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September 9, 2012, by Ann LeFevre

Life Together Can Be Sticky

Philippians 4:1-8

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this but life together can sometimes be sticky.  Parents have problems with their children, children have problems with their parents; we have problems with siblings, with relatives, with co-workers and so on.  The problem is that we don’t always see things the same way, or do things the same way.  I don’t know any relationship that shows this better than marriage.  As often is the case in a marriage, the bride and groom come from very different families.  Take this couple for example:

That’s Jeff and I as newlyweds in 1978 and we did come from two very different families!  My family was the warm and fuzzy kind of close.  Jeff’s family not so much!  We came from two very different backgrounds.  And the holiday where this showed up the most was Christmas.  Christmas was my mother’s favorite time of year, so it was always special in our home.  Christmas was not always the best time of year for Jeff and his family, so you can imagine that our first Christmas together was great!  NOT!  In fact, it was close to a disaster.  But, we’re still married, so I guess we survived!  That first Christmas I carried on the traditions I had in my home.  I decorated a tree, bought Jeff a gift and stuffed a small stocking with some practical goodies like soap and socks.  Jeff came home from work on Christmas Eve, looked at the tree, looked at the gifts, looked at me and said, “You got me a gift?”  Now mind you, Jeff had bought me some very nice gifts while we were dating, so I assumed this would continue now that we were husband and wife!  “I’ll be right back,” he said heading out the door.

Now, guys, last minute gift shopping is not always a good idea (unless you know exactly what the other person wants)!  Those kind of gifts have a tendency to look like, well, just like you ran out to any store and pulled something off the shelf!  Jeff ended up giving me a small candle that sat on a plastic base which was definitely not my taste and I didn’t know how to tell him I didn’t like it!  I was miserable.  But, we managed to get through that first Christmas and we’re still married so I guess we survived!  Sometimes life together can be sticky!

Of course, we NEVER have any problems in getting along in the church.  We all get along, don’t we?  Why are you laughing?  Yes, we do have problems in the church, because just like marriage, sometimes life together can be sticky.

I was listening to a phone conversation between Jeff and a friend of ours recently.  Now before you think I was eaves dropping, let me tell you that Jeff likes to put the phone on speaker phone and in our small house that means I can hear the conversation too!  Jeff and Ulvid were commenting on this very subject- the divisions and fragments in the church due to disagreements and the different way denominations interpret the things of faith.  “It’s too bad we can’t return to the way the church was in Acts” Ulvid said.  And I found myself somewhat agreeing with his lament.  We all love that beautiful passage at the end of Acts Chapter 2 where Luke takes note that the believers gathered together, and made a tremendous impact in Jerusalem and beyond by sharing their resources and in the way that they got along with one another.  But something wasn’t sitting right.   Something in the back of my mind urged me to take a second look, so I picked up my Bible and began to read.  Acts chapter 3, things are still great.  Acts chapter 4, still good.  Acts chapter 5, smooth sailing.  Acts chapter 6, uh oh!  Problems!!  A problem arose with the widows who needed assistance.  Some widows were being served and some were not.  Do you know what the early church’s solution to this problem was?  They created the office of deacons.  The deacons then collected the funds and resources and distributed them evenly among those in need.

In fact the whole New Testament is full of letters written to churches that had problems!  Life together, even in the early church, was sticky!  BUT WAIT!!  Wait, Ann!  I remember one church that was OK- one church that Paul wrote to that didn’t have any problems.  They loved Paul, they loved each other, and Paul loved them- it was the Philippian church- they got it right!!  Well, if you were listening to the Scripture reading this morning, you know that even in Philippi, life together could get sticky.

The Philippian church is one of the few churches that we have a fairly complete history of in the Scriptures.  In Acts 16, Luke records Paul’s visit there in AD 49/50.  But Philippi was actually a long established city by then.  Paul would have come in to Philippi on this road- the Via Egnatia.

The Via Egnatia was part of the Roman Empire’s extensive road system (very much like our interstate highways).  It stretched from the east side of the Empire to the west.  Philippi was established by Philip the second of Macedonia in 356 BC.  And when Paul traveled there the Via Egnatia would have led him right in to the heart of the city- the Forum which was an open market, Wall Street and Town Hall all rolled in to one.

