“GOD’S ARMOR: THE SHIELD OF FAITH AND THE HELMET OF SALVATION”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

16TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

SEPTEMBER 9, 2018

 

Title: God’s Armor: “The Shield of Faith and the Helmet of Salvation.”

 

Text: In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:” Ephesians 6:17.

 

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 59:1-20

 

The Bible was written by people inspired by God to reveal His truth,  These biblical writers had two basic choices available to them on how they could reveal the truth of God’s word.  The author could state their teachings plainly in proposition or they could use metaphoric language to express the reality of His character of God.  Both of these methods has its own advantages. However, metaphors conveys the fullness of God’s character in an unique way. There is a difference, for instance, between saying that the Creator is our protector and asserting that He is our shield. Both statements indicate that God is our defender, but to call Him our shield indicates vividly that He stands between us and our enemies to absorb the worst of their blows and keep us secure.

 

There are many biblical references in Scriptures that portrayed God as a shield.  In Genesis 15:1, God tells Abraham in a vision, saying. “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.”  In our text today, Paul in Ephesians 6:16 urges Christians to “Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish the fiery darts of the wicked.”  As we consider Paul’s call to take up the shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16), let us keep in mind that the biblical authors of Psalms and Proverbs also mentioned God as a shield (Psalms 5:12 & Proverbs 30:5). Shield comes from the Greek word thyreas which is synonymous to thyra or door.  The Romans used thyreos as a name for their large door-like shield that was wide and tall enough to protect most of their bodies.  The shield that Paul’s metaphor would have brought to mind for his first-century audience was not a small disc but a large, body-length shield that a Roman soldier used to shelter his entire body.  It measured 2 ft wide by 4 ft. high and was made of two layers of wood, glued together and covered first with linen, then with leather. At both the top and bottom were iron bars which not only strengthened the shield, but made it possible to connect with the shields of fellow soldiers.  Soldiers configured into a battle line would hold their shields in front of their bodies, and their fellow-soldiers would do the same. Standing close together, they would erect a solid wall of shields protecting the entire line of soldiers against whatever the enemy might throw at them.  There was, therefore, a communal aspect to the use of the shield. A soldier gained maximum value from his shield when he joined it with the shields of his fellow soldiers.

The Roman army was unstoppable in battle because of their shields. In battle it was almost impossible for enemy armies to penetrate this Roman wall of shields. Soldiers would dampen these shields and otherwise prepare them to put out the flaming arrows and other missiles that were often launched at them from behind enemy lines.  

Paul compares our faith to this invincible shield, and tells us first to take up the shield of faith.  Paul uses that shield as a metaphor for faith. In the New Testament, pistis which is the Greek for  faith has to do with the person’s response to the the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  In other words, Christian faith is faith in the Lord Jesus who is steering our ship.

 

Our faith serves a similar purpose as a shield in our conflict with Satan, not because faith in itself is a substance that has magical sheltering properties but because it is the means by which we lay hold of God and all His promises.

To take up the shield of faith is to rest in Christ Himself, who absorbed the blows of temptation and even demonic attack, finally emerging victorious.  Doctor Luke makes it clear in Luke 4:1-13; 22:3; 24:1-12. Turning to Him in faith daily is essential for us, as evil forces are too powerful for us to resist on our own.  Paul makes that clear in Ephesians 6:11-12. This is why Paul wants us to take up the shield of faith, so that we will be able to destroy all the fiery darts of the wicked one.

During battle, Roman soldiers would wrap arrows with cloth, dip them in pitch, set the pitch on fire, and shoot the arrows.  When the arrows hit, the pitch would spatter, setting fires. If it landed on a person’s clothing or skin, it required immediate attention to prevent a disabling injury.  In many instances there was little that anyone could do to put out the fires. It was the napalm of its day. A fearsome weapon that was used. These were “the fiery darts of the evil one” that Paul mentions in this verse.  It is temptations of all sorts.

To fight these temptations, we must take up the shield of faith.Taking up the shield of faith means being convinced we can trust God is completely. I trust what He says in His Word. I trust Him to love me, provide for me and protect me. I trust Him to make all things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.

Paul continues to urge the Ephesians to put on the armor of God.  In verse 17a, Paul says, “And take the helmet of salvation. Paul here is quoting Isaiah 59:17, “He put a helmet of salvation on his head.” What does the helmet of salvation means? Simply put, it means to be saved and know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, if you are going into battle with the Devil.  Anybody and everybody who does not know Jesus as their savior will lose ultimately to the Devil. Victory over the Devil only comes through Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.

Paul uses this metaphor to demonstrate how important protection of the head is in battle.  A helmet protects the soldier’s head. A blow to the head is more likely to kill or disable a soldier than a blow to the body, so helmets are one of the most important pieces of armor.  Consider this: When you see pictures of people whose jobs are dangerous (police, fire fighters, soldiers, etc.), everyone will be wearing a helmet. First-responders understand that helmets are essential equipment. The protection for the believer’s head is “the helmet of salvation.”

What Paul is telling us to do with the helmet is to protect our minds from the Devil.  Our mind is the primary target in all our battle the evil one. One good blow to our minds often times is all the Devil needs to accomplish his tasks.  Often times all the Devil needs to create devastation and destruction is to place his thoughts in somebody mind. How many of us can admit there are times you know the Devil is attacking your mind?  How many of us can admit the Devil is trying to get into your mind, your thought process and he is trying to pull you in directions you don’t want to go? The Devil is trying to get you to do or to say things you do not want to do or say?  So, Paul is telling us to protect our minds from the Devil. We need to be growing in the Lord by developing our minds spiritually. Our minds need to be saved and sanctified!

The mind is powerful.  It has potential, but it can be polluted. Some of us have heard the catch phrase, “The mind is a terrible thing to waste.” If we allow the Devil to attack our minds and mislead us that drugs will provide happiness or escape from our troubles, then our mind will be wasted to drugs.  The Devil gets into our mind with all kinds of lies and deceptions. But God’s word says in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a Spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” God has given us a saved and spiritual mind. The reason our minds remain healthy spiritually is explained by the Psalmist in Psalms 119:11, “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against God.” God’s Word gives our mind the power we need to resist the Devil; to tell the Devil “I cannot doubt God. He is my refuge and my fortress.”

The record tells us in Joshua chapter one that Joshua succeeded Moses. God blessed Joshua. Yet also, God provided the means by which Joshua would be successful: “This book of the Lord shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt MEDITATE therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8).  The Devil will attack, but when you know, that you know, that you know, that knowledge gives power to your mind. There is power in a save mind. There is power in a spiritually filled mind.

Church, I submit to you this morning that there will be battles.  Some will be difficult. There will be wounds along the way. There will be flashbacks from some of these battles.  But the Scripture tells us, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers us from them all” (Psalms 34:19). There is no battle too great for the Christian with a saved and spiritual mind.

Let me conclude with this story.  A visitor went to a mental institution.  The visitor asked the Director about the criterion or criteria used to determined when a person should be institutionalized.  “Well,” said the director, “We filled up a bathtub, and then we offered a teaspoon, a teacup, and a bucket to the patient and then asked him or her to empty the bathtub.”  What would you used? “Oh, I understand,” said the visitor. “A normal person would use the bucket because it is bigger than the spoon or the teacup. “No.” said the director, “A normal person would pull the plug. Do you want a bed near a window?”  This story illustrates the fact that our memories are like a photo album, and we get to choose what goes into that album. We can choose not to wear the helmet of salvation and allow the Devil to pollute it. Or we can choose to meditate on God’s word and find prosperity and success against the Devil.

Let us fight the Devil with our spiritual armor intact. He will not stand a chance.  Paul says, “Be sober, be vigilant because your adversary the Devil is like a roaring lion seeking to devour you” (1 Peter 5:8). God bless you!

 

“GOD’S ARMOR: THE BELT OF TRUTH AND THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

15th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

SEPTEMBER 2, 2018

 

Title: God’s Armor: The Belt of Truth and Breastplate of Righteousness.”

 

Text: “Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand.  14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness.”

 

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 6:10-18.

 

Last week I spoke on the “Necessity of Prayer” in the life of a believer.  Our text was taken from Ephesians 6:18. Our text from last week forms part of a passage of Scriptures that has to do with the armor of God. It deals with the passage of Scripture in chapter 6 beginning with verse 10 through 20.  Understanding Ephesians 6:10-20 requires a familiarity with what went before. Paul had called these Christians to “walk worthily of the calling with which you were called” (4:1) which is the key verse for chapters 4-6. Everything in these three chapters spells out what is involved in Christians walking worthily of their calling.  To fully understand the armor of God passage, it is important to understand or learn what Paul is calling these Christians to. Paul called these Christians to put away falsehood and to speak truth with their neighbors (4:25); To deal with their anger not allowing it to cause them to sin. They should not let the sun go down on unresolved anger (4:26).  “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, outcry, and slander, be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ forgave you” (4:31-32). Christians should not to be foolish or drunken, but to be filled with the Spirit (5:17).

Paul called wives to be subject to their husbands and husbands to love their wives even as Christ loved the church, and children to obey their parents.  Paul urged slaves to obey their master, and masters to treat their servants kindly and respectfully, “knowing that God is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him” (5:22-33; 6:10-20)

Paul knew that obeying the counsel that he was giving in 4:1 – 6:9 would not be easy, so he adds this “whole armor of God” passage (verses 10-20) to give the Ephesian Christians (and us) the spiritual resources to do what is needed.

