Gospel in a Nutshell

Retirement versus Legacy-building Part Two

When I spoke at Winebrenner Memorial, a couple weeks ago, we talked about Paul’s plight while writing to the church at Philippi. Paul was at the end of his rope, if you remember. Paul said,

‘For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body. And since I am sure of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for the sake of your progress and joy in the faith, so that what you can be proud of may increase because of me in Christ Jesus, when I come back to you.’ Philippians 1:21-26

Let’s review the Pastor Joe paraphrase.

For me, living is doing what Christ has left me here to do, while dying is getting the heck off this planet and spending the rest of eternity in heaven on my all expense paid retirement plan. If I have to stay here, I need to be productive doing God work, but I’m not sure I want to. Matter of fact, I really want to retire and go hang out with Jesus on the golf course, which is a lot better than being stuck here. But it’s more important for me to stay here with you and since I am sure that’s what God wants, I will stay and continue to build a legacy of faith in all of you, so that you can be proud of me.

Because Paul knows he is still alive and breathing, he knows God has something left for him to do. God’s retirement plan doesn’t kick in until we have breathed our last breath. In the meantime, our job to build a legacy of faith, to build up the big C global and eternal Church, continues on. I gave you homework before I left two weeks ago. Find one person that you can pour your experience, strength, and hope, your knowledge and wisdom of living a life of faith, into. I won’t ask for a show of hands how many have their homework done. Only about 30% of my middle school students get theirs turned in on time, and I usually end up extending due dates, like I did with my most recent assignment…hahaha.

We know how Paul felt now, as he was coming to the end of his earthly ministry. We can estimate that he lived, at most, ten years past this point; probably far less. Now I want to turn to Jesus. Jesus, the night he was betrayed, hours before his trial, torture, and death, just days before his resurrection, and only about 45 days before he ascended into heaven, was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. John recorded his prayer for us in John 17. There are three things Jesus focuses on in his final prayer. Jesus prayed that we understand what eternal life really is. He prayed that his disciples, those he had worked with and taught during his earthly ministry, would be set apart in the truth and remain set apart from the world as they go out into the world to proclaim the Gospel.  Finally, he prayed that all believers, everyone who comes to believe in him through the work of his disciples, would be one with each other, just as he was one with the Father.

While we know from history that his early disciples did remain set apart once he brought them back together again, and preached the Gospel, lighting a fire of faith that has continued to burn until this day. The other two: Jesus has not truly gotten his heart’s desire. We still constantly misunderstand what eternal life is, and the church has never been more divided in its entire history. Not only that, but the divides in the church also started within the lifespan of his disciples. It is my belief that a big part of the divide is caused by our misunderstanding of eternal life as well.

But what can we few, here and now, do about any of that? What can we do about problems that have existed for 2,000 years? We start small. We start with our own understanding of eternal life and then, through prayer, reconciliation, love, and more prayer build our own spiritual legacy while we yet have breath in our bodies.

Jesus said,

Now this is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent. John 17:4

1st– We need to live in the knowledge and power of God. We do that through God’s very own Holy Spirit that Jesus asked his Father to send to us as a comforter, teacher, and empowerment for us to perform his work as his Body here on earth.

2nd– We need to pray, pray before we start, pray as we go, and pray some more. When Paul shared the secret of joy and contentment in Philippians chapter 4, he told us:

‘Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’

He continues on to say in verse 13

‘I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.’

If we are going to continue to live building our legacy of faith, we are going to need God’s strength and power. We only find that strength and power through prayer.

3rd– We need to live set apart but in unity and love. Our lives cannot look like the rest of the world lives. But Jesus said he didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it. Unfortunately, the world frequently sees the church as judgmental, hateful, and standoffish. We try to force those who do not know Christ as Savior to live as if they have a relationship according to the same understanding and commands that we have. It becomes even worse when the outsider world sees those within the Body of Christ fighting amongst ourselves. Living in unity and love is only possible if we reconcile with those whom we have had differences. Within the Body, we need to live according to those things we can hold in common, and love each other enough to follow Paul’s instructions in Ephesians 4:1-6, he says…

‘I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.’  Ephesians 4:1-6

When we can do these three things; live in the strength and power of the eternal life we have right now through God’s Holy Spirit, pray, and live set apart in reconciliation and love; we can build our legacy of faith one friend, acquaintance, neighbor, parent, child, grandchild, great grandchild, and stranger at a time. That is living out the Great Commission, our purpose and the mission Christ left us with.

