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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Leaving Our Fingerprints (Matthew 5.13-16, 1 Peter 2.11-12)

Sermon by: Linda McMillan Bowman; July 29, 2018 - Matthew 5:13-16; 1 Peter 2:11-12

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 



::: Music ::
Come, Christians, Join to Sing
O Word of God Incarnate
Let Your Heart by Broken

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.


Ready…Set…..Go

Earlier this week I was at Bald Head Island with my kids and grandkids. Really tests your love of family when trapped in beach house with 10 grandchildren, ages 1 to 7, and it rains for three days and three nights.

God bless those little boogers. They can demolish a house in no time at all. There were cookies tucked between sofa cushions, partially deflated balloons hanging from lamp shades, half empty baby bottles poking out from under beds and sticky fingerprints all over every-thing!

And there I was grumping around- picking up this, putting away that, hollering “shut the door, were you raised in a barn?” yet all the while, smiling discreetly- thanking God for those precious little babies. For in addition to leaving sticky fingerprints on the doors and windows and walls, those adorable little monsters were leaving fingerprints on my heart.

Speaking of fingerprints, a 19th century statesman for world peace named Eli-hu Buritt once said this:

“We are each forming characters for eternity. No human being can come into this world without increasing or diminishing the sum total of human happiness, not only of the present but of every subsequent age of humanity.”

What Mr Burritt meant was that all of us are leaving fingerprints not on just walls and windows and doors, but on people we come in contact with through our words and our actions.

Question is: What kind of fingerprints are we laying down? What is the message we are sending? To our children? To the person at the office? At the gym? In the classroom? To that random person at the stoplight or in the Target?

You might remember a FB post several months back. In it, a New York woman can be seen and heard threatening a Delta FA. Moved/crying baby. Threaten FA job/curses Her fingerprints? The message she was sending? U-Galy and it went viral……..1.8 m people.

Unfortunately negative messages make far better news stories and leave bigger fingerprints than acts of goodness and kindness. And thanks to social media, these messages can go viral in seconds. We’ve got to realize our actions and our words have a powerful impact on people. Elihu Buritt had no idea just how right he was; we are indeed forming characters for an eternity.

In our passage from I Peter, the author, the disciple Peter himself is talking to those on the inside, the devoted church goers, similar to us, and he is reminding them to “live an exemplary life among the NATIVES.”

Live an exemplary life among the NATIVES.

I don't know about you but calling people who are outside the church “Natives” sounds dangerous to me. Might have been different in Peter’s day but in this day and age, we should be very careful about how we use language to type people into categories.

Other translations for this word natives

unsaved neighbors

pagans (yicks) try calling your neighbor who doesn’t believe a pagan and see if you get invited for 4th of July picnic.

People who don’t believe

Let's settle on “Live an exemplary life among the people who don’t believe.” But as you heard read earlier Peter didn’t end there. He went on to say “so that your actions will refute their prejudices.”

Refute their prejudices? Why would we, the church of Jesus Christ have to refute or prove wrong THEIR prejudices? Where did they, the natives, the folks that don’t believe, get these prejudices in the first place?

Well…………

1. Some of their prejudices against Christianity are just unfounded. Plain and simple, wrong Another sermon for another day

2. Some of it is uneducated. A lack of knowledge that a little bit of education will clear up. When you grow up outside the church, you don’t have the opportunity to learn about Jesus and the Bible.

3. What I want to talk about today But guess what?? Some their prejudices we gave them

TRUE STORY

A young mom who home-schooled her kids tells the story of getting involved with other moms who also home-schooled their kids. Moms had a lot of similarities as moms do with one major exception: This mom was a non-believer.

As the relationships progressed the non-Christian mom felt pressured by the other moms to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior and join their church.

And when she said thanks but no thanks, the other moms stopped calling and she was left to explain to her sad children why their new friends wouldn’t be playing with them any more.

Final straw was when her 6 yr old son came home crying because the boys down the street said they couldn’t play with him anymore because he wasn’t a Christian.

She went down to see what was going on. She confirmed that what her son had reported was indeed what the kids had said. And if that wasn’t hurtful enough, the 6-yr-old girl across the street told her kids that if they weren’t Christians, they were going to hell.

Forming characters for eternity? Leaving fingerprints on people? Influencing people for a lifetime? Maybe just maybe the church has been going about this ALL the wrong way.

Our text says Live a life so that YOUR ACTIONS…….

Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me. REALLY????? Who said that? Words can kill!!!

Very few of us have the spiritual gift of evangelism or prophecy. Gift of speaking about our faith. Difficult task and few could do it as eloquently and lovingly like the Reverend Billy Graham or Robert A.

So maybe its time to stop quoting the Bible and start living the Bible? Maybe its time for the church to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk?

Listen to these words from Jesus, recorded in Matthew Chapter 5 verses 13-16. I'm reading from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message:

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you lightbearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

In this passage, Jesus is speaking to His disciples, his “people”. And just as this charge was from Jesus to a handful of his most trusted disciples, I feel certain Jesus means this charge for his church in 2018.

If we look at the original Greek, we can hear Jesus literally say “you are salt, you are light.” He wasn’t suggesting to his disciples (or to us) that they might one day mature into salt or light. He wasn’t imploring them to please work harder and try to be salt or try to be light.

He was using an emphatic pronoun. You, my most trusted disciples, those of you that I hand picked, YOU are the only shot we have at being salt and light. You are it. If nobody else steps up to the plate, we are done, cooked FINISHED!

You and I, individually and collectively are the best shot, the last shot at influencing this world, this dark and corrosive world, and Jesus is using salt and light to get our attention.

Think for a minute with me how salt and light work. They are different but really quite similar: Salt, a seasoning agent, in order to be effective, must come in contact with the substance it is affecting right? Yet, even then, it is still distinct from that substance.

Light, in order to dispel darkness, must shine into the darkness yet it is still distinct from the darkness right?

Both salt and light have a powerful influence over their environment because they are radically different from their environment. Yet they influence their environment not by ACTIVELY working on it/ by changing it but just by BEING. By being present.

Could it be that the way to SHARE the gospel is not to tell people preach to people or come up with this program or that ministry But simply to just be salt and light. To stop doing and start being. Being the body of Christ. Being Jesus with skin on.