This is the most oft-quoted passage from the book of Ephesians and one of the most quoted from the whole Bible.  So it deserves special attention. People quote it, because it addresses real-life issues. We live in a world where the Rulers of Darkness and “the spiritual forces of wickedness” (v. 12) dominate many people’s lives, and our culture reflects their influence.  Every time I think things couldn’t get worse, they suddenly move to a new, dark level. With the entertainment industry including sports leading the way. Living as Godly people in an ungodly world poses a whole host of problems.

We need practical advice to help us cope as we swim in spiritually-polluted waters.  The fact that people feel a need for advice is reflected in the case with which self-help gurus enrich themselves.  Some of those gurus offer good advice, but others are agents of the Rulers of Darkness. Being able to discern the good from the bad is critical—if we want to heed the counsel of secular advice-givers.

But in these “whole armor of God” verses, Paul provides an alternative.  First, he warns that we are facing powerful, malignant opponents, ”principalities, powers, the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age, and spiritual forces of wickedness” (v. 12).

If you think that Paul has overstated the danger, you have closed your eyes to the overwhelming presence of evil in our midst.  There are violence and ruthlessness and greed that dominate so many lives. There are self-destructive behaviors that hamstring so many people.  There is this great divide that separates the very rich from the very poor. While there are many wonderful people in our world, there are also many who are evil at their core.

The hymn, “Just as I Am,” talks about “fightings and fears within, without.”  Those words reminded me that pollution is not just without. It is in the waters in which we swim.  It is also within, in our hearts. The Rulers of Darkness have infiltrated our spiritual bloodstream, and aspire to sit on the throne of our hearts.  While we struggle to deal with the evil that exists all around us, we must also contend with the evil that lurks within. Verses 6:10-20 tell us how to protect ourselves and how to establish a solid defense.  They tell us how to mount an effective offense and how to parry the Rulers of Darkness. They tell us how to live Godly lives and serve God well in a spiritually challenging world. In this context, let begin by looking at two pieces of the spiritual armor:  The Belt of Truth and the Breastplate of Righteousness.

Paul in Ephesians 6 verse 14 says, “Stand therefore, having the utility belt of truth buckled around your waist.”  The belt of truth, or the girding up of the loins, was associated in Hebrew and Greek thinking with the idea of readiness or preparedness. A Roman soldier would never leave his garments blowing in the wind. He would tuck them into his belt, pulling the garment well in place.  Roman soldiers wore a loose tunic that could get in their way in hand-to-hand fighting, so they used a belt to cinch the tunic so that it wouldn’t restrict their movement.  Paul uses that belt as a metaphor for the truth that Christians must adopt as part of their protection against the wiles of Satan:”the belt of truth.”

Truth comes from the Greek word Aletheia signifying that which is real, untainted by falsehood or lies. There are different kinds of truth.  A person who avoids telling lies will gain a reputation as truthful. That is critical to our Christian witness.

However, the greater truth is Jesus, the one in whom we believe and on and to which we have staked our lives.  Jesus is truth personified: “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  Jesus promised, “If you remain in my word, then you…will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32).

To learn what Christ taught, we need to look first to scripture, especially the New Testament, and not to pop psychology or politically correct thought.  The reformers said “sola scriptura” or scripture only.  Practiced rightly, this means that all other authorities are subordinate to scripture and must be judged by their adherence to scriptural teachings.  Biblical teaching will often prove unpopular, because it is not in synch with the popular culture. It stands against the popular culture and opposes it in the name of Christ. Let us understand this morning that a thorough study of God’s word will lay a foundation of truth. Everything we encountered will be tested against that foundation.  Truth is the foundation that holds everything else in place.

In the second piece of the armor, Paul in chapter 6 verse 14b says,“and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.”  Paul takes this from Isaiah 59:17, which says, “He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head.”

Each Roman soldier wore a breastplate that protected his torso or his vital organs.  The breastplate was designed to stop arrows, spears, and blows from a sword. Paul uses the breastplate as a metaphor for the protection afforded the Christian by righteousness. The Greeks thought of righteousness as conforming to tradition or custom.  Jews thought of righteousness as conforming to Torah law. However, the Christian’s hope is based on grace which is the righteousness given by Jesus. This is the righteousness that we never could have earned.

Paul had pursued righteousness fervently.  In his letter to the Philippians, he said:

“If any other man thinks he has confidence in the flesh, I have yet more: circumsised on the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless” Philippians 3:4b-6

But after encountering Jesus, Paul learned that true righteousness comes through Jesus.  Recounting his personal experience, Paul said: “What things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ….that I may gain Christ and be found in him,not having a righteousness of my own, that which is of the law,but that which is through faith in Christ,the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:7-9).

While Paul wants Christians to live Christlike lives, he makes it clear that moral behavior is the outgrowth of salvation rather than the cause of it.  This emphasis on God’s mercy strikes at the very heart of human pride and thus denies people the opportunity of exalting themselves. This spiritual armor is the practical righteousness of a life lived in obedience of God’s word.  It is living in daily, moment by moment obedience to the heavenly Father. God provides the standard, but we must supply the willingness. God dresses us in imputed righteousness, but we must put on our practical righteousness everyday.  We must be humble. We must be obedient.

To conclude, let us know that the Christian heart is the primary target of the devil. That’s why Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” What protects our hearts from the attack of the enemy? Righteousness!  Satan will attack us with all the falsehood or lies in disguise. It is our responsibility to put on our spiritual armor which is the Belt of Truth. May God give us strength and wisdom to fight our spiritual battles. God bless you.

 

“The Necessity to Pray”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

14TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

AUGUST 26, 2018

 

Title:  “The Necessity to Pray”

 

Text: Ephesians 6:18

“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;

 

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 6:10-18.

 

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, Satan considers you armed and dangerous.  He will treat you as the enemy. And he won’t fight fair. The devil is the ultimate terrorist. He will attack when you least expect it. God’s word reveals to us certain patterns in Satan’s tactics.  Satan does not attack us when and where we are strong, but he waits for moments of weakness. When we stumble, he is right there. We as Christians need to remember those times in our lives when we can expect Satan to attack us.  

When our Lord Jesus Christ was hungry Satan showed up and tempted him.  In Matthew 4:1-11 the record tells us that Jesus Christ, after fasting forty days and forty nights, the devil showed up and tempted Him. It was a time of weakness because Jesus was hungry and He was tired.  But, Jesus waged spiritual warfare against Satan. In such time, Christians ought to use the only weapon available to us: Prayer. Do you know how to use your spiritual equipment and weapons?

 

In one region of Africa, the first converts to Christianity were very diligent about praying. In fact, the believers each had their own special place outside the village where they went to pray in solitude. The villagers reached these “prayer rooms” by using their own private footpaths through the brush. When grass began to grow over one of these trails, it was evident that the person to whom it belonged was not praying very much.

Because these new Christians were concerned for each other’s spiritual welfare, a unique custom sprang up. When ever anyone noticed an overgrown “Prayer path,” he or she would go to the person and lovingly warn, “Friend, there’s grass on your path!”

This is exactly what Paul the apostle is asking the Christians at Ephesus to do. In our verse under consideration, Paul commands the Christians at Ephesus “to pray always with all prayers and supplication in the Spirit.”  Paul mentions in verse eleven of chapter six how Christians are in a Spiritual Warfare with Satan. This spiritual conflict between the forces of heaven and Satan’s power is the longest warfare. Paul tells us how to win these conflicts.   It is through prayer. Paul wants them to be constant, intense, and unselfish in their prayer life. The reason Paul is asking Christians to be constant and intense in their prayer life can be found in verse 11 of Ephesians 6: “That ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Paul wants us to see the necessity of prayer.  Paul speaks to the subject of Christians needing to pray with authority then anyone else. Paul admonishes Christians that in our walk with Christ, Prayer is a need.

Prayer is a need because God commands us to pray.  The Bible talks about prayer and the necessity of it.  In the King James version of the Bible, Prayer is mentioned three hundred and thirty three times.  The Bible in Mark 14:38 urges us to pray because we are vulnerable to the enemy. “Watch and pray so that you do not fall into temptation. The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”  Doctor Luke says, “bless those who curse you, pray for those who spitefully use you” (Luke 6:28). For our ministry to be bless with workers, Matthew says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Pray the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send laborers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:38). Walk with me this morning as we learned together, or as we remind ourselves about the need to pray.

Like Paul’s epistle to the church at Ephesus, the first chapter of 1 Samuel talks of the effectual prayer of Hannah.  In the first part of the chapter we read that Hannah was a needy, depressed woman, but after she came to God and prayed, her face was lifted up and God answered her prayer.  We need prayer.  Bishop J. C. Ryle, a great bishop of the Anglican church who also lived in the nineteenth century, said, “I have come to the conclusion that the great majority of professing Christians do not pray at all.” Bishop Ryle also said, “Prayer will either consume sin or sin will choke prayer.” From my own observation I say, “The spiritual exercise of prayer is more difficult than rigorous physical exercise.”  But we need to be constant and intense in our prayer life. And we need to pray for each other.

