Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Coasting through life content in a comfortable lifestyle...


This week we are looking at an event from history that is recorded for us in a letter in the New Testament of the Bible called the book of Acts. In Acts 16:16, Luke, who is the author of the book of Acts, was accompanying the Apostle Paul, Silas, and Timothy on what would become known as the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey.

Upon arriving in the city of Philippi as Paul and his traveling companions were traveling to the place of prayer to engage the Jewish residents of the city with the claims of Christ and the message of the gospel, they were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination. This was a girl who was a slave and who was possessed by a demon.

As a result of being possessed by a demon, she was empowered by the demon to predict and proclaim the futures of people. Upon crossing paths with this demon possessed slave girl and her masters, the slave girl cried out with a loud voice "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation."

Day after day, as Paul and his companions made their trip from the city of Philippi to the place of prayer and back, this demon possessed girl and her masters would publicly proclaim this message while following closely behind them. After putting up with her presence and proclamation for several days, Paul, annoyed with the situation, confronted the demon who had possessed this girl and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, rid the girl of the demon.

However, while the girl was now freed from the enslavement of a demon, she was not freed from the enslavement of her earthly masters. And Paul’s intervention on her behalf was not appreciated by the girl’s masters, as we see in Acts 16:19-24:

 But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, 20 and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, "These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, 21 and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans." 22 The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. 23 When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; 24 and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

Upon recognizing that they would no longer be able to exploit the slave girl for a profit, her masters responded by grabbing Paul and Silas and dragging them into the marketplace. In the Greco-Roman culture of the 1st century, the marketplace was the center of civic life and also served as the place where civil and legal cases would be heard before a local magistrate, or judge. Luke tells us that Paul and Silas were accused before the magistrate of disturbing the peace and order of the Roman civil and religious practices by advocating and promoting that the residents of the city become Jewish.

You see, while the Roman Empire allowed people to practice their own religions, to attempt to evangelize and convert Romans citizens to another religion was strongly discouraged and was, in some cases, illegal. Since there were very few ethnic or religious Jews in Philippi, the men who accused Paul and Silas had very little knowledge of Jewish religious practices and simply assumed that since they were Jewish, they were promoting Judaism.

Evidently, there was an undercurrent of anti-Jewish sentiment evident in Philippi. This was demonstrated not only with the charges that Paul and Silas were accused of; this was also demonstrated that Luke and Timothy, who were with Paul and Silas but were not Jewish, were not arrested. As a result of the accusations and the anti-Jewish sentiment in Philippi, Luke tells us that the magistrates pronounced a judgment where they were handed over to the local jailer to be incarcerated for an unspecified period of time.

Now in the culture of the 1st century, the jailer most likely was a retired Roman soldier. During this time in history, and especially in Philippi, Roman soldiers were respected and looked up to. And as a retired Roman soldier who was now serving as a jailer, life would have been easy and life would have been good. A retired Roman soldier who was a jailer would have a great deal of authority and a great deal of freedom when it came to how he treated and handled the prisoners. As a result, jailers were often treated prisoners harshly.

A retired Roman soldier who was a jailer would receive good pay and would have a comfortable life that did not need much of anything. After all, if you were a jailer, you only have one job, which is to keep the prisoners from escaping. After being ordered by the magistrate to guard Paul and Silas securely, Luke tells us that the jailer placed Paul and Silas in the inner prison, which was most likely the most secure cell that was located in the center of the prison.  And to make sure that Paul and Silas had no chance to escape, the jailer placed both men in stocks.

Now stocks were used for low-status prisoners not only to secure them but also for punishment and torture. You see, the stocks could be positioned in such a way that a person’s legs would be locked into various painful positions. The jailer, having done his job by locking Paul and Silas in stocks after placing them in a secure cell in the center of the prison could relax. For the jailer, life was easy. For the jailer, life was comfortable. For the jailer life was comfortable because he was enjoying the rhythm and routine of his life. All of his hard work as a soldier placed him in a position to have financial stability and a comfortable lifestyle. A comfortably simple and stress-free life.  For the jailer it was time to coast and catch some sleep because he was confident and comfortable in his comfortable life that was smooth sailing.

Maybe you can relate to the jailer. Maybe life is good, life is flowing with a rhythm and routine that enables you to coast and be comfortable. Sure, there are occasional bumps in the road, but you are comfortable and content with a lifestyle that enables you to coast through life. You are at a place where you are able to have all of your needs met and even some of your wants fulfilled, you really don’t need anything. Maybe you are at a place in life where you are coasting through life because you are comfortable where you are at in life.

However, while the jailer was asleep enjoying his comfortable life, something was about to occur that would shake things up literally and figuratively for the jailer. Something that Luke records for us and that we will look at on Friday...

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

An annoyance that leads to a miraculous intervention...


At the church where I serve, we are in the middle of a sermon series entitled Party. During this series, we are going to discover that when we read the letters that make up the Bible, we discover that God loves a good party. And when we read the accounts of Jesus life that are recorded for us in the Bible, we see that Jesus loved a good party. Jesus loved to celebrate that things that He viewed a significant with the people He viewed as being significant.

But if that is the case; when did Jesus throw a party? When did Jesus celebrate? What did Jesus believe was significant enough to be worthy of celebration? And when did early followers of Jesus throw a party to celebrate something that they viewed as being significant and worthy of celebration?

