Monthly Archives: June 2010

06-27-10 HEALTHY EATING: THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT

HEALTHY EATING: THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT

Galatians 5: 13-23

 

In a sport like baseball, players are said to have“the whole package” if they can hit, catch, run and throw. In golf, players whocan manage their woods, irons, putter, and sand wedge are usually good at thegame. College application boards looking at high school students who haveapplied for admission to their school usually look for high grades, the qualityof extra-curricular activities, and even how the students express themselvesanswering prepared questions. Those are all people said to have “the wholepackage.” What is “the whole package” of the Christian faith? Does it includefollowing Jesus as Lord? Yes, but there’s more. Does it include Christianactions, not just Christian beliefs? Yes, but there is still more. And does itis include gathering with other Christians for worship, study, and prayertimes? Yes. But like the Ten Commandments, it really does us no good just tokeep some of them.  With theCommandments, many remember “Thou shalt not kill” but may ignore “Remember theSabbath, to keep it holy.” And most know “Thou Shalt Not Steal” but “Thou shaltnot covet” is to deeply desire what someone else has, and plenty of people dothat. E-Bay is in business because people all over the world will pay goodmoney for something someone else has. So what is the complete package forChristians beyond considering the Ten Commandments? Some people point to Jesus’interpretation of the commandments: you shall love the Lord your God with all yourheart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. But Jesusdidn’t create those; he knew them from Scripture, and our Jewish friends followthe same teachings and had them first! Where else might we turn?

 

One of the best sources of Christian characteristicsis from the Apostle Paul, who we featured in Vacation Bible School a year ago.Paul, in Colossians 3, gave characteristics of a Christian, ones that I offeredin a sermon a month and a half ago. But this week during our wonderful journeyto visit Joseph, the son of Jacob, in Egypt, I saw one of the best lists ofChristian characteristics being lived out by those who attended. This week Isaw the whole package from children, youth, and adults. Certainly as humans weare not perfect, but our week came exceptionally close to that higheststandard.  The list I saw lived outthis week comes from Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians. We have offereda series of sermons all month from that book and today we continue it; ourstudy will conclude next week. For today, I am pointing to the wonderfulpassage in Galatians 5: 22-23: The fruit of the Spirit. The proof that you andI are what we say we are, is if the fruit grown from the trees of our lives isfound to be Christian. Do you know people who say they are Christian whoinstead show strife, anger, jealousy, and selfishness? Sadly, Christians thatshow those works of the flesh do more harm than good to the one they callSavior: People start scoffing at Christians, calling them hypocrites or simplyturning from listening to their guidance. But even when we fail, let’s make apact together to strive to show the world, and our families, and our friends,the whole package: The Fruit of the Spirit. Here it is once again: love, joy,peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, andself-control. Notice that Paul calls the early list that had such uglyqualities “the works of the flesh.” This week we talked about the fruits andvegetables we most liked, and I learned that we had some very healthy eaters!In the “words to prepare for worship” I included the word “fruits” of theSpirit because that’s the way we grammatically think about them; as if they areplural. But Paul is describing qualities of Christians who have “the wholepackage.” It is no mistake that he calls fruit singular in Galatians 5. Wedo not have the luxury of picking the qualities easiest for us to show andignoring the qualities that are hardest for us to keep. We cannot love but be continuously impatient; we cannotspread peace effectively while failing to exhibit gentleness where appropriate;we cannot show real kindness when it get run-over by an out-of-control temper.This is the total package. As much as you might think you are loving, if yourfamily is on pins and needles because of your temper, you have work to do; asmuch as you think you are a good person, if you accomplish it with a stern andhumorless manner, then any hope for joy gets squeezed dry. You get the picture:when it comes to the fruit of the Spirit, we cannot “cherry-pick,” (an image Iintended to create!) We are called to take the whole bunch of qualities, likegrapes or bananas, not just one quality and call it good.

 

What Paul described, and what Jesus lived is not easy,nor should it be listed in the “impossible” column. We can change! A wise father was trying to teach his middleschool aged son some of the lessons he had learned. “Every time you saysomething harsh, hateful, or with bad words to another person, go out to theback fence with this hammer and one of these nail, and drive a nail halfwayinto the wood.  If you ever decideto apologize for your actions, go out there again and pull the nail out, butnotice that a scar is left in the wood everywhere the nail was. An apology doesnot remove the scar.” Learning self-control can keep the nail of our actions,from being driven into another person’s feelings in the first place. We can dothat; I have been working on it for years; and I’ve seen people this week whodo it well. Still there are others who need to do it better. I’ll keep trying;how about you?