Story goes a little girl was frightened by a storm as she lay in her bed one night. She called to her dad asking him to come in and stay with her. He stayed for some minutes and then left. A few minutes later she called out again. He told her not to worry; Jesus was with her. Thats when she said, “I know Jesus is with me, but I need someone with skin on him!”

 Jesus does have skin on. REMEMBER? We are his body. The church is the body and he has left us here to be salt and light to a world that is very corrupt and very very very dark.

Matthew 18.12 we hear Jesus tell the parable of the lost sheep. If the shepherd has 100 sheep and one of them wanders away, he leaves the 99 and searches for the one until he finds him or her.

We know the Shepherd is Jesus and we know the lost sheep is that one person who has lost his or her way. At sometime in each of your lives, you too were lost. Lost and alone. And Jesus, the GREAT SHEPHERD, left the 99 and came looking for you! And for when he found you, he put you in this fold, in this flock. What a blessing.

What if ONE Christian had come alongside of Nicholas Cruz, the 19 year old who murdered 17 and wounded more than 2 dozen in Parkland Florida high school? Just one Christian; not with a Bible and a youth program or ministry for young adults but with a hug and a shoulder and a listening ear? What if?

What if just ONE light had shone in the darkness of the heart of Stephen Paddock before he blew out the window in the Las Vegas hotel, ultimately killing 58 and injuring 851 men women and children? Just one Christian; not with a sermon or a covered dish or Bible study just a friend to download his problems? What if?

What if the salt of ONE Christian could impact the life of Jen a middle age mom and grandma who lives under an abandoned tractor trailer because her family threw her out because she is addicted to heroin? Just ONE Christian come alongside her and be Jesus with skin on?

If Jesus Christ can leave the 99 for just one, shouldn’t we? Amen.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Our Words and Thoughts (Psalm 19.11-14)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; July 15, 2018 - Psalm 19:1-10

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 



::: Music ::
When Morning Gilds the Skies (arr. Austell)
My Lighthouse (Rend Collective)
May the Words of My Mouth (Ellie Holcomb) - Bess McLawhorn, vocalist
I See the Lord (Falson)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Last week we looked at the first part of Psalm 19, which declared that the heavens and all creation are “pouring forth speech” that God IS and God is glorious – powerful, big, creative, amazing! We also looked at the middle part of the Psalm, which overflowed with love and gratitude for God’s Word – His Law and Commandments written in scripture. God has shown us who He is and what He wants! So with the broad message of creation and the specific message of scripture, we come to the final part of Psalm 19, which describes what is left: how we respond to that amazing, enormous, and yet intensely personal message from God to humanity.

We are going to look at three aspects of responding to God’s revealing of Himself: OBEDIENCE, REPENTANCE, and WORSHIP.

Obedience (v.11)

With verse 11, we are put on notice that God has not been silent: “By them [God’s Words] Your servant is warned.” If Romans 1 declared that God’s general revelation in creation leaves humanity “without excuse” then God’s specific commandments leave us all the more responsible. God has told us who He is and what He wants. The Psalmist says that we should not ignore that!

But the warning also comes with a hopeful promise and invitation. Continuing in v.11, “In keeping them there is great reward.” The word ‘them’ refers to the Commandments and words of God that have just been so eloquently described in the preceding verses. God’s Laws are not to shut us down or rob us of joy or imprison us. They are for freedom and blessing and flourishing. I have talked many times about how the right kinds of rules and boundaries protect us and bless us. Think of speed limits… we don’t have them because lawmakers want us to have no fun; we have them to reduce accidents and deaths on the road. It’s hard to really believe that when you are 17 and feeling the power of a car engine beneath your feet, but it is nonetheless true. Likewise, God’s Word to us is for our good; actually, for our best!

So the Psalmist begins this third section holding out the goodness and blessing of obedience, of faithful response to God’s showing us who He is and what He wants.

Repentance (vv.12-13)

In verses 12-13 we read about the process of turning around. That’s what repentance is… turning around from whatever keeps us from looking or listening to God and turning TOWARD looking, listening to, and serving God. I gave an example last week that it could be as simple as laying my phone down to pay attention to what God is doing around me or in the people around me. Or it can be as difficult and deep as seeking to relinquish a habit or addition or sinful pattern to God’s help and healing. Let’s look at some of the language the Psalmist puts around repentance.

“Who can discern his errors?” (v.12)
– Repentance involves an honest look at ourselves to discern the ways we sin and are turned away from God. And indeed it is only with God’s help and the light of His Word that we can do so. But that is the first step in turning from sin toward God. We have to examine ourselves and consider our transgressions and rebellion against God.

“Acquit me of hidden faults.” (v.12)
– Repentance involves trusting in and throwing ourselves on the mercy of God. We can’t earn or prove our way into God’s good pleasure. Rather, we turn toward God in order to cry, “Help me, Lord, a sinner. Have mercy on me!”

“Keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins.” (v.13)
– Repentance also involves continued obedience, not turning and returning to old patterns. And for this too, perhaps especially for this, we need God’s help. So the Psalmist appeals, “Keep me back… restrain me!”

“Let them not rule over me.” (v.13)
– Likewise, repentance involves submitting to God’s rule and reign in our lives, not that of false gods, idols, or sinful patterns. The Psalmist is still appealing for God’s help with this process of turning and submission: “Let these sins not rule over me.” Rather, our repentance and turning is a cry to God for Him to rule over and in us.

Finally, at the end of verse 13 we read that the result of repentance, which is God’s work and part of the “great reward” of turning and obedience is that God will forgive and make us clean. We will be “blameless… and acquitted of great transgression.” While there was a system for forgiving sin and granting temporary righteousness in the Jewish Law, true and lasting forgiveness, mercy, and righteousness would come through Jesus Christ.

Worship (v.14)

The Psalm ends with a verse that the pastor I grew up with used to pray before every sermon: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” (v.14) This prayer is a beautiful description of worship. It describes a repentant will, turned from sin and turned toward God. It describes an obedient spirit, desiring to follow God’s commands in scripture. And it is framed in terms of worship – not specifically what we do for an hour on Sunday mornings, but a life offered and rendered to God for his pleasure. It is a desire that God find my words, thoughts, and deeds “acceptable” because they are faithful and obedient.

