “ but, “God, I’m angry that these guys are making me look bad! You’re making me feel like an inadequate pastor. You’re making me feel unimportant.”
In other words – my anger looks righteous (I can even convince myself that it is) but that’s deceptive. In reality, my anger is selfish. Tainted by sin.
HERE’S THE TRUTH: Even the “righteous” anger of sinful humans is tainted by sin. It has to be.
Oranges produces orange juice. Apples produce apple juice. Avocados produces avocados juice.
Sinful humans produces sinful ways of looking at things.
This means – at the outset of your anger – whatever it is – even for the most righteous reasons – it will be tainted.
So. Stop and think about your anger. Is it righteous?
I’m angry that you didn’t take out the garbage – not because you are shirking responsibility, but because I’m going to have to get off of the couch and do it!
I’m angry that you spent all of our money in the budget, not because it’s bad stewardship of what God has given us, but because that’s not how I wanted to spend it.
I’m angry that my kids are disrespecting me, not because it means they are sinning, but because it makes me feel bad about my parenting!
I’m angry at the death of the police officers because I’m white. I don’t really have the same sadness over the death of the Mr. Sterling because “he probably deserved it.”
I’m angry at the death of those black men because I’m black; but I’m not angry at the loss of the policemen – because they’re jerks and they deserve it!
I’m angry at my friends who are insinuating that it’s hard to be a black person in America – not because it’s not true, but because it makes me feel bad as a white guy. (And I don’t like feeling bad.)
I’m angry at my friend who is sharing her anger about her cause, because I don’t think it’s important as my anger at this cause!
And so it goes.
And anger leads to more anger.
And the world is at war.
And the devil wins.
And angers divide his people.
And deceptive angers divides the family of God.
And here’s the thing, when you’re sinfully angry with others, God gets angry with you. Romans 1:8 says, “the Wrath of God is being revealed against all the godlessness and wickedness of people.”
He’s mad when you shout at your spouse, because you are harming your spouse, his child.
He’s mad when you call your brother names, because you are harming your brother, his child.
He’s mad when you tell mom that you “hate her,” because you are harming your mom, his child.
He’s mad when you call a person of a different race derogatory names, because you are harming His children.
He’s mad when you post nasty message on the wall of a friend who disagrees with you because you are harming His child.
He’s mad when you refuse to listen to a brother or sister from another culture tell you some of the struggles they are going through because you are sending a message of “I don’t care,” to someone he cares very much about – His child!
Ultimately, he’s mad at all of these racial anger driven sins, because just like other sins, they separate God from another one of his children...
II. How God Deals with Anger
So…How does God deal with anger against you?
This is a picture of a punching bag. They are these big old bags. Heavy and hard to move with a soft outer padding to absorb any and every attack that hits it. You can hit it as hard as you want and it doesn’t scream. It doesn’t shout. No one gets hurt. It absorbs every last ounce of your anger.
This is what God did with His wrath. He absorbed it. But not with a punching bag. Not with a pillow. Not even with a little sister.
He absorbed his own wrath with himself.
Romans 5:9 says this, “We shall be saved from God’s wrath through Jesus!” Because Jesus took the brunt of God’s wrath. He took a nail in his right hand; and a nail in his left. He took a spear in his side; he took his last breath. Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:34) ” as the Triune God splintered Himself from Himself. The Father dumped his wrath against sin on his son and Jesus died.
But He came back to life. He rose because God’s wrath had been fully absorbed in his sacrifice and was no more.
It means that by faith in Jesus, God’s wrath against any racist anger has dissipated.
It means that by faith in Jesus, you will not be punished.
It means that by faith in Jesus, you will not suffer God’s anger against your sins.
You are forgiven. God’s wrath has dissipated. He won’t retaliate or get revenge. In fact, he’s protecting you because you are at peace with him.
III. WHAT NOW?
Take a look at Ephesians 4:24 “You were taught…to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Ever been to the beach? If you have, then you know the beach loves to come home with you. It’ll be stuck between your toes, in your ears, and in your shoes. It’ll get in your car, on the floor, and in your seat. Three weeks later you may even find some in your ears. It’s really uncomfortable.
So what is a beach goer to do? Take a shower. Then, put on new clothes! Don’t put on your sandy clothes. That would make the shower worthless. Put on new clothes and remain clean.
Do the same spiritually. God has washed you clean from your angry, sinful past. He removed it from every part of you. From your clenched fists to your gnashing teeth, from your spiteful thoughts to hateful heart, God has washed you clean.
Put on the new self. The selfish, angry way? That’s the sinful way of the past way. God has made you new and he wants you to follow a new way in dealing with anger. Ephesians teaches us about this new self:
(1) In your Anger Don’t Sin
In verse 22 Paul says this, “In your anger, do not sin.” It’s an interesting statement. It means that if you had a 100% pure, completely absolutely righteous in every way reason to be angry (tough as that might be) – you still need to be careful and not sin.
Say your brother upsets you. What are some sinful ways to let out anger against him? Punch him. Call him a name. Break his stuff. Tell them you “hate them.” Refuse to talk to him.
Remember God’s reaction to his anger? He suffered bitterly on the cross to make everything right between you two again. God was angry, but channeled that anger into a loving action.
Do the same. Channel your anger into a loving action. Talk about it. Write a note about it. Consult God’s Word about it. Pray about it. If you are really angry, pray really hard about it until your emotional anger lessens.
The result? There’s not another sin for anyone to get angry at. Emotions fade. That’s a good thing.
(2) Get Rid of Footholds
Ephesians 4:27 says this, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold." Footholds are for climbing; festering anger allows the devil to climb right into your life and destroy your family.
