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Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20.1-17)

February 28, 2010
Sermon by: Robert Austell

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Sometimes the audio version of the sermon varies more significantly from the written version than other times.  This was one such case where the delivered sermon really focused in a different direction only touched on in the manuscript below.  I am leaving the written version below because it has some significant content, but for the Sunday sermon, please listen to the audio.  ~rma

**NOTE: audio version begins with interviews at the Arboretum (shopping center), asking people if they can name the Ten Commandments.

Today we continue trying to take a realistic look at the human condition, part of the opportunity and challenge of Lent.  We looked at the notion of original sin and sins of omission last week.  Today we will look at the Ten Commandments, most often thought of as sins of commission, since so many are framed as “thou shalt not’s” or actions from which we must refrain.

Remember, too, we talked about the different views people carry toward sin.  Many folks believe that as long as they refrain from the “big ones” then God will grade on a curve.  You’ll notice how many people on the video remembered “thou shalt not murder” but not a lot of others.  Many think, “If I’m just better than the next guy – than Tiger, than Sanford, than a serial killer – then that’s probably good enough for God.”  But last week we began to see a more realistic depiction of the human condition: we are so permeated by sin, our own and that of fallen humanity, that we are dead spiritually and no more than dust and ashes, here for a while and gone.  That is the sobering reminder of Lent.

So today we are going to consider the Ten Commandments and how we fare with them.  Is it the case that we score well, having not murdered anyone, come to church with some frequency, and been more or less respectful to our parents?  Having considered the Ten Commandments, what will our view of the human condition be?  Remember that the purpose of all this study is not to grind you into dust or cause shame and guilt, but to see more clearly our great need for God’s intervention.

Introduction to the Ten Commandments

Please turn to Exodus 20, but before we look at the Ten Commandments, I want to mention several things by way of introduction.  As you may have seen in the video, there is great confusion about the Commandments, even among people who are Christian.  So let me speak to three points: Which ten is it?  Are they still binding with the New Testament, grace, and all?  And what is the scope of the commandments?

Which ten?  This is mainly just for information, and to unravel a bit of persistent confusion that’s out there.  Basically, different faith communities organize the commandments differently.  Look at verses 4-7.  Most protestants (that’s us) do the following: 1) no other gods; 2) no idols – don’t make them; don’t worship them; 3) do not take God’s name in vain.  What further confuses this organization is that some Protestants put “don’t make idols” with the first commandment and some with the second.  The predominant Protestant position, though, puts all the idol language in vv. 5-7 together in the second commandment.  The Catholic and Lutheran church does something different: 1) no other God’s includes no idols (all of vv. 4-7); 2) do not take God’s name in vain.  This would leave you short, right?  No; Catholics and Lutherans sub-divide the last one as 9) do not covet your neighbor’s wife; and 10) do not covet your neighbor’s possessions.  Interesting, eh?  Now you know.  I’m not sure it really matters in terms of the point of the commandments.  Each verse and part is important, whichever commandment it gets assigned to.  Each tradition still honors all the same verses.

Are the Ten Commandments binding on Christians?  By that I mean to ask whether this Old Testament Law still applies in after the writing of the New Testament and the coming of Christ.  We don’t still prohibit the eating of pork, do we?  The short answer is that Jesus said he didn’t come to do away with the Law, but to fulfill it.  We can look to him to see how he points people back to the heart of the Law, to the reasons for the ceremonial and purity laws, now fulfilled in him, and the moral Law, applied even more deeply as described in his teaching in Matthew 5-7.  We’ll look at that passage, the “Sermon on the Mount,” next week.

And that leads to the question about the scope of these commandments.  If you make it through life without killing someone, have you kept the sixth commandment against murder?  Is there more to it than that?  Yes, I believe there is!  A couple of years ago, we spent several months of Wednesday night Bible study looking at each commandment.  Using the scripture study and questions found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and Jesus’ teaching on the commandments, we asked of each commandment, “What does it prohibit?  What does it require?  And what are the implications in the heart, for motivation and thought, before even considering action?”  We do not have the time today to look at each commandment and ask all those questions, but I do still have that study or could point you in the right direction if you want to think more deeply about the Commandments.  During the course of that study I found that I struggled with or broke every commandment in some way on a regular basis.  It was humbling, but also helped me realize all the more my dependence on God’s help and grace.
Covenant Document

With all that introduction out of the way, what then do I want to focus on?  I realize that most often we look at the Ten Commandments as a list and consider each one as a self-contained unit.  But the Commandments function as a whole, as a legal and moral whole.  Formally, they are presented as a covenant document. 

We’ve talked about the covenant before.  There are several in the Bible, but at heart each is God graciously reaching out toward humanity and offering to intervene and help in the human condition.  So God promises Noah never to send another flood – God makes a covenant.  God promises Abraham that he will give him land, children, and blessing – God’s initiative and God’s name on the line.  God promises David that he will establish his throne forever.  Those are covenants.  Human beings are a part, but God is the initiator and the faithful covenant-keeper.  After the slavery of Abraham’s descendants in Egypt, and God’s rescuing of them through Moses, God re-establishes the Abrahamic covenant with Israel and gives them the Law, including the Ten Commandments. 

