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Series on Witness

We are continuing on in our series on witness challenging us to be sharing our faith as individuals and as a congregation.

We are doing the whole acrostic thing with the word “wintess.” So far we have looked at the “W” of witness – Why we reach out. Our motivation is Christ’s love for the lost. And we talked last week about the “I” of witness – Idolatry and reaching out. We saw that we can have a wrong motivation – growing and getting big in itself. But what God asks of us is to be faithful to share whether there are results or not. Today we look at the “T” of witness, and the title is Taking risks.

Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t often like to take risks. Sure, I have done some crazy things here and there, like jumping out of an airplane once. But basically I like things to be calm and controlled; stable and routine. Like most people, I like to be comfortable.

The problem with this is that –

We are called to live by faith

 And faith is all about risk, or challenging us to come out of our places of comfort.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It’s risky because you can’t see how things will turn out, but yet you have a conviction and God calls you to step out and act on it. It’s like Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:7, “we walk by faith, not by sight.” You can’t see what’s ahead and you don’t have control. But we are still called to move forward.

But this is the whole point – you have to trust God, because only God can make it work. It’s beyond you. Faith is all about being in a place where if God doesn’t come through it’s not going to go well. And the question is, are we willing to go ahead and act relying fully on God? We want to be comfortable, but God calls us to live by faith.

Hebrews 10:38 says this about faith, “my righteous one shall live by faith” This is a defining characteristic of the Christian life. And then it goes on to say, “and if he shrinks back (that is, is afraid or gives up), my soul has no pleasure in him.” God calls us to live by faith and not to shrink back from taking risks as we do his will.

Let’s look at some –

Examples of risk

Think of Noah. He built a huge boat in a place where there was only land. And how many years did it take? And how much ridicule did he receive? But Hebrews 11:7 says, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household.” He acted by faith and not by sight and God’s purpose was fulfilled through him.

And then there is Abraham. Hebrews 11:8 says, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” He acted without knowing what was ahead or being in control. And God used him to fulfill his purpose in the world.

And finally think of Moses. Hebrews 11:29 says, “By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.” Can you imagine? They are trapped and about to die, but God opens up a sea before their eyes. And then God tells them to go through it! What if the waters come down on them? But because of Moses’ faith and the faith of the people, God fulfilled his purpose in the world.

Now there might be the temptation to think that taking risks in faith is for those who are younger. But let me remind you that Noah was no spring chicken when God told him to build the ark. Abraham was 75 years old when he set off for Canaan. And Moses was in his 80’s when he crossed the Red Sea.

The lesson is that –

God asks us to take risks before he does his work

This doesn’t mean that God can’t get things done without us, but it does mean that we won’t be partaking in the blessing; we won’t be the ones through whom God’s purpose is fulfilled in the world.

No risk, no stepping out in faith – no gain.

For instance, living the Christian life involves risk. We give things up, we serve, and we trust that it will all be worth it in the end. And this is a risk. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:29, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Why? Because of all we give up to serve God in this world.

And this is true in other areas of obedience to God. It is a risk to trust God for our finances, but we believe that God will take care of us. It is a risk to love our enemy, but we believe that God will take care of us.

And certainly sharing our faith with others involves risk. For instance, if all your friends are Christians, this might mean taking a risk to befriend someone so that you can share your life and faith with them.

And then when it comes to actually sharing it’s risky:

  • What if I share and the person makes fun of my faith?
  • What if they don’t want to be friends anymore? Or it complicates a business relationship?
  • What if they ask a question I can’t answer?
  • What if it doesn’t go well?

Sharing our faith means taking a risk, and it can be scary. But we must trust that God will be with us and take care of us.

In the bigger picture asking God to move among us involves risk. As we saw, God asks us to take risks before he does his work in and among us.

I have been praying for God to move among us and I have invited you to also be a part of this. Do we want God to do something great among us? Do you think that this will happen if we just sit back and are comfortable and take no risks; that we can watch safely from the sidelines? What great thing has God ever done that didn’t require a step of faith, a risk from his people?

No, if God is going to move among us and bring renewal, you can be sure that he will ask us to step out in faith and take some risks.

One final thought. Growing as a church involves risk. What if people do respond? What if we step out in faith and share, and God moves, and people respond? This leads to another risk – change.

If we are comfortable, then by definition we like things the way they are. But if we reach out and grow, things will change. You have to make room for new people, new personalities, new problems and new points of view.

Are we willing to take this risk? Do we love God more than we love being comfortable? Is sharing Christ’s love with the lost more important than our love of comfort?

