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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Godliness: a Fruit of the Spirit (2 Peter 1.2-8)

Sermon by:Robert Austell
August 26, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Intrada from Sonata No. 1" (Charles Ore)
Hymn of Praise: "Immortal, Invisible" (ST. DENIO)
Song of Praise: "Shine on Us" (Michael W. Smith) 
The Word in Music (men's ensemble): "Rise Up, O Saints of God" (Kenneth Jennings)
Offering of Music (men's ensemble): "Gracious Spirit Dwell with Me" (K. Lee Scott)
Song of Sending: "Hear the Call of the Kingdom" (Getty/Townend))
Postlude: "Finale from Sonata No. 1" (Charles Ore)

"Godliness: a fruit of the Spirit"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: 2 Peter 1:2-8

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

“So and so is a godly woman… he is a godly man.”  Have you heard someone use those words before?  Have you ever wondered what that means and how you get it?  Well the Bible actually promises that all Christians will grow in godliness.  Today we will look at what that means.

We are nearing the end of our summer series on the fruit of the Holy Spirit, those qualities God grows in all who trust and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  We began the summer looking at a list of these spiritual traits in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Then we moved to a similar list in 2 Peter 1.  In each case we took one of the traits listed and then found a place where Jesus or another New Testament writer expanded or illustrated the particular trait.

As I already mentioned, this week we are looking at GODLINESS, listed in 2 Peter 1:5-8.  “Godliness” is a form of worship.  We might use words like “religious” or “pious,” but those words have started to have a kind of negative overtone, so a more helpful definition would probably be something like “devotion to God.” It turns out that the one place this trait is expanded and elaborated is in the few verses right before the list, in 2 Peter 1:2-4.  So please turn with me to that passage and we’ll jump right in. 

A Gift from God (v. 3)

So look for the word “godliness” in 2 Peter 1.  The first place you’ll see it is in verse 3.  There Peter writes that with divine power, God has “granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness.”  The first thing we need to know about godliness is that it is a GIFT from God.  It’s not something you try real hard to generate out of your own power; it is granted by God’s power.  That’s a significant starting point, don’t you think?  That’s why “religious” or “pious” can be misleading; those sound so user-generated.  I suppose even “devotion” can sound like it originates with us; but really, what Peter is telling us is that God is the one who warms our heart to worship.  And it’s not just a “love at first sight” kind of response to God; rather, God actually provides the POWER to worship.

Certainly one way to understand that is exactly in the way that we have come to this topic.  It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, precisely the power of God at work in our lives, stirring up our hearts.  Peter’s description of godliness as a gift of God confirms what we’ve been hearing about the spiritual fruits; they come from God!

Peter says a bit more in verse 3.  That wasn’t the end of the sentence.  God’s power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness THROUGH the “true knowledge of Him.”  And I should note that “knowledge of God” is not book-knowledge, but relational knowledge.  God’s gift is that of relationship with Him.  That knowledge/relationship is mentioned two other times in this passage.  First, it is what multiplies grace and peace in verse 1.  If you know grace and peace experientially, those things are amplified or multiplied when you grow closer to God. 

And then knowledge is mentioned again at the end of this passage in verse 7.  It’s in that phrase I like so much: “…if these qualities [spiritual fruit] are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  In other words, manifesting the spiritual fruit we’ve been talking about all summer are a sign of growing in knowledge of Jesus.  Again, not head-knowledge, but relational knowledge.

Let me try to say all that more simply.  Godliness is a gift from God that comes through knowing God and causes us to know God better.  That is not nearly as complicated as it sounds.  Think in terms of someone you love.  My relationship with Heather produces devotion to her, and when that devotion grows it strengthens my relationship with her.  It’s a self-sustaining circle.  The converse would also be true.  If we neglect someone we love – that would be the opposite of devotion, right? – it weakens or damages the relationship.  So also, if we neglect our devotion to God, it weakens our relationship which makes devotion or worship more difficult.  Fortunately, God is ever faithful; but it is easy to neglect God even though God is at work to stir up relationship and worship within us. 