The pillars you see in the distance here, were not there when Paul came to Philippi.  They’re from the 6th century but the pillar in the foreground is from Paul’s day and I can picture him leaning up against that pillar, checking out the people and looking for fellow Jews.  Paul followed this evangelistic process every place he went- to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Rom. 1:16), but Philippi was a Roman colony with all the rights and privileges therein.  So the Jewish population here was quite small.  That meant Paul had to look for them elsewhere and that meant only one place- the river.  Why the river?  Because Jewish worship always involved ritual cleansing and you need fresh water for that.

Paul did find a gathering by the riverside.  He preached and Lydia responded.  Paul also returned to the Forum and preached there as well and a slave girl was delivered, which, in the long run, landed Paul and Silas in this-

the Philippian Jail.  In spite of being flogged and beaten, Paul and Silas praise God (amazing!) and lo and behold, long story short, the jailer and his household also believe!  I like how Barclay described this fledgling church.  He called it “the whole gamut” society” what with a wealthy Jew, a poor slave girl and a middle-class jailer all making up the congregation.

Not only that, Philippi was also a retirement community for the military.  Soldiers in the New Testament were enlisted in the Roman Army.  They served for 20 years and were recruited from all parts of the Empire.   They were also assigned duty away from home.  The army was divided into legions.  Legions consisted of 6 cohorts and each cohort was divided into 60 centuries, making a legion 36,000 men strong.  Centurions oversaw each century.  They were intelligent, well paid, highly motivated men who typically served well beyond the required 20 year period.   When they retired to cities like Philippi, they became effective and influential leaders there.  Add them into the combination of people in the church at Philippi and you realize that it was made up with just as many different kinds of people with just as many different backgrounds as any church today.  And although the church at Philippi is noted for its ability to demonstrate Christian love, life in Philippi could still get sticky.

Euodia and Syntyche were members of the Philippian church and very active members from what we can see in these few passages directed to them.  Apparently there disagreement is between the two of them at the moment, but Paul is concerned that it could spread.  Their names add a sense of irony to the situation.  Euodia means prosperous journey or fragrance.  Syntyche means fortunate.   But their behavior is anything but fortunate or fragrant.  Euodia and Syntyche were not pew warmers.  Paul says that they “contended” with him for the Gospel.  This word has a powerful athletic tone to it, like a wrestler.  It reminds me of a football team.  Now, I am not an expert in football (nor do I want to be!), but I have learned this much about running plays.  In a running play, the quarterback hands the ball off to his “runner” who will push through the opposing team’s players in order to get a certain amount of yardage.  His teammates have the task of blocking the opposing team’s players who are intent on tackling the runner.  If the blockers don’t block, the ball won’t move forward.  If the quarterback drops the ball, the ball won’t move forward.  If the runner doesn’t run, the ball won’t move forward.  They each have an equal part in making the play.  No one is more important than the other.  Paul sees Euodia and Syntyche in this way.  Their participation in his ministry was just as important as Paul’s role in it.

We don’t see this in our English translations because translators are always trying to word things as smoothly and succinctly as possible in the English, but Paul actually addresses each of them separately.  I PLEAD with Euodia.  I PLEAD with Syntyche.  This shows that his words have urgency and importance.  He does not see their disagreement as a “female” thing.  He sees it as a CHURCH thing.  If they can’t work out their individual problems, the whole church will suffer for it.  He writes separate admonitions to them, because he sees them equally responsible to repair and reconcile their relationship.  Life for Euodia and Syntyche had become sticky.  But Paul believes they can overcome their differences and he encourages them to get busy and do it.

How do we work through issues when life becomes sticky?  I believe this passage has some valuable tools that we can use when we are faced with disagreements within the body of Christ.  I would like to highlight a few of them now.

The first tool can be found in verse 3.  Paul asks someone he calls his “true comrade” (NAS), or “teammate” (NLT) to assist Euodia and Syntyche as they work through this issue.  Sometimes we need someone to step in and work as a mediator.  A mediator often has a clearer perspective on things because they are not emotionally invested in whatever is causing the problem.  That perspective can bring two parties together when the people involved are willing to look at the issue in a new way.  That person must be a “true comrade”, that is someone who also has the same goal in mind or same view of life, that is a fellow believer.  That way everyone is on the same page with the same goal- to glorify Christ- in mind.