Prayer is the spiritual breathing of God’s children. Bishop Ryle also tells us, “God has no dumb children.” Everyone who is a child of God will cry, “Abba, Father,” by the Holy Spirit. Such people will especially pray fervently when they find themselves in need.

The truth is, we are a needy people. To the church of Laodicea the Lord Jesus said, “You are blind, you are wretched, you are naked, you are poor, you are miserable.” It is our lack of perception of reality that gives us this idea that we are self-sufficient. But Jesus Christ himself told us, “Without me you can do nothing,” and James counsels us, “Is anyone of you in trouble? He should pray.” David says in Psalm 18, “In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.”  In our need for prayer, we should be constant in our call to God.

Hannah did exactly that.  Even her husband could not comfort her. Hannah’s distress was so great that, no matter what he did, Elkanah could not comfort her. We are told he would give her a double portion of meat, but what can steak do for a deeply troubled soul? He would try to comfort her by words, asking, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (v. 8). But only a double portion of the Spirit and faith in God’s promises could cause Hannah’s face to be uplifted.

The more meat Elkanah gave to Hannah, the more she refused to eat. Who could help her in her deep trouble? Her trouble was equal to that of the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4, who also did not have any children. Through prayer she received a son, yet later on her son died in her lap. We find the same word in verse 15 used to describe Hannah’s sorrow that is used to describe the “bitter distress” of the Shunammite. Hannah’s own confession was, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled.”

But one year, while the family was at Shiloh for worship, Hannah was guided by the Holy Spirit to get up and go to the tabernacle, which represented the presence of God. In a flash she was guided to pour out her heart in prayer to the living God of Israel. She began to realize what even her husband did not realize, that prayer is power, that prayer prevails, and that prayer is effectual. She told herself, “I know God will hear my prayer and help me when no human being can do so.” So we read in 1 Samuel 1:10, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.”

What about you? Are you needy? Are you in trouble? Are you in deep distress? Have you discovered that human answers do not work? Have you sought answers from God? Have you poured out your soul in earnest and fervent prayer to God? Are you downcast as Hannah was? I counsel you: Follow her example of prayer and your face will be lifted up.  Hannah was not only constant in her prayers, she was intense. She prayed with intensity.

Hannah prayed with fasting. In the midst of her deep trouble, Hannah earnestly sought God, refusing to eat until she had prayed. She was single-minded, focusing on God and God alone, at the exclusion of everything else.What about our prayer lives? Are we so earnest, so focused, so single-minded that we sometimes forego eating so that we may pray earnestly and fervently?

Hannah prayed in faith. In verse 11 we read, “And she made a vow: ‘O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me and not forget your servant. . . .’” Faith is the heart of Christianity. In Romans 10:9,10 we read,”If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Hannah was telling God, “Lord, I am your servant, one who hears and does your will.

Hannah believed that God alone was able to help her. She addressed him as God Almighty, believing in his mighty power. I suspect she was reflecting on the experiences of Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel while she prayed. The word of God declared that they were barren, and yet God caused them to bear children. It is possible she remembered God’s word to Sarah: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Such an idea was repeated later on when the Lord Jesus Christ himself told his disciples, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.” So Hannah prayed in faith to the Lord Almighty, knowing that he alone could help her.

I don’t know what your sufficiency in life is, but everyone needs prayer. God has called us to a life of prayer.  He has made prayer a need because it is the way we can talk to him. Let us do it with consistency and intensity. Let us pray unselfishly, praying for one another.  God will hear us. God bless you.

 

“The Miracle of God’s Forgiveness”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

12TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

AUGUST 12, 2018.

 

Title: “The Miracle of God’s Forgiveness”

 

Text: John 8:10-11  

“Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 No one, sir,” she said.  “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

 

Scripture: John 8:1-10

 

In “The Christian Leader,” Don Ratzlaff retells a story Vernon Grounds came across in Ernest Gordon’s Miracle on the River Kwai. The Scottish soldiers, forced by their Japanese captors to labor on a jungle railroad, had degenerated to barbarous behavior, but one afternoon something happened. A shovel was missing. The officer in charge became enraged. He demanded that the missing shovel be produced, or else. When nobody in the squadron budge, the officer got his gun and threatened to kill them all on the spot . . . It was obvious the officer meant what he had said. Then, finally, one man stepped forward. The officer put away his gun, picked up a shovel, and beat the man to death. When it was over, the survivors picked up the bloody corpse and carried it with them to the second tool check. This time, no shovel was missing. Indeed, there had been a miscount at the first check point. The word spread like wildfire through the whole camp. An innocent man had been willing to die to save the others! . . . The incident had a profound effect. . . The men began to treat each other like brothers. When the victorious Allies swept in, the survivors, human skeletons, lined up in front of their captors (and instead of attacking their captors) insisted: “No more hatred. No more killing. Now what we need is forgiveness.”

This significance of this illustration is that wherever love is an act of sacrifice, there is transformation.  This is important because our subject of forgiveness is a very difficult thing to pursue even in Christianity. Forgiveness is difficult because forgiveness is not excusing.  One can excuse a child for throwing a tantrum at the grocery store. An expectant father would be excused if he breaks the speed limit trying to get his wife to the delivery room. A nine year old kid can be excused if he makes a certain bodily noise.  The point here is an action that can be excuse does not require forgiveness. There are instances where we placed an item somewhere and we cannot remember where we placed it. This is a memory lapse. This is different from forgetting a serious hurt that someone may cause us.  We may remember the hurt for years, even if we forgive the person. But doesn’t Jeremiah says, “God will remember our sins no more”? This doesn’t mean God suffers from the disease amnesia. The key here is we can forgive what we remember. We have the power to forgive what we remember.  Forgiveness is not reconciliation. Reconciliation is a situation where people who have hurt each other sit down with each other, talk things out, acknowledged their wrongs and rights, take responsibilities, and apologise. Reconciliation takes place in good marriages, good families, and good churches, when all is forgiven and relationships are restored.  This is not always the case because we can have forgiveness without a restored relationship, especially if what we experienced was life-shattering and trust was removed.

C.S. Lewis had a school master who abused him and his brother.  It took thirty years after the alleged abuser died when C.S. Lewis forgave him.  This is because reconciliation requires building of trust and good faith on the part of both parties.  So we all will see that forgiveness is unlike excusing, forgetting or necessarily reconciling. So then, what is forgiveness?  Is forgiveness a miracle? Who performs that miracle?

Forgiveness is a act where an offender is pardoned.  In the Bible, the Greek word translated “forgiveness” literally means “to let go,” a situation where a person does not demand compensation for a debt.  In Luke 11:4 Jesus uses this comparison when He taught His disciples to pray: “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgives everyone who is in debt to us.”  Jesus also equated forgiveness with cancelling a debt in the parable of the unmerciful slave (Matthew 18:23-35). This is difficult especially if the offense is grave.

Forgiving from a biblical standpoint is a decision, an act of the will by the grace of God.  In making such decision, you may consider all the hurt a person caused you. You want to revenge.  The spirit of vengeance creeps up in you. The person really hurt you to the extent that it is very difficult to let go.  But forgiveness entails the beginning of a process of letting go. We all know the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 45:1-28.  This story clearly tells us what forgiveness entails.

Those years which Joseph spent in slavery and prison could have been the occasion for a slow burn that might have ignited into an explosion of anger at the sight of his brothers. How angry Joseph could have been with God for getting him into such a situation. But Joseph recognized that God was with him in his sufferings and that these were from the loving hand of a sovereign God. Most of all, Joseph could have been angry with his brothers, who had callously sold him into slavery. What made them do this evil in the sight of God? It was anger. It was bitterness.

Let me use as an illustration by Margaret Hess of how anger and bitterness hinders our abilities to forgive. Near a town in the state of Washington, millions of gallons of radioactive atomic wastes are being stored in huge underground tanks. The tanks have a life expectancy of 20 or 30 years. The wastes within them will remain deadly for about 600 years. We live in a society which, like those tanks in Washington, is trying to store up anger that sooner or later is going to break forth, causing pain and misery for many. We are all familiar with the popular bumper sticker in Dallas which reads, “I’m Mad Too, Eddie.”  Basically, there are far too many hostile people going around looking for some way to unload their anger. Anger takes a tremendous toll on those about us: Eighty percent of all murders are committed by people who have some relationship with the victim. Somebody gets angry, there’s a gun or knife handy, and tragedy results. According to hospital records, innumerable parents have inflicted serious injuries upon their small children in fits of temper. One authority estimates that 60,000 children a year in America are beaten to death, that more children under five years of age are killed by their parents than die of disease.  Besides hurting others, anger is killing us. Suppressed anger is eating at our health and peace of mind.

Folks who research and write books on anger conclude that unprocessed anger can produced all sorts of physical disorders. Reading Dr. Leo Madows book, “Anger” I learned that these physical problems can range all the way from arthritis to asthma, from urinary disorders to the common cold. And we have known for a long time that anger can cause serious emotional disorders when it is not handled effectively. All of these will lead us to conclude that anger is one of the greatest problems of our times.  So do we prevent all of this anger and bitterness from taking root in our hearts? Forgiveness is the answer to much, if not most, of the anger we experienced in life. Unresolved anger leads to bitterness, hostility, and revenge. Forgiveness leads to freedom and reconciliation. No character in the drama of the book of Genesis better illustrates the fundamentals of forgiveness than Joseph, and no chapter more clearly defines and describes the essentials of forgiveness than chapter 45.