He can do it with the smallest thing. Like a tube of toothpaste. As in, it makes you angry that your spouse leaves the cap off to make it “easier” to get to. It might seem like a minor annoyance at first, but over time…day after day of putting the cap back on – day after day of muttering under your breath…day after day of storing up anger – until the devil climbs up these tiny footholds of minty freshness and BOOM! Anger! Shouting! Destruction!
Don’t let it get that far. Talk about the point of tension as soon as possible.
This is true with your friends of a different race. If you let your anger get the best of you and you can feel the tension between you – you need to talk about it. Invite them out for coffee. Meet them at the gym. Message them on Facebook.
(3) Be Kind and Compassionate
And when you do talk about it? Do so in a Godly manner. Ephesians 4:31-32 says this, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another.”
The natural impulse is to pick up your weapons of anger in order to defend yourself. Be bitter to defend yourself against the bitterness of others. Be filled with rage as a defense mechanism against feeling bad that someone might have a legitimate beef with you.
But God says, put those sharp weapons away. Instead get out kindness – which seems a lot like bringing a pillow to a sword fight.
But remember: That’s how God dealt with anger! Remember? He laid down his wrath. He went to the cross. He absorbed His wrath. He absorbed your sins. Because that’s what kindness and compassion does. It absorbs wrath. It absorbs anger. It absorbs bitterness.
Even when it comes to race.
We need compassion right now. The media says the opposite. It says you should arm yourself with anger and fighting words -- ready to defend yourself. Rage in one hand – malice in the other. Ready for any attack against me and my color/me and my culture.
Put that away. Listen to their fears. Listen to their concerns. Consider – just for a moment – that your brother or sister in Christ – may have very different experiences from you and very real feelings about those experiences. Listen and be compassionate.
When you are listening with kindness and compassion, you’ll notice something:
That terror in the sound of the Alton Sterling’s wife -- it sounds very similar to the raw emotion in the voice of Nina—a wife of a slain Dallas cop.
The fear in the voice of the black man at the protest is very similar to the fear in the voice of the young cop protecting the protest.
The sadness in the voice of your friend is very similar to yours.
And when you realize that -- you’ll also realize that you have the answer -- the same answer that calms your fears -- the same answer that gives you peace - the same answer that settles your anger:
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
A crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
Peter said, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel," “In the last days, God says, 'I will pour out my Spirit on all people. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ "
I. Back When People were United
Take a look at Genesis 11. This takes place right after the worldwide flood. God had sent this flood to reset the world. There had been thousands of unbelievers – and only 8 – yes, 8 – believers. (If you ever feel alone in your faith right now, think about what it would have been like back then. That’s enough believers to maybe fill up 1 pew here in church).
In flooding the earth, God pressed the reset button. Genesis 10 talks about how that family of believers grew. They had kids and their sons and daughters had kids (and so on and so on). Which means that when you get to Genesis 11 – the people had one awesome, uniting factor. They were of the same family. They had the same lineage.
I don’t where you’re from, but whatever your culture, I imagine you’re proud of it. It’s ok to be proud of your culture. Maybe you enjoy that kind of food that reminds you of your culture. That’s great! I love cheese because of my German roots. You might love sushi because of your Japanese roots or barbecue because of your Southern roots. That fine. It’s good to be proud of your culture.
The problem is when we start setting up our culture as better than another culture. There will be problems. No one likes to hear that their culture is worse than another.
So can you imagine what is what like to not have that be an issue?
"What’s your favorite kind of food? Ancient human food. That’s where my family’s from.” "What!?! Me too! I’m a human too!” "That’s awesome. Let’s get together and eat human food, drink human drinks, and we can set up an ancient human restaurant!"
Besides making for a boring variety in food trucks, you get the drift. They didn’t have to argue about culture. That made them united.
That’s not all they had in common. Take a look at Genesis 11:1. Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. In the Hebrew, that literally means “They had a common lip.” That doesn’t mean they shared the same lip OR even that their lips looked similar. It’s a figure of speech meaning that they had the same language.
Have you ever tried to learn a language? It’s quite, difficult. I’m trying to learn Spanish right now using the DuoLingo app. I’ve been stuck at 53% fluency for about three months – Remembering to do it every day is difficult. It’s why I only know “un poquito Espanol”.
So can you imagine a world in which the Rosetta Stone language learning software did not exist? A world where there weren’t Second Language electives in school? A language in which you didn’t get upset that you couldn’t communicate with tech support from another country OR you went on a trip and didn’t have to carry a pocket dictionary with you just to order “ein Bier.”
What I’m saying is: Not having language barriers must have made for very pleasant communication. It must have really united those early humans.
Then, look at verse 2: “As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” Now Shinar is eastward of where they were originally. Remember – Noah and his family had come down off of Mt. Ararat. It’s not a mountain that we can pinpoint today, but a good guess is that it’s somewhere in the middle east. The Plain of Shinar would be more East than that. A lot of scholar think that this would become Babylon.
This leads to one more commonality among these humans. They all shared the same land.
This means they all wanted the same geographic region to succeed! It was the Plains of Shinar Mets v. the Plains of Shinar Yankees – and everybody was cheering for the team from the Plains of Shinar. All the economic funding, all of their working, all of their prayers, all of their time, all of their effort went towards building up the Plains of Shinar.
In fact, this led to one more thing they all had in common. Check out verse 3-4. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a toward that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
In other words – they shared the same plan.
