Sunday, October 23, 2016

Pilgrim Living in a Fallen World: Body Life and the Glory of God I Peter 4:9-11

Pilgrim Living in a Fallen World: Body Life and the Glory of God
I Peter 4:9-11
Introduction: In his popular book from about fifteen years ago, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren introduced the acrostic “S.H.A.P.E.” to describe God’s sovereign work in “shaping us” purposefully into the person we are. S.H.A.P.E. refers to our Spiritual gifts, our Heart’s desire, our Abilities, our Personality, and our Experiences being uniquely planned, providentially guided, and sovereignly bestowed by God to make us into exactly the person that we are. The psalmist said a thousand years before Christ, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well...” (Ps 139:14).  The psalmist may have been primarily talking about his physical body being knit together in his mother’s womb, but the principle applies to every aspect of our being. God is the Potter, you and I are the clay, and he has been “shaping” us into the people we are, for His purposes.  
       After you came to faith in Christ he endowed you with certain spiritual gifts. He led you to the “heart’s desire” or the sense of calling, the passion for serving that you have. You might work hard at developing skills, but he has given each of us certain abilities or aptitudes. Our “personality” may be unique, but we are who we are because God has designed us to have a part in His story. The experiences you have come through may have been both exciting and devastating, joyful and heart breaking, meaningful and mundane, but in all of it God has been present and working, forming you into the person you have become. So your S.H.A.P.E., your spiritual gifts, heart’s desire, abilities, personality, and experiences, have been knit together by the architect of the universe; they have been molded by the omniscient “Potter.” You have been fearfully and wonderfully made. Your story is a part of God’s story, His plan, as He is building His church.
       Now put this into our context in First Peter. The apostle is writing to exiles, pilgrims dispersed among the nations, Christ followers who are familiar with suffering, who are experiencing persecution. Peter will tell them in the next chapter that they shouldn’t be surprised by the fiery trials through which they are passing. He has urged his readers, in the light of the approaching consummation of God’s plan, “Above all, keep loving one another fervently…” (I Pet 4:8).  Here Peter talks about showing hospitality and about using our gifts for the building up of the body. That is one way we show our love, by not withholding what God gave us, but using all that we have, all that we are, for the good of others, and for the glory of God.

The Maine* Idea: With the ultimate goal of the glory of God we should love and serve one another.

I. Our love is revealed by ungrudging hospitality: The “one another’s” of the New Testament start with our heart attitude, including ungrudging hospitality (9).
Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
       We touched on this verse two weeks ago, as we looked at vv. 7-9. Hospitality implies welcoming people into your home, sharing your time and space with others. Time is a precious commodity, we only have so much of it. Can we really open our homes and spend time together? Our lives are so busy! The early church did. They were breaking bread from house to house, taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.  And that is the idea here, “ungrudging hospitality.”  It’s about attitude. In another context the Bible tells us that the Lord loves a “cheerful” giver. Grudgingly putting your offering in the plate is like no offering at all. The principle applies to whatever we do for the Lord. I remember as a seminary student God kept giving me opportunities to preach almost every weekend. I remember during a busy time of the semester lamenting to someone, “I am so busy, and I have to preach this Sunday.” The guy wisely said, “Well, if that is your attitude, don’t bother!” It should be a pleasure to give, and a pleasure to serve. The principle here is that the Lord loves those who are “cheerfully hospitable,” finding joy in sharing their life with others.  

       By the way, hospitality, welcoming strangers, should apply to us as a church as much as it does to our home life. I read this excerpt from a letter a researcher sent to a friend…