What we do in here is also worship. But it’s just the beginning. We practice listening and responding, repenting and obeying, so that when we walk out the door we are primed to continue worshiping in thought, word, and deed. In fact, you could take your bulletin with you as a good template for each day. Pull it out and let’s look at it together.

We start with gathering around God’s Word
– As you rise, invite and welcome God intentionally into the events of the day. Picture you and the Lord gathering together as you don’t just invite God to participate in what you are doing, but you look for ways to participate in what God is doing. Look for opportunities to “pass the peace” those you encounter – not literally with “the Lord be with you” but by extending the compassion of God in your interactions.

We hear the Word – Find some time to read God’s Word and listen to God. It may be working your way through a chapter or two of the Bible or using a devotional to help guide you, but soaking in God’s Word regularly is essential to spiritual health.

We respond to the Word – Whether you offer a prayer of confession or an action, let your day be lived in response to the Word that you read or heard. Just as we set aside time for an offering, look for opportunities to offer yourself to God throughout the day. Even as we sing a Doxology – a song of praise – look for ways to love, thank, and praise God throughout the day. Pray, whether it be thanks, petition, or intercession. Do it often. It doesn’t have to be fancy or formal; it’s conversation with God.

We bear the Word into the World – Remind yourself before you get out from under the covers and as you head out of the house that God is sending you out into your day with His presence and purpose.

You don’t have to get all the way to that tomorrow, but consider what it means for our days to be acts of worship and service to God. The bulletin is just a tool; you may find a better one. The point is not that tool, but what Psalm 19 is all about. God has declared in creation and in word who He is and what He wants. And humanity must respond in one way or another. May God’s revelation of Himself lead you to turn toward Him again and again in obedience, repentance, and worship. Amen!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

God's Words and Thoughts (Psalm 19.1-10)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; July 15, 2018 - Psalm 19:1-10

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 



::: Music ::
God of Wonders (Byrd, Hidalong)
Every Promise of Your Word (Getty, Townend)
I Sing the Mighty Power of God (ELLACOMBE)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Have you ever looked at a sunset, with the deep reds and oranges extending through layers and layers of clouds and thought, “What artistry!” Or my other favorite – looked at the rolling ranges of the Blue Ridge mountains cascading one after another into the hazy distance and thought, “How majestic!” When I see such breath-taking beauty in creation I can’t help but think of God and be awed by the world around us.

That is the thought captured in Psalm 19: “The heavens are telling of the glory of God… declaring the work of His hands.” That Psalm continues with vivid metaphors to explore the ways in which God’s creation glorifies its Maker. Then, in what may be a surprising turn for us as modern readers, the Psalm turns to the beauty and perfection of God’s Law… another life-giving and God-glorifying product of God’s person and power. Today we will look at these two gifts of God – creation and commandments – and then see how Jesus connects and embodies these two gifts.

Creation (Psalm 19:1-6)

Psalm 19 declares that the heavens “speak” – they tell of the glory of God and declare the work of God’s hands. (v. 1) This kicks off a string of metaphors where the passing of days and nights also “pour forth speech” and “reveal knowledge.” (v. 2) What is this message? What is this knowledge? It is that GOD IS CREATOR and GOD IS GLORIOUS. And yet, these are not actual words and speech, and too many miss the majesty and glory of God all around us in Creation. Creation’s “voice is not heard.” (v. 3) Though the rising of the sun is like a groom coming out of his chamber to see the bride or an athlete racing to the finish line (v. 5), we sometimes still miss out on the message: GOD IS GREAT AND GLORIOUS!

Why do we miss it? Like any other thing going on around us, we can be distracted or lose focus. The Psalmist used very vivid imagery… who can imagine missing the groom or bride entering the marriage service or the athlete winning the big game or race? But I’ve seen folks lost in their text messages or conversations missing really significant things going on around them. I’ve been that person myself. Mission trips like the one I just returned from often serve to reset my focus; serving others can do the same even without leaving home. Or we focus on other priorities… or our self. But the Psalmist’s point is that this is not to be missed! Folks often complain that God is invisible and quiet, but the point the Psalmist is making is that God is showing Himself all around us all the time!

Listen to how it is put in Romans 1:19a-20b:

…that which is known about God is evident… for God made it evident. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that [humanity is] without excuse.

That is what theologians call God’s “general revelation” – it may not contain the specifics of salvation or forgiveness from sin, but it does proclaim – even “shout” – in its own way that THERE IS A GOD! And the reach of this general message is far further than the written word. It stretches and reaches “to the end of the world.” Bible translators are still laboring to get scripture translated into every tongue, but the sun rises and sets, the starry expanse displays to peoples in every distant part of the globe. The Psalmist uses these images and metaphors as if to ask, “How can you miss it?” Isn’t it evident all around you?

Commandments (Psalm 19:7-11)

From there Psalm 19 shifts to talking about the “Law of the Lord.” This is not as abrupt a change as it might seem at first. The Psalm had been using communication metaphors like “speaking” and “telling” – how natural to shift into actual words given by God to reveal His purpose and will.  And after saying that some people do not “hear” the proclamation of Creation, it makes sense to make the point that God has ALSO revealed Himself through the literal spoken and written word. This is what theologians call “special revelation”: God’s written and revealed word, finding it’s complete expression in the teaching and person of Jesus Christ.

For the modern reader, what may be more surprising than the shift from Creation to Commandment is the affection and imagery with which the Psalmist talks about the Law of the Lord. There are six pairs of sayings  (remember the love of Hebrew poets for repetition?!) that line up with a description of the Law and its effect or blessing in our lives:

The Law of the Lord is perfect… restoring the soul.
The testimony of the Lord is sure… making wise the simple. (v. 7)
The precepts of the Lord are right… rejoicing the heart.
The commandment of the Lord is pure… enlightening the eyes. (v. 8)
The fear of the Lord is clean… enduring forever.
The judgments of the Lord are true… they are righteous altogether. (v. 9)


Then, after that, a startling claim about what can seem to us a dry, boring subject: [God’s Law/Commandments] are “more desirable than gold… sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honey comb.” (v. 10) I remember tasting honey from the honeycomb from my aunts beehives as a child. There is nothing more sweet and natural than honey. And this is comparing that to God’s Law? To Leviticus and the Ten Commandments and all the rest? Really?!