Let us pray:

 

Dear God: what a great list you gave us through theApostle Paul! What examples of hope, ability, wisdom, forgiveness, and familyyou gave to Joseph and our Bible School families this week! Thank you for notgiving up on us, but encouraging, guiding, and correcting us instead. Ourprayers are for parents and grandparents dealing with difficult schedules and aworld with different values. Bless our efforts, we pray, and remind us that weare never too old for loving, playing, and learning. Come by here, Lord, righthere, right now, and abide with us forever. Through the power of your HolySpirit we pray. Amen.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                    June27, 2010

06-20-10 MAKING THE CASE FOR CHRIST

MAKING THE CASE FOR CHRIST

Galatians 3:23-29

 

Today I want to talk to the dads out there, but alsothe moms; to all who form the faith of children and youth. I want to give yousome bedrock answers with which you might converse, or text, or write to those underyour care. Children are powerfully influenced by their peers, and often theirpeers are not only uniformed, they are misinformed about matters of faith.Today I want you to be sure of some of the facts of the faith that have notjust been believed, but also proven as if in a court of law.  Let’s begin: there are few other bookswith as convincing an argument for unbelievers to believe, and as reassuring tobelievers that they’ve got it right, as Lee Strobel’s book written twelve yearsago called THE CASE FOR CHRIST. Strobel got his Law Degree from Yale and alsowas a published journalist with the Chicago Tribune for thirteen years at thetime he wrote this book. Could there be any better person to investigate thetruth about Jesus of Nazareth, the claims that he is Son of God, and the claimSimon Peter bestowed on him that he is the Christ of God? I submit that there isno better equipped person than one who knows how to build a case and gatherwitnesses like a lawyer, one who has an inquisitive mind and a relentlessdesire to get to the bottom of a story like a newspaper reporter, and a man whoproclaimed himself to be an atheist when he began his investigation! Hisfindings moved him from unbelief to belief, and moved him, like the ApostlePaul, from being a scoffer, and in some ways a persecutor of the faith, tobeing trained as a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church. He joins ahost of people throughout the ages who, like the Apostle John, had one mainpurpose in writing: as John put it in his gospel:  (20:31) “These words are written so that you may come tobelieve that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through believingyou may have life in his name.”

 

Ages before Strobel, the world was indebted to thegreat Albert Schweitzer, who among his other contributions to society, wroteTHE QUEST FOR THE HISTORIAL JESUS. Did you know, by the way, the Schweitzer wasa Doctor of Medicine, a Doctor of Philosophy, and a Doctor of Theology? With those great credentials,Schweitzer examines all the theories and ideas about Jesus brought out over theearlier decades, giving a critical eye to each stance. He concludes that the historicalJesus brings less to bear on the answers to the world’s problems, while thespiritual Jesus—the one hailed by disciples who follow him and his teachings—isthe one that changes lives and has changed the world. We find in the writingsof the British scholar Arthur Patterson Lee these words: “That Jesus was nailedto a cross is not only central to the Christian faith; it is a historical factverified from secular sources.” Other such conclusions have been drawn bydozens of scholars, some believers, some non believers (as Strobel wasinitially.) We might go back to the Apostle Paul and look at a snippet of theconvincing stand he took in his letter to the Galatians. This letter, like hisothers, addressed particular people and issues and from it we get somefoundations of the Christians faith.Today his words expose the result of the learning curve he gained since meetingChrist in his Damascus vision: Paul has gone from believing that he was savedby knowing Torah, to now believing that he is saved by his faith in Jesus asChrist, the Messiah. “The Law (Torah) was our disciplinarian until Christ came,”he wrote” so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come,we are all children of God through faith.” Paul was just one who wanted toconvince people that Jesus was the Christ. But few have been as thorough andmethodical and tenacious as Lee Strobel. Over the centuries we have learnedreassuring things. For example, the Dead Sea Scrolls of Qumran discovered from1947 – 1956, have shown the extraordinary accuracy of scribes who copiedancient Biblical texts over the years. In addition, we are quite sure that eachof the writers of the four gospels had either personal contact with Jesushimself, or is one who wrote down the material from those who had personalcontact. Matthew and John had personal contact with Jesus himself; Mark isalmost certainly John Mark who wrote down the words that Peter gave to him, andLuke is almost certainly the physician who traveled with Paul who spoke withJesus directly. And each was committed to getting it right for their audience. Inaddition, the Christian teachings we have from Paul’s letters enhance thegospel record immeasurably. It was through Paul’s understanding of who JesusChrist was and what he stood for that brought him to make the extraordinary andcontroversial claims that he made. Paul says that because of Christ, there isno longer Jew (formerly inside the circle of chosenness) and Greek (formerly outsidethe circle of chosenness), there is no longer male (humans with privilege intheir society) and female (ones treated as property in their society) nor istheir slave (one who was owned in their society) or free (ones who could makelife choices for themselves.) Paul says that Christ wants them all on an equalplain. Such pieces of theology are life altering and society bending. But sucha stand is part of the New Testament.