This wasn’t the idea of some dictator NOR was it a politic thought that was pushed through the media. Notice it says “They said to each other.” Everyone had the same thought. Everyone had the same desire. Everyone had the same goal – let’s build a giant tower so that this city becomes the best city of all time! A memorial to how awesome we are!
So they got to work. Brick material gatherers gathered brick materials. Brick makers made bricks. Oven heaters heated ovens. Bricklayers laid bricks. Architects sipped their coffees and architected. Everyone worked on it. Everyone supported it. Everyone was for it. Everyone was on board with it.
Everyone…except the One they forgot.
The Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “if as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
Not that God didn’t notice before. God knows all things. He sees all things. He is by all things. But verse 5 describes how God made a concerted examination of the building project; he examined the building & their hearts and he saw a few very ugly things.
1) They were united in their disobedience.
If you go back to when Noah got off the ark, God gave a pretty simple command. He had just saved them from complete destruction on earth by warning Noah and telling him about the flood. Secondly, by wiping out unbelief so that he didn’t lose his people forever in hell. In return, he says to them, “Be fruitful, increase in number & fill the earth.” (9:1)
This is the exact opposite of their reasoning for building the tower. “Let’s build ourselves a city so that we might not be scattered over the face of the earth.”
In fact, when you take a look at their building materials, they decide to bake the bricks (most likely in ovens) rather than let them sundry which was the common way of making bricks at that time. They decided to use tar for mortar – which was different than the common adhesive used at that time.
The result? The bricks were more permanent. The adhesive was more permanent. The building was more permanent.
And so was the people’s disobedience.
2) They were united in their pride.
Did you notice that about their brainstorming session? They said, “Let us make bricks…let us bake thoroughly…let us make a name for ourselves.”
This is entirely different from how the people of God had acted in the past. In Genesis 4:26 it says the people began “to glorify the name of the Lord.” That means they sang songs to the Lord. They built houses to show God’s glory. They grew crops to God’s glory.
Is God’s name anywhere on this building? No. The people didn’t even recognize God. They only thought of themselves. They only wanted their own glory.
It’s like the guy who goes on TV after a star basketball performance and he says, “I earned this. I did great. I’m number one. I want to keep winning so that I can cement my own legacy and get some more glory!”
Your legacy? Your glory? What about the God who created you?
Take a look at what God does. “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
One minute – a guy is asking for a hammer; then next minute he is being told “No lo puedo descubrir.”
One minute – the foreman shouts: “Release the rock on three." The next he’s shouting "eins, zwei, drei!”
One minute everyone understand each other and everyone is getting along. The next minute? They’re confusing each other; arguing each other; and leaving their grand plan.
God scattered them from there over all the earth.
II. Now When People are Divided
But you know…What’s interesting? It wasn’t their new found differences that caused them to abandon their building project. It was the one thing they all had in common.
Pride. Sinful, disgusting, disobedient, pride.
It is the exact same thing that divides people today.
Instead of thinking what another’s culture is like and taking that into consideration, we think of our own and demand they take that into consideration.
Instead of saying, “How are things difficult for you?” we say, “Listen to how things are difficult for me!”
Instead of humbly accepting our failures in whatever culture we’re from, we love to blame others and force them to wear the label we’ve constructed.
Is it any wonder why we, as a people, are so divided? It’s because of what we have in common.
Jerusalem. A couple thousand years later.
The city was bustling. A group of Parthians are arguing with some Medes about the price of a horse. The Parthians are having a hard time understanding why that Arab wears his clothing that way. A Phrygian is having a hard time ordering off the local Hebrew menu and an Egyptian is giving the Roman guards an earful about why he hates their government.
Then, everyone quiets down. They hear something like a tornado wind coming from a small house in the corner of the market. From where they are looking, they see a group of men inside – little flames of fire on the top of their heads – as crowds start to gather, the men come out of the house. They begin speaking.
But not just in Hebrew. Not just in Latin either. In the languages of the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Jews, Cappadocians, Pontians, Asians, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Cretans and Arabs.
While each person is hearing a different language, they are all hearing the same message – You’re sinners. You need a Savior. Jesus, who died and rose again is that Savior.
A few people mock them: “They have had too much wine.”
But one of the men stands up in reaction. He speaks with one voice – one voice heard by all their languages. 2 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[d] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 36 Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
The men looked around. Different faces. Different skin shades. Different cultures. Different headdresses. But they all had the exact same look of concern on their face. “Brothers,” a phrase absent of any cultural bias, “what should we do? How do we defeat our sins? How do we get on God’s good side? How do we return to our God?”
Listen to Peter’s reply if you are wondering the same thing – “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins “
Notice it wasn’t any different for the different people gathered that day. He didn’t tell some to pray. Some to dance. Some to sing and some to chant. Nope. This was no time for culture. This was time to address the One Shared Problem with their One Shared Savior.
Brothers and sisters – this is how God defeats division.
First, He defeats the division between us and God! Jesus lived perfectly when we couldn’t; he died innocently in our place and he rose triumphantly to proclaim us at peace with God.
It means that your selfishness is forgiven. Your racist attitude are forgiven. Your sinful ethnocentric cultural pride is forgiven.
Then, God defeats the division amongst humans.
It’s pretty interesting. The people wanted to build a big old tower – a tower so big that they would be united around their own awesomeness and never be lost. But then sinful pride got in the way and they never completed it.
Now God has something for all of us to unite around. Something else tall. Something else up.
It doesn’t matter if your Persian or Greek, Mede or Roman, Jew or non-Jew. It doesn’t matter if you are European American, African American, Asian American, Latino American, Middle Eastern American or any other kind of American – of if you don’t even consider yourself American at all.
The Cross unites us. Jesus unites us. One Savior. One Ruler. One Lord. One family.