Define Love, Divine Love

Define Love, Divine Love

If you have been a Christian for any period of time, or even if you are not a Christian and you have been around Christians very often, there are a few things you have heard. You have heard John 3:16, or maybe you remember Tim Tebow putting the reference in white on his black sun block. You may have even been one of the millions of people to Google the reference to find out what it was.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

You have heard Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were to:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength; and love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:30-31; Matthew 22:37-38; Luke 10:27; points back to Deuteronomy 6:4-5

You may have even noticed that the board right here in our church says, “love God, love others.”

We see signs and hear phrases everywhere… Live, laugh, love. For love of dog. I’m lovin’ it. Love of my life. Love is blind. All is fair in love and war. Love-hate relationship. Make love, not war. Falling in love. Puppy love. Love will find a way. For the love of all things… And one of my personal favorites, a face only a mother could love…!

Not to mention all the things we love… I love coffee. I love my dog. I love my friends. I love Chick-fil-a. I love racquetball, golf, and fishing. I love my kids. I love my wife. I love spending time with some people, but not everyone obviously. I love steaks on the grill, not to mention, ribs and brisket on the smoker! I love being a pastor, but God hasn’t put me in a position to do that full-time. I love teaching, but I don’t really love my job. I love it when I get to sleep in, but my body hardly ever lets me and I always feel hungover when I do sleep in. I love that I have been clean and sober for almost 25 years…! I love GOD!!!

Do these all mean the same thing??? Obviously not! Or if they do, there is something definitely more wrong with our society than we can even imagine. Maybe that is why the world has gone crazy. We really don’t know what love actually is!!!

I believe there is much more truth to that statement than we truly understand.

In the time Jesus was walking on the earth, the Greeks had at least three different words with an idea translated and defined as love in our culture today. But those three words they used had three very different meanings. And that is part of our problem today, how do we define love? On dictionary.com, the word love has 22 different entries under its definition. 14 of them are used as nouns, 6 as verbs (or actions) with an object, 1 has a verb without an object, and 1 as a verb phrase. No wonder we are confused!!!

This confusion leads to all sorts of misunderstandings too. Who do you love, how do you love, when should you love, what shouldn’t you love, why should you love, do you love at all, shouldn’t I be able to love who, how, or whatever I love, who are you to say I shouldn’t love this, that, or the other?

So many questions and yet we as Christians are commanded to LOVE. The two greatest commands Jesus tells us are to LOVE. God is LOVE.

How we define LOVE is extremely important if we are going to LOVE the way  God has commanded us to LOVE and if we are going to teach others to LOVE as he has commanded us to teach others to obey his commands. Friends, we have gotten ourselves into one heck of an ever-lovin’ mess!

Why don’t we see how God, who is love, and who created love, defines love. Instead of 22 definitions of love, and instead of 3 definitions of love, we are going to focus on just ONE definition of love and what that LOVE looks like.

The love we are going to look at in Greek is agape. ἀγάπη In every one of these passages I am going to reference, the same root word agape, is used. So we are only talking about one kind of love. We are talking about what Divine Love really looks like.

When we look back at what Jesus said in the context of Matt. 22; Mark 12; and Luke 10 when he was repeating the Hebrew Shema and adding to it, Jesus used this word agape: to love. We must love God and love others. He told his followers to love one another in several other passages. Same love. When God so loved the world, it’s the same love. This is agape love.

John, the apostle whom Jesus loved, writes this for us.

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been fathered by God and knows God. The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love. By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4:7-10 NET

John goes on to tell us…

Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth.