During this series, we are going to look at three different events from history that are found in the letters that make up the New Testament of the Bible that provide the answer to these questions. And as we go through this series, my hope and my prayer is that God would move by the power of the Holy Spirit in our heads, hearts, and hands to empower us to be able to celebrate that things that Jesus viewed a significant and that was worthy of celebration the led Him to party, so that we can reveal and reflect the celebratory heart of Jesus to those around us.

This week, as we continue in this series, I would like for us to spend our time together looking at a second event from history that is recorded for us in the New Testament of the Bible. In this event from history, we will see early followers of Jesus throw a party. And it is in this event from history where a group of early followers of Jesus threw a party that we will discover a timeless truth about what would cause these early followers of Jesus to party and celebrate something that they viewed as being significant and worthy of celebration. So let’s look at this event from history together, which is found in a section of a letter that is recorded for us in the New Testament of the Bible called the book of Acts, beginning in Acts 16:16-18a:

It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation." 18 She continued doing this for many days.

Now to fully understand what is happening in this event from history, we first need to understand the context in which this event from history took place. During this section of the book of Acts, Luke, who is the author of the book of Acts, was accompanying the Apostle Paul, Silas, and Timothy on what would become known as the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey. During this missionary journey, the Apostle Paul, along with his companions, were sharing the claims of Christ and the message of the gospel with those who lived in the region of the world which we know today as Northern Greece.

On this journey, Paul and his companions arrived at a city in northern Greece called Philippi. The city of Philippi was a Roman colony, similar to a military base today, whose residents enjoyed the same rights as those who lived in Rome. Upon arriving in a new city, Paul would always start by sharing the claims of Christ and the message of the gospel with those who were Jewish ethnically and religiously. Then after sharing that message with those who were Jewish ethnically and religiously, and after receiving opposition from those who were Jewish ethnically and religiously, Paul would then begin to share the claims of Christ and the message of the gospel with those who were not Jewish ethnically or religiously.

So, as was their custom, on the day of the Jewish Sabbath Paul looked for a place where he could engage the Jewish residents of the city with the claims of Christ and the message of the gospel. However, there were few people who were religiously or ethnically Jewish in the city and there was no synagogue. And because of that reality, on the Sabbath, Jewish people from Philippi would gather at a location about a mile and a half outside of the city on the river Gangites to pray.

It is in this context that Luke tells us that as they were traveling to the place of prayer to engage the Jewish residents of the city with the claims of Christ and the message of the gospel, they were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination. This was a girl who was a slave and who was possessed by a demon. As a result of being possessed by a demon, she was empowered by the demon to predict and proclaim the futures of people.

In the culture of the day, just as it is today, people desired to get a glimpse into their future before that future occurred. This desire led the people of Philippi to search out this slave girl to have their fortunes told and to receive advice from the gods about what their future held. The owners of the slave girl, recognizing the opportunity for great financial gain as a result of the desire that people had to know what their future held before that future arrived, were exploiting this girl to become wealthy.

Luke tells us that upon crossing paths with this demon possessed slave girl and her masters, the slave girl cried out with a loud voice "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation." This slave girl, possessed by a demon, was identifying Paul and his traveling companions as being solely committed to the service of the One True God and that they were publicly proclaiming the way to salvation and rescue from their rebellion.

Day after day, as Paul and his companions made their trip from the city of Philippi to the place of prayer and back, this demon possessed girl and her masters would publicly proclaim this message while following closely behind them. Now as you might imagine, given the demon possessed slave girls penchant for drawing a crowd and making money for her masters, you would think that Paul and his traveling companions would be excited about the attention. And you would be wrong, as Luke reveals in the second half of verse 18b:

 But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out at that very moment.

Instead of being excited about the attention, Paul was greatly annoyed by the continuing presence and proclamation of this demon possessed slave girl. After all, Paul wasn’t looking to make a profit, and Paul wasn’t trying to tell people what their fortunes were. Paul did not want the crowd to get the impression that their motives and the message were even remotely the same as the demon possessed girl and her masters.

After putting up with her presence and proclamation for several days, Paul, annoyed with the situation, confronted the demon who had possessed this girl and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, rid the girl of the demon. However, while the girl was now freed from the enslavement of a demon, she was not freed from the enslavement of her earthly masters.

And Paul’s intervention on her behalf was not appreciated by the girl’s masters. Tomorrow we will see their response to Paul and his intervention…

Friday, August 10, 2018

A party happens when those who are far from God come to God...


This week we have been looking at an event from history that is recorded for us in an account of Jesus life in the Bible, called the gospel of Matthew. In this section of the gospel of Matthew, Matthew has been sharing his story.  

In Matthew’s story when Jesus saw him sitting at the tax collector booth, where he worked as a tax collector for the Roman Empire, Jesus invited him to follow Him. Matthew responded to Jesus invitation by leaving his tax booth and job to follow Jesus. Matthew tells us that after receiving the invitation to follow Jesus as His disciple, he not only responded by leaving his tax collector booth to follow Him.

In addition, Matthew responded by inviting all of his tax collector and sinner friends over to his house for a dinner party to meet and hang out with Jesus. Matthew responded to Jesus invitation to follow Him by throwing a party so that He could invite all of his tax collector and sinner friends to meet and hang out with Jesus. And what is interesting is that all of Matthew's tax collector and sinner friend actually accepted the invitation to the party.