If you look at the Ten Commandments as a whole, you can see the way they describe an order to life – a pattern of living in obedience to and relationship with God.  And it is that ordered life, which would also be understood in Scripture as a blessed life, that is in view for all who would trust God.
A God-ordered Life

The first three commandments describe a God-ordered life with God alone as priority, vision, and worthy of worship, love, and service.  They speak of God alone in the highest place, the place of worship, love, service, and obedience.  Nothing is to take God’s place or even compete.  It is the supreme and sole priority of God in our lives that orders all the rest of life.  So these commandments speak to idolatry and worship, to obedience and disobedience, to service and to selfishness. 

The fourth commandment (Sabbath) describes a God-ordered life in terms of work, rest, and time.  Often you will hear the commandments sub-divided into the first four about God and the last six about human relationship.  But the Sabbath commandment bridges between.  Most importantly, it speaks not just of one day in seven, but of all seven days.  It marks out our time as all belonging to God, subject to the commandments already given.  And part of ordering our life under God is to not to over- or under-prioritize work, rest, or the balance between the two.  Issues of work, recreation, family time, personal time, exercise, health, rest, and worship are all addressed in this commandment.  It is a prime example of how the Commandments bring order and structure to our view of time and life.

The fifth commandment (parents) describes a God-ordered life in terms of home and family.  So submitting our lives to God’s leadership and worship not only affect our use of time, but also our relationships.  The commandment to honor parents is more than respecting mom and dad.  It requires something of children, but also of parents.  It gets at all of family life, from respect to obedience to communication to how parents and children should relate throughout life.

The sixth through ninth commandments describe a God-ordered life in terms of our neighbors, not taking from them selfishly, but loving them selflessly.  Murder, adultery, stealing, and lying all take from those around us.  Their inherent selfishness breaks the first commandments and the community implications breech what Jesus will later call “love of neighbor.”  In these commandments, we see that God’s design for humanity is not just individual and internal, but societal and missional.  Indeed, you do see in the Ten Commandments what will be lifted up clearly in the New Testament, that the greatest commandments are love of God and love of neighbor. 

The tenth commandment uniquely points towards a New Testament perspective, where we must even guard our interior thoughts, guarding against temptation and the sinful attitudes that lead to sinful actions.  This aspect of the Ten Commandments is often overlooked; we think of the Ten as major crimes or sins of commission.  But here we see that continued longing for what we don’t have is itself sin.  Is this not Adam and Eve’s original sin in the Garden?

So I wanted to give you a broad enough overview to see the effect of the Ten Commandments taken as a whole.  What God holds up to us in these Commandments is a picture life ordered according to God’s wisdom, justice, and love.  I have compared the Law before to a parent’s rules for children.  You may play in the yard, but not in the street.  It is not only the rule, it offers safety, security, and in the extreme, even life over injury or death.  So also, the Ten Commandments are not rules to hamper us, but rules to set us free.
Out of Whack

I can’t see how anyone who spends any degree of time considering these commandments and being honest can conclude anything other than, “My life is out of whack!”  Remember this clearly: keeping or breaking the Ten Commandments isn’t about salvation.  Breaking them doesn’t take you out of consideration; keeping them doesn’t purchase you a ticket to Heaven.  Rather, they form a description of what a God-ordered and blessed life looks like.  To the extent that we experience that, we begin to get a sense of how good God’s word and will are for us.  To the extent that we fall short and live in disarray, we realize just what was lost in the Garden.

Like children, we may well be frustrated by the limitations imposed by the Commandments.  But as we grow in faith and trust in God, the Law-giver, we may see how life-giving and life-protecting the Commandments are.  Even as we see our failings and as we break the Commandments, we are offered the opportunity to rediscover God’s wisdom and love toward us. 
Need for Help

As you take an honest and realistic look at your life and the human condition in the light of the Ten Commandments, you should feel challenged to look at the way your life is ordered.  From the first through the tenth, the Commandments challenge us to ask what God’s place is in our lives.  We are challenged about how we use our time and treat our family.  We are confronted and challenged about how we treat our neighbors (reminded by Jesus that neighbor includes our enemies!).  And we are not let off the hook with externals only, but are challenged even at the point of inward desires.

And here’s the fine point I need to make one more time.  These are not rules by which we can measure and ask, “Am I good enough?”  That’s the value of considering this passage in conjunction with last week’s teaching on original sin.  The answer is that I am dead in sin – dead in sin.  The Ten Commandments are already an example of God coming after us, to breathe life and hope into us – to offer us boundaries and a home and a place of safety in a fallen world where we are already at play in the street.  God is already initiating His rescue plan.  So our attentiveness to the Commandments at once shows us how lost we are and how God is already coming to find us through His Word.