The second tool comes to us in verses 4 and 5.  First Paul encourages us to rejoice.  This is not something we would naturally do when things are not going well, but it makes a huge difference when we do.  Paul also encourages us to be forbearing (NAS) or considerate (NLT) in spirit.  Again, this is not easy to do.  Our natural tendency is to complain and tell anyone and everyone about our misery!  But what good does this do?  Oftentimes it only makes matters worse.  So, here is my paraphrase for these verses (the ALV- Ann LeFevre Version):  Refuse to complain!  Instead find things that give you joy and talk about them instead!

The third effective tool in dealing with sticky issues is prayer (verse 6).  Not a prayer that goes like this, “Dear Lord, please make so and so see it my way!”  No, we are to bring our needs to the Lord but with a willingness to let Him correct and reprove our perspective so that in the end we bring Him glory.

But I believe the greatest tool to dealing with issues that come up and become sticky is found in verse 8.  The key to working through sticky issues is found in the things we set our minds on.  Let’s look at some of these attributes.

We are set our minds on whatever is true.  This word means “real”- whatever is consistent with both fact and reality.  I might walk outside and say the sky is blue on a cloudy day.  It doesn’t look blue, but the fact is that if the clouds moved away, we’d see the blue sky.  That’s a fact and it’s consistent with reality.

We are to set our minds on admirable things.  These are things of “good repute”; they have a good reputation.  Perhaps there is a store you recommend to someone, or an auto mechanic who has earned your trust.  You do not hesitate to tell others about them because you know they will live up to their reputation.

We are to set our minds on things which are excellent.  These are things that have more than a monetary value.  They are valuable in intangible ways as well.  They are virtuous and have integrity.

And lastly we are to set our minds on things which are praise-worthy.  Simply they are worth being talked about because they are just THAT good.   Your favorite restaurant, an amazing athlete, a good book- things that inspire you that you know others will also benefit from if they come in contact with them.

I have long looked at this familiar passage from the vantage point of an artist.  I thought these adjectives described the beauty of Greek art which the Romans perfected.  The attributes of truth, purity, excellence, all these things were deified in art.  But after studying these words I realized I was all wrong!  These words are not about ART, they are about SOLDIERS!  The attributes of Philippians 4:8 epitomized the dedicated centurions of the Roman army, and retired army personnel were a dominant part of the Philippian society, and quite possibly the Philippian church too.

The Roman army was a fine example of unity.  Even though the soldiers came from all parts of the Empire, they were trained to function as one.  By assigning command to a smaller amount of leaders, who in turn oversaw manageable groups of infantry, the army was able to conquer formidable foes and keep peace within the realm.  Paul makes his point in a subtle way.  If the army could uphold honorable and desirable attributes like these, the church should do so even more.  If the Roman army could live by these standards and keep peace over a vast Empire, the church should do so even more.

How ridiculous then for Euodia and Syntyche to be arguing over some disagreement.  They had served as soldiers in the cause of the Gospel, and now the “harmonious two” could not live up to the names they bore.  Like their Roman counterparts, Euodia and Syntyche, as well as the rest of the Philippians, needed to set their minds on those things that were true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  By doing so they would receive more than earthly peace, they would receive the peace of God.

But what does this mean to the people of First Presbyterian Church of Milford?  What does it mean to you?   To be honest with you, I don’t know what this message means to you.  I know this- in May, long before Pastor Ben asked me to speak to you this morning the thought came to me, “IF I ever get asked to speak again, I think I’ll speak on Euodia and Syntyche.”  I am not sure why I thought that!  Who really picks disagreeing women as a sermon subject? And when Ben did ask me, I tried my best to come up with a different passage!  But the Lord would not let this one go.  So here I am presenting this to you this morning.

I am reminded of the words of Christ in Matthew 5:21-24 where Jesus says that if you come to the altar to worship with an offering and remember that (ALV again) your life with someone else has become sticky, you must put the offering down and repair the relationship.  Why is this so important to us?  Why so critical?  I believe it is because of WHERE we are in this community- prominently poised on the corner of Broad Street and Ann Street.  AND because of what we are here to do in this community.  We are to be a light in a dark world, in a community that is in darkness.  If we cannot set our minds on whatever is right, whatever is true, and so on, we will NOT make an impact here and the Gospel will not be proclaimed.  All Christians contend together in the proclamation of the Gospel.  It’s important not to let disagreements cause division among us.  We are a team.  We work together to accomplish a goal.  God is saying something to you today.  What are you going to do about it?