You see, there was something about Jesus that made people who were far from God feel comfortable enough to want to hang out with Son of God. While Jesus never lived a life that was marked by selfishness and sin, people who were far from God felt comfortable enough to engage and interact with Him. This morning, if you are a follower of Jesus, could the same be said of you?

Now I want us to take a minute and imagine the scene that was occurring at the party at Matthew’s house. Imagine watching as Matthew’s house began to fill up with all his tax collector and sinner friends and their girlfriends. Imagine the sounds of salty language and music filling the room as Matthew’s tax collector and sinner friends began to engage in conversations. Imagine the smells of food and drink wafting through the home. Imagine Jesus engaging in conversation with Matthew and his friends.

Can you picture the scene? Matthew then explains that as his house began to fill with all of his tax collector and sinner friends who were far from God, others were attracted to what was happening. We see this in Matthew 9:11:

When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, "Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?"

While the tax collectors and sinners were drawn to and felt comfortable hanging out with Jesus at the party, there were others who were not quite as comfortable about Jesus being at this party. Another group of people, called the Pharisees, responded to what was happening between Jesus and Matthew and his tax collector and sinner friends at the party by disengaging.

And so often that is what religious people do, isn’t it? As religious people so often do, the Pharisees viewed these tax collectors and sinners who were far from God as “unclean”. And just like religious people, the Pharisees would not enter into the house and engage those who were far from God; instead, they called Jesus disciples out of the house to ask why Jesus would consider associating with such people. “Why is your teacher hanging out and partying with tax collectors and sinners? Doesn’t he know who they are? Doesn’t he know who is throwing this party? Doesn’t he know what kind of guy Matthew is?”

What I find so fascinating is that while those who were far from God felt comfortable hanging out with the Son of God, those who thought that they were close to God often felt totally uncomfortable hanging out with the Son of God. You see, Jesus made insiders feel like outsiders while making outsiders feel like insiders when it came to how He related and engaged them.

Jesus, however, overheard the conversation between His disciples and the Pharisees and responded with a timeless statement provides a timeless truth about what would cause Jesus to party and celebrate something that He viewed as being significant and worthy of celebration. So let’s look at Jesus response together in Matthew 9:12-13:

But when Jesus heard this, He said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. "But go and learn what this means: 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Jesus responded to the religious people of His day and their criticism with a metaphor to explain his reasons for attending the party: “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick”. You see, a physician, whose whole purpose is to cure physical ailments, does not spend a lot of time while he is at work seeing healthy people. And we intuitively know this, don’t we?

I mean, you usually do not go to the doctor because you want to, do you? You usually don’t say “I know what I’ll do today; I like going to the doctor so much that I’ll make an appointment to go today, even though I am healthy”. No, almost always, we go to the doctor because we have to. We have to go because we are ill, or have been ill, or need a check up to prove we are not ill.

Jesus then took this metaphor and applied it to his actions and to the Pharisees religious lack of action when it came to those who were far from God. Jesus entered into this conversation and commanded these religious people to read their Bibles again. Jesus quoted a section of a letter that is recorded for us in the Old Testament of the Bible called the book of Hosea. In Hosea 6:6, God, through the prophet Hosea, condemned the Jewish people for focusing on religious rituals instead of focusing on displaying a faithful devotion to God and to those around them who were far from God and who were lost, hurting, and broken.

Jesus then explained that just like a physician, His focus was for those who were far from God and were separated from Him. When Jesus states that He did not come to call the righteous, He is explaining that He did not come to invite those who were insiders who were right before God. Instead Jesus states that He came to earth to call sinners. Jesus entered into humanity to call those who were far from God and were outsiders back to God.

You see, Jesus did not enter into humanity to see those who were close to Him; Jesus entered into humanity to rescue what was furthest from Him, the outsiders. And as Matthew looked back on his encounter with Jesus; as Matthew sat down to write, by God’s inspiration, this letter that is now a part of our Bibles, Matthew recognized that Jesus celebrated something that was significant his life with the people who were significant in his lives.

And it is here, in this event from history from the life of Jesus involving a traitor tax collector, that we see revealed for us a timeless truth about what would cause Jesus to party and celebrate something that He viewed as being significant and worthy of celebration. And that timeless answer is this: A party happens when those who are far from God come to God. Just as it was for Matthew the traitor tax collector, just as it has been throughout history, A party happens when those who are far from God come to God.

You see, as Matthew sat down to write the divinely inspired account of Jesus life that we have in our Bibles today, Matthew wanted to communicate to us today the reality he was not simply a part of what Jesus did when He entered into humanity; instead  he was the point of why Jesus did what He did when He entered into humanity. And to prove to the Jewish people that they were the point of why Jesus did what He did when He entered into humanity, Matthew shared with us his story. Matthew shared with us his story because Matthew wanted us to understand that Jesus came to seek people who were flawed, broken, and far from God.

And that is who we are aren’t we? That is who I was before Jesus sought and rescued me. And that is who we all are before Jesus came to seek us. Jesus came to seek those who were far from God so that He could bring them back to God.