All I can say is that if we do step out and risk – God will be with us, God will take care of us and God will fulfill his purpose in this place through us.

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Series on Witness

We are in a series of messages on witness that is meant to challenge us to become more outwardly focused as a congregation. Whether this is helping the church’s mission here in SW Chambersburg or whether it is in your own areas of outreach where you live or work or hang out. As a congregation we need to be less concerned with being comfortable and with what we get out of church, and more concerned with taking risks to reach out and with what we should be giving to others as we reach out.

Last week we began with the letter ‘W’ of the word “Witness” – Why we reach out. And we learned from the Scriptures that our motivation is Christ’s love for people. When we have Jesus’ heart of love we will have a different perspective on people, whatever they might be or seem to be according to the flesh. From the perspective of Jesus’ love they are helpless and harassed like sheep without a shepherd and need his salvation and grace.

Well today we focus in on a wrong reason to reach out, and this is the ‘I’ in witness – Idolatry and reaching out. And the idol is the desire to get big; to have a large church, thinking that this is what success means. This is where we idolize growth and getting big as the goal in itself.

Now yes, let me be clear, we very much do want to grow and have people come to know the Lord and become workers for his kingdom. But this can easily and subtly be distorted into an idol. And I think this takes place under the influence of American culture where big is the sign of success. And it comes from using a business model where the bottom line is profit and this is compared to getting more people in the congregation. And it can also just be from envy of other churches that are big and seem to be doing well.

So let me share with you three problems with this thinking:

1. The idolatry of big has a wrong understanding of success

According to this thinking a successful church equals growing and being big. And so if you are not growing you are a failure. But according to the kingdom of God a successful church equals being faithful to reach out, which can lead to growth and being big, but it might not. Do you see the difference in terms of what counts for success? Bigness in itself vs. faithfulness to do what God says whatever the results might be?

That this is true just think for a moment about the parable of the soils. What if a church is in a context where there is rocky soil – trials and persecution, or thorn filled soil – where everyone is focused on the good things of this life? If you are consistently reaching out, but with little or no results are you unsuccessful?

Here’s a more concrete example. What if a church is in a Muslim context and you are consistently reaching out but with little or no results. Does this mean you are unsuccessful?

Here’s an example from our congregation connected to the block party last week. I know a person who invited someone and he came. I know another person who invited 35 people and none of them came. But who would say that the second person was less faithful than the first?

And finally, think of Jesus. Was he a failure because at the end of his ministry he only had a handful of followers? Certainly not!

The point is if you are reaching out, you are successful, whether you are growing or not. Because it is the reaching out itself that is the mark of faithfulness, not the results of reaching out. So you can be amazingly, abundantly, fantastically faithful but have little outward fruit to show for it.

After all, Jesus said “you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8) not you must have many converts. And so the bottom line is that we are witnessing, not that we are growing; it is that we are loving and obeying God, not that we are big.

2. The idolatry of big will distort our outreach

Anything that we make into an idol will take us down the wrong road. The most prominent example here is that we water down the gospel to get people to come. Right? If the goal is to get people, you need to do what it takes to get people. So you lower the bar to suit your audience so that they will respond. You take away the things that are hard or that challenge people’s sin.

Well, Jesus flatly rejected this approach. We see this first in Luke 14:25-26. It says, “Now great crowds accompanied Jesus.” And we think, way to go Jesus you’re a success! You’re a winner! You have a crowd. But what does he do? “he turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.’” What? Jesus you have to keep the crowd. You can’t go telling them to give everything up for you. They won’t follow you anymore!

But this shows us that Jesus doesn’t think like us. Jesus wasn’t influenced by the idolatry of big. He was consumed with faithfulness to God. So when there was a temptation to choose between having more people and watering down the gospel, he chose speaking the truth.

Another example of this comes from John 6:26. Before and after Jesus fed the 5,000 a crowd was following him. And in this case he said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me . . . because you ate your fill of the loaves.” What Jesus? Why would you challenge them like this. They wanted to make you a king!

But again, Jesus doesn’t think like us. Jesus wasn’t influenced by the idolatry of big. He was consumed with faithfulness to God.

He went on to talk about faith in him in such a way that most deserted him and he had to even ask the 12, ‘Will you leave me also?’ Jesus wasn’t interested in just getting a crowd. His goal was sharing God’s truth with everyone, even if the crowds went away.

