PRAYING LIKE ELIJAH – A True Story in Africa in the 20th Century

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John C. Wengatz was a pioneer missionary to Africa for 42 years, serving in Liberia, Angola, and the Congo during the early to mid-1900’s.  In his book, Miracles in Black, Dr. Wengatz tells of an African convert who was left at a new mission station to carry on the Lord’s work with a cannibal tribe.  It was the dry season when Joao Mbaxi took over, but soon the tropical rains would be coming.  Month after month went by, however, without a cloud appearing in the sky.  Then came the time for the normal dry period.  By now everyone was suffering, and many were on the brink of starvation.  In all the years they had worshiped their ancient gods, the rains had never failed them, and so Joao was told that he must leave the country and take “the white man’s God” with him.  The courageous Christian refused to go.  Then, flushed with anger, the chief sullenly warned, “If your God is as good as you say and so powerful that he rules the sky, why doesn’t He send us the needed showers?  If it doesn’t rain by sunrise tomorrow, we will drink your blood and eat your flesh!”  Recalling the biblical account of Elijah, Joao went to his hut and prayed for divine help with the same urgency as that ancient prophet.  Meanwhile the members of the tribe waited for the dawn when the Christian leader would become the victim of their horrible feast.  Just before daylight, thunder was heard in the distance, lightning flashed across the sky, and abundant rain refreshed the entire region!  As a result, the believer was able to continue his work for Christ.

GOD’S REPEAT PERFORMANCE OF I KINGS 17:42-45 IN ANSWER TO BELIEVING PRAYER.

God glorified Himself in answer to prayer and answered their challenge:  “If your God is as good as you say and so powerful that he rules the sky, why doesn’t He send us the needed showers?”  Are you faced with a seemingly-impossible challenge in your life today?  God would like to hear from you about it.

As the prophet Jeremiah said to the Lord God, “Are there any among the idols of the nations who give rain?  Or can the heavens grant showers?  Is it not Thou, O Lord our God?  Therefore we hope in Thee, for Thou art the one who hast done all these things.”  (Jeremiah 14:22)

TRUE WISDOM IS FULL OF MERCY AND GOOD FRUITS – James 3:17 (Continued)

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Reporters and city officials gathered at a Chicago railroad station one afternoon in 1953.  The person they were meeting was the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize winner.  A few minutes after the train came to a stop, a giant of a man, six feet four inches tall, with bushy hair and a large moustache stepped from the train.  Cameras flashed.  City officials approached him with hands outstretched.  Various ones began telling him how honored they were to meet him.

The man politely thanked them and then, looking over their heads, he asked if he could be excused for a moment.  He quickly walked through the crowd until he reached the side of an elderly black woman who was struggling with two large suitcases.  He picked up the bags and with a smile, escorted the woman to a bus.  After helping her aboard, he wished her a safe journey. Returning to the greeting party he apologized, “Sorry to have kept you waiting.”

The man was Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the famous missionary doctor who had spent his life helping the poor in Africa.  In response to Schweitzer’s action, one member of the reception committee said with great admiration to the reporter standing next to him, “That’s the first time I ever saw a sermon walking.”

That was an act of mercy.  Dr Schweitzer saw a need.  He had compassion, and he met the need.  The title of this story was:  “Forget yourself for others and others will not forget you!  The Scripture reference was Matthew 7:12 where Jesus said, “Therefore, however you want others to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”  (Story taken from “God’s Little Devotional Book”)

By contrast, worldly wisdom tends to be self-centered and ego-centered, envying people above them, and treating people beneath them with harshness and disdain.  Having worked in a large company for several years, I noted that some people in positions higher than mine would not talk to me, respond to a greeting, or even look at me..  They treated me as if I didn’t exist. The Lord Jesus directed His attention to this kind of behavior in one of His parables.

The parable of the Good Samaritan, in Luke 10:30-37, is one of the most well-known of Jesus’ parables.  In it, the priest and levite see the injured man at a distance and cross over to the other side of the road as they pass him.  Rather than taking responsibility and showing mercy for a fellow-Jew, they cross over to the other side of the road and treat the person as if he didn’t exist.  However, the Samaritan, who was hated by the Jews, felt compassion and made sure that the man was taken care of at his own expense.  He had nothing to gain from this other than the satisfaction that he was pleasing God. That was truly an act of mercy on his part.

The apostle James, here in verse 17, describes this fifth evidence of wisdom from above. It is “full of mercy and good fruits” or “controlled by mercy and good fruits”. This word “mercy” is found 78 times in the New Testament Scriptures, and many of those occurrences are associated with the miracles of Jesus Christ. Mercy and good fruits are linked together here. Mercy, or compassion, is an attitude and motivation that is evidenced by “good fruits” or the outward acts of mercy. James expressed that concept earlier, in chapter 2, verses 14-17, when he said, “What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works. Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? James is saying that genuine faith is evidenced by genuine works, and he is also saying that genuine wisdom is evidenced by outward acts of mercy.

