Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church
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Expository Sermon on John 5
Bellevue SDA Church 5/20/2017
©2017 by Maylan Schurch

(Sorry, due to technical difficulties, the audio for this sermon is not available.)

Please open your Bibles to John chapter 5.

Once again, as I’ve been doing pretty much every Sabbath since the beginning of January, today’s sermon passage comes straight from the Andrews Study Bible reading plan. If you are following this plan, you read through the passage I’m going to be preaching on this past Tuesday.

If you’re not familiar with the reading plan, what happens is that rather than starting at Genesis in January and finishing up with Revelation in December, the Andrews Study Bible plan has us starting both the Old Testament in New Testament in January, reading a small portion of the New Testament in the morning of each day, and the longer portion of the Old Testament in the evening. That way you get the daily taste of both portions of the Bible.

By the way, if you’d like to jump into the reading plan right where we are, I think we still have some copies of the whole plan on the counter just beside the stairs over there in the north wing. Grab one on your way up to potluck. Or you can find the plan on our church website. You’ll find that website address on the back of your bulletin.

By the way, there’s a change in today’s sermon title. I originally planned to cover three assurances of Jesus, but we’ll only have time for two.

If you were raised on the old King James Bible the way I was, you remember the phrase “Verily, verily.” Jesus often used that phrase, and I think that He was the only Bible person to use it. These days, nobody uses the word “verily,” of course. A good literal modern translation would be “truly, truly.” The New King James translates it “most assuredly,” which is also good. Jesus seems to have used this phrase to draw particular attention to something He was about to tell His listeners. In the Greek, that phrase is simply the word “Amen” repeated twice: Amen amen.

Within just a few verses in John five, Jesus uses that phrase three times—though we’ll only have time to look at two of them. Just in those few verses we have three solid “assurances” from Jesus. And as we go through them this morning, I think you’ll see how crucially important they are.

In fact, as I look back on more than 30 years of pastoral ministry, I have found that many people lack assurance about these issues. But this morning, Jesus hopes to assure us about them in a very satisfying way.

If you’re reading from a Bible which puts the words of Jesus in red, you’ll see that red print is all we’ll be covering this morning. Everything we’ll be reading from the Bible is a direct quote from the lips of Jesus.
And normally, when Jesus bursts into red print – in other words, begins to speak – it’s usually because something got Him started. In this case, as John 5 begins, Jesus walks down to a pool in Jerusalem one Sabbath afternoon, and heals a chronic invalid. He tells the man to pick up the mat he’s been lying on, and go home. And the man does this.

Well, along come some religious leaders who see him carrying that mat, and who accuse him of Sabbath breaking, because he is carrying something on the Sabbath. The man says, “The one who healed me told me to take my bed home.” These religious leaders discover that it was Jesus who healed the man, and Jesus says to them, “Look. When it comes to Sabbath work, My Father has been working all along, and so have I.”

This causes the religious leaders to get even more frothy at the mouth, because it seems as though Jesus is claiming to be equal with God.

Which of course He is. And here is where we come to Jesus’ first assurance.

John 5:19 – 21 [NKJV]: Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.

So, what is Jesus’ first assurance? What does He “most assuredly” want us to understand? If you’re taking sermon notes, here comes Sermon Point One.

Jesus assures me that He mirrors God.

Did you catch that in those verses? After Jesus intones “Most assuredly I say to you,” He says, “the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.”

Somewhere in a cedar chest in our house – at least I think Shelley and I have it rather than one of my sisters – there is a little black and white photo of me standing on the front porch of a little house in Redfield, South Dakota. I am probably three years old, and I have a firm grip on a full-size hammer.

I have course don’t remember that photo being taken, nor do I remember that hammer. But Mom told me later that I would always carry that hammer around with me. I had seen my dad use it, and it made a powerful noise, and since I wanted to be like my dad – as well as make powerful noises – I hauled that hammer around with me wherever I went, for a while anyway. I wanted to be just like Dad.

And the boy Jesus, as soon as it began to dawn on Him that He was the divine Son of God, also wanted to do what His Father did. At the age of 12, in Luke chapter 2, verse 49, He told His parents gently but firmly, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

And the first few verses of John chapter 1 tell us that Jesus existed in the beginning with His Father, and that He partnered with the Father in creation. And He sums up this God-mirroring in John 10, verse 30, when He says, “I and My Father are one.”

So why is it so important to understand that Jesus mirrors God? It’s important, because I have had several adults over the years tell me that they are more comfortable with Jesus than they are with God. They feel safer with Jesus.

Part of the reason for this might be because of what we’ve been doing since January – reading through the Old Testament as well as the New. Back in the Old Testament is where you find some frightening stories about God passing judgment on this or that nation, or this or that city.

But in the New Testament, we don’t see Jesus doing any of those things. In fact, toward the end of Luke 9, a couple of Jesus disciples get really angry when a village in Samaria refuses to offer hospitality to Jesus. They beg Jesus to give them authority to call fire down from heaven upon that village.

Jesus is horrified. In Luke 9:55 and 56 it says: “But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.’”

But this doesn’t seem always to have been the spirit of the God of the Old Testament. Even though the way to become a solidly-settled, mature Christian is to read your Bible through from cover to cover, a downside is that once in a while we see God going into very emphatic action, doing things and commanding things that don’t seem to be the same way Jesus would do them.

In fact, two or three weeks ago, somebody sent me a communication card at the end of the service, asking if I would preach a sermon sometime on that Old Testament brutality. This can’t be that sermon, because we have one other assurance to get through, and we’re only on the first, but I can give you some ideas to think about.

Jesus very clearly says that He does only those things His Father does. And the only things Jesus did were acts of healing, teaching, and eventually dying on the cross for our sins. So why did God seem so merciless in certain parts of the Old Testament?

Again, I’m just tossing out some ideas here, but we need to remember that even though Jesus called God Father, and I don’t think He called Him anything else, God doesn’t just have three or four kids. God has an entire universe, probably populated by trillions and quadrillions and quintillions of intelligent beings.

And what was so tragic was that God’s motives have been powerfully challenged by the fallen angel who seems to have held the highest heavenly position of any created being. After Lucifer deceived himself, he set about spreading distrust about God. This distrust went viral, and a third of his fellow angels joined him in rebellion.

And God had to take action. He ejected Lucifer and his angels from heaven. He separated virulently toxic sinners from the innocent righteous. Once on earth, Satan began to deceive the very first two human beings, and the story since then has been God doing his best to protect free choice while trying to thwart Satan’s plans.

We can see how deadly Satan’s methods are when we read in Exodus about how the Israelites could openly rebel against the God who had dramatically and miraculously freed them from Egyptian slavery, and who hovered protectively over their camp in a cloud.

Now, if you can scream and shake your fist at the very presence of God, something chillingly dysfunctional has happened in your heart. You have become toxic. And if something doesn’t happen, you will spread your rebellion amongst the rest of God’s people the way Satan spread his rebellion in heaven. So God had to deal with this. It was either than or give up on the whole Planet Earth project and let us destroy each other. He is, after all, the sovereign Creator and preserver of life.

Another thing – God needed the heathen nations in and around Canaan to take Him seriously. When Joshua led the Israelites toward Jericho, Rahab told the Israelite spies that the whole city had heard about how God had delivered Israel from Egypt. They had heard about the miracles. So word was getting through.

As I say, this sermon can’t totally cover this topic. And maybe we simply won’t understand the whole story until heaven. But what we need to take very seriously is that Jesus says that He mirrors God.
Whatever God did, He did for the best of reasons. It was the only thing He could do. It was the cancer surgery that removes the deadly tumor. If all of the Jericho people had hurried out to Joshua and sincerely repented of their sins, and opened their hearts to the powerful God of Israel (the way Rahab did), things would’ve been different. But even though they had heard about God’s miracles, they chose to stubbornly hunker down behind those city walls and hope that their own feeble gods, who had never done any miracles, would protect them.

One of the things I’ve learned as I have read the Bible through is to realize that I can’t fully answer every question right now.  In fact, put a marker of some kind in John five, because we’ll be right back. Turn to John 16, and listen to some more red print of Jesus.

I have always found this statement really comforting. You and I are living in the Google age, and Wikipedia age, where most of the time we can find information and answers about anything almost instantaneously. But there are limits to what Wikipedia can explain. That’s a good reason to keep this following statement of Jesus in mind.

Jesus is talking to His disciples here.

John 16:12 – 15: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.

Here Jesus told His disciples that He was concealing quite a bit of information from them because they simply wouldn’t be able to handle it. But as time goes along, the Holy Spirit will reveal what we need to know. That gives great comfort to me. But we always need to keep that attitude of humility, that attitude that says that Jesus mirrors God, and God is love, even though I may have to wait until eternity for the whole story.

Now let’s move to a second assurance, back in John chapter 5. We’re picking up immediately after the passage we just looked at.

John 5:22 – 24: For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.

Do you see Jesus’ second assurance? Here comes Sermon Point Two.

Jesus first assures me that He mirrors God, and now He assures me of a worry-free judgment.

If you are about my age, and grew up Adventist, you might not have been always sure that God’s judgment could be worry free. I came from a Christian but non-Adventist home where mom and dad modeled for their kids a God who was thoroughly loving and understanding, but I went to an Adventist elementary school where I quickly learned that the other kids worried about the judgment. Attitudes have changed since then, of course, and we feel more assurance.

And here, Jesus makes a really startling statement about the judgment. He says that we need not even come into judgment.

Now, as always, when we’re studying a certain Bible subject, we need to gather together everything the Bible says about that subject, and start figuring things out. How does this statement of Jesus square, for example, with 1 Peter 4:17, where Peter writes, “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God . . . .”

Here Peter talks about the judgment for the righteous. The righteous are judged first, and then the unrighteous. In His parables, Jesus Himself talked about a time when the sheep would be separated from the goats, and the weeds would be separated from the wheat. The sanctuary service was an active drama about judgment. Revelation 14 contains an angel who is crying out that the hour of God’s judgment has come.

So how do we square this? Well, let’s just keep reading. Because Jesus tells us the two ways we can avoid even having to pass through the judgment. Look at verse 24 again:

Verse 24: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.

So there are Jesus’ two steps to avoiding the judgment. The first step is to hear the word of Jesus. In the second step is to believe in the One who sent Jesus – in other words, God. And people who fulfill those two steps have everlasting life. They have passed from death to life. That’s what Jesus says.

Can it really be as easy as that? Well, yes and no. It depends on how carefully you hear the words of Jesus, and how thoroughly you believe in the one who sent Him.

Do you see that word “hear”?  In the original Greek, it’s a far more complicated word then simply listening, like listening to a song. Here’s how Abbott-Smith’s Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament defines this Greek word, which is akouo: “to hear, listen, attend, perceive by hearing, comprehend by hearing.”

So when Jesus told His disciples to “hear” His Word, He’s talking about a high level of involvement with those words. And then He says that we need to believe in the one who sent Him, which is God. If we can open our hearts to Jesus and His Father, open our hearts humbly and completely to what They have to tell us, and follow everything They say, Jesus says the judgment won’t even need to be a worry for us.

Over the years I’ve told the following story several times, but I have a new twist for it this morning. I think it illustrates very well what Jesus is talking about here.

First, let me tell you something that didn’t happen. Let’s pretend that my mom and dad decided that I should learn how to sing. Let’s pretend that they signed me up with a voice teacher. And the voice teacher would give me scales to do, and teach me how to breathe correctly, and then start assigning me songs to learn.

As I say, my parents did not do this to me, but they did enroll me in piano lessons. They signed me up with a teacher, and the teacher gave me little scales to do and little songs to learn from the John Thompson Grade One book.

And I hated those lessons. I ignored practicing, so each week when I got back with the teacher I would always have to play the same song again, several weeks in a row, until I got it right.

And if mom and dad had signed me up with a singing teacher, it would’ve been exactly the same result as with the piano teacher. I would practice very grudgingly, and wouldn’t have really taken an interest.

But as I’ve told you before, when I was 17 years old, my current piano teacher – who was having the same trouble with me that my earlier piano teachers had had – invited my sister and me to attend a Community Concert which featured the great Metropolitan Opera tenor Richard Tucker.

It was on a Sunday afternoon, and I entered the Aberdeen, South Dakota, Civic Arena a non-singer. I did not know how to sing, nor did I want to. I would’ve rebelled against vocal warm-up exercises. I would have groused about learning Italian songs, which is what they start you out with.

But then, ‘way down there on the Civic Arena stage, Richard Tucker began to sing. No microphone, just his glorious voice. And when he sang in English, I could understand every word, even from far away. His singing was so joyous, so masculine, so enthusiastic, that at the intermission I went and crouched in a chair on the front row, and never took my eyes off him for the rest of the concert. I watched how far he opened his mouth. I watched what he did with his tongue. And I stood in line at his dressing room after the concert and got him to sign my program.

And when I walked out of that Civic Arena, I was a singer. I had not taken lessons, and my voice still sounded as strange as it had before, and I did not breathe correctly, and I would’ve made a fool of myself trying to sing a solo in church or anywhere else.

But I was a singer. All that was left was following the advice of singing books and voice teachers, which I now desperately wanted to do. And I did take two or three years of voice lessons in college. And as I sang, I wasn’t trying to sing like the other voice students. I wasn’t trying to sing like the teacher. I was trying to sing like Richard Tucker. I knew that I would never get to be as good as he was, but I wanted to get as close as possible.

And that, I think, is as close as I can possibly come to explaining what must happen when you and I come to the point where Jesus Christ becomes our hero. We want to be like Him. We want to hear what He has to say.

When I wasn’t attending class at college, I was checking out Richard Tucker Opera records and a set of earphones in the college library, and listening. I can sing the first few lines of probably 10 opera arias even today, and the voice I hear in my head is Richard Tucker.

When I came to admire Richard Tucker, voice lessons were a no-brainer. I knew I needed training. I would seek out vocal warm-up scales in music books, and learn them. Even nowadays, in my car I have a 20 minute voice practice CD, and I play it several times a week as I drive. And all because Richard Tucker became my hero.

I think that’s the way it is with falling in love with Jesus. Suddenly He becomes your hero. Suddenly, learning about Him, and reading what He says, and praying to Him and asking His Holy Spirit to change your heart – and after that, doing what He says, loving like he loves -- becomes a delight.

That’s why Jesus says what He says down in verse 28.

Verses 28 – 29: Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

Notice, it’s those who have “done good” who arise in that first resurrection, the resurrection of life. It’s not because they have glumly gone through boring old legalistic  exercises, getting every note excruciatingly right, wishing they didn’t have to do it, but knowing that it would produce their salvation. It’s not like that at all.

Instead, it’s Hero worship. A Hero with a capital “H.” it’s falling in love with a Savior who fell in love with you long before you were born. Put yourself in His care, and He will not only take care of the judgment. He will also make duty a delight—and give you strength and a happy motivation.

That’s good news, isn’t it? Do you want that to happen in your heart, more than ever before? Raise your hand if you do. I’m raising my hand too.

(Back to the Top)

Expository Sermon on 2 Kings 4
Bellevue SDA Church 5/13/2017
©2017 by Maylan Schurch

(Sorry, due to a technical problem, we won't have audio for the next few sermons until our website is upgraded in a month or two.)

Please open your Bibles again to Second Kings chapter 4.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and I was hoping that somewhere in the Bible passages we are reading this week, as we follow the Andrews Study Bible plan, that there would be something about mothers I could base my sermon on.

And sure enough, I found stories of two mothers in the same chapter! And as I read through their stories – which I hadn’t read in quite a while – I was reminded how filled with faith these women were.

As you’ll see when we go through their stories, these mothers are quite different from each other. One is poor and the other is rich. One has two sons but no husband, because he has died. The other – at the start of the story – has a husband but no child.

One thing for sure both of them have in common is that by the end of their stories, they will have gone through amazing experiences and faced daunting challenges.

And I have discovered that, between them, they can provide you and me with at least four faith principles we need as Christians. Because whatever else these women had or didn’t have, they did have faith—raw faith. So let’s find out how we can develop and use that same faith.

1 Kings 4:1 [NKIJV]: A certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, saying, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord. And the creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves.”

So who were the “sons of the prophets”? The Bible doesn’t make it clear. The NIV calls them the “company of the prophets,” and so does the New Revised Standard Version. They may have been lay pastors or teachers.

Right now, let’s lay down the first faith principle I can find in the lives of these two women. In the case of this first woman, the principle is implied, but in the case of the second woman, it will be very clear.

What’s the first faith principle these two mothers can teach us? (If you’re taking sermon notes, you could call this Point One.)

Make real room in your life for God.

This woman reminds Elisha that her husband had been a faithful servant of the Lord. As I say, I don’t know whether he would’ve been something like a lay pastor, or a Bible teacher, but he seems to have devoted his life not to becoming wealthy but to serving the Lord.

Now let’s put this first mother’s situation on hold, and take a look at the second woman, who does not yet realize that she is a mother-to-be. Glance down a few verses to verse eight.

Verses 8 – 11: Now it happened one day that Elisha went to Shunem, where there was a notable woman, and she persuaded him to eat some food. So it was, as often as he passed by, he would turn in there to eat some food. And she said to her husband, “Look now, I know that this is a holy man of God, who passes by us regularly. Please, let us make a small upper room on the wall; and let us put a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; so it will be, whenever he comes to us, he can turn in there.” And it happened one day that he came there, and he turned in to the upper room and lay down there.

Do you see what’s happening here? The woman a few verses above had made a place in her life for God by serving Him along with her lay pastor husband. She was devout, yet poor.

This rich woman is devout too. She doesn’t seem to have allowed her money to affect her decision to make a place in her life for God. As you see, she doesn’t just talk her faith. Her faith is real. She insists that her husband literally create a real room up on the flat roof of their house for Elisha. Elisha is the representative of God, and this woman considers it a deep honor to provide food and even a place to stay for this great prophet.

Think about your own life for a moment. Do you have anything in common with either of these women? If you’re in this building this morning, there’s a good chance that you are a thoughtful Seventh-day Adventist Christian. Otherwise, why would you be coming to church on Saturday rather than another day of the week, or none?

Maybe your financial situation isn’t the greatest, but you love to serve the Lord in some way. Or maybe finances are less of a problem for you right now, but you have not allowed yourself to be beguiled into greed.

Or maybe you’re someone who has decided that you do need to make more of a real place in your life for your Creator. In any event, let’s move to the next faith principle both these women put into practice.

Now, back to the story of the mother with two sons.

Verse 1: A certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, saying, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord. And the creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves.”

I don’t know how old the two sons were, but the mother definitely does not want them to become debtor servants.

But here in this verse we see the second faith principle which both of these mothers put into practice.

If these mothers’ first faith principle is to make real room in your life for God, I believe their second faith principle is this: No matter your crisis, give it to God.

I’m holding in my hand a very precious notebook. A year or two ago on a Mothers Day Sabbath like this, both Shelley and I read from it. About 20 years ago, Shelley asked my mother if she could write some experiences she had had about how the Lord had led her and my dad. So, in her beautiful schoolteacher handwriting, mom filled 111 pages of this notebook.

I’d like to read you a little story she wrote which showed us how she and dad firmly believe that they should bring even the gravest of crises to the Lord.

[P. 33] “[Once] when we were living down by the Academy area I had lifted a little too heavy on something, and stretched something on my right side. I became very sick, and was admitted to the Redfield Hospital, and then the next day transferred to the Huron Hospital. Dad had to be home with the four children while I was in the hospital. The children were ages four through 11.

“One night when Dad was home with them, he prayed for my healing until a light shone down from heaven. He knew then that I was going to be all right. The doctor said the next day, ‘I never saw anyone so sick who got well so quick.’ It was the Lord’s healing touch in answer to Dad’s prayer.”

At the time she was writing this notebook for Shelley, Dad had died, and Mom had been diagnosed with colon cancer, which later became liver cancer. Here’s what she wrote about how she was dealing with this crisis, which would eventually claim her in death:

[P. 27] “I find such wonderful strength in talking to the Lord about my illness. There is a wonderful strength found in putting complete trust in our dear Lord. He has all the answers to our fears and doubtings. The more we commune with Him, the greater peace and contentment we have.”

So, like my mother, the impoverished woman in the first few verses of our chapter almost instinctively took her own crisis to the Lord, through the prophet Elisha.

As we move down again to the story of the rich woman, we discovered that she is not in crisis yet. And she won’t be for several years. Let’s see what’s happening in her life. Remember, Elisha has just paid another visit to her home. Let’s pick up the story in verse 11.

Verses 11 – 17: And it happened one day that he came there, and he turned in to the upper room and lay down there. Then he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite woman.” When he had called her, she stood before him. And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘Look, you have been concerned for us with all this care. What can I do for you? Do you want me to speak on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’ ” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.” So he said, “What then is to be done for her?” And Gehazi answered, “Actually, she has no son, and her husband is old.” So he said, “Call her.” When he had called her, she stood in the doorway. Then he said, “About this time next year you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord. Man of God, do not lie to your maidservant!” But the woman conceived, and bore a son when the appointed time had come, of which Elisha had told her.

So far, all is going well with this faithful woman. She doesn’t know, of course, what the future holds. She doesn’tknow how hard her faith will be tested. Right now she is incredibly happy.

How about you? Are you facing some kind of crisis in your life? I grew up in a home in which praying promptly and frequently to the Lord about what was happening in your life was a no-brainer.

Several pages in the center of Mom’s notebook record her thoughts immediately after her cancer diagnosis. It had been two years since my Dad passed away, after 47 years of marriage. Mom was still getting used to doing things on her own, praying on her own.

But once she got her diagnosis, she knew what to do. She prayed. And later, in this notebook, she copied little notes she had made to herself. Here are just a few of them.

August 1996 – “Fear not! September—“The Lord said, ‘Let me take care of this, and that He has faithfully done.” November – “I was rather worried and discouraged, and the Lord said, ‘Trust in the Lord and take heart.’” December 4 – “Forward in faith.” December 12 – “Each thought and each motive beneath His control.” December 17 – “Complete trust in Christ is what counts.” December 19 – “We must keep our eyes on Christ and not on circumstances.”

And there are pages and pages just like that. Mom didn’t pray for a while and then give up. Some days she felt very discouraged, but she still kept praying. Some days she felt better, and she prayed prayers of rejoicing.

But now let’s look at the third faith principle these Bible mothers can teach us. Once again we go back to the poor woman with the two sons.

Verses 1 – 3: A certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, saying, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord. And the creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves.” So Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” And she said, “Your maidservant has nothing in the house but a jar of oil.” Then he said, “Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors—empty vessels; do not gather just a few.

Now, what we have just heard requires absolutely raw and unquestioning faith. Even though there wasn’t a lot of science education for the people of that time, any householder knew very well that one jar of oil equals one jar of oil. It does not equal any more than that.

And what is this woman going to say when she goes to her neighbors and asks to borrow all their empty jars? I mean, they know who she is. They know how poor she is, and probably how in debt she is. Maybe they think that she is trying to desperately start up some kind of home business.

But this woman has raw faith. This woman is not ashamed to go down the street, to all her friends and neighbors, her sons following behind her, collecting clay jars. Elisha has insisted that she not borrow just a few, but as many as she can get her hands on. She and the boys must have had to make many, many trips, back and forth between neighbors’ houses and her house.

I would like to think that she filled every square inch of floor space in her house with empty jars and matching lids. I would like to think that her raw faith drove her to follow Elisha’s instructions to the letter.
In fact, while we’re at it, let’s lay down a third faith principle we are learning from this chapter.

If these mothers’ first faith principle is to make real room in your life for God, and their second faith principle is that, no matter your crisis, give it to God, then I believe that their third faith principle is this: Dare to do what God has called you to do.

Have you ever thought how the familiar Bible people – the one we name our kids after – were all “darers”? They weren’t heedless daredevils – they were acting on God’s solid, dependable words.

Now let’s listen to Elisha’s final instructions to the widow. This pick up the story at verse 4.

Verse 4: And when you have come in, you shall shut the door behind you and your sons; then pour it into all those vessels, and set aside the full ones.”

Every kid loves a good magic trick, and I would imagine these two boys are absolutely bug-eyed as they hear what Elisha is saying. Can’t you just see them peering into their mother’s one jar of oil, and wondering how what Elisha says is really going to happen?

And notice how Elisha insists that she shut the door first? I wonder if a lot of curious neighbors would be gathering outside? I wonder if her two boys hope that they could invite their friends inside to watch. Because they are about to witness a miracle.

Verses 5 – 7: So she went from him and shut the door behind her and her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured it out. Now it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another vessel.” So the oil ceased. Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debt; and you and your sons live on the rest.”

And the more empty jars they crowded into that little house, maybe even double- and triple-stacked on each other, the more leftover cash they would eventually have to survive.

And can you imagine the quality product that glimmered at the openings of those jars? Just like the Cana wedding reception wine, which was of superb quality, this divinely created oil must have brought top prices. All because of raw faith – faith which dared this woman to act on what God has called her to do.

So now, the poor woman’s story comes to an end. But she is no longer poor – she is probably quite wealthy.

So, how would this work for us? You and I don’t have an Elisha living down the street who can relay authoritative words from God about our situation. My mom and dad didn’t know an Elisha.
Maybe our final faith principle will help answer this question.

When we left the Shunamite woman, she was the proud mama of a little boy. The happy months fly by, and now this boy is able to talk, and walk, and toddle out into the field with his farmer dad. Watch what happens. Watch especially what this mother does.

Verses 18 – 37: And the child grew. Now it happened one day that he went out to his father, to the reapers. And he said to his father, “My head, my head!” So he said to a servant, “Carry him to his mother.” When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died.

And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, shut the door upon him, and went out. Then she called to her husband, and said, “Please send me one of the young men and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and come back.” So he said, “Why are you going to him today? It is neither the New Moon nor the Sabbath.” And she said, “It is well.”

Then she saddled a donkey, and said to her servant, “Drive, and go forward; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” And so she departed, and went to the man of God at Mount Carmel.

