Sunday, November 11, 2018


This year which has flown by and is about to wrap up had topical messages:  Love, Action, Peace, and Rest were the major headings.  Next year I will remain topical for the most part with faith, grace, and hope and of course our messages that go with Advent, Ash Wednesday, and Resurrection.

At the First Light service, we will look at gifts, the Spirit, and the Gifts of the Spirit.

This morning, I will rest from the topic of rest and talk about unity.  Why?

Several months ago, I talked with Terra Sisco—the pastor the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Marlow about leveraging the fact that the Marlow church was a polling station.

You can’t put up political signs at a polling place, but you can announce a community service.  The church had been recovering from past hurts in the community and needed a jump start.  I suggested that we practice the connectional nature of our denomination and get some pastors and others to come to Marlow and reintroduce the church to the community.

Terra was onboard and without hesitation said, I want you to preach on unity.

Unity—I love the topic.  In today’s diverse and divisive world, it seems to be an anomaly.

Diversity is a wonderful thing.  We are blessed with so many abilities, talents, and so many gifts of the Spirit that we should be producing fruit galore.

But there’s not much fruit in divisiveness, and our nation is suffering in divisiveness.  There is no shortage of opinions as to who is at fault and those opinions often solidify the divisiveness.  If you get into a discussion these days, you had better wear safety goggles so one of those pointing fingers doesn’t poke you in the eye.

Jesus as he was rebuking the religious leaders two thousand years ago set forth this truthA house divided—a kingdom divided—against itself cannot stand. 

About 160 years ago a young Abraham Lincoln noted this about our nation.  He would see it lived out in the blood of nearly 700,000 young Americans. 

About 80 years before that E pluribus unum was adopted as our national motto. What a perfect thought for this Grand Experiment we call the United States of America:  Out of many one.

It not only signified the divine miracle that brought forth this new land, it seemed to also mark the challenge of each generation.  One of the paradoxes of this republic is that it seeks unity while preserving liberty for the individual—for each of us. 

This thing that we call self-government, representative government is a continual struggle.  You might think that balance would prevail over divisiveness, but the world will have none of it.  Even in this nation so blessed in this broken world, struggle is the nature of our existence.

Enough of the political scientist in me.  I must let him out time and again.  What about the body of Christ?  What about us?

We as a community of believers must be a community.  We must live in one accord. Christ alone must be our head, our Master, our King.  Christ is the head of the church.

We must be one in the Spirit.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t observe our separate traditions, we just don’t let them get in the way of our unity. 

If the body of Christ does not practice and exhibit unity, can we expect more of our nation?  We must be a model of unity.

In the first part of the scripture from Ephesians 4 that I read, we most often focus on the Christ gave us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers part.  That’s important, but sometimes we forget the rest of these purposeful words—words that equip us for service to our Lord.

Paul continued:  so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

What’s Paul saying?  Unity is our destination not our starting point.  Even we in the body of Christ have some work to do.  We are to mature.  We are to grow.

Christ did everything for our salvation.  We have some work to do on our discipleship.  As we follow Jesus, we should look more and more like our Master each day, each week, each year.  Sometimes, growing in God’s grace takes a little work.

Often, we have to overcome our own human nature as we take on God’s holy nature.  Salvation is a gift.  Amen!  Hallelujah.  Praise the Lord!  Discipleship takes work.

What if we want a benchmark of our work and our growth?

One of those indicators of growth is unity.  Unity signifies that we are maturing in our faith.  We are growing.  We are growing in God’s grace.  God will never stop loving us, even if we are at the bottom of our class.  We grow in his grace.

Unity is one of the markers of our growth.  The ability to work with other believers with diverse thoughts, attitudes, culture, language, gifts, and abilities because Jesus is the head and we are one in the Spirit.  Being of one accord is a mark of maturity.

You have heard the phrase, speaking the truth in love, right?  I have taken this phrase out of context many times, most of them with good application.

Most of the time we think this is for the benefit of the one with whom we are speaking.  Often it is, but in the original context, it is about us and our growth. Listen to Paul’s words once again.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Speaking the truth in love is a precursor to growth. If we are to navigate this modern age and move towards unity of the body, we must be able to speak the truth in a spirit of love with those that do not agree with us.