Promised Participation (v. 4)

Continuing on… we left off with God granting or giving us what we need through knowledge of Him… and Peter goes on to expand on “Him.”  Him is God, who called us by His own glory and excellence.  And there’s more!  For by these [God’s glory and excellence] God has “granted to us His precious and magnificent promises.”  That’s the part I want you to see – that the same God who has gifted us with a relationship with Him has made promises.  What are those promises?  They are for PARTICIPATION – partaking in the divine nature.

Do you hear the repetition and underlining of God’s design for relationship with us?  God’s gift was relationship.  God’s promise is participation.  That’s what happens when someone is in relationship; there is sharing and partnership.  And that’s what Peter says God has promised us: to share in His divine nature.  This doesn’t mean that we become some kind of gods; rather it means that God’s design and promise is for us to share in what God is like and what God is doing.

And that leads us back to GODLINESS.  What better description of godliness could there be than sharing in what God is like and what God is doing at His loving invitation?  Again, that is devotion or worship.  And again, there is an analogy with marriage or any other close human relationship.  Devotion in marriage isn’t just fawning over one’s spouse; it is sharing in what the other loves and what the other is doing.  It is participation and sharing. 

And So… Fruit (vv. 5-7)

And that leads us to our listing of spiritual fruit, beginning in verse 5.  That verse begins, “Now for this very reason…”  What reason?  The reason is what we’ve just talked about.  God’s gift is relationship with Him and God’s promise is participation with Him.  That’s how the spiritual fruit can grow.  Applying diligence and faith (v. 5) aren’t enough by themselves; rather it is because of we participate in God’s power AT GOD’S INVITATION that the Holy Spirit partners with our human effort to grow moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.  It is a partnership initiated and made possible by God through the Holy Spirit.

Listen, God is not an academic subject to study; God is not a glorified hobby or discipline; God is personal and real and has made us for relationship and worship.  And those two things, relationship and worship, are in focus here.  God’s gift of knowledge is the gift of relationship with Him.  God’s promise of participation is an INVITATION to love and honor and submit and serve, amazingly elevated from groveling by the invitation to share in what God is doing, as partners. 

Have you heard that invitation? Can you hear the significance of it?  God’s initiative and invitation, described here, is almost like a marriage proposal.  It is a declaration of love, “I love you and desire a relationship with you!”  And it is an invitation to a life together.  “Godliness” describes our ongoing “I do” and “I will” back to God through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Perseverance: a Fruit of the Spirit (Luke 8:4-15)

Sermon by:Robert Austell
August 19, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "All Creatures of Our God and King" (Diemer)
Hymn of Praise: "All Creatures/Give Glory" (Dawson/Austell)
Hymn of Praise: "Ancient Words" (DeShazo) 
The Word in Music (trio): "I Shall Not Be Moved" (Ingram/Youngblood)
Offering of Music (Bobby White, piano): "Meditation" (Schumann)
Hymn of Sending: "How Firm a Foundation" (FOUNDATION)
Postlude: "Carillon" (Archer)

"Perseverance: a fruit of the Spirit"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: Luke 8:4-15

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

From time to time I have the opportunity to help folks who are trying to learn how to use their technological gadgets – a new cell phone, a computer, e-mail, Facebook, and the like.  I’m not sure why those things come so naturally to me, but they do; and I enjoy sharing that knowledge with other folks and seeing the look of comprehension and joy when they “get it.”

There are some folks I have worked with who ask me for help or directions and I can tell right off the bat that it’s not going to stick.  While I’m talking or demonstrating something, they are clicking, exploring, or focused on something else.  Or sometimes they insist on taking copious notes and likewise miss what I’m trying to show them (using computers is more like learning a tennis swing than reading a book about playing tennis!).  We will finish our time together and later they will tell me that they spent two hours trying to do what I showed them, all to no avail.  “These stupid computers!”

Now those folks have PERSEVERANCE; they spent two hours (and maybe many more) trying to figure out their e-mail or Facebook or iPhone; but my instructions went unheeded.

There are other folks who really cue in on what I’m saying and doing and allow me to walk them through using the technology.  For them, a combination of sticking with it and listening to instruction really pays off.  They also have PERSEVERANCE.