So it was, when the man of God saw her afar off, that he said to his servant Gehazi, “Look, the Shunammite woman! Please run now to meet her, and say to her, ‘Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?’ ” And she answered, “It is well.”

Now when she came to the man of God at the hill, she caught him by the feet, but Gehazi came near to push her away. But the man of God said, “Let her alone; for her soul is in deep distress, and the Lord has hidden it from me, and has not told me.” So she said, “Did I ask a son of my lord? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me’?”

Then he said to Gehazi, “Get yourself ready, and take my staff in your hand, and be on your way. If you meet anyone, do not greet him; and if anyone greets you, do not answer him; but lay my staff on the face of the child.” And the mother of the child said, “As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her.

Now Gehazi went on ahead of them, and laid the staff on the face of the child; but there was neither voice nor hearing. Therefore he went back to meet him, and told him, saying, “The child has not awakened.” When Elisha came into the house, there was the child, lying dead on his bed.

He went in therefore, shut the door behind the two of them, and prayed to the Lord. And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands; and he stretched himself out on the child, and the flesh of the child became warm.

He returned and walked back and forth in the house, and again went up and stretched himself out on him; then the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. And he called Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite woman.” So he called her. And when she came in to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” So she went in, fell at his feet, and bowed to the ground; then she picked up her son and went out.

Here's the very important fourth faith principle:

The first faith principle is to make real room in your life for God. The second faith principle is that, no matter your crisis, give it to God. The third faith principle is to dare to do what God has called you to do. And I believe the fourth faith principle is to be fearlessly honest with God—but never let Him go.

Did you notice how this woman was very respectful of Elisha, but also very honest with him? When he told her she would have a son, she said, “Don’t lie to me. You are a man of God!” Then when her son dies, she says, “Did I ask you for a son? Didn’t I tell you not to deceive me?”

This woman is deeply emotional at these moments. But she does not hold back her honest feelings. She senses that it is all right to be honest with God. Who else can you be honest to, if not to your Creator?

My own mother was fearlessly honest with God. She deeply respected Him, and knew very well – and said very often – that He knew what He was doing. On March 9, 1997, during one of those little prayer diary notes I was reading a moment ago, she wrote this: “When we pray, we must [and she underlines the word “must”] pray with the faith that no matter what we are asking the Lord for, He must and will answer it in His own way.”

But mom would sometimes argue with God. She would labor with Him, wrestle with Him. She considered Him her Creator and Lord, but she also considered Him a full partner, along with her and my dad, in raising their kids.

And the Bible people who argued with God were pretty much the same people who dared for God. They wrestled with God because they cared, and some of them--like Moses—got to the point where they cared almost as much as He did.

And as that same God looks down upon us, in this room this morning, He knows we also need to develop a raw faith in Him. And He knows that that faith comes by hearing, and that hearing comes by the word of God, as Paul says in Romans 10:17.

Because when we read God’s Word, we will become more and more acquainted with faith heroes like the ones mentioned in Hebrews 11, and also the two mothers mentioned here in First Kings chapter 8.

What about you? Would you like more raw faith – faith built not on emotion but on Bible print, faith built as you become a full partner in God’s plans? Would you like that? So would I. Let’s immerse ourselves in God’s word each day, and pray it into our lives, and watch it happen within us.

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Topical Sermon on Some Bible Refugee Texts
By Maylan Schurch
April 22, 2017

(To  hear the entire worship service, including this sermonette, click here. You'll hear "These Brothers of Mine," a Scripture reading coordinated by Denise Childs, and featuring George and Nona Nordby, Nancy Avila, Jane Ye and Farid Manteghi (you'll hear not only English but a variety of other languages). Shelley Schurch talks to the children about 5th-grader Meredith Eldridge, who attends an international school in Tanzania and whose role is to welcome new students and tour them through her school. Pastor Maylan Schurch then preaches a sermonette called "A Stranger's Heart," showing God's Bible-wide caring for strangers and refugees. Bev Riter speaks about immigrants and refugees in our Bellevue area; Dick Hammen tells stories from his current experiences of teaching high school kids from refugee families, Tristinn Williams tells about her volunteer role teaching immigrants English to prepare the for citizenship, and Carrol Grady narrates what we might face if we too were refugees. Shelley concludes the service with a benediction.)

Please open your Bibles to Genesis chapter 1.

Did you know that you are in the Bible? Actually you’re in several parts of the Bible, such as in the “whosever believeth” of John 3:!6. But the first time you show up in Scriptures is in Genesis chapter 1, in verse 27. And I’m there too.

Genesis 1:26 [NKJV]: Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . . .

And then verse 27:

Verse 27: So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them . . . .

And there you are. And there I am. Right there. No matter where we came from, we are all descended from these two original parents. What their skin color was, we don’t know, but we all come from them.

A few years ago, in mid-December, I drove to the Crossroads post office to stand in line. I think I was mailing a Christmas present to a relative or something. Because of the time of year, the line was very long. It stretched out of the door and all the way down the hall.

At one point, when I had gotten to the place where there was just one person ahead of me in line, I turned and glanced back at all the people behind me. And I suddenly discovered that out of all those possibly forty or fifty people, I was the only Caucasian. Everybody else—including the clerks behind the counters--had various shades of darker skin than I had. And that’s when I said to myself, “Guess what. I’m a minority!”

And I’m sure that among that number there were several people who had done exactly what my own Swiss-German ancestors had done back in the 1880s—fled various kinds of oppression in the Old Country, because they wanted a better life for themselves and their families. So there we were in that long Christmas season post office line—all refugees from somewhere else.

Anyway, back to Adam and Eve. Back here in Genesis 1, at this point, they are the only two human beings ever alive on the planet who didn’t enter this world as refugees. God created a Garden for them, and put them there, and that’s where they, and their descendants, were to consider home.

It’s only when Adam and Eve disobeyed God that they became refugees. God didn’t want them eating of the Tree of Life and perpetuating earthly sin forever, so He banished them from the Garden, and thus He created the first refugees. And since then, we have all been refugees, trying to survive in an alien land, far away from our original home.

If you’ve been following along in our Bible reading plan this year, you’ve been reading about refugees. Adam and Eve trudged away from Eden’s gates. Noah and family stepped aboard a boat and disembarked into a new and ravaged world.

Abraham followed God’s call out of Iraq and onto a strip of land just east of the Mediterranean Sea. His grandson Jacob fled from his murderously angry brother, and he and his family later fled from the famine in Palestine down to Egypt where his son had become Minister of Agriculture.

And finally, Moses led Jacob’s descendants out into the desert to freedom—but at the same time, into yet another kind of refugee existence.

And watching these refugees with deep interest, and earnest intervention, was God Himself. And what is so heartwarming is that, even though His people will eventually enter the Promised Land and take up residence there, God made it clear that He still cares for refugees, for strangers in a strange land among people of other cultures.

We know God cares because, from the very birthdate of His new nation of freed slaves, even before they had actually left Egypt, God insisted that as part of their new culture they must take special care of the stranger. In Exodus 12:49, He told His people, “One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells with you.”

You see, God knew that once His people had entered the Promised Land, and once they had begun living as God wanted them to, their culture would immediately become a magnet for people from other countries who wanted to come and live there. That was the point. God had positioned His chosen people to draw other people to Him.

In Exodus 23 there’s a really heartwarming passage where God goes into detail about how His people should treat the stranger among them.

Exodus 23:9: “Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

God says, “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger.” You know what it’s like to be a refugee.

Turn to Leviticus 19, and we’ll watch as God takes this caring even further.

Leviticus 19:33 – 34: ‘And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

Jesus reminded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and here God reminds us to love the strangers among us as ourselves—those strangers who have made themselves refugees from their first culture so that they could find safety and possibilities in their new land.

And in Malachi 3:5, the Lord threatens judgment against some specific groups of people:

Malachi 3:5:  And I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness Against sorcerers, Against adulterers, Against perjurers, Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, And against those who turn away an alien— Because they do not fear Me,” Says the Lord of hosts.

So we need to be very careful as we consider our response to the plight of refugees. Here the Lord clearly considers those who reject refugees as those who do not fear Him.

The Bible’s refugee saga doesn’t conclude with the Old Testament. Jesus came to this earth—a refugee from Heaven, because as John 1 says, even though “He came unto His own, His own received Him not.” As a baby His earthly parents hurried Him away from a murderous king, and they became refugees for awhile in the land of Egypt.

And in Matthew 25:35, He proclaims Himself to be a stranger. “I was a stranger,” He says to the people who have a heart like His, “and you took me in.”

And Hebrews 13:2 reminds us of just who some of these strangers might be. It says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.”

And finally, turn to Revelation chapter 7. I began by mentioning how we are all descended from Adam and Eve—so refugees and residents are all related. And two verses in Revelation 7 tell us about the time when all the redeemed will gather together.

Revelation 7:9 – 10: After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

What a wonderful time that will be! No fear, just joy. No different levels of status or caste—just sinners saved by that great salvation, and those great Saviors.

Until then, God wants all of us who have realized that we too are refugees, all those who know the heart of a stranger, to open welcoming arms to those He told us not to ignore.

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Topical Sermon on passages in
Judges, Ruth, and 1 Samuel
Bellevue SDA Church 4/8/2017
©2017 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Judges chapter 13.

Just another reminder that today’s sermon is based on the Andrews Study Bible reading plan we’ve been following since the start of the year. In fact, Judges 13 was the first chapter in this week’s reading – you would’ve read it a week ago today if you are following the plan.

I would strongly encourage you to jump into this reading plan, and not to have even the faintest bit of worry about what you’ve missed. You’ll find the Bible reading plan on paper on the counter in the hallway just before you go upstairs, or you can also find it on our church website. You’ll find the website address on the back of your bulletin.

If you kept up with the news this week, you may have heard about a high school in Kansas. The school had just hired a new principal, and several student journalists did a group interview of her (I think they used Skype), and then got to work researching more of her background so they could write an article about her for the student newspaper.

However, the more these students dug into the principal’s story, the more questions they started having. She had said that she had received two degrees from a certain university, but the students were having trouble finding out where exactly the university was. The principal told them that she had taken most of her classes online, but occasionally traveled to the university’s campus in Stockton, California. But search as they might, the students could not come up with any verification that the campus actually existed.

So, with the approval of their journalism advisor, they published a front-page story in the student newspaper. The title was, “District Hires New Principal,” and the subtitle was, “Background called into question after discrepancies arise.”
The principal had been hired March 6, just about a month ago, but because of what the students had uncovered, she resigned early this week. Major news organizations all over the country have picked up this story, and have complemented the students on their work. Their journalism advisor, whose name is Emily Smith, said that she was proud of her students. "They were not out to get anyone to resign or to get anyone fired," she said. "They [just] worked very hard to uncover the truth."

(Here’s NBC’s link to the story):

Again, if you’re keeping up with the news at all, you’ll agree with me that full disclosure is often what is lacking. If certain facts are kept back from the public, people have questions. And the journalists dig and dig and try to find answers. Often, the public’s right to know comes face-to-face with a particular individual’s unwillingness to give full disclosure.

Of course, what political figures or business CEOs and people like that would love is if the journalists simply took the company’s press releases and other promotional information and simply used those as their sources. Those press releases are normally filled only with positive stories about the company or the person. But journalists demand full disclosure, because you and I as readers have a right to know what might affect us.

If you have been following our Bible reading plan, you have just plowed your way through the book of Judges. Judges is one of those books which makes people roll their eyes and say, “Why was this book included in the Bible?”

The answer – or one of the answers – is that God is in favor of full disclosure. In fact, He insists on it. In Luke 12, verses 2 and 3, Jesus told His disciples, “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.”

So Jesus tells us that full disclosure will eventually happen. And it will have an effect on our salvation, because He says in Matthew 12:36 – 37, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

In other words, there will be full disclosure. So what do you do now that you know this? You and I need to confess our sins to God and ask for forgiveness—because once we do this, He promises not to remember them any more. In Hebrews 8:12 God says, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” So that’s good news.

You see, God loves full disclosure so much that He provides it in the Bible. God did not hire a public relations person to conceal the bad qualities of Abraham or Jacob or Noah or any of the Bible characters we name our kids after. God resolutely tells us about their flaws as well as their faith.

And if you have survived reading the book of Judges the last couple of weeks, you have seen some stories that are sickeningly similar to what we hear on the news these days.

In the next few minutes we’re going to look at incidents in two of the Bible books we’ve been reading this week in our Andrews Study Bible plan – Judges and Ruth. We’ll see two examples of God’s “full disclosure,” and why they are so important for us today.

Judges 13:1 [NKJV]: Again the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.

Again, if you read through Judges during the past couple of weeks, you often saw this old familiar refrain. The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, the Lord delivered them into the hands of their enemies for a certain period of time. So here we go again. But watch what happens.

Verses 2 – 13: Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the woman came and told her husband, saying, “A Man of God came to me, and His countenance was like the countenance of the Angel of God, very awesome; but I did not ask Him where He was from, and He did not tell me His name. And He said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. Now drink no wine or similar drink, nor eat anything unclean, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.’ ” Then Manoah prayed to the Lord, and said, “O my Lord, please let the Man of God whom You sent come to us again and teach us what we shall do for the child who will be born.” And God listened to the voice of Manoah, and the Angel of God came to the woman again as she was sitting in the field; but Manoah her husband was not with her. Then the woman ran in haste and told her husband, and said to him, “Look, the Man who came to me the other day has just now appeared to me!” So Manoah arose and followed his wife. When he came to the Man, he said to Him, “Are You the Man who spoke to this woman?” And He said, “I am.” Manoah said, “Now let Your words come to pass! What will be the boy’s rule of life, and his work?” So the Angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “Of all that I said to the woman let her be careful.

And thus begins a real Bible superhero story. Because this carefully-prepared-for child will be Samson, the almost superhuman strongman. The only problem is, if you compare him to the comic book hero Superman, you discover that Samson is the one with worse morals. He does some really stupid things. It’s like he is so strong that he doesn’t really care how he behaves, because he knows he will be able to fend off anyone who tries to mess with him.

Samson gets involved with a couple of women, both of whom wangle secrets out of him, and the second one – Delilah -- betrays him for money. The Philistines capture him, subdue him, gouge out his eyes, and put him in prison. And finally, when there is a great celebration to the Philistines’ god, Samson is able to collapse major support pillars and kill a lot of Philistines.

This is pretty hard reading for the thoughtful Christian. This isn’t really the type of person we want to name our children after – which is why you don’t see a lot of kids named Samson running around – yet it says that the Spirit of the Lord animated him from time to time. This is one of those full disclosure chapters which makes for unpleasant reading.
So is there anything we can learn from this “full disclosure” account about Samson? I think there is. Here comes Sermon Point One if you’re taking notes. What can this Judges “full disclosure” story tell us?

God can use me in spite of my flaws.

Samson had a number of flaws. Those flaws caused him and his parents a whole lot of grief. Rather than behaving like Gideon or Samuel and being a well respected judge of the nation, Samson’s life ends with him blinded and humiliated and buried in the rubble of a heathen idol’s temple. But God used him in spite of his flaws.

And if you look at many other Bible characters, none of them was perfect. But they let God take them as they were, and He refined them. Even Samson, his eyes sightless, must have done some serious thinking and repentant praying there in the prison. He knew he didn’t have much to offer the Lord – he had squandered a lot of opportunities – but he did have his renewed strength. So he begged the Lord to accept what he had -- those mighty muscles – and he sacrificed himself in God’s service.

And just like him, flawed as I am, I need to sacrifice myself to God’s service. Every once in a while you see me up here playing my guitar. That’s a good guitar, but it has a long crack in it starting at the bottom and going around one side. That crack has opened, and you can see through it into the guitar. I even took it into a well-respected music shop, and paid them a healthy bit of money to repair it. But two or three months later, that crack popped open again. But the guitar still sounds good – in spite of that flaw – so I’m just going to let that crack stay there. It has something to do with the humidity – and probably any really vigorous repair job would ruin the sound. So I’ll just go ahead and use that guitar in spite of its flaws.

And that’s what you and I need to do. In spite of our flaws, let’s let the Lord use us. Our nominating committee survey was to have been due today, but I’m going to give you all another week. I’ll probably send out a copy by email as well. As you think of how you might be able to serve – and especially a nominating committee begins to make their phone calls – resolve to let the Lord use you in the way He thinks best.

Now we’re going to jump into a little pretend helicopter and fly hastily over the rest of Judges and land in the refreshing book of Ruth, where we’ll find another bit of God’s self-disclosure.

Ruth 1:1 – 17: Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion—Ephrathites of Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to the country of Moab and remained there. Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left, and her two sons. Now they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten years. Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband. Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread. Therefore she went out from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each to her mother’s house. The Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” So she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “Surely we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go—for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear sons, would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you restrain yourselves from having husbands? No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said: “Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me.”

You might be thinking to yourself, “Okay, where is God’s self-disclosure in the story?”

Well, back in verse four it says that Naomi’s two sons married Moabite wives. Ruth and her sister were both Moabites. And why is that such a big deal?

It’s a big deal because back in Deuteronomy 23, the Lord made some very firm statements about Moabites. And that was because, as the promised-land-bound Israelites passed through Moab, the Moabites did not treat them well. So here’s the law the Lord laid down back in Deuteronomy 23:3 and 4:

 “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever, because they did not meet you with bread and water on the road when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.

I don’t know how this 10-generations thing worked. I don’t know where they started counting. Maybe the Lord didn’t stress this rule in later years as much as He had done before. After all, this wasn’t one of God’s “universal” laws, like the Ten Commandments, meant for everyone anywhere, forever.

But the bottom line is that when Ruth and Naomi crossed over the border into Israel, Ruth could potentially face hostile prejudice. And even before the two women made the journey, God Himself could have stepped in, and quoted Deuteronomy 23, and forbidden Ruth to go join up with the nation her ancestors had treated so badly.

But God doesn’t say anything. And when these two widows arrive at Naomi’s hometown, they are received graciously. Everybody is puzzled by Naomi’s sad expression, until they hear the whole story—her husband and her sons are dead.
Ruth goes to work gleaning grain in the harvest fields, and Naomi’s relative Boaz gets acquainted with her. And he gallantly agrees to redeem Naomi’s land from another kinsman who doesn’t feel able to take on the responsibility. And watch how this happy story ends:

Ruth 4:13 – 17: So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and when he went in to her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel! And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her bosom, and became a nurse to him. Also the neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “There is a son born to Naomi.” And they called his name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

In other words, Ruth the Moabite is not despised, either by God or by the people. And that leads us into our second self-disclosure truth about God. You see, God could have held a long-term grudge against those Moabites. He could’ve said, “I am the Lord – I change not. Therefore I am not going to give any mercy to those obnoxious folks. I’m prejudiced against them. So I’m going to stand behind what I said in Deuteronomy 23.”

But guess what. God doesn’t do that. Instead, God presents us with another crucial bit of self-disclosure. And that self-disclosure is that God can change His mind.

So here comes Sermon Point Two.

In Judges 13 we learned that God can use us in spite of our flaws. And here in the book of Ruth we learn that God looks beyond the prejudice to the person.

Back on the first Sabbath in December, Pastor Gerald Babanezhad presented his seminar called “Seeing Jesus Through Muslim Eyes.” From what some of you have told me, this was definitely an eye-opening experience. I know it was for me. It helped us understand a group of people who have gotten a lot of bad press in recent years. We learned, in a way we might never have without that seminar, to look beyond the prejudice to the person.

And I believe – and some of you have told me that you believe – that this seminar was sent to us at the right time. Because early Sabbath morning, January 14, the Islamic Center of Eastside Mosque, six blocks east of here, was torched by an arsonist. And because of Pastor Gerald’s seminar, I believe we were more ready than we otherwise might have been to offer whatever help we could.

And for several weeks now, the Mormon church right next to the Islamic Center has been allowing the Islamic folks to use one of their classrooms for daily prayers six days a week, and we have opened our fellowship hall to this group on Sundays. This is a precious group of people. They believe differently than we do, but they are our neighbors, and we have it on good authority from Jesus’ Good Samaritan story, that neighbors help neighbors, even if their beliefs are decidedly different.

Our closing song summarizes perfectly what we’ve discovered this morning about God’s self-disclosure. Let’s watch the words as we sing it together. "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy."

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Expository Sermon on Acts 2
on the Occasion of the Baptism of John Raudebaugh
Bellevue SDA Church 4/01/2017
©2017 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for Colette Sharer's children's story and then Pastor Maylan's sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to the Scripture passage John Raudebaugh chose for the sermon this morning, Acts chapter 2. I hadn’t decided on a sermon title by the time the bulletin was copied yesterday, but since then I have decided to call it “Birthday Presents.”

When I was a boy growing up on the plains of South Dakota, my parents never focused much on birthday presents for us. We always got Christmas presents, but no presents at birthdays. This was no big deal to us. I think my parents wanted to stay away from the “entitlement” attitude they had seen in other young families like theirs when they lived in town.

Back in those days, parents would try to make sure that their child got the latest and fastest bicycle in the neighborhood, or the most impressive set of cap pistols complete with holster and cowboy hat and cowboy boots. Mom and dad literally moved us away from that culture, and planted us out near the Adventist Academy, where they sent us to eight years apiece of Adventist Christian education.

But this morning we’re going to see that God does give birthday presents. Back in John chapter 3, Jesus told the Pharisee Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” Nicodemus knew his Bible, and knew the rabbis’ spins on the Bible, but he still needed to be born again. That’s why we call salvation the “new birth.”

And here in Acts 2, Peter and the other disciples suddenly realized that the Holy Spirit was giving them the ability to speak in other languages. And this was a useful thing at that point, because the feast of Pentecost was going on, which meant that travelers from all over what is now Turkey, as well as Egypt and Libya and from many other places were present for the feast. In fact, if you have the Andrews Study Bible, it shows a map where all the Pentecost visitors came from.

Jesus had ascended to heaven about a month and a half earlier, and this was a perfect opportunity to spread the gospel – in their native languages – to thousands and thousands of devout Jews from many countries.

And that’s exactly what Peter does. He gives a sermon to those amazed Jews, who have just been listening to the disciples tell them about Jesus in their own mother tongues.

As I read through John’s chosen verses, I discovered what you could think of as four birthday presents which God gives to those who are being drawn to Him. And I believe that these fantastically generous gifts are what John and you and I need as well. Let’s find out what they are. We’ll pick up the story partway into Peter’s message:

Acts 2:29 – 37 [NKJV]: “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” ’ “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart . . . .

“Cut to the heart.” That seems to be the best way to say those last four words. Sometimes modern translations will say things differently than the old King James, or the New King James versions. But the NIV, the New Revised Standard Version, the English Standard Version, and the NKJV which I’m preaching from, all say “Cut to the heart.”

You probably had the experience – I know I have – of suddenly realizing that something you did or said was very wrong and hurtful. And at that moment, there is a visceral reaction in your chest, sort of a horrified, remorseful pang. I’m sure that this must’ve been something like the emotions Peter’s listeners were feeling – though their emotions were probably more intense. Their hearts felt strongly convicted.
What is God’s first birthday present to those who are becoming converted? Here is Sermon Point One, if you’re taking notes.

God’s first birthday present is heart trouble.

So how’s that for a birthday present – heart trouble! Normally we think of heart trouble as bad, but this is good heart trouble. Many organs of the body give off feelings of discomfort if something needs to be done about what’s hurting them. I have suffered kidney stone pain, and kidney stone pain is good, if it gets you into the doctor to do something about the kidney stone.

Why is God’s heart trouble a gift? Because it’s something we need, but can’t provide for ourselves. Jesus walked around Palestine for 3 ½ years, teaching truths that often roiled up the emotions of the priests and Pharisees. But they had resisted being “cut to the heart,” really, remorsefully sorry for their sins. They had resisted the idea that they could somehow need what Jesus was saying.

But the Bible tells me that, if we let Him, God will prepare our hearts to receive Him. Back in Ezekiel 11, verses 19 and 20, God promises to soften the hearts of those who cooperate with Him. He says, “Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:19, 20)

That’s what was happening to Peter’s listeners. The Holy Spirit had used Peter’s words to begin to soften their hearts, and this revealed to them how sinful their attitudes and actions had been. Notice their very interesting response.

Verse 37: Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

This is what is so interesting to me. Peter’s listeners didn’t ask him, “What shall we think,” or “how should we change our opinions,” or “What should we say.” Instead, they asked, “What shall we do?” What’s also interesting is that there must’ve been something about Peter’s manner which signaled that even though they had murdered God’s Messiah, there was still hope for them.

In fact, you can see their desperation in the original Greek. Back in verse 29, as he begins his appeal, Peter begins by first saying “Men and brethren,” and then continues with what he was saying. But in verse 37, his cut-to-the-heart listeners are so desperate that the first thing they say, in the Greek, is, “What shall we do?” And only then, after this blunt, desperate cry, do they add the polite “Men and brethren.” None of the modern English versions show this, but the Greek has it that way. “What shall we do—men and brethren?”

So what do I do, now that I know this? Well, if you are feeling spiritual heart trouble – in other words, if you are discovering that your words and actions are harming yourself and others and most importantly the tender heart of God, don’t resist this feeling. Don’t try to drown it with drugs or alcohol or other distractions.

Instead, do what these Pentecost Jews did. Seek help. And help comes wrapped within the three birthday presents still to come.

Let’s look at the second birthday present given to those who are being born again.

Verse 38: Then Peter said to them, “Repent . . . .”

What does it mean to repent? I think that Ellen White says it best on page 23 of her little book Steps to Christ: “Repentance includes sorrow for sin and a turning away from it.” A little later in the same paragraph, she says, “ . . . Until we turn away from [sin] in heart, there will be no real change in the life.”

That’s what Peter told his listeners they needed. Don’t just be sorry you got caught sinning --be sorry for your sin, and also turn away from it.

To those who are being converted, God’s first birthday present is heart trouble. And His second birthday present is repentance.

Some people might say, “Wait a minute. Are you sure that repentance is a gift? Isn’t repentance something I myself generate?”