3. The idolatry of big leaves God out of the equation

Yes, you can grow a church without God being involved. Indeed there are non-Christian religious groups that grow very rapidly and are large. But God is not in it. And there are churches that have grown because of a dynamic leader who was later found to be full of sin all along. And there are churches that grow because they tickle itching ears and tell people what they want to hear. But God is not in this.

So yes, you can grow a church without God, but this isn’t true growth. It is based on the flesh; on us and our skills or personality or techniques.And so this puts the spotlight on us. Look what we did. And this is in part why so many have become famous, celebrity pastors. They made their church grow! So they write their books and they go on tour and so forth.

But true growth only comes when God moves and people’s lives are changed. And he does this is thousands of different ways, not through some specific technique or strategy or leadership style.

In fact God loves to use the weak and the lowly; those who no one expects to do anything great. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” This brings the glory to God.

As Paul said, we may work, but “only God (is anything), who gives the growth.” – 1 Corinthians 3:7. It’s all about God, not us.

Now, none of this is meant to excuse not reaching out, and we have work to do here, as do most churches. And it is good to look at how we are doing in our outreach – if it is ineffective – to see if we are doing it poorly and to make corrections.

And you can also turn all this around and make an idol out of being small or not growing. You know, we are small because we are so much more faithful than other groups! When really it is because we don’t reach out or we have created cultural barriers that keep people away.

My point in all this is to have –

The right focus

So let’s focus on being faithful to God to reach out, taking risks and giving of ourselves to others. This is the measure of our success in the kingdom of God. And even if we are not bursting at the seams we can still be encouraged and joyful in our walk with God knowing that God is pleased with us.

Let’s focus on presenting the full gospel to others, even if it means that fewer people will come. Let’s not change his word and gospel message just to get our congregation bigger. If people don’t come or leave because of this we can still be encouraged and joyful in our walk with God knowing that God is pleased with us.

And let us focus on praying for God to move as we minister in his name, to change people’s lives. If there is not much fruit, this isn’t a matter of discouragement, so much as it is a call to greater prayer and reliance on God to bring about the growth, which only he can do. And we will give him the praise when he does his work.

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Series on Witness

I’ve set three goals to challenge us this year. The first is to work at simplifying our lives from so much busyness, so that God and the church aren’t crowded out. The second is to work at our relationships so that we become a more loving, caring and connected community. The third is to be more outwardly focused as a congregation so that we move from being comfortable, to where we are willing to take risks to reach out; to move from a focus on what we get out of church, to a focus on what we can give to others as we reach out.

We are working at this third goal today as we begin a sermon series on witness, that will continue to challenge us along these lines for several weeks.

We have been talking in Sunday school about reaching out and I want to be clear about two things, First, each of us already have areas where we can share our faith, whether it’s family, job, school, social gathering places, our neighborhoods, and so forth. These are places that God has put us providentially, so that we can do his work. So when I encourage us to reach out I mean all of these.

Now, as a congregation, that is, as a whole, we are placed providentially in the South West Chambersburg area also to do God’s work. And so this is a part of our corporate outreach focus. And we have worked at this a lot recently with VBS, follow up visits with the kids that came to VBS, and with more interaction to come, as we brainstormed in Sunday school last Sunday. And also our block party just yesterday.

But my second point is that you can engage in ministry in SW Chambersburg in many different ways, according the gifts and callings God has given you. So no, not everyone will be knocking on doors. But you can pray for, encourage and support those who do. You can help out with events that are geared toward this ministry. You can pray for this area of town.You can be involved in other ministries connected to the people in this area.

So when I talk about witness don’t think I mean if you’re not doing door to door evangelism in SW Chambersburg you aren’t a witness. Not at all! I want to affirm and bless how God has opened all kinds of opportunities for you in various areas of your life to share – as you gather at a gun-shop wood carving group to talk, as you work in a restaurant, as you volunteer in your neighborhood. All of these are what we’re focusing on. All of these are open doors to share your life and faith with others.

If we ask, why do we share? One reason is certainly that we love the Lord and want to do what he says. Right? Jesus told us, “You will be my witnesses” – Acts 1:8. He said, “You are the light of the world” – Matthew 5:14. And he also said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” – Matthew 28:19. All of these are Jesus’ instructions to us, and we want to do what he says.

But what I would have you focus on this morning is this –

Our motivation for reaching out is Christ’s love for people  

This comes out in two key passages. The first is Matthew 9:35-38. Here we see how Jesus’ love for people was his motivation.

35And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” So Jesus is out sharing the gospel.

 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus did what he did because he loved the lost. He came, he shared, he ministered and more – because of love. He saw the lost as harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus felt for them and cared about them. You can see Jesus’ heart here.