God does all this because the Holy Spirit works through this.
As great as the miracles were that day – a whirlwind sounds without any wind, flames of fire without any burning, languages spoken without any learning – the most incredible miracle of all was thousands united – united to God & united to each other. The Holy Spirit does this in spite of our sinfulness, in spite of our pride, in spite of our misunderstanding, cultural confusions, and the straight up racism of this world.
The Holy Spirit unites us as family in one faith!
May he continue to do so, now and always. Amen.
We’re taking a look at a part of Jesus’ High priestly prayer. It’s a prayer that takes place on the night that Jesus is betrayed. It happens right before he is crucified. He starts by praying for strength to be crucified for the sins of the world. Then, he prays for God to strengthen his twelve apostles – who will soon be without a leader and tasked with “making disciples of all nations.” But the last part of the prayer is very interesting. It’s a neat little treatise on unity.
I. God Wants Us to be One.
Take a look at John 17:0. Jesus says, “My prayer is not for them (the 12 apostles) alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message. That’s talking about Christians. It’s talking about the people the disciples would meet at Pentecost. The people that they would meet on their missionary journeys. The people who would believe through the very words that they wrote down. (By the way, the message we’re studying was written by John. John – one of the twelve through whom people would believe in Jesus.)
Jesus is praying not just for people in the 1st century, but the 21st century. Not just people in Israel, but in America. Not just people from Jerusalem, but people of all background, cultures, and history living in modern day, Raleigh, NC.
Jesus is praying for us. Through them, we’re united to Him.
What is He praying for us? Let him conclude his thought: “That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”
This is unity is not just some ‘loose’ concept. It isn’t “I like the ACC.” And now NC State, Duke, and UNC fans are all intimately united as one – until they play each other. Then, their throw Bojangles chicken at each other in the parking lot.
The Unity God wants is much more intimate than that. Jesus describes it this way, “I want them to be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”
That’s a pretty impressive unity. Because, as the Bible teaches, God is Triune. Get this. The Bible mentions The Father. It mentions the Son. It mentions the Holy Spirit. However – it also categorically condemns the notion that there are three different gods. The Bible makes it as clear as the Old Testament Jewish mantra stated, “The Lord our God, the LORD is one.”
But here’ where it gets strange. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. Three separate person. One undivided God. Three distinct people – one divine essence.
This truth is so hard to comprehend that Christians have been struggling for centuries to define it. The point is that this union; this unity is so wonderful and outrageously above our own detection that we can’t always tell where one ends and another begins.
We recently bought two leads for our dogs to hang out in our backyard. Each leash is about 100 feet. We didn’t want them to feel confined. But guess what? The other day they were whining while I was grilling. I looked over and they only had about 10 feet of leash each. Why? They had tangled their leashes together into a giant knot. I didn’t know where one leash started and they other ended!
That’s the kind of unity God is. That’s also the kind of unity God desires. A unity that is so intimately woven together that the outsider cannot tell where one ends and the other begins.
God doesn’t want divisions. He doesn’t want old and young. New believers and longtime Gethsemane members; traditional music fans and contemporary lovers; white Christians; black Christians, Christians and Hispanic Christians.
God wants unity. God wants Christians. That’s the unity that God wants us to have at Gethsemane!
II. If You Cause Divisions…?
Is that the kind of unity we have? Do you come here on a Sunday, survey the group that has gathered together and think – “Ah, my brothers and sisters! What a blessing to be here!”
Do you drive into the parking lot and think “Oh no, that cruddy old 2000 Ford Explorer is in the parking lot. I don’t want to see that person. He’s kind of annoying.”
Do you stop by the member photo board and think – “I haven’t seen that person in a while. Why are they still a member? We should kick them out. They haven’t earned this like I did.”
Do you survey the back of church and think, “I could sit there, but they’re new – what could I say to them? I could sit in back, but it looks like there are quite a few moms here with quite a few kids. Ugh! I suppose I could sit there, but that’s two rows away from that lady whom I haven’t forgiven for something she said 6 months ago. Or I could sit up front – but that’s too close to that woman that I want to gossip about…so…I guess I’ll go hide in the infant room!”
If that’s how you think, you have a different attitude than God. Take a look at how God feels about it: “I pray…that all (Believers) may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you….May they be one as we are one; I in them and you in me.”
God wants unity. He desires unity among his people. He desires unity among his family. He desires all to be united with him. If someone is working against that unity, then what? You aren’t just dividing up among ‘some church group.’ You are dividing up Christ’s family.
You are working against Christ.
Practically speaking, what does this look like in our church? Here are a few examples:
If you gossip, you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
If you refuse to forgive, you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
If you aren’t sorry about hurting someone here, you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
If you attack others, you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
If you whisper when others aren’t looking, you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
If you are playing church politics, you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
If you get together with friends and talk about how you didn’t like this pastor and/or you thought a former pastor was no good, then you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
Question? Do you really want to be working against Christ? At some point, God will grant your request. God will set you opposite him.
Forever. In Hell.
Repent then. Turn from your evil desires to make church about your agenda and not God’s. Turn and hear God’s agenda one more time:
I pray…that all (Believers) may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you….May they be one as we are one; I in them and you in me.”
That includes you. Even if you have been letting unforgiveness, gossip, and selfishness get the best of you – know this: God still desires you to be a part of this.
How do I know? God wanted unity with you so badly, that when your sinful selfishness got in the way he became a human being, walked the earth, did miracles, healed diseases, cured defects, and then allowed himself to be arrested, falsely accused, tortured and killed on two pieces of wood!