God’s Law cannot save from death, but for those living in the ashes between Eden and the end, the Commandments offer a temporary shelter in the present world, with all the hope of a God who is coming to save us from death itself.  Amen.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Original Sin (Genesis 2-3)

February 21, 2010
Sermon by: Robert Austell

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the first day to observe Lent. And today is the first Sunday of Lent. The observance of Ash Wednesday and Lent is a type of spiritual discipline. We currently have a Sunday school class on spiritual disciplines like fasting, prayer, and the like. The observance of Lent and a church calendar is another form of spiritual discipline that has developed historically in the Church. The purpose of the discipline of observing Lent is to consider the plight of human sin and the identification of Jesus Christ with humanity for the sake of becoming our representative before God’s judgment and justice.

Last Wednesday, we experienced this dynamic vividly through biblical imagery. In that service and through scripture we were challenged to be on fire for God, yet recognized that apart from His help, we are as cold and dead spiritually as ash – God made us from dust and to dust we shall return. The purpose of pondering our sin, our mortality, and our plight is to cause us to see all the more clearly the hope of salvation and resurrection through Jesus.

Today we continue what we began last Wednesday. Today and over the next six weeks we are going to look at sin, to understand our plight and to understand and celebrate God’s provision on the cross. We’ll look at our sinful nature, sins of omission, sins of commission, sins on the outside, sins on the inside, the pervasiveness of sin, how we treat sin in others; during Holy Week we will look at sins of idolatry and betrayal. And then together we will journey to the cross. I invite you to focus, connect, ponder, process, and grapple with the biblical teachings on sin. I believe that if you do, you will experience the Good News of Easter with a deep and profound joy, perhaps in a way that you never have.

Our Plight

I used the word ‘plight’ to describe the human situation, the human condition, the human problem, in relation to God.

So let me first ask, “What is our plight?” Or maybe even more basic, “Is there a plight?” There are at least a few options I can think of:

One option to describe the human condition is that we are born good and our problems largely arise from our environment. Basically, personal ‘sin’ is reduced to crimes, and even then others share the responsibility for any deviation from that basic goodness. Lack of education, or poverty, or abuse, or any number of societal ills/sins rob us of our inherent goodness.

Another option to describe the human condition is that our goal is to be as good as we can – what more could God expect? So our morality is more or less governed by being better than the next guy. For goodness’ sake, I’m a better person than Tiger Woods, right? So, I can read about him, or Mark Sanford, or any number of public ‘sinners’ and congratulate myself on my own relative goodness. God has to take somebody, right? It becomes kind of like school – if I can graduate in the top certain percentage of “goodness class” then I’ll be on the big Dean’s list and be okay.

There are pros and cons to both those views. In fact, whole political and sociological models are based off those views. Certainly a general societal norm of “good behavior” is a good thing. Certainly efforts to reduce poverty, increase education, and the like are good efforts. But will they save our souls? Will they even save society?

There is another view of the human condition; interestingly enough, it is associated strongly with John Calvin, the father of the Presbyterian branch of the church. But the view predates him – it is described in the early church father’s writings. And it is most foundationally found in the pages of scripture as the biblical description of the human condition.

That view is that we do indeed have a “plight” – and that plight is our innate and continuing inclination to disobedience, to sinfulness, such that we are dead to God and little more than ashes. What Calvin called “total depravity” is rooted in Adam’s original sin in the Garden and in the pervasiveness of our ongoing sin and disobedience. Yet the end of this dismal news is not death and ashes, but hope in a miraculous God who can and does breathe life into death and fire into cold ash.

Today we will look at what is called “original sin” and some of its implications for us. I will add that there are a variety of purposes to Scripture, and likewise to sermons. Some urge us to action; some comfort us in distress; some inform us and teach us new things; and so on. Today, we mainly will consider a theological and spiritual reality, though I believe it will cause us to yearn for the Good News of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. It may be, too, that this discussion of sin causes you to view the world and those around you in a different way. So, that’s the information and the application(s) to look out for. Let’s turn to Genesis 3 and dig in.

Original Sin

Original Sin refers to the actions and consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden, in the story you just heard. God had created them good, in His own image; and God had created them for worship – loving service and obedience in relationship with Him.

But then Adam and Eve disobey God and all human beings are considered and proven sinful except through God’s intervention in Jesus Christ. And that original sin has ongoing implications: not only are we betrayed and cursed by our first parents’ disobedience, but we continue to sin and turn from God just as they did.

This is the second story of the Bible, after creation itself. And there is a lot to unpack here. For today, we’ll just focus on this notion of original sin. I’m going to divide it up into two parts, both of which are significant.

First, as the first humans and the representatives of the human race to come, Adam and Eve’s original sin and the resulting curse and expulsion from the Garden affect us all. It’s the first and quintessential case of the sins of the father and mother visited on succeeding generations. Think of it this way: even if you and I COULD live sinlessly, the human race has already lost the privilege of the Garden and the pristine relationship with God enjoyed there. Humanity was kicked out, the gate was barred and guarded, and there is no human way back.