In this immediate context, his compassion leads him to do two things. First, he asked for pray for more workers. 37Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” He called on his disciples to pray earnestly for people to go out on his behalf to share his love.

And then second, he sent those very disciples out into the harvest. Mathew 10:5 – “these twelve Jesus sent out.” They became the instruments of his love to others.

The second passage is 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. Here we see how Christ’s love for the lost is not just the reason for Jesus’ sharing, it is the reason that we share.

 Paul says, 14For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

In this passage Paul talks about Christ’s love for people – Christ “has died for all”; and he died “for their sake.” In love, he laid down his life for all. We also see what Christ wants for everyone – new life; that they would “no longer live for themselves” but live a new resurrection life as he does.

Paul goes on to say how this love of Christ affects him. He said, it “controls us.” That is, it directs his actions to be in accordance with this love; Christ’s love leads him to minister to others like Jesus did. This word can also be translated as “compels” in the sense of Christ’s love for others urges him on to minister to them, even Christ did.

The point here is that each one of us is to be like Paul. We are to be controlled by the love of Christ so that we share the gospel with all people.

Why do we share?

Jesus’ love was why he reached out. And Jesus’ love was the reason the 12 shared. And Jesus’ love was the reason Paul ministered. And Jesus’ love is the reason we are to share our faith. 

Like the 12, like Paul, we are to be Jesus’ hands and feet that minister his love to the lost. But to be his hands and feet, we must first have his heart.

How do you view the lost?

Where is your heart? What about the young person listening to loud, profane music? Do you see them through the eyes of the flesh – this person is annoying and rude so that you avoid or rebuke them in disgust? Or do you see them through the eyes of Jesus’ love – this person is helpless and harassed and needs Jesus?

What about the person who is swearing up a storm? Do you see them through the eyes of the flesh – this person is vulgar and should shut up? Or do you see them through the eyes of Jesus’ love – this person is like a sheep without a shepherd; they don’t know Jesus and so they need to be touched by the love of Jesus? Of course they are doing wrong, they aren’t following the Shepherd and he is what they need.

What about the popular person who seems to have everything going their way? Do you see them through the eyes of the flesh – this person would make fun of me, or I don’t like popular people? Or do you see them through the eyes of Jesus – this person needs Jesus too; it may look like things are good, but who knows what’s going in in their hearts?

It’s Christ’s love that changes our perspective. It’s Christ’s love that changes our hearts to look at people in a new way – as helpless and harassed and like sheep without a shepherd.

It’s Christ’s love that is to control us, not our own likes and dislikes. It’s Christ’s love that compels us to share with all people so that they might know Jesus and no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised to new life for them.

William Higgins 

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Series: Paul to the Thessalonians

We’ve begun a series on Paul to the Thessalonians and we are working our way through 1 Thessalonians. We are letting the text take us wherever it goes, so whatever it talks about is going to be what we talk about. Today we are up to chapter 2:1-12 and, as we will see, the overall topic here is ministering with integrity.

Let’s remember briefly –

The situation in Thessalonica

Paul, Silvanus and Timothy had come to Thessalonica and had success in establishing a church. But they were chased out of town before they were ready to leave. And the new believers there were suffering persecution.

Traveling charlatans?

In our passage today, Paul is concerned about his reputation. There was no shortage of hucksters and scam artists in that day who would go from town to town seeking fame or fortune by conning people.

And it doesn’t help Paul’s image that he was forced out of town, just as he was in Philippi before this. And certainly a part of the persecution the Thessalonians were suffering was from people, maybe even family and friends, saying things like – “You got taken!” “He’s just another wandering quack.” “What’s wrong with you?”

This context explains two features of this passage. 1) The use of the phrase – “the gospel of God.” It’s used three times in this passage (vs. 2, 8, 9), but only three times in all of Paul’s other writings. And also, the word “God” is used nine times in these verses.

His point becomes clear in 2:13, when he says, you received the gospel “not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God.” He’s saying that they are not peddling myths, human wisdom or sophistry. They are sharing God’s own good news.

This background also explains 2) The trial technique he uses here (also see 1:5, etc.) It’s as if Paul and his team are on trial, and Paul is acting as a defense lawyer, calling on the Thessalonians as witnesses:

  • you yourselves know – v. 1
  • as you know – v. 2
  • as you know – v. 5
  • you remember – v. 9
  • you are witnesses – v. 10
  • even as you know – v. 11

He also calls on God as a witness, swearing two testimonial oaths in verses 5 and 10.