And just as it was for Matthew, Jesus entered into humanity to seek those who were outsiders and who were furthest from Him. Just as it was for traitor Matthew, Jesus entered into humanity to provide an opportunity for the traitor race of humanity to experience forgiveness and the relationship with God that they were created for. 

You see, we are not just a part of what Jesus desires to do in the world today; we are the point of what Jesus desires to do in the world today. Jesus views those who are far from God as significant. And when a person who is far from God comes to God, Jesus views that as being worthy of celebration. And for Jesus a party happens when someone who is far from God comes to know God and experience the forgiveness and relationship with God that they were created for.

So how are you responding to Jesus coming to earth to seek those who were far from God so that He could bring them back to God? How are you responding to Jesus coming to earth to invite those who were far from God to come back to God?

And how have you responded when a person who was far from God comes to God? When a person who is far from God comes to God, do you view that as being worthy of celebration. Do you have a party happens when someone who is far from God comes to know God and experience the forgiveness and relationship with God that they were created for? 

And are you doing what you can do to let those around you who are far from God know that they are significant to God? Are you doing what you can do to help those around you who are far from God come to the place where a party can happen because they have come to God?

Because, as we see from Matthew’s encounter with Jesus, A party happens when those who are far from God come to God.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Throwing a party so those who were far from God could meet the Son of God...


This week we are talking about the reality that there is something within us that yearns to party. There is something within us that yearns to celebrate something that is significant in our lives with the people who are significant in our lives. And that yearning was wired in us by God. When we read the letters that make up the Bible, we discover that God loves a good party. And when we read the accounts of Jesus life that are recorded for us in the Bible, we see that Jesus loved a good party. Jesus loved to celebrate that things that He viewed a significant with the people He viewed as being significant.

But if that is the case; when did Jesus throw a party? When did Jesus celebrate? What did Jesus believe was significant enough to be worthy of celebration? To answer that question, we are looking at a section of one of the accounts of Jesus life that are recorded for us in the Bible, called the gospel of Matthew.

Matthew, who was writing to Jewish people to explain and to show that Jesus was the Messiah that God had promised would come to rescue and restore the Jewish nation as His chosen people, started his account of Jesus life was with a genealogy that displayed Jesus family tree. For Matthew, it made sense to write his account of Jesus life this way because Matthew knew something that they did not know and that we often do not recognize. Matthew wrote the story of Jesus life this way because Matthew knew his story.

And it is in Matthew’s story we find a timeless truth about what would cause Jesus to party and celebrate something that He viewed as being significant and worthy of celebration. We find Matthew’s story in Matthew 9:9. Let’s look at it together:

As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector's booth;

As we jump into this section of the account of Jesus life that was written by Matthew, Jesus had just performed a miracle in the city in which he lived in, which was Capernaum. In this miracle, which we read in greater detail in another account of Jesus life in the Bible called the gospel of Mark, Jesus healed a man who was paralyzed after his friends lowered him through a hole that they had made in the roof of a house where Jesus was speaking.

After healing this paralyzed man, Jesus and his disciples left the house and began walking down the street, where they came to a booth where Jewish people were required to pay taxes. Matthew, who was manning the tax booth along with others, was a Jewish man who was a tax collector that worked for the Roman Government.

Now Jews who were tax collectors were hated by their fellow countrymen for two reasons. First, these tax collectors were hated because they would often charge higher taxes than necessary in order to make a profit. Since the Romans did not care what these tax collectors charged as long as they received what was due them, many tax collectors became wealthy by charging over and above what the Romans asked for.

Second, Jewish tax collectors were hated and were viewed as traitors because they were working for the enemy. I mean, imagine how you would feel if Mexico invaded and conquered the United States and began to charge large taxes that you would have to pay to the Mexican government. And imagine if your neighbor began to work for the conquering Mexican government as a tax collector. Imagine giving your money to you neighbor, who gave part of that money to the Mexican government and kept part of it for himself. Now, if that were the case, how would you feel toward your neighbor? That is how Jewish people felt toward people like Matthew.

Jewish people so despised tax collectors that they had a separate category for them. There were sinners and there were tax collectors. There were those who sinned and then there were tax collectors. With this background in mind, we see Jesus approach Matthew, this tax collector and sinner, who would later write the letter the bears his name in the Bible and say the following in the second half of Matthew 9:9:

and He said to him, "Follow Me!" And he got up and followed Him.

Matthew explained that when Jesus saw him sitting at the tax collector booth, He said to him “Follow Me”. Now, in the Jewish culture of the first century, when a teacher asked someone to follow him, this was a call to follow Him as his disciple. So Jesus here is calling this tax collector, who was so despised that they had a separate category for him, to follow Him. Can you imagine what the rest of the disciple’s response to Jesus invitation to Matthew would be?

Can you imagine Peter, for example “Jesus, I don’t think that is a good idea; I mean he is a tax collector; he is the enemy”? What is just as hard to understand, however, is how Matthew responded. Matthew responded to Jesus invitation by leaving his tax booth and job to follow Jesus. I mean at first glance that seems odd, doesn’t it? I mean, to just get up and leave your job because a teacher asked you to follow him seems strange, doesn’t it?

While it may seem strange at first glance, it would not have seemed strange to the crowds at Capernaum. You see, such teachers were the most respected members of Jewish society. So to be asked to follow someone who was viewed as a teacher was a great honor. But Jesus was no ordinary teacher; he was performing miraculous signs that people had never seen. Jesus, at this point in His life, had an almost rock star or celebrity status. If there would have been TMZ in Jesus day, TMZ would have been following Him around.