Second and on top of that, we continue to imitate and replicate our first parents’ disobedience. We, too, choose self and idols and disobedience, more often than we’d like to think. In coming weeks we will look at sins of commission – that is, things we do and think that turn us away from God. For now, just recognize that in addition to there being no way back into conditions before that original sin, we and every other human has fared no better in our own lives. Now if you want to argue this second point, wait until we’ve gone through the next few weeks and we see why it is that both Psalms and Romans contain this assertion: “there is none righteous; no, not one.” (Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Romans 3:10-12)

Sins of Omission

Does that seem unfair? Can’t I really, really try to clean up my act and am I really cursed from the start? Essentially, this is what Tiger promised, inspired by his Buddhist upbringing. Can I go for the next hour without sinning? Would I then be righteous even for a moment? Would I be, even for a moment, right with God?

There are two answers to that. For one, the curse remains. The image of God, in which we were created and indeed pronounced good, is marred, like a burned painting. Only hints and shadows of its former glory remain. But even setting that answer aside, we not only sin when we do wrong things; we also sin when we don’t do the right!

Case in point, look at Adam. His first sin was not eating the fruit which Eve offered; his first sin was not protesting when the serpent deceived her. For Adam was WITH HER. Look at Genesis 3:6 – “…she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” Why didn’t he say, “Stop Eve; don’t do it!” Why didn’t he chase the serpent away? He remained passive and silent and allowed the temptation to proceed unchecked. And after watching his wife eat the fruit, he took and did likewise.

Think of all the things we fail to do. We can disobey or turn from God through passivity and inaction just as surely as through active disobedience.

As we will see in coming weeks, our sin is pervasive and frequent; and our “good standing” with God was a lost cause from the moment Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden and put under the curse of Genesis 3:16-19 – “…you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” That’s the consequence and the destiny of the human race.

Cheerful, I know… but listen: really grasp that… really wrestle and grab hold of that, and see if you do not also lay hold of the yearning and hope for something more. This is not the pessimist’s philosophy, “Well, if I look at the dark side of everything, there’s nowhere to go but up.” Rather, this is the realist’s advantage: if I have truly and accurately understood my situation, then I can more clearly see the options before me. And bottom line, those options are death without God or life with God!

The Ontological: Ash and Fire

In the sermon title, I use one of those big vocabulary words that you hope you’ll never see on the SAT: ontological. You may know the ‘logical’ part – that means “words about.” So theo-logical means “words about God.” So onto-logical means “words about being” or “words about who I am.”

The ontological question is the “what am I?” question. Am I good? Am I pretty good? Am I not good? We are back to the questions I asked at the beginning of the sermon. What is our plight and is there even a plight? If Scripture offers a true description of our situation, then we really do have a problem. And it’s not just a “I’m in a bad place” problem. The ontological problem is the very core of who I am – I have a problem. Deep in my soul, in the core of my being, capturing the essence of who I am – I have a problem. I am not in a bad place; I am dead in my sin. That’s the ontological problem.

In the language and imagery of Genesis 3:19 and our service last Wednesday that original sin problem and that ontological – in the depth of who I am – problem is that I am dust and ashes. Period. End of story. God made humanity in His image – to burn brightly in loving service and obedience. But in disobedience Adam and Eve were expelled from the heart of the fire and their death sentence was delayed, but ultimately still dust and ashes. No amount of hard work, collecting or stirring the ashes, or effort can make cold ashes burn again. That’s our plight; and that’s not pessimism, but reality according to God’s Word.

And yet, we read in Scripture of the possibility of burning with spiritual fire and passion. Last Wednesday our service of ashes was bookended with hopeful scenes of human beings “on fire” for God and with God. There is a picture in Scripture of what could be and it is that which, having heard the true description of our plight, we can and must hope for in faith. Through Jesus Christ, God can and does breathe new life and fire into cold ashes. And through Jesus Christ, we can be born again and live as children of God. Through Jesus Christ, who alone is “good” we can exhibit the rightness and righteousness of the Kingdom of God, the country of the second Adam and the land for which we yearn.

These weeks of Lent, grim and dark may they be, are not the last word; rather, we long for the news of God coming to set things right and bring light and life and fire into the world again. Amen.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What is Your Love Language (1 John 4, 1 Corinthians 13)

February 14, 2010
Sermon by: Royallen Wiley

(download)**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

What is Your Love Language?
1 John 4:7-15; 1 Corinthians 13:4-8; Galatians 5:13

One day someone may approach you in an unguarded moment and ask, “So tell me about this God of yours.” You may immediately be tempted to run for the cell phone and call a professional by calling 1-800-Joanie or 1-800 Robert. No, you didn’t go to seminary but you can handle this. A good response would be three little words: “God Is Love.” And if you can follow that up by reciting one of the more famous verses in the Bible, John 3:16 or just sharing the gist of it – God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son to live with us and whoever believes in him will not perish but will have everlasting life – If you can do that you are off to a very strong start.