If we were to follow Paul to Chapter 14 in Romans, he talks about disputable matters.  The Greek word that we most often translate as disputable is  διαλογισμός  (dee-al-og-is-mos').  You might think that sounds more like dialogue than dispute.

You would be correct.  The original meaning of the word is essentially, back and forth reasoning.  Today in our modern nation, it seems that every dialogue becomes a dispute or argument or irresolvable conflict, but the original language did not carry the burden of our modern connotations.

It meant back and forth reasoning.  Who misses that other than me?  Who misses a good, wholesome, healthy discussion instead of everyone talking at once, often with ever-increasing volume.  The author Stephen Covey calls this mass babble that we pass of as modern discussion, the dialogue of the deaf.  Everyone is talking, and nobody is listening.

We as the body of Christ not only must be capable of but practice back and forth discussion.  We must speak the truth in love, not out of selfish ambition nor condemnation.  This is a mark of our maturity as believers.

Will we get to the point where we agree on everything?  No.  But we will live in one accord knowing that Jesus is Lord.  He is our Master.  He is the head of the church.

And the things that we don’t agree upon will not get in the way of serving Christ, loving one another, or being unified as his body.

Diversity of opinion, methods, and traditions will not get in the way of unity within the body of Christ.  When we as believers start picking at each other for how others practice their faith—whatever it is—baptizing, preaching, music, celebrating the Lord’s Supper and other things, remember the church body that you are picking at belongs to our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus.

His Spirit abides in the believers of that body.  If the Lord has some corrections or redirection for that body, his Spirit is already there, and none of us have been retained to advise the Spirit.  Who among us may counsel the Lord?

We do have the mind of Christ.  We have God’s Spirit.  We are one body.  We must grow to unity.  We must mature as believers so that we can have back and forth discussions without causing the new believer to stumble or doubt that we have a clue about this Christianity stuff.

We are called to live in one accord, and I don’t mean a Honda.

Oh, by the way, it’s going to be work.  Salvation is a gift from God.  Discipleship, growing in grace, and unity take work.  Are we up for the work?

I am not talking about carrying burdens that we have surrendered to our Lord.  I am talking about taking his yoke and learning from him.  Are we ready to learn from our Lord and grow in his grace?

It’s going to take some work.  Many look around at a divisive nation and are about ready to throw in the towel, but we must stay the course.  We must press on towards the goal.  We must never give up on unity.

You have endured me this far, but I am making a return to something of a Marine story.  I’ve used it in different contexts, so some may have heard it before.

During the First Gulf War which was just called Desert Shield and Desert Storm back then, I was training reservists.  I was the active duty commander.  Many reserve units were called up and I went with them to Camp Lejeune for 2 weeks of refresher training before shipping out to Southwest Asia.

After they deployed, I went back to my command and waited for my orders.  I got them and went to Camp Lejeune to go through the same sort of refresher training I had just taken the reserves through.  This was a group composed mostly of officers and senior NCO’s.  We were near the end of this two-week period and headed to the pistol range and a close combat refresher. 

You might say that we had copped an attitude.  What attitude?  We’ve done this.  If things get down to pistols and knives, the battleplan did not go according to plan.  Most of the officers were thinking, “just wrap this stuff up and get me on a plane to the desert.”

There was a crusty old gunnery sergeant in charge of this last part of the training.  He detected the malaise that accompanied us.  He couldn’t really chew us out as half were officers, but he could relate a story from decades earlier.

He was a young Marine on an outpost with his fireteam.  A lance corporal was in charge of this 4-man outpost.  That is to say that a 19-year-old kid was in charge of three 18-year old’s.  The gunnery sergeant was one of those 18-year-old kids long ago.

They had fought through most of the night.  Everyone was wounded.  Ammunition had run out.  Everyone was just leaning back against a tree or a berm waiting to die.  They could hear the enemy moving in on them as the grass and reeds made noises not caused by the wind.

These few young Marines had given up hope.  This lance corporal team leader did the most compassionate thing he could think.  It may be one of the most compassionate things one Marine has ever said to another.

He said:  GET OFF YOUR BUTTS AND GET IN THE FIGHT!  You may die by the enemy’s bullets or bayonets, but you will not give in to self-pity and hopelessness.  GET IN THE FIGHT!