Those years which Joseph spent in slavery and prison could have been the occasion for a slow burn that might have ignited into an explosion of anger at the sight of his brothers. How angry Joseph could have been with God for getting him into such a situation. But Joseph recognized that God was with him in his sufferings and that these were from the loving hand of a sovereign God. Most of all, Joseph could have been angry with his brothers, who had callously sold him into slavery.  The high point of Joseph’s relationship with his brothers comes in chapter 45, for it is here that there is a reconciliation brought about between them. This was made possible on the brothers’ part by their genuine repentance, regretting their sin with regard to Joseph, and reversing their actions when a similar situation was presented with regard to Benjamin. But on Joseph’s part, reconciliation was achieved through his sincere and total forgiveness of his brothers for the evil they had committed against him.  Forgiveness is a vital part of the Christian experience. It is necessary in terms of our relationship with God: For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. Matthew 6:14-15

Forgiveness is also an essential part of our responsibility toward others, both friends and enemies:  “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you,” (Ephesians 4:31-32).  Forgiveness is also an essential part of our responsibility toward others, both friends and enemies: But it takes a miracle. This miracle is what our text is involved with. These people who claimed to be religious brings a woman to Jesus and tests Him.  They want to stone her. But Christ challenge them knowing that are all filled with anger and bitterness. They are all flawed. When they all refused, Christ tells the woman to go go and sin no more. God’s grace! This is the miracle we are talking about.  The miracle of God’s forgiveness.

We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” Our sins are innumerable, but God’s grace in Christ washes away each one if we’ll receive it.

If his grace takes root in our hearts we will, by the power of his Spirit, forgive those who have hurt us because forgiven people forgive. That’s not going to be easy; it’s going to take prayer and spiritual work, and it will probably take some time, but we’ll get there.

You all remember that horrible murder of our brothers and sisters everyday.  All the violence we see everyday are evil, but what come out of the tragedies is forgiveness. The friends and family of those who are killed, beaten, abused go to court and forgive them guilty person. They did not excuse, forget, or reconcile. They sometimes tell the guilty party that they were going to seek justice under the law. But they did what forgiven people who have internalized the grace of God do: They tell the guilty party that they forgave them for hatred, and violence. They called them to repent, receive Jesus, and be forgiven!  This is the miracle of forgiveness.

 

“Christ the Living Bread of Heaven”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

11th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

AUGUST 5, 2018

Title: “Christ the Living Bread from Heaven.”

Text: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst’” (John 6:35)

Scripture Reading: John 6:32-40.

This sixth chapter of John is a watershed, a major turning point in the Gospel of John. From this point on, Jesus is not nearly as popular as He once was. His enemies are determined to do away with Him. From a historical point of view, it is only a matter of time until our Lord’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Our text plays a pivotal role in all of this, so let us ponder well on the words of this Scripture.  This is one of the great passages of the Fourth Gospel, and indeed of the New Testament.  It is one of those sayings of Jesus Christ that would make people want to run or walk away from the truth. This is evident from verse 66 as John ends the narratives saying, “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked with him no more.” It is clear in this verse that it was a hard saying of Jesus. John, the beloved apostle, lived and ministered in the great city of Ephesians which was a Gentile city where Greek culture was dominant. He faced the task of communicating the coming of Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah who was the Savior of the world.

John announced that the eternal God had entered time and space, the invisible God had become visible, the spiritual had become physical in Jesus of Nazareth, and the Creator had become a part of His own creation.  He proclaimed Jesus as the very language of God in which God was seeking to communicate with people concerning himself, the nature of humanity, the purpose for life, and the meaning of eternity. John has proclaimed Jesus as the very light of the World that dispels darkness and puts chaos to flight.  

John presents Jesus Christ as the living Bread from heaven that sustains and supports life.   He is not medicine that prevents disease, cake enjoyed as a dessert, or candy for its mere sweetness.  He is the Bread of life that is essential for life.

This great chapter concerning Jesus as the Bread of Life follows the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.  The miracles in John’s gospel are parables through which Jesus sought to teach something about the life of the Spirit, the life of faith, the life of worship, and the life that leads to joy.

Our Lord met a great physical need of the hungry multitude.  He used this experience on the human level to reveal divine truth on the spiritual level. Christ asserted that he came into the world on a much greater mission than that of merely satisfying the physical needs of people.  He came to meet their heart and soul needs.

In this great claim to being the Bread of Life, our Lord used figurative language that identified him with the manna God gave through Moses.  While God gave the manna for only a limited time, he now provides spiritual bread on a continuing basis (John 6:32).  Jesus Christ, the Living Bread, continues to provide sustenance for the innermost being of those who trust him and look to him for grace and guidance in life (John 6:48-51).

There is great physical hunger in the world today.  The population explosion has created vast multitudes in areas of the world where there is a scarcity of essentials for human existence.  In some great metropolitan areas, poverty has created famine conditions. Our governments, churches, and parachurch organizations are faced with an urgent challenge to feed the hungry.  These hunger conditions present every Christian with both an invitation and a commission to e help.

There is also great spiritual hunger among the nations of the earth.  Everywhere there is a haunting dissatisfaction within people’s hearts.  They feel incomplete because they do not know God through Jesus Christ. What is humankind hungry for?

There is a hunger for truth, and Jesus Christ is the truth.  There is a hunger for abundant life. There is a hunger for love, and Jesus Christ is the medium through which the love of God comes to us.  There is a great hunger for forgiveness, and Jesus Christ makes forgiveness possible for us. In the midst of wars and rumors of war, there is a hunger for peace among nations of the world.  But Jesus Christ as the Prince of Peace can help us to have the harmonious relationships that make for peace among the people. There is a great hunger for meaning and purpose in life, and great joy can come to those who follow the purpose of Jesus Christ.  There has always been hunger for eternal life, and Jesus Christ alone can give us eternal life.

Our Lord’s audience does not understand what He is saying at all. They still think Jesus is offering them some kind of literal bread, which they can eat and fill their stomachs, just as they ate the barley loaves at the feeding of the 5,000. So when Jesus speaks to them about “bread,” they quickly ask for more: “Sir, give us this bread all the time!” They offer Jesus a full-time job as their chef.

In His response, Jesus makes it very clear that He is speaking of “spiritual bread,” not literal bread. It is He who is the “bread,” so whoever comes to Him will never hunger. In verse 35, Jesus speaks of the one who “comes to Him” as the one who “believes in Him.” To come to Jesus is to trust in Him, by faith, as the “bread from heaven,” who is God’s only provision for eternal life.

The Food of the world does not satisfy the hunger of the soul.  A barn full of grains cannot satisfy the hunger of the soul (Luke 12:13-21).  Pleasure alone will leave a sour taste in the mouth. Knowledge, as wonderful as it is, cannot satisfy the deepest hunger of the human heart.  Power and position do not satisfy this deep hunger of the soul. Power can often be very frustrating. Why is there too much hunger in the world?

Humanity is hungry for two primary reasons.  First sin has made people hungry for God. When we live a life of sin, we live a life of no faith in God.  For us to live a life of no faith is living a life where we try to satisfy our thirst by drinking salt water.  It is like trying to satisfy the hunger of the stomach by feeding on sawdust.

God has created us with a hunger for himself.  God made us with a nature like his own and has placed within us a hunger that cannot be satisfied with anything except God himself.  People try to satisfy this hunger by piling up money or by studying books or by enjoying all the pleasures that the world has to offer.  The God-shaped vacuum within the human soul cannot be satisfied with anything except God himself. Christ is the Bread sent from God to meet the deepest needs of the human heart.

Christ is the Bread from heaven that makes life possible.  Without bread, people could not live, and without the Bread of Life, people cannot know the life of God.  This is not just a poetic phrase. Throughout the ages bread has been very important in the sustenance of life.  Christ is the bread of life available to the chief of sinners. He is the Bread of heaven available to the hungriest of hungry. He is the bread available to the thirstiest of the thirst.  Christ the bread that strengthens and nourishes and makes growth and development possible. It is he who gives vitality and strength to our moral muscles. Christ is the bread that satisfies perfectly.  Jesus Christ declared that they who hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled (Matthew 5:6). Our Lord is adequate to meet every spiritual need in our lives. As we cannot live the natural life without bread, we cannot live the spiritual life without the Bread of Life.

Christ, as the living Bread of Life Heaven, is the best food upon which the soul can feed.  Furthermore, this Bread is a free gift from God and is congenial to the appetites of all who will come to Him. But Christ, as the living Bread of Heaven, is beneficial only to those who eat.  You must eat your own food. When our Lord speaks of his flesh, he is referring to his incarnation, his coming into the world as a visible manifestation of the love and grace of God.  When He speaks of His blood, he is really speaking of His life, which was given for us.  As we trust Him and meditate on all that He came to do for us, and as we give ourselves in obedience to Him, we feast on the living Bread from Heaven.  Our text is much more than mere history, a skillfully written account of what happened in the life and ministry of our Lord. It is recorded to instruct us, and there is much for us to learn here. Let me conclude this message by pointing out some of the lessons it has to teach us.