The purpose of this is to remind them that he, Silas and Timothy were not like these wandering hucksters. They had integrity as they ministered among the Thessalonians

The character of their ministry in Thessalonica

You have a handout that illustrates how these verses are carefully organized. I invite you to keep that handy. Let’s look at this a section at a time. First off –

Their ministry was not in vain. “1For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain.”  In the preceding verses in chapter 1, he has just noted how others have reported about their dramatic conversions. So he can certainly appeal here to their knowledge of this.

He’s saying, our preaching produced real results – you!

Next the focus shifts to their character. “2But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” Even though they had suffered in Philippi and there was conflict in Thessalonica, they had “boldness in our God” to preach the gospel.

They were people of character, who, with God’s help, stood strong amidst opposition.

“3For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive . . ..” Here we have three false charges as to their motivation for preaching. Error or perhaps better “deceit,” impurity, or “impure motives” and an attempt to deceive or trick them. These are the kinds of accusations commonly made against charlatans. But none of these characterize Paul and his team.

Next he talks about their identity, or who they are. “. . . 4but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” They are not hucksters, but rather people approved by God and entrusted with his message. And that is why they speak.

People can say what they want about them, but they preach to please God, not people. What people say is not their concern. What God says is their concern.

Next he comes back to their character.Carrying on the thought of not speaking to please people he says, “5For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed— God is witness. 6Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others . . ..” Again, three false charges often made against hucksters. They did not flatter them, that is just say nice things to gain their favor or to manipulate them. Their preaching was not for the sake of greed – to take their money. He denies this strongly with an oath, “God is witness.” That is, may God curse me if what I say isn’t true. And they didn’t seek glory or honor through their preaching. This might be money related. To be honored can also mean to be paid. Or it might simply mean to be praised by them.

“. . . though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.” Literally it says, “we could have been weighty.” Like we say today they could have thrown their weight around asking for support.

The right to receive support from their hearers comes from Jesus himself (Luke 10:7). But Paul specifically gives up this right, at least with regard to new believers, only accepting support later (Philippians 4:16).

And he does this precisely to avoid being seen as just another wandering charlatan. This was a part of his missionary strategy – a cultural adaptation for taking the gospel to the Gentiles. As he says in 1 Corinthians 9:21, to the Gentiles I became like a Gentile “that I might win” them to the gospel.

“7But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” They were not demanding of them – trying to take from them,  money or honor. Rather, they came to share – the gospel and themselves, not take.

Paul uses the image of a nursing mother caring for her own children to describe their ministry. They were gentle, caring and affectionate. Their love for the Thessalonians comes out clearly, they were “very dear” to them.

Their ministry was not a burden. “9For you remember, sisters and brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” In 2 Thessalonians 3:7 Paul even says, “nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it.”

They went out of their way not to be a burden to them. They gave up their rights to support and worked day and night.

Then finally Paul brings it all together in a closing statement. “10You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.” Here he focuses on what they were like among them. He gives three descriptions – they were holy, righteous and blameless.

He again he calls on both them and God as witnesses. As the Scripture says, let everything be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:5).

“11For you know how, like a father with his children, 12we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” Here we have three things that relate to what they did among the Thessalonians. They exhorted, encouraged and charged them.

We also have another parental image. Now Paul and team are like a father giving loving moral instruction and guidance. Specifically they taught them “to walk in a manner worthy of God.” Why? So that they will be ready to enter God’s “own kingdom and glory” on the final day.

Ministering without integrity?

Christian leaders are to be examples. Because their behavior speaks as loudly as their words. And when their behavior doesn’t fit their message, the message is discredited and God is discredited.

Some in Thessalonica sought to impugn Paul’s integrity in order to undermine his work and to unsettle the new believers.  But it wasn’t possible, because he was a man of integrity. They knew what he was like.

Sadly, we all know of others who have failed in this area:

– Priests or pastors who take advantage of their trust to sexually abuse those in their charge.

– Pastors who will say anything to “succeed” defined as having more and more people come to hear them.

– “Faith” healers who fake it, playing on people’s emotions and needs, while taking their money.

– Celebrity teachers who are in it to make money, selling books and getting rich – (even though Jesus said, “freely you have received, freely give” – Matthew 10:8).

There is an epidemic of a lack of integrity in American Christianity today. There is misuse of power, raw greed, the idolatry of “success,” and the acceptance of the celebrity culture of the world around us. And this disgraces God and it destroys the credibility of the message we preach. As Paul says in Romans 2:24, “The name of God is blasphemed among the (unbelievers) because of . . .” these things.