Today we continue our study of the fruit of the Spirit, those qualities or characteristics that God grows in every person who trusts and follows Jesus Christ because the Holy Spirit lives and works in you.  Perseverance is listed in the list of fruit in 2 Peter 1:5-8, which repeats and adds to the list in Galatians 5.  Perseverance is listed in 2 Peter in the context of diligent faith, after moral excellence, knowledge, and self-control.  It makes sense that one would need perseverance to be diligent in faith and to develop traits like moral excellence, knowledge, and self-control.  But we will also look at another passage, from Luke 8, to understand a bit more about what Christian perseverance looks like as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. 

A Parable (vv. 4-10)

To help us understand Christian perseverance better we will consider today the so-called “Parable of the Sower.”  It might just as well be called the “Parable of the Soils” or the “Parable of the Seed” – those are all names we’ve added to describe this teaching of Jesus.  I’ll remind you of how I like to describe parables.  They are a particular story-form that are not fables, allegories, or direct teaching, but draw listeners into a familiar setting and then have a kind of twist at the end to make a spiritual point.  I like to compare them to a good joke, not because parables aren’t to be taken seriously, but because what makes a good joke is a good and often unexpected punch-line.  That’s what makes a good parable as well.  Let’s look at this one…

Consider the context: a large crowd was coming together around Jesus.  People were traveling some distance to see and hear him.  Some would listen with interest; some were skeptical; some would follow him; and some were against him, secretly or openly.  And he begins to tell this parable.

The sower went out to sow his seed… and the seed fell in various places with various results.  Birds ate up the seed that fell on the road; the sun dried up the seed that fell on rocky soil; thorns choked seed that fell among the weeds; and some seed prospered and grew in good soil.

You already heard an explanation given in the scripture reading.  But Jesus gave that privately to the disciples after they asked him about the parable.  All the crowd got was the initial parable, and this one more thing…

After every part of the story, Jesus would shout, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  You heard that in the video reading of the text, but let me read it again the way Luke describes it:

The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled underfoot and the birds of the air ate it up.  HE WHO HAS EARS TO HEAR, LET HIM HEAR!

Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.  HE WHO HAS EARS TO HEAR, LET HIM HEAR!

Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out.  HE WHO HAS EARS TO HEAR, LET HIM HEAR!

Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.  HE WHO HAS EARS TO HEAR, LET HIM HEAR!

Now the Parable is This: Meaning vs. Reason (vv. 11-15)

It changes things a bit doesn’t it?  No wonder the disciples asked him about it!  And that was it with the crowd.  They wouldn’t have heard it analytically like we are prone to do or like Jesus explained it.  He explained each part so the disciples and we could see the whole thing.  But that middle part – each soil and each response – that’s not the important part.  That’s the MEANING or explanation of the parable.  But that’s not the REASON for the parable. Jesus provides that in verses 11 and 15.  The seed is the Word of God and the goal is to bear fruit with perseverance!  And the reason for the parable was to elicit that persevering response of faith from those who would hear and to confuse those who would not.

Why confuse those who would not hear?  It was not yet time for Jesus to die; some were looking for a reason to arrest and oppose Jesus.  Some might not understand or believe now, but come to believe at a later date, perhaps after seeing signs of Jesus’ power and authority.  There may be other reasons.  The point is that this parable is not (primarily) a technique to understand so much as a proclamation to respond to (or not).

As each part of the parable was shared and Jesus declared, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” the listener would have to ask him or herself, “What does this mean? Is he talking to me? Does my life and faith resemble this scene?” 

Each time Jesus shouted, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” the listener would have to wonder, “Do I have ears to hear? What am I supposed to hear?”

And when Jesus got to the last scene with the good soil and the great crop and cried out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” each listener surely must have though, “What is this good soil? This is the good scenario… do I have that? Can I get that?”

That’s the punch line, and it is a recurring, ever-deepening punch line that jumps out in the middle of a regular unfolding story.  It would have grabbed the attention of every person in that large crowd of listeners and invited them to really listen and understand. 

How Do I Archive E-mail?

In my opening illustration I shared my experience of working with persevering people who nonetheless didn’t “get it” with their iPod or e-mail or Facebook.  In other cases, persevering people learned and mastered those skills quite well.  What was the difference?  In many cases, it wasn’t the amount of effort they put forth, but the degree to which they paid attention and really listened to what I was trying to teach them.