Final Thoughts:

When the tribes of Israel gathered together in Jerusalem to worship at the Temple, they didn’t always come with the best of attitudes.  Sometimes life together in Jerusalem was sticky.  So King David wrote to them, “Hine ma tov, uma niyim chevet achim gam yachad!”  Sounds pretty cool in Hebrew, doesn’t it!?  “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!”  (Psalm 133:1) David goes on to say that unity is like a fragrant oil that is poured out over Aaron’s head and it trickles down his beard on to his robes and the beautiful fragrance fills the whole room!

James wrote to believers who were spread throughout the Roman Empire, “What is the source of the quarrels and conflicts among you?” (James 4:1)  His answer was SELF.  But there is no joy in self.  There is no peace in self.  There is no unity in self.

To conquer self, the mind MUST be tuned into things that are outside of self.  Your mind must be set on whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise.  Today is the day to change the sticky-ness of your life to that sweet smelling oil of unity.  Today is the day to let your mind dwell on these things.

So finally my brothers and sisters in Christ, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute;  If there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.  And may they be reflected in the way you relate to one another in Christ.

And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion and fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us, be within us, and be among us until the Lord Jesus returns to take us all home!  Amen.



September 2, 2012, by Elder Steven P. Davis

September 2, 2012

Reading & Sermon – “What Makes God Happy?”

We have several readings this morning. Our Psalter selection this morning is Psalm 149, verses 1 through 5:

1 Praise the Lord

Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.

2 Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
3 Let them praise his name with dancing
and make music to him with timbrel and harp.
4 For the Lord takes delight in his people;
he crowns the humble with victory.
5 Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor
and sing for joy on their beds.

We continue with an Old Testament reading – Jeremiah 9: 23-24:

23 This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.

And finally, our New Testament Lesson, Hebrews 13: 15-21:

15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

17 Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

18 Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. 19 I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.

20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I’m going to share a little secret with you…not a big secret, so don’t get your hopes up…just a little something I’m sure you don’t know about me. (Pick up the Styrofoam cooler and take a container out.) I really love mint chocolate chip ice cream. (take taste) Now some of you might be saying to yourselves, “How can he even think about eating ice cream in the morning?” To that I just reply, “Somewhere in the world, it’s time for an ice cream social, so I’m just being sociable!” Speaking of which, would anyone like a taste? I have plenty of spoons…(Encourage as needed, then put container away.) By the way, I have also been known to enjoy cold pizza for breakfast, but that’s another story.

Why do I like mint chocolate chip ice cream so much? I don’t really know…my mother is partial to coffee ice cream, so that’s not it. By the way, it has to be the premium stuff…the ice milk or “light ice cream” just won’t work for me. Is it the cool minty creaminess and the way it feels in your mouth? Maybe. I just know that it makes me happy.

Of course, there are a lot of things that make me happy:

  • You probably know that I like computers and other high tech gadgets…why right now I am installing a new server at home that will hold over 20 terabytes of storage. If you don’t know what that is, forget it, it’s not important.
  • And you know I like theatre, performing in plays and musicals. Just last week I was in “Murder Among Friends” up at Forestburgh that starred Loretta Swit from the TV show MASH. And in two weeks I open in the musical “The Drowsy Chaperone” over in Monroe. Oh, and not to mention I have a meeting today to discuss the set I’m building for the fall junior high musical at DV, “A Year With Frog and Toad.”

No I do not seem to get a lot of sleep…but I put myself through all that because it makes me happy. When you are doing what makes you happy, you get energized in a way that coffee and tea just can’t touch. But enough about me, I want to hear from you what makes you happy? If you would like to share, just raise your hand.

(Get several examples from the congregation.)

You know, it’s funny…it’s a lot easier to describe what makes us happy than to define just what happiness is. Pastor Ben might say it’s sitting around the lake cabin up north, surrounded by friends. Many Americans might describe it as a three day Labor Day weekend, meant for cookouts and kids games. But Webster’s Dictionary defines “happy” as:

1. favored by luck or fortune, as in a happy coincidence.

2. notably fitting, effective, or well adapted, as in a happy choice.

3. enjoying or characterized by well-being and contentment, as in she is the happiest person I know.

4. glad or pleased, as in I’m happy to meet you.

5. having or marked by an atmosphere of good fellowship, as in a happy office…or church.