We find in Scripture that mercy is closely associated with several other character qualities and behaviors. For example, mercy and love are often found together. Ephesians 2:4 says, “But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love, which He had for us.”  Mercy and forgiveness belong together also.  Daniel 9:9 says, “To the Lord belong compassion and forgiveness.”

In his book, Beneath the Cross of Jesus, A. Leonard Griffith tells the story of a young Korean exchange student, a leader in Christian circles at the University of Pennsylvania, who left his apartment on the evening of April 25, 1958, to mail a letter to his parents.  As he turned from the mailbox, he was met by eleven leather-jacketed teenage boys.  Without a word, they beat him with a blackjack, a lead pipe, and their shoes and fists – and left him lying dead in the gutter.

All Philadelphia cried out for vengeance.  The district attorney planned to seek the death penalty for the arrested youths.  And then, this letter arrived, signed by the boy’s parents and twenty other relatives in Korea:  “Our family has met together and we have decided to petition that the most generous treatment possible within the laws of your government be given to those who have committed this criminal action. . . . In order to give evidence of our sincere hope contained in this petition, we have decided to save money to start a fund to be used for the religious, educational, vocational, and social guidance of the boys when they are released. . . . We have dared to express our hope with a spirit received from the gospel of our Savior Jesus Christ who died for our sins.”

What a testimony of mercy, finding expression in forgiveness!  A hymn comes to mind that is a reminder and encouragement to be a vessel of mercy to others.  Here is the last stanza and chorus:

Give as ’twas given to you in your need, Love as the Master loved you;

Be to the helpless a helper indeed, Unto your mission be true.

Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing,

Out of my life may Jesus shine;

Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing,

Make me a blessing to someone today.

 

 

 

 

DIVISIONS IN THE CHURCH – I Corinthians 1:10-17

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INTRODUCTION:

How important is it that there be unity within the Church?  How important is it that there  be unity in the Church where you fellowship?  How important was unity to the apostle Paul, and to the Holy Spirit who moved Him to write this letter to the Church in Corinth?

This issue was so important that Paul devotes the first four chapters of I Corinthians to divisions in the church.  In verses 10-17 of Chapter 1, Paul establishes the fact that there are divisions and begins to deal with them.

I.  PAUL’S APPEAL FOR UNITY (verses 10-12)

In verses 10-12, Paul begins by giving an appeal for unity.  In verse 10 we see both Paul’s affection for the Corinthian church, and his authority as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He addresses them as “brethren”.  They are his family in  Christ.  And he speaks “in the name of” or by the authority of, our Lord Jesus Christ.  There are several important terms in this passage.  Paul exhorts them to “agree”.  The Greek word used here literally means “to say the same thing”.   This doesn’t mean that they have to agree on the minutest points in areas where there is no clear teaching in Scripture.  In these cases there should be freedom to “agree to disagree”.  But when it comes to the clear teachings of God’s Word, there cannot be two conflicting views that are both right.  God is not confused, and He does not contradict Himself.  His Word does not disagree with itself.  So Paul is insisting that the Corinthians, and all believers, have doctrinal unity that is clearly based on God’s Word.  He appeals to them “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  In other words, there must be agreement with Christ, with His will, and with His Word.  For a local church to be spiritually healthy and effective, and for there to be harmony in the local church, there must be doctrinal unity.

Paul continues in verse 10 by saying that “there be no divisions among you”.  The word “divisions” comes from the Greek word “schismata”, from which we get our English word “schism”.  This word was normally used to refer to a tear in a garment.  What happens when you get a tear in a piece of clothing and you keep washing and wearing that piece of clothing with the tear in it?  Unless it’s mended, the tear gets bigger and bigger, doesn’t it?  The church in Corinth was a group of people who were tearing themselves apart!

Paul doesn’t want these divisions to continue, so he offers them an alternative.  Instead of tearing themselves apart, he urges them to be “made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment”.  The words  “made complete” mean “to be perfectly joined together”, like a jigsaw puzzle.  How many of you have ever put together a jigsaw puzzle?  Every piece of that jigsaw puzzle is different, isn’t it?  But when each piece is fitted together into its proper place in the puzzle, you have a beautiful and complete picture.  Have you ever tried to put a jigsaw puzzle together with the pieces turned upside down so that they are all blank?  Try it some time.  It’s a lot harder!  On a large jigsaw puzzle of a thousand pieces or more, it’s almost impossible to put it together upside down!  That’s not the way a jigsaw puzzle was meant to be put together.  In the same way, that’s not the way the Church was meant to be fitted together.  God wants the local church congregation and the local community to see the beauty of a church that is unified and “fitted together” in love.