“I am presently completing the second year of a three-year survey on the hospitality or lack of it in churches.  To date, of the 195 churches I have visited, I was spoken to in only one by someone other than an official greeter—and that was to ask me to move my feet.”
I am quite sure his experience would have been different at our church. But even here we can sometimes get so focused on greeting our friends and enjoying a few minutes of “catching up” with them, that we don’t even notice the visitor who just dropped in that day. Let’s be known as a welcoming, hospitable church!
         We have families in our church who are freely hospitable. We saw that this summer as we went to several different homes for our “Church on the Go” mid-week services. Many of you host missionaries and visitors regularly.  Some love to have people over for meals, or to host Bible studies or prayer meetings.  That kind of openness cultivates the sense of “family” that God wants us to have as a church. It also is a testimony to the world. Remember Jesus said, “By this men will know that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another.” God gets the glory!
       If Ronald Reagan was right that, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table,” that speaks to our responsibility to shepherd our family, and also, through hospitality, to reach out to our friends and neighbors, our oikos, the people in our close sphere of influence, and to show them Christ in our life and through our testimony.  Teaching at the seminary in Brazil I would spend time in the lunch room with the students to be available to them to chat about issues they were facing at home or in their churches.  That kind of “Table Talk” sometimes is just as impactful as what is learned in the classroom.  As parents talk to their children at the meal times they can begin to show them that their faith is relevant to life.
       We started a new Sunday School series today using the “LaserChurch” material. It points out that 95% percent of the people who come to faith in Christ have primarily been influenced by one or more people they know, people they are in a close relationship with. Why? Because the people around you have been watching you, they know you. You aren’t perfect, and they know that, but you have earned a “hearing.” So we want to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us. Peter has just said that the task is urgent and the time is short. God has included us in His plan! He said we should fervently love on another. That points to the Maine Idea* in these verses: With the ultimate goal of the glory of God we should love and serve one another.
II. Our love is demonstrated as we use all that God has given us for the good of others (10). Our Gifts Were Freely Given to be Freely Used for the Good of Others. Be Faithful in service: Use your gifts for the good of the body and for the glory of God.  Each of us has a spiritual gift(s) to use for the good of the body, and we are required to be a good steward of that gift (10).
10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied [manifold, multi-faceted] grace…
       First of all, notice that “...each has received a gift...” You may or may not feel that you know what your spiritual gift(s) is (are).  We are all included, “each has received a gift.” You might think that means “most” people, or everyone else, and that somehow you were left out.  I had an uncle who was always teasing the kids in the family. He would say things like, “When God was giving out brains, you must have thought He said ‘trains,’ and said ‘No thanks, I don’t want any!’” Well there is no possibility that God left you out, if you know Christ as your savior. “Each has received a gift…” He formed you into the person you are, He guided the path of your life, and then, when you turned to Him in faith, He gave you a spiritual gift for the building up of the body.  I know that first of all I am a pastor/teacher, (and secondarily I have gifts of encouragement and discernment) not because I chose it. I would not have honestly. I am what I am by the grace of God.  The same is true of you. The church is composed of many members. Each of us has gifts, and each of is called to use those gifts “to serve one another.” Christianity is not for spectators and the church is not a social club. We are a Body, fashioned by God to carry out his mission in the world.

       Notice Peter speaks of the “manifold grace of God.” The idea is “multi-faceted.” This points to the diversity of gifts that God has given in the church. I don’t believe that we have an exhaustive list of spiritual gifts in the New Testament. It refers to any supernatural endowment that God has given us to build up the church and carry out His mission. For example, I don’t believe there is a “gift of encouragement” listed in the Bible. In fact we all are called to “encourage one another.” But I think when we look at the life of Barnabas, we see an example of someone who was especially empowered to encourage others. I’ve mentioned before that on our missionary team, when we first went to Brazil, we had a single woman who we called “our Barnabas.” Terri was constantly encouraging us and others on the team. I believe she had a gift. I believe we have at least a couple of people in our church with that gift. Likewise, we are all called to give, to support the ministries of the church, but some have a special “gift of giving” in that God has enabled them to earn at a high level and to give generously to His work. One family I know of has felt that God would have them tithe at 25% of their gross income. It’s not a burden for them, it’s a joy, a privilege. You too have a gift from God, along with every other aspect of the S.H.A.P.E. He has given you.

       You might think, “I just don’t know what my gift is!” Don’t stress yourself trying to name your spiritual gifts. Look for opportunities to serve in the church. None of us should be content to go to church week after week, sing a few songs, hear a message, put something in the offering, and then go home.  I read a story this week about the need for all of us the be involved...
There were 4 Christians, Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was a special job to do. Share the Gospel. Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure Somebody would. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody, and Nobody did it.
One of the books on the back table has the sub-title, Just Do Something! No one can do everything but everyone can do something. What you find to do, and find fulfillment in doing, will begin to reveal your gifts to you and to others. God has formed you purposefully into the person you are. He is the Potter, we are the clay. The gifts you have been graciously given, the desires and burdens you feel in your heart, the abilities that have been developed over many years, maybe over your entire lifetime, the personality that you have, the experiences you have passed through, God’s hand has been in all of it, guiding your story to prepare you to fulfill your part in His story. We are responsible to use all that we are for the good of others and for the glory of God.