In Romans two, verse four, right in the middle of a strenuous discussion with some other sinners, Paul says that it is “the goodness of God that leads you to repentance.” (Romans 2:4)

So even repentance is a gift. We should never forget how terrifyingly soul-destroying sin really is. Because if the Holy Spirit of God were not drawing us, we wouldn’t even be able to repent. We wouldn’t feel our need of it. Thank God for the gift of repentance.

We should always be instantly ready to repent, of small things as well as big things. When we have an argument with someone in the family, we should make things right before the sun goes down.

When I was about nine or 10, mom and dad must have really impressed on us the need to make things right with each other. We kids got into a little pattern where just before we went to bed we would tell our siblings, “Sorry for all the bad things I’ve done unto you.” I don’t know why we added the little King-Jamesy “unto,” but that’s what we did. “Sorry for all the bad things I’ve done unto you.” I think that made it easier for me to apologize all through my life, just getting this practice when I was a kid.

God’s third birthday present is one John Raudebaugh received this morning.

Verse 38: Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins . . . .

To those who are being converted, God’s first birthday present is heart trouble. His second birthday present is repentance. And His third birthday present is baptism.

This past Thursday when I visited John in Cle Elum, I told him that baptism is a wedding. It’s not a graduation, it’s not an awards ceremony, but a wedding.

In a wedding, you act out what has already happened in your heart. A bride has chosen to join her life to that of her groom. The father walks her down the aisle, the groom receives her, and takes her up to where the pastor pronounces them husband and wife. It’s a little drama, a little demo of deeply abiding love.

And that’s what baptism is—a little drama. In Romans six, Paul says that baptism is a way to join yourself to the death the burial and the resurrection of Christ. And that’s what John has done this morning.

Baptism is a gift. A gift is something somebody else gives you. Nobody in the Bible ever baptized themselves. Like John did this morning, Christians down through the centuries have allowed someone else to lower them into the water and lift them up. It’s a symbol that we need God to wash away our sins and make us clean—we can’t do it ourselves.

How do I accept this gift? Well, if I haven’t been baptized, I need to be. God has created us to find great significance in acting things out, going through a ceremony. When you graduate from school, you walk up the aisle, you ascend to the platform, and you receive your diploma. The Old Testament sanctuary was a demo, a drama, of how you deal with sin. You bring it into the presence of God, and He will take care of it.

So if the Holy Spirit is softening your heart, the logical response to accept the gift of baptism from the Lord who loves you so much.

There’s one more birthday gift we need to unwrap. Let’s find out what it is.

Verse 38: Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
To those who are being converted, God’s first birthday present is heart trouble. His second birthday present is repentance. His third birthday present is baptism. And His fourth birthday gift is the Holy Spirit.

Notice how Peter actually labels the Holy Spirit as a “gift”?

To those who are being converted, God’s first birthday present is heart trouble. His second birthday present is repentance. His third birthday present is baptism. And His fourth gift is the Holy Spirit.

Of course, the Holy Spirit is always very active from the start. The Holy Spirit works with your conscience so that you feel a troubled heart when you realize your sin. The Holy Spirit leads you to repent. The Holy Spirit is present at your baptism, just as He was present at Jesus’ baptism.

And when you allow the Holy Spirit fully into your life, He brings His own set of gifts. John Raudebaugh knows this, because one of the verses he pointed out to me from his Bible this past Thursday was the passage in Galatians 5 which talks about the fruit of the Spirit. Let’s take a look at these verses which mean so much to John. Turn to Galatians 5.

Galatians 5:22 – 23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

So what shall I do now that I know this? Well, I need to check into these verses every once in a while to make sure that I am allowing the Holy Spirit to work fully in my life. Because you can’t separate this fruit. In fact, in the Greek uses the singular word for fruit, not the plural. The Greek word is karpos, and that means just one fruit. Karpoi would be “fruits,” but it doesn’t say that. It says “fruit,” singular.

So what this means is that this is not a fruit salad bar. You can’t choose love and ignore gentleness. You can’t major in joy but leave out long-suffering. They’re all part of one fruit.

How about you? If you have received Peter’s four birthday presents already, would you like to thank God for them, and treasure them more highly?

And if you haven’t yet followed John’s example, and long for a closer walk with your Savior, I would encourage you to make that decision. Get in touch with me, just as John got in touch with me, and we will help you have a happy baptism day as well.

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Expository Sermon on Luke 1
Bellevue SDA Church 3/25/2017
©2017 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Luke chapter 1.

While you’re turning there, I want to remind you that it is not Christmas time. Normally, it’s at Christmas time when we turn in our Bibles to the first chapter of Luke.

But as you know, if you are following our Bible reading plan, you spent several days this week on Luke chapter 1, which is a long chapter.

Luke chapter 1 contains three “nativity songs.” One is sung or recited by Elizabeth, Mary’s relative. Another is sung or recited by Mary herself, and the third is sung or recited by Elizabeth’s husband Zacharias.
And as I read through the songs, I thought I would try to discover what they might be able to say to us today. And as I thought about what has been happening in our world this past week, I discovered that the themes of these songs or poems are extremely comforting and encouraging. Let me show you what I mean.

Nearly 40 decades ago, Shelley and I spent our honeymoon in England. We did the usual tourist things in London. We stood outside the fence in front of Buckingham palace. We visited an upstairs room which was made up to represent the way the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes’  sitting room would’ve looked like. (I was a Sherlock Holmes fan as a kid.)

And we walked past Big Ben and the Parliament buildings. We may even have strolled over Westminster Bridge, though I don’t remember for sure.

But this week, Westminster Bridge was the scene of a vicious terrorist attack. Someone drove a vehicle up on the sidewalk, injuring several people and killing two, and eventually got out of his vehicle and stabbed the policeman to death. One of the tourists killed on the bridge was a man who was there with his wife celebrating their 25th anniversary. He was killed, and his wife was critically injured.
You just never know what will happen.

A couple of weeks ago as I was working on something in my home office, I was sitting close to the window, and I heard what I’m sure were six pistol shots not too far away. I opened the window and listened for more noise, but heard nothing. It didn’t seem to be a .22 caliber, but something much bigger.

You just never know what will happen. And then of course yesterday a lot of people were waiting to see how the U. S. House of Representatives would treat the new healthcare law. There was a lot of fear connected to that whole issue. Would this new law be better than Obamacare? If not, can Obamacare be tweaked so that the maximum number of people can be helped?

Well, as I read through our three nativity songs, I found a great deal of encouragement. Let’s take a look at the first one.

If you’ve paid fairly close attention to the Christmas story over the years, you probably know Luke chapter 1 pretty well. It starts with the story of the priest Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth. Verse 6 says that they were very righteous people – they kept God’s commandments, and they lived blameless lives. But verse 7 says that they did not have children, because they couldn’t. And now they were very old.
Zacharias was serving in the temple, and suddenly an angel appeared and told him he would have a child, and not just an ordinary child. Verse 16 says that this child would turn many of the children of Israel to God. And also, he would prepare people for the arrival of the Lord.

Zacharias is a bit doubtful of this, but sure enough, Elizabeth gets pregnant. And six months later, the angel Gabriel visits teenage Mary. He tells her that she will have a Son too, but that this Son would come into being by way of the Holy Spirit. Gabriel mentions to Mary that her relative Elizabeth has become miraculously pregnant in her old age, and that’s where we pick up the story.

Luke 1:39 – 41 [NKJV]: Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

 I read this story many times, as you probably have, but it struck me as even more amazing this time. If you have the Andrews Study Bible, you’ll notice that at the bottom of the page, there’s a footnote that relates to verse 41. I’d never thought of it this way before, but when Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice, and little baby John gave a convulsive leap in her womb, it’s as though even before his birth, the Holy Spirit was helping John announce the presence of Jesus – even though Jesus Himself wasn’t yet born!

Now let’s listen as Elizabeth sings or recites this song which was inspired by the Holy Spirit:

Verses 42 – 45: Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

As another Andrews Study Bible footnotes says, only the Holy Spirit could have told Elizabeth this. The angel had told Zacharias that his son would prepare the way of the Lord, but had said nothing about Elizabeth’s relative Mary being the mother of the Lord.

So what does this first nativity song, Elizabeth’s song, say to me today? What message can I carry into this coming week after having read this?

I think it’s a really important one, and can change our whole perspective on what’s happening around us. If you’re taking sermon notes, here comes what you might call Sermon Point One.

What does Elizabeth’s nativity song tell me? It tells me this: My God became human.

You know, if we grew up in a Christian family, and went to Sunday school or Sabbath school, we take this so much for granted, too much for granted. Jesus the Son of God became a human being.
Back when I was in college, South Dakota Sen. George McGovern became the Democratic presidential candidate, running against Richard Nixon. McGovern lost badly, but I was proud that South Dakota had produced someone who could rise to those heights.

I was attending state college there in South Dakota, and at one point George McGovern came to speak to us. I remember watching this now nationally-famous politician with interest. I actually don’t remember anything he said, but after his speech I got in the line of students to shake his hand. And I discovered that his hand was moist and sweaty.

That’s what I remember about my meeting with George McGovern. Here was a man who sought the highest office in the land, but was still a human being. His hand could get sweaty. It made it easier for me to relate to him.

I really believe, and maybe this is true for you too, that I need to ponder this amazing fact that the son of God – the Creator of the universe with all its galaxies and black holes and blazing suns – the Creator of the universe became a human baby.

You know how, when you’re in a hospital, the nurse comes in and puts on rubber gloves? Nowadays they wear not just a mask, but a mask that has a plastic shield that comes up from the top of the mask, a shield that covers the nurse’s eyes. It makes you as a patient feel a bit unsanitary – and you probably are!

You’d think that God, looking down on this woefully unsanitary, sinful human race, would fastidiously put on gloves and a mask before getting involved with us. But instead, Jesus actually joined our human race in absolutely the most complete way anyone could. He became one of us.

Why is this so important? For one thing, it means that I’m even more a part of the family of God than I was before. Adam and Eve were created in God’s image – and when Jesus was born, He took on our defaced and degraded image!

And this means that, no matter what faces me this week, I can take courage. Because I know that Jesus cares enough for me that He entered the human family. He didn’t accomplish salvation by remote control. He personally arrived, walked our ground with us, then really died for us, on a real cross.

Jesus is part of the family! Elizabeth called Mary “the mother of my Lord”! If I’m related to the same Jesus who will one day appear in the sky with all those angels—including Gabriel—then why need I face this coming week with overwhelming apprehension?

To pick up the story here in Luke 1, as soon as Elizabeth is finished with her Holy-Spirit-inspired utterance, Mary responds. The verses don’t specifically say that Mary’s utterances are Spirit-inspired, but they probably are. They have the same tone as Hannah’s song which she sang when she realized that she too would be having a son.

So what message does Mary have for us? Let’s find out.

Verses 46 – 55: And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever.”

Are you picking up a theme here? Here’s what I think Mary’s message to us is—and again, it’s a very useful and comforting message to carry into the week ahead.

I believe that if Elizabeth’s nativity song tells me the amazing news that my God became human, Mary’s nativity song tells me that my God is the great Leveler.

In other words, God humbles the exalted, and exalts the humble.

Yesterday former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was released from a military hospital where he had been a prisoner for the last couple of years. He stepped down from being president in 2011, as a result of the “Arab Spring” revolutions which were sweeping part of the Mideast.

I know almost nothing about Egyptian politics, so I can’t tell you whether or not it was God who engineered his downfall, but the Bible and history are full of examples of how the Lord is the great Leveler.

It’s interesting how Mary’s song focuses on how God exalts the humble and humbles the exalted. Even though Mary fearlessly accepted the Angel Gabriel’s announcement that she was going to have a child while still a virgin, she must have realized that for the rest of her life, most of her friends would think of her with contempt, because they probably would never understand the miracle that had happened to her.

So, if God is the great Leveler – and Mary makes that crystal-clear – what does that mean to me? What do I do now that I know that? How do I put that to work this coming week, or in the car on the way home?

Well, if humility is good, what does Heaven’s kind of humility look like? I believe that God’s kind of humility – and Jesus’s kind of humility – is being so secure in who you are, and how loved and protected you are, that you have no need to be prideful.

Humility is possible when you remember that the Son of God is your Brother.

I am seven years older than my brother Chester. When I taught English at Union College, in Lincoln Nebraska, Chester eventually attended school there. And over and over, when people heard his last name, they would say, “Oh! You must be Maylan’s brother!”

But then, when he became a pastor – a very popular pastor in this conference – people who heard my last name would tell me, “Oh! You must be Chester’s brother!”

I don’t know if this was a case of the exalted being humbled, or what it was, but the tables were definitely turned.

So what should I do, this coming week, now that I know this? For one thing, I should stay on the humble side. There should be no reason for me to look down my nose at anyone. I have known people – and you have known people – who were quite frankly snooty, or seemed to be.

Another thing I can do this week is to pray that God will continue to do His leveling work in me. All of us have areas of our lives that we need to put under God’s control.

As I mentioned, I used to be a college teacher. And the occupational hazard of being a college teacher, or any kind of paid teacher, is that it’s easy to get used to the feeling of power you have when 30 kids in a classroom regard you as the authority. It’s easy to begin to think that you are indeed a very special person, and that you can make pronouncements on disciplines that you are not trained in, and you still expect to be treated as an authority.

So pray that God will continue His leveling work in you. As you read along through your Bible plan this year, keep an eye out for admonitions to be humble. Jesus Himself was meek and humble, and since He is our Older Brother, we have no right to consider ourselves high and mighty.

Verse 56 tells us that Mary stayed three months with Elizabeth, and then returned home. And now the story focuses on Elizabeth and Zacharias. When the angel told Zacharias he would become a father, Zacharias didn’t exactly believe him, so the angel told him that he would not be able to speak until the baby was born. And sure enough, Zacharias can’t say a thing, so Elizabeth gets to do all the talking.
She has her baby boy, and everybody wants to know what she’s going to call him. Watch what happens.

Verses 57 – 66: Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her. So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.” But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him.

And now, we get to hear Zacharias’s song. Notice that it specifically says that this elderly priest has been filled with the Holy Spirit. See if we can pick up a theme in his song.

Verses 67 – 79: Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David, As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, Who have been since the world began, That we should be saved from our enemies And from the hand of all who hate us, To perform the mercy promised to our fathers And to remember His holy covenant, The oath which He swore to our father Abraham: To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

I found really interesting that while Mary was focused on God exalting the humble and humbling be exalted, Zacharias seems to be focused on God delivering His people from their enemies.

So how can we boil down Zacharias’ message into a few words?

I believe that if Elizabeth’s nativity song tells me that my God became human, and if Mary’s nativity song tells me that my God is the great Leveler, then I believe that Zacharias’ song tells me that my God evaporates my fears.

One way to look at it is that Elizabeth was conscious of the miracle of the Incarnation. Mary was conscious of the inequities of life. Zacharias was conscious of the enmity which a righteous person often has to face. Remember, I mentioned that he and Elizabeth led upright and blameless lives. And this annoys the devil, and the devil is likely to transmit this annoyance through other people in your life.

But the good news is that when I remember that the Son of God is my Older Brother – my relative – and when I remember that it is God who has ultimate control (ultimate leveling-ability) over how far people can go in their pride and cruelty, then I can face the future knowing that God has the power to evaporate my fears.

I don’t know what you’re afraid of – it most likely is a fear that I might never have to face (I have my fears and you have yours) – but Zacharias firmly tells us that God will vanquish our enemies. And that can help evaporate our fears.

So what do we do with this?

I think one important thing to do is to get lots of Bible documentation for what we have just learned this morning. There are many Bible stories which show how God is involved in the human race. Even before Jesus became human, God was communicating with people, guiding the nation, living with in the earthly tabernacle in the center of the Israelite camp, visiting Abraham at his tent, and so on.

There are lots of stories in which God acts as the great Leveler. There are lots of stories in which He helps people lose their fears. As you go along in your Bible reading plan, you will eventually come to 2nd Kings 6. In that chapter you will read how the servant of the prophet Elisha was panicking because an army was surrounding the city, and that army had come specifically to capture Elisha. The servant could see no possible escape.

And Elisha prayed to the Lord that the servant’s eyes would be opened so he could see the forces of heaven. And sure enough, the servant could now see all sorts of heavenly military power on the hills around the city. And his fears evaporated.

So reading Bible stories like this is a way to gain confidence. You will read stories of how God defeated His enemies – and you will read stories of how some of God’s enemies became His friends.
Another thing you can do is to follow Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount advice and pray for your enemies.

What about it? Have these three messages given you courage, the way they gave me courage this week? Would you raise your hand if you plan to take them boldly into the week ahead?

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Expository Sermon on Deuteronomy 15
Bellevue SDA Church 3/18/2017
©2017 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Deuteronomy chapter 15.

Just a reminder – which you’ve heard from me a number of times if you’ve been listening to my sermons since the start of the year – that these sermons are based on passages found in our daily Bible reading plan, the one found in the back of the Andrews Study Bible. If you don’t have that particular study Bible, you can find copies of the daily plan on the counter in the hall beside the stairs, or on our church website. The address of the website is on the back of your bulletin.

By the way, please do not be fainthearted if you haven’t been keeping up with the plan as well as you’d like to. Just jump in tomorrow where the reading plan says to. No matter where you read in the Bible, you will gain valuable insights. So even if you haven’t been following the plan at all – or maybe you’re a visitor and this is the first time you heard about it – just dive in. God never said you had to start reading the Bible at Genesis. All Scripture is inspired, from one end to the other. So get hold of the plan’s details and dive right in! It’ll be good for your soul.

I’ve always thought of Deuteronomy as a book I really should pay closer attention to then I already do. The main reason I believe this is that when a thirsty, famished Jesus faced down the devil in the wilderness, He defeated Satan not with divine thunderbolts but with three Bible verses. And each of those three verses came from Deuteronomy. Nobody knows why Jesus chose Deuteronomy, but in that book, He found the anti-devil ammunition He needed.

If you are following our Bible reading plan, Deuteronomy 15 was one of three Deuteronomy chapters you read a week ago today. This week as I was studying through Deuteronomy, I decided to land on this chapter for today’s sermon.

Because as I was reading through it, I had what you could call an epiphany. It suddenly struck me that Deuteronomy is far, far more than merely a book of God’s laws for Old Testament Israelites. I think Deuteronomy 15 clearly shows us an astonishing, mind-stretching plan that God has in mind for us.

I’m not what you could call a business person. I did work full-time in the secular workplace for 10 years before I even became a teacher. So I have been employed by businesses, but I have never owned one, or even been considered as a supervisor in one.

And I have a feeling that if you are a business person, you might be tempted to swallow uncomfortably when you hear the first of God’s commands in this chapter. But I think that you will also be staggered by this chapter’s positive implications when you look at it from a different viewpoint.

Let’s dive into Deuteronomy 15, and I’ll show you what I mean, and you can decide if this makes sense.

Deuteronomy 15:1 [NKJV]: “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts.

God of course is speaking to people who live 3500 years ago. The nation of Israel is in transit from Egyptian slavery to Promised Land liberty, and God is setting up rules for His new culture.

And He goes on to give specific details about these debt write-offs:

Verses 1 – 3: “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts. And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the Lord’s release. Of a foreigner you may require it; but you shall give up your claim to what is owed by your brother,

So as you can see, God is making a distinction between “family” and “non-family.” Your Israelite brother was, in a sense, your family member (even though you might not be directly related), and the foreigner would be somebody either traveling through and bartering for something, or who had decided to stay and make this culture his home. And of course there were ways that this non-Israelite could become a baptized Israelite (and they did have some some form of cleansing ceremony which would later develop into baptism), in which case this former foreigner would become a “brother” too.

But can you imagine what the business-persons who first heard this command must have thought? “Wow, no more 30 year mortgages!” Well, maybe not. But under God’s system, there would not only have been no 30-year mortgages, but there would not have been interest. Because God also had a law that forbade one Israelite to charge another Israelite interest.

But one of those Israelite businesspersons, listening to the seven-year-debt-release law, might say, “Wait a minute. With this plan in action, somebody could take advantage of me, big-time.”

But let’s read through this whole section, and I think you’ll start to see what I saw. Let’s start back at verse two:

Verses 2 – 6: And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the Lord’s release. Of a foreigner you may require it; but you shall give up your claim to what is owed by your brother, except when there may be no poor among you; for the Lord will greatly bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance—only if you carefully obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe with care all these commandments which I command you today. For the Lord your God will bless you just as He promised you; you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow; you shall reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over you.

You know what I think is happening here? And I think we’ll see it happening throughout the rest of the chapter.

I think that with laws like this, God is giving us the opportunity to undergo what you might call an “Eden heart” reset. Last week from this pulpit, Lonnie Robinson held me spellbound as he told stories about how the Lord had led him and Dixie.

But earlier that same morning, Lonnie got up during Celebrations and Concerns and mentioned that he would be having open heart surgery that coming week. And yesterday, he had that surgery. The doctors put an artificial valve in his heart. You might say they did a “reset” on his heart. Lonnie came through the operation just fine, by the way, and I will keep you posted on when he can have visitors by phone or in person.

I believe that here in Deuteronomy 15, God is trying to do a “heart reset” on these people. Remember, when God spoke these words – or had Moses speak them – His hearers were recently released from slavery. And you’ve got to believe that within that group there were thousands of energetic entrepreneurs just waiting to get to the Promised Land where they could set up businesses and build legacies for themselves and their families.

But as they heard these words – forgive all debts at the end of seven years – they’re saying to themselves, “Why should I lend money, then? And why would anyone lend money to me?”

Here’s what I think has happened to the human race. God created Adam and Eve with what you could call “Eden hearts.” What I mean by that? Well, back there in Eden, God seems to have intended us to be one big, growing family. There certainly wouldn’t have been any type of money. No banks, no mortgage lenders. No stock exchange, no interest rates to worry about.

And there certainly wouldn’t have been any selfishness. Lucifer was the one who invented selfishness, and set it to work in heaven before he ever got a chance to use the snake as his ventriloquist dummy.
Selfishness is where sin starts. It was Eve’s decision to ignore God’s warning and instead selfishly allow herself to be fascinated by the serpent, the fruit, and the possibility that she could become a goddess herself—and most chillingly of all, that the serpent was right and God was wrong.

And I believe that over the centuries, selfishness has pulled the human race away from its Eden roots. We no longer have Eden hearts, but selfish hearts. And selfish hearts mean that we try to take advantage of each other, or try to control each other, or at least stingily grasp our possessions close to us to protect them from others.

And therefore, God needs to step in. When selfishness runs rampant and becomes lawless, God’s justice needs to stop it in its tracks. Yet some people think that that is all Deuteronomy does, stop sinners in their tracks.

But I think that God, while He prescribes justice, also is trying to draw our hearts back to Eden. So He provides a chance for us to practice the way the Eden heart would act. Before Lucifer cajoled Eve into becoming selfish, there was no earthly selfishness. And if there is no selfishness, there is really no such thing as a loan.

And here we finally come to which you could consider point number one of the sermon, if you’re taking notes.

Once we let God do an “Eden heart reset” for us, our Eden heart will say: “Debt? For you or me? Not if I can help it!”

In other words, in the ideal Eden situation, something I might have given you would probably not be considered formally a loan. It’s just one family member sharing something with another family member. In Eden, any desire I might have for my property – and really, was there property in Eden? – would probably not arise, because we would all be personally acquainted with our Creator. He would have provided all our needs, and would generously give us more, or make it possible to get more, if it would make us happy.

And here in Deuteronomy 15, God decided that someone in ancient Israel who loaned something to somebody else needed to learn to lose any taint of selfishness which would summarily demand that property back. My parents spent money raising their four kids, but they never required us to reimburse them. That’s the way Eden would have been, and that’s the way Eden restored will be.

Okay. What do I do, now that I know this? How am I going to apply this principle in a culture which is far from ancient Israel, and far from Eden?

The first thing I think we need to get firmly clear in our minds something that can evaporate any paranoia we might have about losing what we have. And that is that our Creator cares for us and is ready to help us. Just read through the Sermon on the Mount, and you will find Jesus emphasizing how little we need to worry. Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 6, starting with verse 28:

Matthew 6:28 – 34: “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

And that, in a nutshell, is the “Eden heart.” God the Creator, God our Father, does really care for us. “Be not dismayed whate’er betide; God will take care of you.”

And today, while business is business, and we need to faithfully repay loans we have taken out in our secular world, we need to keep a tenderhearted attitude toward people. We need to keep open the option for mercy. And you and I will have to work this out in our own lives, among people and situations we know. But just remember, God’s goal is to draw us back to Him, and to do an “Eden heart” reset.

Now let’s take a look at another way God wants our hearts to change in Eden’s direction.

Deuteronomy 15:7 – 11: “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs. Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,’ and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the Lord against you, and it become sin among you. You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’

Well, if business people listening to God talk about the seven-year debt forgiveness might swallow hard, the verses we have just read make me swallow hard.

I grew up among people whose ancestors had homesteaded on the South Dakota prairies beginning back in the 1880s. These people – if they chose to stay through those first tough years, and if their children chose to stick it out through the Great Depression thirties –  these folks were hard workers. If they weren’t hard workers, they didn’t last long, but quickly fled to places where they didn’t have to be so dependent upon their hard work for their survival.

Therefore, I was raised with the idea that you pay your way. When it came time for me to go to college, my parents sat me down and told me that they did not have enough money to help send me there. They told me that I would have to work my way through school.

And I was surprised – not by the fact that they wouldn’t be able to help me out with my school bill, but I was surprised that they even had to tell me that. I was assuming all along that I would need to work my way through, and I was ready for it. And I did. I worked the night shift at a state institution for the developmentally disabled eight hours a night, six nights a week, eight hours a week. And I commuted 40 miles one way to college in the daytime. And I didn’t think that was a big deal, because that’s what you did out there on the prairies. You paid your way. You didn’t depend on anyone else. If you didn’t have something, you waited until you had the money to pay for it. My dad feared debt the way he feared rattlesnakes, or a bit from a skunk with rabies. And he passed that fear on to me.

So you can imagine how I felt when I saw my first panhandler out here in the Seattle area. I had a hard time with this. I realize now that some of these people have challenges I have never faced. But I know that there were no panhandlers in my hometown, and there still aren’t.