Unity in the chuch is something that requires cooperation with each other and with the Spirit of God.  We need to be “perfectly joined together” in the love of Christ.  One day in Africa, a small boy was lost.  The news went out but no one had seen the little fellow.  The search went on until nightfall, but no answer came to their urgent calls.  The anxiety of the child’s mother contined to grow, for she knew that her boy was somewhere out in the darkness where wild animals were constantly on the prowl.  When daylight again appeared, they looked for him with renewed energy but still without success.  In desperation they returned and held a meeting.  Perhaps, in their individual efforts, they had missed some spots;  so the suggestion was made, “Let’s all join hands and go through the long grass again.”  Finally the child was found, but it was too late.  When the lifeless body of the little one was carried back to the anxious mother, she cried aloud, “Oh why didn’t’ you join hands before?”

When it comes to seeking the spiritually lost for Christ, we can be much more effective if we are “perfectly joined together” in an unfailing zeal for God’s glory, not our own.  Believers who are joined in heart should not find it difficult to be joined in hand, working together for the common good and for the glory of Christ.  This applies also to the leadership in the church.  The elders should make their decisions with “the same mind and the same judgment.  There should be unanimous agreement.  Not even a three-fourths vote should carry a motion.  There should be oneness of mind, no matter how long it takes.  Because the Holy Spirit has but one will, and because a church must be in complete harmony with His will, the leaders must be in complete harmony with each other in that will.  The congregation then is to submit to the elders because it has confidence that their decisions were made under the Holy Spirit’s direction and power.

The words “made complete” in verse 10 are translated from a Greek word which was used to speak of mending such things as nets, bones, dislocated joints, broken utensils, and torn garments.  The basic meaning is to put back together and make one again something that was broken or separated.  Paul wants the Corinthian church to mend the broken relationships that have been caused by the divisions among its members.

In her book, “The Key to a Loving Heart”, Karen Mains includes a parable about the church entitled “The Brawling Bride”.  It tells about the most climactic moment in a wedding ceremony.  The families have been seated.  The groom and his attendants are in their places.  The minister is waiting, Bible in hand.  The bridesmaids have come down the aisle.  The organ begins the bridal march, and everyone stands.  A gasp bursts from the guests!  The bride is limping!  Her gown is ripped and covered with mud!  Bruises show on her arm!  Her nose is bloody!  One eye is purple and swollen!  Her hair is messed up!

In this parable, the groom in Christ.  “Doesn’t He deserve better than this?” the author asks.  “His bride, the Church, has been fighting again!”

Ridiculous?  Not when we hear of churches with factions or cliques of people who sit on opposite sides of the aisle.  Not when one part of the congregation meets in one part of the building, and the other part of the congregation meets in another spot.  Not when some people in the congregation won’t look at, speak to, or even acknowledge the existence of certain other people in the congregation.  These kinds of things happen when there are divisions in a church.

In verse 11, Paul gives the reason for his appeal for unity in the church at Corinth.  He had received a report from the household of Cloe that there were quarrels among the members of the Corinthian church.  We do not know who the people were who belonged to “the house of Cloe”, but we must commend them for their courage and devotion.  They did not try to hide the problems.  They were burdened about them, and they went to the right person with them.  They were also not afraid to be mentioned in Paul’s letter to the church.

Verse 12 tells us the source of this problem.  Four groups had formed in the Corinthan church.  There were:  the followers of Paul, the followers of Apollos, the followers of Cephas or Peter, and the followers of Christ.  The content of their messages were in agreement, but the followers of these men probably focused on personality differences and distorted their teachings.  Paul was the apostle to the gentiles.  They may have carried Paul’s teachings of justification by faith and freedom from the Law to an extreme and felt free to do whatever they wanted.  Apollos was an intellectual.  Acts 18:24 says that Apollos was “an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man”.  Alexandria was a center for learning and philosophy.  His followers in the Corinthian church may have viewed Christianity as a philosophy rather than a relationship with a Person – Jesus Christ.  Peter was an uneducated, common man and may have appealed to that group of people in Corinth.  The followers of Jesus may have believed in Jesus’ words only, and did not believe that the writings of Peter, Paul, and the other apostles were really Scripture.  We have “Jesus only” groups even today.

II.  PAUL’S CONDEMNATION (verse 13)

Paul condemns their behavior in verse 13 by saying, “Has Christ been divided?”  In other words, have different amounts of Christ been given to different people?  In Matthew 12:25 the Lord Jesus says, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself shall not stand.”

Only the Lord Jesus Christ could pay the penalty for our sins because only He is the Son of God.  Luke says in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name  under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.”  The ground is level at the cross.  We are all equally undeserving of salvation and a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Anyone who claims that he or she has an exclusive part in Christ is wrong.  Christ belongs fully to every believer in His spiritual body, the Church.  I Corinthians 12:12,13 says, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, and whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”  You and I can’t have more of the Lord Jesus Christ, but we can give Him more of ourselves, and experience more fully what is already ours as children of God.