Christian witness without integrity?

Well, this doesn’t just apply to Christian leaders. Each of you are to be ministers for God in your daily lives. You are to be witnesses! Each of you bear on you the name of Jesus.

Does your life match up with your Christian confession? Do you engage in questionable business practices? Are you seen as a lazy or irresponsible worker?

Do you engage in obviously un-Christian behavior – drunkenness? Sexual immorality? Not paying your taxes? Slander? Lying? Breaking your word? Bullying?

Let me put it like this, when people find out that you are a Christian do they say, really? How can that be? What kind of a church do they go to? Or, what hypocrisy! Or do they say, yeah, that makes sense. I can see that.

Paul says in Philippians 2:15,  “. . . be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”

Have integrity in your Christian witness. Be a light in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation. Instead of dishonor, let your life bring honor and glory to God.

William Higgins

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Let us love one another

What is on my heart this morning is Jesus’ call for us to love one another.

I’ve shared with you before that it is my deepest desire that we be a congregation that is characterized by love for one another. Of all the things we can be known for: a program, our outreach, our music, whatever – the depth of our love for one another is the most important.

And since we are partaking of the Lord’s supper today, it seems like a good time to focus this.

This is what Jesus says in John 13:34-35,

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

He also says in John 15:12-13,

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”

As you can see from these verses the call of Jesus is clear. We are to love one another as brother and sisters in the Lord. But this raises the question –

What is love?

Sometimes we get confused about this as Christians. So let’s look at some clues in our verses as to what Christian love means.

First, we have the word “love” in the phrase, “love one another.” When you look at the whole of the New Testament , this word means – to act for the good of another person.

And it is a choice of the will; a commitment that is made.

  • It is not based on feelings or emotion like with romance.
  • It is not based on whether you like the person, or have lots of things in common, like with friendship.
  • And it is not based on how the other person responds to you, or whether they like you or not.

It simply means doing what is best for the person, no matter what.

Second, we have the phrase “lays down his life” for someone in John 15:13. This phrase is used several times in Scripture:

  • In John 10 Jesus uses it to speak of risking your life for others. This is what the good Shepherd does for the sheep. In contrast, the hired hand who doesn’t care about them and runs away when there is danger. (John 10:11; 13).
  • In John 13:37 Peter uses it to speak of dying for someone (Mark 14:31). He is talking about his willingness to die for Jesus.
  • And then, in 1 John 3:16-17, John uses the phrase to speak of helping a brother or sister in need by giving of your resources.

So, to lay down your life is to act for the other person’s good, even to the point of self-sacrifice.

And then finally as a clue, we have Jesus’ statement that we are to love one another “as I have loved you.” Jesus’ love for us models what our love for one another should look like. How did Jesus love us?

  • Jesus acted for our good in that he ministered to our needs. He gave of himself. He healed people. He taught people. He prayed for people. He was a true servant.
  • Jesus also acted for our good in that he died on the cross for us, literally laying down his life for us so that we could be saved.
  • And Jesus did all this even for those who despised and rejected him.

This is how Jesus loved us.

So we have these three clues and they show us –

How we are to love each other

Love involves:

*         acting for the good of each other.

*         ministering to each other’s needs; being servants to one another.

*         sacrificing for each other’s good.

*         doing all this, even if the person doesn’t like you.

This might mean:

  • helping with a material need, as I John 3:16-17 talks about; giving of what we have to help a sister or brother in a time of crisis.
  • giving someone our time, letting someone share their burdens and concerns.
  • helping someone work through a problem.
  • encouraging someone who is overwhelmed and ready to give up.

There are so many practical ways that love is expressed – showing kindness, forgiving someone. And in all of these ways, we lay down our lives for each other, and we love each other as Jesus loved us.

Now, I have certainly seen this love among us. And I want to encourage us this morning to continue to do this and to love each other still more.

Love is the true witness

Let me end by reminding you that when we love each other deeply from the heart, then we will be true witnesses. You can have all the outreach you want, but if there is no love it doesn’t get you anywhere.

Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35. People will look at us and say, “Hey, they act just like Jesus did. Jesus laid down his life for others, and look how they lay down their lives for each other. They must be true followers of Jesus.”

This kind of selfless love isn’t natural. It’s supernatural – from God. So when people see this, they know that something different is going on. And this draws them to come and find out what it is.

May God help us to love each other in this way.

William Higgins

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You might say, ‘Well, pastor, there are lots of reasons not to share the gospel.’ For instance, I might strain my relationship with someone. Or, what if they ask a question I can’t answer? Or, I’m just not good at talking to people.