He did this to take away your sin.
He did this to restore you to God.
He did this to make you one with Him.
III. Our United Goal is Sharing Jesus
Football just started. How do you think your favorite team would fare if after the QB yelled hike, all the linemen, who are supposed to be on his side, turned around, ransacked him, and dog piled on top of him? Not very well! It doesn’t work when people have different goals, does it?
This is the problem. We won’t work if we have different goals. In fact, if we all selfishly have our own goals – we would have 159 different ways that we are being pulled. Some of the ways would be polar opposites. We would be a mess.
We would not be serving Jesus.
We need a goal to be united around. Jesus gives us that goal in this very part of Scripture, “May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me…Then, the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Jesus’ stated goal is to share his message with the world. To tell others what he has done. That he has lived perfectly, when we could not; that he died innocently, in our place; that he rose triumphantly for our sins; that, John 3:16 “Whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
This is our goal!
Let’s be clear. That’s what “Gather to the Garden” means. It means “Gather people to hear about God’s love in sending a Savior from sin.”
Our goal isn’t making a sweet preschool. It isn’t to save up lots of money. It isn’t to make an awesome ice cream social. It isn’t to provide community events, give you worship in the exact way you like best, help you make friends, find you a boyfriend, or provided a nice venue for a wedding and a funeral.
Our goal, our ultimate goal, our eyes focused on the goal in spite of what might come is the goal of sharing Jesus!
“Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even has you have loved me.”
At Jesus’ time, the world knew about God’s love through Jesus’ words, deeds, and actions. He literally walked the earth and told people.
Now? People know of God’s love through you. Through me. THROUGH US.
Through Sunday School teachers preparing lessons, parents bringing them an hour early on a Sunday morning, and those without kids encouraging those parents – “I know it was tough; but it’s so important!” God’s Work is done.
Through greeters in the parking lot making guests feel welcome, through ushers smiling and handing a worship folder, and through those in the pews offering a friendly “Hello,” God’s Work is done.
Through Precious Lambs teachers who have trained long and hard, through special gifts and prayers of the congregations, through time spent at a workday scrubbing the walls with a small wash cloth, God’s work is done!
IV. Jesus is the Glue
But, even when we know what we are united and we know we should be united, it is hard. We are sinful people. It’s hard to love sinful people and it’s hard for sinful people to love.
How can we overcome sin? How can we remain united?
Listen to Jesus’ words right in the middle of our text: 2 "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.”
Jesus gave us his glory. He gave us his perfection. He gave us his love. He gave us his forgiveness.
This is our strength.
May God always keep us united. Amen.
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
5 Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
1 Peter 5:1-6
What would your dream church look like?
Does this describe your perfect church?
If so, do you realize that this perfect church is all about you?
Don’t get me wrong. That’s true to a certain extent. Church is a lot about you. You and your relationship with God. But think about it, if church was all about you…tailored to your likes, your interests, your preferences in every way, shape and form--- how many people do you think would come…
In today’s lesson, Peter tells us that we are not alone. We don’t attend a church as a PERSON of God, but as PEOPLE of God. And as People of God, we are in this TOGETHER.
I. Notes about Caring for Others
Take a look at Peter’s words in 5:1-4. These describe how important it is to care for each other. Peter writes, “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”
Caring for others was so important to do that already at the time 1 Peter was written—twenty some years after Jesus ascended into heaven – there was a special position in churches that involved doing just that: Caring for others. Here it is called “an elder.” The word means more than just being physically mature or older. It refers to one who is spiritually mature who is asked to care for the spiritual health of others.
At Gethsemane, we still have that position. We have a group of men specifically tasked with caring for the spiritual well being of the congregation’s member.
Does that mean if you aren’t a pastor or an elder that this section doesn’t have anything to say to you?
Not so much.
Because this section talks to people who have been tasked with caring for others, it therefore has principles that apply to anyone who has been tasked with caring for others. It speaks to members of the ladies group who care for each other. It speaks to parents who lead their children. It speaks to husbands who care for their wives and wives who care for their husbands. It speaks to Christians who care about their friends…friends who care for those they serve cookies with, and congregation members who care for others who sit in their row!
In other word, If you are a Christian, you have been called to care for other Christians!
Peter knew this was especially important for the church during times of persecution. That’s why he notes in verse 1, “I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings…”
Peter had truly witnessed Christ’s sufferings. He saw Jesus arrested. He saw him on trial. He saw him battered and beaten. He saw him crucified. And Peter saw what this persecution did for Jesus’ followers. They fled. They betrayed him. They denied knowing him. They hid away in fear.
Since the church at Peter’s time would be undergoing very similar persecutions (remember what we talked about last week), Peter knew the same struggles of doubt, fear, and denial would be facing those Christians.
In the same way, our flock facing struggles. Temptations to sin, temptations to doubt, persecutions at work, on the internet, in the media. Therefore, it is imperative that we listen to Peter’s solution: Be shepherds of God’s flock under your care.
Ever notice the difference in caring for your own stuff versus caring for someone else’s stuff. For instance, if you spill some ketchup on your shirt, you might think, “No big deal. I have more at home." I might dab at it a bit, but you don’t stress over it.
But if you are borrowing someone else’s shirt, how does that change? Suddenly, you run to the bathroom and use the entire soap dispenser’s worth of liquid soap to get the stain out. IT’S NOT YOUR SHIRT! You go to the store and pay for a couple of Tide sticks. You pray that the stain will come out, because it’s not your shirt!
The group of people that have been placed into our congregational lives? It isn’t our congregation. It isn’t Gethsemane’s congregation. It’s God’s congregation.
