Monday, September 17, 2012

“Who Am I?”

Mark 8:27-30

Who is Jesus Christ? Do you really know?

Down through the last several thousand of years the church has used ‘creeds’ to define the great truth revealed to us by God through Jesus Christ.

The purpose of a creed is to act as a yardstick of correct belief, or orthodoxy. The creeds of Christianity have been drawn up at times of conflict about doctrine: acceptance or rejection of a creed served to distinguish believers and deniers of a particular doctrine or set of doctrines. For that reason a creed was called in Greek a σύμβολον (Eng. sumbolon), a word that meant half of a broken object which, when placed together with the other half, verified the bearer's identity. The Greek word passed through Latin "symbolum" into English "symbol", which only later took on the meaning of an outward sign of something.

Read with me the Nicene Creed that has been the standard of the Christian faith for thousands of years.

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

This creeds says a great deal about who God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit was and is and will be in the future. Of all that it describes from the Bible the most important part of the creed may very well be the word “Amen” and the period that follows.

I want to show you why as we look at the following passage where Christ asks all of us an important question…

27. Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
Mark 8:27-30

Let’s play a game called: “Who Am I.” The first person to guess the identity of this person will win a gold coin with a chocolate middle. If you are reading this right now you are disqualified from playing the game. There will be other chances so if you want to participate stop reading now and finish reading this message after the service.

Who Am I Game…#1
I was a tax collector
I cheated people out of their money
I was very, very small
I might be found up a tree

That’s right…. Zacchaeus from the Bible. Very good!

Let’s play again…

Who Am I Game…#2
My brother and I were called the Sons of Thunder.
I was one the closest to Jesus Christ.
I wrote the last Gospel.

That right… John the Apostle. Very good!

Who Am I Game…#3
I claimed to be equal to God even though I was a human being.
I insisted that I was the only one who could save others from hell.
I claimed to be perfect every way.
I claimed to have created everything that exists.

That’s right… Jesus Christ! Very good!

How do we know people? We know them by their actions and reputations. Sometimes these are shocking and scandalous or they may be praise worthy…but they define who are in the eyes of the world. Jesus Christ is hailed as many things today but to know who He really is we need to remember what the one act he accomplished that still has everyone talking today. Do you know what it was? That’s right…He died upon the cross and God raised Him on third day.

If we are really going to know people we must understand the motive behind their actions. So let me ask you this question: “Why did Jesus die on the cross?”

Most people will give me the Sunday School answer which is, for our sins. This is true but does not really answer the question about His motives. The people who executed Jesus Christ will tell you He was crucified because He claimed to be equal to God. Jesus Christ told His disciples that He was going to die on the cross as a perfect sacrifice for all of humanity so the debt we owed God could be transferred to Him. This would give Him the right to forgive the sins of any who would put their faith in Him…that He was God in the flesh.

If He was not God in the flesh then He could not be a sacrifice for our sins, or have the authority to forgive sins. If He was not God in the flesh He was then mentally unstable because this is what He repeatedly claimed in front of many witness. If He was mentally ill then we should not follow His teachings.

Believe it or not, many who say they believe in Jesus Christ do not believe in these claims of Christ or in His purpose when He died upon the cross. Many will agree with what He did but not why He did it and so change our understanding of “Who He Is.”

As the disciples traveled with Jesus Christ, learned at His feet and watched His amazing life…they came to their own united conviction about who He was. Most others who only took a casual interest in Jesus Christ had other ideas about Who He Was/Is.

28. They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
Mark 8:27-30

The one great problem that Jesus Christ creates for all of us is that we know that He is like no other, but we are afraid of going as far as saying that He was God in the flesh.

Let’s play our “Who Am I” game again. I identify this religious group.

We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins.
We believe that Jesus Christ was created by Father God as were all angels and humans.
We believe that Jesus was a spirit child of Father God.

Tough…I know. The religion that believes this is the Mormon religion.

Because we have a Mormon running for the president of the United States there is desperate attempt to shore up the belief in the eyes of the media that they are Christians like everyone else. The truth is that they cannot agree with the Nicene Creed we shared together at the start of this service. They would consider it blasphemous to say:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.

Now let’s play our game one more time: what religion is this…

We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins.
We believe that it is probable that Jesus Christ sinned when He was on this earth.
We doubt that there is a Hell, Satan, or Holy Spirit.

That’s right…almost half of everyone in America who describes themselves as a Christian! Not so good...  (

This is why the “Amen” and the period at the end of the Nicene Creed are so important. They tell us that you can not add contradictory statements to the creed and break the meaning of the creed by the additions. We have basically altered the meaning of the constintution of the United States in this way but add on laws and interpretations. So too we have altered the great truth and meaning of Christ’s death upon the cross by going beyond the “Amen” and the period.

One last question…

29. “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”
30. Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
Mark 8:27-30

Peter believed that Jesus was the Christ…what irony. Most of us don’t realize that “Christ” is not the surname of Jesus. His father was not Joseph Christ, the husband of Mary Christ. No…Christ is a title.

Christ (ancient Greek: Χριστός, Khristós, meaning 'anointed') is a translation of the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ (Māšîaḥ), the Messiah, and is used as a title for Jesus in the New Testament. Followers of Jesus became known as Christians (as in Acts 11:26) because they believed Jesus to be the messiah (Christos) prophesied in the Hebrew Bible – therefore they often call him Jesus Christ, meaning Jesus the Christos. The word was originally a title, but later became part of the name "Jesus Christ", yet it is still also used as a title, in the reciprocal use Christ Jesus, meaning "The Messiah Jesus".

So what did Peter mean when He called Jesus the Messiah or Christ? Christians believe Jesus to be the Messiah that the Jews were expecting:

The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.[Jn. 1:41-42]

The Christian concept of the Christ/Messiah as "the Word made Flesh" (see also Logos) is fundamentally different from the Jewish and Islamic. The majority of historical and mainline Christian theologies, as seen within the Nicene Creed, consider Jesus to be God or God the Son.

Christians believe that Daniel (Hebrew: דָּנִיֵּאל, or Daniyyel) was a prophet and gave an indication of when the Messiah, the prince mashiyach nagiyd, would come in the Prophecy of Seventy Weeks.[Dan. 9:25-26] Daniel's prophecies refer to him as a descendant of King David, a Son of Man, who will rebuild the nation of Israel, destroy the wicked, and ultimately judge the whole world.

To say you are a Christian means that you believe that Christ was the Messiah…the One and Only Son of God come in the Flesh, God incarnate. If we are truly a Christian we don’t take away or add to this statement. We put an emphatic “Amen” and a period at the end of the declaration.

Jesus knew that this true belief in Him would get His disciples killed if they dared to say it in public. This was exactly the kind of case the Jewish community was building against Jesus. There were spies trying to build a case against Jesus and they would stand before the court of the Sanhedrin accusing Jesus of believing He was equal with God as the promised Messiah. He warns them: “Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.”

The disciples had already traveled with Jesus for three years and had told thousands about Jesus, inviting others to hear Him teach and see the miracles He was performing. They did not advertise or really see Him as being “God in the flesh”, “Immanuel.” From this point on they realized that is exactly who they were following and it was a dangerous revelation.

Who Am I…?

I believe Jesus Christ is the one and only Son of God
I believe that Jesus Christ and Father God are one in the same person.
I believe that we can only be saved by His perfect sacrifice for our sins.

Who am I…a true biblical Christian.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

“Playing the Favorites”

James 2:1-12

Have you ever had a battle over what music is playing on the radio or stereo? There is music for everyone now and we can sure get picky about what kind of music we like. If you live long enough you may find that your taste in music will change over the years.