I actually think the Urban Dictionary gives the best definition: A feeling of contentment and peace, like you don’t need anything else.

Under that definition, I would like to think that is the reason we are all here in church this morning…for a feeling of contentment and peace, like you don’t need anything else. To sum it up in a bumper sticker, “Church-goers are happier.”

And it is good for you too…I mean physically. For example:

  • In 2006, the American Society of Hypertension established that church-goers have lower blood pressure than the non-faithful.
  • Likewise, in 2004, scholars at the University of California, Los Angeles, suggested that college students involved in religious activities are more likely to have better mental and emotional health than those who do not.
  • Meanwhile, in 2006, population researchers at the University of Texas discovered that the more often you go to church, the longer you live. As they put it: ‘Religious attendance is associated with adult mortality in a graded fashion: there is a seven-year difference in life expectancy between those who never attend church and those who attend weekly.’
  • Exactly the same outcome was recently reported in the American Journal of Public Health, which studied nearly 2,000 older Californians for five years. Those who attended religious services were 36 per cent less likely to die during this half-decade than those who didn’t. Even those who attended a place of worship irregularly — implying a less than ardent faith — did better than those who never attended.

So, we are happier and healthier when we go to church…when we are in a relationship with God. Is our happiness…and His happiness…important to God? What makes God happy? Can the Almighty even be happy, as we know it?

Let’s start by looking back at our readings for this morning. We read in Psalm 149:4, “For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.” Nothing cold and impersonal and unapproachable in that statement. He takes delight in us, in our relationship with him…can it be that we can be what makes God happy?

Let’s look at the reading from Jeremiah now, chapter 9, verse 24, “I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.” There is that delightful word delight again. So much more expressive than God is pleased. But this time he delights in things that he is doing.
And finally, there is Hebrews 13:16, “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Other translations change that last word to “happy”…God is happy when we do good to others. So what makes God happy is our relationship with him, what he does for us and what we do for others. Just think of it as three “happy bullet points” or what I am going to call “vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.”

Let’s start with vanilla, our relationship with God. There is nothing “plain ol’ vanilla” about God’s special relationship with his people, but it is vanilla in the sense that it is offered to everyone, even if not everyone accepts the offer.

The basis of this relationship is simple: God wants to bring His children joy and in the process we can bring God joy too. This is not a business relationship here: the party of the first part agrees to worship God and believe in Jesus and in return gets one gallon of salvation…no. Because we are saved by grace through faith, we have no desire to bribe or manipulate God; He is already predisposed to us. We can therefore please Him freely without self-interest: We are not His client…this is very personal. In the case of God, we are His guests; there is no charge; we are freely forgiven, so we can freely please Him

It is faith that makes this relationship work. Without faith it is impossible to please Him: those that come to God must believe in him. He rewards those that diligently seek him. Faith reflects our attitude toward God. Is God’s integrity something we value to the point that we trust His Word? Or is He fickle and undependable?

If someone does not believe me, it could be because they think I am a liar or I am wrong. But, since God makes no mistakes, if we do not believe God we make Him out to be a liar; there are no other options. So faith affirms God’s character, disbelief insults His integrity. So, if we want to be right with God, we must believe.

Also, we must remember that God takes no pleasure in the wicked. He wants the sinner to repent. Fortunately, God loves to forgive. Nothing makes Him happier. In fact, all of heaven throws a party and celebrates every time someone is forgiven. Jesus shared several parables that show off His excitement about forgiving those who are in trouble. In fact, His parable on the lost son takes forgiveness to new heights.

This is pretty easy to understand. If you are a parent you probably take great joy and delight in your children. Is it any wonder that God feels the same way about his children?

Now let’s turn to chocolate, God exercising kindness, justice, and righteousness in the world. And for this section, I’m going to let you in on a little sermon writer’s secret. You can go to websites on the internet and read other people’s sermons for inspiration on a topic. That’s why they posted them in the first place. They don’t expect you to pay a fee or anything. And every once in a while a sermon you are reading will explain just what you hoped to explain. So I am going to borrow some words from George Toews that I found on Sermons.Logos.com, in which he talks about this passage from Jeremiah.

Loving Kindness

God delights in loving kindness. The Hebrew word used here is a well known word used almost 300 times in the Old Testament. It is the word “hesed.” Some of you may have heard of the House of Hesed in Winnipeg which is a mission whose purpose is “to provide a home for persons living with HIV/AIDS, sharing mercy, hope, dignity, and peace. Consistent with the Christian perspective of caring for those in need…” They have chosen the name House of Hesed because of their mission to share mercy and care for those in need.