“God has placed in our trust a measure of time, a unique set of talents, and sufficient resources to carry out His will for each of our lives. Our task as faithful stewards is to manage those blessings in order to bring the maximum glory to His name.”      
We see an illustration of the principle of stewardship in the life of Joseph, the son of Jacob. When he was sold into slavery by his brothers he came to the house of Potiphar, and eventually was put in charge of his household. The scripture says that Potiphar entrusted all that he had into Joseph’s hand (Gen 39:4). He was to be a “steward” of his master’s possessions. Paul said to the Corinthians that “It is required of a steward that one be found trustworthy” (I Cor 4:2). In our passage, Peter calls on His readers to be “good stewards of God’s varied grace.” A good steward uses responsibly what God has entrusted to him.  When we last looked at these verses in July, I quoted a little poem by Rick Warren that states the idea,
“God gave me a gift, not for me but for you, and God gave you a gift, not for you but for me.
If you don’t use your gift, you’re depriving me; if I don’t use my gift, I’m robbing you.”
This is God’s design for the church! He could have made each of us independent agents to bring the Gospel into the world. But instead He made the church. None of us is complete. But all of us are important. WE NEED EACH OTHER.
        Paul uses the metaphor of the church as a “body” in I Corinthians 12 and in Romans 12. Each part is important, essential, to the proper working of the whole. On Thursday we went to the park with our grandchildren. I don’t know what happened, but suddenly I felt a sharp pain, like I got stabbed in the back with a knife, and went right down on the ground. That was the end of our play date! One muscle spasm (if that is what it was) and I was done!  The body is a picture of us. No believer is complete by himself, we are to minister to one another, as a family. We need each other. Peter says you’ve been given a gift, “use it to serve one another,” not in our own strength, but “by the strength that God supplies...” Because God is at work, He gets the credit. With the ultimate goal of the glory of God we should love and serve one another.
III. God is glorified as He uses us to carry out His mission in the world (11).
        As we use our Gifts God Himself is working in us and through us (11a).  Peter is calling his readers to realize that something supernatural is happening as we are engaged in God mission. The Gospel is God’s “Good News,” the Bible is His Word, and His work, His mission, must be carried out in reliance on Him. It seems to me this is one reason that God asked the disciples to “wait” for the promise of the Father for 10 days, from the day of His ascension in Acts 1 until Pentecost. It was only after the Spirit was poured out on the church that they could carry out the mission. They needed His presence and His power, and needed to understand that they could not carry out the mission in their own strength.  Peter says in 4:11,
…whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies…
God’s Word is spoken, God’s Work is done… What an awesome thought: God is working in us and through us! Paul said that in Philippians 2:12-16,
 …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.  14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning,  15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,  16 holding fast to the word of life
       Do you see divine sovereignty and human responsibility side by side in those verses? In our passage Peter is not naming specific spiritual gifts, but he refers to two general categories of gifts: speaking gifts and serving gifts. The point is that our desire should be to do what we do in God’s name for God’s glory. It isn’t about us, but rather God working in us and through us for His purpose.
        That brings us to the Goal of our Mission: the glory of God (11b).
 …in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
       Whether speaking or serving, we are to use our gifts to this end: “…in order that in everything God may be glorified…” The paragraph ends with this beautiful doxology... first He states our purpose and then he states a declaration of praise to God, to Him belong glory and dominion forever!
What is God saying to me in this passage? With the ultimate goal of the glory of God we should love and serve one another…
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? God’s glory is where this passage ends and it’s where we should start. Is His glory of first importance to you?  Our desire should be to see the fame of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ spread through the world. That means it isn’t important to us to get the credit for what God does since we really don’t deserve the credit. He is building the church, He is carrying out His mission in the world! Don’t get me wrong, it is not bad to be recognized, or for people to express approval or appreciation. Paul, in many of his letters, voiced thankfulness for the believers in the churches. But even then, he thanked GOD for them.
       God gets the glory, because He has made us, and empowered us, and despite our weaknesses, He uses us in His program.   Do you believe that God is working in the world today? Do you believe He has “shaped” you to have a part in His program?  Are you willing to allow Him to use you, however He chooses to us you, for His glory?  Think about that, better still pray about it, and let's see what God will do!   AMEN.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Pilgrims in a Fallen World: Is there Hope? I Peter 4:7-9