Of the 4 young Marines, three survived the day.  They were ready to throw in the towel but this 19-year-old kid who happened to be in charge, reminded them that throwing in the towel was not who they were.

Get in the fight!

We are not people who give up either.  We know that to live is Christ and to die is gain and sometimes we want the second part now.  Come, Lord Jesus, come.

But we are overcomers.  Our work here is not finished.  Part of that work is to share the gospel.

Part of that work is to model unity for the world.  They can’t get there on their own.  They need leadership.

How can we lead?  We follow Jesus.  We take his yoke and learn from him and put his words into practice.

If the body of Christ will not model unity for the world, the world will never get there.  The world knows uniformity.  The world will gladly conform you to its patterns, but it cannot know the unity that we as maturing believers must know and put on display for the world.

It will take some work.  Salvation is a gift.  
Discipleship takes work.  The part of discipleship that we ventured into this morning was unity.  We can do this.

Will the world follow our model?  Probably not, but those living according to the world will see that we are different.  Some will ask why, and we will tell them of God’s love that we know in Christ Jesus.

That is, if they can tell us apart from the world.  Can we be diverse, yet live in one accord?  Can we maintain different traditions, yet live in unity as the body of Christ?  Can we do this?

I’ll do this exercise once again. 

Raise your right hand as high as you can.
Now raise it higher.

We like to think we are doing the best that we can, but there is always a little more if we reach for it.  My challenge, my request, and my prayer are that we work a little harder when it comes to unity in the body of Christ.

The world doesn’t know this sort of unity and the peace and hope that come with it.  The world will be the world, but Jesus told us to be the light of the world.

One way to be that light is to live in unity as the body of Christ.


Friday, November 2, 2018

Blessed and Made Holy

We are going to use some church words today.  You have heard them all—sanctified, consecrated, holy, made holy, declared holy, set aside, purified, and even the term ordain.  Today we use the term made holy in this text from Genesis.  

God made the Sabbath holy. 

We will use some of the original language as well, such as  קָדַשׁ  (kaw-dash').  It is where we derive many of the other words we just talked about.  Consecrate, ordain, sanctify, and made holy.

God set apart the Sabbath and made it special to him and for us.  It is set apart from other days.

God made this day special.  He made it holy.  After six days of creating, God took a day of rest and set it apart from the days of labor.  The scripture didn’t say God was tired.  It didn’t say he was exhausted.  It said he took a day and rested from six days of creating.

In fact, God did a little work on the Sabbath.  He created the Sabbath.  He made it holy.  I guess it wasn’t the Sabbath until he created it so technically, he didn’t work on the Sabbath.

In addition to making it holy, he blessed it.  The original language would use the word בָרַךְ (baw-rak').  The word translated as bless or blessed appears over 275 times in the Old Testament.  It has two basic definitions:  kneel and bless.  Bless is the term that we know but unlike other ancient terms it does not have a plethora of definitions. 

That does not mean that we don’t try to expand the original definition with context and an understanding of modern syntax.

And even in modern context, the word bless has among its first definitions to sanctify, make holy, or consecrate.  Again, God is saying this day is special.  I am making this day special.  Bless and make holy are almost redundant.  Almost.

Other definitions include divine favor or pronouncing divine favor.  To praise or speak approval, to confer prosperity or happiness, to protect and place protection upon someone, and other things that fall under the highly theological category of “good stuff.”

I have blessed children and houses.  Every time I refill the water in the baptismal, I say a prayer of blessing.  When Rick and I traveled overseas we put our hands on the aircraft as we entered and sought God’s blessing upon the flight.

At the conclusion of the service, I send you into the world with a blessing.  The church word is benediction.  You all know one blessing that you have said many times.

The Lord said to Moses,  “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
 “‘“The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
 the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
 the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.”’
 “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

Last week I described man and the Sabbath as a two-peace puzzle.  We were made to work and to rest.  The Sabbath was made for us to complete the rest part.  I challenged you to rest.  I challenged you to find a day of rest among the other busy days of the world.  I hoped to make the point that man and the Sabbath are natural companions. 

We were designed with the Sabbath in mind.

Today, I want you to realize that the Sabbath is more than essential to our completion.  It is made holy and blessed by God.  Which brings us to God’s wisdom.