In addition, this was probably not the first time that Matthew had seen or heard about Jesus, as they both lived in the same small town. Plus, Jesus wanted him: Jesus wanted a tax collector and sinner to follow Him. Jesus invitation would have been unheard of by any other teacher to call such a man like Matthew to follow him as a student. What would be viewed as strange or odd would be why Jesus would want a person like Matthew around Him as His disciple. We see the reaction of others to Jesus seemingly strange behavior as this event from history continues in Matthew 9:10:

Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.

Matthew tells us that after receiving the invitation to follow Jesus as His disciple, he not only responded by leaving his tax collector booth to follow Him. In addition, Matthew responded by inviting all of his tax collector and sinner friends over to his house for a dinner party to meet and hang out with Jesus. Matthew responded to Jesus invitation to follow Him by throwing a party so that He could invite all of his tax collector and sinner friends to meet and hang out with Jesus.

And what is interesting is that all of Matthew's tax collector and sinner friend actually accepted the invitation to the party. You see, there was something about Jesus that made people who were far from God feel comfortable enough to want to hang out with Son of God. While Jesus never lived a life that was marked by selfishness and sin, people who were far from God felt comfortable enough to engage and interact with Him. If you are a follower of Jesus, could the same be said of you?

Now I want us to take a minute and imagine the scene that was occurring at the party at Matthew’s house. Imagine watching as Matthew’s house began to fill up with all his tax collector and sinner friends and their girlfriends. Imagine the sounds of salty language and music filling the room as Matthew’s tax collector and sinner friends began to engage in conversations. Imagine the smells of food and drink wafting through the home. Imagine Jesus engaging in conversation with Matthew and his friends. Can you picture the scene?

Matthew then explains that as his house began to fill with all of his tax collector and sinner friends who were far from God, others were attracted to what was happening. Tomorrow, we will meet these people and discover their response to Jesus being at such a party…

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Yearning within all of us to Party...


Last Sunday we found ourselves in the first Sunday in August. And in many ways, last weekend marked the beginning of the end of summer. For many children, students, and families, this past week marked a return to the routine of school. However, while school is beginning, in our culture summer does not officially end until Labor Day.

And until then, many of us will strive to enjoy the rest of the summer while balancing a return to the routine of fall. We will strive to enjoy the rest of summer because there is just something about summer, isn’t there? I mean, in our culture summer tends to be a time that is marked by vacations. Summer tends to be a time that is marked by relaxation and refreshment. And summer tends to a time that is marked by parties.

I mean, have you ever stopped to think about all the parties that occur during the summer season? Beginning in May, we celebrate Mother’s Day. Then there are all the graduation parties that begin in May and often continue into June. In May, we also celebrate Memorial Day weekend, which usually involves picnics and parties. In June, we celebrate Father’s Day and many families begin to celebrate family reunions and family vacations. In July, we have the fourth of July, which also involves picnics and parties. And the summer season of parties and celebrations culminates and comes to an end with one final weekend of Labor Day in early September.

We love the summer season as a culture, because deep down as a culture we love to throw parties. After all, who doesn’t love a good party? We love a good party because when we are at a party we usually are at an event where we can connect with the people we care about. We love a good party because when we are at a party we usually are celebrating something that we believe is significant and that is worthy of celebration.

Because, at the end of the day, that is what a party is all about, isn’t it? That is why we have a party, isn’t it? That is why we can tend to take a great deal of time and energy to make sure that a party is successful, right? We throw parties because we want to celebrate something that is significant in our lives with the people who are significant in our lives.

You see, there is something within us that yearns to party. There is something within us that yearns to celebrate something that is significant in our lives with the people who are significant in our lives. And that yearning was wired in us by God. When we read the letters that make up the Bible, we discover that God loves a good party. And when we read the accounts of Jesus life that are recorded for us in the Bible, we see that Jesus loved a good party. Jesus loved to celebrate that things that He viewed a significant with the people He viewed as being significant.

But if that is the case; when did Jesus throw a party? When did Jesus celebrate? What did Jesus believe was significant enough to be worthy of celebration? And when did early followers of Jesus throw a party to celebrate something that they viewed as being significant and worthy of celebration?

To answer that question, we are going to spend the next three weeks at the church where I serve in a sermon series entitled Party. During this series, we are going to look at three different events from history that are found in the letters that make up the New Testament of the Bible to discover the answer to these questions. And as we go through this series, our hope and my prayer is that God would move by the power of the Holy Spirit in our heads, hearts, and hands to empower us to be able to celebrate that things that Jesus viewed a significant with the people He viewed as being significant, so that we can reveal and reflect the celebratory heart of Jesus to those around us.

Now this week I would like for us to spend our time together looking at a section of one of the accounts of Jesus life that are recorded for us in the Bible. In the Bible, there are four different accounts of Jesus life, which are called the gospels. What is so interesting is that these four different accounts of Jesus life, which were written to four different types of people, complement one another in a way that provides us a vivid picture of the life of Jesus and what drove Him to live the life that He lived.