Think about what that means for pastors – this isn’t my people, but God’s people. It isn’t People of Kiecker, but people of God! Same thing goes for the elders. It isn’t: “This person is under my care, but not that person…I don’t have time to pray for them,” But this person is God’s person and I’ll remember them in my prayers. Even Sunday School teachers: “This is God’s child. He’s entrusted me to serve them the best I am able. I will care for their souls…” For all of us, it says, “I will encourage this person for God’s sake, not for my own sake!”
Keeping our mind on this truth will help guards us against three pitfalls that come in while caring for others:
1. Pitfall of Begrudging.
Peter warns against begrudging in verse 3, "Not because you must, but because you want to." This is an easy trap to fall into. It's so easy as a pastor to say, "I have to do this it's my job. Ugh. That person doesn't even like me that much and I'm not that fond of talking to them. Time to get it over with."
It's just as easy for the Christian laymen to fall into. “God just isn’t fair. I have no desire to talk to others. I have no desire to dampen my Sunday morning listening to another person complain. I just want to get to my pew, sing my favorite songs, and leave. I don’t want to leave my comfort zone, so if God wants me to talk, He’s being unfair!”
Let’s get this straight. I’m not going to grab you by the hand as I usher you out and walk you to a sister’s row in back, introduce you, and then stand there with my arms crossed glaring at you until you make that person feel encouraged.
But I will remind you of what Jesus did for you. How he went totally out of his comfort zone. Actually, how he went out of anyone’s comfort zone. He allowed nails to be driven into his hands and his feet in order to take away your sins.
Jesus suffered in order to care for you—spiritually and eternally.
Don’t care for others, “because you must but because you want to.” Because you want to serve your awesome Savior and because you want to serve others with the message of your awesome Savior.
2. Pitfall of Greed.
Still in verse 3 Peter touches on this. He writes, "Shepherd others...not greedy, but with eagerness."
Of course, this speaks to pastors and elders as a reminder not to serve others in hopes that “we’ll keep enough people in church to pay the bills for September…” It also speaks to the awful attitude of the pastor who says, “I really need to pump up my numbers in hopes that they’ll give more offerings and I’ll get more money!” Terrible. To all in such positions watch out for greed!
But what does it say to you as an unpaid church volunteer?
Well, greed might get in the way again, “This isn’t my job! Who cares if ‘so-and-so’ has been missing from church! Who cares, if 'so-and-so' had a bad week. It isn’t up to me to email them an encouragement. I’m too busy with my own job to spend a lunch break calling a church friend of mine.”
You’re right. There isn’t any reward check for $100 given to the lay person who does the most ministry in the next week. There isn’t even a “church member of the month” pin.
But there is our Savior. Our Savior who wasn’t paid anything but suffering and death for saving you!
Don’t serve because of greed, but because you are eager. Eager to tell others about the free gift of salvation in Christ. Eager to live in peace knowing that salvation has already been paid for by Christ.
3. Pitfall of Pride
THIRD, Peter warns of pride. He writes, “Don’t lord it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”
This is another easy pitfall. To get to thinking, “I’m the church going one. I help all of the time. I make sure to invite people to church like pastor says. I forward on emails like pastor says. I help get the church ready for Sunday like pastor says. In fact, when you think about it, just about every person who comes to church or comes back to church is really a badge of honor for me!”
A badge of honor for you? Really?
You aren’t even a badge of honor for you.
Remember the Bible says, “We were dead in our sins and the uncircumcision of our sinful nature.” We were gross. We were awful. There is nothing anyone of us could do to earn our own salvation or impress God with our faith!
It is Jesus who died for us. God who called us. The Holy Spirit who brought us to faith! We are God’s badge of honor.
The same is true for all whom he uses us to bring to faith. The same is true for all whom we care for. They too are blood bought sons and daughters of God. They too are loved by him. They too are being called to him!
Don’t care for others just to feel important, but because they need an example. An example of love. An example of humility. An example of one who knows how important it is to go to church and who reflects on his Word week after week.
They’ll see you. They’ll follow suit. And God will have used you to draw them closer to Him.
So what’s in it for you? It isn’t pride. It isn’t money. It isn’t recognition. It lasts much longer:
Peter writes, “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” A crown of life. Heaven. A gift readied for you by your chief shepherd. A place of quiet waters. A place to drink from the river of life. A place where you will lie down in the eternal pastures of God’s love.
Don’t serve others to earn a gift. To earn anything. But care for others because God cared for you!
II. Notes about Being Cared for by Others
Of course, throughout your time in this church there may be times when you are not caring for others, but you need to be cared for by others. Meaning: Others might rebuke you. Others might pray for you. Others might call you on the phone to say, “Hey! I haven’t seen you in church for awhile? I’m concerned about you.”
How then do you react when you are being cared for? How do you react when you are being shepherded?
Well, here’s what our sinful nature would have us do: HANG UP. Ignore them. Tell them to “buzz off.” Harden our hearts and resolve even more to continue doing whatever sin we’re doing and to continue to stay away from church.
Of course, our sinful nature wants us away from church! It’s there where it is confronted with God’s Law. It is there where it is reminded of it’s ugliness. It is there where God’s Gospel empowers you to rid yourself of this ugly lifestyle.
So, instead of getting mad at whomever approaches you to rebuke you, Peter tells us to be submissive. He says, “Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.” Listen. Respect them. Take it to heart. Check God’s Word to see if what they say is found in God’s Word. And if what that person is telling you is also found in God’s Word? Then listen.
And if you don’t…
Then, it is important to note who you are ignoring. It isn’t your pastor. It isn’t your elder. It isn’t your church friends.