That is, I hope, a good illustration of what Christian perseverance is, as described in Jesus’ parable.  It is not enough to simply try hard in this life.  Plenty of people do that and miss God and miss faith.  And we can use the word perseverance to describe them.  But Jesus pairs that determination, that “holding it fast” (v. 15) with listening, obeying, and following God’s Word.  The kind of perseverance that strengthens faith and bears fruit is perseverance that listens and looks to God’s Word for direction.

It’s like teaching yourself geometry or learning well from a good teacher.
It’s like figuring out tennis with no help, or taking lessons and practicing the good form the coach teaches you.
It’s like building an end-table from scratch or apprenticing with someone who knows carpentry and wood-working.

None of those examples are perfect because every now and then there may be some genius who can figure those things out on their own.  But God has said that the only way to know Him, obey Him, and follow Him are through His Son, Jesus Christ, as revealed in His Word, the Scripture. 

So the good news is that you don’t have to figure this out on your own.  Growing in Christ does take hard work and perseverance, but it is with the best “coach” and set of instructions there ever have been, with fuel for that perseverance coming from God Himself.

So pay attention, persevere, and see what God stirs up in you.

Those with ears to hear, let them hear!  Amen.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Moving from Knowledge to Transformation (Luke 1:76-79)

Sermon by: the Rev. Billy Flippin
August 12, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "If My People Will Pray" (Owens/arr. Bock)
Hymn of Praise: "I'd Rather Have Jesus" (I'D RATHER)
Offering of Music: "In This Very Room" (Harris/arr. Bock)
Song of Sending: "I Know WHom I Have Believed" (EL NATHAN)
Postlude: "Sing the Glad Song" (Ritter)

"Moving from Knowledge to Transformation"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: Hebrews 12:4-13; 2 Peter 1:5-8

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

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Moral Excellence (Hebrews 12.4-13)

Sermon by:Robert Austell
August 5, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "We Gather Together" (Held)
Hymn of Praise: "We Gather Together" (KREMSER)
The Word in Music: "Guide My Wayfaring Feet" (Schram)
Song of Sending: "Light the Fire Again (Doerksen)
Postlude: "Exultation" (Cassler)

"Moral Excellence: a fruit of the Spirit"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: Hebrews 12:4-13; 2 Peter 1:5-8

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

Today we continue our series on the fruit of the Spirit, those characteristics God grows in all who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior for the purpose of bearing witness in the world.  So far this summer we have been working through the list of spiritual fruit in Galatians 5:22-23, but we have finished going through that list and move on to a second list in 2 Peter 1:5-7.  You heard that read earlier in the call to worship, but let me read it once more:
Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.
The reason I view these traits as spiritual fruit is that they all relate and are summed up in verse 8 in a rather understated claim that “if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Hoping that none of us want to be useless or unfruitful, I’ll flip that around to say that these traits show us to be useful and fruitful as followers of Christ.  Just to make the distinction between faith and works, these traits don’t make us Christians, but are indicators that Christ is at work in us.

So today we will look at the first trait in the list, translated here as “moral excellence.”  As we have done each week, I have looked for a passage of scripture that unpacks and expands on each fruit to help us better understand it.  Today I have chosen Hebrews 12:4-13, which expands on a synonym for “moral excellence” and that is “righteousness.”  The two words are very similar in Greek.  “Righteousness” can refer to one’s spiritual standing before God, but in this Hebrews passage is closer to “doing the right thing” which lines up very closely with “moral excellence.”  So, let’s dig into Hebrews 12 and see if we can better understand this important spiritual fruit. 

Discipline vs. Punishment

Probably the most noticeable thing about the Hebrews 12 passage is the description of God’s discipline.  Now right away I think there are two mistakes we can make with this passage.  The first is to limit God to our own imperfect examples of human discipline.  The second is to read this as an instruction manual on how to discipline our children.

A comparison with the parental discipline of the day is used to help illustrate the purpose of God’s discipline.  As such, the passage risks the confusion that always comes from trying to describe God using human examples.  So, if we have had a bad experience of fatherly discipline, it puts us in a bad place for trying to understand this passage.  “You mean to tell me that God is like my father and the way he clobbered me as a kid?”  No; not at all.  In fact, that limitation is named in the text in verse 10.  Earthly fathers, we read, “…disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but God disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.”  That recognizes the limitations of even the BEST earthly fathers, and even then notes that God’s motives and actions are infinitely higher and better, leading even to holiness.  Nonetheless, depending on your own experience, it may be very hard to see around a broken and sinful human experience.  If it’s particularly painful, I’d invite you to come talk to me.