Music is not the only thing we are passionate about. Food, video games, and cars are just a few of the other things we like to pick our favorites. We develop these preferences because we believe they will give us something we want. Sometimes we are even magical in our thinking about a few of our favorite things.

Remember the “Sound of Music?”
These are just a few of my favorite things….

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver white winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favorite things

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad

It is natural for everyone to have favorites, after all that is how we make choices. We go with those things that have given us positive payback over the years and with ones we hope will eventually give us what we long for in our hearts. We favor winning over loosing. We favor health over sickness. We favor prosperity over poverty. We favor good people over bad. We favor wisdom over foolishness. We favor love over hate. We favor beauty over the ugly. We favor holiness over sin.

Give that this is a virtue that keeps us moving towards compliance with God’s will, why then would the word of God say this:

1. My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.
James 2:1-12

We are going to play musical pews this morning, so get ready to move. When the music plays we are going to switch seats according to those things we favor over others. If you prefer prosperity over poverty, then move to the front of the Church. If you favor all of us being poorer, then move to the back of the church. Move now while the music plays.

Thank you…very well done. Now listen to this verse.

2. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4. have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
James 2:1-12

The Bible seems a bit harsh here don’t you think? Who here does not prefer prosperity over poverty? Do not the poor of this world wish they could be like the wealthy? Is it wrong to honor those who know how to make a dollar into two with business savvy and courage?

So why shouldn’t the successful be treated with a greater degree of honor and respect than those who are poor and desperate? Yet the Bible tells us that when we treat people in this way we are discriminating with “evil thoughts.” That is harsh…

Now… understand that the Bible is not saying that discrimination is wrong. In our culture we are running up against the conundrum of discrimination. We know we need to do it but we don’t like to do it. We have adopted the idea that any discrimination against another person is wrong, but we still need to protect ourselves against people and ideologies that threaten our lives and way of life. If we don’t discriminate we will find ourselves endangering the lives of others.

God is Himself discriminatory and judgmental towards people. He actually encourages us to tell the difference between evil and good. Consider that the Apostle James is being discriminatory and judgmental towards those in the church who are discriminatory and judgmental of others!

Yet this is the Word of God and if that is what we take away from this passage we have miss understood what God is trying to teach us. When we make discrimination a negative value in all cases we run into the conundrum described above. The Word of God shows us the way out by telling us that: “have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

What is the evil in our thoughts? We look on the appearance and trappings of an individual and we make a decision if they have anything we should value. Our evil thoughts flow from the idea that we can identify the value of a person based on their appearance. After all who would go to a poor man to learn how to be a business success?

I have stumbled on a TV series called “Hotel Hell” that seeks to save historic hotels that are in danger on closing. In the first episode the successful restaurateur checks in as a guest and evaluates the Hotel. To help the business succeed he helps the owners realize that the staff he under values actually hold the secrets to His success and saving the Hotel. He discriminates in a evil way based on pride and prejudice rather than on Godly wisdom and insight. The result would be bankruptcy if he did not change his ways.

The Word of God is warning us not to judge on the basis of evil motives but in a Godly and righteous way realizing another great truth found in the next passage. But before we get to this passage let me ask you to move one more time.

We are going to play musical pews again, so get ready to move. When the music plays we are going to switch seats according to those things we favor over others. If you prefer hardship over an easy life, then move to the front of the Church. If you favor a comfortable and untroubled life free of trials and tribulations, then move to the back of the church. Move now while the music plays.

Thank you…very well done. Now listen to this verse.

5. Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6. But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7. Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?
James 2:1-12

Our favorites can keep us from discovering the better things in life. When we simply follow what we like and makes us feel good we may miss the life we really desire and loose some of our favorite things. When we give up some of our favorite things for the right reasons, we can discover the better things in life…but this is a risk, one that many are not willing to take very often.

The Word of God tells us that those who don’t have the advantaged of the wealthy must rely on faith in God rather than bank accounts and the services it can buy. Christ taught and demonstrated that a life filled with faith in God is a far better life than putting our faith in things and events. Although it may not seem like it to the rest of the world, those who are walking by faith may have more God given wisdom than those who have the symbols of success in their possession.

Christ taught…
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:3

We find it near impossible to be poor and reliant on God when we have so many other options and opportunities to trust in first. The Corinthian church was a successful congregation that knew a good economy and the luxuries of life but did not know much about a faith filled life. The Apostle Paul wrote them to tell them…

8. Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings—and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you! 9. For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. 10. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.
1 Corinthians 4:8-13

The grace of God is often expressed by the less fortunate and the bravest of us are born out of trouble and turmoil. Royalty may be born into families with crests and endowments, but those who are born of the heaven inherit the same obscurity and neglect experience by prophets, apostles and by Christ Himself when He walked this earth.

38. the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. 39. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Hebrew 11:32-29

Some of the most royal of God’s children are the obscure and overlooked of this world. To know them you need to have a discerning heart. To some they seem like fools and very unfortunate. The fates seem pitted against them but what we often don’t see is how heaven watches over them. Angles walk with power over those that world overlooks. The least of this world receive great attention and hope of heaven.

We treat the easy life and a favorite simply because we don’t know at what cost easy is bought…

You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
Revelation 3:17 NIV

By looking for the easy road, the less risky choice, and the safe bet we miss the adventures that God has in mind to make life worth living. In the same book of Revelations he tells those who suffer in the service to Christ:

I know your afflictions and your poverty--yet you are rich!
Revelation 2:9

We are going to play musical pews one more time, so get ready to move. When the music plays we are going to switch seats according to those things we favor over others. If you believe in your heart that God loves you personally, then move to the front of the Church. If you believe that God does not love you then move to the back of the church. Move now while the music plays.

Thank you…very well done. Now listen to this verse.

8. If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
12. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13. because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!
James 2:1-12

There should be no one at the back of the Church this morning, but sad to say there are many who sit at the back not because it is the favorite place to be rejected by God, but because this is truly what they believe.

Although the word tells us no to discriminate and judge others out of evil notions like pride, and envy that is exactly what we do to ourselves everyday. I often find that people are merciful with others because they are cruel and unjust toward themselves in self condemnation. This is a problem that goes to the bone and the royal law of Scripture because meaningless: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

This is how God does not show favoritism to any one person. He loves everyone and wants them up here at the front of the Church believing in His love. Yet there are many who sit at the back shrinking from the Love of God in fear and dread.

This is the amazing mystery…God Loves you. Not the way you are, and how you intend to become. He loves you because He created you and has a purpose for you life before you were even born. You are His child whether you live that way or not. God loves all of us equally and longs to have all people everywhere repent of their sins and choose to become obedient sons and daughters of God.

Mercy does triumph over judgment and discrimination. If we are going to live in such away we must accept that mercy of God in our hearts that condemns us and judges without mercy. If harsh words come pouring out of your mouth towards those you should love, you are probably sitting in the back of the church finding it hard to approach the throne of God.

If you are gracious, patient, and forgiving towards others who are thorns and thistles, then you must have already embraced the mercy of God towards you in your heart. Surely you hold this mercy as your most favorite part of life. Like the great people of the Bible you have found that the love and mercy of God is more valuable than any other treasure on earth.

Receive His mercy, give his mercy and let the favoritism of God rest on your life.

32. And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33. who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34. quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38. the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

39. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Hebrew 11:32-29

Monday, September 3, 2012

“Skin Deep or from the Heart?”

Pastor John R. Wiuff
Sept. 2, 2012
Mark 7:1-8

An avid sports fan Tom Pech of Oshkosh was asked before the library board meeting if he planned to attend the Packer-Lion game at Green Bay come Sunday. His reply? "Is the Pope Catholic?"
The Oshkosh Daily Northwestern in November 1969

Like an unquestioned fact, the Pope's Catholicism must be considered beyond doubt - hence the ironic humor in merely asking the question. Apart from the occasional dissident Catholic writer who might ask the question provocatively in order to make a theological point, no one would actually ask the question seriously.