One of these four accounts of Jesus life, called the gospel of Matthew, was written to Jewish people to explain and to show that Jesus was the Messiah that God had promised would come to rescue and restore the Jewish nation as His chosen people. You see, the Jewish people knew that God had promised Abraham, who was the person from which the Jewish nation descended from, that through his offspring that all the nations would be blessed.

In addition, God had promised the Jewish nations most famous king, King David, that one of his descendants would be the Messiah. So the Jewish people were looking for the descendant of Abraham, from the line of David that would be the promised Messiah who would bring the Jewish people back to God and back to prominence in the world. So to prove that Jesus was the long promised Messiah, Matthew began his gospel with a genealogy to show that Jesus had the proper family background to be the Messiah.

Now, I don’t know about you, but reading a genealogy, which is a list of names that details a person’s family tree, does not sound very exciting. As a matter of fact, maybe at one time you actually started to try to read the Bible. And then you came to a genealogy. And then, after about five minutes into trying to read the genealogy, you stopped reading the Bible, right. I mean, who can pronounce all of those names? And reading a list of names is so boring, isn’t it? However, for the Jewish people, being from the right family, having the right family background, was essential to be their rescuer and redeemer.

So for Matthew, who was writing to Jewish people to explain and to show that Jesus was the Messiah that God had promised would come to rescue and restore the Jewish nation as His chosen people, the natural place to start his account of Jesus life was with a genealogy that displayed Jesus family tree.

In addition, for Matthew, it made sense to write his account of Jesus life this way because Matthew knew something that they did not know and that we often do not recognize. Matthew wrote the story of Jesus life this way because Matthew knew his story. And it is in Matthew’s story we find a timeless truth about what would cause Jesus to party and celebrate something that He viewed as being significant and worthy of celebration.

Tomorrow we will begin to look at Matthew's story...

Thursday, June 28, 2018

A parents ability to influence their children is based on the depth of their relationship with their children...


This week we have been looking at the dynamic, or sometimes just the dynamite, that describes the relationships that occur between parents and children in families. To do that, we have been looking at a section of a letter that is recorded for us in the New Testament of the Bible, called the book of Ephesians. In Ephesians 6:1-3, we discovered a timeless and powerful principle when it comes to how children respond to their roles and responsibilities within a family in that a child's willingness to follow the leadership of their parents will influence how they will follow leadership in the future.

Children and students, here’s the thing; no matter how old you become, no matter how smart or strong you become, no matter how much money you make, there will always be someone who is in leadership and authority over you. If you do not think that is the case, just look at the lives and listen to the conversations of the adults who exercise leadership within your family, whether it is your parents, your grandparents, or other relatives. There is always someone in our lives that we are responsible to report to and answer to when it comes to our attitude and actions. And your willingness to place yourselves under the leadership of your parents will influence and impact your willingness to willingly place yourself under the leadership of others in the future.

Your willingness to willingly place yourselves under the leadership and authority of your parents in a way that regards and respects them will influence and impact how you will respond to the leadership and authority of teachers, employers, and other authority figures in the future. Today, we will see Paul turn his attention to the roles and responsibilities that parents have when it comes to their relationship with their children in Ephesians 6:4:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Now when Paul uses the word fathers, he is not excluding mothers from what he is to say next. As we talked about earlier in this series, fathers are the first among equals in the marriage relationship and are expected to lead and model proper family relationships as an example to be followed by mothers. Paul then commands parents to not provoke their children to anger. If you are reading from another translation of the Bible this command might read “do not exasperate your children.”

If Paul was writing this letter to us today in the language that we use in our culture, this command probably would sound something like this: Do not place your children in a position where they cannot win. Do not put your children in a no-win situation." Parents, we all have the temptation to do this, don’t we? As parents we have all the power and we can pull almost all the strings. We have the strings to the checkbook; the car; the TV; to privileges; and to the freedom that children desire. We have a great deal of control over our children; we are bigger, stronger, and control all the levers.

And because we have all the power and control it is very easy to abuse our power and control in a way that our children feel like they are in a no-win situation. And as children feel like they are in a no-win situation, there is nothing that they can do to be right. And just like us adults, when children feel that they are in a no-win situation where nothing they do is right, they will lash out in a way that creates conflict, stress and strain in our family relationships.

But parents, here’s the thing; parenting, by very definition is the God-ordained loss of control. I mean, do we not want our children to grow up so that they would be able to navigate and function in society as a healthy functioning member of society. That is the point and goal of parenting, isn’t it? And as our children get older we gradually begin to lose the power and control over our children that we once had.

When our children are infants and small children, we have almost total control of their lives; we control what and when they eat and sleep. We control what they wear and watch. However, as children grow and mature physically, emotionally and spiritually, we gradually begin to lose control, don’t we? Children begin to have their own thoughts and desires. Children begin to question decisions with perspectives that show increasing maturity.

And as we sense that we are beginning to lose the control that we once had, parents are faced with a decision: do I attempt to parent and lead my children by means of control or by means of influence. And our tendency and temptation is to attempt to keep and maintain the same level of control that we have always had. But as we attempt to cling to that control, we begin to experience conflict with our children that strain our relationships. And it is those very conflicts that result in us as parents losing the very influence to speak into the lives of our children at the very time that they need our influence the most.