And neither was there a food and clothing bank in Redfield, South Dakota – until about 30 years ago, when my younger sister Penny and another woman helped found the Good Samaritan Center. Half of the Center is a clothing bank like the one we have upstairs in this church. The other half, where my sister volunteers, distributes food.

In the years since then, I have been inside the Good Samaritan Center several times. And I have heard my sister tell me tragic stories of the families who come to the center for food. Mostly the mom or the dad has drug problems or some other issue, and they depend on that Good Samaritan Center for their survival.

And my sister Penny – who was raised in the same self-reliant culture I was – is still able to look these people in the eye, and loves them. And if she gets the chance, she will sit them down and pray with them. The Center is open one day a week, and a full hour before opening time, my sister and the other woman will go through a prayer list with their clients’ names on it. And they have seen changes – sometimes little ones and sometimes big ones.

Selfishness draws us away from Eden. Selfishness says, “Look. I’m making my way in this world by focused, hard work. Why can’t you do the same?”

The Eden heart has lost all its selfishness. The perceptive, compassionate Eden heart says, “How can I help?”

Penny is nobody’s fool, of course. She knows which of her clients are trying to use the system. Our whole town has barely 3000 people in it, and you can’t fake your needs very long. Penny does draw the line at helping certain people in certain situations. But she sees everybody who comes through the Center’s door is potentially a child of God, and she and the other woman pray for wisdom as they deal with their clients.

So here comes Sermon Point Two. I’ll give it to you, and then we’ll talk about it.

Once we let God do an “Eden heart reset” for us, our Eden heart will learn to say: “Debt? What debt?” And our Eden heart will also learn to say, “Poverty? For me, or for you, not if I can help it!”

Back in God’s ideal Israelite culture which He was prescribing for His people, poverty would be very rare. But for various reasons, there would always be the financially disadvantaged. Jesus would later say that the poor we always have with us, and He was probably alluding to verse 11: “For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’”

So what do we do with this? I will tell you right up front that I have never personally given money to a panhandler. Places like the Salvation Army and other helping centers actually discourage this, suggesting that generous people donate directly to these helping agencies rather than individuals, so that more can be helped with what they truly need.

But I do know people who go to Costco and buy nutritious energy bars in bulk, and keep a handful of these on the passenger seat beside them, so they can give a bit of nourishment to the panhandler. Other drivers might hand out business cards to places which need workers.

Because God has made it clear that He wants us to develop the Eden attitude that says, “If I see poverty, I need to help eradicate it."

Two or three weeks ago I was at the church, and the phone rang, and a woman was on the line. She said, “I just drove past your church and saw the sign about your free clothing bank. And I thought, what a wonderful thing for a church to do.” She told me that she had so gently used clothing, including some children’s items, and asked when she could drop them off. And as she was saying these things, she came back again and again to how wonderful it was that we were doing this work. So if you’re working in our clothing bank, I thank you, and our community thanks you. And if you’re not working in the clothing bank, and you have free time Wednesday mornings, get in touch with me, and I will get you in touch with our clothing bank people.

Selfishness pulls us away from Eden. God’s Deuteronomy justice, as it must, steps in and stabilizes things. But then God does His best to draw our hearts back to the selflessness of Eden.

What about you? Would you like God to do an “Eden heart reset” for you this week?

Remember how I read you part of Matthew 6, where Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God”? Remember how He prayed in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven”?

That’s the theme of our closing song, “Seek ye first the kingdom.” As we sing it, let’s pray it to the Heavenly Father who longs for us to come back to our Eden home.

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Expository Sermon on Numbers 6
Bellevue SDA Church 2/25/2017
©2017 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles again to Numbers chapter 6.

Just a reminder about our Bible reading plan this year. Several of you are joining me in reading the Bible through using the plan at the back of the Andrews Study Bible. The idea is to read the assigned short New Testament passage in the morning, and then a longer Old Testament passage in the evening.

I’m actually reading these passages earlier than you are, because every Sabbath I preach – unless something else is happening – I base my sermon on the passage you will have read that week. And that’s the case with Numbers 6.

Numbers 6 has always been a bit of a mystery to me. It’s the chapter that talks about people who have taken the Nazirite vow. By the way, this has nothing to do with the town of Nazareth, where Jesus was born. People from Nazareth were called Nazarenes, and people who took the Nazirite vow were called Nazirites.

So, why are the Nazirites so mysterious to me? And even though--as Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16-- all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for us, can we learn anything from the Nazirites, and take it home and use it this week?

I think we definitely can. Let’s jump into the chapter and I’ll show you what I mean. The time period is something like 1500 BC, and Moses has just led the nation of Israel out of Egyptian captivity and into the desert, and they’re on their way to Palestine.

Numbers 6:1 – 2 [NKJV]: Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When either a man or woman consecrates an offering to take the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord,

So, you are saying to yourself, “Well, what IS the vow of a Nazirite? I need some more details. Let’s go back to the part of the Bible where the Lord explains all this.”

But you can’t. To me, that’s one of the mysterious things about this chapter. God is speaking as though everybody knows what Nazirites are, and what the vow of the Nazirite is. But this is absolutely the first time in the Bible that we hear about Nazirites. If you’ve been following along in our Bible reading plan, you have heard a lot of details about the sanctuary and how to carry out its services. But there’s absolutely nothing giving instructional details about Nazirites or the Nazirite vow.

Yet as we read through this chapter, we will see that this vow was very important, very serious business, back then. So what we’ll have to do with this mystery, if we want to find anything worthwhile we can take away and use, we’ll have to become detectives.

And I think it will be worth our while. I believe that this chapter will provide us with at least four lessons about what it looks like to consecrate yourself to God.

Because that’s the whole point of being a Nazirite – to separate yourself to the Lord. Notice the incredible fact that, back in those male-dominated times, taking the Nazirite vow was open equally to men and women. That is pretty refreshing.

I would say that one answer to the mystery of why we don’t hear anything about Nazirites in the Bible up to this point is that wanting to enter into a deeper relationship with God is a natural impulse to those who have been raised to know about Him.

God didn’t command people to take the Nazirite vow. He didn’t list being a Nazirite among the 600-plus laws He dictated to Moses. This impulse to seek the Lord and renounce what would keep us separate from Him must spring naturally from the heart of people who are open to the Holy Spirit.

Now, there’s no indication that God wants anyone to take a strict and specific Nazirite vow here in the 21st century. In the New Testament, John the Baptist may have been a Nazirite, and late in the book of Acts, chapters 18 and 21, Paul and four other men may have taken temporary Nazirite vows. But the very instant the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, there would have been no place to take the sacrifices which were required when the vow was complete, and no priests to assist.

But even so, here’s what I think is the first lesson the mysterious Nazirites can teach us. If you’re taking sermon notes, this would be point number one.

What can the Nazirites teach us?

Don’t resist the natural impulse to feel drawn to God, but take it seriously.

One of the joys of being in this congregation is that there are a lot of people here who have felt themselves drawn to God. Sometimes they tell me about it. But it is most visible in how they treat other people and how they teach if they are teachers, and how courteous they are in church board meetings and church business meetings.

Something like this impulse happened to me about a year before I felt the call for the ministry. I suddenly developed a great desire to read the Bible, and I hadn’t had that ever before. I had read the Bible, and I had gone to an Adventist elementary school which taught me about the Bible, but suddenly I really wanted to read it and absorb it.

Take another look at the last phrase of verse 2:

Verse 2: . . . to separate himself to the Lord,

And since this refers to women as well, we should say “separate himself or herself to the Lord.”

Notice that phrase “separate to.” In the next verse we’ll see something that Nazirites are to separate FROM, but here they are told to separate themselves TO the Lord.

At recess back on the playground just north of the little Adventist one-room school I attended, the kids would choose up sides for some of the games. If you were standing in the group, and your name was called to be on a team, you separated yourself FROM the group you’re in, and separated yourself over TO the team who who had called you. Because now you were chosen. You were no longer part of the unchosen crowd. You had been called to serve. There was no middle ground. You didn’t separate from the group and go stand off to the side. You separated from, in order to separate to the leader of your team.

In fact, let’s take one more look at the last part of verse two. There’s something very interesting here.

Verse 2: ‘When either a man or woman consecrates an offering to take the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord,

In the Hebrew, the word “Nazirite” is Nazir. And the word for “separate” is nazar. They’re just different versions of the same word. One is a noun and the other is a verb. A Nazirite is a “separated one.”
So it’s a separation – a separation TO, and as we’ll see in the next verse, a separation FROM.

So, before we go on – what are some ways I might need to separate myself to the Lord? Do I need to spend more time with Him? The Bible reading plan we’re going through can help here. There’s something very satisfying about reading through your Bible – and several of you have mentioned this to me. I think that for me, it’s just a joy to read words that aren’t “spun.” The last year or so I have been frustrated almost to the point of hostility with all of the fake news going around, with all of the deceptive talk. I turn to my Bible with relief. (In the Bible, of course, you’ll still read about people trying to deceive each other, but at least you know that you’re reading the facts.)

As we go through the rest of this chapter, let’s be thinking of more ways we can bypass things which would keep us from separating ourselves to our Lord.

In fact, that actually leads into the second lesson the Nazirites can teach us, at least in my opinion. First let’s read the next couple of verses. Let’s pick it up with verse 2.

Verses 2 – 4: “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When either a man or woman consecrates an offering to take the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord, he shall separate himself from wine and similar drink; he shall drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from similar drink; neither shall he drink any grape juice, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, from seed to skin.

Did you catch the uses of the words “separate” and “separation”? A Nazirite must “separate himself TO the Lord,” but at the same time he needs to “separate himself FROM wine and similar drink.” Again, the Nazirites, the “separated one” must nazar themselves TO the Lord, and nazar themselves FROM wine and similar drink.

And the prohibition doesn’t stop there. Nazirites cannot take into their bodies any product that comes from the grape. No fresh grapes, no raisins, not even grape skins or grape seed. This is a total boycott of the grape, during the time the person is fulfilling the Nazirite vow.

So now let’s lay down the second lesson I think the Nazirites can teach us:

I think that the first lesson is not to resist the natural impulse to feel drawn to God, but take it seriously. And I think the second lesson Nazirites teach us is to ask the Lord to make clear what is separating you from Him.

In the verses we just read, God makes it clear that the Nazirites need to absolutely, totally, and completely boycott the grape and any of its products. Again, this was only during the time the person was under a Nazirite vow.

Jesus, who as far as we know, never underwent a Nazirite vow, drank juice from the grape at the Last Supper. And He promised His disciples that He would drink it again with them when they were together again in the New Earth. (So I guess you can say that Jesus Himself is boycotting grape juice right here at this very moment.)

Now, yesterday afternoon Shelley and I stopped at a grocery store and she chose a sack of red grapes and a sack of green grapes. This morning she served me grapes for breakfast along with other fruit and oatmeal and toast.

But the whole point of being a Nazirite, during the time of that person’s vow, was total separation, total boycott of anything that could remotely be connected with what causes the problems which alcohol does.

A couple days ago on the news, Shelley heard some kind of police authority such as a patrolman say if you’re driving on the freeway late at night or in the early hours of the morning, be careful of the carpool lane. And the reason is that if somebody is driving drunk or otherwise impaired, and happens to maneuver himself onto the freeway going the wrong direction, against traffic, the carpool lane is the one they will probably be driving in.

Why is that? Because normally when you’re driving the correct direction on the freeway, you are in the lane furthest to the right. But if you’re going in the wrong direction, the lane furthest to your right is the carpool lane.

Now, the Bible has enough to say about not being deceived by alcohol that we Christians need to stay well away from it. Shelley and I do.

The only alcohol I have ever drunk was in a fast-food café in England on our honeymoon. It was called “shandy,” and was right there in a soft-drink dispensing machine along with 7-Up and the rest of them. I took a sip of it, and it tasted weird, so I asked the cashier about it. He told me what it was, so I didn’t drink any more. I didn’t feel any kind of a buzz, but for the next half hour I pretended to Shelley that I was a bit tipsy. She kept feeling my forehead. But other than that, no booze for us. We are total abstainers.

So grape products were a big thing in the Nazirite vow.  But nowadays there are a whole lot of other things we need to evaluate to see if they belong in the life of someone who is seeking to come closer to the Lord.

What do you and I need to separate ourselves FROM, in order to separate ourselves TO the Lord? Do we need to separate ourselves from spending our time in unbalanced ways? Do we need to separate ourselves from viewing media which coarsens and deadens our souls? Is what we do each day bringing us closer to the Savior and further from the serpent?

For a third lesson the Nazirites can teach us, let’s start with verse 5.

Verse 5: ‘All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. Then he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.

So what, if anything, does this have to do with us? As I mentioned earlier, the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70. And if you glance down at verse 18, you’ll see that at the end of the Nazirite vow, not only must some pretty expensive sacrifices be brought to the temple, but also the Nazirite must shave his or her hair and offer that hair as a sacrifice. So since there is no temple, and therefore no sacrificial altar, we don’t do that today. So what does this have to do with us?

Here is what I would suggest.

I think that the Nazirites’ first lesson is not to resist the natural impulse to feel drawn to God, but take it seriously. And I think the second lesson Nazirites teach us is to ask the Lord to make clear what is separating us from Him. And I believe that the third lesson we can learn is to make sure our separateness is visible.

Jesus, of course, said in Matthew 6 that if you’re fasting for some reason you shouldn’t make a big show out of it, but instead behave as though nothing is happening. However, in Matthew 5 He said that His faithful followers should be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In other words, people should be able to easily tell whether we’re Christians or not.

Back in Bible times, if you saw a guy walking toward you with extra-long hair and beard, the chances were good that he was under a vow of separation, a Nazirite vow. And if you saw another guy with a freshly shaven head, this could’ve been someone who had just come out from under a Nazirite vow. So their separateness, their differentness, was visible.

Over in Acts chapter 3, not too long after Jesus’ death and resurrection, His disciples Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer. A lame beggar asked them for money, and instead they healed him.

This attracts a lot of attention, so Peter gives a sermon about Jesus. And as Acts 4 begins, the religious leaders arrest them and bring them before the Sanhedrin Council. This gives Peter a chance for another brief Christ-centered sermon.

And in Acts 4:13, the religious leaders see very clearly who Peter and John have been spending time with.

Acts 4:13: Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone could either consciously or subconsciously say about you and me, “This person has spent time with Jesus”?

Right now in our Bible reading plan we are moving through the Gospels, and into the book of Mark. If you’re not involved in the plan, this would be a great time to join it, because over the next few weeks you will be reading directly about Jesus from the original source documents. You’ll be watching Him as he relates to people. You will be listening to what He rebukes the Pharisees about. You’ll watch as He treats people delicately and differently, depending on who they are and where they’ve come from.

When you get to John 3, you will see Him getting really assertive with Nicodemus. Then in John 4, He will speak gently but directly to the woman at the well. Then, in John 5, He will walk up to a man who has been unable to walk for 38 years, and will simply heal him and and walk away. The man, of course, will seek Him out and believe in Him—and will immediately become a very visible witness of someone who has separated himself to the Lord Jesus.

Are there any ways you and I need to make our faith – our separateness – more visible this coming week? Do we need to say things differently than we normally say them? Do our voice tones need to reflect respect and love? Do our ethical practices need to be brought into line with where Jesus wants them? Do we need to start behaving as though money is not our God after all? (A wonderful bonus about reading the Gospels – Jesus will teach us specifically what we need to know about how to make our faith more visible.)

I’m going to skip over the next few verses, the ones that talk about how a Nazirite should not be near people who have died. If you’re using the Andrews Study Bible, you’ll notice that the footnote for verse six says that the Nazirite’s holiness was to be like a high priest’s. It was a pretty high standard.

But let’s go down to verse 13 and watch what happens as the person comes to the end of his or her Nazirite vow. This will lead into the final lesson the Nazirites can teach us.

Verses 13 – 21: ‘Now this is the law of the Nazirite: When the days of his separation are fulfilled, he shall be brought to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. And he shall present his offering to the Lord: one male lamb in its first year without blemish as a burnt offering, one ewe lamb in its first year without blemish as a sin offering, one ram without blemish as a peace offering, a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and their grain offering with their drink offerings. ‘Then the priest shall bring them before the Lord and offer his sin offering and his burnt offering; and he shall offer the ram as a sacrifice of a peace offering to the Lord, with the basket of unleavened bread; the priest shall also offer its grain offering and its drink offering. Then the Nazirite shall shave his consecrated head at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and shall take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offering. ‘And the priest shall take the boiled shoulder of the ram, one unleavened cake from the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and put them upon the hands of the Nazirite after he has shaved his consecrated hair, and the priest shall wave them as a wave offering before the Lord; they are holy for the priest, together with the breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the heave offering. After that the Nazirite may drink wine.’ “This is the law of the Nazirite who vows to the Lord the offering for his separation, and besides that, whatever else his hand is able to provide; according to the vow which he takes, so he must do according to the law of his separation.”

 Isn’t that interesting? After submitting to the Nazirite vow, this person must bring quite an expensive offering of the vow comes to an end.

Here’s what I think might be a final lesson that the Nazirite experience teaches us:

I think that the Nazirites’ first lesson is not to resist the natural impulse to feel drawn to God, but take it seriously. And the second lesson Nazirites teach us is to ask the Lord to make clear what is separating you from Him. A third lesson we can learn is to make sure our separateness is visible. And a fourth lesson could be to behave as though your separateness is about God and not about you.

God could’ve set it up so that when the person was done with the Nazirite experience, he or she could just go home and get on with their life. Their friends would say to them, “Wow, you’re done with your vow, right? I’m really impressed.”

But instead the attention focuses back on God. The Nazirite vow may have concluded, but this final and quite costly ceremony at the Temple reminds the person that there is a God who atones for our sins, who loves us and is worthy of our love. We literally owe our Saviour a lot, and the only reason He wants us to remember this is to help us stay separated from the world, the flesh, and the devil.

And even though you and I can never take a literal Nazirite vow, we can take another vow this morning, in song. Let’s stand and sing about our desire to have the Lord cleanse us so that we are whiter than snow.

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Expository Sermon on Matthew 22
Bellevue SDA Church 2/11/2017
©2017 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 22.

While you’re turning there, I’m going to let you know that this is another in a series of sermons I’m preaching to go along with our through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan. Most of you are aware that this year I’m encouraging us to read the Bible through based on the plan found at the back of the Andrews Study Bible. If you don’t have that study Bible, you will find the plan on our church website (the addresses on the back of the bulletin), or you will find paper copies on the counter to the left of the stairs.

In this plan, we read a small portion of the New Testament in the morning, then a larger portion of the Old Testament in the evening. And most Sabbaths that I preach, unless there’s a baptism or child dedication or something like that, I will base my sermon on some part of the section of Scripture we have read that very week.

And sure enough, Matthew 22 was one of those passages this week.

Actually, to set the stage, let’s read the last two verses of the previous chapter, because that will give us more of a clue about what’s going on.

Matthew 21:45 – 46 [NKJV]: Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.

If you know the Gospels at all, you know that Jesus didn’t hesitate to “call out” the Pharisees when He needed to. And today I think we will learn just how dangerous the Pharisee attitude is.

Have you ever sung the song, “I don’t Want to Be a Pharisee”? Actually, when you sing it, you sing “I don’t wanna be a Pharisee.” The song goes, “I don’t wanna be a Pharisee, I don’t wanna be a Pharisee, ‘cause they’re not fair, you see. I don’t wanna be a Pharisee.”

Now, the rhyme “Pharisee” and “fair, you see” is a clever one, but it’s actually quite true. Most of the Pharisees did not give Jesus a fair chance to let Him convince them that He was their Messiah.

In fact, they were so unfair that rather than just ignore Jesus and allow Him to move about Palestine doing His ministry, they wanted to lay hands on Him and destroy Him.

Notice, it says that they did not do that at this point, because they “feared the multitudes.” They were afraid of the people. Now, if their cause had been just, they should have gone ahead without worrying what the people would think. But they cared for their position as teachers and religious leaders. And Jesus was threatening that position.

Yet a month and a half later, Jesus’ own disciples would stand fearlessly preaching that He was the Son of God. They did not fear the multitudes.

Verse 45 says that when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they could tell that He was aiming those parables at them. If you glanced back through chapter 21, you will see that one of the parables was the one about the vineyard, in which the people to whom a landowner had leased the vineyard beat the landowner’s servants, and later killed the landowner’s own son.

So now, the gloves are off. Jesus tells parables against the Pharisees, the Pharisees know this. And as chapter 22 begins, Jesus doesn’t back off, but tells still another parable about the Pharisees. And like the vineyard parable, this is a baffling story and a sinister one.

But I think that as we read through it, we will see into the heart of Pharisaism. In fact we will discover three kinds of Pharisees. And eventually we will learn Jesus’ cure for this deadly virus. In other words, we will learn to inoculate ourselves against the attitude of the Pharisees.

And it’s important to pay close attention, because we’re talking about murderers here. Jesus said in the sermon on the mount that it’s possible to commit murder in your heart, and that’s what these Pharisees have done. And eventually, along with the chief priests, they will falsely convict Jesus and have Him killed.

And the question I need to ask is, “How much of a Pharisee am I?” All have sinned and come short of God’s glory, and once in awhile I have sniffed Pharisaism in myself. So let’s find out more.

Matthew 22:1 – 2: And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son,

Okay. Here’s where we start carefully looking at every part of this parable. Notice that it said that the story describes what the kingdom of heaven is like. Actually, the kingdom of God was on the minds of pretty much every one of Jesus’ listeners. Jesus Himself talked about it often. And since this powerful Teacher from Nazareth could heal people, resurrect people, miraculously feed people – could He be the Messiah, the one they assumed would drive out the Romans and reclaim God’s land for His people?

So who are the characters in this kingdom parable? First there is “a certain king.” It’s very key to remember this. This is not someone who is a peer of, or someone who is equal to, the rest of the people in the parable. This is not a business man who owns a shop downtown. This isn’t a well-to-do farmer. This is a king. Everybody else in the story is subject of the king.

And the second thing we learn in these verses is that this king has arranged a wedding for his son. Back in those days, wedding celebrations could take several days. These were special occasions.

Shelley and I were back at Andrews University where I was taking seminary classes when Prince Charles married Diana Spencer. People around the world who wanted to watch that wedding had to get up very early in the morning because of the time difference, but a whole lot of people around the world, no matter what time it was, made sure they saw it.

And that’s what should have been happening here in Jesus’ story. Nobody had TVs back in those days, but if you got an invitation to the royal wedding, you considered yourself incredibly fortunate, and you took it seriously, and you circled the date on your calendar and arranged your schedule around it.

But watch what happens.

Verses 2 – 3: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come.

If you reading from another translation besides the New king James, which this is, you’ll see that it probably says something like “they refused to come.” But the Greek literally says “they did not wish to come.” And what is so horrendous, none of those invited wants to come. It’s not just one or two people who back out.

I can imagine that the people who are listening to Jesus are starting to grin in disbelief. What kind of a story is this? How could this ever happened? This is unbelievable.

The king, who must’ve been deeply puzzled by this response, tries again. This time he has his servants do some marketing to try to get everybody’s mouths watering.

Verse 4: Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.” ’

And now there is a tightness in the throats of those listening to Jesus. What will happen here? These invited people have already committed what was probably considered back then to be a fairly unpardonable sin – refusing the hospitality of someone else, let alone a king. What will they do now? Will they behave like sensible people and apologize and attend?

Now we are about to be introduced to the first of the three types of Pharisee I mentioned.

Verse 5: But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business.

That phrase “made light of it” is a translation of the Greek word amelesantes. If it were just melesantes it would mean “caring.” But with the “a” on the front, it’s amelesantes. The “a” is like our “un.” In other words, these privileged invitees simply didn’t care. (Back in South Dakota when I was a kid, we would have said, “They didn’t give a hoot.”) The New King James says they “made light of” the invitation. The NIV and the English Standard Version and the New Revised Standard Version say that “they paid no attention.” Nowadays we would say they “blew it off.”

So here we have the first kind of Pharisee. This is the group who “make light of” God’s invitations. These are the “make light of it” Pharisees.

And in the next verse we see the second kind of Pharisee.

Verse 6: And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.

At this point you can hear Jesus’ listeners shaking their heads in disbelief. “Oh, come on now,” somebody says. “Would this ever really happen? I mean, disrespecting the king is bad enough, but beating and killing his servants?”

Here we have that second group of Pharisees. The first group were the “make light of it” Pharisees. They just show contempt but don’t go any further. But this second group are the “persecutor Pharisees.” The persecutor Pharisees are the ones who want to get their hands on Jesus and murder Him.

And what were the real Pharisees and chief priests thinking as they heard this story? They’ve already heard the parable of the vineyard, and Matthew 21:45 says that they perceived that that parable was speaking about them. What’s going through their minds?

And what is going through the mind of the king in the parable? Because in verse seven, we suddenly see him turning very violent. Let’s read it.

Verse 7: But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.

When it says, “he sent out his armies,” the Greek word for “armies” actually means small bands of soldiers. But why is the king’s response so violent?

Well, back in those days, being a king was actually a very dangerous profession. Remember how king Ahasuerus made sure that anybody who entered his throne room was safe before he held out his scepter to them? He probably had a squad of armed guards right there in the throne room, who were waiting to see whether he extended his scepter. If that scepter stayed still, those guards would drag the visitor off and execute him – or her, which was Queen Esther’s fear.

And the reason for that was that there were always traitors plotting to destroy the king—even someone the king assumed was his friend. In fact right there in the book of Esther, Mordecai came to the king’s attention because he had foiled an assassination plot just like this.

And in Jesus’ story, the king suddenly discovers that the influential people he invited to the wedding feast have dared to ignore that invitation, and even abuse and kill his servants.

What this means, of course, is rebellion on a massive scale. These people have written the king off, and the next thing they’ll do is take his throne. So in order to preserve the stability of the kingdom and prevent even more murderous chaos, the king goes after the rebels, and stamps out their rebellion once and for all.