What if the Pope didn’t have a story about how he became Catholic? Would anyone take that as evidence that he’s not really Catholic? If I were to ask, “is the Pope really a Catholic?” no one would answer with his conversion story. The evidence isn’t a story about how he chose Catholicism but certain acts or facts that would count as evidence.

Any Catholic male who has reached the age of reason can be elected Pope (woman cannot become Pope because they cannot be ordained as priests). In practice, one of the cardinals in the conclave is elected as the new Pope. (The last non-cardinal elected Pope was Urban VI in 1379). If a Pope is not a bishop, then he will have to be consecrated as a bishop prior to becoming Pope. Technically, a non-Catholic male could be elected Pope, but he would have to be immediately converted to Catholicism, ordained as a priest, and consecrated as a bishop before becoming Pope. However, this is extremely unlikely.

The new pope also has to be able to speak Italian and must be under the age of 80 years old. Most of the cardinals in the conclave can speak Italian. None of these things means that the Pope is a true Christian. He can be truly Catholic but fail to be a real Christian in his heart even though he may be considered the head of the Christian church on earth.

Religion and traditions have been used to identify people and their beliefs since the beginning of time. You might say the first act of violence was over religious traditions between Cane and Able. We have been fighting ever since about what is the right tradition to follow and which makes us a real follower of Christ.

If our faith does not go beyond the surface of the skin it will never be real or true. A tradition that is worn does not necessarily reflect the inner faith that comes from the heart.

The proud always claim to be humble; liars plead innocence; and thief’s protest that they are the victim. Should it surprise us that the religious claim a sincere heart felt faith and love of God? How do we know that our faith is more than skin deep? How do we know that we are being led by the flow of the Holy Spirit from the heart? That is the question that Jesus takes up in our Bible lesson today.

1. The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2. saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. 3. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
Mark 7:1-8

Why do you wash your hands? Do you wash your hands? The number one rule for health all over the earth is to wash your hands on a regular basis especially before eating or handling food. With the start of school next week the spread of disease will rapidly increase as children gather, infect each other, and bring it home. This happens every fall and the first line of defense is the parents lecture: “Wash your hands!”

Most of us have been told that we should do something without know why we should. The generation before us simply told us to do something and didn’t take time to explain why it would be a great idea. Going to church, not getting drunk, and keeping sex for marriage are some of the great warnings given to us by our ancestors along with washing our hands. But we have been busy ignoring anything that was not explained or justified as some sort of silly rule.

This has become the anti-religion movement in America today. We are being told that we must choose between Religion and Faith as if they are incompatible. I’m sorry but that seems as silly as choosing to not wash your hands because “…it is a ritual lacking any meaningful purpose. Even if the medical community tells me that some invisible force is out there ready to kill me if I don’t wash, I can still choose to follow what I want to believe and feel in my heart. Some days I may just not want to wash.” (note: irony implied).

Part of us just doesn’t want to do something because we were told by our parents that this would be best. Just being a good child that is obedient seems like an unacceptable option to a questioning rebellious child. We see the pit fall of both and we believe the rebellious skeptic is just safe because we are in control.

In this passage the Pharisees have reduced the instruction to wash to a ritual that defines the worthiness of people rather than God’s original intent. You can’t really blame them or call them silly. We all need to be threatened by people in authority once in awhile to keep us from harming ourselves and others. Yet threats and “Because I said so” will not satisfy any of us for long.

So much of our lives are lived out of rules because someone told us so and that’s the way it’s always been done. There is always someone standing near by watching and evaluating us on whether we keep the rules and traditions. This is the way we raise our children and manage industries.

We see someone do something and we think we know what it means. They “saw some of the disciples eating food with hands that were ‘unclean.’”

So first we must ask what is the issue here: is it being ‘clean’ or following tradition?

5. So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”
Mark 7:1-8

The answer given by the religious is the tradition more than being ‘clean.’ They would argue that we are kept clean in the eyes of God by following the traditions of men. Tradition is the measurement of clean and therefore more important.

Do we live by tradition? Do we argue that it is tradition that keeps us clean and therefore more important as a standard to achieve a desired result? Many Christians don’t like to associate with the Pharisees as being hypocritical religious zealots. The truth is that most of us live out of tradition rather than understanding and devotion to Christ.

I have encountered this at the most basic level throughout my ministry no matter where I am or who I am talking with. This week I had several conversations with Christians who did not know the reason why Jesus had to die on the cross so I could be forgiven. They knew they were supposed to forgive others, but when asked how the Bible defines forgiveness they could not answer. This is a profound example of how we get by on tradition without understanding.

Does saying the words: “Jesus forgive me…” and recognizing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God save us from sin, and hell while making us clean in God’s eyes? The answer is ‘NO!’ If we are just saying the words and following a formula given to us by another, we will find that tradition will land us on the wrong side of the sorting in heaven.

21. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23. Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Matthew 7:21-23

When we receive forgiveness beyond tradition we realize that we must have a Godly remorse in our hearts in order to have a God inspired joy. Just knowing about Christ and forgiveness is not the same as being know by Christ and experiencing a real spiritual cleansing of our souls.

Don’t let tradition keep you from knowing Christ. Assume you don’t know before you jump to the conclusion that you do know.

6. He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7. They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.’
8. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
Mark 7:1-8

I am sure that the religious teachers of that day would be shocked to be accused by Christ in this way. They knew and taught about the importance of obedience to God and the following of tradition. What they did not understand is the nature of the heart.

Some of us believe that if we change how we act we can change the nature of our hearts. Changing behavior and environments does not change a heart. Wanting to do better and trying to do better will not make us better. The idea that the problem exists outside of heart and can be fixed there is to totally misunderstand the gospel message.

Jesus came to teach us that the problem is in our hearts and not in anything external. That does not sound very encouraging because we all know that we can do more about our situation than we can change our hearts. All the forces of social reform, psychology, and good intentions are helpless in changing the nature of a person’s heart. If we are bent to sin and rebellion we rename it as personal choice and social reform. We know it is easier to rename something than to change it. We now claim the sexual sin is as fixed as gender in the heart of a person and can not be changed. We are surrendering to the unchanging heart and learning to live with all its faults and failings.

Miracles of miracles this is exactly what Jesus insists must change. The heart is something we don’t change but an organ that is changed from the inside out as we begin with facing some simple truths like sin, Godly remorse, and repentance. Our hearts are changed when they are touched by the Love of God and His sweet forgiveness. The hardness of hearts is transformed and shaped by the Master by believing, trusting and risking everything on the Word of God.

The Lord wants our hearts before He wants our lips. Even in saying this, many don’t know what it means beyond the tradition of the church, so let me break it down we can understand with our heads before we understand with our hearts.

When the word of God says ‘heart’ it means technically: soul. Soul is not a style of music in the Bible. Soul specifically means the way an individual reasons, feels, and most importantly chooses. When Christ wants a change of heart it is not simply a matter of feelings. Some people think they love God with their heart when the feel something in a worship service. Others can be intellectuals like me thinking that understanding God’s instructions and reasoning through the rational for His instructions is the change we need in our hearts.

The main issue with our hearts is not our feelings or our intelligence, although they are important and often flawed. The part God really wants to reach, the game changer to every part of our lives is our will. Will power, the ability to make a choice and hold to that choice no matter the cost, the reasons, or how we feel is the key to a changed life.