God loves to show mercy, to be compassionate. God has told us this so many times. I John 4:8b says, “God is love.” But God has not only told us this, He has also demonstrated it. I John 4:9 goes on to say, “This is how God showed his love among us…”

The foundational reality of life for the children of Israel was their deliverance out of Egypt. They were a slave nation in the midst of the people of Egypt. They cried out to God for help and He sent Moses to deliver them. It is practically unfathomable that one slave nation should be entirely removed from the midst of a master nation. When he brought them out he delivered them through the Red Sea, he guided and provided for them through the wilderness. He brought them to Sinai to enter into a covenant relationship with them and he brought them into the promised land. All the way along, they were rebellious and disobedient, but God continued to work with them. In this entire story we see how much God loves to show compassion.

The foundational reality of life for Christians is the deliverance from sin which God has brought through the death of Jesus Christ. Every person on earth is steeped in sin and bound through sin to death. God sent His son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for us. He did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all. He has given us forgiveness of sin through faith in Christ, the hope of eternal life and the beginning of that eternal life in the presence of His Spirit with all who trust in Him. In this entire story we see how much God loves to show compassion.

Justice

God also delights in justice. The word for justice comes from a word which has to do with ruling or governing. In the “Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament” it says that this word refers to – “what is doubtless the most important idea for correct understanding of government.

Government includes three functions – legislative, executive and judicial. When there is justice, those who make the laws – the legislators – will not play favorites. They do not oppress one people in the nation and favor another. Those who carry out the programs of the land are fully aware of all people and give each what is fair. The judges know all justice and reflect it in their decisions.

If that is what justice means, what does it mean for the reign of God? Perhaps Psalm 146:7-9 expresses it well when it says, “He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.”

This is sometimes tough for us to fathom. How is God just when He allows a couple who have had difficulty conceiving to become pregnant but then that child miscarries? How is God just when 6 million Jews are killed in the holocaust? How is God just when evil men who earn millions off the drug trade live in luxury and ease?

What it tells us is that God does not delight in these things. Abraham had a good understanding of that when he pleaded for Lot’s life when Sodom was about to be destroyed. In Genesis 18:25 we read, “Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

The wonder of the justice of God is revealed in the story of salvation. If God is absolutely fair, it seems right that everyone who does wrong must be punished. Since that is everyone, the sentence of death on every human being is justice. But in His compassion God does not want everyone to die. How can God exercise the compassion which is at the core of His being and still be just? Romans 3:2526 tells us, “God presented Him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” God delights in justice!!

Righteousness

The third thing we learn is that God delights in righteousness. What is the difference between justice and righteousness? Justice could be described as fairness, whereas righteousness could be described as goodness. One definition is that righteousness is that which is “ethically right.” God is consistent with the standard of holiness which identifies Him as God. In contemporary terms we might say “it’s all good!” God delights in righteousness, in what is good.

This is God! Loving kindness, justice and righteousness make Him happy. God not only delights in these things, but does them!

God not only delighted in loving kindness, justice and righteousness. He delights in them now. God has not changed. This is what God is like.

And finally that brings us to strawberry. We do good and share with others and that makes God happy. I sometimes think that this imperative gets lost in our focus on praising God and improving ourselves. It makes perfect sense…we saw under chocolate that our God is a God of action, more of a verb than a noun. We are created in His image and He wants us to be a bit more like him. The reading calls this a sacrifice, as if it were a burnt offering or something. Well, maybe it is…we are offering a bit of our own selfishness when we share with others. And God is really tough on us, since he expects us to be happy doing it.

And here is a little bit of an attitude check: we should not be boasting about all the good that we are doing, since it is not our plan to do so…it is God’s plan. God is working through us to achieve His plan and that makes Him happy. Our actions help validate and honor the death of Christ. That is, it affirms the reason that Jesus suffered and shows that His death was effective in its purpose. That affirmation makes God happy. Finally, when you do good and share your life, you display God’s trustworthiness. You trust God over your own selfishness. It can be a leap of faith and that makes God smile.