Pilgrims in a Fallen World: Is there Hope?
I Peter 4:7-9

Introduction: Back in July we jumped ahead in our study of Peter’s first epistle and looked at I Peter 4:7-11 and the Maine* Idea that the task is urgent and the time is short, so we need to check our hearts and stay engaged in God’s mission, for the glory of God. Now that we have gotten up to this context I want to look again at the passage, but we’ll take it in two parts: this week focusing on verses 7 and 8, and on September 23rd on verses 9 and 10 (next week I’ll be on vacation, we’re traveling to NJ for our grandson’s second birthday!). 
       I read this week a promo from Dr. David Jeremiah for a new book he wrote called “Is this the end?” As he spoke about the book, he reflected on another he had written in 2011 called “I Never thought I’d see the Day.”  Here is part of what he said…
…As I wrote in that book, I never thought I’d see the day when marriage would be obsolete, morality would be in free fall, and the church would become irrelevant to society.
      But now, only five years later, I almost think I wrote that book too soon. The changes that shocked me then were soon to grow even more appalling. In the ensuing half-decade since that book, those cracks that riddled America’s foundation have spread into gaping fissures, and many more have appeared.  Morality in the United States is no longer in free fall; it has hit bottom. In today’s America, anything goes. Christianity is no longer merely pushed aside; American Christians are now experiencing overt repression and even persecution. Civility in politics and tolerance of opposing ideas has disappeared. Corruption and dishonesty in government is rampant and open. Race relations are deteriorating, earnings are declining, civic disorder is accelerating, and the national debt is beyond control…  I find deepening anxiety and even fear that things cannot go on as they are for long. It is clear to many people that ominous clouds are darkening our future and events are coming to a head. Many are asking, “Is this the end?”
Dr. Jeremiah cautions against thinking that we can know the future or the details of God’s timetable,  “…some of the answers we seek are hidden in the mind of God. Only He knows whether the flickering ember of America’s flame can be fanned back to life. And only He knows the timetable for Christ’s returnHe does say, however, that we can have hope, not in the political parties that we must choose between, but hope in God, “…the only realistic, absolute hope that carries the promise of a certain outcome.” As Franklin Graham reminded us at the rally in Augusta this summer, our hope is not in a political party, our hope is in Jesus Christ. With that in mind we return to Peter’s first epistle. Before this passage, in verses 4:4-6 Peter called us to share the gospel, to be always ready to give a reason for the hope we have in Jesus. After these verses he’ll say we shouldn’t be surprised by the fiery trials that test us. We are in a war, the good news is the end is not in doubt, Jesus wins!
The Maine* Idea: The urgency of our mission should move us to prayer and motivate us to love.
I. The Task is Urgent, Look Up to God: As the culmination of God’s plan approaches we need, all the more, to diligently seek Him (7).
7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled [be in your right mind] and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
       Peter has been talking in this letter about suffering, about the reality that following Jesus in this fallen world will not only not assure that we won’t experience tribulations, it virtually guarantees that we will!  When Peter says, “The end of all things is at hand…” it is not meant as a threat, for the believer in Jesus it is a promise, it is good news!  In his second letter, Peter will come back to this idea in 2 Peter 3:3-10…
scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.  4 They will say, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation."  5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God,  6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.  7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.  8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…
The depth of human depravity is revealed everyday around us. Here is a News Flash: Everything is not going to continue like it now is. For the believer that means that you are not going to live forever in your fallen state. That is good news!  Whether we die and go to be with the Lord, and whether He returns in our lifetime, we have a future to look forward to, and it will be sooner than you think. We are citizens of heaven. Now.  We are already a part of the New Creation. We have been translated out of the domain of darkness into the Kingdom of the Son. The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance in Christ.  So yes, scoffers have come, they are all around us, following their sinful desires. And yes, the Lord will return, at the time He has determined. 
       The urgency of the situation should move us to action. Thanks to satellite imagery and computer analysis, Hurricane Matthew didn’t catch us by surprise this week. Those who were warned, and were able to make preparations or get to safety were ready.  Most of the southeast coast of the US was ready, Haiti got hit hard again, the last I heard they now say 900 perished. If it is important to warn people about a coming storm, how much more important is it to warn of coming judgment?
       Peter says, “the end of all things is at hand…” The word telos doesn’t imply a terminal point, but rather the completion, or the fullness of something. Peter had used it, for example, in I Peter 1:9 when he spoke of “…obtaining the outcome [telos] of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” The telos in that verse was the result or the goal of faith, i.e., our ultimate salvation.  That is not the “end,” but rather the beginning of the life for which we were created! The same word appears a couple of times in the book of Revelation the most pertinent being Revelation 2:25-27,   “Only hold fast what you have until I come.  26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations,  27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron…” This may be closer to Peter’s sense here in our context, the end of the age, the culmination of God’s redemptive plan, which itself is a prelude to the age to come.  By the way, note that the climax of all history is found in the return of Christ. He is the Lord of all, and, as Paul said in his letter to the Colossians,
16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through him and for him.  17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together… (Col 1:16,17).