Our will is too weak and broken to be reliable. When we surrender our will to God He strengthens it and gives it the power to rule over our minds, emotions, and even our bodies. We live in a world of weak willed people who find it impossible to allow God into that level of their heart. Yet this is the very place God must be worshiped, loved and obeyed. Nothing else will do. We have been conditioned to surrender our will to desires, temptations and emotions, but the one person we could surrender to that would make a difference we avoid.

God wants your heart and that means He wants your will above everything else. How do we give Him our will? We choose. We choose with an unshakeable resolve to follow Him and to obey God no matter the cost. Even if we fall we choose now to get up and keep following. When we make that choice our emotions will follow and we will find an passion for pleasing Father God which will be greater than any other passion. When we make that choice we will find that our minds are sharper, better able to make sense of the world around us. Life will make sense again and there will be a purpose in everything we do, but we must begin with that choice deep in our heart. Not only will we understand why we need to be clean and how to be clean…we will want to be clean in the sight of Father God.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

No Turning Back

John 6:60-69

Would you agree with the following declarations as the standard for a Christian Spirit filled life?

• A believing Christian should not be killing people in their neighborhoods just because they are angry?

• A person who truly believes in Jesus Christ must be forgiven and forgiving toward others.

Now this is getting hard, I don’t know if I want to go on…

• A true believer in Jesus Christ as Lord should never be drunk.

• A true believer in Jesus Christ should contemplate fornication or adultery but be faithful to the one they declare their love.

While many can agree with the basics of the faith there is usually a line where we find it difficult to continue to make a stand for Christ. We call this the point of no return when we decide that we are fully committed no matter the cost. Many would be believers in Jesus Christ only follow the Lord until they come to this door of no return. They know that if they go beyond that point they will not be able to back out and change their minds.

The odd part of this ‘door of no return’ is that the standard has been dropping over the years. I remember as a youth the door of no return was the day you gave your heart to Christ for salvation from your sins. Many of my friends were reluctant to be saved because they just knew God would ask them to go to the mission field or do something else they didn’t want to do right then. To even repent and claim to be a Christian was the point of no return.

Today we think that there are degrees of commitment and we don’t need to be hard core Christians. We can agree with the basics but keep our appetite for booze and sex out of the relationship we have with Christ. We will attend church occasionally and even talk about God to our friends but we are not eager to press people with the urgency of salvation in the light of the ultimate and terrible punishment to come in the fires of hell. We may not be even sure if we believe in ‘hell’, evil or sin…but grateful to be saved from them just in case.

Into every would-be believers life comes a day, a day like to day, when the Lord confronts us with a hard truth that we must accept on faith, or reject in self preservation. This point of no return is critical in our lives if we are going to be counted among the true followers of Christ and not among the pretenders that hang around in great numbers until the going gets tuff.

Our Bible passage today is taken from the gospel of John when Jesus confronts him and the other followers with a door of no return.

60. On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61. Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62. What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63. The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.
John 6:60-69

The door of commitment is marked with God offending us with His unreasonable demands. When I raise the issue about drinking and being drunk there are many so called believers who think I am being unreasonable and judgmental. When I raise the issue about sexual restraint before and after marriage once again I am accused of being unreasonable, and judgmental. In other words I ‘offend’ people by suggesting or insisting that God’s standards are much higher than our own and we would be wise to make sacrifices in these areas to please the Lord.

Christ will often ask of us a sacrifice or an act of obedience that we find unreasonable and those who are no ready to accept Jesus as Lord will be offended. One of the most common complaints I hear is how people are offended by the Bible, by Christ and His teachings. They are so offended many have worked hard to change the words in the Bible, or our teaching about the Bible, or even our understanding of Christ. We are more offended today by all of this that we have banned it from the schools and the public arena. We have placed all our modern problems at the feet of the Bible, Church and Christ claiming that these offensive institutions have caused all the wars and discrimination in the world.

What we failed to grasp is that we have turned back from the test that God has placed before us to move forward by faith rather than backwards through fear. The Response that Jesus Christ gives to our outrage is simply a question: “Does this offend you?”

What offends you will tell you where your commitment lies. Where you are offended is also your opportunity to change. Today we are so often offended by anyone telling us what we can and cannot do it matters little if it’s about drugs, alcohol, or sexual behavior. We are offended by any constraint on us like what day to worship, how to dress, or whether we even read our Bibles. We are offended by the suggestion that Christ would insist on governing anything in our lives and this is why we fail to be true followers of Christ. He calls us to follow, and obey and we reply, “Who are you to ask for such a thing?”

“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.”

The offense of Christ is the price we must pay to gain the life the Holy Spirit want to breathe into us. If we follow our offended spirit and refuse to obey then we are in the realm of the flesh and it will die on its own.

If we are going to know a better life then we need to change by surrendering the very things we though so important to gain a real Spirit filled life under the control of the Spirit.

64. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”
John 6:60-69

The enemy is whispering in the ear of every person who hears this message that they don’t need to listen to such old fashioned preaching. I know he is telling you that because the same voice whispers in my ear every day. Hell it self is offended by this claim of Christ, that we are to pay the price He asks because He asks.

Jesus already knows who is willing to pay the price and who is not but we don’t know who we are because we have avoided the decision. We make compromises and muddy the waters with degrees of faith so we never come to the door of no return.

To accept the offense of Christ and to bow to His unreasonable demands is to enter that door when you will not turn back. I would push you through that door but I can’t. Each person must go willingly.

4. And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 5. you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6. For this is contained in Scripture:
“ Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone,
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
7. This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve,
“ The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the very corner stone,”
8. and,
“ A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”;
for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.
1 Peter 2:4-8

At some point you may have accepted that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and His forgiveness of your sin. You may have received miracles from His hands and taught you great spiritual truths. You may have enjoyed worship and felt His presence around you but until we are offended by His claim on our life, we have not passed the point of no return in our relationship with Him.

There are many today, like the large crowd that followed Christ around, who thought they were true believers but only realized they were not when they stumbled over His offensive words of Lordship over their lives.

To believe in Christ means to build on Him as the cornerstone, fully relying on Him as the foundation of your life. Many of us who have been following Jesus like to think that is what we are doing but until we come to the audacious claim of Christ which offends us we will never be sure that we really believe. Could you and I give our lives, our fortunes, and our families for the Kingdom of God? Is that asking too much?

The truth is that our faith only goes so far and then we begin to doubt. That place of doubt is where Christ will offend us or gain our trust and obedience. We either stumble at that moment or say with others…

… “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Mark 9:24

How far can Christ go in our life before we begin to think He is going too far? When do we become offended and turn back to our own self controlled lives and away from a Spirit led life?

66. From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
John 6:60-69

The moment that Christ goes beyond our expectations and offends us is the turning point in our faith. We grow or we fall back but to offend our self rule with His rule is the only way any of us make any progress.

Shall we evaluate our faith? Would that offend you? How shall we measure the depth of our faith in Christ? Many who walked away from Christ that day were real disciples of Christ. They were willing to accept his leadership and follow Him as long as they received what they were promised. Yet they stumbled over the offense of the cross. What is the offense of the cross and why is it a measurement of our faith?

Our faith is not measured by what we choose to do for Christ or by what we choose to give to Christ. That is a very small thing and leaves us in control of our lives. Rather our faith is measured by our willingness to give Christ what He asks of us, when He asks us. Obedience at any cost is the measurement of the cross and it’s offense. Christ was measured by the cross and found not to be wanting in His love of Christ because it is this kind of love that is not easily offended by the requests of God.

I have been asked by God to surrender many things that I did not want loose. Each time I was tempted to be offended at the unreasonable demands of Christ. Satan is always there to whisper the self justifying offensive words into our ears. But each time I decided that my only hope was in obedience my faith grew and became stronger.

27. Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
28. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Matthew 19:27-30

We can follow Christ to gain more and see our sacrifices as an investment in a distant future but that would be a weak faith. There are many now who claim to be apart of a ‘faith movement’ that names and claims their hearts desires. They give to the church and others in order to receive. But what greater faith would it be to give to God without expecting anything in return except the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

To love God is to set aside an offended Spirit and to surrender all no matter the cost. We do this for we want to live by the Spirit and not die by the flesh. That turning point of no return is the offensive requests of Christ. Will we obey and follow or turn back.

Has Christ offended you recently? Did you swallow your pride and accept His correction and surrender what He asked of you? If you did then passed through the door towards a full commitment and only the love of God can do that in your life.

Monday, April 25, 2011

“The Man in the Middle”

Luke 23:39-43

A man knocked on my door last week and introduced himself as a member of a local church called the Jehovah Witnesses. He invited me to his church for their Easter Service this weekend. He told me that some people think that they don’t believe in Jesus Christ, but he assured me that they do believe in Him. The service would be a memorial to His life and ministry on the occasion of His death.

I told him that I wouldn’t be able to attend, as I would be attending another Easter Service for which I was already obligated. We wouldn’t be holding a memorial service for Jesus but a celebration of His resurrection from the grave and in our hearts. That’s why here this morning. How about you?

All over the world people are gathering for memorials and celebrations. Some are doing both and between these different expressions of faith is a world of confusion about exactly who Jesus Christ really was.

When Easter comes I like to remember and read in the Bible once again the events of what we call Holy week or the Passion of Christ. I have watched films and attended large passion plays in out door theaters to remember all the details of that event. The meaning flows from the story and can be very hard to miss. Yet many will miss the meaning again this Easter and I don’t want us to be among them.

Sometimes on Easter morning I address the believers as I look at the disciples as they follow Christ to the Cross and beyond. Sometimes I consider the crowd that shout His praise and then demand his death just a short time later. We can be an angry mob and deny Christ and the foot of the cross.

Today I want us to consider the three crosses and the men that hung upon them, especially the man in the middle. He hangs between two men who don’t understand who He really is and in a crisis they all share. These are three desperate men, criminals but the man in the middle is about to change history.

39. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
Luke 23:39-43

This man was a criminal who wanted to survive the sentence of death. He was a desperate man and who can blame him? Who here would not fight for your life when it is threaten? We all want to live and die. Whether we are guilty of our crimes or not, no one in their right mind wants to die. I really believe all three men on the crosses that day were desperate to live.

Some people won’t even talk to God until they are in the desperate place where it is a life and death situation. Most people will start talking to God before they are at death’s door but almost all of us won’t come until we are desperate. What will it take to get you to talk to God? How bad do things have to get before you will start a conversation with Him and cry out to Him?

I so identify with this criminal. I don’t know what his crime was but it was bad enough that he was sentenced to death on the cross. When he shouts at Christ he doesn’t deny the charges and claim to be innocent. He just wants to live.

We are all criminal in God’s eyes when we first come to Him. We have stolen from Father God what is most precious to Him. We have murdered His only Son. We have broken all His laws and defied His good and perfect will in our lives despite many warnings. If God were to judge us guilty today He would be well within the right and the verdict is death, first spiritual, then physical and finally eternal.

The first criminal is like you and me when we shout at God and blame Him for all the evil in this world and for all the harm that comes our way. We don’t hurl insults when things are good but only when things turn bad for us in particular because that is the way criminals think. They are only interested in the law when it affects them in a negative way then they become bias experts.

A desperate criminal will confess to anything and do anything to avoid the punishment of death. They will want to make deals, but if they find nothing is working they will work the angles to find what will motivate those who stand in judgment over them. In the Easter story we have a criminal appealing to fellow criminal and not to the judge. He hurled insults trying to motivate Him to save Himself and make a break from the judgment of death. He may have heard that the man in the middle was innocent but then don’t all criminals claim to be innocent? They only think he was interested was whether Jesus had the power for a jail break or not. He wanted Christ to answer the scoffing of those who dared Jesus to come off the cross. The sign above the head of Jesus said, ‘King of the Jews’, and the soldiers yelled at the man with the crown of thorns, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” (Luke 23:37).

Jesus did not answer the soldiers or the first criminal. The criminal was desperate and willing to do anything to save Himself, but Christ would not respond to his desperate plea for salivation any more than He would acknowledge the mocks of the Roman Guards.

All were under the sentence of death that day but these who called on Christ to save Himself were in the greatest danger. Have you ever appealed to God believing that you could find leverage with the God of the Universe by making a bargain? I find it the height of foolishness to think that we would have any bargaining position with the creator of the Universe. The Lord God saw us getting ourselves into a desperate situation long before we became aware of what we were doing. He even tries to stop us but we ignored our conscience and went right into law breaking until the law caught up to us.

Should we be surprised if Christ is not interested in the desperate calls of guilty people who are only interested in avoiding punishment and in making prison deals? I am afraid that there are many desperate people in the world today who are like this criminal and they pleas, bargains, and threats are a waste of time. No deal will be made for them.

There was another criminal who was very different than the first one. He hung on the cross on the other side of Christ.

40. But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41. We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42. Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Luke 23:39-43

This second criminal is desperate as well, but his desperation is different than the first criminal. He knows that there is no way out of the sentence or off the cross. His thoughts turn towards what will happen he dies and the second court case he must face and the second verdict upon his life. If men can judge him and get it right what hope does he stand before the Holy God of the Universe to be judged. He is going to the court of Heaven with a criminal record and plenty of evidence of his guilt. His desperation is born from the fear of standing before a just God and be found guilty of all his sins against God.

In his fear of God He has even given up rationalization, saying ‘that his crimes aren’t so bad because everyone breaks the law at some point in their lives.’ Dealing honestly with his condition he knows when someone is lying and when someone is telling the truth. He knows just by looking at Christ that Jesus was not a career criminal. He was not guilty like them. If there could be still one good man who was innocent then he could not longer appeal to being no worse than anyone else. The final excuse he had before God was removed by the innocent man in the middle.

So many people who I talk to are desperate like the first criminal and I can’t really help them, nor can God. If we allowed them to escape or gave them one more chance they would just do more harm to other and continue to break the Law of God. There is no heart change, only the cries of a desperate person trying to avoid the consequences of their own lives.

Few people are like the second criminal who fears the judgment of God more than any court or prison here on earth. He feels the weight and conviction of his conscience upon his soul and no longer rationalizes or justifies his actions. Scoffing and mocking have been dropped for the desperate reality of confession. So far under conviction he knows God would be right in sending him to an eternity in hell. He knows that to let loose criminals in heaven would only ruin the place with sin and rebellion of the lawless.

This desperate man is a person who I can relate to and I hope you can as well. If you can’t I pray that someday you will relate to this criminal and know the desperate place that the conviction of a guilty conscience can bring you if you will face the truth.

As this second criminal faced the truth the most he could ask for and the best he could hope for was to be remembered. He wanted to matter to someone after he had died. All three men on the crosses that day were facing the same death and all were desperate. One was desperate to escape, one desperate to be remembered and the third desperate from something very different.

The second criminal was asking for a memorial service in heaven but the man in the middle had something very different in mind.

43. Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23:39-43

Jesus was a desperate man but not to escape what was coming and not to be remembered at a memorial service. He was desperate to do the will of His Heavenly Father. In the ultimate act of faith he would face not only death for the first time but taste the bitterness of sin as He took the sins of the world upon himself. Physical death was not as bitter as those sins. I know this because some of those sins were mine. They were so vile as to cut Jesus Christ off from Father God for the first and only time in infinity. That’s when Jesus cried out from the cross “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” Then he followed this was a statement: “It is done!” Christ had accomplished what Father God had requested and bore the guilt of my sin upon that cross. Your sins was on Him that day.