III.  PAUL’S EXAMPLE (verses 14-16)

In verrses 14 to 16, Paul uses himself as an example.  In this passage of Scripture, Paul is very careful to focus the attention on Christ and not on himself.  There was nothing wrong with Paul baptizing people, but Paul didn’t want people to boast in the fact that he baptized them.  In Philippians 2:9 Paul said of Christ, “Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.”  No Christian, no Christian minister, is to put himself in Christ’s place, or allow himself to be put in Christ’s place, and take the authority and honor that is due to Christ alone.

IV.  PAUL’S CALLING (verse 17)

In verse 17, Paul says that his calling of God was to “preach the Gospel”, and the focus of the Gospel is the cross of Christ.  Paul says that he does not preach “in cleverness of speech” because the power of the gospel lies in the facts of the gospel, nnd not in any man’s presentation of them.

CONCLUSION:

We’ve seen how important unity was to the apostle Paul.  How important was unity to our Lord Jesus Christ?  If you will turn in your Bibles with me to John 17:20-23, I will read the passage to you.  The Lord Jesus is praying to the Father, and this is part of His prayer for us:

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one; even as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them; that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (NKJV)

Having listened to Paul’s words and the prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ, how important is unity to each of us today?  Are we willing and ready to pray for unity in His Church, and work at building a stronger unity among fellow-members of the congregations where we fellowship and serve?  Will we do so by the strength which God alone can and will supply?  Are we willing to love each other as Christ loved us?  If we are, all our differences and difficulties would soon come to an end.  Remember, a believer who is at war with his brother or sister in Christ cannot be at peace with our heavenly Father.

 

 

TRUE FREEDOM – 4th of July message

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Americans celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July as a public holiday with fireworks, barbecues, flags, and expressions of gratitude for the freedom we have as Americans.  Most celebrations of national independence mark the day of “final victory” in the struggle  for freedom.  Perhaps it’s a mark of our American pride and boldness that we celebrate, on July 4th,  the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which occurred   seven years before the final treaty ending the Revolutionary War on September 3, 1783.  That Declaration’s adoption on July 4, 1776 burned the final bridges of England’s authority over America. The signers of this Declaration of Independence recognized that liberty could not be preserved unless this new nation recognized its dependence on God.  The brave men who initiated and signed it realized that genuine freedom comes only through reliance on the Almighty. Do you consider yourself to be truly free?  Whether you live in a free country or not, are you free on the inside?  Are you free from guilt and fears?  Are you free from the fear of death,  and from the eternal consequences of your actions?  Are you free from greed and other “sinful” passions that have become beyond your control? The sad thing is that the world often describes sin as the essence of freedom.  “I can do what I please because it’s my life, and I am the master of my fate.”  This is also what Satan told Eve in the Garden of Eden when he said, in effect, “Don’t be bound by God’s command!  Be free!  Eat the fruit and become as God, knowing good and evil!”  When Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and also gave some to Adam, and he ate it, what happened?  They died!  They immediately died spiritually because their fellowship with God was broken and they hid from God.  Their personalities also began to decay because they began to lie and shift the blame to one another.  And eventually their bodies died.  They certainly weren’t the masters of their fate, were they? The Bible teaches that true freedom can only be found through a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  He set us free at the cost of His own life.

ILLUSTRATIONS:  TWO ACTUAL RESPONSES TO ONE’S FREEDOM

A heathen girl was bought at a slave auction for a large sum of money.  The Christian man who purchased her did so in order to set her free.  When he came to get her the next day, she said simply, “Master, I am ready to serve you.”  He replied, “While it is true that I bought you, I did so only to relieve you of the bonds of slavery.”  Then, with a smile he handed the surprised girl her freedom papers.  She looked at him for a moment in sheer astonishment.  Then, seeing that he meant what he said, she cried out, “Am I truly free?  Am I my own?  May I go where I wish?”  “Yes”, he said.  “That’s why I bought you, so that you could be freed from the restrictions of slavery.  “Sir”, she said as she fell at his feet in heartfelt devotion, “my greatest joy will be to dwell with you and go wherever you direct me.”

I’m closing with another true story that made a tremendous impression on me.  A young convert on the west coast of Africa, who was saved out of the most horrible savagery, came on Christmas Day into the little chapel on the mission compound to offer her sacrifice of praise in the form of a gift of money.  As a rule, the natives in that area were so poor that only a handful of vegetables was considered a generous offering.  Some, in fact, could only bring a  bunch of wild flowers to show their good will.  If anyone ever managed to bring a coin worth a penny or two, it was considered as a tremendous gift.  This girl of sixteen, however, drew from under her tattered outer garments a silver  coin worth about a dollar! The missionary was so amazed at the amount of the offering that he refused, at first, to accept it, for he thought she must have gotten it dishonestly.  In order to avoid confusion and embarrassment, he finally agreed to accept it.   But at the end of the service he called her aside to ask her where she obtained such a fortune.  She explained very simply that, in order to present to the Lord Jesus Christ an offering that satisfied her own heart’s love for Him, she had gone to a neighboring plantation and  sold herself to the plantation owner as a slave to him for the rest of her life!  She had, in effect, brought the whole financial equivalent of her life and laid it down in a single gift at the feet of her Savior and spiritual Liberator, the Lord Jesus Christ.