This gives us perspective, He is the Creator and sustainer of the Universe. Every-thing that was made was made by Him and for Him. He is the Lord of History, which means that “History” really is “His Story.” His claim on the universe will soon be vindicated, “The end of all things is at hand.” Therefore
       “...have a clear mind and be sober...” The phrase “clear mind” in my translation of the word, is rendered “serious” in the NKJV, which doesn’t seem to get at the idea. It’s a word that only appears a few times in the New Testament, twice in the gospels it refers to Gaderene demoniac after he was healed by the Lord...
“And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid...” (Mark 5:15).
Paul uses the same word when he says to the Corinthians, “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you...” (2 Cor 5:13). I don’t think the question is about mental illness in Peter’s context, but it is a call to be aware of what you are saying and doing, to act rationally, thoughtfully, wisely.  Sometimes circumstances can seem to overwhelm reason.  We could feel that way in this election cycle! But Peter is saying the time is short, we need to keep our heads, and as the psalmist said, lift our eyes to the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. We need to take seriously the importance of praying to the King of Creation.  God’s plan is moving toward it’s culmination… The urgency of our mission should move us to prayer… and motivate us to love.
II. The Time is Short, Look out for each other: Love for one another will allow us, the objects of God’s love and grace, to be gracious toward each other (8,9).
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
        “Above all...” The NLT says, “Most important of all... As we are evaluating our priorities, as we are considering the urgency of the hour, we are to “keep loving one another earnestly.  The call is to continuing, deep, earnest love for one another. That, according to Peter, should be a top priority for believers. We have a packet full of reports available for our quarterly church meeting. We keep track of our attendance and our weekly offerings.  What if we could measure love?  It would tell us so much, because that is the key. Paul told the Philippians that he prayed for them to “abound more and more” in love (Phil 1:9). That is what Peter calls us to here.
       How important it is when people come and visit us, just how much they sense this aspect of abounding love.  Maybe we cannot measure love tangibly, but people know when there is a true fellowship of love. Got love? Yes. If you know Jesus you do. “He who does not love does not know God for God is love.” In fact, if you read I John, almost every chapter says that our love for one another demonstrates our love for God, and is the basis of our assurance that we belong to Him and have eternal life.  For example, we read in 1 John 4:12,   
12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
But our love can grow cold. So Peter says, “Keep loving one another fervently, [earnestly, deeply].”  Why is it so important? Because “Love covers a multitude of sins.” That means we can be gracious and forgiving. It means being so committed to our relationships that we don’t take offense, we don’t allow a root of bitterness to grow. We need to extend grace, because we need grace. The urgency of our mission should move us to prayer and motivate us to love.
        One way we show our “fervent love” is by being involved in each other’s lives. The “one another’s” of the New Testament start with our heart attitude, including ungrudging hospitality (9).
9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.
       Hospitality implies welcoming people into your home, sharing your time and space with others, the idea here is our attitude: “ungrudging hospitality.” In the early church, almost from the beginning, we see the church, by necessity, embracing this concept. The masses converted on Pentecost in Jerusalem seem to have extended their time there, until the persecution intensified after Stephen’s death and scattered the church (Acts 8:1,4).  The early church broke bread together from house to house, they took meals together. That kind of involvement in each other’s lives demonstrates the reality of our love for one another. It also provides a context where the “church” can carry out some of the “one anothers” we see in the New Testament: love one another, encourage one another, bear each other’s burdens, etc. 
       Ronald Reagan said, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” That speaks to our responsibility to shepherd our family, but also, through hospitality, to reach out to our friends and neighbors, our oikos, the people that God in His sovereignty has strategically placed in our close sphere of influence, and to show them Christ in our life and through our testimony. 
What is God saying to me in this passage? Is this the end? I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet, but the world is getting very hostile toward the Truth. As Peter said, “The end of all things is approaching.” While it is yet “day” we need to seize every opportunity to bring the message of grace to the lost. The Task is Urgent, Look Up to God: As the culmination of God’s plan draws near we need, all the more, to diligently seek Him; The Time is Short, Look out for each other: Love for one another will allow us, the objects of God’s love and grace, to be gracious toward each other. That’s the Maine* Idea: The urgency of our mission should move us to prayer… and motivate us to love.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Do you doubt that the clock is ticking, that the day of the Lord’s return is drawing near? We shouldn’t try to predict dates, but the promise that God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness motivates us in our mission.  Love is not just an emotion, in fact it is not primarily an emotion, it is a choice, a commitment to a relationship. It is not based on what we can “get” out of the other person, but what we choose to give. We want what is best for them. 
       In the church, among believers, that means we love one another, fervently. It means that we will seek to bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. We’ll have a chance to do that in our deacons’ fund offering today as we seek to help a bereaved family with their travel expenses.  That is the kind of “love for one another” that the world will notice. The urgency of our mission should also motivate us to be clear minded and sober in our prayers. We are not giving God a Christmas list of things we “want” when we pray soberly. We are too overwhelmed by what is urgent.