Let me talk for a moment about God’s Law or Commandments. In Hebrew scripture – in our Old Testament – the Law served three main purposes. Some of it was civil law, instructing Israel how to govern itself as a nation. An example of that is Exodus 21:33-34 – “If a man opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it over, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restitution; he shall give money to its owner, and the dead animal shall become his.” While there is an underlying principle of fairness and restitution, this “case law” was the equivalent of our traffic laws or other national laws and is not meant to be replicated in other nations. It was specific to ancient Israel.

Some of the Law or Commandments had to do with the practice of religion and was ceremonial in nature. Examples include the various feasts and sacrifices as well as the kosher food laws and laws about mixing fabrics.

And some of the Law or Commandments was moral or ethical, describing God’s intent for things like sexual purity, the value of human life, or the treatment of family or neighbors. The best known examples are the Ten Commandments.

In every instance, the follower of God in ancient Israel understood that God’s Commandments were for safety and blessing. They weren’t for salvation, but for thriving and flourishing. They were given and spoken out of God’s love for His people, much like parents make rules for their children’s health and safety.

When God Speaks…

If you haven’t heard anything else, hear this: God speaks! God shows Himself! That is the claim of the first part of this Psalm.

I remember a tv commercial from when I was young. It was for E.F. Hutton, which (I think) was a financial advising company back in the 80s. The commercials showed some crowded, loud room full of people and one person is asked about their finances. The person begins to respond, “My broker is E.F. Hutton….” As soon as that name is spoken, everyone in the room becomes immediately silent and listens in on what is about to be said.

That’s the kind of set up this Psalm gives. If the powerful and glorious God who made the world shows Himself and the compassionate and just God has spoken, how should we respond? Certainly we should pay attention! Certainly we should look and listen! What distraction or focus could be more important?

Another way of describing that attention and focus to God is as REPENTANCE, WORSHIP, and OBEDIENCE. Repentance is turning away from whatever else is capturing our attention and allegiance and turning toward God. Worship is offering our complete loyalty, devotion, and focus to God and what God says. And obedience is acting on what we see and hear from God.

I want to hit the pause button there and my challenge to you for this week will simply be to look and listen for God. This Psalm claims that God is showing Himself and speaking all around you all the time. God’s creation and God’s commandments are available to you. God is acting still in the world today. What do you see? What do you hear?

Next week we will finish the Psalm and see how the Psalmist (as human) responds to God. And we will take up that threefold response of repentance, worship, and obedience as our response to a living and holy God. Amen.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Light of the World (Philippians 2.12-18)

Sermon by: Bess McLawhorn; July 8, 2018 - Philippians 2:12-18

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 



::: Music ::
He Leadeth Me
O Church Arise/Arise, Shine (Tomlin; Getty/Townend)
Lord, Reign in Me (Brenton Brown)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::

This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

One of my favorite writers is a man named Bob Goff. Bob has written two books about his wild adventures that he has encountered while following Jesus. He is a crazy dad, ambitious neighbor, a member of the honorary consul for the Republic of Uganda and calls himself a “recovering lawyer”. Each chapter of his book tells a story, big or small, of experiences in his life that he relates to stories of Jesus.

What I love, and what I think captures readers so well, is that Bob is eager to seek out love in unexpected places. These unexpected places, people, and events bring out the romantic whimsy of Christianity. One chapter he drops out of high school for 3 days to pursue his dream of being a park ranger and a bit later he travels across the world with his kids to meet foreign diplomats and show them neighborly love.

The book is titled “Love Does”, which I love because it encapsulates him so well. He writes “…Love is never stationary. In the end, love doesn’t just keep thinking about it or keep planning for it. Simply put: Love Does”. It takes our notion of Love being a feeling that happens and puts it into action (something that does).  It changes our perspective of how love works in our lives.

This is part Paul’s message in Philippians 2:12-18, the passage that follows Eric’s from last week. Our faith is not something we can just think about or plan, but something that happens in action.

To review a little bit of context, Paul is writing his letter to the Christian community in Philippi. Before Jesus’ time, Philippi was a very strong, significant city- both politically and militarily. It was a part of the Roman Empire at the time, and was known as “the urban center of the east”. After Jesus’ death, the church in Philippi was the first church Paul founded in Europe (around 50 AD). So, we can see the importance of this church and the city’s history.

Paul is writing this letter to the Philippians, as he awaits trial in jail. As we heard earlier, Paul is encouraging the members of the Church to continue to pursue an active faith. He also highlights God’s hands at work in our will along with the intent of our actions- to do things without grumbling or disputing.

As we learned last week, Paul loved this church, and they loved Paul. They had a great relationship from the establishment of the church and Paul’s mentorship. Part of the letter’s intent was to update the Philippians on how he, Paul, was doing. Understandably, the Philippians were concerned both for Paul, and what the results of his trial would mean for the future of the Christian faith.

Thus, the letter serves to as an update, and primarily to encourage the Christians of Philippi regardless the outcome of the trial/ Paul’s fate.

Live Out Active Faith

Paul’s central message, his directive, in his letter is telling the Philippians to continue to pursue their faith in action. He mentions two key verbs in the passage: work out your salvation in verse 12 and do all things without grumbling or disputing in verse 14.

It’s easier to understand how to do all things without grumbling or disputing, however “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” seems daunting. It seems daunting because I don’t think of Christians as people who tremble in fear of their salvation. When I think of salvation, I think of God’s grace and our abounding thankfulness for it

First, here working out your salvation means live out or carry out your salvation. Thus, it is not up to us to figure out our salvation, but rather to put work into it.

And when we put effort in our faith, we work with genuine intent and severity. We are serious about pursuing our faith. This is what Paul means when he says, “fear and trembling”. It translates to us as being in awe of the faith we pursue, and the Lord who has saved us.