Love is the cornerstone of Christianity and people have an enduring interest in it. In the scripture passage we just read we hear the theme of God is love from the Apostle John. If Jane had gotten carried away and read the entire short book of 1st John you would have heard the word “love” 35 times. In fact, the Apostle John is known as “The Apostle of Love.” In the passage from 1st Corinthians we hear the famous description of selfless love written by the Apostle Paul. In the passage from Galatians we hear of how to love by serving others.

Last summer, Kathy Larson approached me about an idea she had for a SS class. She asked me if I had ever read the book “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. I replied that I had read it a couple of years ago and was impressed with the simplicity and insights in the book. Doing a little research, I proudly reported back to Kathy that I had found a canned study guide on the 5LL web site. She responded that was not exactly what she had in mind. She was more interested in is using the Five Love Languages text as a springboard for the following: “HOW DO WE LEARN TO LOVE MORE EFFECTIVELY?... individually and as a body of believers at GSPC.” That was the starting point for a most enjoyable and rewarding 16 weeks.

The makeup of the class was not what I expected. I was expecting mostly 30 something or 40 something married couples and concerned that the class might turn into Marriage Counseling 101: something I didn’t feel qualified to teach. Instead, there weren’t that many couples at all. The attendees ranged in age from 17 something to 70 something and spanned 3 generations. I think that shows that we have an interest in love and relationships over the entire course of our lives. It total we had about 25 folks who attended the class often enough to be able to apply the material. It will be interesting to see the impact on their personal relationships and our church family in the coming months.

Gary Chapman’s signature book, “The Five Love Languages” was originally written in 1992. He is associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston Salem. His original book is a perennial best seller and over 5 million copies are in print. The enterprise has now expanded to include other books: (show the other copies.)

Imagine going into the inner regions of China and speaking English where Mandarin Chinese is the prevailing language and you want to speak to one of the locals. You might be able to communicate using sign language or drawings but it would be very difficult to communicate. This may be an extreme example but think about going on a trip to Germany. You speak a little bit of German and you try to communicate with someone who speaks a little bit of English. You may be able to communicate to some degree but it wouldn’t be very effective, would it? Think how much easier it would be if you were both speaking a common language. This is the principle behind the 5 Love Languages. It is an easy approach to learn and apply.

Dr. Chapman developed the 5LL and his insights from over 30 years of counseling, mostly to married couples. He observed that people can be categorized into five different love languages. The beauty of the 5LL is the simplicity: there are only 5 love languages to learn, not 83. Dr. Chapman believes that each person has a primary love language which means you would speak one of the five languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Gifts, Acts of Service, Physical Touch

“Learning to love and appreciate in a language the other person can receive is the key to enhancing all human relationships” – Gary Chapman

“Married or single, young or old, every human has the emotional need to feel loved. When this need is met, we move out to reach our potential for God and our potential for good in the world. However, when we feel unloved, we struggle just to survive.” - Gary Chapman

Mark Twain once said: “I can live for two months on a good compliment”
Words are important. Words are important. Words are important. What an impact they can carry.

As we read in the Book of Proverbs:
Words satisfy the mind as much as fruit does the stomach; good talk is as gratifying as a good harvest. Words kill, words give life; they're either poison or fruit—you choose.
Proverbs 18:20–21 (The Message)
Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If Words of Affirmation is your love language you long to hear words that are constantly affirming, encouraging and expressing appreciation.

Quality time is more than mere proximity. It’s about focusing all your energy on your mate. A husband watching sports while talking to his wife is NOT quality time. Unless all of your attention is focused on your mate, even an intimate dinner for two can come and go without a minute of quality time being shared. Quality time requires that you be focused on what is being said and being in the moment. It is important for someone who has the love language of quality time for you to be a good and sympathetic listener.

Quality conversation and quality activities are very important for quality time in a healthy relationship. It involves sharing experiences, thoughts, feelings and desires in a friendly, uninterrupted context. An important aspect of quality conversation is self-revelation. In order for you to communicate with your mate, you must also be in tune with your inner emotions. Quality activities are a very important part of quality time. Many mates feel most loved when they spend physical time together, doing activities that they love to do. Spending time together will bring a couple closer, and, in the years to come, will fill up a memory bank that you can reminisce about in the future.

There is an important distinction between Words of Affirmation and Quality Time. “Words of Affirmation focus on what we are saying, whereas quality conversation focuses on what we are hearing” – Gary Chapman


Some people respond well to visual symbols of love. If you speak this love language, you are more likely to treasure any gift as an expression of love and devotion. People who speak this love language often feel that a lack of gifts represents a lack of love. Luckily, this love language is one of the easiest to learn. However, it is important to be a good listener in order to understand what gifts might be appropriate for your ssfc.

The gift of self is an important symbol of love. Sometimes all your mate desires is for someone to be there for them, going through the same trials and experiencing the same things. Your body can become a very powerful physical symbol of love.
These gifts need not to come every day, or even every week. They don’t even need to cost a lot of money. Free, frequent, expensive, or rare, if your mate relates to the language of receiving gifts, any visible sign of your love will leave them feeling happy and secure in your relationship.