        We’ve been encouraging you to make a list of those people that God has placed in your life, those that you rub shoulders with on a regular basis, and to be praying for those people every day.  They aren’t necessarily all friends. You might not even like being with some of them! But there they are in your life, how did that happen?! Whoever they are, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, classmates, or friends, they see you and at least to some degree are getting to know you. God has sovereignly placed them, and you, exactly where you are. It is not just by chance.  Even if you haven’t said anything about your faith, you are already witnessing to them! You are God’s ambassador, His witness, His “undercover missionary,” and they are your primary mission field. You can start by writing down their names, and then begin praying for them: For the believers to stand firm, for backsliding Christians to come back to God, for unbelievers to see their need, and to turn from their sin to Him. Let’s be fervent in prayer and in love, and let’s see what God will do!   Together, we can impact this peninsula for the Lord, we can be a Lighthouse of God’s grace and truth.     AMEN.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Pastor's Report Preview

[The report below is a working copy of my report for the Boothbay Baptist Church quarterly meeting scheduled for Wednesday, October 13th. Comments and suggestions are appreciated!].

Pastor’s Quarterly Report — October 13, 2016
       As I write this report we are in the midst of several weeks of emphasis on outreach at Boothbay Baptist Church. Car Care brought together a team of about a dozen people who served the community by checking over the cars of some of our neighbors for safety and maintenance issues. It allowed us to partner with a couple of local garages who gave discounted oil changes and free inspections to some who had needs. The people who came through were very thankful for the help, and were receptive to receive Gospels of John and information about our church. Friend Day on October 2nd was a good time of fellowship at our church breakfast, and the morning service provided an opportunity to focus on our visitors with a clear gospel message emphasizing God’s grace.  Tonight (October 5th) Eric Brown from Word of Life ministries will be here once again to lead an exciting FASCAR event, which always includes a clear gospel message for children (and the adults who are present!). 
       We are also nearing our goal of twenty “trunks” for our “Trunk or Treat” event at the end of October, which is designed as a Halloween alternative for children in the community. It is always an exciting night of ministry as kids enjoy a barrel ride, a bounce house, and a visit from our friendly Boothbay Fire Department.  We’ll have Child Evangelism Fellowship here painting faces and sharing the gospel with children, and this year, Eric Brown (WOL) will also be here to share with teens and children who pass through. The Cains will once again host a “prayer trunk” and offer to pray for the needs of any of our neighbors who come.  We typically give out hundreds of gospel tracts, as well as Gospels of John and Bibles to anyone who will take them. Be in prayer for this event and consider participating, either through decorating your “trunk” or by helping with the bounce house, greeting table, or food.
       For several months we have been introducing the principles of the LaserChurch ministry in the weekly sermons, and plan to begin a Sunday School series focusing on these principles on October 23rd.  Jim Beliasov and the elders will help me lead the class. The “focus” of the series is on developing a church-wide vision for outreach that involves every member in embracing our calling to reach out to their primary mission field, that is the small group of people, usually between 8 and 15 individuals, that God has sovereignly and strategically placed in your close sphere of influence.  Statistically, 95% of the people who come to faith are influenced primarily by someone in such a close relationship.  This is not something new, but rather we are calling the church back to our mission to be God’s witnesses right where he has placed us. Are you willing to be available for God to use? Start by joining us in the adult Sunday School!
       The fact that we have lost a few members this year is heart-breaking. I believe that God is most glorified when we determine to be transparent and to work through any issues together. At the same time, I know that God is sovereign, and that nothing that has happened caught Him by surprise. We have the people here that God has put in this church family for this moment in our history. And I am convinced that we can draw together and be the church He desires us to be. A key factor is for every member to be a “minister” and a “witness.” That means using our gifts for the building up of the body, and it means being ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us.  It may be that with a smaller team we won’t be able to do everything that we were doing or hoped to do right now. We can however seek to do well the ministries that God has gifted and called us to, to His glory.  Your prayers and your participation are a part of God’s answer! Let’s band together, and let’s see what He will do.
Your Co-workers in Christ,

Pastor Steve and Mary Ann

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Friend Day: Amazing Grace Luke 15:11-32

[This message is not the typical Bible exposition to which I am committed, but rather a “retelling” of the story of the prodigal son through some contemporary illustrations. It is hoped that the reader/listener will be drawn into the stories and understand better the amazing grace that God has extended toward us in Jesus. S.N.]