Don’t let pride get in the way of you being cared for!
I went to the dentist this past week. She told me I needed to floss more. (Ever happened to you?) The interesting thing is that as she said this (and as this has happened in the past) I started to think, “Don’t judge me! I don’t have time to floss. I brush twice a day with a very minty tasting toothpaste. Leave me alone. I’m fine.”
How foolish! Especially when I am getting a root canal.
Don’t let pride get in the way of you being cared for! Not in the area of tooth decay, but also in the area of soul decay. When someone comes to you to tell you to get back to church, take them to heart! When someone tells you to rid your life of sin, rid your life of sin!
And stay calm. This is accomplished by doing what Peter commands in verse 5, “Clothe yourself with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time."
This is nothing more than the Gospel. God lifts up the humble. To those who humble themselves and say, “I am a sinner.” God lifts up. To those who humble selves and say, “I need help.” God lifts up. To those who humbles themselves and say, “I’ve been a Christian all my life, but lately I’ve failed miserably. I’ve struggled with sin. I’ve fallen into the pit of repeated sin. I am in despair. God forgive me!”
God lifts up. He forgives. He restores.
The picture of a perfect church changes, doesn’t it? It isn’t all about you anymore.
The perfect church. It isn't about you. It isn’t all about me. It isn’t all about others.
It’s about us.
Us and God.
Us and love.
Us and being together...until we are together forever with Jesus. Amen.
This Thursday is the Fourth of July. A time when we celebrate our nation. A time when we celebrate our Freedom. A time when we the birthday of the United States.
But are we really that United?
Just last week, a monumental decision took place in the Supreme Court about gay marriage. Many people celebrated in the streets, while others took to blogs to express their supreme disgust.
The Presidential election wasn't that long ago. The nation was basically split in half! 51% to 49%. This split wasn't just laxadasical either. Rather, these people were vehemently split in half!
How come? The Economy. Foreign relations. Gay marriage. Tax cuts. Health care reform.. Gun control. Abortion. Immigration laws. These are just some of the many topics that have deeply, ruthlessly divided the nation, emotionally charging people and putting them on polar opposite ends of belief!
It's enough to make the United States feel more like the Divided States.
But, you know what? We shouldn't be surprised. Unity is hard to come by. Rock bands break up because having your name appear first on the CD cover is more important than sharing the message of your music. Championship football teams break apart because money is more important than winning another Super Bowl. Business partnership fall apart because the bottom line is more important than working together to serve the world.
Why is unity so hard to accomplish?
I think the answer lies in what we all have in common.
I saw something a bit comical at the dog park the other day. A woman, who was possibly dog sitting, came into the park with six different dogs attached to these large leash carrying device. Before she entered the park, controlling the dogs seemed to be very easy. All the dogs sat nicely, because they wanted her to open the door that they might get into the park.
But then, things changed drastically. As the gate swung open, the German Shepherd tried to run to the right because he wanted to sniff the trees. The Black Lab ran straight forward to run and greet all his friends in the park. The two collies took notice of the tennis ball that just landed to the left, while the poodle jumped at her knees to be picked up and the big old American bull dragged behind because he wanted to go slow.
Isn't the same true for human beings? We only remain united with others as long as we get what we want. In other words, the one thing we all have in common is that we are all selfish! The very thing that destroys unity!
It's what happens in destroyed marriages. People get married because they want the loving feeling and romantic companionship they feel from the other person. When that feeling is no longer what the person wants or when one decides that he wants a new romantic companionship, the marriage suffers if it isn't over.
Now let's talk church. A church is a generally large group of people united around a system of beliefs that have the same goal. How can a group of people, of all different ages, of all different backgrounds, and of all different likes and dislikes possibly remain united?
I think our text for today, Romans 15:4-6 shares the answer. Listen to what it says:
4 Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Did you see the word unity in there? Notice where it comes from. God. God gives unity.
And it has to be this way!?! How else would a group of sinful, selfish people, of all different background and experiences ever be or remain united?
Afterall, we are sinful, selfish human beings. And it isn't that hard for our sinful selfishness to rear it's ugly head...even when it comes to church matters: “I want the walls painted this color because I like that color. If someone thinks otherwise, they can stick it!” “I think the palm trees up front look better to the right of the pulpit. Grrr! I'm so upset I won't be able to go to church for weeks! “I like this style of music best. There really isn't any other style of music that's any good. Those who think differently than me can leave!” “I love having the Kroger brand Oreos from the store. Plus they are cheap. That's the only thing that should be served at fellowship time. If any thing else gets served, fine. I'll just leave.”
With such a selfish, sinful attitude, we could never be nor ever remain united.
You know what's strange though? This is the very first truth that God's Word unites us in.
For the Bible teaches that we are all the same. Sinful. Selfish. Humans. Deserving of God's wrath. In need of saving. There is no difference among us. It doesn't matter if you grew up in North Carolina or North Dakota. If you speak English, Spanish, or Hindi. If you like Duke, UNC, or NC State. You are a sinner!
But this only gives way to a second important truth: Jesus died to save us all. All of us. The young, single Hispanic mother. The well-off, Arabian Entrepeneur. The older pair of snowbirds who recently moved into their retirement home. The struggling family which is on their third apartment this past year. The African American gentleman. The Asian grandmother. Even...(And this is the hardest for me to believe because I know him too well)...even that 28 year old white guy preacher from Wisconsin. Jesus died to save all of us. We are united in this truth!