1 John 3:18 NET

We find that although love, agape, is being described, love is in every way described as an action. God’s divine love is an active love. But when we are talking about active love, we are not talking about the activity of what we call ‘making love’ we are talking about putting our money where our mouth is and actively doing something when we love God and love people. Paul helps make this even clearer for us. Because God is love, a facet of the fruit of the Spirit of God is love.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23 NET

To combat lawlessness, all the acts and desires of the flesh that are contrary to walking by the Spirit: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy and murder; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. Paul says we need to walk by the Spirit and that first in the list of the facets of the fruit of the Spirit is love. Divine love, God-like love, unconditional love; along with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is the fruit that Holy Spirit produces in our lives. And in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul illustrates for us that love is a spiritual gift. 1 Corinthians 12-14 is the longest dissertation on spiritual gifts and the use and practice of the gifts within the context of worship in the New Testament, and Paul says this right in the middle of it about love.

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I give over my body in order to boast, but do not have love, I receive no benefit.

4 Love is patient, love is kind, it is not envious. Love does not brag, it is not puffed up. It is not rude, it is not self-serving, it is not easily angered or resentful. It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never fails. But if there are prophecies, they will be set aside; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be set aside. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways. For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known. ‘

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 NET

We very frequently hear verses 4-7 taken out of context and read at weddings as instructions to a husband and wife how they should love one another. However, this love, this agape love, this divine love, this is how love should act toward all those around us. The people we like, the people we love, the people we minister to, Jesus even said we should love, agape, our enemies…

Now, you’re going to ask, “Well, Pastor Joe, you’ve given us a whole lot of lip service and description of love; divine, agape, biblical love. But what am I supposed to do if divine love is an action?”

Well, figure it out for yourself…just kidding. Here are 5 ways to show God’s love to others.

Number one:

Show God’s love by actively listening to others.

Don’t just hear what people are saying, but really listen to them.

Number two:

Show God’s love by praying with others and for others.

Don’t just tell someone you’ll be praying for them. Offer to join with them in prayer, right then, if they’ll let you. If not, that’s okay, but make sure you do include them in your prayers…don’t just say it and forget it.

Number three:

Show God’s love by being generous.

Not just generous with your money. Although that is a great way to be generous, but also be generous with your time and with your talents as well.

Number four:

Show God’s love by encouraging others.

Especially encouraging them to continue to walk the path of faith when times are hard and life is disappointing.

Number five:

Show God’s love with acts of kindness.

Especially acts of kindness where God receives all the glory. Anonymous good deeds are awesome. Paying for someone’s meal or drink behind you in the drive-thru. But doing an act of kindness with the message that God loves them and is concerned for them, leaving yourself out, is always best. If anything, God lead me to do this for you is a great way to go as well.

Lastly,

No matter who they are and how much you may have against them personally or them against you because of some kind of bias…

It’s possible to show God’s love to anyone.

And showing God’s love to everyone is exactly what Jesus came here to do and what he left us behind to do.

Jesus came to the world to love it and save it, not to condemn it, because the world already stands condemned.

We don’t have to condemn the world. We have to show the world God’s love, because we are Jesus’s body left here on earth.

 May you be a blessing and representative of God’s love to someone.

Pastor Joe

Retirement or Legacy-building?

I have the pleasure of serving in many different congregations in my position as a pulpit supply pastor. One thing I notice in everyone of them is the question, how do we move forward? Of course, other questions continue to come up, once we ask that question. Does our congregation have a future? What will the future look like? Is it okay to embrace change? What changes are okay to embrace and what should we avoid?

And inevitably, in some of the congregations I serve, the statement comes out, “we are too old to change now.” “We aren’t going to go door to door doing evangelism. Besides, everyone I know is already a Christian.” From my conversation with Pastor Don, it sounds like this is the realm your congregation is currently living in. He also told me, “They don’t need a hell, fire, and brimstone message; just give them some encouragement.” Allow me to give you some encouragement straight from the apostle Paul.

But I myself am fully convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.

Romans 15:14 NET

            I promise I will stay away from the hell, fire, and brimstone. I do have a quick question in that regard… By show of hands, how many of you believe that Jesus wasn’t lying and hell actually does exist, and that unbelievers will face judgment after they die? Okay. Believers face a different judgment, but that isn’t today’s message. Whoo, dodge a bullet there, right? It’s okay to chuckle…

            If you are like me, you may have a hard time remembering verse references, or what I call its address, but how many of you know what Matthew 28:18-20 says? That is the passage called the Great Commission. Jesus said (and this is my own translation),

All authority under Heaven and on Earth has been given to me, so while you’re going make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded to you. Know that I am with you to the very end of the age.