“Friend Day: Amazing Grace!”
Luke 15:11-32
Introduction:  The Olympics put Brazil, and the city of Rio de Janeiro, on our American televisions a lot this summer. Most of you know that Mary Ann and I spent most of our missionary career in the city of Sao Paulo, the largest city in South America. Before we look at the story of the “Lost Son” which Jesus told, let me tell you a true story that was reported by the popular writer and pastor Max Lucado, who himself was formerly a missionary in Brazil. The setting is Rio, and the story is about a young girl named Christina, and her mother Maria…  
Longing to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood, Christina wanted to see the world. Discontented with a home having only a pallet on the floor, a wash-basin, and a wood-burning stove, she dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning she slipped away, breaking her mother's heart. Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her young, attractive daughter, Maria hurriedly packed to go find her. On her way to the bus stop she entered a drugstore to get one last thing. Pictures. She sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all she could on pictures of herself. With her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she boarded the next bus to Rio de Janeiro.
        Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. When pride meets hunger, a human will do things that were before unthinkable. Knowing this, Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for street walkers or prostitutes. She went to them all. And at each place she left her picture -- taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, fastened to a corner phone booth. And on the back of each photo she wrote a note. It wasn't too long before both the money and the pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home. The weary mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to her small village. 
It was a few weeks later that young Christina descended the hotel stairs. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth but spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times over she had longed to trade those countless beds for her secure pallet. Yet the little village was, in too many ways, too far away. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina's eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo. Written on the back was this compelling invitation:
"Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn't matter. Please come home." She did.
"Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn't matter. Please come home."  The unconditional love of a parent.  It wasn’t earned, it wasn’t deserved, it was freely given. That is really the story of the prodigal son which Jesus told.  His point is that we all deserve judgment, even so, God who is rich in mercy, offers to us forgiveness in Christ.  Look around, how many perfect people do you see in church today? I’ll give you the answer, right from the Bible: “There is none righteous, not even one.” Because that is true, our only hope is God’s grace… “G.R.A.C.E.”—God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.   *C.S. Lewis came into a group that was discussing what was unique about Christianity: “That’s easy – it’s grace!”  The story of the Prodigal Son is a beautiful illustration of God’s amazing grace…
The Maine* Idea: We all need Grace! We have a Father who is waiting, ready to receive us.
I. The son was lost. Christina was lost. Before we judge them, realize that we all need Grace (11-16)! The story that Jesus told really was about two sons, and the joy the Father felt when the lost son returned home.  The context is given in 15:1,2…
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."  3 So he told them this parable…
        The religious leaders were not happy with the fact that Jesus was associating with “sinners.” So Jesus told them a series of three stories about the joy that is experienced when something that had been lost, is found. A lost sheep, a lost coin, and then finally, the lost son.  We’re focusing on the third story, better known as “the Prodigal Son.”  The Pharisees were “religious,” and Jesus is saying “religion” is not the way to God. This is popular thinking: do enough good, do it well enough, and I’m in! In fact, most religions of the World are in some way based on good works.  In my personal experience I grew up only occasionally going to church and managed to miss the central message of the Bible: I thought if I was good enough, if there was a God, and if there was a “heaven” I would be “in,” or at least I hoped so! The truth is I was never good enough! But neither is anyone else, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The Pharisees were very religious people, they did about as good a job of living by the rules as anyone could do, yet Jesus had more conflict with them than He did with anyone! Indeed, he said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven!  The problem was they did not think they needed grace. They didn’t see that they too were lost.
        The younger son in Jesus’ story thought he knew where he would find happiness. We’re all looking for life with meaning, and we want to enjoy life.  Too often we look in the wrong places. Look at what the younger son did…
11 And he said, "There was a man who had two sons.  12 And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.' And he divided his property between them.  13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.
       Two steps, first he makes a request of his father: “Let me have my inheritance now, why should I have to wait until you’re dead?” Then, he gathered it all together and left, and squandered every penny on wild living.  In Lucado’s story Christina went to Rio looking for excitement and fun. She thought she would find happiness in the “big city” – but the emptiness inside only grew more intense.  In the same way, the Prodigal son thought money and the party life would bring happiness – it took hitting the bottom for his eyes to be opened.  The Prodigals in both stories thought they knew best, they didn’t need a parent telling them what to do. Before we judge them, think about this: if we are trying to live our life without God, without our heavenly father, we have said pretty much the same thing. We should recognize that we all need Grace, none of us is righteous, no, not one. We all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Rom 3:10, 23)… The good news is that we have a Father who is waiting to receive us if only we’ll come.