If you are like me, this is about sharing more than money…it is about sharing your time and talents as well. If you put five dollars in the Salvation Army kettle at Christmas, God has a slight smile. But if you are the one out there ringing the little bell, I bet God positively grins.

This is not only an individual action item, it should also be a goal that we are working toward as a church body as well. Now that we have succeeded in joining the EPC, maybe some of the focus that required can be re-channeled into outreach and good works toward others. Remember, we are not saved by our good works, but God has put it on our  to do list.

So there you have it, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry make God happy. Sort of a Neapolitan sermon today. Actually, I wanted to talk about happy and God in the same sermon topic today because I am frankly a little worn out by all the discord in the larger world outside.  We still have two months to go of divisive political campaigns, endless attack ads, and enough debating and spinning to turn our world upside down, just like a lot of mortgages. We are constantly on alert for hurricanes, flooding, droughts, and the disaster of the day. And you know they still haven’t fixed Route 209 from last year’s disaster. The wider world presents us with civil war in Syria, economic peril in Europe, and our soldiers in harm’s way from people we are helping. We all need all the happiness we can get.

I know we were all taught believe that we are “…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I just thought it might be useful to focus on the Creator’s happiness for a few minutes this morning.

You know, I worked on a musical a few years ago called, “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown,” based on the Peanuts characters created by Charles Shultz. The last song in the show is called “Happiness” and is sung around a campfire. This is how it ends:

(sing)

HAPPINESS IS MORNING AND EVENING,
DAYTIME AND NIGHTTIME TOO.
FOR HAPPINESS IS ANYONE AND ANYTHING AT ALL
THAT’S LOVED BY YOU.

That sort of describes what makes God happy and how we can be happy in a relationship with Him, doesn’t it?



August 26, 2012 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

Psalm 8 [NLTse]

Last week we talked about some of our Father in Heaven’s promises to us when we pray and what His Word tells us we should pray for. This week I believe the Lord would have us focus on why He asks us to pray.

Last week we acknowledged some of the questions Christians can have when it comes to prayer, like: Does it really matter if we pray, isn’t God just going to do what He wants to anyway? And if our praying does matter, why does it sometimes take so long for our prayers to be answered?

Open, if you would, to Psalm 8 that we just read this morning… Look with me at vv. 6-8, “You gave them [that is, us, human beings] charge of everything You made, putting all things under their authority—the flocks and the herds and all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea, and everything that swims the ocean currents.” God gave us – men and women, boys and girls – charge of everything He made, putting all things under our authority…

With that in mind, let’s turn to Genesis 1:26… Whether you believe God made the world in six literal days or whether you believe the opening chapters of Genesis poetically portray the foundational principles of creation, one of those foundational principles the Lord God inaugurated on Day Six was setting humankind to “rule” – to be God’s manager, His governor – over the Earth and its inhabitants. (I’m reading v. 28:) Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

Psalm 115 speaks of this in a slightly different way. Let’s turn there together… Psalm 115:16 says, “The Heavens belong to the Lord, but He has given the Earth to all humanity.” That’s our New Living Translation, the Bible we read from and have in our pews here, but The Message version of the Bible adds an important Hebrew nuance when it says, “The Heaven of heavens is for God, but He put us in charge of the Earth.” So the Lord didn’t give away possession of the Earth to us, as we might get from our New Living Translation. (And this is confirmed for us elsewhere in the Bible. Turn to Psalm 24:1… It says, “The Earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to Him.”) So the Lord didn’t give us possession of the Earth, but He did put us in charge of things around here.

Therein lies the reason for prayer: Human beings are God’s ambassadors – His managers, His governors – here on the Earth. He tells us what He wants us to do here, and then when we’ve understood His will we ask Him to bring it about, even as we join Him in doing our part to bring it about with Him.

Not only is that what the Bible tells us, but – at least in my reasoning (and the reasoning of many others across the centuries) – that is the only process that makes sense of the biblical record: Why the Bible can show God’s desire to judge Sodom and Gomorrah, while also showing Him waiting for His believing people to pray asking Him to judge those cities before sending His angels to bring His judgment; why the Bible shows us that, although the LORD desired for Israel to be free from their bondage in Egypt that, it was only after believing Israel began praying to be delivered that the Lord called Moses forth to be His agent of deliverance.

A little confusing, perhaps. But that’s the pattern we see again and again throughout the prophets, and as the Lord Jesus prays, and across the Book of Acts: 1) The Lord reveals Himself and His will for the Earth and for the people of the Earth to His believing people, 2) but He does not act until His believing people ask Him for His revealed will to be done here on the Earth.