God longs to pour out his favor and blessings upon us.  Life is not a game show or a reality TV show where you have to figure things out on your own or get voted off or disqualified.

God wants to bless you.  He has given us the ultimate blessing in making us right with him through the blood of Christ Jesus, but he has countless blessings in store for us if we just do things his way.

After a year of preaching and teaching the Proverbs at the First Light Service, I gave you my Tom’s Notes.  They were much shorter than Cliff’s Notes.  I boiled this 31-chapter book down to there is God’s way and there is everything else.

God’s way is to give man rest after a time of work.  God’s way is to make that day of rest a special thing.  God’s way is to make this Sabbath day so special that it came out as #4 on the commandments that were written in stone. 

Before God got to the thou shalt nots such as killing and stealing and coveting, he commanded us to take what he had made holy and keep it holy.

God made it holy.  We are to keep it holy.  God said that this is important.  He made the day of rest important.  We are to continue in what he made.  We are to abide in the Sabbath.

It is special to God and to us because God made it that way.  So is it just rest?

No.  It is also a day of Sacred Assembly.  We gather together as God’s people and we are to rest.  By the time Jesus had saved us from all unrighteousness and his good news was going out to the world, new believers had already set aside these sacred assemblies

This is not unique to our century, though we have certainly earned the admonishment found in Hebrews.  Part of this special day is gathering together as God’s people.  This is where we not only worship but spur each other on to doing the work of a disciple.

Must this be on the seventh day as in God’s original model?  If you are a Hebrew—a Jew-and have not received Jesus as the Messiah—then yes, it starts when the sun goes down on Friday.

If you have received Jesus as Lord and he is unequivocally Lord of your life, then you follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit for Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath as well.

Paul gave some defining guidance here.  Whatever it is that we do, we should do it because we are fully convinced in our own minds. 

If in your dialogue with God’s Spirit, you are completely convinced that you should abide in a Saturday Sabbath, then that day is holy unto you and the Lord.

If you know without a doubt that you should gather with other believers on Sunday, then that’s the day.

If you gather on Sunday because that’s what everyone else does but believe it should be Saturday, then that’s your sin and vice versa.

If you have not noticed, the church—the disciples who follow Jesus—are at work every day.  This is a good thing.  In this body it’s not 20% of the people doing 80% of the work.  We have somewhere around 50 ministries every year.  Some are unique to me as pastor.  Some fall squarely in the middle of the mission committee’s bailiwick.  Others belong to youth and youth leaders.  Others are interesting combinations of people who come together to make sandwiches for kids go door to door collecting food.  Yet others are tied into other organizations where we can be God’s love in action.

The church is at work every day, so if we each had different days of rest, the church body would continue to function and be effective.  We should understand that besides a day of rest, it is also a day of sacred assembly.

For the disciple of Christ Jesus, that’s mostly on the first day of the week.  

That’s mostly Sunday worship.  The problem in this modern century is that we gather but we don’t continue on to rest.  We worship but we cheat ourselves out of rest.

We were designed with rest in mind and God made this day special.  We are to remember it and keep it holy.  Our shortcomings in this modern age is not that we picked the wrong day, it’s that we don’t keep it holy.

God blessed it, made it holy, and commanded us to keep it holy for our own good.  We are to keep the Sabbath for our own good. 

It’s not just grab some rest when and where you can.  That’s called the infantry.  It is take one day and keep it holy.  God modeled the seventh day.  Jesus rose on the first day.  You may only be able to get off work on a Tuesday.  Whatever day it is, be fully convinced in your own mind and honor that conviction as holy unto God.

God made one day special and told us to keep it that way.  Take one day as holy unto the Lord.

That said, I have not taken a Sabbath in over a decade.  I do not expect to get struck by lightning, so you don’t need to rush the exits.  My phone rings as much on Sundays as it does on Thursdays.  Text messages come at all hours of the day and night.  Traditional social boundaries don’t really apply. 

I have had calls and texts around midnight asking what time that thing started tomorrow.  When the phone rings after midnight, I am usually headed to a hospital or a home to comfort someone because of a loss.  Every day is special unto the Lord, but I am not without Sabbath rest.
My rest looks more like a Sabbatical.  