What we are desperate for is revealed in where we look. Have you ever heard that old country song “Looking for Love in all the wrong places?” We look for what we desperately want. The first criminal was desperately looking for an escape. The second criminal looked to be remembered after he had died. What was the man in the middle desperate for? We can tell by where he looked.

Jesus final words were to Father God, “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.” With those words He died.

With those words he lived. Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, looked to the Father and for a resurrection by the Father’s hand on the other side of the grave. When He looked to Father God, he placed his whole life into His hands and trusted Him to take Him through to the other side…to paradise.

Paradise is not an island, or a golf course. It is not the happy hunting grounds or some version of Los-Vegas. Paradise that Christ looked to was to be by the Father’s side. He was leaving this world having accomplished on the cross what the Father requested because Jesus was desperate to do Father God’s will. When he got ready to leave he offered to take the second criminal with Him, to give Him more than a memorial service. He would reward the second desperate criminal with an introduction to the creator of the universe, His Father God.

In three days, on a Sunday God raised Him from the dead and know He lives in Heaven and in the hearts of those who are desperate for Him in their lives.

We are all facing death each and every day of our lives. Someday we will be told this is our last day. For others it will come sudden and without warning. Some of us will look for cures, for a way out…a way to cheat death like the first criminal. He wasn’t ready to die and face the judgment that is to come and he knew it in his heart.

Some of us will accept death when it comes and hope that we are remembered by those who loved us and that we made a difference in this world. We are looking for a nice memorial service and loving words on our tombstones. We are like the second criminal hoping the few acts of kindness and faith at the end of our lives is enough to wipe out the harm we have done.

How many of us will be like the man in the middle? How many of us will look to Father God and say, “I trust you even in death.” How many will believe like Christ did that we will be raised and that even the grave can not hold us down when God calls our name. Our way of escape is through the grave. We don’t need to be remembered when Christ Himself will embrace us in His arms.

The second criminal stumbled into those arms and found paradise in the presence of Father God. He asked to be remembered but did all that was necessary to be forgiven and redeemed. He had Godly sorrow for his sin and confessed his guilt to Jesus Christ and the world. He believed that Jesus was the Son of God and lived on this earth without any sin in His life. He asked Jesus to remember Him well in heaven despite his crimes. The only way Jesus could do that was to forgive those sins and that is exactly what Jesus did and without asking for paradise He stumbled into the arms of Christ.

Today you could stumble into the arms of Christ. Today you could do the same. Stop looking for an escape, there is none. Stop trying wipe out the memory of your sins by a few good works. Look to the man in the middle, to Jesus Christ. Confess, repent and be born again. Be desperate for God’s will in your life. No grave will hold you down.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Biblical Faith: “The Heart of Jesus”

Pastor John R. Wiuff
Hebrews 10:18-25

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day!

Seventy five percent of chocolate purchases are made by women all year long, BUT the week before Valentine’s Day, that statistic is reversed with 75% of chocolate purchases made by men. Over $1 billion Dollars worth of chocolate will be purchased for Valentine’s Day this year alone.

If the chocolates don’t work then maybe you should try flowers, my favorite way of saying ‘I love you.’ By tomorrow about $1.5 billion Dollars were spent saying ‘I love you.’

But it you really want to express your love to your valentine, nothing says it like jewelry at a tune of $1.4 billion dollars in 2011.

Wow, can you feel the love? Here are some suggestions on how to say “I love you” so that your love for one another goes on forever.

• Make sure you say "I Love You" at least once each day to your spouse.
• Write unexpected love notes.
• Give your mate an unexpected hug.
• Be spontaneous and surprising.
• Share memories and talk about memories you share together.
• Schedule a day to just rest together.
• Listen.
• Share why you love your spouse.
• Give the gift of your time.
• Smile.
• Say I love you in a different language.

Tomorrow is the day that people will want to express to another what is in their heart with hopes that there love will be returned. In many cases this will be an effort to preserve and cultivate the love they already share.

Despite all the advice and efforts we make it really does seem like the words “I Love You” is a desperate offer in a bargain for mutual benefits. How do you say “I love you…” without sounding desperate? There is a love that says, “I love what you can do for me.” There is a love that says, “I love qualities about you that I think are important.”

So, in the end, when we reveal what is in our hearts for another…it comes down to “I love you because I think you are worthy.”

What is in the heart of Jesus? If He were to tell us what is in His heart how would He express His love for us? Would he love us for how we make Him feel, or endearing qualities we display, or for what we can do for Him? Is His love a desperate bargain of mutual benefit?

We know what is in the heart of Jesus and like most things He ever did or said, His expression of love to us is unlike any human love. His love is greater and more amazing than all the valentines rolled together.

You see what is in the heart of Jesus is a desire to cure what is in your heart. He doesn’t want to give you a paper, chocolate, or gold heart this valentine. He wants to change the heart you have. He wants to transform your in most being with His very blood.

A Biblical faith is based on the belief that Jesus’ shed blood is the only remission for sins.

18. And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.
19. Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20. by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21. and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
Hebrews 10:18-25

Remission is a word that theologians used all the time but most of us know the term not in relationship to Valentines Day but in connection to the terrible plaque of our day: Cancer. If you have ever walked with a person through the terrible threat of cancer you know that the word you want to hear from a doctor more than any other is: Remission.

When a doctor tells you that your cancer is in remission that does not mean that a cancer is cured. Complete remission refers to the situation where the disease disappears completely with the treatment. Partial remission refers to the situation where the disease shrinks but does not disappear completely with the treatment.

So when the doctor tells us that our cancer is in remission that means we are getting better and winning the battle with hopes of beating the disease. When the cancer is in complete remission we have won by beating the cancer back to the point we can’t detect it any more.

The reason the doctor uses the word “remission” is because they know that cancer is never really gone. Doctors now believe we all carry cancer in our bodies but healthy people don’t experience any outbreaks while those who get sick are taken over by the disease. In other words, cancer is in remission in us this morning if we are healthy and no signs of cancer can be found by the doctor.

I can’t think of a better illustration of how Christ says He loves us. He came to tell us that with treatment of His blood our cancerous sin can also be in remission. We have been doing so many things as humans to fight the terrible affects of sin in our lives. We have tried following rules, diets, and self discipline only to find sin flaring up like a tumor or lesion on our vital organs. We have under gone deadly attempts to kill sin and cut it out of our lives and even making tremendous sacrifices to find freedom from sin. Yet for most of us who can never seem to beat it back, denial and acceptance seem to be the only way we have learned to live with the spreading cancerous sin in our lives.

With Christ’s blood, no more treatments or sacrifice are necessary. All we need is an injection of His blood into our veins. It will change our heart and our minds. It will send cancerous sin into remission.

Cure from cancer means complete freedom from the cancer. To render someone cured of cancer, one has to wait and see if the cancer will ever come back. So, time is the crucial factor. If a patient remains in remission for a few years, the cancer might be cured. Certain cancers can reoccur after many years of remission.

The same is true for sin in our lives. The cure of sin, even though it may be dormant in our lives is to be free from sin. With a regular treatment of the blood of Christ we watch to seen if it will come back. Time and treatments are the crucial factors. If we sin continues to be in remission for a few years, the sin may be cured although it can reoccur. That is why we never stop in the treatment because sin lingers waiting to find a moment of weakness to make its come back.

The status of remission is determined by a series of tests and examinations to determine whether a cancer has responded to treatment or not. When we go through hard times and temptations these are tests to see if the cancer of sin is really in full remission.

The Bible tells us that when we begin treatment with the blood of Christ, we too can be confident to come to Christ on a regular basis, to have a change of heart, a new life and a new body. We present ourselves to Him for examination on a regular basis.