Before we go any further, let’s think about those two kinds of Pharisees, and check ourselves to make sure we don’t have taints of those Pharisee types within us.

What about the “make light of” or “careless” type of Pharisee? I would say these would be people who don’t really care about the king’s invitation to gather with him in celebration. Since you are sitting in this sanctuary right now, you probably do care about God’s invitation to gather and worship on His Holy Sabbath day.

But some people don’t. Some people of course don’t recognize how important God’s Sabbath is to Him, just as the parable king’s son’s wedding was important to him.

But some people could care less. They might know about God’s Sabbath. But it’s not as important to them as something else they may have inserted into those holy 24 hours.

You see, God could have created a shrine instead of a day to worship him. Let’s say God decided that there would be a temple in His honor in the Middle East. If you and I were really devout, we would travel long distances to that shrine every once in a while, and we would worship there.

But God doesn’t make us do that. Instead, He brings His Sabbath gift to us, right to our doorstep. Every Friday evening as the sun sets, wherever you are on the planet, the Sabbath begins. The day becomes holy. It becomes holy even for people who do not know about it and don’t treat it as holy. God’s holy day comes to us. It wraps itself around the globe, and as the globe turns, God invites each of its inhabitants to rest in Him for one planetary rotation in seven.

What you and I need to do is to make sure that we ourselves gratefully accept this Sabbath gift and all that it means, so that we can help others we have an influence over to accept this invitation too.
What about the second group of Pharisees – the “persecutor” Pharisees? Is there any way we could be like them?

Well, I’m pretty sure nobody in this room has murdered someone since last Sabbath. I hope not. But verbal attacks, especially on social media, can do a lot of damage. People have actually committed suicide because of the harassment of online trolls and bullies.

I hope nobody in this room is one of those people who, cloaked in Internet anonymity, tries to inflame tempers. Even forwarding along something that I myself did not write, but which could do damage to other people, could place me into the persecutor-Pharisee camp. How can we claim to have the Holy Spirit when we ignore that Spirit’s fruit—which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control?

Now back to Jesus’ parable. The king, who has quickly solved a national security crisis in probably the only effective way you could back in those days, still wants to have a wedding feast. If his invitees blow off the invitation, he’s going to find people who may have never even had the faintest hope that they could be invited.

Verses 8 – 10: Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Does God invite both the bad and the good? Doesn’t He just invite the good? Here’s what Jesus says about it, back in Matthew 9:

Matthew 9:10 – 13: Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

So does God call the good and the bad? (And yes, that Greek word for “bad” really means evil, or wicked.) Of course He does. In Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds, the farmer give the command to “let both grow together until the harvest.” There will come a time when the bad will be separated from the good. But Jesus wants the bad to have a change of heart.

So now, get ready to be introduced to the third kind of Pharisee. So far we’ve seen the “make light of it” Pharisees and the “persecutor” Pharisees. Now let’s meet the third kind.

Matthew 22:11-12: “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.

Notice that the king is making sure to give this man the benefit of the doubt. First, he calls him “friend.” Next, he doesn’t assume anything, but asks the man to explain his situation.

When I read this story as a kid, I used to feel a bit of pity for this poor man. If somebody had come up to me back on the prairies of South Dakota and asked me to produce a wedding garment, I wouldn’t have known where to look. So I kind of wondered if the king wasn’t being a bit unreasonable here.

However, I later learned that it was the king himself who provided the wedding garment. The guests arrived, and they gratefully and gladly put on that cloak for robe or whatever it was. They wore it as joyfully as people wear Seahawks gear on game day.

But when this man entered, and was offered the garment, he probably gave a glance at it and shook his head and went on into the feast.

Again, Jesus’ listeners were shaking their heads in disbelief. Who would do this? Who would refuse this quality garment, this wearable souvenir, given as a gift by the king?

The answer is what I would consider the third kind of Pharisee. We’ve talked about the “make light of it” Pharisee, and the “persecutor” Pharisee. I believe that this third kind of Pharisee is the “under the radar” kind of Pharisee.

The first two types of Pharisee refused to come to the wedding. They are absent. This third “under-the-radar” Pharisee did come to the wedding. (By the way, the Bible doesn’t call this man an actual Pharisee, but his attitude is exactly like the attitudes of the formally-trained Pharisees.)

This third man is present at the wedding, but not to celebrate the royal nuptuals but merely to take advantage of a sumptuous meal. In that person’s heart there was no love for the king, no desire to identify with him, no desire to fully enter into the celebration. “My own clothes are good enough,” this person probably said. In any event, he refused to don the garment of celebration.

And when the king asked him why he didn’t have a robe, the man was speechless. He didn’t have a legitimate answer. He probably didn’t want to come right out and say, “I’m a rebel. I will overthrow you if I have the chance.”

But he was indeed a rebel, a traitor. As he sat there at that wedding feast in his street clothes, he was saying to anyone else who gazed at him, “I am not really in sympathy with the king. I refuse to wear his robe. I do not wish to be identified as one of his subjects.”

And again, the king has to remember national security, so he has this traitor-in-embryo ejected from the celebration.

And God has to remember the security of the universe. If Lucifer’s deceptions were so great that one out of three of the holy angels went over to his side, then God needs to make sure that everyone who finally enters His eternity is safe to save.

So what this means is that, even though I may not be a “make light of it” Pharisee, or a “persecutor” Pharisee, I need to remember that I must come out from under the radar and be fully and wholeheartedly on God’s side. I need to stop ricocheting between godliness and worldliness. I need to take a stand.

But how do we do this? We do this by accepting the only remedy against Pharisaism that really works, and that is the Holy Spirit.

Remember, in John three, when the Pharisee Nicodemus came to Jesus at night? The first words out of Jesus’ mouth were “You must be born again,” and then He talked began talking about the Holy Spirit.
And remember another Pharisee  (a persecuting Pharisee) who was galloping toward Damascus to persecute Christians? Jesus met Paul there on the road, and three days later, the Holy Spirit had transformed this ISIS-style crusader into a Christian evangelist.

The Holy Spirit is the only way a heart can truly change.

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Expository Sermon on Exodus 23 and 25
Bellevue SDA Church 2/4/2017
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Exodus chapter 23.

If you’re following along in the Andrews Study Bible plan to read through the Bible in a year, you read Exodus 23 this week, along with several other Exodus chapters. If you haven’t been following along and would like to jump in, simply pick up a Bible reading plan back on the counter by the stairs leading up to the fellowship hall, or if you have the Andrews Study Bible, you’ll find that same plan on pages 1698 and 1699.

The way this plan is constructed, it gives us a chance to read both the old and new Testaments as we go through the year. In the morning you read a brief and very manageable passage from the New Testament, and then in the evening you can read a longer passage from the Old Testament.

If you’ve made a habit of reading the Bible through from time to time, you’ve learned what I always learn. There’s always something new and interesting to think about, something you’d never seen before. This is because, each time we read the Bible through, we ourselves have become older and more experienced with life, and we can see more than we might ever have been able to see before.

So, why did I call this sermon “Ripped from the Headlines”? Has anybody ever heard that phrase before? If you Google that phrase, one of the first things you see is that many of the episodes of the TV crime program Law and Order are said to have been “ripped from the headlines.” In other words, the program’s topics were often ones that reflected current news stories, as though someone had grabbed the newspaper, torn out the story along with its headlines, and had hurried it to the script writers.

As I read through the first few verses of Exodus 23 this week, I got that same feeling. The events of Exodus happened 3500 years ago, but as we read these verses, we can see these same issues in today’s news media.

Another reason I’ve been finding Exodus interesting is that I am very sure that the laws God gives to Moses were not created in a vacuum. The 10 Commandments, of course, are quite universal. But as soon as God finishes giving the 10, He immediately starts listing some laws that are quite a bit more detailed. And I think there’s a good chance that every law He gave probably reflected what was going on among the people He was talking to, and among the people of other cultures. So reading through these laws, which I used to think of as fairly boring, is really exactly the opposite. It’s a fascinating study of the temptations the people were struggling with.

What I’d like to do in today’s sermon is first of all look at the first nine verses of Exodus 23. Again, I think this will show us just how current and sometimes headline-making that ancient turmoil really is. In other words, nothing that’s happening now can ever surprise God. He’s ‘way ahead of us.

But then we are going to watch in fascination as God abruptly changes the pace and goes in an entirely different and equally important direction for a while. And that’s where we will begin to find solutions to those Exodus 23 problems.

But first, let’s swoop down into Exodus 23 and start with verse one.

Exodus 23:1 [NKJV]: “You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.

If you are like me, certain current headlines are popping up in your mind. Circulating a false report? You can think of examples of this, can’t you? And all around the world, in more repressive countries, people are being unrighteous witnesses against innocent people. God says, “Don’t do these things.”

Verse 2: You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice.

“You shall not follow a crowd to do evil.” Are you listening, hooded anarchists? Are you listening, looters?

Verse 3: You shall not show partiality to a poor man in his dispute.

Now that’s an interesting verse, isn’t it? Both God and His Son had so much to say about helping and defending the poor, and giving justice to the widows and orphans, that you’d think He might be agreeable to cutting a poor person a little slack in a legal matter.

However, God is very clear. If the poor man is in the wrong, his poverty is not a defense, and shouldn’t be used as such. The whole point about justice is that it should be blind. Mercy can come later, as it did in many of Jesus’ parables. But the law must be upheld. That’s what happened at the cross. God didn’t do away with the law, He upheld it – upheld it to the point where Jesus must die to pay its penalty.
Now come a couple of “donkey parables.”

Verses 4 - 5: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.

That’s another thing we see a lot of in today’s news, especially the political news. We see retribution. We see payback. Once in a great while you do hear about, say, a Palestinian and an Israeli sitting down and talking things out and forgiving each other and resolving to be friends. But that is rare.

Yesterday I gave chapel talks at both Kirkland SDA School and Puget Sound Adventist Academy. Part of the talk was a quick retelling of the Good Samaritan story. The Jews and the Samaritans hated each other, and sometimes they had good reason to do so. But when the Samaritan came riding along the Jericho Road and saw the nearly-dead Jew, he looked past racial animosity and saw somebody who needed crisis intervention. He somehow could look beyond the hate to the help. So he stopped, and helped, and kept on helping, not to the minimum but to the maximum.

But ‘way back 3500 years ago, back when some people think humanity was fairly primitive, God commanded that we help people in need, even if they are people whose appearance or beliefs or history might be quite different from ours.

Verse 6: “You shall not pervert the judgment of your poor in his dispute.

Now, here’s a verse which looks at the other side of a poor person’s situation. The NIV translates this verse this way: “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.”

The Adventist church has always had an interesting relationship with the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU. Sometimes we disagree with them, but other times we will file “friend of the court” briefs in cases they are defending. The ACLU often makes it possible for poor people who don’t have a lot of money for legal fees to win justice, even if the lawyers on the other side are powerful and well-paid.
Let’s skip down to verse eight.

Verse 8: And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the discerning and perverts the words of the righteous.

Some people, living and working in foreign countries, say, “Well, bribing is simply part of the culture. You have to give bribes to get anything done.”

I’m no expert on this, and have never had to deal with that in such cultures, but 3500 years ago God said not to do it.

And verse nine has a special relevance just the last few days. God called upon the Israelites to remember how it felt to be a strangers in a strange land, and oppressed strangers at that. And what they remembered of their past was to lead them to treat strangers with respect and dignity.

As I say, we have just swooped down into the early part of Exodus 23 and just sampled just some of the evils God has done battle against. And as you probably know, there are more than 600 such laws, dictated by God, in Exodus and the next few books.

And at this point God could have just kept on listing laws and admonitions and prohibitions, all the way through the rest of Exodus. But at the beginning of the next chapter, chapter 24, God abruptly changes pace.

As chapter 24 begins, we see God concluding his conversation with Moses, and giving him some instructions.

Exodus 24:1 – 2: Now He said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar. And Moses alone shall come near the Lord, but they shall not come near; nor shall the people go up with him.”

As I mentioned earlier, every time I read through the Bible I find new facts I never knew before. I knew about how the Lord would call 70 of the Hebrew elders up to that mountain, but I had not remembered that Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were among them.

Isn’t that interesting? Later on, over in Leviticus 10, Nadab and Abihu (probably under the influence of alcohol) will desecrate the Temple of God. But here God lets them be part of this group of elders who will come very close to Him, just as Jesus allowed Judas every opportunity to bond more closely with His mission.

But before these elders accompany Moses and Aaron up on the mountain, Moses goes to the people and tells them what God has said, and in verse seven they valiantly promise to do everything the Lord said they should do.

And then Moses leads Aaron and the 70 elders up on the mountain for what must’ve been a heart-stoppingly amazing experience.

Verses 9 – 11: Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank.

Back in verse one God told Moses that these elders would worship Him from afar, so they evidently didn’t get very close, but they were able to see – at least to some degree – what God looked like. And for the first time, I made the connection between this experience and what comes in chapter 25. God brings these elders up to the mountain so that they can come relatively close to him – a lot closer than the people down on the desert floor. All that the people down there can see and hear is fire blazing on the mountaintop, and thundering.

But here God brings the leaders of the nation as close as possible to Him. Don’t ever get the idea that God turns from us in disgust. God wants to come close.

And that is exactly why He’s changing pace now, and turning away temporarily from dispensing laws. Let’s watch what happens as chapter 25 begins.

Exodus 25:1 – 7: Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring Me an offering. From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering. And this is the offering which you shall take from them: gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet thread, fine linen, and goats’ hair; ram skins dyed red, badger skins, and acacia wood; oil for the light, and spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense; onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod and in the breastplate.

So, what’s all this about? Why these exotic offerings? This morning when the offering bags were handed around, I doubt if anybody slipped a badger skin into one of the bags. Why these unusual offerings?

God tells us in the next verse, one of the most heartwarming verses in the Old Testament.

Verse 8: And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.

This almost makes tears come to your eyes. Here is a group of people to whom God is going to eventually recite more than 600 laws, most of them which say “Don’t do this” and “Don’t do that.” These people need a great deal of emotional rehabilitation from all those years in slavery, and they are going to rebel again and again and again not only here in the wilderness but during the centuries ahead.

Yet God still wants to live among them. He doesn’t want to stay on top of that thundering, smoking mountain. He is lonely up there. He wants to get right down there on the desert floor with His human children. And He doesn’t want to remain aloofly at the edge of the camp, holding His nose. He is going to give specific directions which will place that tabernacle, above which He hovers in a cloud, and within which he speaks to Moses from above the ark’s mercy seat, God is going to make sure that He dwells in the very center of that camp. Three tribes to His east, three tribes to His south, three tribes to His west, and three tribes to His north – that’s how He’s going to set it up.

Why should we ever feel afraid of God, if God wanted to come lovingly close to people who would be so hostile to Him? Why would we ever feel afraid of a God who sent His only Son to die for the descendants of that rebellious multitude, and the entire rest of the world as well?

Verse 9 tells us that God had even created a plan or pattern of the tabernacle and its furnishings, and several times He tells Moses to make sure everything is made exactly like that pattern.

And then, God starts giving details. As I was reading these chapters this week, I found it really touching to see the order in which God introduces the sanctuary furnishings. For example, God could have started with the courtyard’s outer curtain and described that. Or He could have started with the altar of sacrifice. After all, that’s an important piece of furniture. That’s where the sacrifices get offered.

But no, God doesn’t start with those. Instead, He starts with the ark. As we’ll see, the ark is where His presence will be when He talks to Moses. God seems to be so deeply interested in coming close to us, that He first describes where His presence will be.

Let’s listen to the very words of God as He describes this ark in loving detail.

Verses 10 – 22: “And they shall make an ark of acacia wood; two and a half cubits shall be its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and shall make on it a molding of gold all around. You shall cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in its four corners; two rings shall be on one side, and two rings on the other side. And you shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, that the ark may be carried by them. The poles shall be in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I will give you. “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two and a half cubits shall be its length and a cubit and a half its width. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work you shall make them at the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub at one end, and the other cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim at the two ends of it of one piece with the mercy seat. And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and they shall face one another; the faces of the cherubim shall be toward the mercy seat. You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel.

Isn’t God taking an incredible amount of trouble to come close? God is holy, and sin cannot exist in His presence. So as He continues to describe the tabernacle, He will set in place ways for ceremonial uncleanness to be washed off the priests before they minister to Him.

But most of all, He wants to come close. How can we fear a God like that? Every once in a while, when I was a kid, my mom decided she wanted to give me a hug. I was not necessarily a hugging kind of kid, so I would giggle and squeal and squirm and try to get away. But I wasn’t afraid of my mom. I knew she loved me. She wanted to bring me close to her.

Well, God continues to describe the tabernacle furnishings. But as He continues, He describes the items that are within the holy place itself. He describes the table of showbread, then He describes the lampstand, and only then does He start talking about how the actual tabernacle should be built.

There was one more thing I discovered as I read this account this week. I was looking at online news a couple of days ago, and I read a story about a very popular megachurch pastor who had eventually had to leave the ministry because of secret transgressions. The reporter who wrote this story tells how on one occasion he came into the foyer of the church, and there was a gigantic portrait of this pastor. It seemed clear that this pastor wanted a kind of worshipful devotion from his members.

As I read through the descriptions of the tabernacle furniture, however, I saw none of this self exaltation on God’s part. If God had wanted to, He could have had His own picture carved into the side of the ark. He could’ve had it embroidered into the curtain between the holy place in the most holy place. He could have had His picture painted on a large sign at the entrance to the courtyard.

But God didn’t do that.

I’m sure that if the Israelites had been able to travel into Canaan right away, and enter the temples of the heathen gods, the first thing they would’ve seen would have been large statues which were designed to show the physical appearance of those gods.

But it struck me this week that none of the items God describes to Moses are designed to be worshiped. The cherubim over the mercy seat of course, were images, but they were facing each other, reverently focused on the space above the mercy seat, where God’s presence would sometimes appear.

Every item inside or outside that sanctuary was designed not to be venerated but was to be used for service. The ark was a container you could put things into. The table would be the support for the 12 pieces of bread which represented the tribes of Israel. The lampstand would illuminate the interior. The laver just outside the holy place door would be where the priests would wash their feet in ceremonial cleansing. The altar of sacrifice would be where priests burned the lambs and bulls and goats.

Even the little altar of incense, which isn’t described until chapter 30, had a purpose – to burn incense, which represented the prayers of God’s people.

You know what this says to me? If, as Paul tells us, we are to be temples of the Holy Spirit, that means we should devote ourselves to service, just as those sanctuary furnishings were all devoted to service. We are not here on this earth to be worshiped or venerated or exalted – Jesus wants us to be the same kind of servant He is.

Is that what you want, this week? Would you raise your hand if you would like to be a servant of the Savior?

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Expository Sermon on Exodus 1 - 4
Bellevue SDA Church 1/28/2017
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

Please open your Bibles to Exodus chapter one.

I was born and raised on the flat prairies of eastern South Dakota. If you have ever traveled through that part of the country, or through the eastern parts of North Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, you’ll remember not only the flat land but the absence of people.

Once you leave the tiny towns, you will often travel 10 or 20 miles before reaching the next little village. Farmhouses are normally a mile or more apart. That makes for entire counties of rugged individualists, people who have learned to survive pretty much by themselves.

However, early on, farmers learned that it was important to make connections and to be in some kind of network. As a little kid, I would be out in our farmyard with my dad, and we would hear a pickup traveling on the highway into town. As the pickup passed our driveway, dad would lift his arm in a wave. “Who was that?” I would ask him. Once in a while he would have recognized whose truck it was and would tell me, but a lot of times he would say, “I don’t know.” But still he waved.

And that wave said, “Hello! Though I might not know you, I am your friend. I’ll help you if you need it, and I know you’ll help me. You and I need each other.”

And each little town, no matter how small, worked to bring people together. Of course, the merchants wanted everybody to come into town on Thursdays, which was shopping day, so they put their sales and specials on that day. The taverns were gathering places. Leo’s Café, in a building which used to be a bank, is a gathering place even today.

Some towns had grange halls. A century ago some little towns even boasted what they called an “opera house,” which was just a big, barn-like structure with theater seating and a stage. Vaudeville acts would travel through and perform. High school drama groups would lay some Shakespeare on their parents and grandparents.

And when tragedy struck, farmers gathered then as well. They would rally around and help each other. A couple of Novembers ago, and my brother-in-law Ken died, other farmers rumbled their combines to the farm and gathered in Ken’s crops for the family.

That’s what you did, out there where everybody was separated so widely. You remembered that even though you lived separately, you were better together.

The phrase “better together” is a popular one. When I looked it up online, I realized it has been used for at least one song title. It’s been used for the names of community service organizations. Hillary Clinton used a variation of it for one of her campaign slogans: “Stronger Together.”

I don’t think the phrase “better together” shows up in the Bible, but from one end of those 750,000 words to the other, we get the strong impression that this is a favorite motto of God Himself. God is a fanatic about togetherness. As the Trinity created humanity, God said, “Let US make man in OUR own image.” You and I exist because of a togetherness project. Later, after God created Adam, He said, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” and created Eve.

This, by the way, is the first of the sermons I will be preaching on passages we will be reading during our plan to read the Bible through this year. This year we’re following the plan in the back of the Andrews Study Bible, and if you have that Bible, you’ll find it on pages 1698 and 1699. There are copies of that plan back on the counter beside the stairs.

Or you can find it by going to our church website. You’ll find the website address on the back of your bulletin, and once you go to our home page, you’ll see the picture of a black Bible. Just click on that Bible and you will find everything you need to know about what passages to read each day.

And every Sabbath that I’m preaching – unless something special is going on which guides us in a different direction – I will be preaching on a passage that we will have read that very week.

This past week, we have not only been reading in the book of Matthew, but also in Exodus, chapters 1 through 18. And as I studied those Exodus chapters, the phrase “better together” begin to enter my mind. And as I studied further, I found that one way to look at these verses is to recognize some “togetherness truths” that God wants us to learn. And as we go through them, I think you’ll discover that they are just as important for us as they were for the Israelites who needed to learn them back in 1500 BC.

So let’s look at just three of these “togetherness truths.”

Exodus 1:1 – 5 [NKJV]: Now these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt; each man and his household came with Jacob: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah; Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin; Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. All those who were descendants of Jacob were seventy persons (for Joseph was in Egypt already).

So, where’s the “togetherness truth” in these verses? Well, when you add these verses to many, many other Bible verses, here’s the truth you come up with—one I’ve already mentioned, but it bears repeating:

God treasures togetherness.

Notice how carefully He has Moses record the names of those who went down to Egypt. After all, God provided a miracle for Abraham and Sarah to have a child, and that child was the father of Jacob. And Jacob was the father of these 12 sons, and each of those sons of the head of what would become the 12 tribes of Israel.

Now, God could have simply ignored mentioning names, and had Moses say, “Roughly 70 people came down to Egypt,” and leave it at that. But unless it causes dangerous spiritual problems the way it had at the Tower of Babel, God treasures togetherness. He created Adam and Eve, not as individuals on separate continents on the new planet Earth, but took Eve from Adam’s side, and told them that they were one flesh.

If you need another warmhearted clue that God treasures togetherness, simply read through the first few verses of Revelation 21, which I read it almost every funeral or memorial service I have a part in. You can almost hear God’s very heart beating in Revelation 21:3.

Revelation 21:3: And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.

Does God treasure togetherness? Of course He does. His Son, less 24 hours from His own crucifixion, spoke to His disciples about vines and branches and the importance of staying connected. And few minutes later Jesus would pray a prayer to His Father that His followers down through the ages would be together in unity.

John 17:20 – 23: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

Six blocks east of our church, a heartwarming example of togetherness has just happened over the last few days. You might remember that a couple of weeks ago the Islamic mosque was burned so badly that its members could no longer meet there. A community center quickly gave them some temporary space, but just recently, the Mormon church right next to the Islamic Center has granted them permission to use a large classroom for their prayers for as long as they need it.

Now, these two groups of worshipers are of course not going to become one faith, but their deep mutual respect for each other is wonderful to see.

So what should I do, now that I’ve been reminded that God treasures togetherness? I need to practice togetherness as often as I can. Even introverts need togetherness. I often tell people how to be a happy member of our church. Here’s how to really come to enjoy our congregation. You simply attend a Sabbath school classes faithfully, which is where you get to know people in ways you don’t if you just come to church.

And then you come to church faithfully, and you linger in the foyer afterwards a little and shake people’s hands and get acquainted with them. If there’s a potluck, bring veggie food and stay for the potluck. If the church is having some kind of social event, come to that. Come to the Wednesday night Bible study at 6 PM. Come to prayer meeting that same night at 7:30.

In other words, come together. We have a Savior who came together with people all the time. That’s pretty much all He did.

Now let’s read a dramatic story which teaches us another “togetherness truth.”

To give you some background, you need to know that is the book of Exodus begins, the Israelites have become a huge population. They are still in Egypt, but by now the Egyptians have enslaved them and are forcing them to do backbreaking menial work. The Pharaoh has also decreed that all newborn Israelite baby boys should be destroyed, but the Israelite midwives are blissfully ignoring that command.
Then little baby Moses is born, and his mother creates a little boat for him and lets him float among the reeds at the river bank. The princess, Pharaoh’s daughter, comes down to the river and notices the little boat, falls in love with the baby, and adopts him. And Moses’s mother gets to raise him until the princess wants him at the palace.

So Moses is raised as an Egyptian nobleman. Naturally he feels concern about his people, so he embarks on his own togetherness venture.

Exodus 2:11 – 12: Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

Now there’s an action movie plot ready for the filming. Moses probably thought that his vigilante justice would inspire his countrymen to the kind of bloody togetherness which revolts against the government.
But the plot backfires.

Verses 13 – 15: And when he went out the second day, behold, two Hebrew men were fighting, and he said to the one who did the wrong, “Why are you striking your companion?” Then he said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” So Moses feared and said, “Surely this thing is known!” When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh and dwelt in the land of Midian . . . .

So, what’s God’s second “togetherness truth”? Why did God make sure this story made it into Exodus, and not get swept under the rug?