And what's interesting is that in order to win salvation for us, Jesus had to unite himself with the worst parts of us. He literally united himself with the unruly, selfish, awful, sinful part of us that no one would ever want to unite with. Yet Jesus did. He united himself with our sinful self and took it on as his own. It's why he suffered. It's why he died.
But, because they were united with him, our sins died as well. They were buried in the tomb. The dark door of no return slammed shut on them.
But then Jesus separated himself from our sins. Jesus returned from the grave, but our sins remained. Earlier in Romans 6:3-5, Paul makes that very asseration, “Don't, you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”
Brothers and sisters. This Jesus is our hope. The very hope that Paul describes in verse 5 of our text. The very hope that unites us.
No longer are we completely defined by the words: North Carolinian. Northern. Southern. White. African American. Asian American. Arabian American. Native American. Old. Young. Married. Single. Any of these.
We are Christians. Followers of Jesus. Walking Together.
God's love is greater than that. For not only does God give us unity through the Scriptures, but God keeps us united in this hope through the Scriptures! Look at what verse 4 says, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Look at how Scripture unites us. First, it teaches us endurance.
Moms know about endurance. Say they are taking their child to the Doctor. And the entire way there their child in the back seat is screaming, crying, and pitching a fit! Mom wants to stop. Mom wants to turn around. Mom wants to drop kids off at the corner McDonalds and pick him up later today. But she doesn't. She endures in order to take her kid to the Doctor.
Scripture teaches us to endure just like those moms. But instead of enduring whining and screaming, we endure something a lot simpler. Differences of opinion.
Ever heard the big religious word "adiaphora?" Adiaphora is the neutral zone. It is the zone where something is neither commanded nor forbidden by God.
It is in this zone of adiaphora that Scriptures teaches us NOT to be selfish, but to endure different opinions that are different from ours in order to remain united with Christ! The stuff that IS commanded and forbidden by God? That's untouchable. That remains the same. But anything we endure for the sake of Christ.
It's why UNC fans worship opposite NC State fans. It's why Democrats worship opposite Republicans. It's why people who like modern Christian praise songs worship opposite people who enjoy the classic hymns. It's why people who have no idea how to turn on a computer sit opposite of those that have at least three mini computers with them in this church!
In other words, we endure one another, because in Jesus we are no longer focusing on ourselves, but we focus on others!
Endurance isn't the only way Scripture keeps us united. It also encourages us. For “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Did you know that Wisconsin Synod Conservative Lutheran is not the religion of choice in this area. Raleigh is not Lutheransville. In fact, as our area becomes more and more global (and more and more secular) it's not necessarily Christianville anymore either.
These facts could leave us feeling like Elijah. He was up in a cave—hiding, because he was afraid he was the only one who was left that believed in the LORD.
Just as God comforted Elijah reminding him that he was not alone, but that God had reserved thousands in Israel who had not yet bowed down to Baal, so Scripture comforts us. It reminds us that we are not alone. It encourages by reminding us that we are united with hoards of Christians who have gone before. Disciples. Prophets. Ordinary people.
Finally, Scriptures encourages us that we are united with Jesus—who promises “Surely, I will be with you always to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:19)
God has blessed us even beyond that. Because there are other Christians in this world. In fact, we even have half a million other people who are completely united in our beliefs. Members of our Synod. Members who are trained by pastors who teach the Word in its truth and purity. Pastors who are trained by professors who teach the Word in its truth and purity. Professors who were trained by professors who teach the Word in its truth and purity.
The common thread? Scripture. The Word. It is the blessing of God that unites us in Christ. As Paul says in verse 5, May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.”
God's Word is powerful! It has kept us united in the past. It keeps us united right now. It will keep us united in the future!
United, we walk together toward a goal. Verse 6 tells us this goal, “so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
What else will glorify God more than sharing the truths of His Word with the world!
This is what we do when we gives 10 percent of our church offering to our Wisconsin Synod. Those funds go to support mission work around the world. Sharing the Gospel in 30 different countries. Serving 150,000 more souls worldwide. Opening 10 new home missions each year. Translating good, truthful Bible materials into languages that do not have good truthful Bible materials. Training pastors and teachers to go and share the truths of God's Word in the world for generations to come!
Blessing upon blessing! We even get blessings in return! Synod dollars from Arizona, Alaska and Louisiana, helped to train me in God's Word that I might in turn train you.
A teen group from Ohio came and delivered 1700 fliers about Precious Lambs to the community. (2 families signed up already.) Another group from New Ulm, MN will be coming in late July.
Walking together in mission work is beautiful!
This is our goal in North Raleigh too.
With that group from New Ulm, we will be getting out into the community. Getting to know our neighbors. Learning about our neighbors. Showing we care for our neighbors that we might have a better idea of how to serve this area with the Gospel! sec
Then, we're going to take that information and dissect it. We'll determine what outreach ministries we can do to best serve the community. We'll learn what worship songs we might include in worship to make this place feel more like home to the community. We'll the people are who don't know about Jesus and we'll 'hit 'em hard' with the Gospel!
Maybe, based on that information, we'll end up doing things in worship and as outreach that aren't our personal favorites! So what! We will be fine with it, because we are united in sharing the true message of Jesus! United, Paul says, with one voice and heart!
It's kind of like a choir. In a big choir, there there are hundreds of different voices singing 8 or more different parts. But what's amazing is when a choir with so many different voice and different parts practices and sings together, the message is beautiful. It's louder than before. It's as if the angels themselves are singing
Brothers and sisters, may this be the way we work together. United...as many different individuals with many different backgrounds...united as one voice. Sharing the Gospel message with our community. Through the Synod, sharing the Gospel message with the World.
May God hold us united in these goals to the Glory of God the Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.