It’s almost like a roller coaster type of feeling. The click click click click of the cart going up the hill brings trembling and the feeling of awe, right before the big drop. With every click of the ride, the anticipation of what lies ahead builds. The ride is so full of wonder, that it’s fearful. Then you go over the top and have the immense joy of going down the hills, and the rush of wind forcefully coming at you. You don’t always know where the roller coaster will take you-- but it’s an adventure.

Unless you’ve been forcefully dragged on by your friends, it’s something you choose to do. That’s how our faith should make us feel inside. Something that we choose to do, that we don’t have complete control over.

These feelings are merely a result of doing. So, these key actions Paul writes about: working out our salvation and doing without grumbling are just that: actions. Paul is speaking to the importance of putting work into our faith. As Christians, we do not sit and wait for an act of God to happen, but rather, we are people who go out into the world to show God’s work in us.

It’s like Bob and his audacious ways of loving his neighbors. There are ways in which we demonstrate a “doing faith” every day—we go to Church, experience fellowship with one another, share our gifts with others, and more.

Encouragement

This falls in similarly with the text, because Paul is also encouraging those who are already faithful. As he says in verse 12, “just as you have always obeyed”. So, we see the importance of encouragement, even when we’re on the right track.

If you can imagine being in school again, think of going into the final exam. Even though you may have been doing well throughout the whole semester, you’ll still be nervous going into your final test. Then your teacher reminds you, “hey, you’ve been doing well this whole time, if you put work into doing well on the final, you will be successful”. Paul here is acting like the teacher, saying “you’ve done well with your faith up until now, just continue what you’re doing”. Paul mentors them, but tells them to keep going because their success isn’t dependent on him, but rather their faith.

Paul is clearly invested in this community. He has been communicating with and mentoring this church for 12 years. He says in verse 16, “holding fast the world of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain”. Don’t give up now he says. Even as I am in jail and awaiting trial and coming closer to death do. Not. Lose. hope. Continue to share your joy.

He is challenging the Philippians, and us, to continue pursuing this faith and showing it to the world.

Active Faith: How and Why

Paul follows his encouragement with directives for how and why Christians should strive for an active faith. How to move forward. As we learned earlier, an active faith is one that we pursue, but is directed by God.

And it works together like that. Us and God; it’s a partnership. We pray to God, worship him, and learn about him through scripture. Throughout our lives we go forth, and through our actions and thoughts God molds our will and our hearts for his pleasure. Paul says exactly this in his letter in verse 13, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure”. So that with each experience of our lives, we learn and move forward in his will.

It’s much like a couple dancing the waltz. God is the leader, and as the follower, I have to put in work to follow and not to step on my partner’s feet. The more practice I have following the leader and learning from my missteps, the better dancer I will be. The key aspect of this illustration is that God is such a patient teacher. He’s not expecting us to perfect the dance, for he knows that we will mess up along the way. The key is that he wants us to walk in our faith with him.

This leads us to the final point of Paul’s passage, the “why” of pursuing an active faith. The first Part of Paul’s directive to the Philippians is to be strong in faith amidst the darkness that exists on earth.

As we have learned, there was a strong military presence and cultural influence from the Roman empire in Philippi at the time. It’s something I think we can imagine with our society today- the sticky balance between religion and allegiance to the nation in which we live. For the Philippians, they were also the first church established by Paul, and were in a world that was just becoming to know the Christian faith.

Though it is slightly different from thousands of years ago, we still have that crooked darkness in our lives today. Like the Philippians we struggle with conflicting political influence. We can also get caught up in other pressures from our society like materialism, which distract us from our faith. 

On top of the challenge of maintaining faith in the darkness of the earth, Paul charges the Philippians, and us, to do so without complaining or arguing: with a servant’s heart. He says in verses 14-15: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights of in the world”.

So even when the world is discouraging or the darkness is full of criticism and distractions, you’re told to stand firm and do so with a humble heart.

And as Paul says, THAT is what makes Christians appear as lights in the world. When we stand humble, with a servant’s heart.

For a long time, I understood being a light unto the world as bright, cheery, and full of energy and encouragement to those around. If you are familiar with the “little miss sunshine” character, that’s what I imagined. I don’t think that understanding is wrong, but do think I misunderstood what Paul is really getting at in this passage. It is a humbled, righteous heart that stands out in the darkness of our world.
 
This is quite the challenge from Paul. Does he know just how difficult it is to put aside your pride, your human desire and selfish interests in today’s world? We have school, jobs, friends, and a million other things that get in the way. Of course he knows how difficult this is- that plays to his point of how outstanding it seems when you meet someone who follows Paul’s charge. They are rare, and appear as a true light in our world.

To end, I’d like to share a story that I think illustrates the light of Jesus so well. I’ve spent 11 of my summers at a sleepaway camp tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina. It’s an all-girls Christian camp where I made some of my most genuine friends and made many of my best summer memories.

One of the best kept traditions is an evening program held towards the end of each session. At dusk everyone is given a small wooden block with a candle on it. Girls walk down to the lake by cabin, with the friends they’ve made over the past 5 weeks, to light their candles together. The oldest girls stand by the lake to pass the flame to the rest of camp. After lighting their candle, each girl places it in the lake’s edge. There are about 500 campers and 150 counselors, so you can imagine how the candles start spreading across the water.

And we watch quietly. We whisper about how some candles bunch all together, while others float far away on their own. Some candles burn bright with passion and some struggle to keep their flame.

It’s an amazing tradition, which is elevated each time. There were years when storm clouds rolled in, and gusts of wind blew out many candles. There were nights when the sky was clear, and the candles would float further than we could remember. Sometimes candles would stay close to the water’s edge in small bunches.

After the program, we return to the cabins and talk about what the whole evening represents. It starts as a great image for camp, because girls go home to different cities and states, some far some close, but hold the common light of camp. We talk about how it’s also a wonderful representation of how Christians go out into the world. Sometimes we struggle against the wind to keep the flame burning. Sometimes candles blow out, and some burn the wax all the way down.

Keeping the candle’s flame is something that takes work, for it cannot be lit on its own. Just as we need God’s help to guide our faith, a candle needs the flame, the wick, and oxygen.