I believe that not only does God treasure togetherness, but that I need to make sure I do togetherness God’s way.

The Bible doesn’t say that Moses prayed to God about whether he should take on the role of assassin and revolutionary. Moses just probably figured that this would be the best way to bring about the Israelites’ liberation.

But God had a different togetherness plan. His plan was to make it very clear to whomever was Pharaoh at the time not only that the Israelites needed to go free, but that the God they served was the breathtakingly powerful true God.

So what do I do now that I know God’s second “togetherness truth”?

I need to remember that God’s way is to gather people in, rather than keep people out. Later, when the Israelites would march out of Egypt, a huge number of Egyptians who wanted to join them traveled with them, and God didn’t exclude them. And still later, in the 600-plus laws God would give Moses, He would provide special protection for the “strangers within your gates,” and would tell how they could become part of the Israelite nation.

Later, through the major and minor prophets, God would predict that the Gentiles would eventually come seeking truth about God, and the Israelites needed to be ready to share that truth.

So what I need to do, and working for this church or in any other area, I need to ask God to give me wisdom and help make me an attractor of other people to Him. And of course there is no place for the “Moses method,” of retaliation and vengeance and escalation.

Now let’s move to Exodus chapter 4 and look at just one more of God’s “togetherness truths.” And again, we need to fill in some of the back story.

Moses was about 40 years old when he tried to incite that rebellion using assassination. Once he had escaped to Midian, he became a shepherd, and spent 40 years doing that.

One day when God thinks Moses is ready to take on a nation-building togetherness project, He appears to Moses in a desert bush which, even though it’s blazing with fire, does not turn charcoal. It just continues to burn. Moses is intrigued by this, and comes closer, and then God introduces himself.

God then goes into great detail about how He has it all planned out for Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He presents the idea to Moses, but Moses develops extremely cold feet. Gone is the revolutionary bravado of 40 years ago. Moses now claims he can’t even speak the Egyptian language very well anymore.

God keeps trying to encourage him, and gives him several miraculous signs he can perform for both the Israelites and the Egyptians to get their attention and validate the divine power. But Moses won’t agree. Watch what happens.

Exodus 4:10 – 12: Then Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” So the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.”

Here God is speaking in shorthand. At first glance He seems to be taking responsibility for human disabilities which other parts of Scripture assure us He doesn’t actually cause. In one of Jesus’ parables, He talks about how Satan destroys, and says, “An enemy has done this.”

But here God is making an earnest point to Moses – “I am the Creator, and I created your mouth, and I can provide you with what you need to be persuasive.” Moses must think that it was eloquence which would do the trick, but that’s not the case.

Well, Moses still stonewalls his Creator, and God lets Himself get a bit emotional, and finally says that Moses’ brother Aaron can be the spokesman for them.

But what is the “togetherness truth” we learn from the story?

I need to remember that not only does God treasure togetherness, and that I need to make sure I do togetherness God’s way, but I need to remember that when God clearly challenges me to a breathtaking “togetherness project,” I need to say yes.

It all depends on what we think of God. How powerful is God? Can He really use me in my weakness and imperfections to change situations? Yes, He can. If I consecrate myself to Him, He can overrule these impediments.

It won’t always be easy, of course. It’s important to keep in mind that liberating those Israelites was not a snap of the finger. There were many dramatic steps and challenges to go through before the nation could together finally march eastward into the desert. But each struggling step spread God’s reputation further.

And even then, Pharaoh would send his soldiers after them one more time. But the Creator God parted the Red Sea, and the Israelites walked through, and the Egyptians followed and were drowned.

So, how do you know if it is really God who is challenging you to this or that project? I’ve known people who (like the 40-year-old Moses) thought they were doing God’s will, but what happened was really counterproductive and injurious to God’s cause.

All I can really do is go back to my own experience of being called into the ministry. I had been well trained as a college English teacher, and was doing that. God had provided me with a loving wife. But God wanted me to quit being an English teacher and start being a pastor.

And I think He worked it so that I didn’t really have to fight it. I had always said no to being a pastor before when people would ask me, but I didn’t obsess about it. And when the Lord began to move the pieces to propel me into the ministry, I was just carried along with it. Shelley was with me all the way. It just seemed tranquilly inevitable.

That’s my experience. Moses’ experience was different. He fought the Lord tooth and nail. But the Lord worked with me, and the Lord worked with Moses. And He will work with any of us whom he is calling to do something special for Him, something which might be out of our comfort zones right now.

Because whatever he asks us to do, it is a “togetherness project.” If the Lord is asking you to play the piano for our worship service, it is so that all of us together can feel the power of music. If He is asking you to help with our Pathfinder group, or teach in our Sabbath school classes, or be a deacon or deaconess, those are togetherness projects too.

The main thing is to pray that the Lord will lead you into areas of service He knows you would be effective in. And then just work with Him, and He will work with you.

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LISTEN TO THE PATHFINDER WORSHIP SERVICE! On Sabbath, January 21, the Sojourner Pathfinders (a local group of nearly 40 young people who are members of this Seventh-day Adventist Christian co-ed scouting-style organization) presented our worship service. Below we've included the program, but NOTE that unless you're using two computers, or don't cut-and-paste and then print out the program below, you won't be able to listen to the audio and look at the program below at the same time). To hear the audio for the service, click here.

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Expository Sermon on Matthew 19
On the occasion of the dedication of Sophia and Audrey Mellon
Bellevue SDA Church 12/31/2016
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(On the audio version, you'll first hear Shelley Schurch tell a children's story about God's love letter to us. Then you'll hear young pianist and medical student Michael Momohara play his own dramatic arrangement of "What Child is This," a song Jim and Kaylan Mellon had chosen for this service. After Maylan's sermon, you'll hear dad Jim Mellon's dedicatory prayer. To hear this audio, click here. )

Please open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 19.

While you’re turning there, I have a thank-you I would like to give some of you, and Shelley joins me in this thank-you. Some of you know that December has not been a medically serene month for me. Nothing that’s a real crisis – just things that have to be dealt with, but which cause quite a bit of discomfort and inconvenience until that happens.

Anyway, a week ago yesterday I was lying in a hospital bed at Valley Medical, and Shelley was seated by my side. By then it had become evident that we would not be able to present our music-narration Christmas program the next day as we planned.

What you actually did hear last Sabbath morning was because of an idea Shelley had on that Friday morning beside my bed. She remembered those who had presented our Sabbath morning worship service at Rosario on October 15. It was a wonderful program, but that was also the weekend when the big wind had been forecast, and quite a number of our members felt so uncertain about what might happen to their homes in their absence that they decided not to venture up to Rosario—so they missed out on the worship service.

So Shelley’s idea was, why not call these same Rosario presenters and ask them to speak again, this time here in front of the entire church family. And that’s what Shelley did, praying as she went. Using her smart phone, sending texts, making calls, sending emails, she gathered that program together. She says that it was the Lord who accomplished this, and I agree with her.

So our fervent thanks go out to Kursten Patrick, and George and Nona Nordby, for sharing how during times of crisis in their lives, God provided supernatural peace. Thanks also to Denise Childs, who graciously agreed to coordinate the service with music and responsive readings – including a reading she herself had written. Thanks to Lois Meythaler, who led the congregation in Christmas songs, and to Gary and Jeanette Salsman, who vocally led the responsive readings, and to anybody else who helped in any way.

Sunday night Shelley and I came to church and I copied the audio so that we could listen to it, and even though we’d been up at Rosario and heard the stories then, we were as encouraged as anyone else to hear how our loving Heavenly Father will come to bring peace in a crisis if we trust Him and ask Him. What a perfect message to hear on the threshold of the new year.

Thanks to those of you who knew about my hospitalization and emergency room trips, and prayed about them. Things are on the mend, and will shortly be even more on the mend.

One more thing I would like to mention is our Bible reading plan for this coming year. In your bulletin you will find an insert which tells you all about it, and it also provides the January Bible readings. This is the Andrews Study Bible plan, in which you read a bit of the New Testament in the morning, and the Old Testament in the evening. This means that you will have a chance to be inspired by both New Testament and Old Testament every day of the year. And as I mention in the insert, on every Sabbath I will be preaching – unless there’s some other reason I need to go a different direction – I will be using as my Bible passage one of the passages found in that particular week’s reading. So I would invite you to join me in reading the Bible through in 2017.

Now let’s turn to the sermon. If you are the type of person who reads sermon titles in the bulletin before the sermon starts, you already know that today’s title is “Two Dedications.” That’s kind of appropriate, because at the end of our sermon today, we will be dedicating two precious young ladies to the Lord. Shelley and I have had the privilege of watching Kayla herself grow up from a little girl, and now here she is with husband Jim and girls of their own. Jim and Kaylan have chosen our scripture reading for this morning, and I am basing this sermon on it. They chose Shelley to give the Children’s Corner—I’m sure Kayla remembers the many time she ran over to that little batch of pews to sit with the other kids.  Jim and Kayla have also chosen our closing song—and at the conclusion of my sermon they will bring their daughters forward and offer a dedication prayer.

And here in Matthew 19 this morning, we are going to watch two very different dedications happen. And the more carefully we watch, and the more we learn from them, the more I believe they’ll prepare us to face 2017 with essential spiritual strength. Let me show you what I mean.

As our story opens, we see a very familiar group of parents approaching Jesus. As they approach His group of disciples, here’s what happens.

Matthew 19:13 [NKJV]: Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them  . . . .

Now, I’m going to do something I don’t normally do when I talk about this story. I’m going to freeze-frame it, and we’re going to watch somebody else approaching for his own dedication service. Let’s skip down to verse 16.

Verse 16: Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

This turns out to be the Rich Young Ruler. His story is told in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Matthew’s version doesn’t call him a ruler, but Luke does. And all three Gospels mention his riches.

Anyway, maybe even while Jesus is still talking to the parents, this guy is hustling along the road headed in Jesus’ direction. He wants their meeting to be a dedication service too. But his ideas of dedication are very different than Jesus’ ideas are.

If you glance back and forth between verse 13 and verse 16, you will see that the parents have brought their children forward asking that Jesus lay His hands on them—that Jesus touch them. But the young ruler does not seem to want Jesus to lay hands on him, even though that was part of the normal practice of ordination or dedication back in those days.

Instead, the ruler offers Jesus his own hands. He says, “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” In other words, put me to work, Lord, give me something to accomplish, something to check off life’s most important list, some degree to attain, so I can have eternal life.

The parents want Jesus’ hands to provide the dedication for their children, but the ruler doesn’t want to lose control of this eternal life issue—he desperately hopes he can manipulate matters so he can get there himself.

I mentioned that this was a dedication service too. This guy is definitely dedicated. He came to Jesus. Mark’s version says that this young man actually came running up to Jesus and knelt before him. But at the end of the day, it’s the little kids and not the ruler who will receive the blessing of Jesus.

This might be a good time to pause and think about our own relationship to God and His Son. When Jim and Kayla bring their two sweet girls with them up to this platform in a few minutes, they’re not saying, “What good thing may we do that our girls will have eternal life?” Naturally they do want to learn how to be the best parents they possibly can be, but they also know how helpless they are on this dangerous planet without the direct intervention of Jesus Christ.

And maybe it’s young parents who know best how much they need the touch of Jesus. Every parent has a moment, maybe many moments, when a child is gravely ill, or going through some other grave kind of crisis, where all the manual skill in the world isn’t quite enough. Maybe it is young parents who understand and appreciate the touch of Jesus more than anyone else – that touch which George and Nona and Kursten received in their hours of desperation, that peace Paul talks about in Philippians 4:7, which “surpasses all understanding.”

So, what do we do with this? I think that Jesus would deeply appreciate it if we behaved like most parents rather than that young ruler. In other words, as 2017 comes nearer and nearer, let us bring what is most precious to us into the presence of Jesus and ask for His touch. We need to dedicate our children to the Lord, and several have done this past year. We need to dedicate our talents to Him. Our treasurer Jack has told me how much he appreciates the sacrificial financial spirit of many in this congregation. Just a couple of weeks ago, out of the blue, someone made a large donation to our roof repair fund. Obviously, this person was not of the spirit of the rich young ruler.

But this story isn’t over yet. Back to those waiting parents. At the point where we paused in the verse 13, they had not yet been able to actually fight through the disciple-mob to bring their children to Jesus. In fact, we’ve so far heard only one of their two requests. Let’s find out what the other one was.

Verse 13: Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray . . . .

So here’s the second thing the parents wanted. They wanted Jesus not only to touch their children, but also to pray for them. This shows that they didn’t simply believe in some kind of magic power sent by mystic electricity radiating from Jesus’ fingertips. They wanted the prayers of Jesus. Probably each of these little babies had been dedicated at eight days of age in the temple, but the parents wanted more. They must have been listening as Jesus spoke about a Father God who loves them, and they wanted this Man who seemed to know God so well to speak to Him on their behalf.

Would you like Jesus to pray for you? There is Biblical precedent for this. Put a marker here in Matthew 19 and turn for a moment to Luke 22. This is one of the most chilling yet most encouraging statements of Jesus. Jesus speaks this as He is warning Peter of the great challenge to his faith which is coming. The first part is pretty bloodcurdling.

Luke 22:31: And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.

Isn’t that chilling? You can picture Satan whispering in Jesus’ ear, “Can I have him? Can I have him?” And why does Satan want him? So that he may sift him as wheat. Satan wanted to shake Peter up, to rattle him, to challenge his faith.

But notice what Jesus says.

Verse 32: But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

And it is in the next couple of verses that Jesus predicts Peter’s denial. But notice how encouraging Jesus is. He lets Peter know that Satan will tempt him severely, but he also takes it as a given that Peter will return to Him. And Jesus says, “I have prayed for you.” Jesus prayed for Peter’s faith.

So the next time your faith feels shaky, ask Jesus to do for you what He did for Peter. “Jesus, please pray for me,” you can ask Him.

Because actually, that is what He is continuously doing right now. In Romans 8, Paul tells us not only that the Holy Spirit “makes intercession for us,” in verse 26, but a little further down in the chapter, in verse 34, he says, “. . .  It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”

Hebrews 7:24-25 drives the point home even more strongly. It says, “But He [Jesus], because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

So Jesus is constantly praying. He’s certainly not praying to convince God against God’s will to save us and strengthen our faith, because God wants these things as well. Maybe Jesus is praying more like He prayed in John chapter 17. In fact, just before we head back to Matthew 19, let’s listen in on the part of Jesus’ John 17 prayer which refers to you and me.

John 17:20 - 23: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

So as you drive through, or ride through, or walk through 2017’s uncertain weeks, think about that prayer once in a while. Because that is definitely some version of the prayer Jesus is still praying as He intercedes for us from day to day. Which means that if you get discouraged, really discouraged, you have the universe’s most powerful Pray-er praying for you.

Now let’s go back to Matthew 19 and check in on the rich young ruler. When we last saw him, he was questioning Jesus about what good thing he could do which would guarantee him eternal life.

Now, we have to pay very close attention to Jesus here. When I was a kid, I used to think that Jesus was incredibly harsh and demanding of this young man. I didn’t have a lot of earthly goods – just my toys and that kind of thing – but it struck a chill to my heart as I listen to Jesus insisting that the young ruler give up absolutely everything he owned.

Since then, of course, I’ve learned that Jesus’ soul-testing challenge here came because of His great love for this young man. In fact, that’s exactly what the Mark 10 version of this story says. In Mark 10:21, just before Jesus launched that jaw-dropping challenge, it says, “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” The word “love” is the Greek word agape, which is the John 3:16 “God so loved the world” love.

But let’s read through the story in Matthew 19 and watch as Jesus desperately wrestles for this young man’s heart.

Matthew 19:16 – 17: Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God . . . .”

This is another thing that used to puzzle me about this story as a kid. It sounded as though Jesus was not claiming to be sinless, whereas other parts of the Bible say that He was sinless.

Since then I’ve learned that this was actually part of Jesus’ challenge to the rich young ruler. What Jesus is saying is, “Are you calling Me good? Nobody is truly good except God. Does this mean that you believe that I am God?”

Which of course was true. But this electric, crackling challenge blows right past the young man. And evidently Jesus spots this cluelessness, because He continues along another line.

Matthew 19:17 – 20: So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”

Another thing that could be confusing here is that Jesus seems to be teaching that you can get to heaven simply by keeping the commandments. But back in the Sermon on the Mount which starts back in Matthew 5, Jesus makes it very clear that any good or bad deed we do needs to emerge from an already-changed heart. You might never literally murder someone, but if your heart is murderous, that will keep you from of eternal life.

I’m sure it must’ve been encouraging to Jesus that this young man, deep down inside, sensed a lack, an emptiness, even though he had behaved like a model citizen. Sensing a lack in your life is an important first step. Let’s pick up the story in verse 20:

Verse 20: The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”

You see, he still senses a lack. What he is lacking seems to be what those parents in the earlier verses had not lacked. When they approached Jesus, they didn’t ask Him to get their kids into the best schools, or get them well-paying jobs when they graduated. There were parents like that back in those days, of course. In the very next chapter, Matthew 20, Mrs. Zebedee, the mother of the disciples James and John, will come to Jesus and try to get him to elevate her two boys to the two highest positions in Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus will tell her that she didn’t know what she was really asking for.

But these Matthew 19 parents make no such demands on Jesus. All they ask Him for are His touch and His prayers. They seemed to sense that anything else beyond that, which they might want or need, Jesus can take care of. Maybe they had actually been part of his Sermon on the Mount audience when He spoke about not worrying about tomorrow, or not worrying about what you’re going to eat or drink or wear, because your Heavenly Father knows that you have need of such things, and that you should seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6:31 – 33).

But even though the parents might know this, the ambitious and impatient young business genius hasn’t yet figured that out. That is probably his major lack. Can he entrust everything he has – everything of value – all his hopes and dreams and concerns and aspirations – can he trust these totally and completely to the “Good Teacher” he has come to consult?

So – not in a spirit of harshness or cruelty but in a last-ditch effort to jolt this young man’s mind from earth to eternity, Jesus throw him a heart-stopping challenge:

Verses 21 – 22: Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Just as those parents dedicated their children to Jesus, this young man had the chance to dedicate what was valuable to him to the work of the Savior, who came to preach the gospel to the poor.

But he choked. He froze. His personal “dedication service,” in which he was trying to achieve eternal life by doing some supreme good deed, didn’t quite stretch far enough to include this supremely selfless sacrifice. He didn’t know it, but he had been standing there talking to Someone who Himself had already made that very sacrifice. In 2 Corinthians 8:9, Paul says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”

And that’s the choice you and I have to make this morning, as the old year fades into the new. In a few seconds, Jim and Kayla are going to do what that little group of parents did 2,000 years ago—they’re going to be bringing their children to Jesus, no strings attached, wanting only His touch and His prayerful intercession and His will to be accomplished for these girls.

And I know that our interceding Savior is longing for me, and for all of us here, to dedicate ourselves in that same way. You’ve heard of “self-medication”—what the rich young ruler was trying to do was “self-dedication,” coming to Jesus on human terms, works terms, checklist consecration, which is no consecration at all.

Instead, can we just relax in the arms of Jesus, the way these little girls will let themselves relax in the arms of Mom and Dad? Can we remember that Jesus said that He welcomes children, because “of such is the kingdom of heaven,” and that He cherishes childlike trust in God no matter what age we are?

Would you raise your hand and ask the Lord for that kind of dedication right now?

Now I’d like to ask Jim and Kayla to bring Sophia and Audrey up here to the front, along with any family members or relatives. First, the parents will offer a prayer, and then I will conclude with a prayer of my own.

(Back to the Top)

Expository Sermon on John 1
Bellevue SDA Church 12/17/16
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon--sorry for the slight hum--click here.)

Please open your Bibles to John chapter 1.

Just after Thanksgiving, in the neighborhood where Shelley and I live, people start stirring themselves to put up their Christmas decorations. Over the years, we have noticed that some people are pretty minimalist in their decor. They might run a string of colored lights along their roof gutter and call it good. Other people will go a step further. They’ll put up the gutter lights, and then they will buy those little laser projectors and shove them into the ground in the front lawn. When they turn them on, the whole front of the house sparkles with hundreds and hundreds of points of laser light.

We are particularly missing one family, who moved away a couple of years ago. While they were still with us, the man of the house would mount a large circular wooden “peace” sign, illuminated with white light bulbs, on the roof of his garage. But that family moved away, and we miss them.

We also miss the two ladies who lived on a corner. These ladies possessed large painted plywood cutouts of everything from Santa and his reindeer to snowmen, and there might’ve even been a nutcracker soldier in the mix. They strung colored lights on top of their fence, and as you drove by their house, there was a point where you could see into their backyard, and you discovered that the backyard had lighted Christmas decorations too. But those ladies have moved away too, and their house’s new owners have put up no decorations up at all.

However, there are still a lot of displays to look at. One such family, who lives on another corner, has set up an inflatable Santa. Santa is sitting in a large chair. He is illuminated from within, and sits there waving his inflatable arm at us. On the other side this family’s lawn is another Santa. But for some reason, this Santa lives in an inflatable, illuminated green travel trailer, and every 20 seconds or so, the door to that trailer pops open, and Santa’s upper body emerges, and then he goes back in.

But this family also provides a Christmas theme which I don’t remember any of the rest of our neighborhood featuring, at least not to this extent. To the left of the two Santas is a large inflatable nativity scene, again, lit from within. I don’t think any of those figures are in motion – nobody in the scene is waving, for example -- but there they sit, posing for all to see.

When I was pondering what to speak about this morning, I got to thinking that even though Christmas gets its name from Christ, most commercials or Christmas decorations – if they feature Him at all – don’t go deeply into His backstory the way our congregation did last Sabbath during its wonderful Christmas program. I hope you got a chance to see that. I was just so impressed by the hard work, immersed in humility, which each person provided. That was wonderful.

John chapter 1 talks about the arrival of Jesus, but it ignores the baby in the manger completely. Instead – at least this is one way to read the first few verses – this chapter talks about how Jesus arrived to deal with several different chaoses people had gotten themselves into.

What do I mean by chaos? The latest edition of the American Heritage Dictionary defines chaos as “A condition or place of great disorder or confusion.” In the first few verses of John 1, I can find at least two kinds of chaos. There are definitely more, but those two are the ones I’m going to focus on for this sermon.

But the good news is that Jesus, when He arrives, goes to war with each of these “conditions of disorder or confusion.” Because both are toxic to our souls. And I think that understanding them, and understanding why Jesus came to destroy them, is incredibly important to learn during this Christmas season. So let’s take a look at them.

John 1:1 – 2 [NKJV]: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.

Right away, we see that this Word is not simply a cluster of consonants and vowels. This Word is a He, and this “He” was in the beginning with God. And down in verse 14 it tells us who this Word is.

Verses 14 – 15: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ ”

So this is obviously talking about Jesus. As we study the Bible – the same way we study a newspaper or listen to or watch a news broadcast – we need to stay in practice when it comes to verifying things. I could’ve simply told you that the Word was Jesus, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Look back at the context and it makes it very clear. There’s so much fake news flying around these days that we need to be on our toes, and not simply accept an idea on someone’s say-so.

Anyway, where’s the chaos here? Let’s go back to verse one.

Verse 1: In the beginning was the Word . . . .

So why did John call Jesus the Word? Why didn’t he simply say that Jesus was divine, and became a man? He could have said, “In the beginning was the Man who was miraculously fathered by God.” Why did he refer to Jesus as the Word?

Well, “Word” must be important.  The New Testament hadn’t been written when Jesus was born, but the Old Testament has a lot to say about how important the “Word of God” is. Back then it was talking about the Scriptures, communication from God. Psalm 119:130 says, “The entrance of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple.”  “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.” Psalm 119:11.

Here it is very clearly telling us that words which God has provided for us are important. And here in John 1, Jesus is introduced as the Word of God. So therefore, it’s important to pay attention to Him.
But where’s the chaos?

Back when I was a kid in South Dakota, listening to the radio at night, I discovered that nighttime was the best time to wander through the radio dial. During the day time you got just a few stations like the 50,000-watt WNAX in Yankton, South Dakota. But at night you could get WHO in Des Moines, Iowa, and sometimes even KSL in Salt Lake City, Utah.

But those stations were so far away that you could never get a clear signal for very long. You’d hear the music, and then the static would build, and pretty soon the static was louder than the music. Then a few seconds later, if you were lucky, the station got clearer again. So what you had was verbal chaos. Even though what was being broadcast might have been true, you only got part of the message, and who’s to say you weren’t missing the most important parts because of the static?

And verbal static is what you had just before Jesus came. Daniel 9 made it very clear that the Messiah was due, but – just like those two rabbis in last week’s skit were telling each other – their idea of the Messiah was someone who would arrive as a mighty king, and would immediately and firmly drive the Roman occupiers out of Palestine. But as the skit also portrayed, it was the humble people, the servants, the shepherds, who were able to look at the little family in a stable and decide that yes, this baby was the Messiah. The rabbis couldn’t arrive at the truth because of verbal static they had believed, and had created by imposing their limited ideas on people who trusted them.

The Bible gives several examples of the dangerous effect of verbal static. God told Adam and Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit. Satan turned up the static machine and bamboozled them into disobeying God. Jacob deceived Isaac into granting him the birthright. Satan did his best to befuddle Jesus’ mind with verbal static during the wilderness temptation. The woman at the well turned up the verbal static about her marital status, but Jesus saw through it.

So if we were to lay this down as the first sermon point, it could go something like this:

To the chaos of verbal static, Jesus bring a sure word.

You don’t need me to inform you that we are now living in a time of great verbal static. We are living in an age where fake news is being deliberately and blatantly created and sent out to the Internet. There’s a lot of religious verbal static too. If you go into any large bookstore, you’ll find that the occult and astrology section is at least as large as the Christian section.

So, verbal static exists, but Jesus – God’s true, clear Word – comes to set the record straight. So what should I do now that I know this?

Well, I firmly believe that you and I need to develop a deeper and deeper connection to God’s Word. This coming year I am going to be preparing sermons following a through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan. But take courage! This is a different plan than I’ve used before. In past years, we have simply started the year in Genesis and ended the year at Revelation.