Instead of provoking our children to anger; instead of putting our children in no win situations, Paul commands parents to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. What is so interesting here is that the phrase “bring them up” is the same phrase that we looked at last week in Ephesians 5:29 that described how husbands were to provide for the care and the comfort of their wives.

Paul’s point is that in a similar way, parents are to create a family environment where children are able to grow and mature into all that God has created and called them to be. How parents are to create a family environment that promotes the growth and good of children is through the discipline and instruction of the Lord. In the language that this letter was originally written in, discipline refers to the act of providing guidance for responsible living. By contrast, when Paul uses the word instruction here, he is referring to a parent’s need to counsel their children about avoiding or stopping behavior that is improper or inappropriate.

In other words, parents are to guide and influence our children so that they would live in the relationship with God and in relationship with others that God designed them to live. Parents have been given the role and responsibility to guide and influence their children in a manner that they would live a life in the relationship with God and one another that they were created for. In addition, parents have been given the role and responsibility to guide and influence their children to avoid the landmines that selfishness, sin, and the devil place in their path.

And it is in this verse that we see Paul reveal a timeless and powerful principle when it comes to how parents fulfill their roles and responsibilities within a family. And that timeless principle is this: Parents our ability to influence our children is based on the depth of our relationship with our children. And this is why the issue of control and influence is so, so, so important when it comes to our role and responsibility as parents.

You see parents, here is the thing; we will be unable to be able to guide and influence our children as they grow and mature if we choose to cling to the concept of parenting by control. Now the reason why parenting by control results in a loss of influence is twofold. First, while parenting by control can produce external obedience, it does not result in heart transformation. While parenting by control addresses the “what” of a child’s behavior, it fails to address the “why” of a child’s behavior. And it is the “why” of a child’s behavior that reveals the heart attitudes and motivations.

Second, as your child grows, you no longer are able to exercise control because you are bigger and smarter. And because of that reality, we can find ourselves attempting to exercise control through manipulation, which children see right through and resent. And soon, children find themselves in the place of being in a no-win situation that produces, conflict stress, and strife. And the result is a gradual destruction of the depth and quality of our relationship with our children.

At some point, as parents, we need to recognize that are children have come to place in their lives in terms of their physical, emotional, and spiritual maturity that requires a shift from parenting by control to parenting by influence. What makes this so difficult, however, is that no two children are the same. Children mature at different rates, so the decision as to when to shift from control to influence will be different for each and every child.

And parents just as God will not hold you responsible or accountable for how your children respond to the role and responsibility of leadership that you have been given, God will totally hold you 100% accountable for how you lead and influence your children. And our decision when it comes to choosing to parent by control or influence will impact the amount of influence we have with our children.

When we choose to parent strictly by control, we can find ourselves in a place where we gradually begin to erode the relationship we have with our children. A place where we so erode the relationship that we have with our children that we end up losing our ability to guide and lead our children at the very time in their lives when they need our guidance and influence the most.

You see, the time in our children’s lives where they will be making the biggest decisions in their lives; decisions about colleges; decisions about careers; decisions about marriage and family; these are the times where we have the least control. And these are the very times when we need to have the most influence in their lives. Yet when we fail to move from parenting by control to parenting by influence as our children grow we can so erode our relationship with our children that we end up having the least amount of influence when our children need it the most. Because parents our ability to influence our children is based on the depth of our relationship with our children.

So parents, how well are you dealing with the tension that comes from parenting by control or influence? Are you provoking your children to anger? Are you placing your children in no win situations that result in conflict that is gradually eroding your relationship with them?

Because parents our ability to influence our children is based on the depth of our relationship with our children...

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A child's willingness to follow the leadership of their parents will influence how they will follow leadership in the future...


At the church where I serve, we are coming to the end of a sermon series entitled family daze to family days. Our hope and our prayer during this series is that God would move by the power of the Holy Spirit in our heads, hearts, and hands to equip and empower us to move our families from a place of dazed conflict and confusion to a place where we would experience the family relationships that God has created and called us to experience.

This week, as we come to the conclusion of this series, I would like for us to talk about the dynamic, or sometimes just the dynamite, that describes the relationships that occur between parents and children in families. So often, when we think about families, when we think about family relationships, as parents, we can feel like we are walking through life dazed and confused because of the attitudes and actions of our children. And as children, we can feel like we are walking through life dazed and confused by the failure of our parents to understand and connect with us.

Over the past thirty years, I have had the privilege of working with students and families in a variety of roles. And during my time working at a juvenile jail, as a probation officer supervising troubled teenagers, as a Student Ministries Pastor serving Jr. High, Sr. High and College aged students, or now in my current role as Pastor, I have experienced a common theme or thread that runs through the conflict and struggles that many families experience. And that common theme and thread is this: much of the conflict that families experience between parents and children is the result of either confusion or rebellion when it comes to roles and responsibilities.

In some cases, conflict occurs as a result of either a parent or child attempting to fill a role that they were not designed to fill. And we have also seen increasing instances in our culture where children are in essence parenting their younger brothers, sisters, and even parents as a result of parents who are ill equipped, unprepared, and unwilling to be parents. In other cases, conflict occurs as a result of either a parent or child rebelling against the role and responsibilities that they have within a family. We see the devastating effects of selfish rebellion and sin wreak havoc on families as both parents and children go to war with one another. And whether it is out of confusion or rebellion, at the end of the day both parents and children are left dazed and confused by the conflict that rages within the family.