Did you know that the priest at the temple was responsible for controlling communicable diseases in the time of Christ? When Jesus cured the ten lepers of their disease he sent them to a priest to be inspected. He knew that they would not be accepted back into the community until the priest declared them cured, that their disease was in full remission. Can you imagine what it is like to be tested and waiting for the verdict before you find out if your disease is in remission, or complete remission?

The word of God says you can come with complete confidence to Jesus Christ knowing that His blood treatment in your veins can put sin in full remission in your life, but only as we continue to have His blood flowing through our veins, pumped by a changed heart.

So how do you begin the treatment and keep it going in your life so you can know not just a partial remission of sin, but the full remission?

22. let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:18-25

There are many ways that the Bible tells us what is in the Heart of Jesus and how it flows to us with healing power. Blood flows through our hearts and the Bible tells us about the blood of Christ and its power. This same healing power that causes sin to go into partial and full remission is also described as water in this passage and in other places as wind.

From Genesis to Revelation these symbols of blood, water, and wind tell us the same truth about what is in the heart of Christ. Love for Father God and the Love of Father God lives in the heart of Christ and it is this Love that makes the one. Yet that Love is not like any human love. It is not a feeling or a romantic interest.

The Bible tells us very clearly that God is Spirit and that God is Love. We are also told that Holy Spirit is the very Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit of God feels, desires, and acts on our behalf. It flows like wind, water, and blood through Father God, Jesus Christ and to any who will open their heart to Jesus Christ through the repentance of sin.

(John 4:24-“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” 1 John 4:16-“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. John 3:8-“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”)

20. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21. that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23. I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
John 17:20-23

Angels marvel this can happen.

10. Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11. trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
1 Peter 1:10-12

And they rejoice when the Holy Spirit enters a new believer at salvation. (Luke 15-“10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” )

If this is amazing and marvelous for angels to understand we as limited human being can’t understand this with our minds or emotions. Although we can’t understand it, we can experience this amazing event in our own lives. We can have flow into our hearts what is in the Heart of Christ. We can receive the very Love of God, His Holy Presence, through the Holy Spirit into our hearts this very day.

This gift of the Holy Spirit symbolized by blood, water and wind…can change our hearts for the remission of sin. The bent and temptation to sin will always be in us while we are on this earth but regular dozes of the Holy Spirit will force that sin nature into remission. Often it happens partially and when enough exposure to the Holy Spirit we can experience a complete remission of sin.

24. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25. not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:18-25

The secret to the remission of sin, partial or complete is to have the Holy Spirit pumping through your heart on a regular basis. When the Holy Spirit flows through us it changes our hearts and that flow is dependant on our hearts beating for Christ.

What gets your heart racing? Winning a big game or jumping out of an airplane? Does the love of a person you thought you could never have send your heart bounding to the point of making you dizzy? Some of us are just dizzy because are hearts have grown weak from lack of use.

You can have the best blood in the world but if your heart is not beating, it isn’t going to do you any good. You can have a deep love for a girl or guy but if you can’t get their heart to beat for you then your love will not be realized. We need a changed heart, and a beating heart to experience God’s love, but we also need keep each other passionate for the Love of God so it does not grow cold in our hearts.

The key is to keep the Holy Spirit pumping and flowing through you. What is in the Heart of Jesus flows to you as soon as you believe and receive salvation through repentance? When that happens the flow is great because we were empty, but soon we are filled and take the fullness of God for granted. If we remain full and stagnate that Spirit can not transform us, or cause sin to go into remission. The Spirit of God, The Love of God is to great for you to contain the fullness. For us to know more of God’s love we must let it flow into us and out again to others. The love of God is meant to be moving and flowing through our lives into the lives of other people. This flow through our beating hearts is the secret behind the complete remission of sin.

How does the heart of the believer pump the Holy Spirit through their lives? We follow the advice in this passage.
-spur one another on toward love and good deeds
-not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,
-encouraging one another
-remember the Day of Christ’s return is approaching.

The cancer of sin comes from self preoccupation. It is a deadly disease that infected a third of the angels of heaven and all of humanity. It lingers in our very nature but it can be placed into a partial and then a full remission when we get our hearts pumping for God and His Love for other people. Sin is defeated every time and this is how Christ being Human kept himself from sin. His heart beat only for the Love of God.

Take the words advice and discover by experience what beats in the Heart of Christ. Repent and be saved. Let it beat in your heart as well. If you have a clog in your veins, repent of that sin and get the Holy Spirit flowing again. Let the Spirit flowing through your lives beat sin into remission. Give your changed heart to God.

Valentine is tomorrow and some hearts will beat fast when one young person purposes marriage to another. Tomorrow could be the day we stand before God. Will we know Him now in our hearts and enter before His presence with full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”? Now is the time to have your heart changed with a fresh infusion of the Holy Spirit. Christ promised it to you and it is yours to have if you will come and repent of your sins. Don’t let anything get in your way.

Category 2011 (millions) 2010 (millions) YoY % Chg
Dining Out $ 8,831.20 $ 8,508.30 3.8%
Candy $ 2,593.20 $ 2,466.80 5.1%
Romantic Getaway $ 2,164.30 $ 2,047.00 5.7%
Flowers $ 1,582.50 $ 1,355.20 16.8%
Jewelry $ 1,456.30 $ 1,308.70 11.3%
Clothing & Lingerie $ 1,165.30 $ 1,126.30 3.4%
Greeting Cards $ 822.80 $ 784.30 4.9%
Total $ 18,615.60 $ 17,597.10 5.8%
source: IBISWorld 2011 Valentine’s Day spending forecast

26. For this is my blood of the new covenant that is being poured out for many people for the forgiveness of sins.
Matthew 26:28

77. and to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.
Luke 1:77

5. Because of his love he had already decided to adopt us through Jesus Christ. He freely chose to do this 6. so that the kindness he had given us in his dear Son would be praised and given glory. 7. Through the blood of his Son, we are set free from our sins. God forgives our failures because of his overflowing kindness.
Ephesians 1:5-7

22. In fact, under the law almost everything is cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of the blood there is no forgiveness.
Hebrews 9:22

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Biblical Faith: “Jesus Provides the only Way to be Saved”

Pastor John R. Wiuff
John 6:35-51

People cannot come to me unless the Father who sent me brings them to me. I will bring these people back to life on the last day.
John 6:44

No one else can save us. Indeed, we can be saved only by the power of the one named Jesus and not by any other person."
Act 4:12

Options, I love them. I want to have many choices and styles to choose from. If I have many choices then I will be able to make the best choice that fits who I am. Since we are all so different, no one choice can fit everyone. Right?

We in America really believe that diversity and freedom to choose from the many based on personal preference of the individual is a universal truth and even a divine right.

We could say choice is our “cup of tea.” There are more teas in this world than just Lipton. In fact many Americans are discovering how diverse and wonderful the choices the world offers us in exotic teas. Not only that, we are slowly realizing what ancient people knew for millennium, that they are actually healthy for us as well as tasty.

I have brought several teas this morning and I have several different teas for us to choose from. Which is your cup of tea? Some are dark black breakfast teas, while others are light herbal, and one a very exotic ancient tea with healing powers. If I were to ask you which is your cup of tea, which would you choose. You would most likely want to smell the leaves and maybe have a taste test, while comparing which appeals to your senses the most.

The choice we make and how we make it is very much the way we approach the various claims of religions. Some religions talk about following rules, and others your bliss, while yet others say the whole thing is an illusion. The world provides us with many ways it claims that we can find our way to heaven. Many even tell us we can determine for ourselves what “heaven” will mean if we just choose their ‘cup of tea.’