 

Fathers, remember what an influence you have on yourchildren: in so many ways they want to grow up to be like you. Do you come tochurch? Chances are then that they will come to church when they are grown; ifyou stay home, they stay home. Do you talk with them about what you give to thechurch and why? If you don’t guide them in the way of a tithe, they will justhave to guess what go give. Give your children guidance. Do your children eversee you reading a Bible? Do you ever read it to them? Part of being Christianis surely reading our Bibles. Do you help others in need? They will see thatand want to do the same. Do you pray before meals, in the morning or evening,and in times of need or joy? They will learn where you get your strength if youlet them participate in prayers you have with God. If you feel awkward aboutpraying, just practice talking with God in whatever language suits you, fromthe very formal to the very informal. Your Maker will love to hear from you!  There are so many ways you can be agreat Christian example to your children … or a poor one. Choose wisely.

 

So, my friends, to sum up for you: the Bible can betrusted to not have been distorted or changed over the years;  it is the closest thing we’ll have toknowing God’s will except in our knowledge of Jesus Christ. In knowing him wealso see the will of God most clearly. The historical Jesus was a man fromNazareth. But if he were just a man, his death would have been forgotten alongwith others. But for those who had eyes to see, they t
old others about him, andthey lived as he lived. If there is anything that we are commissioned to do: myfellow fathers, and my sisters and brothers in Christ, it is to go and dolikewise. I thank God for good examples I have had in my life, including myfather and my grandfather. Be a good example too.

 

Jeffrey A. SumnerJune 20, 2010 

06-13-10 JUSTIFIED BY FAITH MEANS WHAT?

JUSTIFIED BY FAITH MEANS WHAT?

Galatians 2: 15-21

 

When I was a child, my father sat me down along withmy sister and told us he thought it was time that we started getting anallowance. I think our hearts leapt for joy! We had heard about other kidsgetting an allowance, many for doing nothing! Some got many dollars from thehand of their fathers. So we waited for the rest of the story: dad produced asingle-spaced type written page; it was typed on his manual typewriter. On thepaper were our daily jobs,  everyday we had to make our bed and make our rooms “ship shape” (Dad’s Navyterminology) We then had to take turns walking the dog, feeding the dog,setting the table, clearing the table, taking out the trash, and a variety ofother chores. Our happy idea of an allowance was shrinking! Then he produced acarbon copy of the type written page for each of us and we saw the bottom line:for all the chores done correctly and without complaining, we got the amount of45 cents a week! But, in addition to that, if he ever asked me to produce ahandkerchief from my pocket and I couldn’t, a nickel came out of that week’sallowance! (I guess I was wiping my nose on my sleeve too much!)  The debate that parents have eventoday, is whether children should be given money just so they’ll have it, orwhether it should be given because they have earned it, or whether money shouldbe given at all. Most parents chose to make a child earn money, since when theygo into the world, few will get to live off of someone else.  It is good to teach children that moneydoes not grow on trees; it is good to teach them that they will have to earnwhat they have, in spite of the game shows, contestant shows, and lotteriesthat hold up the enticing idea that you can plan to win money instead ofearning it. With parents over the years in America and other countriesinstilling the value of hard work, it is understandable why some people don’taccept gifts easily. Yet a gift is at the heart of Christian salvation.