Now for sure, with regard to straining relationships, we should attend to how we share. We don’t want to be rude, manipulative or overbearing. We want to have wisdom and grace. And as well it is fine to say the truth – which is that you don’t have all the answers (just like everyone else) but you do know that Jesus is alive and can change lives. It’s not an argument it is you bearing witness to your faith. And yes, not everyone is good at sharing. But you can try and rely on God to give you the words. You don’t have to be eloquent for God to use you powerfully.

So, these are all concerns, but they can be dealt with. What’s crucial is that you are not ashamed of Jesus; that you don’t let this stop you from sharing.

Jesus talked about this in Mark 8:38, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

We must be bold in our witness to Jesus and the salvation he brings. We should be like Paul, who said in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” And he lived his life by these words.

But enough about reasons why we don’t share. Now lets look at why we should share.

Reason #1 – Because you want to be faithful to Jesus

He certainly does call each of us to bear witness of him to others. He said, “You are the light of the world” – Matthew 5:14. He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” -Matthew 28:19. He said, “You will be my witnesses” – Acts 1:8.

And so we share because we love him and want to be faithful to do what he says. We want to hear from him on the final day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

In our story in Luke 8, Jesus told the man, “declare how much God has done for you” – v. 39. Jesus sent him back to share the gospel. (After all they had just sent Jesus away, so who else would do it?)

And it wouldn’t have been an easy assignment. He would surely get a hostile reception. But he was faithful to Jesus nevertheless. It says, “And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city . . .” – v. 39.

Reason #2 – Because you want to tell others about what God has done in your life

The psalmist says, “Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” – Psalm 96:2-3. We are to tell others about what God has done – his salvation; his marvelous works.

Has God done something in your life? Are you forgiven? Have you been set free? Do you have new life? Joy? Love? Well, in our world – this is news! It’s something to be shared. God is alive and well and working in people’s lives. And people need to hear this.

Now sometimes we think that the best witnesses are new Christians. You know, it’s fresh in their hearts and they are eager to tell. But we aren’t just sharing something that happened at our conversion, maybe 10 or 30 or 50 years ago. It’s about what God is doing in your life right now.

Is God still working in your life? Then you have something to share. And that’s what you should share.

Once again, in our story in Luke 8, Jesus told the man, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you” – v. 38. If we focused on the word “declare” before, now the focus is on what he is sharing – “how much God has done for you.”

He was demonized, he was enslaved, he was tortured. It must have been horrible, running around naked, out of control and miserable all the time. And now, because of Jesus, he is free, he is at peace and he is in his right mind. And this is what he shared. He proclaimed to everyone “how much Jesus had done for him” – vs. 39.

Reason #3 – Because you love people and want them to experience God’s salvation

It is certainly possible to have wrong motivations, like to win an argument or simply to make the church grow. But the right motive is love.

Jesus was motivated by love. In Matthew 9:36 it says, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

And because he had compassion, he shared the good news with them. And then in Matthew 10 sent out his disciples because there were so many people.

Jesus had compassion. Do you have compassion for those who have not heard about Jesus?

Paul also was motivated by love. This is him talking about his fellow Jews who have not responded to Jesus: Romans 9:1-3 – “I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Do you have “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in your heart for those who don’t know Jesus?

We share because we love; because we are concerned about others. And we want others to know the grace of God, just as we do.

In our story in Luke 8, the man clearly loved Jesus. He sat at his feet, wanted to go with him and then obeyed what he said.

But he also loved the people of his city. For when the man told what God had done for him – he wasn’t just relating facts. He wanted them to experience Jesus, like he had. He wanted them to receive help from Jesus, like he had. For if Jesus could help someone in a situation as bad as his – he could surely help any one of them with their needs.

——————–

So we have here three good reasons to share the gospel:

  • You want to be faithful to Jesus because you love him.
  • You want to share what God has done in your life
  • You love others and want them to know Jesus too.

Our hope as Elders is that our Open house Sunday will give you a relatively easy way to work at this. Invite someone to come to church and hear about Jesus.

Let’s end today by pausing for a moment to listen in prayer. Who do you think God wants you to ask? Who is God putting on your heart?

William Higgins

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We are looking at Five Marks of Spiritual Renewal trying to see what our Christian lives should look like, so that we can examine ourselves and see how we are actually doing. I suspect we already know where we are failing. But it is good to be encouraged to deal with what we already know about.