Sometimes simple chores around the house can be an undeniable expression of love. Even simple things like laundry and taking out the trash require some form of planning, time, effort, and energy. Just as Jesus demonstrated when he washed the feet of his disciples, doing humble chores can be a very powerful expression of love and devotion to your mate.

Very often, both pairs in a couple will speak to the Acts of Service Language. However, it is very important to understand what acts of service your mate most appreciates. Even though couples are helping each other around the house, couples will still fight because they are unknowingly communicating with each other in two different dialects. For example, a wife may spend her day washing the cars and walking the dog, but if her husband feels that laundry and dishes are a superior necessity, he may feel unloved, despite the fact that his wife did many other chores throughout the day. It is important to learn your mate’s dialect and work to understand what acts of service will show your love.

It is important to do these acts of service out of love and not obligation. A mate who does chores and helps out around the house out of guilt or fear will inevitably not be speaking a language of love, but a language of resentment. It’s important to perform these acts out of the kindness of your heart.

Demonstrating the acts of service can mean stepping out of the stereotypes. Acts of service require both mates to humble themselves into doing some chores and services that aren’t usually expected from their gender. However, these little sacrifices will mean the world to your mate, and will ensure a happy relationship.

Many mates feel the most loved when they receive physical contact from their partner. For a mate who speaks this love language loudly, physical touch can make or break the relationship.

It is important to learn how your mate speaks the physical touch language. A bear hug may not be appropriate for some. Some touches are irritating and uncomfortable for your mate. Take the time to learn the touches your mate likes. It’s important to learn how your mate responds to touch. That is how you will make the most of this love language.

In a crisis situation, a hug can communicate an immense amount of love for that person. A person whose primary love language is physical touch would much rather have you hold them and be silent than offer any advice.

It is important to remember that this love language is different for everyone. What type of touch makes you feel secure is not necessarily what will make your partner happy. It is important to learn each other’s dialects. That way you can make the most of your hugging, kissing, and other physical contacts.

These are the five languages. Now that you’ve heard a little bit about it, which one do you think is yours? And what are the love languages of your loved ones?

Has anyone ever asked you if you believe in organized religion? It seems as if I’ve heard that a couple of times recently. I have a snappy comeback for that. So, what do you believe in? Disorganized religion? That’s what human beings do. We organize things and we make them more efficient.

Those who are distrustful of organized religion may very well have had a disappointing experience. Perhaps they have been involved with a group of Christians who were nominal believers (Christians in name only) or perhaps they were involved with self-righteous fanatics. It’s also easy since we’re human to point out character flaws in Christians and to tear down others. It’s the character flaws that many times generate the worst publicity for the Christian faith. Sometimes Christians are just not all that loving towards one another.

Good Shepherd Church could be Latvian Orthodox for all you care but for better or for worse we are Presbyterian, specifically, PCUSA. In the Presbyterian church, the governing body of the local church is called the session which is moderated by the pastor. Each church is member of the next higher up ruling body called the Presbytery.

The presbytery of Charlotte is made up of over 100 congregations and 40,000 members in the metro Charlotte area. It is the 3rd largest presbytery in the US. In the same way that a pastor and session care for, connect, encourage, and equip church members for ministry and mission, the presbytery is our immediate "higher governing body" with responsibilities to care for, connect, encourage, and equip the member pastors and congregations for ministry, mission, and witness beyond the scope of an individual congregation's resources. Just as our church has ministry teams, the presbytery has teams to coordinate mission, worship, witness, pastoral care, church and leadership development, and other ministries within the bounds of the presbytery. Each church is represented to presbytery by an equal number of pastors and elders.

Attending Presbytery meetings can be a bit intimidating. Robert asks that elders at GSPC attend at least two meetings a year so that we’ll be comfortable with the format and style of POC meetings. It helps to know Robert’s Rules of order (no pun intended). My past experience and the past experience of other leaders in this church is that presbytery has very often been a group that struggles to love because of theological divides and an atmosphere of distrust.

You may or may not know that this past year that Robert Austell was the Moderator of Charlotte Presbytery. Over the course of this past year, other elders have noticed the same thing that I have noticed: A more civil and loving atmosphere at POC.

I wish you could have attended the last POC meeting that I attended in December that was the last meeting that Robert moderated. It was very much a typical POC meeting: worship, committee reports, announcements, etc. At the end of the meeting plaques and recognition were given to committee chairs and others who served the presbytery in 2009. Robert was recognized for his work as Moderator. However, right before the meeting adjourned, the Rev. Timm High of presbytery staff asked to be recognized. Timm offered a rather lengthy and warm motion of thanks for the servant nature of Robert’s leadership in 2009. What followed was a heartfelt standing ovation from the presbytery.