This text exposes some of the wrong reasons people turn to God, and why they reject the gospel when they finally understand it. Consider some of the reasons why people seek God, which are not biblical. First, many people seek God to “meet their needs.” These “needs” are almost always physical or material, rather than spiritual, and they are the “needs” we define for God—which we expect Him to meet. We want physical health, success in our endeavors, and food on the table. We look to God to provide these for us, not as secondary desires, but as primary demands. When God fails to meet our demands, when life doesn’t go as we wish, we find God to blame. How many of us, as Christians, find God’s “meeting our needs” as the dominant theme of our prayer life?

Second, some people turn to God for salvation, but they seek a salvation to which they can contribute, a salvation which they control (see 6:36-37, 44). Jesus came to die in the sinner’s place, to bear the guilt and punishment for our sins, and thus to appease God’s holy wrath on our sin. By His sacrificial death on the cross of Calvary, Jesus paid the price for our sins. It is only by faith in His “flesh and blood” as He came to this earth and died in our place that we are saved. This is how our Lord became the “bread of heaven that gives life to the world.” Have you tasted this “bread”? Have you acknowledged your sin, and the divine wrath it merits? Have you trusted in the sacrifice Jesus Christ made on the cross of Calvary for your sins? I urge you to partake of this “bread” and to obtain eternal life through Him. God bless you!


“The Eagle Christian”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

10TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

JULY 29, 2018

 

Title: “The Eagle Christian”

 

Text:  “But they that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength: they shall mount up wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

 

The eagle is the king of the birds.  What the lion is to the animal world, the eagle is to the bird kingdom.  No other bird compares with the eagle in superiority or power. Depending on what version you are using, the eagle is mentioned more than thirty two times in Scriptures.  In our Scripture today, Isaiah tells us that those who yield their life, those who surrender their will to God shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles.  God promises that you and I can be eagle Christians.

To fully grasp who an eagle Christian is, it is important to comprehend some of the habits and heritage of an eagle.  

The eagle is an excellent nest builder.  The eagle builds its nest in the cleft of the rock, in the crags of the mountains.  Some of the eagle’s nest can be ten feet across, can weigh approximately one ton, and be twenty feet in depth.  An eagle stands at three feet high, and has a wingspan of 32 to 36 feet. This bird can weigh eight to thirteen pounds.    Each wing has 1,252 feathers with a total of 7,182 in their entire body.

Each day, the eagle would stare into the sun for about forty five minutes while tears come out of its eyes.  It is a means of cleansing. As it stares into the sun, the eagle would clean its feathers by pulling each through its beak.  This is called preening. The eagle clean and oil itself through the process to prepare for the day. The young eagle is a very ugly bird at birth because it has no feathers, but as time goes on it grows to be a very beautiful bird.

One important habit of the eagle is that it can dive straight down at a speed of one hundred and eighty miles per hour to bear up its young in its wing to teach them how to fly.  The eagle is a bird that can be depressed at some point in its life. It would descend to the low, dark part of the mountain. It would stay there without cleaning itself. The oil in its beak would gum up, the eagle will not fly and would eventually die if food is not brought down by the stronger eagles.  I have seen an eagle.  It is beautiful and strong.  But what I envisage about the eagle is that its habits and heritage brings to the fold great spiritual lessons.  We can study the eagle, marvel at the forty eight wonderful species of eagles God has created, and glean some spiritual truth to help us live our Christian life.  Join me this morning as we delve into Scripture and comprehend why one of God’s greatest prophets urged us to be like an eagle.

An eagle Christian is a Christian that soars above the storms of life.  The eagle is a bird that takes advantage of the wind to soar, to mount up high in the heavens.  The eagle gets above the fog, the mist, and the clouds. Job puts it like this: “Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high? She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place” (Job 39:27-28).  

Folks go through all kinds of storms in life. Folks get depressed. Everyday dozens of people commit suicide in America.  According to the Center for Disease Control, since 2000 the suicide rate has increased 28 percent from 10.5 to 13.4 per every 100,000.  The rate among men is 3.5 times higher. On average, there are 123 suicides per day. It is the tenth leading cause of death overall in the U.S. claiming over 45,000 lives.  This data is based on death certificates information gathered by the C.D.C. There are many other crisis that affects Christians. These tragedy are storms in the life of Christians.  They posed great danger to many Christians. It is a sad situation. Folks leaped out into utter darkness with a cry of hopelessness on their lips. They feel that life is a prison sentence.  They lose sight of the stars. But if only folks would surrender their lives fully to God, they could rise above the storms of life and find the peace of God that passes all understanding. David remembered this promise when life closed in for him.  His home and hometown were burned to ashes. His family and families of his friends were made captives by roving band of outlaws. But that was not all. His trials were even greater. His own men were blaming him for the catastrophe and were threatening to stone him to death.

What was David’s response? The Bible says, “David encouraged himself in the Lord” (1 Samuel 30:6), and his life was renewed like the eagle’s.  Brushing away his tears, he recognized his men, went forth to battle, conquered his enemies, and David was victorious. David remembered the wings God had given him and, like the eagle, rose above them.  When an enemy attacked an eagle, the eagle soars up out of the enemies’ reach. The eagle puts himself between the enemies and the sun, there they lose sight of him. Satan cannot reach us if we become eagle Christians and if we will direct our lives toward the heavens, soaring high above.  “He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalms 91:1). God promises to set us on high places.  The Psalmist spoke of “the rock that is higher than I” (Psalms 61:2). There is a rock in a high place that is a safe refuge for God’s people.  God has promised to put our feet on that rock, the rock of security, assurance, and safety. In the storms of life, God will care for us.

As mentioned above, the eagle will at some point in its life seems depressed.  It lives in the low, dark part of the mountain. It refuses to clean itself accumulating oil in its beak.  Those are low moments in the life of an eagle. This time can be perilous. If not assisted by other stronger eagle, life can be fatal.  We all go through perilous times in our lives. We go through times of depression when life seems to have no meaning. We go through those times when we try to find God in all the wrong places.  These are the times when God Himself exhibits the habit of eagle. The mate and the eagle live together besides the nest and are devoted to each other. Their care for the young is a beautiful and touching scenario.  Deuteronomy 32:11 puts it this way, “As the eagle stirreth up her nest , fluttered over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings.” This verse looks at the mother eagle teaching the little ones to fly.  The mother eagle pushes the baby eaglet out of the nest on top of the cliff. As the little one flies downward, if the eaglets cannot fly, the mother eagle swoops down swiftly and spreads out her wings under the little one and bears it up on her wings lest its life be lost on the rocks below.  

God at times too will try His people, but he does not put more on us that we are able to bear.  In Exodus 19:4 the great Jehovah God speaks to the children of Israel. He recalls with them how he cared for them during the wilderness wandering.  He says, “I bore you on eagle’s wings.” What a beautiful and inspiring picture of God’s care of His people as he led them through the wilderness. His care for them was like the mother eagle’s care of her young.  Sometimes they fainted along the road and sometimes they were hungry or thirsty, yet God was there to bear them up on His wings. The eagle Christian can see visions of his days and future and of the things of God. You and I can lift up our eyes to the everlasting hills and see the city foursquare and a king on His throne.  Like the eagle, God has given a Christian vision to see life through His eyes. We can see sin as He sees it. We can see goodness, love, and truth as He sees them. An eagle Christian we can see opportunities and His will for our lives. As we live for Him, and fulfill the destiny He has set for us, we can say with Paul, “Wherefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19).

It is good to be an eagle Christian because the eagle loves liberty and freedom from bondage.  The eagle never flock. They select the tallest trees of the forest, the topmost crag of the mountains, and pairs live in solitude, hunting and feeding singly.  Humankind’s relationship with God is one where we long to be free. We were created to stand alone before God. As eagle Christian, let us never be afraid to stand alone before our God.  Our quest to stand alone before God and have a relationship with Him is sometimes hindered. This freedom can be lost. This freedom can be bartered away. People can be enslaved by sin.

The story is told of how a rancher saw a giant eagle swoop down in its flight and seize a snake from the plains.  The eagle started to climb back to the heights. Again and again the eagle was bitten by the snake. The poison from the snake fangs sank into the bloodstream of the eagle.  The rancher watched the pitiful sight, the mighty eagle being bitten by the snake. The he watched as the poison gradually took effect, and the mighty eagle began to go down, down until it fell lifeless to the earth.  This is how the life of man is as he takes up sin, some evil habits, and learn the high cost of low living. The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

But the eagle inherits a substance in its beak that hinders him in his flight.  The eagle realizes this substance hampers him in his flight. The eagle goes to the rock and hits his beak again and again on the rock until the substance begins to flow from his beak and the eagle is free from it and begins to fly effectively again.  Likewise, by nature we humans have something within us that hinders us from soaring to the heights, from taking flights into the spiritual stratosphere. But one day we can go to the Rock of Ages and have our lives freed from the sin that hinders us. As eagle Christians, we can soar again.

Finally, the eagle Christian longs to inherit eternal life.  The eagle is known to live about 120 years, even in captivity. Each year the eagle sheds of its feathers and has the appearance of youth. God, in like manner, promises to renew our youth like the eagle’s.  By His Spirit and power, God restores and revives our lives and returns us to the days of our yout. As Paul said, “The inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). As the eagle, we can live long life. We can also live in eternity.  Let us as people of God wait upon the Lord, that our lives may be renewed like the eagle. God bless you.