God has not and will not go back on His Word: This Earth is ours to rule, and He will not impose His will upon a person or a situation without first being invited and asked to do so!

It’s similar to my interactions with my kids when they are in their rooms: Their rooms are mine, I own the house (Amy and I do) and I can do with their rooms whatsoever I please. However, out of love and respect for my children, and because we have set those rooms apart for them, I choose to knock and ask their permission to enter their rooms every single time I enter their rooms when they are there in them.

That’s the picture, I think, the Bible gives us, and I believe it is the only explanation as to why God asks us to pray when He already knows what He wants to do and already knows what’s best for us and already knows our needs even before we ask Him to supply them: He asks us to pray because He wants our permission to save us and care for us and heal us and provide for us and impose His will (when we’ve asked that His will be done) on our lives and in the situations and circumstances of the world around us.

And so that’s the Bible’s answer to last week’s question: Does it really matter if we pray, isn’t God just going to do what He wants to anyway? Yes, but He wants our permission to act here on the Earth before acting.

That being answered, what about our next question: If our praying does matter, why does it sometimes take so long for my prayers to be answered? Well, as we’ve seen, God set Mankind to “rule” – to be His manager and governor – over the Earth and its inhabitants, but…

So complete and final was Adam and Eve’s (and through Adam and Eve, all humanities’) authority over the Earth that, just as God had given it to Adam and Eve to rule, Adam and Eve also had the authority and ability to give it to another.

It’s like our Pulpit here: You have hired me to be your pastor, so according to the Holy Spirit you have given me the authority to minister the Word of God to you week after week. Now, our church’s Constitution defines the terms of that authority as being so complete that I alone get to decide who’s going to preach and to even have others preach, if and when I so choose. (The Elders can make recommendations and any of you can ask for your favorites to fill in, but the authority you have given me over the Word of God here during Worship is such that I can even give it to another if and when I choose.)

So when Adam and Eve shifted their allegiance from obeying the Lord to begin obeying that serpent Satan (and in Adam and Eve, all humanity after them) – in that sinful shifting of loyalties – Adam and Eve suddenly took Satan as their master: And the dominion the Lord God had given them they, in turn, gave to the Devil, Satan! Turn to Luke 4:6… This is why, while tempting the Lord Jesus with all the kingdoms of the Earth, the Devil could say, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.”

What was intended by God to be a peaceable dominion across the face of the Earth as Adam and Eve and all humanity continued in trusting communion with God – learning His will for the Creation and asking Him and working with Him to bring it about – had fallen and has become Satan’s dominion, so that even the Lord Jesus would call Satan “the ruler of this world”. (Look at John 12:31 with me… Jesus says, “The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out.” And John 14:30… Jesus says, “I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches…” And 16:11… Jesus saying, “Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged.”)

Why does it sometimes take so long for our prayers to be answered? Because Almighty God has unequivocally granted Adam and Eve dominion over the Earth. And that dominion was so complete that Adam and Eve could give it away to another, which they did, giving Satan dominion over the Earth and its inhabitants in their place. So even though Satan’s dominion over believing Christians has been broken and – in Christ – our dominion re-established, Satan has real authority around here, too.

We need to be persistent, we need to fight and push and do (what can sometimes be) the hard work of prayer because there are powers out there opposing us. The famous passage from Daniel 10:12 exemplifies this… Then [God’s messenger] said, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in Heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me, and I left him there with the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia. Now I am here to explain what will happen to your people in the future, for this vision concerns a time yet to come.”

Daniel prayed fervently, persistently for weeks and nothing seemed to be happening. But the messenger reveals that Daniel’s prayer had been heard the very first day Daniel began to pray. The delay in God’s response was simply some demonic powers that tried to get in the way.

Anglican priest John Wesley once said, “God does nothing on the Earth save in answer to believing prayer.” Building on Wesley’s comment, Methodist pastor E. M. Bounds wrote: “God shapes the world by prayer. The more praying there is in the world the better the world will be, the mightier the forces against evil… The prayers of God’s saints are the capital stock of Heaven by which God carries on His great work upon Earth. God conditions the very life and prosperity of His cause on prayer.”

God our Father is counting on us, and what a privilege it is: Let us pray!