II.  We must come to recognize that we all need Grace (17-20a).  The first step home is seeing our need. 
       Christina knew she blew it, she just needed to know that she could come home, that her mother was waiting. The prodigal son came to realize that he had gone in the wrong direction (15:17-19). He was starving, wishing he could eat the garbage that was being fed to the pigs, and he “came to his senses.” He had no right to “expect” anything from his father – he thought, “Let me be one of his servants, at least they eat!”  Wherever we are, God is waiting for us to repent, to turn toward home. One writer reported seeing on the side of a plumber's van in South Africa: “There is no place too deep, too dark or too dirty for us to handle.”  What a wonderful explanation of the Gospel!  The human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. What we think are righteous deeds are nothing but filthy rags. But God can cleanse our hearts. We are clean when we put our trust in Jesus. 
       There is someone else in Jesus’ parable.  He was talking to the Pharisees, to religious leaders.  Who in the parable did Jesus identify with them?  The elder son. Just as the older son did not appreciate the father’s joy over his brother’s return, the religious leaders didn’t like the fact that Jesus was rubbing shoulders with “sinners.” They were annoyed that he would associate with such “riffraff”!
       The Pharisees were the religious elite. Outwardly they were remarkably “pious.” But they weren’t perfect. In fact, Jesus knew their hearts, and said that   many of them were like “…white-washed tombs, full of dead men’s bones…” They looked fine on the outside, but inside they were filled with the stench of death.
       It is an election year, and I hesitate to use a NY politician as a positive illustration, but I’ll go back a few years, to the time of the Great Depression…
A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, who, when he was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII, … He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids. One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. 
Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter's husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. "It's a real bad neighborhood, your Honor." the man told the mayor. "She's got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson." LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said "I've got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions--ten dollars or ten days in jail." But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: "Here is the ten-dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant." So the following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.
The mayor had compassion on the old woman, and rather than dispensing justice, he showed grace. The Bible tells us that Jesus looked on the multitudes and He was moved with compassion. He saw our need. He willingly went to the cross to make it possible for sinners like us to be reconciled to a holy God. We should recognize that we all need Grace.  The good news is that we have a Father who is waiting to extend it to us!
III. The Gospel really is Good News(20b-31)! N.B. two “groups” would have “heard” a very different message… For one it was judgment, for the other, grace.
The Father is eagerly waiting, really!    You have to admire the steadfast love of Maria, going through the bars, night spots, hourly hotels of Rio, posting notes and pictures, urging Christina to come home. She loved her daughter and pursued her, making every effort to bring her back home.  God is like that; He pursues us. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. After all, He “…so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life…” (John 3:16).
       Did you notice that the father in the parable Jesus told didn’t reluctantly accept back the younger son? No, when he saw him in the distance he ran to him and embraced him in tears, he put a robe on his back and a ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet. He killed the fatted calf and threw a welcome home party! That is the kind of joy the Father has when a sinner “comes home.”  He whispers to us, “Whatever you have done, it doesn’t matter, please, come home!”
       I John 3:1 said “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God, and such we are!” In Romans 8:32 we read, “He who did not spare his own Son but delivered Him up for us all…”  That is truly amazing grace!  We should recognize that we all need Grace.  The good news is that we have a Father who is waiting to extend it to us…
Notice, there were at least 2 groups of hearers, Luke 15:1,2
       Remember the context of the parable, all the way back in Luke 15:1,2… there we saw the attitude of the religious leaders to Jesus’ reception of sinners.  The Pharisees were indignant that Jesus would rub elbows with the likes of these, with such unspiritual outlaws!  So Jesus, knowing their hearts, told them three stories, about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son.  In each case, when that which was lost was found, there was rejoicing!  He was rebuking the Pharisees with these stories for their judgmental attitude. Obviously they were in the position of the elder son in the parable who was angry at the father’s acceptance of the Prodigal. How could he associate with them?  
       There was another group who heard these stories; the sinners who had been drawing near Jesus! For them, Jesus’ words were grace, forgiveness, mercy.  We all need forgiveness. Since that Fall, we have all been the same.  Wanting to do it our way; testing the boundaries at every opportunity.  Yet they Father is waiting, wooing us to come home. Where do you struggle?  Paul wrote to the Corinthians, a church he planted, a church he knew well, a church that struggled with spiritual pride.  He asked in 4:10, “What do you have that you did not receive?  If you received it, why do you boast as if you had not?” There was rejoicing over finding what had been lost! We should recognize that we all need Grace.  The good news is that we have a Father who is waiting to extend it to us…
What is God saying to me in this passage?  Commonly in the city of São Paulo, when you stop your car at a traffic light, the street children will appear at your window.  Sometimes selling something, sometimes performing a little show, twirling a baton or stick, sometimes just with an outstretched hand, begging.  When you live immersed in such a reality, it’s hard to know what to do.  You can’t help them all.  Some are sent out there by family members, and bring the money home for drugs or alcohol.  Some are just hungry, hopeless, and desperate.  But there are thousands of them.  Back then I would carry some candy in the car and give it to them, like giving a glass of water in the name of Jesus.  Sometimes, when I was busy, I didn’t even see them.  If I opened my window and gave some-thing I felt a little better, at least I had acknowledged them.  A few years ago I read the book by Brennan Manning, the “Ragamuffin Gospel,” and my perspective changed.  I realized I was that little child.  Dressed in rags, dirty, smelly, nothing to offer and no right to expect anything, I held out my hand.  And Jesus didn’t just crack the window open and give me a piece of candy.  He threw the door open wide and embraced me. He washed my dirty face and gave me new clothes.  He not only fed me at his table, he called me his son.  That is GRACE.  The Father is waiting. Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.  That is the “Good News” God has extended to us.
What would He have me to do in response to this passage? It is not by chance that you are reading this. The sovereign King of the universe has planned this exact moment in your life. He brought you here, maybe he sent someone to bring you here, so that he could tell you, again, that He loves you, that He has been waiting for you to open the door and let Him into your heart and your life. Do you hear Him? Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…” Do you believe Him? You can receive Him right now, right where you are sitting. It is as simple as A-B-C,
      A-Admit you are a sinner. You already know that is true because, as the Bible says, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… There is none righteous, no not one.” Admit your need, and then…
     B-Believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He died for your sins on the cross, and that he was buried, and rose again the third day. Finally…
     C-Call on His name, confess Him now as the Savior and Lord of your life. The Bible promises, “…whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 

Do you feel unworthy? Good. Turn from sin, trust Him, and come home.   AMEN.