Other elders and I felt it important for you, the congregation of GSPC, to be aware of this facet of Robert’s ministry. I reached out to Timm and asked him if he would be willing to share his insights on the past year at presbytery.
Royallen, greetings;

I once again apologize for not responding to this email in a timely fashion which caused you to phone me to follow up. I am grateful that you persisted and that I’ve now gotten the opportunity to hear your voice as well as your request. There is no need to ask for an apology for reaching out with an email communication. I’m most thankful and grateful that you did! I look forward to encountering you in person at some point in the future as well.

My admiration of the presence and presents of Robert Austell dates to a Presbytery of Charlotte meeting in July of 2008. I had not yet been in the Presbytery for a full year and he was one of the persons making the report regarding their experience at the General Assembly that had been held in San Jose.

I remember him admitting that the work of the Spirit had made a significant impact on him, both within his head and his heart, during the Assembly, and while he couldn’t agree with everything that had been said or had been done, he had returned from his experience committed to not participating in the all-too-frequent and all-too-tempting activity of calling those who didn’t agree with him by names that were intended to be derogatory and distancing.

It was clear to me that both his head and his heart had been influenced by what he experienced in the midst of the Assembly and it was equally clear to me that he understood his participation as a commissioner to the Assembly to influence his life as a Presbyter now that he had returned to his work and worship within the Presbytery of Charlotte. He has embodied this position which he professed in profound and faithful ways ever since, with his work as the Moderator of Charlotte Presbytery during 2009 and his work on the group that sought to shape a policy that would establish a process for churches within the Presbytery of Charlotte who wished to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) could participate in a dialogue rather than just a diatribe. I have a sense that his willingness to participate in such a meaningful way, including allowing the Spirit to work in their midst in ways that might not please anyone in particular but would be pleasing in God’s sight, might have cost him the friendship of some while increasing the admiration of him as a colleague by many more.

This is the reason why I offered my motion of thanks for the servant nature of Robert Austell’s ministry within the midst of the Presbytery of Charlotte as he concluded his term as moderator and why I am grateful and thankful to be a colleague of his. It was because of my encounter with him at the July meeting of the POC in 2008 that led me to suggest his name as a candidate for moderator for 2009, a suggestion that bore fruit during the ensuring year because of his faithful witness to the Gospel as he seeks to not only understand it but to embody it.

Thank you for the opportunity of being asked to share regarding my colleague in ministry, Robert Austell, and thank you to you and the congregation of the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church for your desire to give thanks to God for his ministry within your midst and the Presbytery of Charlotte. If I can be of any further help, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Grace and Peace,

Timm High
Interim Executive Presbyter, Pastoral Care and Vocation
Presbytery of Charlotte
Two things stand out in my memory from Robert’s installation service as pastor at GSPC: 1) His Dad praying for him and for the success of his ministry at GSPC and 2) Gerrit Dawson, then senior pastor at First Presbyterian in Lenoir who commented ,”You didn’t hire Jim Carrey!” Can you imagine if we had? That might have been entertaining for a few weeks but the novelty would have worn off quickly. What a blessing that God sent Robert to our church. Instead of Jim Carey, we have a pastor who is gracious, loving, kind, and has a servant’s heart that has not only impacted our congregation but the PCUSA at the regional and national levels.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Melchizedek, King of Righteousness (Genesis 14, Psalm 110, Hebrews 7)

February 7, 2010
Sermon by: Robert Austell

"Melchizedek, King of Righteousness"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: Genesis 14, Psalm 110, Hebrews 7

Sometimes the delivered sermon varies more significantly from the written version - this is one of those times and I commend the audio above to you.

Do you like mysteries? It doesn’t have to be the kind you find in novels. It might be movie-mysteries or real-life mysteries. Nobody likes being stumped, but I think most of us like the surge of satisfaction that comes when we solve the mystery. Whether it’s a “whodunit?” or a “what does it mean?” it’s a delight to figure it out.

And life is full of mystery – part of living life is being stumped and part of living life is discovering some answers along the way.

The Bible has it’s own mysteries, too. Particularly in the Old Testament – in the early days – much of what God said and did seemed more than a little mysterious.

Today we will look at one of the most mysterious figures in the Bible and see how he is connected through history and through God’s plan to Jesus Christ and God’s plan to rescue us from death and all that was separating us from Him.

Ancient Mystery in Genesis

Genesis tells the story of Abraham, first known as Abram. His story begins with God calling him from his country of birth to a new place God was to show him. Abram obeyed God and worshiped Him publicly, as God promised to bless him and give him this land. Abram finally settled just south of present-day Jerusalem in a place called Hebron.

After a local clash of kings resulted in the defeat of all of the Jordan River valley and the capture of Abram’s nephew, Lot, Abram went after the victorious king and defeated him, rescuing his nephew and the possessions of the local kings.

That’s when Abram ran into Melchizedek. One of the local kings – the king of Sodom offered Abram a reward of the goods he recovered. Abram refused his offer, saying that the Lord God Most High had made him rich. But then, Melchizedek, the king of Salem, offered Abram bread and wine and blessed him in the name of God Most High. Abram received the bread and wine and gave Melchizedek a tenth of his possessions.