For about three weeks every year, I go someplace where it’s hard to get me by phone.  People also can’t find me by knocking on my front door.  They can’t find me at Dollar General or Walmart and ask me if I will marry them and give me that shocked look when I say that I need to meet both people to talk about that and it will take longer than we might want to spend on the duct tape aisle.

I am out of touch with my daily demands and in touch with rest and the Lord.  It’s not so different from the priests who served a tour in the Temple and then returned home.  It works for me.  My rest comes in seasons and the Lord has blessed it.

We are a church of the Reformed tradition.  That is, we grew out of the Reformation that began just over 500 years ago.  The word of God is true.  God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  God is love.  We follow Jesus.  That doesn’t change.

How we do many of the things we are called to do does change.  God gave us a model of work 6 and rest 1.  That 1 happened to be day 7.  Jesus who is Lord of the Sabbath rose on the first day of the week.  God likes new things.  God likes us to put things that hold us down in the past.  God models new things for us.

We seek God, his kingdom, his righteousness, his favor, his blessing, his wisdom, his way but we do it in this world so set against him.  We love God by loving others, making our tithe, making special offerings, praying for and with people, proclaiming his way and his good news, and gathering together for worship.  We do this in a world where in providing for your family, you may not get Saturday or Sunday off work.  This worshiping God business isn’t such a big deal in today’s world.

It is to you.  It is to us. 

Seeking God’s way isn’t a big deal in our modern world.  It is to you.  It is to us.

We must find a way to not only remember the Sabbath but to keep it holy—to keep it special to you and to the Lord.  The Lord blessed it and made it holy.  We must find a way to keep the Sabbath in our modern time.

Make no mistake, the world doesn’t care if we assemble, worship the Lord, or rest.  Even in this part of the country that we like to call the Bible Belt, work takes precedence over rest, and that means even beyond the 6 to 1 ratio that God established.

But we must find a way to assemble with God’s people and to rest.  God made one day special and told us to keep it that way.  Take one day as holy unto the Lord.

We must find a way to do this!  Amen.  You all go home and figure this out by next Sunday.

Thanks for the challenge, Tom; got any suggestions?

Yes.  Talk with you employer and let him or her know that having one day as special is important to you.  For most, that day is Sunday.  This might be something that takes time and persistence, but God made one day special and he did it for us.  This is worth continuing the discussion.

If you are self-employed, this may be a tougher discussion that if you worked for someone else.

Along the way, take Paul’s advice about the days that you do work.  Work as if you are working for the Lord and not for men.  Let your employer see what an asset you are.  This may even lead to an opportunity to effectively witness.

If you are serious about remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy, put yourself to the test as Daniel did with his captors.  See if I don’t come out better by doing things God’s way.

If you have a schedule that constantly shifts, find one day and a few believing friends who will gather with you to worship the Lord.  They might have to go to work or have just come from work, but they will gather with you as you worship with them and you may devote the rest of your day to rest.  Where 2 or 3 are gathered, Jesus is there.

Realize that you live in a world that doesn’t care much about God’s ways, much like Daniel’s world; yet he and his companions found a way to live God’s way.  God blessed them with wisdom far superior to their indigenous contemporaries. 

We have been taught that love fulfills the law.  Our salvation comes through Jesus not our compliance with some 613 decrees and directives and other constraints found in the wisdom literature of the Bible, but some of these laws or decrees come with built-in benefits. 

Our salvation is not at stake, but our well-being just might be.  The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath.  We must find a way to observe a Sabbath and keep it special.

We were designed with rest in mind.  God blessed it and made it holy.  We must find a way to keep the Sabbath if we are to truly live healthy and abundant lives while we walk the earth in these bodies.

The Sabbath was made for us, not the other way around.

We are a people who do all kinds of diets.  We pay crazy amounts for our shakes and teas and other specialties.  We buy a two-thousand-dollar exercise machine to hang our clothes on.  We download the newest exercise video and then find out that you must exercise with it.  Watching and eating popcorn won’t do it.

We jump through all these hoops and yet we won’t squeeze out 24 hours that God himself made special for us.  One day out of seven observed for our own good.

Are you going to hell if you don’t observe a Sabbath?  No, but you might have some days where your mind and body feel like they are serving a few days or weeks there.  Your very soul is crying out for God and rest.

You were designed with rest in mind.

Find a way to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.  Find a way!