In our series on a Biblical Faith we have to face a very difficult fact. The Bible tells us in all the different cups that are being offered, there is only one that will allows us to enter into the only Heaven there is, and all the other cups are poisoned. That might not be the news you want to hear, but if the Bible is right, it could be the most important hint you will receive in your life. If you knew that of all these teas I brought today were actually poisonous and one could cure all your health problems, which one would be your “cup of tea?”

The mood in America that like choices is offended by the idea that I would suggest that not only is their one way to a real Heaven, but that all other paths are poison and lead to death. One commentator on American Culture said…

"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own."
- ILN 8-11-28 (G. K. Chesterton)

What he means is that I should stand before you and tell you that every tea here is just as good as the next, even though I know they will all get you killed except one. This isn’t about taste or preference. This is about life and death.

Despite the choices that are before us this morning and everything we have been told over the years we still are confused about the decision we need to make today. Barna Research shows us in their research.

More than four out of five Americans claim to be Christian and half as many can be classified as born again Christians. Nine out of ten adults own a Bible. Most adults read the Bible during the year and a huge majority claims they know all of the basic teachings of the Bible. How, then, can most people say Satan does not exist, that the Holy Spirit is merely a symbol, that eternal peace with God can be earned through good works, and that truth can only be understood through the lens of reason and experience? How can a plurality of our citizens contend that Jesus committed sins and that the Bible, Koran and Book of Mormon all teach the same truths?
Barna Identifies Seven Paradoxes
Regarding America’s Faith
December 17, 2002

What this means is that despite what the Bible tells us, we choose to believe that any choice we make is good one, because we just want it that way. This belief that we can decide whatever we want despite what the Bible says has persisted in what American’s believe for decades now. There is a very good chance that someone reading this message or listening to me right now, are among those who believe one cup of tea is as good as another.

Recently a woman expressed what most Americans experience. She grew up church hoping and although her parents thought religion was important she didn’t really understand why they felt that way. Now that she is an mother herself she has come to this conclusion…

No matter what Church I went too the message was still the same. To live life loving yourself, loving and caring for the people around you and to make choices in life that would make Christ proud. We can’t be perfect. No one is, but the secret is to do your best. Failure only exists in the ones who choose to give up. The ones who try never fail. No matter what the outcome.
In my opinion, all roads lead to one God. There isn't any wrong or right religion. If it works for you and it gives you the strength, wisdom and serenity to live in happiness and the will to do good then so be it. 1.
Stacey Chillemi
Published Author
(See foot note…)

Somehow this dear lady grew up in church, attends church now with her children, and still thinks that the Bible says, “Chose any cup of tea you want as long as it helps you find happiness and peace.”

Yet the Bible that most of us owns warns us that not just any cup will save. All will kill and only one has life. Which cup is it?

35. Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

The Bible tells us that Jesus has come to the end of His three year ministry and all that is left to do is to die for the sins of the world upon the cross. Jesus has the same problem I have today and every other pastor who holds out the true and trusted words of God. The problem is that people do not believe the Word of God when it declares that there is only one cup the gives life, and all the others kill.

Jesus came so we would choose the right cup, and live. God is not cruel because He does not give us enough choices. God is good because He is doing everything He can right now to get you to make the right choice and live. God is not narrowed minded, but desperate that we live. He is not pushy but urgent that we understand the danger we are in at this very moment if we choose wrong.

The choice we are given today is Christ or nothing. We must believe that God provides in Jesus the only way to be saved from our just judgment in hell or loose out forever. The only way we are going to see a resurrection is if we make the right choice.

A better analogy is to go back to our teas. What if I told you that you are dying from a fatal disease? Then what if I told you that only one of these teas could save you and all the rest wouldn’t hurt you, but they couldn’t save you from what’s wrong in your body? The Bible tells me that I have fatal disease and it is sin. I want to ignore God and go against my conscience. That nature, that sinful bent is what makes us terminal. Yet on the table is a cure, but only if you chose to believe what the Word says and drink from the right cup.

If you ask a doctor: "Have you ever had to tell someone that they were going to die soon?" He would most likely tell you that it was the hardest thing he did as a physician. But in most cases, he would detect a problem and give them a course of action that, if followed, would save their life.

That doctor isn’t being cruel or harsh. He is being deadly honest and giving hope. Yet even this clear choice is not enough to believe.

41. At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42. They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
43. “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48. I am the bread of life. 49. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
John 6:35-51

The trouble with making a good choice today about what cup we will drink is that we consider how we are doing right now and see no need to change. We getting along and life is not perfect, but good enough. Unless we are desperate why would we give up our options and commit to only one path? Why get married when you can still have fun with several partners? Why get tied down with kids when you can travel and enjoy life? Why buy a home and be stuck with a job and a mortgage when you can travel the world? In other words, why give up freedom of choice for the commitment of a demanding relationship?

When this part of Christ’s short life on earth takes place time is running short. If Christ wore a watch, He would be looking at it and tapping it with His finger. Soon He would be arrested, stand trial, and be crucified on the cross. Time was running out and those who liked Him but were not committed needed to make a choice. They would not make it through the test that was coming if they did not decide to give up their choices and commit to Him as their only hope.

For our choices to narrow and believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved from an eternity in hell and enter heaven, we need a divine intervention from God. The Bible calls this a conviction. This is an inner sensation of God in our hearts telling us that we need to make this choice or miss our chance to be saved from this world and it’s many choices. This conviction is a deep sense of knowing, a conviction that the Bible is right and all other voices are wrong. We know in our conscience this is the only real choice we have if we are going to live. God narrows the choice for us by this spirit of conviction and without it no one will commit to Christ alone as their only hope of salvation.

Has God placed that conviction in you? Have you made the choice? If you think you still have options, as most American’s do, then you have not experienced the benefits of believing the convicting Spirit of God. When we really believe God’s word, there are no other choices left. Our entire hope is on the Lord Jesus Christ, His death and His resurrection.

53. Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
66. From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
John 6:53;66;67-69

If you lack that God given conviction, all you have to do is ask for it. Just say a prayer to God and ask Him to give you the gift of a convicted spirit. King David in the Old Testament did this when he prayed,

23. Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24. See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139:23-24

If you ask Father God, He will send the Holy Spirit and convict you what you must chose and narrow your focus to Jesus Christ. He may have already accomplished this in your life because someone else asked Him to bring conviction into your life. But that gift is wasted if we don’t commit to Christ as our only hope.

Jesus made His disciples choose. Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Today I am asking you to make the choice. Now is the time to commit. To accept Jesus and declare Him as your only hope of salvation is the decision we must make today. There are only two possible answers today and that is ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ We must choose.

On the communion table this morning we have a cup for you to drink. This cup represents Christ Himself. His blood is represented by the grape juice and His body by the bread. The only way drinking this juice and eating this bread will make any difference in eternity is if you commit to Christ and reject all other options of salvation. He must be Lord of all in your life, or Lord of nothing. This is no time to hold back because we are going to need this single minded focus in the days, months and maybe years ahead. Just like the disciples before Easter we must be all in and trust on Christ for everything. No other religion or philosophy will save you. They can not cure what is wrong with your heart. They can not remove the cancerous sin from our lives. Only this one cup, the cup of Christ can save us now.

Will you say yes be coming and receiving the Cup of Christ or will you say no and keep your options open? Decide now. Heed the conviction you asked for earlier and make your choice. Now is the day of salvation.

1. Stacey Chillemi is the managing editor for the magazine UZURI. She is the author of Epilepsy You're Not Alone; Live, Learn, and Be Happy with Epilepsy; Epilepsy and Pregnancy: What Every Women Should Know; the children’s book My Mommy Has Epilepsy and My Daddy Has Epilepsy ; and two collections of poetry, Keep the Faith and Eternal Love. She has recently been featured in Woman’s World Magazine and the New Jersey Star Ledger.