I’ll leave you with the lyrics of the song that we sing when lighting the candles. It’s an old song that’s been sung at camp for almost 50 years. It takes so long for everyone to light their candle, that I think we sing it about 30 times- so I could never forget the words. It goes: “It only takes a spark to get a fire going, but soon all those around can warm up in its glowing. That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it. You’ll spread his love, to everyone, you’ll want to pass it on.”

Amen.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Live Worthy Lives (Philippians 1.27-2.4)

Sermon by: Eric Vanderheide; July 1, 2018 - Philippians 1:27-2:11

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 



::: Scripture and Music ::
Great Are You, Lord (Ingram, Jordan, Leonard)
Be Thou My Vision/Open My Eyes (arr./chorus Austell/Youngblood)
Solo: Son of God, Son of Man (Bean/VanderHeide)
Spirit of the Living God (Iverson; v.2 Baughen)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

INTRODUCTION

The book of Philippians has been a favorite of mine since my early days in high school. I have long cherished the words of Philippians 2:5-11 as some of my favorite in Scripture and as good words to live by. I am thrilled and honored to be asked to preach today and to share some of my thoughts regarding these words in Philippians and those just prior to them. Before we get to that, however, I would first like to give you some background to this wonderful letter from the apostle Paul.

The Philippian church is located in the city of Philippi in Macedonia or Greece. They were an official Roman colony (due to significant historical events) and the people of Philippi were proud and devoted Roman citizens; and, as with all Romans, the emperor was viewed as a divine being and worshiped. In fact, much like we sing the national anthem before public sporting events, the citizens of Philippi would shout “Ceasar is lord and savior” before public events. This became a big cultural issue for the Philippian church since their citizenship is in heaven – as Paul states in chapter 3:20 – and they are to profess devotion to Jesus as Savior and Lord.

It’s widely accepted that the apostle Paul wrote this relatively short letter to the church in Philippi, and quite simply, he adores this church. He begins the letter thanking them and telling them how he always prays with joy for them (1:3). Paul considers them his cherished partners in ministry (1:5,7-8). Paul loves these people. He longs for them with Christ-like affection, and hopes for the day when he can be with them again (1:26).

As a teenager who struggled with anxiety, one of the things that attracted me to this book was that it contains some form of the word “joy” 16 times in these four brief chapters! I find this astounding considering the fact that Paul is in jail and awaiting trial for his faith and life in Jesus! Not only that but he continues to praise God because the gospel is continuing to flourish and Christ will be exalted whether Paul lives or dies.

And so Paul lays out four reasons he is writing his beloved church: First, he seeks to thank them for the generous gift given to him through Epaphroditus and update them on his circumstances. Second, he urges them to stand strong together through persecution and to live joyfully through all circumstances. Third, he warns them of false teachers that are popping up, not necessarily in the Philippian church, but throughout the various churches he has planted. Finally, he takes the opportunity to call on two specific people in the Philippian church to reconcile their disagreements for the sake of the gospel.

PHILIPPIANS 1:27-30

So in the first 26 verses of chapter 1, Paul has been overflowing with love and praise for the Philippian church and at the same time rejoicing that God continues to work through him to spread the good news of Jesus even among his jailers. And then he says – “Only. (vs27)” And here the apostle takes on the role of teacher and encourager for the word “only” as one commentator said, should be interpreted as a verbal warning finger lifted up to focus their attention on what he is about to say. And what he is about to say he says to us as well “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ...(vs. 27).”

Live worthy lives, friends, and do it as citizens of heaven. Paul uses a political verb to begin his lesson which could be translated as “live as citizens.” Conduct yourselves = “live as citizens” worthy of the gospel of Christ. Paul is using their pride as Roman citizens and (by extension) our pride as US citizens to remind us that our lives belong to Jesus and we are called to live lives worthy of the gospel of Christ! Essentially, Paul is telling us to live worthy lives in the United States as citizens of heaven.

In the rest of verse 27, Paul says he doesn’t know if he will ever see the Philippian church again but he wants to hear that they are living worthy lives by “standing firm in one spirit and with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” He uses a military term here “stand firm” which means to “stay at your post.” Don’t be distracted. Don’t be afraid. Don’t desert your post but stand your ground as one – and then Paul throws in an athletic term “striving together” which means “to stand side by side. So we have as one commentator said “unless you remain firm as one, side by side, the church will collectively come to ruin.” We will become distracted by the world, disillusioned by sin, and live in fear. Paul is saying that we cannot live worthy lives and fight within ourselves. We cannot live worthy lives alone. We cannot stand firm separately.

We must stand firm and strive TOGETHER. TEAMWORK. We are called to one spirit and one mind.  Unity – within the church – is the key to remaining steadfast against whatever physical, cultural, or spiritual challenges that may come our way. And I promise – they will come. We cannot live as citizens of heaven in this world alone and disconnected from each other. We cannot love our neighbors or enemies as we ought by ourselves! Are you getting the picture? Paul calls us to live worthy lives in the United States as one, side by side, as citizens of heaven.

When we do this Paul says an amazing thing will happen. When you are oppressed and stand firm together, you will find peace.  Verse 28 says we will “in no way [be] alarmed by our opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.” As the church, we are to strive together as one against the ways of this world and when we are mocked or ridiculed we are being mocked for the gospel of Christ. In the face of persecution, when we stand firm together, the church is a powerful witness to the peace of Christ. This peace is a gift from God and assures us of salvation while at the same time condemns our persecutors.

Paul speaks of this to the Philippian church because he has heard that not only are they partners together in the gospel but they are partners in suffering. In verse 29 we read “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” It seems that, like Paul, the Philippian church was suffering for the sake of the gospel. We don’t know what it was they were suffering for, but I think their status as citizens of heaven put them in direct contrast to the proud Roman colony of Philippi. The worship of Caesar and living lives worthy of the gospel of Christ were not compatible and the church was beginning to suffer for it. Paul urges them to strive together, side by side, as one in order to continue living worthy lives through persecution and spends the first four verses of chapter 2 telling them and us what it takes to live together as one.