This Fourth of July, may we celebrate with joy the freedoms and privileges we possess, both as citizens of this great nation and, hopefully also, as citizens of heaven.  If you are not sure whether or not you are a citizen of heaven, please read the ABOUT PAGE on this blog site, and the section entitled “Question”.  In John’s Gospel, chapter 8,. and verses 31 and 32, Jesus said:  “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

THE SECRET OF CONTENTMENT – Philippians 4:10-23

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INTRODUCTION:

A deacon in a church once said to his pastor:  “We Christians are either thermometers or thermostats”.  A thermometer doesn’t change anything around it.  It just tells the temperature.  It’s always going up and down.  But  a thermostat regulates the room or building it is in.  When you turn up the thermostat, the heater comes on and the room gets warmer.

The apostle Paul was a thermostat.   Instead of having spiritual ups and downs as his situation changed, Paul went right on, doing his work and serving the Lord Jesus Christ.  Here in Philippians 4:10-23, Paul gives the reasons for his contentment, and gives the glory to God.

I.  PAUL’S CONTENTMENT (verses 10-13)

In verse 10, the apostle Paul rejoices that the church at Philippi had become concerned about his needs.  He had been praying for them.  Now Paul rejoices at the way God had answered his prayers and provided an opportunity for them to be of service to him while he was in prison at Rome.  Then Paul says in verse 11, “For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”  The word “learned” means “learned by experience”  Paul had to go through many difficult experiences in life in order to learn how to be content.  When Paul wrote these words, he was deprived of almost everything – except contentment.

I may have shared this illustration with you before , but it’s so appropriate for this verse.  Leaning on his fence one day, a devout Quaker, who believed in simplicity of life, was watching a new neighbor move in next door.  After all kinds of modern appliances, electronic gadgets, and plush furnishings had been carried into the house, the Quaker called over to his new neighbor and said, “If you are lacking anything, neighbor, let  me know, and I’ll show you how to live  without it.”  That Quaker and the apostle Paul had at least one thing in common – they had learned the secret of contentment.  We may not always be able to choose our circumstances in life, but we can choose our attitude toward them.

The opposite of contentment is dissatisfaction or greed.  I’m sure we’ve all met greedy people, but people aren’t the only ones who are greedy.  An animal that is almost impossible to capture is the ring-tailed monkey of Africa.  But the Zulu people have a method that’s both simple and effective.  It’s based on this little creature’s love for a particular melon that grows on a vine.  The seeds are its favorite food.  Knowing this, the Zulus cut a small hole in the melon, just large enough for the monkey to put his hand inside to get the delicious morsels.  The little fellow reaches through the hole and grabs as many seeds as he can.  But pulling his clenched fist out of the melon is impossible because now it is larger than the hole.  He will pull and tug and scream and struggle to get free, but it’s no use.  As long as he holds on to his prized seeds, he is trapped by the melon – and the Zulus have captured one more ring-tailed monkey.

All too often we also become the victims of our own selfishness and greed.  Lured by the  attractiveness of material things, we strive to get more and more.  Then one day we realize  that what we have been living for is the cause of our frustration and unhappiness.  Our hand is in the “hole” and we can’t seem to get it out because we won’t let go!

Happy is the person, whether wealthy or poor, whose greatest satisfaction is in the Lord Jesus Christ!  That person can say with the apostle Paul, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”

Paul’s motto is found in verse 13:  “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  A father found his little boy one day trying to lift a heavy stone.  The youngster pushed, pulled, and struggled to get the boulder to move.  Then, as he was just about to give up, his dad said, “Son, are you using all your strength?”  “Sure am”, he answered.  “No, you aren’t”, the father responded.  “I’ve been standing here all the time and you haven’t asked me for help!”  How often have we tried to do things without relying on God’s strength?  We use up all our energies, and then, because the task seems impossible, we’re tempted to throw up our hands and give up.  Remember, we are not using all our strength unless we are drawing upon the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in us.