 

Hard-working Christians have trouble wrapping theirmind around sentences in our Bibles like this: “By grace you have been savedthrough your faith, as a gift, and not by your works, that any one of youshould boast.” Hear those words again: by grace (the unearned gift of God) youhave been saved (delivered from sin and eternal death) through your faith(belief that Christ paid the high cost for us on the cross); it’s a gift,not a bill; so we cannot be proud that we paid for it; we can only be humblethat it is offered to us, and if we accept it, it can change our lives. Thosewho do that can spend their lives saying “Thank you Jesus!”  Thepassage I just read has been addressed in countless books about the faith, intracts that are handed out to seekers and unbelievers, and in our Book ofConfessions. In that book the idea of salvation as gift appears in almost everydocument, particularly the Westminster Confession of Faith, the LargerCatechism (for preachers), the Shorter Catechism (for new members), and TheSecond Helvetic Confession (a product of Swiss and German Protestantism). Itappears in all those documents because most of us grew up having to earn ourallowance, earn our pay check, and earn our accolades. Few of us get ready todepart from a delicious meal in a restaurant, ready to pay the bill, and findout that another diner not at your table has already paid your waiter in full.  Most of us go through life believingthat there is “No free lunch.” Who hasn’t seen ads for free theme park ticketsor airline tickets or vacation trips, only to read the small print and find itsays you must sit through a four hour sales presentation in return?  So as we hear the Apostle Paul’s words,read from Romans and Galatians and elsewhere, we rub our eyes with disbelief;we look for footnotes that say we will pay in the end. But instead … we findthat through amazing grace and steadfast love, God pays the price. God, the onewho did not let the world get totally annihilated at the flood, but offered it asecond chance, has picked up the tab. We get a Savior who sweats blood in thegarden, asking for his planned demise to change if possible; yet he stillfollows his Father’s will, with all of the pain and brutality of that path. Wefind that God in Christ and God in Heaven absorb our pain, take the nails, andpay the price not so that we arespoiled, but so that we might be thankful.  Yes the world has usearn money, earn pins, and earn awards; God says: “I want a relationship withyou; and I want your devotion.”Jesus went about teaching us this different way of thinking and got introuble when he taught it. His parables made poor business sense but greatheaven sense. In one, a manager pays a worker the same amount for one hour ashe pays others for eight; in another a shepherd leaves 99 sheep unguarded whilehe goes out and spends his time looking for one that’s lost; and in another aman had a vineyard, leased it out to tenants who beat up two servants who weresent to collect the rent. Instead of calling a collection agency, the owner ofthe vineyard (who the readers finally figure out is God) sends his only son to collect the payment, and the son get murdered inthe process. What kind of God does that? The answer is the one who pursues ustirelessly, loves us completely and forgives us graciously.  God saves us because, unlike thepurchase of items which enough money will buy, there isn’t enough money in theworld that will buy our salvation. It is too precious for one, and it is notfor sale for another. We are incapable of saving ourselves. God and only Godhas paid for and provided the way to salvation. And who needs salvation today?The persons stepping forward to profess their faith today do; the older manfacing his own mortality because of chest pains does; so does the woman who isoverwhelmed with personal issues; and so do the youth and college aged studentswho struggle with the peer pressures of  making grades, finding work, and avoiding temptations.  How about the long time member who hasgiven thousands of dollars to church because she loves the Lord? Yes, even sheneeds it, because salvation cannot be bought by us or others. The church mayclose without people tithing, but salvation is unchanged: you can’t pay for agift.

 

Today we are justified (presented before God just asif we had not sinned) by faith (which means we believe that the cross of Christis the one and only payment that is enough to bridge the gap between sinfulnessand forgiveness, between earth and heaven, and between God and us. Your salvationhas no small print; but it doeshave a God who desperately loves you, and a Lord who wants to be given controlof your life.  If God is yourco-pilot today, (as some bumper stickers suggest) then it is time to changeseats! Let the giver of the giftreceive your gratitude and your trust, because it is God’s amazing grace thatsaves you and saves me.

 

LET US PRAY: Dear Holy One: our world operates in sucha “pay as you go” and “earn what you have” way that we may have troubleaccepting the keys to a new vehicle called salvation. Reassure us that it isours not with fine print, but with love. We will give our tithes and offeringsnot to pay for our salvation, butto thank and honor you for it.  Inthe name of Jesus who hung on Calvary’s cross out of great love for the world,and out of great devotion to his Father. Amen.