PHILIPPIANS 2:1-4

And so Paul continues in his letter to say “Therefore, if…”I want to stop right there. The word “therefore” suggests that these next words are connected to the previous ones and they should be taken in a corporate sense. Paul is speaking to all of us as the church - not to each of us as individuals (he’ll do that later). Also, the word “if” should be thought of as meaning “since.” And so, with that in mind, I will paraphrase the verses 1-4 as follows (in the local vernacular):

“Therefore since y’all have encouragement in Christ, since y’all have comfort in Christ’s love, since y’all have the fellowship of the Spirit, and since y’all have tenderness and compassion, then make my joy for y’all as complete as it can possibly can be…” (pause) These are the things that are to define the Philippian church. As a Christian community – Good Shepherd – this is who y’all are.

Good Shepherd, and any community of Christian faith, has so many blessings. They have Christ’s love and encouragement. We have the Holy Spirit to bind us together and maintain this common love and encouragement.  The results of which are a community marked by tenderness and compassion just as Jesus our Lord was.

In vs 2 Paul continues and I paraphrase, “so bring my cup of joy for y’all to the brim by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Paul is pleading for the unity of the church – for them to be one. Now, this doesn’t mean we agree on everything, but it means that we engage in friendly and civil discourse to sharpen our thoughts and opinions for that is part of what makes life interesting. The problem is that so often our discussions together can take an ugly turn and we try to score points on the other person in our debates and insisting on our own way.

So Paul warns us and gives us the remedy in verses 3-4, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” These verses are easy to understand, but so difficult to live out. I would like to emphasize the following “…with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.”  Paul has turned a corner here and begins speaking to us as individuals. He’s telling us that in order for us to live worthy lives TOGETHER, we must, as individuals, be of humble mind and approach the other as more important. Humility, is so difficult and goes against our sinful nature; and, yet, it is the glue the Holy Spirit uses to hold the church together. We don’t know if Paul had a particular dispute in mind with the Philippians but we do know he gave similar advice to the Corinthian church.

In the Corinthian church there were members taking each other to the pagan courts to settle disputes. Addressing this issue In I Corinthians 6:7-8 we read “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.” Paul tells us that in order for unity within the church to be maintained it’s better to be wronged and cheated by another person in the church than to have unbelievers judging our issues. When we look to the public courts we are asking people with differing values to judge our disputes. Are you willing to yield to the interests of another brother or sister in the Lord? Am I willing to be cheated or wronged for the sake of the gospel of Christ?

Lisa and I have some friends back in Michigan who, a number of years ago, decided to build their dream house. It was going to be big and beautiful and in a neighborhood with even bigger homes and a golf course. They decided to use a builder who was a member of their church and, friends, it did not go well. I don’t know what all the issues were but by the end, our friends were very upset and felt cheated by this builder and fellow believer. They didn’t pursue anything in court, however, and they both still go to same church marked by Christ’s love and encouragement and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

In his book, The Message of Philippians, Alec Motyer says this: In order for the church to live a “worthy life,” it must strive together to stand firm against the forces that threaten, both from within and outside of it. In order to stand firm the church must maintain unity and that unity is dependent on each of us looking to the interests of each other above ourselves.  We must defer to one another and listen to understand. We must settle our disputes together.

The church is like a family. There will be great times and there will be difficult times. But when disputes happen Paul tells us to remember that we are marked by encouragement and love in Christ, joined together by the Holy Spirit, full of tenderness and compassion and to remember that our same love is Jesus. Our purpose is to live worthy lives for the gospel of Jesus. To be of one mind in worshipping and serving only Jesus.  Paul goes even farther and says we should   be like Jesus. We read i verses 5-11 that our attitudes towards one another, should be like Jesus’ attitude:
Who, being in very nature God,
  did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus is the ultimate example of humility. The Son of God became the Son of Man. The holy and just God of creation entered that fallen creation as a baby whose first bed was a food trough for animals. We don’t know if Paul wrote these words or if he was quoting an early Christian hymn, but he uses these words to remind us that in humility Jesus didn’t cling to his rights or interests as God but emptied himself for us and our eternal interests, and paid the price of our sin through the most horrible death known at the time; and, therefore, GOD exalted him. Jesus was humble and he allowed God the Father to do the exalting so that one day, either willingly or unwillingly everyone will be humbled before Jesus and confess that He is LORD -to the glory of God the Father. Humility is the glue the Spirit uses to hold the church together; and, each of us as members of the church, are called to emulate our Savior in this way. We remain humble – to the glory of God – and let God do the exalting. Let God do it. Remain humble. God exalts.

APPLICATION

Friends, that’s a tall order. In fact, it sounds impossible. And it is – except by the power of the Holy Spirit. [say it again] Apart from the Holy Spirit, humans yielding their interests to other people’s interests can’t happen. Unity among so many different minds and cultures and generations doesn’t happen in our own wisdom or ways of doing things. So what are we to do? Where do we begin? I would like to suggest things we can do individually and things we should do corporately – together – in order to strengthen our own church community so as one we can strive together for the sake of the gospel. Let’s call it “building our love muscles.”

First, as individuals, we must continue getting to know Jesus. He is our prime example of the humble life. We find his words to us in Scripture, and so we must continue getting to know, understand, and live out those words. Personal devotions and Bible studies are wonderful ways the Holy Spirit uses to develop this relationship. So, continue developing your relationship with Jesus.

Second, we need to pray for one another. During our devotions and as we live our days (exercising or shopping, etc) we need to be lifting one another up in prayer. For the person who is ill or recovering from surgery and even the person at church who simply irritates us. I want to suggest that praying for the irritating person to change their ways may not be the most humble of prayers. Perhaps a more Christ-like way of praying would be to ask the Lord’s help in viewing that person as one created in God’s image and is claimed by God as his child.  We need to pray that the Holy Spirit will change our own hearts toward the people who irritate us.

We need to develop our relationship with Jesus, we need to pray for one another; and, third, we need to both admit our mistakes with one another, and forgive the person or people who’ve hurt us. I learned very early as a parent that I was going to make many mistakes. As a result, I have tried (and the Lord knows I haven’t always done this) to go to my kids and admit to them when I’ve made a mistake and seek their forgiveness. I think that’s healthy and necessary for relationships to grow; and, on the flipside of this, we need to forgive each other even if forgiveness has not been sought out. Romans 5:8 says that “…while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Jesus didn’t sit on his heavenly throne waiting for us to turn from our rebellion. No. He gave up the throne, for a period, and ran to us so we could see grace in action and respond to that grace.