Who was Melchizedek? We know he was king of Salem, presumably the region where the city of Salem or Jerusalem was later built. We can translate his name – it means King of Righteousness or “the Righteous King.” We know that he not only knew the real and living God, but was considered a priest of God before the priesthood was even established with Moses and Aaron. We also know that Abraham – the father of God’s people and one of the legends of faithfulness, humbly worshiped with this man and even tithed to him.

Who was Melchizedek? All we really know is that he was a godly King who also functioned as a priest of God and whose kingdom was known as “Peace.”

We would probably remain in the dark about him… except he is mentioned again in two significant places in the Bible.

Mystery in Psalms

From Abram’s time on through the time of Jesus, God’s “system” for dealing with human sinfulness was through priests and a system of animal sacrifices. But that system depended on human priests, who themselves were sinful, and who lived and died and had to do the work of atonement again and again and again.

Mysteriously, in the midst of that system, which lasted for many hundreds of years, God established a king for His people. They were not satisfied with being governed by God’s Law or by judges. And God listened to His people’s prayers for an earthly king and God raised up David as the great king of Israel. Just as He had done with Abraham, God made a covenant – or promise – to David that his throne and rule would last forever.

In Psalm 110, God speaks and makes reference to this everlasting promise, saying “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind…” Then, God says to David the king, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” There he is again – our mystery man from ancient times.

What does that mean… that David is a priest like Melchizedek? It’s mystery attached to mystery!

We can see similarities between David and Melchizedek. Both were kings, and both were kings of the same area – Salem/Jerusalem. By David’s time there was a great city where Melchizedek had once walked. Both men also worshiped the one Lord. In that sense, both were RIGHTEOUS kings, because they rightly worshiped and served the one God. And God attached to both of these righteous kings the role of being a priest forever.

But we are still left with a mystery. God had a whole system going with priests who offered regular sacrifices of thanks, atonement, and worship. Why have these alternate priest-kings whose duties somehow seemed larger and more consequential?

Mystery Solved: Jesus as Priest-King

The mystery is solved in the New Testament book of Hebrews. In chapter 5 and more fully in chapter 7, we are told that Jesus is also a “priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” It was expected that God’s promised one would be a king like David, so it is not unexpected that Jesus is linked to David. What is interesting is the link to this mysterious saying about David being a priest like Melchizedek.

The amazing “aha” moment comes in the first few verses of Hebrews 7. First, the encounter between Melchizedek and Abraham is retold, along with some of the significance of this mysterious figure. Then, in verse 3, we are told that Melchizedek was made “like the Son of God.” Let that sink in!

Melchizedek was made to be like the Son of God… like Jesus.

You see, the whole book of Hebrews teaches that Jesus is both the fully righteous (or right) King and our eternal High Priest. Unlike the priests of the Old Testament system, Jesus is without sin. Unlike them, Jesus doesn’t die after a mortal life, but lives on forever to intercede – to be our go-between – with God the Father. And the sacrifice Jesus made – of his own life – is not a repeating and limited sacrifice, but a once-and-for-all sacrifice.

And here’s the really amazing part: in order to prepare us for a Savior and a salvation based on yielding our wills and lives to a righteous Lord and King and based on the gracious sacrifice of a Priest whose work would be effective for all time, God put at least two significant righteous priest-kings into human history to point us to Jesus Christ.

In literature we call it foreshadowing. In music it’s the theme or motif introduced at the beginning that is later developed and conclusively returned to at the end. In everyday language we call it a “heads-up.”

Right there at the beginning of God establishing His people through Abraham, God provided a memorable encounter with an earthly king, whose righteousness and acknowledgement of the one God qualified him as a priest. With that man, whom Hebrews says was “like the Son of God,” Abraham worshiped and made offering. If you really want a mind-boggler, notice that Melchizedek blessed Abraham and worshiped God as he shared bread and wine with Abraham. Jesus would later do the same with his disciples around the table, just before his crucifixion.

And right there in the midst of God’s laws and prophets, God raised up King David to be a godly king who also functioned as a priest to those who served the Lord.

It was as if God was saying to His people and to us… ultimately human priests and the blood of animals cannot save you. Get ready, one day one will come who is not only like the Son of God, but who IS the Son of God. And what will be required of you is the submission you show a godly king, for he will truly be the King of Righteousness. And he will also make the final sacrifice once and for all, so that things between you and me will be right. His righteousness will become your righteousness, and you will know my peace.

Solving the Mystery: Peace at Last

Peace with God – that is the hope we have in Jesus Christ. And just as the godly priest-king Melchizedek’s kingdom was known for and called Salem (peace), and King David was known for establishing God’s peace in his kingdom, so Jesus brings God’s peace at last. Why all the mystery? It’s because God wants us to discover the answer: His Son, Jesus Christ.

God wants us to yield our lives and our wills to him and trust in the gracious and saving sacrifice Jesus made to set things right between God and us. In doing so, we will discover God’s desire for us – peace with Him and hope of life with Him forever. Amen.