 

Jeffrey A. SumnerJune 13, 2010

06-06-10 ON THE WITNESS STAND

ON THE WITNESS STAND

Galatians 1:11-24

 

There are few more excised chapters of books than thechapter known as “The Grand Inquisitor” in Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece, THEBROTHERS KARAMAZOV.  In it the son, Ivan, repudiates God, and Jesus himselfis grilled as if on a cruel and criminal witness stand. The questions includesome that haunt people to this day, like why Christ had to die, why is thereevil in the world, and wondering whether humanity has the willpower to stand againstthe wiles of Satan.  It is a mostpunishing witness stand. In 16th century Germany, professor andpriest Martin Luther took the witness stand with representatives of the Churchinterrogating him.  He challengedthe power of the Papacy in what was called the Diet of Worms.  He was asked to repudiate his writings,including the 95 Theses that he had posted on the blog of his community, theWittenberg door. Instead, Luther answered the council in memorable terms:“Since your serene Majesty and your Lordships seek a simple answer, I will giveit in this manner, neither horned nor toothed. Unless I am convinced by thetestimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason …, I am bound by the ScripturesI have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and Iwill not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go againstconscience…. May God help me. Amen.”

Few of us here today have been put through anycrucible of questioning such as has occurred in some brutal occasions in thepast. But being prepared to witness to our faith is something every Christianought to be prepared to do! Every church member, on their initial joining day,had to witness to his or her faith with answers to questions such as the onesthat we ask: “Who is your Lord and Savior?” Can you, with conviction, even ifunder pressure, answer “Jesus Christ?” Or are there circumstances when youranswer would change?  Perhaps youcannot think of a situation when it really mattered, but deciding when andwhere to stand for one’s faith has mattered throughout the ages. Whencontemporary Christian artist Michael W. Smith was asked to sing something inthe memorial service for students murdered in the Colombine High Schoolmassacre, he learned as much as he could about those who died. One story tookhis breath away. A student, through sobs, shared that the gunman asked anotherstudent, Cassie Bernall, to deny Christ as her Savior if she wanted to live. Atgunpoint, she refused to do it.. It cost her her life on earth. But her witnessgoes on every time we hear Michael W. Smith sing the song inspired by herstand, “This is your time.” As the Bible says, “What does it profit persons tosave their life, but to lose their soul?” Cassie must have known that verse byheart. 

 

As St. Paul opens his letter to the churches inGalatia, he puts himself on the witness stand, producing a strong defense thathe is indeed an apostle of Jesus,though some doubted. He acknowledges his earlier life of persecutingChristians, and then he beautifully describes election, how God has set himapart even before his birth. He makes them aware that he knows the brother ofthe Lord—James—and calls him an apostle as well, even though he was not one ofthe twelve. And he swears his truthfulness in his desperation to be believedsaying: “In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!”

 

A few years ago at Confirmation Class, I handed outtyped cards for every one of them to ponder. I propose it to you today; writeit down if you wish.

The simple question is this: “This week if you werearrested and charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence toconvict you?”  If someone checked your Bible, wouldthere be signs of study or signs of dust? If someone opened your checkbookwould there be financial gifts to a church or mission, or just for bills, food,and clothes? If someone looked through your Blackberry or your calendar, wouldthey find evidence of Christian gatherings or worship times, or would they findeverything but a Christian activity? If someone quizzed you about your beliefs,could you describe and defend them clearly? Whatever we may think of Jehovah’sWitnesses, they do know the factsof their faith, building their testimonies on God’s words in Isaiah 43:10:“’You are my witnesses’ said Jehovah” it says in their Bibles. Jesus saidsimilar words to his followers in Luke 24:48: “Repentance and forgiveness ofsins is to be proclaimed in my name to all nations …; you are witnesses ofthese things.” Jesus needs us to witness to our faith. And since we were noteyewitnesses at the cross or at the tomb, we witness to the truth of theaccounts recorded in Scripture by trustworthy historians and converts. Itmatters that you can articulate your faith; it matters that you share yourfaith when appropriate; and it matters that if you are asked to take a witnessstand actually or figuratively, that you could convince both heaven and earthin what you believe.  Nowhere else do we have theunchallenged truth of the words of the Savior himself except in the Bible. Wegive Bibles to people second grade and older. But it is up to each person whetherto read and study it or to just own it. Could an atheist “Grand Inquisitor” oneday approach you, wanting to know the difference between his belief and yours?Could an agnostic acquaintance approach you, wanting to know what you believeabout Jesus compared to what she believes?  What will you say when someone puts you on theirwitness stand?

 

Jeffrey A. SumnerJune 6, 2010