II.  PAUL’S GRATITUDE (verses 14-18)

In verses 10-13, Paul expresses his gratitude to the church at Philippi for their many gifts, especially for their most recent gift.  In verse 15, Paul says “No church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone.”  They showed their devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, and their love for the apostle Paul, by giving sacrificially to Paul.  Let me share with you another example of sacrificial giving.  In about 1490, two friends, Albrecht Durer and Franz Knigstein were struggling to become artists.  They were very poor and a lot of training was involved.  So they decided that one would work and support both while the other pursued art classes.  They cast lots and Durer won.  Before leaving, he assured Franz that he would return and help him so that he could develop his talent.  He did come back to keep his promise, but to his surprise, he discovered the enormous price his friend paid.  Hard labor had caused his slender, sensitive fingers to become stiff and twisted.  They would never be able to perform the delicate brush strokes necessary in fine painting.  On one occasion Durer found Franz kneeling, his gnarled hands folded as he prayed for his companion.  Quickly the great artist sketched that scene, and from it he produced his masterpiece, “The Praying Hands”.  The world is richer because of Albrecht Durer, but much credit must also go to his faithful friend.

In verse 18, the apostle Paul thanks the Philippian church for their most recent gift.  He calls it “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.”  Thank you notes give us the opportunity to make permanent our feelings of gratitude for our friends or loved ones.  Paul sent a thank you note to the Christians at Philippi.  They were the only church that had supported him financially on his missionary journey, and Paul did more than just say thanks.  He told them specifically what good they had done by helping him.  Thank you notes work both ways.  They help the sender to express appreciation, and they help the receiver to know what he had done to assist.  Does someone you know deserve a note of thanks?

III.  PRAISE TO GOD (verses 19-20)

In verses 19 and 20, Paul gives praise and glory to God, and says, “You met my need, and God is going to meet your every need.”  A needy widow in Chicago lived by the motto:  “The Lord will provide.”  Even when severely tested, Mrs. Hokanson never lost her smile and her deep faith.  Casting all her cares on God, she found that He always took the burden and supplied the needs.

Mrs. Hokanson was the sole support for her mentally retarded son.  Eventually, chronic arthritis confined her to bed.  When a church  youth group went over to Mrs. Hokanson’s house to cheer her up,, they were amazed to discover that she was not depressed.  When she was asked, “What will you and Arthur do?” She gave her usual quiet, confident response, “The Lord will provide.”  When Mrs. Hokanson died, many people wondered what would happen to her son.  But when friends and neighbors went home with Arthur after the funeral, he proudly showed them his collection of stamps.  Instead of tearing the stamps off the envelopes, he had taken and kept over a hundred letters intended for his mother and left them unopened.  Many contained substantial gifts – enough to care for the boy for the rest of his life.

When we cast all our cares on the Lord, we’ll be amazed at the wondrous way He provides! Our needs can never exhaust God’s supply.

God’s promise to provide for our needs covers the little things as well as the big ones.  The same God who helped Elisha retrieve the borrowed axe head in II Kings 6, and who supplied flour and oil for a faithful widow in I Kings 17, will meet all our needs as well, not only the physical needs, but also the emotional, social, and spiritual needs.  We worship a God who is greater than any of our problems.

Have you learned the secret of contentment in your life?  If you are still searching and want answers, please go to my ABOUT PAGE, especially to the section entitled QUESTION.  If you have more questions or want to know more about a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, please leave a comment and I’ll respond to you.  Thank you for your attention, and may God give you the joy and contentment you desire as you respond to Him.

RIGHT LIVING – Philippians 4:9

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INTRODUCTION:

In Philippians 4:8 we learned about right thinking.  And it takes right thinking and right attitudes to produce right living.  In verse 9, Paul challenges the members of the church in Philippi to respond to the four ways that his life has been an example for them to follow.  Let’s take a look at what Paul wants them to gain from his life.

I.  WHAT YOU HAVE “LEARNED”.

Paul had spent time in Philippi where he gave personal instruction and discipling to the Philippians.  The Greek word, “emathete”, is related to the noun “mathetes” which means learner or disciple.  A  “mathetes” was one who attached himself to another person in order to gain knowledge and experience.  It would be somewhat similar to an apprenticeship today.  In first century Judaism the rabbis had disciples who studied under them.  The disciple left his home and moved in with his teacher and served his teacher.  The disciple was expected, not only to learn all that his rabbi knew, but also to become like his teacher in character and piety.

The apostle Paul had been a pharisee himself.  In Acts 22:3 he tells the Jewish leaders that he had studied under the pharisee Gamaliel.  In Acts 5:34 Gamaliel is described as “a pharisee . . . a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people.”  In the Greek culture also, discipleship was not so much formal training as it was fellowship with the teacher.  They lived with their teacher just as Jesus’ disciples lived with Him.  Disciples were the main means of perpetuating teaching in the ancient world, since many of the great teachers wrote no books.

II.  WHAT YOU HAVE “RECEIVED”.

The Greek word, “paralambano”, means to “take with oneself”, “to make it one’s own”.  Receiving should always accompany learning truth.  The Philippians not only understood it clearly, but also gave assent to it, and by so doing, they became responsible to live it out. This receiving of the Word of God is seen in the church at Thessalonica.  Paul writes in I Thessalonians 2:13, “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God’s message, you accepted it not only as the word of men but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.”  It is one thing to learn a truth, but it is even better to receive that truth and make your own.