The first mark is Complete Yieldedness to God. And, as we saw last week, it is the key to all the rest. Because when we deal with our sins, then we are able to experience all that God has for us. And as we’ll see today it is the key that releases the Spirit to work in our own hearts, and then also to work through us to touch other people’s lives.

I want to begin by pointing out that . .

Our sin blocks the Spirit from working in and through us

When we don’t yield ourselves to God we grieve the Spirit. Did you know that you can do this? Paul says in Ephesians 4:30, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” We can cause the Spirit to be distressed, sorrowful, pained, sad; that’s what the word “grieved” means. We do this when we sin.

In the verses just before and after v. 30, Paul talks about various sins in the lives of Christians:  v. 25 – lying; v. 26 – inappropriate anger; v. 27 – stealing;   v. 29 – corrupt speech; and v. 31 – bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice. We grieve the Spirit through these things, and any other sins which we allow to remain in our lives.

Also when we don’t yield ourselves to God we quench the Spirit. Paul talks about this in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, “Do not quench the Spirit.” To “quench” means to suppress, or to extinguish, like putting out a fire. This is what we do when we sin. We put out the fire of the Spirit within us. We put a lid on what the Spirit wants to do. We shut the Spirit out of our lives.

And that’s why David prayed in Psalm 51:11, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” He was repenting of adultery and murder and he knew this would affect the Spirit’s presence in his life. And he didn’t want that to happen.

The result of our sin is that we hinder the work of the Spirit in us and through us. God is not able to do what he wants in us to strengthen and help us. And we are certainly not in a place where the Spirit can work through us to minister to others.

Instead of being filled with the Holy Spirit, we are empty. We are dried up spiritually. We are weak and helpless.

Now, the Spirit doesn’t give up on us. The Spirit still works to convict us of our sin and unrighteousness, as Jesus talks about in John 16:8. The Spirit waits for us to respond to deal with our sin.

And this is exactly what you should do. Yield yourself completely to God. Submit every area of your life to God. Hold nothing back. Deal with all your sins, your failures and your compromises. Remove all the hindrances to the Spirit’s full working in and through you.

And then, ask God for the Spirit to come into your life anew. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” – Luke 11:9. He goes on to say, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” – Luke 11:13

Once we have dealt with our sin and found forgiveness, the Spirit is free to come and work. All we need to do is ask in faith and God will give us of his Spirit.

This brings us to the fourth mark of spiritual renewal . . .

4. The Spirit comes to work in us

When the Spirit comes we come alive again. The Spirit’s presence rejuvenates us. As Jesus said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life.” When the Spirit is present, the Spirit brings forth life. Just as we were born of the Spirit when we first became a Christian, so our life is renewed when the presence of the Spirit comes again in fullness.

We are also transformed within. Instead of a heart of stone that is dead to God, as Paul says in Romans 5:5, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit works in us to produce change. Paul speaks of this as fruit in Galatians 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control.” Something new and different, happens within us.

And a part of this is that we are enabled to do God’s will. In Romans 8:4 Paul talks about how “the righteous requirement of the law” is “fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

And Jesus said in Mark 14:38, “the Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” All of us have weaknesses and brokenness in us; our flesh is weak. And these are sorely tested in times of difficulty and trial. But the Spirit helps us to endure and to overcome despite our weaknesses and times of testing.

The Spirit not only comes into us to make us new, the fifth mark of spiritual renewal is that . .  .

5. The Spirit comes to work through us to minister to others

The Spirit empowers us. Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . .” throughout the world.  – Acts 1:8. The word power means also, strength and ability.

The disciples are a good example here. Before the coming of the Spirit, they were fearful. But once the Spirit came they were strengthened to speak with conviction and boldness.

The Spirit gives us words to say. Jesus says that when you are being persecuted and brought before the authorities and you are anxious about what to say, “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:12). And if God can give us the right words to say under such duress, how much easier in our everyday lives?

The Spirit gives us gifts or abilities. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Each one of us is to receive and use the gifts of the Spirit to minister to the needs of others. Paul mentions things like words of wisdom and knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy speaking in tongues and interpreting tongues.

After giving these examples, he says, in 1 Corinthians 12:11, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”

So we are not alone, or left to try to serve God in our own strength. The Spirit helps us in all these ways and more.

Let me end by saying that as we minister to others in the power of the Spirit, the cycle starts over. Those we minister to

1. Are convicted to yield themselves completely to God

2. They experience renewed relationships with God, and 3. others

4. The Spirit comes to work in, and 5. through them.

And the cycle continues, again and again. This is how spiritual renewal works.

William Higgins

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