 

“What Do You Do When God Says No?”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

9TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

JULY 22ND, 2018

 

Title: “What Do You Do When God Says No?”

Text: 2 Samuel 7:1,2, 11-13.

  1. After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” 11.“The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.  13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

The passage of Scriptures just read speaks about a time in the history of Israel when David was king.  It was during the glorious day of his rulership. God had blessed him through all his reign as king. God had kept him safe from the attacked of his adversary.  The kingdom was at the peak of its glory. David was satisfied in all that God had done for him. A contemplative king enjoying peacefulness from God is what is reflected.  With a grateful heart, David thought about how luxurious his own dwelling place was and purposed in his heart to be a blessing to the Lord. He compared it to the fact that God’s dwelling in the tabernacle constructed since the days of Moses wasn’t a good thing.  Since it’s construction, God’s presence had dwelled in that temporary place. David wanted to give God a permanent place of dwelling. He had a vision for building God a house. But God revealed to the prophet Nathan that David was not designated to built a house for God.  God said “No!”

There are many other examples in the Bible where God has said no to other men of God.  God said NO to Moses. God said NO to Paul. God said No to Abraham. God also says NO to Christians in this time age.  Sometimes we have great vision for our lives and our church. Things in our lives aren’t always going to work the way we want it.  

God is not always going to give us the boy or girl child we want.  God is not going to give us the car we want. God is not going to heal us as quickly as we desired.  What do we do when God is not readily available? “What Do You Do When God Says No or not yet?” There are three things I want us to glean from this passage: God sometimes say no to help us acknowledge He is faithful and His glory is not depended on our lives; God will say no to perfect His greatness and glory in our lives; and God will say no to help us to trust Him.

We will read from “Our Daily Bread about how Dr. Helen Roseveare, missionary to Zaire, told the following story. One of the mothers at the mission station in Zaire died during childbirth.  The missionaries tried to improvise an incubator to keep the infant alive, but the only hot water bottle they had was beyond repair. So they asked the children to pray for the baby and for her sister. One of the girls responded, ‘Dear God, please send a hot water bottle today. Tomorrow will be too late because by then the baby will be dead. And dear Lord, send a doll for the sister so she won’t feel so lonely.’  

That afternoon a large package arrived from England. The children watched eagerly as it was opened. Much to their surprise, under some clothing was a hot water bottle! Immediately the girl who had prayed so earnestly started to dig deeper, exclaiming, ‘If God sent that, I’m sure He also sent a doll!’ And she was right! The heavenly Father knew in advance of that child’s sincere requests, and 5 months earlier He had led a ladies’ group to include both of those specific articles.”  

The most interesting part of this story is the acknowledgement of God’s faithfulness by the girl who prayed earnestly. She said, “If God sent that, I am sure He sent a doll! There would be times when we will get a yes from God.  There would be other times we would get a no from God. Sometimes God’s NO is a WAIT, “I got something better.” When we get a NO from God, God reminds us of what he has done, what he can do, and what He is going to do. This means that God is faithful. In such time, we need to acknowledge all that God has done for us.  He is reminding us that He has a better way. He is God! He carefully sits on His throne and carefully orchestrates every human activities. Despite being God, He is faithful to His creatures. David had a good plan, but

God says no because His greatness did not depend on David’s dreams or vision (1 Samuel 7:5-11).  The Lord essentially tells the prophet Nathan to inform David that He does not need a house. He recounts the fact that He has dwelt in a tent with Israel, and He has never asked for a permanent home. He also reminds David that he was just a shepherd boy when God reached down and anointed him as King. He has been with David through it all (1 Samuel 8-9).

The bottom line of God here is this: “I do the building son, not you. I will make the plans, son, not you. My glory is not dependent upon your dreams.”

We are given a very fundamental and basic theological lesson by the Lord. It is this: the freedom and independence of God. The importance of that statement is that God is God and we are not. He is the initiator. He is the sovereign Lord who builds up and brings down. We must be careful when we pray that we remember this.

C.S. Lewis reminds us that prayer is simply “a lesser being making a petition to a Greater Being.” When we pray we must not think that when we ask for something God must do that. It won’t fly with the Almighty. He is free. His ways are not our ways. His understanding is so much higher than ours. Paul wrote: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33). So the answer to David is however not a NO, but God takes the dreams and vision of David to construct a house for His glory and perfects them.

David thought that God needed a house. He was dreaming. Nathan was dreaming. But they were too small. They dreamed too little. Sometimes it’s better to just latch on to the great theological truth of the Bigness of God and the Freedom of God and unleash that thought in our lives.  Paul in Ephesians 3:20 writes, “Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” Sometimes we only need to ask God and He will perfect His greatness and glory for us to see. David thought that God needed a house. He was dreaming. Nathan was dreaming. But they were too small. They dreamed too little. Sometimes it is better to just latch on to the great theological truth of the Bigness of God and the Freedom of God and unleash that thought in our lives.  Anything we undertake in our lives begin with focusing on His greatness of God.  We can do this if we trust God when He says NO. How do we trust God? By exercising our faith in Him.

The answer, I say again, is not just “No”. It’s “exceeding abundantly above all” that David and Nathan could ask or think. But it was “according to the power’ that was working in them”. It started with that quiet time. Look what it leads to: The Lord shows David that He (God) will glorify Himself through something more eternal than brick and mortar. (2 Samuel 7:12-16).

The Lord turns the tables on David. It seems that hearings for building permits always bring some sort of surprise, some amendment to the original plans.

In 2 Samuel 7:10 God says “I will appoint a place for My people Israel, and will plant them …” Then God tells Nathan to tell David, “Also the Lord tells you that He will make you a house.”

You want to talk about construction projects? God tells David “you know nothing about building plans. I don’t need a house. You do. You and the world need a place that is safe.” He says Israel will be planted in a place of their own and move no more, nor shall the sons of wickedness oppress them anymore. He says that David is going to have a house, a kingdom that will come from his line.

The protection and permanence for God’s people are not found in a building or a physical location or in a security system; they are found in Jesus Christ. Everything else is really idolatry. This is the message of the early Church: “The God who made the world and everything in it, He who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:24-25).

God’s answer to David is not unusual in Scripture or in our Christian experience. God’s answer to our proposals is always the same: “Jesus.” He is always God’s response to man’s need, man’s dreams, even what man desires to do for God. God will not accept what you want to do for Him. He has done it all for you in His Son. In Hebrews 11, the great men faith trust God.  They put their lives in God’s hand and God made for them a place in heaven.  They trusted God when God said move.  They trusted God when God said go. They trusted God when God said NO.  The results was that they were not ashamed for God to be called their God.  Let us trust God when He says NO because when God says NO, He wants us to acknowledge His greatness does not depend on our dreams; He wants to perfect His glory in our lives.

 

 

 

“The Priority of Praise”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

7TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

JULY 15, 2018

 

Title: “The Priority of Praise”

 

Text: Psalms 150:1-6

1 Praise the Lord.  Praise God in his sanctuary; Praise him in his mighty heavens. 2 Praise him for his act of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. 3 Praise him for the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with hype and lyre, 4 praise with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipes, 5. praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. 6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.

 

A pastor visited a woman who was ill in bed; and, after having buried seven of her family in six months, had just heard that the eighth, her beloved husband, was cast away at sea. The pastor asked, “Do not you fret at any of those things?” She said, with a lovely smile upon her pale cheek, “O, no! How can I fret at anything which is the will of God? Let Him take all besides: He has given me Himself. I love, I praise Him every moment.”  This is a story of praise and gratitude to God no matter where we find ourselves, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves.

Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in his book “The Purpose Driven Life,” discussed at great length the purpose of our existence on this earth.  As I taught this book as a Bible studies material at Walton UMC, I thought hard about the same questions, “Why on earth am I here for?  Why did God create me? What is my purpose in life?

With this thought in mind, Augustine said, You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in you.” Different people from different walks of life, different political and social backgrounds have given the idea of who God is and why did He create humankind diverse thoughts.  In giving this a thought, Moses and Israel expressed it in a song.  They sang in Exodus 15, “Who is like unto thee, Oh Lord, among the God? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praise, doing wonders?” Moses wrote this song as he has written in Deut. 32 and Psalms 90. They sang on the occasion of Israel’s deliverance and Egyptian defeat. The mood of the song is triumphant and it was sang to acknowledge the power of God as Israel’s defender. Indeed, the Lord is glorious!  His glory is one thing God will not share with any man. He wants His name to be praise! He demands His name to be praise! He instructs in his word that His Name should be praised. He lives in the praises of His people.

Jerry Flurry informs us that the glory of God is one theme that is reflected in the English Bible about 275 times.  The glory of God occurs in the Psalms alone about fifty times. In one my favorites Scriptures in the Bible, it commands us who have been called out of darkness to show forth the praise of God: “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9, KJV). Reading 1 Peter 4:11, we will learn that it is God’s design that God in all things may be glorified.  One would always agree with Pastor Warren that the sole purpose for the design of the universe and the creation of man is to glorify God. In one of the many books I inherited from Minister Jay Andersen, Minister of Mission at Newton First, I love how C. S. Lewis puts it: “In commanding us to glorify God, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.” From all these wise sayings, the ultimate question that pops up is, What should be our priority in our quest to show gratitude to God for our creation? Our priority is to glorify God.