It is also tempting to read this passage as a description of how parents should discipline children.  There may be some implications there and I will try to draw appropriate boundaries, but that is not the main point of this passage.  The main point is to help us understand how and why God grows the fruit of good and godly behavior or “moral excellence” in our lives.

So, with those disclaimers, let me begin with this distinction: discipline is not the same thing as punishment.  I think most of us hear “discipline” and we think of punishment – spankings or worse, resulting in shame and “you better not do that again.”  That is not the understanding of discipline here.  Rather, discipline means “to teach.”  Think of our other use of the word discipline, as a noun, and you get close to the meaning here.  A discipline is something which we have practiced and rehearsed with patience, repetition, and commitment, like the piano, or soccer skills, or a trait like patience.  It is cultivated and only comes with work.  That is the kind of thing in view here, not punishment for misbehavior. 

God does “reprove” in verse 5, which is correction for wrong-doing, but even that is done with instruction, good, and holiness in mind.  What you don’t see is where human beings so often go wrong.  God never reproves or disciplines out of impatience, anger, pride, or any other sinful human trait.  Rather, God’s discipline is trustworthy precisely because God is good, holy, gracious, and wise.  That can indeed be very hard to grasp, particularly where we have been subject to the imperfections or even sin of human motives.  What has helped me is to have my own children and be able to closely examine my own motives and behaviors… and then out of my imperfection to begin to imagine what God’s perfect motives might look like.

So, it’s a difficult parallel to draw; and yet, this scripture declares God as trustworthy and invites us not only to accept, but seek out this discipline.  Let me point us in a little bit different direction that might help this be more understandable. 

With What Goal?

The Olympics are going on right now and offer a moving example of the benefits and rigors of discipline.  One could substitute the Olympian’s coaches for the father-figure in this text and still be very close to the meaning.  And, for many of us who struggle to get past the father metaphor, the coach metaphor may open this up a little more.

I daresay there is no Olympic athlete who has not felt the pain, faintness, scourge, and challenges described in these verses.  Was it to punish their bodies?  Well, we might use such language to describe how hard they train, but the point of all the hard work was not punishment, but building up.  The point was not to diminish them as athletes, but to make them better athletes.  If they had rejected coaching or training, they would not have become great athletes.  But by accepting the discipline and the coaching, they grew in physical (and other) excellence.  That is a good picture of what is being described here.

It’s clear enough what an Olympian’s goal is, but what is the goal for godly discipline?  The goal is described several different ways in these verses.  One goal is LIFE (v. 9); this is the life God envisions for us.  To yield to sin and to not trust God is not living (though it may seem like it!).  God’s intent for us is to resist sin, accept His teaching, and follow Christ – that is life!

A second goal of discipline is in verse 10 – our own good and sharing in God’s holiness.  Another way to say this is that we were created in God’s image and God’s intent for us is to live in His image, in His holiness.  This is what it means to be part of God’s family.

And verse 11 sums up the goal with the trait we are focused on today.  The result of all this discipline and training is “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” – right behavior or moral excellence.  Again, to be clear, our good deeds are not what make us Christian, but are the result of trusting and following Jesus Christ. 

Knowing, Trusting, Following (2 Peter 1)

Finally, let me return to the verses in 2 Peter from our call to worship.  Because God has given those who know Christ everything needed for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), we are then instructed to apply all diligence (think of the discipline and training in the Hebrews verses) and in faith supply moral excellence.  That is, with trust in God to teach and train us diligently, we will grow in right behavior.

Each of the spiritual fruit that follow also come out of that combination of trusting God to train us diligently.  And so right behavior will join knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love to show us useful and fruitful in the knowledge of Christ.

What is needed? … personal, significant knowledge of Jesus Christ; trust in God’s goodness; willingness to let God grow you up in faith and discipline.  The result may not look like an Olympic gold medal, but will in fact point people to something more valuable than gold, the saving love of God in Jesus Christ.  Amen.