So this week I would like for us to spend our time together discovering God’s Divine design for the roles and goals of parents and children within family relationships. And as we look at another section of a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the church of Ephesus, we will see God reveal to us two timeless and powerful principles, one for children and one for parents, that have incredible influence as to whether or not we experience the family relationships that God created and designed us to experience. So let’s look at this section of this letter together, beginning in Ephesians 6:1:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH.

Paul begins this section of his letter to the church at Ephesus by addressing the roles and responsibilities that children have when it comes to God’s design for family relationships. Paul commands children to obey your parents in the Lord. Now when Paul uses the word obey here, this word, in the language that this letter was originally written in, means to follow instructions. In addition, this word conveys the sense of being subject to one who has a position of leadership and authority. Paul’s point here is that children are to willingly place themselves under the leadership of their parents in a way that follows their leadership by placing them first. Children are to obey their parent in the Lord. In other words, children are to willingly place themselves under their parent’s leadership in the same manner that they are to place themselves under the leadership of Jesus.

Now a natural question that has arisen in the hearts and minds of children throughout history when it comes to obeying our parent’s instructions can be summarized in a simple three letter word: “why”? The Apostle Paul, anticipating this question, provides the answer for us by stating for this is right. This phrase reveals the reality that, just like the other relationships within a family that we have looked at in this series, children have certain roles and responsibilities that God design and desire for the family. God has a design for family relationships and part of His design is that children willing place themselves under their parent’s leadership and authority.

Paul then reinforced why it is right for children to willingly place themselves under their parent’s leadership by pointing back to one of God’s commands to the Jewish people which is recorded for us in another letter in our Bible called the book of Exodus. In Exodus 20:12, as part of the Ten Commandments, we see God command the Jewish people to honor their father and mother. Now when the letters that make up the Bible talk about honoring someone, it is the idea of showing a high regard or respect for someone. Paul quoted this commandment to reveal for us the reality that when children willingly place themselves under their parent’s leadership and authority they are fulfilling this commandment by showing them the regard and respect that they deserve as parents.

The apostle then explained that this is the first of the Ten Commandments that is accompanied by a promise. In other words, a child’s positive response of following this commandment results in a promise fulfilled by God. The promise that God attaches to this command is twofold and is revealed for us in verse 3. First, God promises children that they are to live their lives in a way that shows regard and respect for their parents by willingly placing themselves under their leadership so that it may be well with you.

And children, we know this to be true don’t we?  When we respect our parents and follow their instructions, things tend to go much smoother at home don’t they? There is less fighting, there is less yelling, and there is less nagging. Children and students, if you are not sure that this is the case, I have an experiment for you to do this week to test God’s promise; whenever your parents ask you to do something, just say o.k. and do it the first time. See what happens. See whether or not it will be well with you.

Second, God promises children that they are to show regard and respect for their parents by willingly placing themselves under their leadership so that you may live long on the earth. Now a natural temptation is to view this statement in a similar way to what I occasionally experienced when I did not show my parents respect or follow their instructions. Occasionally, when I failed to follow the instructions of my parents or show disrespect to them, my father would say “just remember I brought you into this world and I can take you out of this world”. Maybe some of us still hear our parents say something like that to us. And while that statement was true, that is not all that Paul is reminding us of here.

Paul is not simply talking about the quantity or length of our years on earth. Paul is also reminding us of the reality that the quality or how well our years go on earth are connected to how we respond to our parent’s leadership and authority. You see, it is in this timeless promise that God attaches to this command that we see revealed for us a timeless and powerful principle when it comes to how children respond to their roles and responsibilities within a family. And that timeless principle is this: Children, your willingness to follow the leadership of your parents will influence how you will follow leadership in the future.

Children and students, here’s the thing; no matter how old you become, no matter how smart or strong you become, no matter how much money you make, there will always be someone who is in leadership and authority over you. If you do not think that is the case, just look at the lives and listen to the conversations of the adults who exercise leadership within your family, whether it is your parents, your grandparents, or other relatives.

There is always someone in our lives that we are responsible to report to and answer to when it comes to our attitude and actions. And your willingness to place yourselves under the leadership of your parents will influence and impact your willingness to willingly place yourself under the leadership of others in the future. Your willingness to willingly place yourselves under the leadership and authority of your parents in a way that regards and respects them will influence and impact how you will respond to the leadership and authority of teachers, employers, and other authority figures in the future.

Now, children and students, just like the men last week, and just like the ladies two weeks ago, you may be here this morning and you may be pushing back by thinking “but Dave you don’t know my mom. You don’t know my dad. You do not know how they treat me. Paul would not have written that if he knew my parents”. My response would be yes, he would have. Because this has absolutely nothing to do with your parents. And this has everything to do with you.

You see, I have some good news and some bad news for you this morning. The good news is that God will not hold you responsible or accountable for how good or bad your parents are. God will deal with your parents on how your parents treat you. The bad news is that God will totally hold you 100% accountable for how you treat your parents. And how you choose to treat your parent’s sets in place patterns that you will follow the rest of your life. Because your willingness to follow the leadership of your parents will influence how you will follow leadership in the future.            

Paul concludes this section of his letter by turning his attention to the roles and responsibilities that parents have when it comes to their relationship with their children. We will pick up there on Thursday…