We typically here this message along with some plea to send money to overseas missionaries, when asked to join a mission trip going to some remote land, or when encouraged to do some sort of door to door evangelism.

            As a friend of mine would say, “Okay PJ (Pastor Joe), what’s your point?” The point is, in any congregation, young or old, know matter how many people are sitting in the pews; our focus is on discipleship, not going anywhere specific. The title of my message to you this morning is, “Retirement or Legacy-building?”

            I am here today to tell you; they missed the point. The only imperative verb here is “MAKE DISCIPLES”. Can you truly tell me with 100% Godlike certainty judging the heart, every friend, every child, grandchild, great-grandchild, acquaintance, and neighbor you know is a disciple of Christ. We are called to be teaching disciples how to obey Christ. Is everyone you know following Christ to the best of their ability? A better question may be, do you think you are? Discipleship isn’t necessarily about going anywhere, it’s about obeying Jesus’s commands to help others learn to follow him in a closer relationship.

            Earlier, Paul told you…

you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.

If you are full of goodness and filled with all knowledge; you are able to instruct one another. You are also able to instruct your friends, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, acquaintances, and neighbors. What are the two things we have been told for generations, maybe starting with your generation, we should never discuss at the dinner table? Religion and politics, right. I am here to tell you one of the most important topics you could possibly discuss is your relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ in the power of his Holy Spirit. Jesus said wherever two or three are gathered together, there I am.

            These conversations should be, as another passage says, about spurring one another on to love and good works. They should also be about strategies and tools to continue learning and growing and praying and following Jesus’s example. To be conformed to his image and fulfill his purpose.

            At the time of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he is in prison again. He is tired and frustrated and ready to die. He tells us:

My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether I live or die. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body. And since I am sure of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for the sake of your progress and joy in the faith, so that what you can be proud of may increase because of me in Christ Jesus, when I come back to you.

Philippians 1:20-26 NET

You are still alive. Your building is still open. You still have a pastor. Even if your building was closed, and you went and sat in the pews somewhere listening to another pastor because you don’t feel right sitting at home on a Sunday morning. You are still alive, just like Paul, and just like Paul— Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me… it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body. And since I am sure of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for the sake of your progress and joy in the faith, so that what you can be proud of may increase because of me in Christ Jesus.

            You may be retired. However, as believers, our true retirement from our responsibility to build a legacy of disciples doesn’t come until we are present with the Lord at the great banquet.

            As you go out into the world today, brainstorm at least one relationship you can invest in as your legacy of faith. That’s your homework.

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The Prayers of the Savior

This is part four in our series, Jesus, Who? In our first message, Jesus According to Jesus, Jesus told us his identity and purpose. We then listened as he taught The Sermon on the Mount. And, we walked with his closest friends during their Conversations in the Garden.

Today, we are going to be parked in John 17. The Prayers of the Savior. These are Jesus’s prayers for his Church (that’s us) and his apostles right before he is handed over to the Jewish leaders for trial.

They are our Lord’s final words of prayer before his death, burial, and resurrection. This is also the longest prayer of Jesus we have recorded. We have been flying through Jesus words and teaching at about 30,000 feet. Today, we are going to kneel in the Garden with Jesus and listen closely to his prayer. I believe it’s worth taking a close look.

Thanks again to my son, Robbie, for video editing…the camera worked right this week!

Audio is available here…

Conversations in the Garden

This is important stuff, maybe more important than the Sermon on the Mount, because these are Jesus’s final words before he is taken off to be tried and killed.

His first words in verse one of chapter 14 are,
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” John 14:1

Just how important are those words??? How important are the final words of hope and instruction Jesus left his closest friends right before they saw him tortured and killed?

Just how important are those same words for us today. We are struggling in a post-Christian society. We are struggling in a world and country terrified by a pandemic. We are struggling with those who are becoming disillusioned with attending church. Those who are unplugging from the community of believers completely, not even viewing a service online if they have the option. We are struggling against a society that is more and more opposed to hearing the Word of Truth. Jesus tells us as well,
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” John 14:1

I apologize, we had some camera issues this week, so only audio is available. Listen here.

Conversations in the Garden