III.  WHAT YOU HAVE “HEARD”.

Paul is saying “what you have heard firsthand from my preaching, teaching, and conversations with you”.  He is also  saying, “what you have heard from others concerning me”.  Paul is speaking about his reputation.  They had heard from many other sources about Paul’s imprisonment, how he got there, and the way God was using him.

IV.  WHAT YOU HAVE “SEEN IN ME”.

Paul is talking about firsthand knowledge of him:  their personal observations of Paul while they were with him in Philippi.   Paul is saying, “do as I taught you”, and he is also saying, “do as you heard of me doing and saw me doing”.

Mahatma Ghandi was the man who led the country of India to independence in the early to mid 1900’s.  He also inspired movements for non-violence, civil rights, and freedom around the world.  Dr. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, were followers of his philosophy of non-violent resistance.  As far as we can know, Gandhi never became a Christian.  When he was asked to put his message into one simple sentence, he replied:  “My life is my message”.

Personal example is an essential element of effective teaching.  The teacher must demonstrate in action the faith he expresses in words.  Remember that before the completion of the New Testament scriptures, the lives of the apostles furnished the main source of divine truth.  As Paul told them earlier in Philippians 3:17, “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us”.

THE EXHORTATION:

Paul concludes by exhorting them to “practice these things”.  Make them a way of life. Dr. Dwight Pentecost summarizes the purpose of truth very clearly in these words:  “Truth is communicated to a person through the channel of his mind, and truth is grasped by the mind. But unless that which is received by the mind is loved by the heart and translated into action by the will, the truth has not done its proper work.  Truth is designed to possess the total person.  Truth is not designed simply to teach the mind;  truth is communicated  so the heart might respond in obedience to the truth.  Blessing comes on the believer as he translates into action the truth that his mind has received.  Maturity in the Christian life is not measured by what a man knows but by what he does.”  He concludes his explanation by saying:  “Let that be indelibly impressed upon your mind.”

THE PROMISE:

The apostle Paul ends this verse with a promise:  “the God of peace will be with you”.  This is a favorite saying of the apostle Paul.  He uses it at or near the end of many of his letters, for example, Romans, II Corinthians, and I and II Thessalonians.   Peace comes as a result of following the pattern of Christ:  having right attitudes, right thoughts, and right actions.  When we follow these instructions Paul says that “the God of peace will be with you”.  And if He is with us, we have no reason for worry, and our lives can be filled with joy, right?  Dr. Vernon Grounds, the president of Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary for many years, gave this exhortation:  “Pray, then, that like Paul we may live out our lives before the watching world”.

PRESSING ON – Philippians 3:12-16

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INTRODUCTION;

Most of us have probably read biographies – books that tell the story of another person’s life. Maybe we were curious, and hoped to discover what made that person great. In Philippians, chapter 3, the apostle Paul is giving us his own spiritual biography. In verses 1-11 Paul tells us about his past. Here, in verses 12-16, Paul describes his present spiritual journey. He compares it to a race, and he gives us the essentials for winning that race and one day receiving the reward that the Lord Jesus Christ has promised.

I. DISSATISFACTION (verse 12)

The first essential for winning the race is dissatisfaction. In verse 12 the apostle Paul says, “not that I have already attained it, or have become perfect”. Paul is not saying here that he is dissatisfied with Jesus Christ. In verse 8 he talked about “the surpassing value of knowing Christ”. But Paul is dissatisfied with his Christian life. Self-satisfaction is the death of progress. Dissatisfaction with past accomplishments is the mother of invention. Because man was dissatisfied with carrying and lifting loads on his shoulders, he invented the wheel and the lever. Because he was dissatisfied with walking, he invented vehicles to ride in. Many Christians are self-satisfied with their Christian lives because they compare their spiritual progress with that of other Christians, usually with those Christians who are not making as much progress as themselves. But Paul did not compare himself with others. He compared himself with himself and with Jesus Christ! In verse 12 Paul says that he had not arrived at perfection. One mark of spiritual maturity is realizing that we aren’t perfect. The process of becoming like the Lord Jesus Christ is much like riding a bicycle: either you keep moving forward, or you fall down!

II. DEVOTION (verse 13a)

The second essential for winning the race and receiving the prize is devotion. Paul says in verse 13, “but one thing I do”. “One thing” is a phrase that is very important in our Christian lives. “One thing you lack”, said Jesus to the rich young ruler. “One thing is needful”, He said to Martha. “One thing I know”, said the man who received his sight by the power of Jesus Christ. “One thing I have desired of the Lord” said the psalmist. Many Christians are too involved in many things, when the secret of progress in our lives is to concentrate on “one thing”. For example, the cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world. He lives on the plains of Africa, and when he’s hungry he chooses one specific animal in a herd of deer or antelope and goes after it. Ignoring others, this swift cat has been clocked at nearly 70 miles per hour in hot pursuit of its prey until he catches it.