But this year we’re going to do it differently. We’re going to be using the Bible reading plan in the back of the Andrews Study Bible. You won’t need to buy the Bible, unless you want to, because I will be providing each month’s reading list as we go along. What this program does is to have us read a little in the New Testament in the morning, and in the evening we read some from the Old Testament.

For example, the morning of January 1 we’ll be reading Matthew chapter 1, and that evening we’ll read Genesis 1, 2, and 3. And the next morning we’ll read Matthew chapter 2, and in the evening, Genesis 4, 5, and 6, and so on. That way you get both the New Testament and the Old Testament as you go along through the year.

And each Sabbath that I preach, I will choose my preaching passage from somewhere in that week’s Bible reading. Sometimes the passage will be from the Old Testament, and sometimes from the New Testament.

I’ll be getting word to you with more details about this plan. I’m looking forward to it. I think we need to become more biblically literate all the time. Because that’s the only way to develop an intuition about what God is like. Devotional books are great, but they should never take the place of a systematic reading of the Bible. The Bible is the most dependable way to cut through the devil’s verbal static. (Remember how Jesus met each of the devil’s wilderness temptations with a verse from the Bible?) So I encourage you to join me in this reading plan, and as I say, you will hear more about this before the New Year.

Now let’s look at the second chaos-causer Jesus came to do battle with.

John 1:3: All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

So, look around you. The pew pad you’re sitting on – that molecular structure was created by Jesus. The wood that supports the pew pad – also created by Jesus. The stone floor that’s underneath our carpet – that was created by Jesus. Those astounding ear canals and stirrup bones and nerve connections which are allowing you to hear my voice – these were created by Jesus. Your blood pressure is a generous gift from Jesus. The marvelous retina which takes upside-down pictures and turns them right side up again inside your brain that all these are gifts of the creator Jesus. All things were made by Him.

So what chaos does this fight against? The older I get, the more puzzled I become about why anyone still believes in macroevolution, the idea that we developed from lower lifeforms. Yet this is what you hear in the media whenever the subject of origins comes up. They casually toss off words like “evolution,” and you can tell that nobody seems to be sitting down and thinking this thing through. One of my informal hobbies is just keeping an eye out for phenomena which couldn’t have evolved from lower beings. We are just too well-made. Even those “lower beings” are too well made. There is absolutely nothing simple about a simple cell.

So what’s the big deal? Why can’t macroevolution be one option for us to believe? The answer is that it leads us to chaos. If we come to the conclusion that we have evolved without the assistance of God, then why should God have any place in our life?

And if we carry this idea to its logical conclusion, if we don’t believe in a Creator God, then we can behave however we like. If we’re smart, course, we behave nicely to those who can benefit us, or who are stronger than we are. But to people who aren’t as strong as we are, or who can’t directly benefit us, we can behave badly. And since it’s survival of the fittest, that’s okay.
Macro evolution gives us permission to believe the final stanza of William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus”:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

That sounds so grand and glorious, but it is so much hogwash. Over and over, our human race has proven that no, we are not the captains of our state, nor the masters of our souls. Our very nature is sinful and selfish. Left to ourselves, we would destroy each other, fight with each other for food and land and whatever else we wanted to tear from someone else by force.

The good news, of course, is that Jesus arrived to destroy the chaos of macroevolution. He could have allowed John to ignore the fact that the Messiah is not just the Lamb of God and the Savior but also the Creator. But instead, John mentions it in such a way as to leave no doubt whatsoever about this. He uses two very clear sentences to insist that Jesus created everything, and nothing that has any existence is apart from what he created. We of course have made wrong use of many things Jesus created, but that’s not His fault.

Let’s lay down the second sermon point and tie that off.

To the chaos of verbal static, Jesus brings a sure word. And to the chaos of macroevolution, Jesus brings membership in the family of God.

And here, I think, is a truly important reason why this is so important. If Jesus is our Creator, think what that means. He could have simply kept his distance. He could have created us and just gone off to another galaxy and started some other project.

But instead, our Creator became one of us. He became a human being. He allowed Himself to become a baby, and to grow, and to learn just the way we learn. He created us, and then became one of us.
And what that means is that I need to remember that I am not anonymous. I am not an accident. No matter who I am or whom I came from, I have incredible potential if I offer myself to God’s service.

I got a haircut this week, and my barber – who knows I’m a Seventh-day Adventist – asked about Desmond Doss. She brought up the film Hacksaw Ridge, and asked me questions about him. According to Wikipedia, Desmond Doss was born in Virginia. His dad was a carpenter and his mother was a homemaker. Like my dad, Desmond Doss never finished high school, because he needed to go to work to help support his parents and siblings during the Great Depression.

Here was somebody who could have been just an ordinary person, nothing special about him. But when World War II came along, he enlisted, even though he could have been granted a deferment because he was a shipbuilder. The Desmond Doss wanted to serve on the battlefield. But he absolutely refused to put himself in a position where he could kill someone. Instead, he wanted to save lives.

And if you seen the movie, you know what happened. He got a lot of ridicule at first a lot of persecution, but in the end, he stood facing the president of the United States, who presented him with the Medal of Honor.

To the chaos of macro evolution, Jesus brings membership in the family of God. We sing about that, don’t we? “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.”

But consider what that does for us, if we really recognize that we are tremendously valuable to God, and have incredible potential. If Jesus is our Creator, this takes the pressure off us. If we were created by the One who made the universe and everything in it, we can relax our shoulders. Because we not only have high potential, but the creator promises us that we can accomplish amazing things through His power. Let me read some of the verses which promise this:

Isaiah 40:31: But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.

And then in just the next chapter:

Isaiah 41:10 Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’

There are a lot of promises like this, but let’s look at Hebrews 11:33 and 34. These verses list what Bible people accomplished through faith:

Hebrews 11:33 – 34: . . . who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

So what shall I do now that I know that Jesus counters the macroevolution fallacy by assuring us that since He created us, we have powerful potential if we turn our plans and lives over to Him?

Well, it’s a no-brainer. We need do what Desmond Doss did—and Noah, and Abraham, and Joseph, and Samuel, and Deborah, and Gideon, and David, and Daniel, and those faithful New Testament people did. We need to resolve to honor God’s words and plans, and surrender to Him in service.

Would you like to ask the Lord to make this real in your life as the year draws to a close? Would you raise your hand and promise this to Him?

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Expository Sermon on First Peter
Bellevue SDA Church 11/26/16
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles again to First Peter, chapter one.

Can any of you remember where you were on May 29, 1982? Neither could I – I had to look it up. On May 29, 1982, I was right here, standing at the pulpit. It wasn’t this very pulpit, but the previous one which this pulpit replaced. And it wasn’t this platform, but the old, carpeted, circular platform which this one replaced.

Back then, the rich maroon carpet and those maroon pew coverings were bright and new, because this sanctuary was barely 3 years old. I remember looking around and thinking, “What is a South Dakota farm boy doing in a palace like this?”

What I was doing that day was preaching. I was very surprised when I looked in my sermon record book and discovered that the sermon I preached that day here in this church was only the second sermon I had preached in this conference. A month and a half earlier, Shelley and I had driven across country from the seminary at Berrien Springs, Michigan, and I had become an intern pastor at the Auburn City church. I had preached one sermon there, and my second-ever sermon as a pastor was preached right here.

My sermon record book tells me that that sermon was called “God’s Love in the Leviticus.” I don’t remember it, and I’m certain nobody else remembers it, and I’m also certain it was so amateurish that it would be useless to try to find it and polish it off.

The reason I was preaching here was that intern pastors are often “loaner preachers,” called in to preach when the regular pastor is gone, or a church is between pastors.

But the reason I bring up this experience was that Shelley and I were strangers to the people in this building, and they were strangers to us. In fact, the only thing I remember about that morning – aside from admiring this new sanctuary – was that afterward someone invited us to Sabbath dinner, and there were several people there. And that’s where we met Robert and Carolyn Howson and some other nice people, and we felt less like strangers than we did before.

When the apostle Peter sent out the first two of his letters, he was writing to people who probably felt like strangers even in their home towns, and who probably needed a lot of encouragement.
And Peter encourages them vigorously – and gives them reasons to be thankful. But he doesn’t stop there. And since all Scripture is profitable for us, he speaks to us, right here, today. He tells us some reasons why we should be thankful, and then he tells us how to go beyond thanksgiving. Let me show you what I mean.

1 Peter 1:1 [NKJV]: Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia . . . . .

If the Bible you have with you has maps in the back – and you can find Bible maps online quite easily – you will see that the countries with these names cover almost exactly the modern nation of Turkey. This was one of the first areas of Christian evangelism, and Peter and Paul and others would travel from town to town here.

The first thing they would do would be to go to the Jewish synagogue and speak there. And since most of the people in the synagogue eventually decided that there was no way that a Nazareth small businessman could be the Messiah, they would eventually eject these Christians from the synagogue, and those new believers would have to start meeting in house churches.

And it’s important to realize just how estranged these new Christians must have felt. If they had Jewish background, they already felt like strangers. Their spiritual home was Jerusalem, where the Temple was, and here they were hundreds of miles north.

The faithful Jews – most likely the wealthy ones who had funds enough to travel – would do their best to make it to Jerusalem for the major feasts. In fact, in Acts 2, it says that among the visitors on the Day of Pentecost were people from three of the regions Peter mentions –Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia. I suppose it could be possible that some of the readers of Peter’s first letter might have actually heard him preach on that day in Jerusalem. Maybe some were his baptismal converts.

Anyway, if you were a faithful Jewish believer, you already knew that you were in exile. You were part of the “dispersion” Peter mentions, which is the Greek word diaspora. You were far from your spiritual home, the land God gave your ancestors.

And if on top of that you left Judaism to become a Christian, you were even more of a stranger. When you were still in the synagogue, you at least had those comforting traditions and rabbinic teachings you could guide your life by. But if you suddenly decided to believe in the Son of God, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, you became truly a stranger to everybody – your family, your friends in the synagogue, the pagan people he worked with every day.

So, Peter writes you a letter. And I would like to focus on just one passage in this letter. In that passage, Peter gives us some amazing things to be thankful for, and then teaches us how we can go beyond that gratitude to really make a difference in our world. So let’s find out what he has to say.

1 Peter 2:9: But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;

Now we need to slow ‘way down and take this phrase by phrase, to get the most out of it.

1 Peter 2:9: But you are a chosen generation . . . .

If you are using a Bible whose verses bristle with all sorts of footnotes and references, you will discover that the phrases Peter uses in this verse come straight out of the Old Testament. For example, in Deuteronomy 10:15, Moses says to the people, “The Lord delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day.” Every Jewish believer – even if they became a Christian – knew very well that God had chosen Abraham to be the father of the Hebrew nation.

If you’re taking sermon notes, this could be the first point. Why does Peter think I should be thankful?

Peter tells me to be thankful because I’m part of a chosen generation.

Somebody might say, “Wait a minute. That’s fine for people who are Jewish, but what if I don’t have any Jewish blood in my veins?”

Paul answers that question in the last four verses of Galatians 3. He says, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

In other words, no matter who you are, if you have accepted Jesus as your Messiah and Savior, you have been chosen.

Isn’t it a good thing to be chosen? If you want to get a firsthand look at how delightful it is to be chosen, drop in to the lower elementary school classroom, and say the magic words, “I’m going to need a couple of volunteers.”

Now, if these kids know you and trust you, you will suddenly see a forest of upraised hands. Those hands will not be half-raised timidly – no, those young elbows are locked straight, begging to be chosen.
So what do I do, now that I know that I am part of God’s “chosen generation”? Well, it’s important to remember what God did with those people He chose – where He positioned them.

Remember, God called Abraham when Abraham was living in southern Iraq. God didn’t tell Abraham to become the father of a nation over there in Iraq. Instead, He guided Abraham to the narrow strip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian desert.

That’s where God’s chosen people were to set up camp – not in a far distant land, tucked away in a valley somewhere, but on a heavily-traveled land bridge between northern countries like the ones Peter was writing to, and southern countries like Egypt and Libya and Ethiopia. As business people traveled north and south through Palestine, the idea was that they were to get a tutorial, both coming and going, of the way God’s ideal culture operated.

So when Peter says to his readers, “You are a chosen generation,” he’s not informing them that they are now enrolled in some sort of Hall of Fame and they can retire to Florida. He is reminding them that – just like their spiritual forefathers and foremothers – they are supposed to influence people in God’s direction.

So what should I do, as a chosen person, now that I know this? Well, I need to do what the Bible people we name our kids after did. Isaiah said, “Here am I, send me,” and I need to be willing to go where God wants me to go.

In the last several weeks we’ve noticed how Gideon was ready to accept God’s staggering challenge to defeat Israel’s enemies with 300 men. I need to be willing to believe that God is able to accomplish great things through me, if He chooses to. Hannah and Elizabeth and Mary were called upon to rear children who would affect the spiritual destinies of many people. If I have children, I need to raise them with earnest and devout prayer.

In other words, we must go beyond being grateful that we are chosen, go beyond that to pointing other people in God’s direction.

Now let’s look at the second phrase in first Peter 2:9.

Verse 9: But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, . . . .

What’s another reason I should be thankful?

Peter tells me to be thankful not only because I’m part of a chosen generation, but because I’m part of a royal priesthood.

So, why is this so important, for me, right here?

Well, if Peter says it’s important, it must be important. ‘Way back in Exodus 19, even before God spoke of the 10 Commandments allowed, He had something important He wanted Moses to tell the people. In fact, put some kind of marker in First Peter, and let’s go back to Exodus 19.

Exodus 19:3 – 6: And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”

Notice, this wasn’t just spoken to the Levites. Later, the tribe of Levi would be chosen to serve in the sanctuary, and is religious teachers to the people. Here, God tells the whole nation that they are to be a kingdom of priests.

It must’ve been really surprising for these people to hear that. After all, for hundreds of years, as slaves in Egypt, they had been the lowest of the low. As they were toiling away making bricks, they had probably looked up to see solemn processions of Egyptian priests and priestesses conducting some religious ritual or other. They knew very well that any pharaoh who wanted to keep his throne listened very carefully and respectfully to what the priest had to say.

And now, there at the foot of Mount Sinai, God told Moses to tell the people that they themselves were to be an entire kingdom of priests and priestesses.

And as we’ve seen in First Peter, Peter tells his letter-readers the same thing. And many years later, in Revelation 1:6, the old apostle John would repeat this challenge and launch it still further into the future. He wrote,  “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Notice that as soon as John mentions Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for us, in the same breath he mentions that we are now kings and priests – and queens and priestesses – for God.

So what do I do, now that I know this? Those Old Testament priests interceded with God for people. You and I can not do this literally has the priests did in the sanctuary, but we can bring people to God in prayer. Any time you pray for somebody, you are acting as a priest or priestess for them. Anytime you are present for somebody, letting him or her pour out their hearts to you, you are acting in this priestly role. When the elderly high priest Eli listened thoughtfully to Hannah’s longings for a child, he was doing what a priest is supposed to do.

And a little later in this same book, Peter tells us something else that Bible priests would do:

1 Peter 3:15: But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;

There’s a whole sermon right there in that verse alone. First, we need to make sure that we regard God as holy in our own hearts. Then we should be ready to defend God when someone asks us about Him.

And third, we must do this in “meekness and fear.” No pomposity, no “I know more than you know,” no aggressiveness – just meekness and fear. Meekness because we are supposed to be humble, and fear because we understand the seriousness of our intercession.

But is being a priest or priestess for God really something that I can be thankful for? Of course it is. Right here in this church we have scores of priests and priestesses who have served in our Vacation Bible School, and their eyes light up when they talk about the kids they work with. The same thing happens in our children’s divisions – these people do this work year after year after year because they sense the importance of their calling.

Remember – Peter doesn’t say, “If you get some training, you will eventually become priest or priestess for God.” No, he insists that right now we are priests or priestesses. I need to remember that whenever I open my mouth at home, at school, at work, I am making a priestly utterance because I am a priest. It’s not that everything I say will be religious in nature, but the way I say something, the attitude I say it with, is to be encouraging and heart-lifting rather than the opposite.

Let’s look at just one more thing Peter tells us we can be thankful for – and then tells us how to go beyond thankfulness to something more. Let’s go back again to First Peter 2, verse 9.

1 Peter 2:9: But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation . . . .

 Do you see that word “nation”? That’s the Greek word ethnos, which is where we get the word “ethnic” and “ethnicity.” You hear the word “ethnicity” a lot these days. One of the delightful things about our congregation is that there are a great number of different ethnicities here. This is especially enjoyable at potluck, when a pastor with German and Swiss and Irish ethnicity can sample the best food from the rest of the world.

I used to think that mushrooms and noodles or fried egg sandwiches were the last word in culinary ecstasy, but not any longer. By far, the best thing that happened to Adventist vegetarianism has been the arrival of foods from all over the world, where people have learned to treat Eden’s original cuisine with the respect it deserves.

Here in this verse, Peter tells us that the along with whatever nationality we come from, we should have a “holiness ethnicity.” In other words, holiness needs to be as much a part of us as our earthly ethnicity. We need to regard holiness as the norm.

And again, Peter doesn’t say that we need to take an online tutorial or a community college class, and eventually we will become a holy nation. He said that right now we are to wear the label “holy nation.”
Which means that we need to figure out how this can happen in our lives. Actually, this is not so unusual. After all, doesn’t every parent who sends their kids to a Christian school or public school hope that that school will be a holy place? Don’t they hope that their children will be protected from unholy behavior?

And of course from one end to the other the Bible insists on holiness. Back in Deuteronomy 7:6, it says, “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.” And in Leviticus 20:26 God says, “And you shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine.”

So a major part of being holy is to be separate. Not antisocial, not living as a hermit, but being separate from other people when it comes to carelessness about spiritual things. As a teenager working full-time at a milk bottling plant in my hometown, I had to decide whether or not to adopt the swearing habits of my coworkers. I had to decide to say no to their repeated offers of a cigarette. I had to decline the invitation to go to the bars with them. This was sometimes embarrassing to do, but I had to make a decision. Yet I still had to be friendly and pleasant as a coworker.

In any Christian who has been consistent in this realizes, it has an effect on people. These people may not immediately become Christians; they may not join your particular brand of Christianity, but your influence will be powerful even though you might not realize it.

And in the last part of verse nine, and in verse 10, Peter gives a main reason for remembering our chosenness, our royal priesthood, our holy ethnicity.

Verses 9 – 10: But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

Do you see the whole point? We assume our chosen role, our royal priestly role, our holiness role, so that as God’s special people we can proclaim that God is praiseworthy. In fact, do you see that word “praises”, where we’re supposed to “proclaim the praises of Him”? That’s not talking about the kind of praise you give to someone who’s done something amazing, like throwing a touchdown pass or getting a good grade on a test.

No, that’s the Greek word arete, and it actually means “moral goodness,” or “virtue.” Over in 2 Peter 1:5 Peter says, “giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue,” and that’s that same Greek word. So what he’s talking about here in 1 Peter 2:9 is that by acting as a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation, we are proclaiming the virtue of Him who has called us out of darkness.

In other words, this is a “great controversy” issue, a “character of God” issue. This is testifying that God is morally good, and virtuous, not evil. Which is of course the answer to the most important question in the universe, “What is God really like?”

I think I mentioned last week that Cliff Barrows passed away a little over a week ago. Cliff was the music and program director for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and would lead gigantic choirs at those huge evangelism events.

Last night on the Christianity Today website I read a tribute to Cliff Barrows written by Larry Ross, who also worked with Billy Graham. Here’s a story he told, which I think is a perfect example of how Christians should relate to God and to the people around them.

Larry Ross writes, “I first met Cliff early on in my tenure as director of media and public relations and personal spokesman for Billy Graham, at the completion of a media tour in Los Angeles. We were introduced in a hotel lobby by the evangelist, and then Cliff and I rode the elevator together up to our rooms. I was both in awe and nervous in the presence of this man of God (who I had admired since my days at Wheaton College). I was uncharacteristically at a loss for words and resorted to humor to set myself at ease.

“’You know, Mr. Barrows, this is one of the nicest hotels in which I have ever stayed,’ I remarked. He looked perplexed, perhaps reflecting on many better properties at which he’d stayed in his decades of world travel. I quickly added the punch line, ‘The towels are so fluffy, I can hardly shut my suitcase.’

“With his signature sincerity, Cliff’s countenance shifted. He replied, ‘Larry, you are working for Mr. Graham now, and everything you do is a reflection on him.’”

What Larry had said was only a nervous joke, but right away he got the message that his personal reputation would cause people to think well, or think badly, of Billy Graham. And I think, and Peter seems to strongly think, that this is the way we should think about ourselves as representatives of God. Even in our humor we should be very careful to represent Him well.

Would you like to join me in resolving to answer that question truthfully—with or without words—to those in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, this week? Would you like to raise your hand as I raise mine?

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Expository Sermon on Judges 6 - 8
Bellevue SDA Church 11/19/2016
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(Sorry, the audio for this sermon is not available.)

Please open your Bibles to Judges chapter 6.

While you are finding Judges 6, I will let you know that this is the last sermon in a three-part series on the adventures of the Old Testament Bible hero Gideon. (To our online readers, simply scroll down to find the two previous sermons in this series.)

Gideon of course is famous for defeating an army of multiple thousands with just 300 men. But there’s a whole lot more to the story than just those torches and pitchers and trumpets. Last Sabbath we took a break from the story, so let me briefly recap what’s been happening.

The Midianites were distant relatives of the Israelites. Abraham had other children besides Isaac, with a woman named Keturah, and they had a son named Midian. The Midianites had become a desert people, and when Gideon was a young man there was a seven-year period when the Midianites would pack up their tents and just move into Israel’s territory and steal their crops and harass them. As you can imagine, this was a pretty hopeless situation.

Like everybody else, Gideon was distressed by this. And one day he was secretly threshing grain down in a wine press hoping the Midianites wouldn’t see him and come steal the grain. And down there in the winepress, an angel appeared to Gideon, an angel who eventually turned out to be the Lord Himself.

And as I read through this story, I discovered that God and Gideon can teach us several lessons about what to do when you’re losing hope. If I’m losing hope, I need to first take responsibility for any role I might play in this hopelessness. (Israel worshipped idols, which got them into this trouble.) Then, I need to cry out to God and listen carefully to his response. And then I need to let God position me to bring hope, which is what Gideon did.

And then, to maintain my hope, I need to remember that if I work with God, God will work with me. And I must make sure to replace any idols in my life with an altar to God.

So when we move back into Gideon’s story today, we’re at the point where not only the Midianites but also the Amalekites are getting close so they can start another cycle of harassment. But watch what happens.

Judges 6:33 – 35 [NKJV]: Then all the Midianites and Amalekites, the people of the East, gathered together; and they crossed over and encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. But the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon; then he blew the trumpet, and the Abiezrites gathered behind him. And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, who also gathered behind him. He also sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali; and they came up to meet them.

Do you see what happened? The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he put out the call for military recruits. And the Spirit of the Lord must have been at work in their hearts, too, because 32,000 people respond.

And can you imagine what it must’ve been like to be Gideon, watching all those patriots assemble? Is it any wonder that Gideon turned desperately back to God for final confirmation?

Verses 36 – 38: So Gideon said to God, “If You will save Israel by my hand as You have said—look, I shall put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that You will save Israel by my hand, as You have said.” And it was so. When he rose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece together, he wrung the dew out of the fleece, a bowlful of water.

Years ago in my teens I remember hearing a pastor preach on the story. He mentioned how since Gideon was a farm boy, at this point he probably got to thinking, “Wait a minute. Even though this is an entire bowl full of water, fleece is absorbent, or at least more absorbent than dry ground. Maybe it’s fairly natural for there to be relatively dry ground and a relatively soppy fleece which has lain out all night. I’d better see if the Lord would be willing to work the miracle the other way.”

Remember that one of the lessons we learned earlier in this story was that if I work with God, God will work with me. Faced with this intimidating challenge, Gideon didn’t allow his fear to shrivel him up. He didn’t get discouraged and tell the patriots to go back home. Instead, he worked with God, and God worked with him.

Verses 39 – 40: Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me, but let me speak just once more: Let me test, I pray, just once more with the fleece; let it now be dry only on the fleece, but on all the ground let there be dew.” And God did so that night. It was dry on the fleece only, but there was dew on all the ground.

And now, Gideon is convinced. Time to go to war.

Judges 7:1:  Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the well of Harod, so that the camp of the Midianites was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley.

I would imagine that many of those 32,000 newly minted, hot-blooded citizen militia members had been aching for a chance to do this for seven years. All they needed was a leader. Their plan – and probably Gideon’s plan – was to just jog over to the Midianite camp and start wiping them out.

But the Lord is about to teach Gideon another lesson about how to maintain your hope. Let’s find out what that lesson is, and then we’ll talk about it.

Verse 2: And the Lord said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.

Isn’t that interesting? I would imagine that all those hot-blooded young guys, and middle-aged guys, are looking forward to getting back home and telling war-hero stories, with their own battle-roles getting bigger at each retelling.

But that is not what the Lord wants to happen. If you’re taking sermon notes, here is the next lesson to maintaining your hope. You see, after seven years of bullying and humiliation from the Midianites, Gideon’s hope is high. So are the hopes of his volunteers. And now it seems as though the Lord is about to dash those hopes.

Verse 3: Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead.’ ” And twenty-two thousand of the people returned, and ten thousand remained.

Actually, this wasn’t really unusual, and Gideon probably knew this. Back in Deuteronomy 20:8, God had prescribed ways of gathering an army. And He had told the leaders to excuse the fainthearted, and the reason God gave there was that this low morale and negativity would spread to the other troops.

So, out of this group of 32,000, 22,000 leave, and 10,000 remain.

Let’s lay down the sermon point. How can I maintain my hope?

I must abandon my ego.

I wonder what Gideon was feeling at this point. “Wait a minute,” he’s probably thinking. “I thought these 22,000 were ready to fight.”