Johann Sebastian Bach in his discussion on the importance of music said, “All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul’s refreshment; where this is not remembered there is no real music but only a devilish hub-bub.” He headed all of his compositions: ”J. J.,” the initials for, ”Jesus Juva” which means “Jesus help me.”  He ended them “S.D.G.,” the initials for, “Soli Dei Gratia” which means “To God alone be the glory.” Why I do not agree with Johann that some music is a devilish hub-hub, I am of the opinion that music should praise and glorify God. 

The apostle Paul was clear on the essence of life being to do nothing else but glorify God.  In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul says, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do to the glorification of God.”  In his letter to the church at Rome, he says, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.” Paul is saying here that our number one priority is to praise and glorify God. What does it means to give glory to God or to glorify God?

To glorify is to pay a conscious attention to His greatness and give Him honor by praising and worshipping Him, primarily because he, and He alone deserves to be praised, honored and worshipped.  To glorify God the children of Israel sang a song in Exodus 15 as Israel’s first great affirmation of faith. In the prior chapter of Exodus 14, God had liberated Israel to admire and exalt Him. They acknowledged the greatness of God by worshipping Him in this song of praise.  

To glorify God is to praise Him for His attributes.  We glorify him for his holiness, faithfulness, mercies, grace, love, majesty, sovereignty, power, and His knowledge.  As mentioned above, Moses and the children of Israel sang a song to the Lord in Exodus 15. They acknowledged God because there was no one like Him among all the others gods around.  This stemmed from four hundred years of slavery or Egyptian oppression. God had shown them His power and majesty by splitting the Red Sea open for them to walk on dry land to safety and freedom. God fulfilled a promise He made to their forefather Abraham in Genesis 15.  Here in this song, they sang of God’s greatness, they admire Him, they exalt and praise Him.

John Piper, a renowned baptist preacher said, “Glorifying means feeling, thinking, and acting in ways that reflect His greatness, that makes much of God, that gave evidence of the supreme greatness of all His attributes, and all the satisfying beauty of His manifold perfections.”  When we glorify God, we feel good about God. We show it through our actions, our facial expressions, and with a grateful heart. In 2 Samuel 6:14-16, David demonstrated his feelings of God’s greatness by dancing before the Arc. David felt good about how God had blessed Israel. He acted in this way to reflect the greatness of God. In Psalms 46:10, it says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! How do we glorify God?  How do we as a church glorify God in this 21st Century without being called crazy?  How can we as a chosen generation glorify God without being embarrassed because everyone one else around us aren’t church folks anymore?

The answer to how we should glorify God is found right in the Bible.  In Isaiah 43:21, it says, “These people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise.” From this Scripture we see that God made us to reflect or display or manifest His glory.  You know, when God created humankind, He said, “Let us make man in our image and after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). What God meant and wanted was for us to to be like polished mirrors reflecting God’s truth and His glory to the world.  And one way we can do this is to praise Him in the morning, in the noon time, in the evening, in His sanctuary, in our houses, cars, and everywhere. In 1 Chronicles 16, the record tells us, “Ascribe to the Lord, the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come before Him; Worship the Lord in Holy array, (verse 29); Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; Speak of all His wonders, (verse 9); For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; He also is to be feared above all the gods, (verse 25).”  Making praise a priority is how we glorify God. But there are hindrances that impede our ability to praise God.

We cannot praise God when our heart is not right and we refused to listen to His commandments.  Listening to God and agreeing with Him is important in our worship of Him. We must rid ourselves of unnecessary burdens of hate, envy, gossips, strife, and all others things that hinders the Spirit of God.  Making mental assent is not enough, we must obey and listen to the voice of God through Scriptures, prayers, meditation, and preaching.

One other thing I will run by you before we close is we must glorify God by living faithful and purposeful lives.  In Matthew 5:16 Jesus reminds us, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works,and glorify your father which is in heaven.”  The apostle Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do to the glory of God.” These are wise saying for us to learn to live faithfully in the eyes of God.  There is not one person on the face of this earth that is perfect, but we can strive for perfection. We can strive to live according to how God wants us to live. One way God wants us to live is to praise Him daily.  We must make praise our number one priority because God has call us to a life of praise. God bless you.

 

 

 

 

 

“Godly Contentment”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

7TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

JULY 8, 2017.

 

Title: “Godly Contentment”

 

Text: 1 Timothy 6:6-10.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.  It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

Years ago, Russell Conwell told the story of an ancient Persian, Ali Hafed, who “owned a very large farm that had orchards, grain fields, and gardens… and was a wealthy contented man.” One day a wise man from the East told the farmer all about diamonds and how wealthy he would be if he owned a diamond mine. Ali Hafed went to bed that night a poor man–poor because he was discontented. Craving a mine of diamonds, he sold his farm to search for the rare stones. He traveled the world over, finally becoming so poor, broken, and defeated that he committed suicide. One day the man who purchased Ali Hafed farm led his camel into the garden to drink. As his camel put its nose into the brook, the man saw a flash of light from the sands of the stream. He pulled out a stone that reflected all the hues of the rainbow. The man had discovered the diamond mine of Golconda, the most magnificent mine in all history. Had Ali Hafed remained at home and dug in his own garden, then instead of death in a strange land, he would have had acres of diamonds.  

This is a story about discontentment. It a thing of humankind that makes someone, somewhere dissatisfied with his or her position in the universe. It all started with an angel named Lucifer, the brightest star of the heavenly firmament. He wanted something more than his assigned position as the greatest of all created being. This seething discontentment of Lucifer against the Most High led him to lead a rebellion against God.  This rebellion caused him his place in heaven. He was hurled down to earth and many of his rebel followers followed him. Ever since that dark day, he and his followers have been an enemy to God and His works. It was discontentment that made Satan to do it, and discontentment has been his weapons ever since. He had some successes.

His earliest triumph in this area was in the Garden of Eden. He sowed the seed of discontentment in Eve’s unsuspecting heart.  By misrepresenting God, he made Eve to think God was cheating humankind. This very seed of discontentment brought forth the bitter harvest of disobedience, and the entrant of sin into the world. Since this one incident, we have been an unsatisfied race.

It is not a wrong thing to want something better. And a certain amount of discontentment can be good for the soul. It’s not wrong to have dreams about what the future might hold. The hope of something better drives us forward and keeps us working, inventing, striving, creating and innovating. But there is a kind of discontentment that leads in a wrong direction.  It hinder our spiritual growth.  Let us learned together what contentment is.

In our Scripture under consideration, Paul lifts two words.  Paul talked about “gain” and “godliness.” What Paul is talking about here is that true piety, and not empty profession of faith, is way of securing the very highest good and not mere earthly treasure.  Paul makes an addition of the word contentment. In Philippians 4:11, Paul says, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Paul here learned the gift of contentment.  It is a gift from God. It is Christ who gave this gift through the Holy Spirit. Many struggle with being content. It is a universal problem. The word contentment has a deeper meaning. Contentment here does not indicate mere satisfaction with what one possesses, but a satisfaction that has nothing to do with outward circumstances.    

Paul gives a reason for this statement in the phrase that follows: “for we brought nothing into the world, for neither can we carry anything out.” Nothing this world has to offer can make any real addition to our salvation and our being in right standing with God.

Paul wants us to know that the real good of a person consists of his moral and spiritual being. The real good of a person is not in his wealth or possessions he may gather about him.  When we have food and clothing or our basic physiological needs, we will be content. We will be satisfied. Whatever else we have that God gave us we should receive with thanks. It will be useful and will give us comfort.  It is not, however, absolutely necessary, and the true Christian will be satisfied when his needs are supplied.

Paul, however, is not praising poverty, nor declaring it a crime to possess property. There is nothing wrong with having wealth and there is nothing wrong with seeking financial security, but there is something wrong with worshipping wealth rather than God. Paul is only rebuking extreme greed for wealth.  Paul is showing that real contentment is independent of either poverty or wealth.  It is worthy of learning here that our Scripture today is a warning against the danger of extreme greed for wealth.  Those who place before them wealth as the chief goal in life, are in danger of falling from the faith. It makes a person fall into “temptation,” namely, that of using wrong means for accomplishing their ends.  One of the things that these riches do is put the Christian into circumstances that one can not get out of. When riches increased, a person developed the tendency to develop many hurtful lusts, that is the desire for unreasonable and injurious pleasures and gratifications which overwhelm men and put them in moral ruin, or, as Paul declares, “drown men in destruction and perdition.”  Why do we struggle with contentment?

Just by way of confession, I personally have spent the vast majority of my life with my heart displaced or discontented for one reason or another. If I wasn’t discontented because I didn’t have a spouse, I was discontent with my secular job. If I wasn’t discontent with my job or the fact that I was single, I was discontent with my friendships, my roommates, me not seeing my children or my housing situation. On and on I could go. As I look back on the years of my life, a common theme and thread throughout my entire story is discontentment. So I want you to know that I have not learned what Paul is talking about here. I am still on my way to learning, by God’s grace. And I don’t think

I’m alone in that. I don’t think I even need to be a prophet to know that the vast majority of us are struggling deeply with being content.