Those are some things we can do individually. Now, what can we do TOGETHER that will enable us to strive as one and build our “love muscles?” I think the book of Acts has some wonderful insight about this. In Acts: 1:14 we find the disciples gathered together in Jerusalem. Jesus had just ascended into heaven and told them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the power of the Holy Spirit.  We are told that “…These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer…” The New Living Translation says “They all met together and were constantly united in prayer…”

Did you hear the words that echo our Philippians passage today? The disciples gathered together and were of one mind. They were united (of one mind) in prayer. I don’t think the disciples really had a clue as to what was going to happen and what it is was they were waiting for. I think they were scared to be sitting in a room in the city where Jesus was crucified not knowing if the authorities would be going after them next. But…they obeyed and were constantly united in prayer.

Friends, are we as a church, constantly united in prayer? Are we united in praying for the Holy Spirit to change in us so that we are able to heed the commands of our Savior to love our neighbors and baptize new believers? Are we, together, praying for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon us and lead us? My thought is “no, not so much.” After all we’re Presbyterians. That’s something the Pentecostals do, right? WRONG! It’s something the Church does!

If the Church is the Body of Christ it seems that in order to be united in prayer we ALL have to pray together. It seems unwise that the foot is praying separately from the hands and the ears. If we are not united in prayer as one with the same vision/mission for our church, it seems like a crazy game of Twister develops. The feet go one way while the arms go another way and the right and left arm may not always agree either. Things don’t end up so well in this scenario because, eventually, you get tied up in knots, you look silly, you look for the prime spots for yourself, and then…you fall. Friends, I wonder. Are we really united in prayer?

The very beginnings of the Church devoted themselves to prayer in the same way Jesus was constantly united in prayer with the Father and the Spirit throughout his ministry. Ought not we to do the same? I can’t explain exactly what happens when we pray except to say that something powerful happens when God’s people are of one mind and spirit in prayer.

Dr. J. Edwin Orr was a scholar who researched the different spiritual revivals that have occurred throughout church history. In a speech to the first National Prayer Conference in Dallas in 1976, he opened with the following statement:
Dr A. T. Pierson once said, ‘There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.’ Let me recount what God has done through concerted, united, sustained prayer.
 
Not many people realize that in the wake of the American Revolution (following 1776-1781) there was a moral slump. Drunkenness became epidemic. Out of a population of five million, 300,000 were confirmed drunkards; they were burying fifteen thousand of them each year. Profanity was of the most shocking kind. For the first time in the history of the American settlement, women were afraid to go out at night for fear of assault. Bank robberies were a daily occurrence.

Dr. Orr went on to describe how membership in the churches was dwindling. New believers were rare. All denominations were declining. Private colleges such as Harvard and Princeton had few to any students who were believers and acts against Christianity on these campuses were common – student riots, the burning down of Nassau Hall at Princeton, students took a Bible from a Presbyterian church and burned it publicly. In fact, in the 1790’s the few college students who were Christians met in secret and kept their meeting minutes in code so no one would know.

How did this turn around? Dr. Orr explains that it was a concert of prayer that started in Scotland through Presbyterian minister John Erskine. He wrote a small book entitled Memorial pleading with the people of Scotland and elsewhere to pray for revival. Erskine sent the book to Jonathon Edwards in New England and, realizing their desperate situation, churches across the oceans met on the first Monday of the month praying to God for revival. The result is the Second Great Awakening. Out of this movement, says Dr. Orr, came the following: the abolition of slavery, popular education, Bible Societies, Sunday Schools, and many social benefits accompanying the evangelistic drive.

Acts 2:41 we read, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Acts 2:44 says, “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common…” They were unified! It seems that Godly instruction from the apostles, fellowship together, breaking bread together, and prayer all went a long way to unifying the early church. The Holy Spirit showed up in a powerful way as thousands were added to their numbers.

Friends, to strengthen our “love muscles” we must take the time to exercise them. We need to pray together; and, it has become clear to me these past 6 weeks as I’ve thought and prayed over this message that making time to be together is also important. I think of Wednesday evening “sacred dinners” that we host at the beginning of the month. What a wonderful opportunity to break bread together, listen to one another, and pray for each other. In choir we not only rehearse together but we pray together and lift each other up in prayer and encouragement. On game nights we laugh together and have fun together. In Bible studies we learn together and pray together. At Bonclarken we do all of this – and spend time in God’s glorious creation as a bonus! Mission trips allow us to serve together and live together (briefly for which we can give thanks!). Friends, are we strengthening our “love muscles?” Are we doing these things with humility?

Why? Why is this necessary? Why must we do more together? Let’s go back to Philippians 1:27-30.

“Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that…I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel… 29 For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.”

Paul echoed what Jesus taught. We will experience trials, difficulties, and perhaps persecution for the sake of Christ. We will need to be united in heart and united in purpose. We will need the Holy Spirit’s power to continually re-direct us to Jesus and his humble life. And so, TOGETHER, we must strive to make Jesus Christ our focus so when we encounter seasons of suffering, TOGETHER, we look to the humble Christ on the cross. At other times, in times of celebration and rejoicing, we remember – TOGETHER – that our exalted Christ reigns supreme. In any and all circumstances we remain like-minded: that Jesus is the source of our strength, Jesus is our source of love, He is our source of compassion, and our Lord is the greatest example of a life lived in humility.

Jesus must be and remain our vision. When you think you cannot forgive again – remember Jesus. When you think you cannot go through one more round of chemotherapy – remember Jesus. When you are wronged by another church member – remember Jesus. When you think you cannot be around “so and so” anymore – remember Jesus. When you are teased or mocked due to your faith – remember Jesus. Our Lord emptied himself of divine glory to walk this earth, to face temptation, to suffer scorn and ridicule and die – all to demonstrate God’s love for us – even though we didn’t deserve it. Through all circumstances, with eyes on Jesus and standing firm together as the church, constantly united in prayer, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can and will be a powerful witness to the life-changing power of Jesus – to the glory of God. Friends, this is a life worthy of the gospel of Christ. So let it be in us. Amen.