The same kind of determination and single-mindedness has been shown by some people. One of them was a man named Howard Marvin. First, a numbness crept into his fingers. Then weakness progressed quickly through his body. Within hours he was becoming paralyzed. Howard had Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disease that causes paralysis and sometimes causes death. He lived, but he was left totally paralyzed. Recalling Howard’s attitude of mind in those months that followed, his son said, “Dad’s one goal was to survive”. When he was told that his best friend had died, he accepted it and put it out of his mind.” He cared very deeply about his friend, but he refused to use up any energy in grieving because he needed every ounce of strength just to get well. Howard Marvin is walking again. Did God do it? Howard would be quick to say “yes”. But without a single-minded, dogged determination, he might still be helpless.

The prize of becoming like the Lord Jesus Christ takes that same kind of devotion. Becoming like Christ is the one thing worth giving up everything else for.

III. FORGETTING THE PAST (verse 13b)

The third essential for running the race and receiving the prize is “forgetting the past”. In verse 13, the apostle Paul says, “forgetting what lies behind”. Sometimes Satan will remind us of our past sins, trying to convince us of our unworthiness to serve Christ. When you are under attack, it’s a good idea to thumb through your Bible and notice the many people who were failures, but who went on to do great things for God. Would the apostle Peter have preached that wonderful sermon on the day of Pentecost, when 3000 people responded to Christ, if Peter was continuing to dwell on his denial of Christ and refused to believe that all had been forgiven and forgotten? Would the apostle Paul have founded churches, written epistles, and traveled across the country if he had allowed the memories of his persecution of Christians to make him feel guilty and discouraged?

When we confess our sins, they are forgiven and God will never mention them again. The choice is ours. We can either brood over our past or “reach forward to what lies ahead”. We can’t change the past, but we can trust in God’s forgiveness and live for the future. The words “reaching forward” picture a runner leaning forward to touch the tape first and win the race. If you watched the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, you saw that happen many times.

IV. DETERMINATION (verse 13b)

The fourth essential for running the race and receiving the prize is “determination”. The apostle Paul says in verse 14, “I press on toward the goal”. The point that Paul is trying to make is that we are not to give up, in spite of obstacles that may cross our paths. The Christian life is like a steeple chase, which is a long foot race that has many hurdles to jump over and many large puddles of water to slosh through. You may have watched that race during the Summer Olympics. Many of the racers fall at least once, but they immediately get up and continue running in spite of the aches and pains because they are determined to run the race to its completion.

A man by the name of Johnson Oatman wrote a song about this verse of Scripture. The first stanza of his song goes like this: “I’m pressing on the upward way, New heights I’m gaining ev’ry day; Still praying as I onward bound, ‘Lord, plant my feet on higher ground’.”

The famous preacher Charles Simeon said that whenever he looked at the portrait of Henry Martyn, these words came to his mind: “Don’t trifle … don’t trifle!” In other words, “Don’t waste your time on unimportant or trivial things”. Martyn had graduated from Cambridge University with honors in both mathematics and the classics, and had the makings of a brilliant career. But he chose to serve the Lord in India. He was almost 25 when he arrived there, and at the age of 31 he died. Yet in those six years he translated the New Testament into three languages – Hindustani, Arabic, and Persian. Only eternity will reveal how much his work meant to other missionaries, and how many people were saved because of it. It is said that Martyn’s picture still hangs in a hall at Cambridge where students go to pray, and that his penetrating gaze still seems to say, “Don’t trifle … don’t trifle!”

V. DISCIPLINE (verses 15 and 16)

The fifth and last essential Paul gives for running the Christian race is “discipline”. This means remembering and obeying the spiritual rules given in the Word of God. It is not enough to run hard and win the race. The runner must also obey the rules. In the Greek Olympic games, the judges were strict about this. Breaking any of the rules disqualified the athlete. He did not lose his citizenship (though he disgraced it), but he did lose his privilege to participate and win a prize.

One of the greatest athletes ever to come out of the Unites States was Jim Thorpe. At the 1912 Olympic games in Stockholm, Sweden, he won the pentathlon and the decathlon, and undoubtedly was the hero of the games. But the next year officials found that Thorpe had played semiprofessional baseball, and therefore had forfeited his amateur standing. This meant that he had to return his gold medals and his trophy, and that his Olympic achievements were erased from the record books. It was a high price to pay for breaking the rules.

One day each Christian will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. The Greek word for “judgment seat” is “bema”, the very same word used to describe the place where the Olympic judges gave out the prizes! If we have disciplined ourselves to obey the rules and to follow the example of Christ, we will receive our rewards.

Let’s run our race with joy, just as our Lord Jesus ran His race during His life on earth. Hebrews 12:1-3 says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”