Being discontented is a universal problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re single, if you’re married, if you’re widowed, if you’re rich, poor, black, brown, white, old, young, in college or out of college. Every human heart struggles with this. It’s a universal problem, and there’s no sign that it’s getting any better in our culture or otherwise. In fact, I read an online article this week from some from Wikihow.com  that essentially said from the time one turns thirteen to the time one turns forty, it’s just downhill in terms of contentment and happiness. The article points out that in this fast paced world of ours, it is hard not to constantly want something. It’s just a slow and steady decline.

The answer to our question of why we struggle with discontentment is a lack of trust in God. You and I struggle with contentment primarily because we struggle and we fail to trust God. That’s why discontentment surfaces in our lives in all the ways that it does. Deep down, we struggle badly with trusting God and believing that God is what is best for us and always does what is best for us. We struggle to trust Him in that and to hope in Him in that. And because we do, we are discontent in a myriad of ways.  It is only when we learned to be content, we will be happy to serve God. Contentment can only come if we nurtured it.

Paul said, I learned to be content.  Hebrew 13:5 says, “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ The greatest of all treasures we possess is the gift of eternal life and the gift of faith.  Let us be thankful for what we already have, knowing that it is God who will sustain us as individuals and as a church. The same God who has brought us this far will see us through to the end.  

I just want to close with offering you to exhortations from Philippians 4. The exhortation is this: Repent of your grumbling and discontentment. Repent of that and ask the Holy Spirit to teach you contentment. Look in verse 11 with me. Paul says, “For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” We see in this verse that the desire for and ability to be content is wrought by the Spirit of God. Contentment is something to be learned.

Moses in Psalms 90 says in his prayer, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Apparently we don’t as human beings naturally number our days. We don’t naturally think about the fact that our days on earth are numbered. So Moses is saying, “God, I’m not going to naturally do this. So teach me to do it. Teach us to number our days.” We need to be taught to number our days, and in the same way, we need to be taught contentment. It’s something that is learned. It’s a process.  

Discontentment is a weapon of the devil to steal your worship of God.  It is a weapon he manufactured since the days of the our Genesis in the Garden of Eden.  It hinders our spiritual growth. It is not a bad thing to have financial security. God wants us to prosper. But let us put the worship of God above it.  Let us learned contentment by nurturing it through the power of the Holy Spirit. God bless you!

 

“Spiritual Wisdom for a Darkened World”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

5TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

24TH JUNE 2018

 

Title: “Spiritual Wisdom for a Darkened World”

Text: 1 Corinthians 2:14

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

 

During a period of rush hour traffic, an elderly lady made a decision to go across the street.  Because of the fast flow of vehicle, she was fearful, confused, and therefore hesitant to cross by herself.  In the end, a gentleman came up to her and asked if he could cross the street with her. The lady was grateful and very relieved.  She took his armed and stepped into the busy intersection. As the pair went down the street, the lady got progressively alarmed. She was alarmed because the gentleman zigzagged across the street to the blare of horns and screeching brakes.  They finally reached their destination. Instead of the lady telling the gentleman thanks, she turned to him and said, “You almost got us killed! You walked like you are blind.” I am,” he replied. “That’s why I asked if I could cross with you.”  

Like we do sometimes, the lady did not make the best choice.  The man she thought would guide her with a steady arm and wisdom to avoid them being killed could not guide them both. He desperately needed guidance himself. Jesus Christ talked about the blind leading the blind.  He said, “When the blind leads the blind, they both end up in the ditch.” In our world today, we need spiritual guidance.  We live in a fast paced, fast changing culture. Ours is a world where many do not believe in God or the Bible. Ours is a world where folks depend on natural, worldly knowledge as opposed to spiritual knowledge.  Living in Post-Christian America, we are constantly blitzed by powerful influence such as the media, peer pressure, social trends, culture driven religion and cults. In our everyday life, we hear things like, “All religion leads to the same god, If it feels good, it must be right.  No one has the right to tell you how to live your life. Women should have the choice to abort their babies. If what I am doing does not hurt anyone, it’s okay.”

But the most alarming and dangerous part is the reality that there is a growing lack of discernment among Christians.  Why is that so? We as Christians today lack discernment because of our failure to see the issues clearly, to think things through the eyes of God and Scriptures, failure to see the implication of actions, choices and decisions.  And also failure to rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance. This makes me to raise the question, “What is discernment?

The word discernment comes from the translation of two main Greek words.  The first is anakrino meaning to examine or judge closely. The second is diakrino meaning to separate, to examine, to investigate.  Discernment is the ability of make godly judgment. It is to distinguish between and be able to recognize the moral implications of situations and what course of action a person may take.  It involves distinguishing right from wrong, the good, the better, the best.  The apostle Paul speaking of discernment says in 1 Corinthians 10:23, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not…”  Simply put, discernment would be the ability to decide between truth and error, right or wrong. In the Christian sense of the word, it is seeing things the way God sees them.

In Matthew 7:6, Jesus Christ admonishes His followers to exercise discernment when it came to the things of God.  Jesus says, “Give not the things that are holy unto dogs, neither cast ye your pearls unto swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”  Jesus here is saying we must use discernment when it comes to God’s possessions. It is possible to waste God’s possessions by casting them unto people or influences that can contaminate them.  This tells us that it is very important to be people of spiritual discernment.  Why do we need spiritual discernment?

Spiritual discernment is needed in our lives because evil never presents itself as evil.  We are involved in a race where our primary enemy is Satan. This enemy seeks after our souls.  He is cunning and subtle. With our natural instincts, we cannot easily see the evil he brings our way.  

The life of a person who lack spiritual discernment is illustrated in the story of Elisha recorded in 2 King 4:38-41.  The record tells us that in the time of famine, Elisha sent his servant to prepare a pot of soup or stew for his school of prophets.  It was not the intentions of the servant to harm anyone. The mistake was that he did not do his research well. The servant assumed the ingredients were harmless.  The stew were served immediately it was prepared. It made them sick. The Scripture tells us that the sons of the prophet cried out, “There is death in the pot.”  Upon Elisha instruction, the meal or flour was pour in the pot.  This miraculously acted as an antidote to negate the tainted effect of the stew.  

One can see the poisonous herbs as a representation of false doctrines, foolish actions, foolish, self-serving individuals, that could come into our lives, our homes, our church, under the disguise of being harmless.  The servants who gathered the lapful of herbs could be seen as those believers who lack spiritual discernment that gather up false doctrines, worldly influences, and out of ignorance and enthusiasm, introduces these things into the assembly of God’s people.  These things are mixed with what is good putting the welfare of God’s people at risks. Discernment is the meal or flour added by Elisha to the pot of stew. With discernment, all the poisonous things are destroyed. Church, we need discernment in our lives.

I read a story in the news media that told the story of a pastor who asked Christians to quit church because people aren’t committed anymore.  This pastor was quoting a book written by someone who wasn’t even a Christian. Where is the discernment of this pastor to know that his message did not resemble the very principles Christ stood for?  I am a seminary graduate, but the only explanation I have for such a pastor is that there is a lack of spiritual growth and maturity here. Church, we need discernment because it is synonymous with spiritual growth and maturity.

Discernment has played a very important role in the spiritual growth of individuals and communities.  It is so with traditional methodism. The methodist movement created for spiritual nurture and guidance three types of small groups, one of which was the class.  

The class was a small group of people who sought a personal relationship with God.  The class leader was appointed by Wesley. The leader was a person with common sense, an experience of saving grace, and the ability to interpret the Bible to the members of the class.  On a weekly basis, the leader would inquire about the spiritual state of class members, then offer prayers and guidance suited to the needs expressed by individuals. Spiritual discernment came through interaction with the class leader, who asked questions that led people to think about and to listen for what the Spirit intended for their lives.  This kind of efforts to discern what was good and acceptable in the conduct of the lives of believers was a key to living a blameless and uncompromising life.

The white blood cells in the human body is our third line of defense against germs that invades the body.  In a person with Human Immuno Virus or HIV, the white blood cells can not fight the virus because the virus has the power to destroy the white blood cells or leukocytes. This cleansing agents immediately pounce on toxic materials when they entered the body.  Discernment is like these cleansing agents. Discernment helps us clean up the act in our lives. It is God’s grace active in our lives that helps us to clean up. In Titus 2:11 it reads, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.  People have misuse the grace of God to indulge in sin. Discernment is a dimension of God’s grace that intersects every point of our lives, helping us to walk on the safe side of caution, rather than corruption.

We desperately need to cultivate the spiritual skills of discernment.  It will enable us to distinguish between right from wrong. We must be ready to distinguish light from darkness, truth from error, the best from the better, righteousness from unrighteousness, and purity from defilement.  The question here is how and where do we develop spiritual discernment?

There are some basic principles that helps us to know how and where to develop spiritual discernment.  Due to time factor, I will preach this as a series. But let us conclude by reminding ourselves that we cannot grow as disciples of Christ if we lack spiritual discernment.  We cannot reach another level in our Christianity if we lack spiritual discernment. We as Christians cannot know the secret of true wisdom without spiritual discernment.

Would you like to find the key to deeper living, to higher level of spirituality?  Would you want to find some type of deeper, hidden special knowledge or insight that offer the key to understanding life, in this deeply troubling world?  If your answer to this question is yes, it is important for us to learn about the Holy Spirit’s power on how to discern right from wrong, truth from error, and righteousness from unrighteousness.  Let us hear what the prophet Hosea says, “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning let him know them; For the way of the Lord is right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumbled in them.”