And I wonder what the remaining 10,000 felt like as they watched more than half their original force disappearing over the horizon. This must’ve taken some of the wind out of their sails. Maybe some of them are starting to wish that they had packed up and left as well.

But no, they’re not the cowardly ones. They’re the ones who will be returning home in a few weeks covered with glory. They’ll be the ones riding in the victory parades, looking down their noses at the chickens who scuttled for home at the thought of battle.

And suddenly word comes that Gideon has ordered the troops to start moving. Well, this is it. Here we go. No turning back now.

Verse 4: But the Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. Then it will be, that of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ the same shall go with you; and of whomever I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ the same shall not go.”

We’re assuming that this water was some kind of fresh-water river or creek which they needed to wade across to get to the enemy.

And as that patriot militia starts wading into the water, they don’t know what’s about to happen. Nobody has told them, “Okay, guys. Take a drink of water and let’s see how you do it.”

Verses 5 – 6: So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “Everyone who laps from the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set apart by himself; likewise everyone who gets down on his knees to drink.” And the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was three hundred men; but all the rest of the people got down on their knees to drink water.

The Bible doesn’t say anything about the psychology behind this. But we are assuming that this militia knows it’s on its way to war. And we’re assuming that those who actually got down on their knees were probably in no really urgent hurry to rush over the hill and get sliced and diced by the enemy. So they are taking their sweet time, stalling as long as possible.

But the guys who, as they are striding across the brook, bend quickly down to cup water in their hands and slurp it down – these are the guys who will be ready for this highly unconventional fight. Notice what the Lord says.

Verse 7: Then the Lord said to Gideon, “By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand. Let all the other people go, every man to his place.”

Can you imagine the confusion this must’ve caused? First, the 10,000 heroes-to-be watch the 22,000 cowards shrink back to mama and the kids, and now they are dismissed as well. “Whoa,” they’re probably muttering to each other. “What’s this all about? Looks like there’s not going to be a war after all.” Some of them may have even flung curses at Commander Gideon as they trudge past him. “Well, this was sure a waste of time!” “Yeah!” somebody else yells. “What are the people going think when we all go back home again? And the Midianites, after they stop laughing, will be bolder than ever!”

But Commander Gideon lets the ridicule roll off his back. After all, he has abandoned his own ego long ago. Even back in his first conversation with the angel from heaven, who calls him a mighty man of valor, he didn’t let that compliment go to his head.

Anyway, no time to nurse a wounded ego. It’s time for war – God’s way.

Verses 8: So the people took provisions and their trumpets in their hands. And he sent away all the rest of Israel, every man to his tent, and retained those three hundred men.

Now we come to a very tenderhearted incident. Here we see a God who has already contributed so much to the war effort. He has personally appeared to Gideon – it’s very clear that that Angel was either God Himself or possibly Jesus. God has given Gideon His Spirit. God has provided two dramatic fleece signs.

But God is watching Gideon carefully. He’s watched him as 31,700 soldiers have slunk away, probably with hoots and jeers and a lot of confusion about God Himself. Gideon clearly believes in God, but he has absolutely no idea about how God will use 300 men to defeat the enemy’s army.

Notice how gently and understandingly God speaks.

Verses 9 – 12: It happened on the same night that the Lord said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have delivered it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant, and you shall hear what they say; and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outpost of the armed men who were in the camp. Now the Midianites and Amalekites, all the people of the East, were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude.

You see, the Lord knows when we’re discouraged. And the Lord can comfort us. Sometimes He comforts us directly. Most often He comforts us by stories like this in the Bible, and encouraging comments from Christ or the apostles or the Prophets.

And sometimes He comforts and encourages us from unlikely sources. Who would have guessed that actor Mel Gibson would have embraced the story of Adventist World War II medic Desmond Doss, and used it to remind the watching world that there is a God, and that there are those who remain 100% true to Him? Encouragement can come from unexpected sources.

Verses 13 – 15: And when Gideon had come, there was a man telling a dream to his companion. He said, “I have had a dream: To my surprise, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed.” Then his companion answered and said, “This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp.” And so it was, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, that he worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel, and said, “Arise, for the Lord has delivered the camp of Midian into your hand.”

Notice what Gideon said. He didn’t say, “Come on, guys. We can do this! Let’s go!” Instead, he said, “The Lord has delivered the camp of Midian into your hand.” Gideon had abandoned his own ego, and he was reminding his 300 faithful special-ops soldiers that they needed to abandon theirs as well.

But how can abandoning my ego keep my hopes up? Well, if I’m doing the work of the Lord, and if I have abandoned my ego, I know that if any success is to come from that work, God is the one who is responsible for that success. When God calls me to do a work, I must go, and stand ready to do it, but it will be not by my might, or my power, but by the power of His Spirit.

And that really takes the pressure off, doesn’t it? Shelley and I have been pastoring since 1982, and once in a while there have come discouraging times. But our call to the ministry was so strong that we knew God wanted us where we were, and we could face those challenges prayerfully, knowing that somehow He would get us through.

And if you are having a hard time maintaining your hope, take it to the Lord. Tell the Lord you want a faith like Gideon’s. The Lord will treat you with the same tenderness and understanding He showed to Gideon.

Now let’s read about the most amazing battle in Bible history.

Verses 16 – 23: Then he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet into every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and torches inside the pitchers. And he said to them, “Look at me and do likewise; watch, and when I come to the edge of the camp you shall do as I do: When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then you also blow the trumpets on every side of the whole camp, and say, ‘The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!’ ” So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outpost of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just as they had posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers that were in their hands. Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers—they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing—and they cried, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” And every man stood in his place all around the camp; and the whole army ran and cried out and fled. When the three hundred blew the trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his companion throughout the whole camp; and the army fled to Beth Acacia, toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel Meholah, by Tabbath. And the men of Israel gathered together from Naphtali, Asher, and all Manasseh, and pursued the Midianites.

Now let’s look at one final lesson we can learn from the Gideon’s story – one more way to maintain our hope.

Once the rest of Israel realizes that the Midianites are on the run, a lot of them come out to help. At the start of chapter 8, people from the tribe of Ephraim – maybe showing a bit of ego – express their annoyance that Gideon didn’t call them to help at the very start of the battle. But Gideon, showing again how ego-less he is, compliments them for what they did do, and makes peace.

Gideon hurries on his pursuit of the enemy, and eventually captures a couple of enemy kings called Zebah and Zalmunna, and executes them for their crimes.

But at this point in the story, we suddenly get a funny feeling pit of our stomach. Let’s start part way through chapter 8, verse 21.

Judges 8:21: . . . . So Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent ornaments that were on their camels’ necks.

So, what’s wrong with this? Aren’t these simply the spoils of war? Doesn’t the victor deserve to plunder the vanquished?

Well, Deuteronomy 17:17 God said that when the nation would eventually have a king over them, this king should not “multiply gold and silver to himself.” Gideon, what are you doing?
Watch what happens next.

Verses 22 – 23: Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.” But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you.”

Well spoken, Gideon. At this point we’re still not sure what you’re planning to do with those crescent camel ornaments. Should you be collecting war souvenirs when the battle is not yours but God’s? But your ego seems okay.

But now, Gideon does a very silly thing.

Verses 24 – 26: Then Gideon said to them, “I would like to make a request of you, that each of you would give me the earrings from his plunder.” For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites. So they answered, “We will gladly give them.” And they spread out a garment, and each man threw into it the earrings from his plunder. Now the weight of the gold earrings that he requested was one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments, pendants, and purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the chains that were around their camels’ necks.

Okay, Gideon. Just what are you planning to do with all of that gold and all of those purple robes?

Verse 27: Then Gideon made it into an ephod and set it up in his city, Ophrah . . . .

So what’s going on here?

An ephod, at least in the sanctuary services, was garment worn by the priest. What Gideon wanted with an ephod the Bible doesn’t say. Ellen White, and the Andrews Study Bible notes, suggest that since – way back in that winepress -- Gideon had offered a sacrifice to the Angel, and the Angel accepted it by destroying it with fire, maybe Gideon thought that he himself had the credentials to be some kind of priest.

But whatever Gideon thought he was doing, the last part of verse 27 is especially tragic.

Verse 27: Then Gideon made it into an ephod and set it up in his city, Ophrah. And all Israel played the harlot with it there. It became a snare to Gideon and to his house.

You know what I think the last lesson of Gideon’s life could be, the last way to maintain the hope we have? Here it comes:

To maintain my hope, I must not only abandon my ego—but also I must not let myself be shipwrecked in the shallows.

I have never forgotten this phrase ever since I first read it in US Senate Chaplain Barry Black’s memoir From the Hood to the Hill. Barry Black, who began his career as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, became the Navy’s Chief of Chaplains before going on to become the United States Senate Chaplain.

As I remember the story, Barry was having lunch with a retired Navy admiral, and as they were talking, the admiral gave Barry some advice. “Son,” he said, “ don’t get shipwrecked in the shallows.”

What he meant was, after a long life of service and integrity and morality, don’t blow it. Just as your boat is almost home, don’t let yourself be shipwrecked. Stay faithful and true until the end.

Gideon let himself be shipwrecked in the shallows. And even though verse 28 says that the Midianites didn’t hassle Israelites anymore, and the country had peace for 40 years, the following verses say that as soon as Gideon was dead, the Israelites went right back to worshiping Baal, the same god who got them into trouble in the first place.

How can you and I avoid being shipwrecked in the shallows? Will I think that if we follow all the lessons Gideon and the Lord have taught us in these three sermons, the most recent being to abandon our egos, we can avoid this shipwreck.

You see, even though Gideon made that ego-mistake at the end, he did make it into the Hebrews 11 hall of faith. But how much better it is to be a Joseph, or a Daniel, or a Job, who avoided those last years of error and compromise, and who understood that their legacy – for good or bad – would affect many.

How about you? Would you join me in asking the Lord to help us abandon our egos day by day? Will you join me in asking the Lord to keep us from being shipwrecked in the shallows?

Would you like to commit to that by letting the Lord see your upraised hand?

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Topical Sermon for
the Dedication of the Kusuma Children
Bellevue SDA Church 11/12/2016
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to the book of James, chapter 1.

While you’re turning there, I will mention that today’s sermon was to have been the third and final sermon in a series on Gideon. However, early this week I got word from Rajesh Kusuma that relatives would be arriving this weekend. He and his wife Ipsitha wanted to know if I would dedicate their son Rexton Raj and their new baby girl Sylvette Felsy Raj, so the grandparents could rejoice with them.

So I am gladly postponing the final Gideon sermon for one week. I asked Rajesh and Ipsitha to choose passages for this morning’s service, and they have chosen four, and I have based this morning’s sermon on these verses that mean so much to them.

And at the end of the sermon, I will invite Rajesh and Ipsitha, and their children, and any family who wishes to join them to come up here. The parents will pray a prayer for the children, and I will conclude with my own prayer.

As I studied through the Scripture verses which the Kusuma parents chose for this morning, a theme gradually began to emerge. That’s why I called this sermon “Following the Children.”

It’s always fun when I’m standing at the back of the church after the worship service talking to the mom or dad of a child who has just learned to walk. Let’s say I’m talking with the father, and he pays me courteous attention, but then I will notice that suddenly his eyes will widen, and he will glance quickly around. He will murmur a quick apology and vanish. Some parental instinct has told him that his little toddler has wandered off, probably at a lively trot, and who knows where he is.

I’ve watched as other parents get a kick out of simply following their newly-walking toddlers around, just to see where they might go and what they might do when they get there. And from what I’ve observed, parents early on will establish no-nonsense commands which are designed to stop the little guy or gal in their tracks if they are heading toward danger.

As I looked at the Kusumas’ Bible verses this week, I discovered that following the children is a good thing, because following the children can lead us closer to God. These verses teach us three truths about following the children. Let me show you what I mean, starting with the first of the Kusumas’ verses.

James 1:17 [NKJV]: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

Do you have any idea about why Rajesh and Ipsitha might have chosen this as one of their verses? If you are a parent, of course you do. Aside from salvation, what greater gifts could be given them than Rexton and Sylvette?

Let me tell you the first sermon point, and then we’ll talk about it. The Bible tells me to “follow the children.” Where should I follow them? Here’s Sermon Point One if you’re taking notes.

I must follow the children to the heart of God.

So, what do I mean by this? Well, the Bible tells me that all those “good and perfect gifts” include children. Not only did God give Adam and Eve the awesome privilege of creating new human beings, but the Bible says that God knows who we are before we were born.

For example, in Jeremiah 1:5, God says to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you . . . .” Over in Isaiah 8:18, Isaiah says, “Here am I and the children whom the Lord has given me.” Psalm 127:3 says that children—all children no matter who they are--are a heritage of the Lord.

And God knows who you are, even before you are you. Hundreds of years before their birth, Old Testament prophets predicted the lives and ministries of Jesus and His cousin John the Baptist. And just before their births, angels visited and gave more details. Angels predicted the births of other babies, even when childbirth seemed impossible, such as Isaac, Samuel, and John the Baptist.

So what does this have to do with me? Why is it important for me to follow the children to the very heart of God? And what will this look like, this week, if I put this into action?

Well, it can often change my whole perspective if I remember that no matter where I have come from, or what I am going through, I came originally from God. Human beings can choose whether or not to have children, but every child is adopted by his or her Heavenly Father from the very womb—because His heart is our home.

Whether or not you came from a happy family or a dysfunctional family, you came from the heart of God. If you feel like you were emotionally abandoned by parents who were not mature enough to raise you right, God may even devote more love and care to you than He does to others. He will certainly lavish more hard work upon you. The good Shepherd searches and searches for the lost sheep until it is found.
Don’t ever doubt this. Don’t ever get discouraged that God doesn’t care for you. You came from the heart of God, and He has even more fondness for you than your parents are able to have.

So maybe this can help, this coming week, at school, at work, maybe even at home. So in a few minutes, as the sermon ends, when Rajesh and Ipsitha bring Rexton and Sylvette up here to the front, follow them with your hearts, follow them back to the very heart of God from whence you came.

Now let’s turn to a second passage the Kusuma parents chose for this morning’s service. It’s found in Matthew chapter 19.

Matthew 19:13: Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them.

And there is no Bible reason given for this rebuke. This story shows up not only here in Matthew 19, but in Mark 10 and Luke 18. Each time it shows parents bringing their children to Jesus for a blessing, and each time the disciples rebuke them. (And the same Greek word for “rebuke” is used each time.) Yet it doesn’t say why the parents are rebuked.

That same word “rebuke” is used in the next chapter, Matthew 20, verse 31. That was when two blind men sitting by a road heard Jesus coming along, and called out for Him to have mercy on them. And it says that the multitude “rebuked” them – it’s that same Greek word again.

Here we have two situations where people wanted access to Jesus, but others thought that they should not have it. Back in those days, people with disabilities were thought to be under a curse of God, and therefore shouldn’t expect to have any hope of his help. And here in Matthew 19, the disciples seemed to consider that these little kids would be an unnecessarily time-wasting bother to the Master.

Well, Jesus absolutely disagrees. In Matthew 20, He cuts through the rebukes, asks those blind guys what they want, and promptly heals them.

And watch what He does here in Matthew 19:

Verses 13 – 15: Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” And He laid His hands on them . . . .

The Mark 10 version says that He “took them in His arms” and laid His hands on them and blessed them.  

So what’s our second lesson in following the children?

Not only must I follow the children to the heart of God (which is my true home), but I must also follow the children past Satan’s “forbidders” and into the arms of Jesus.

Without knowing it, those “rebuking” disciples were doing the very work of the devil. Until Jesus stepped in, those rebukes must have discouraged these parents from considering their children worthy of Jesus’ blessing. And giving this impression is the work of the devil.

We see this same devil-work happening just a few chapters earlier. In Matthew 16, Jesus is telling His disciples that he needed to go to Jerusalem, and be killed.

And in Matthew 16:22, it says that Peter took Jesus aside and began to “rebuke” the Savior Himself– that same Greek word. And Jesus said, “Get behind Me, Satan!”
So anyone who stands in the way of people trying to get to Jesus is doing the work of the devil.

What are some of the rebukers which might try to keep our kids – or anybody else – from Jesus? Well, you probably know the rebukers in your own life better than I ever could. Back in World War II on Hacksaw Ridge, Adventist medic Desmond Doss was serving with soldiers who had often brutally rebuked him about his faith-stance of wanting to heal rather than kill. But Desmond Doss ignored his rebukers and just went on dragging soldiers to safety.

People in the world can be our rebukers, and even people in the church can sometimes be rebukers. The disciples unthinkingly set up roadblocks to those parents who want to Jesus’ blessing for their kids. No matter who we are, whether we are grown-ups or children, we must never do anything to keep someone away from Jesus. We need to make sure that we ourselves are not the devil’s roadblocks.

And we might even become self-rebukers. We might doubt that God really does love us. We might say to ourselves, “Who would want me?”

Well, if we did come from the heart of God, it is God who wants us most of all. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Or maybe another rebuker could be some soul-or body-destroying habit that is trying to keep us from Jesus. The Bible contains many powerful and encouraging verses about victory over sin. If you have something to write with, or if you have your phone or some other Internet-connected device with you, make a note of the website This is a website put together several years ago by the Upper Columbia Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and it’s basically Bible texts gathered together under various topics.

And if you go to, you will see that at the top it says “,” and just below that you see a menu of words in white print against a dark background. The first of those words is “Home,” and the second is a phrase that says “Bible Topics.” You want to click on “Bible Topics.” (Ignore the search box on the far right, because that doesn’t give as complete results.)

Anyway, if you click on “Bible Topics,” it brings up an alphabetized list of all kinds of subjects the Bible has something to say about. I would suggest you look up the two topics “Victory,” and “Temptation.” Read through both of those topics, and all those verses will give you a very clear understanding of God’s promises for victory in our lives. These are powerful promises.

So during the week ahead, keep an eye out for any hindrances – any “forbidders” – the devil might use to keep you from the Savior. And one thing that can strengthen you is regular church attendance.

I’ve mentioned from time to time the stop smoking clinics Shelley and I and other Shoreline church members would lead out in years ago when we pastored there. We would have three eight-day Breathe Free Stop Smoking classes every year, with about 30 people attending each one. They sat at potluck tables in our fellowship hall, and at each table was one of our church members as a support person.
And night by night at the end of each session, we would tell them, “Okay, there are 24 hours ahead of you. Do everything we taught you to come back tomorrow night nicotine-free.”

And these dear people would leave the session, go home, go to bed, get up and go to work the next morning, always on the lookout for potential triggers. We had given them things to do instead of smoking. We had told them that the peak of any nicotine craving lasts only 3 to 5 minutes, and we gave them ideas about things they could do to make it through the tough part, so if they could do something to make it through that time, they would be safer. We gave them spiritual encouragement and told them to ask God for help.

And those people would come back the next night, filled with “war stories” about temptations they had faced triumphantly. And as they told their stories, other people were encouraged, and those other people would share their stories. Those group gatherings wonderful encouragement and support for everyone. Pretty much everybody in each class had never experienced the life of an adult non-smoker. Pretty much all of them had learned to smoke in their early teens or even earlier than that. But it was those group gatherings that got them through those eight days, with lots of people sharing motivation and techniques with each other as they prepared to become non-smokers for life.

Why were these classes successful for so many? Because of the group dynamics. God designed us this way. And that’s what weekly church attendance can do for you. Knowing that you will be back in your Sabbath school class next week at 9:30, studying God’s Word, can be great encouragement and motivation.

The Bible says so, after all. Hebrews 10:25 says not to neglect or forsake assembling yourself together as some people do, but gather to encourage one another, as we see the Day approaching, the Day when Jesus will appear.

Nowadays children have “play dates” with each other, which they look forward to with great anticipation. Let each Sabbath become a “date” together with others and enjoy the presence of our Heavenly Father and our Older Brother Jesus.

Now let’s look at one more Bible passage which Rajesh and Ipsitha have chosen for this morning’s service. It’s in the little book of Third John, just two books away from Revelation.

The writer of Third John was the last surviving disciple of Jesus. By this time he is probably more than 90 years old, and he has done his part to nurture a growing body of Christians. And now he is about to tell us of his greatest joy.

3 John 4: I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.

So what else can we learn by following the children?

Not only must I follow the children to the heart of God (which is my true home), and follow the children past Satan’s “forbidders” and into the arms of Jesus—but I must also follow the children into the path of truth.

Old Pastor John had a deep interest in several Christian churches in western Turkey. In fact, the book of Revelation was written to seven of those churches.  John considered these church members his children, and his greatest joy happened when he learned that those children were walking in truth.

If you were here last Sabbath, you saw on the big screen a picture of Shelley’s childhood friend Mary, who visited us from Alaska not long ago. She had made the trip down to visit various places in Seattle.
Mary had brought her smart phone with her, and of course knew all about GPS, and she was delighted to discover that if she walked down the streets, she could see where she was on a little onscreen map. She was a little blue dot, and when she was tracking down a museum or other attraction, she always knew how to find it, because the GPS was providing her a truthful little path which she could follow.
It’s very interesting to see exactly what John is telling us in that verse. He’s not saying that gives him great joy to hear that his spiritual children merely believe the truth. He’s not saying that he gets great joy when they come to Sabbath School and church and listen to the truth.

Believing and listening are important, of course. But what John is saying is that his greatest joy comes when his children walk in truth.

That Greek word “walk” is not a fancy, highflown theological word. It’s the word peripateo, and like many Greek words, it’s a combination of two words. There’s the word pateo, which means “walk.” That word shows up all by itself a few times in the New Testament.

But here, tacked onto the front of pateo, is the little word peri. Peri means “around,” and it’s where we get the word “perimeter.” Peri-meter means “around-measure,” which is what you do when you measure the perimeter of a circle.

So, peripateo, the word John used when he was delighted to hear that his spiritual children were walking in truth, this word means “walking around.” As these Christians absorbed the gospel truth, they didn’t simply sit in a chair in church and soak it in. They didn’t simply sing about it in the closing hymn. They were “walking around” with that truth all week long. They were putting that truth into action, making that truth a way of life with them. They were living their faith on the outside of their lives rather than only on the inside. That’s one of the things which is getting such praise for the Desmond Doss movie. Doss lived his faith on the outside.

These people were behaving as Jesus told them to behave in the Sermon on the Mount. They were loving one another, as Jesus had told them. They were acting out the fruit of the Holy Spirit within them – they were showing love, joy, peace, long-suffering or patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. They were “walking around” with these qualities, being guided by them like Mary let herself be guided by her GPS.  

So, what should I do with this? Since it gave John great joy – and Jesus even greater joy – when I walk in truth, I need to continue to be open to accepting truth. I need to keep finding out what truth is. And I find that out by reading my Bible. After all, in John 17:17 in a prayer to His Father, Jesus urged God to sanctify His disciples with truth. And then He said, “Your Word is truth.”

I can tell you from personal experience that the Bible gets more enjoyable every year that passes.

I read through the Bible end to end once one I was probably 11 or 12, and that was great. I learned a lot of things that a kid that age should learn. But I also missed a lot, things I wasn’t grown-up enough to understand. So it’s important to go back again and again, even to Bible stories you learned as a child. Somebody came up to me last week and told me how they were deeply enjoying studying the story of Gideon again. The impression I got was that this person was discovering things that he never realized were there.

The important thing to do with this truth you’re learning is to take it out with you as you walk around this week. Take it home with you in the car as your family leaves today. Act it out to them. Take it to school, take it to work, take it to your homeowners’ association meeting. Walk that truth around with you.

Just before we watch Rajesh and Ipsitha bring their children forward, do you want to follow them and their children with your heart, follow all the way to the presence of Jesus for His blessing? Would you raise your hand if that is your desire?

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Expository Sermon on Judges 6 through 8
Bellevue SDA Church 11/5/2016
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(Click here to listen to the  audio for this sermon.)

Please open your Bibles to Judges chapter 6.

While you’re turning there, I’ll mention that this is part two of last week’s sermon on the story of Gideon. In fact, if you look in your bulletin, you will see an insert called “Here’s Hope – Gideon’s Story.” Last week we asked the question, “What can Gideon teach us about what to do when we’re losing hope?” And there on the worksheet you will see three lessons I discovered from the story of Gideon. (To online readers: you’ll find these three lessons in last week’s sermon—just scroll down.)

Just below that, you’ll see that I’ve changed the subject a bit. Now, instead of asking what can we do to regain hope we’ve lost, will look at how we can maintain the hope we have found—how to keep that hope alive. So if you’d like, you can use those blank lines to take down some more sermon points. Today we’ll be looking at two of these new points, and there will be a final two a week from today. (By the way, you can either listen to or read last week’s sermon on our church website. You’ll find the website address on the back of your church bulletin.)

So, what’s happened so far in the Gideon Story? Last week we watched as the Midianite enemy forces constantly harassed the nation of Israel. This was because Israel had deliberately disobeyed God, including turning to idolatry.

However, once the people had become sorry for their sins and had called out to the Lord for help, the Lord first sent a prophet to remind them of how far they had strayed from His plans for them. And then He sent an angel to talk to a farm boy named Gideon – and as the story goes along, it becomes clear that this particular angel is actually divine, and is most likely Jesus Himself. The Lord promises Gideon that Gideon will defeat the Midianites.

And that’s where we pick up the story this week. Here’s Gideon, the son of a farmer named Joash, stunned to discover that he is speaking with someone from heaven. Hope even now seems to be dawning in his heart. “God hasn’t forgotten us after all!” he’s thinking to himself. “We’ve had our hopes dashed again and again. In fact, my dad has gotten so discouraged that he has allowed the local Baal-worshiping cult to build a heathen altar and even put up a wooden statue right here on our property.”

Now, hope is beginning to dawn in Gideon’s heart. But now the question is, how is he going to maintain that hope? What will keep that hope alive? What will keep these hopes from smashing to pieces like all the other hopes he’s had?

This is a crucial question for us, also. I mentioned last week that there is a lot of hopelessness on this planet right now. I’m not going to waste any time listing these hopelessnesses, but this hopelessness stretches from nations far away right into our own lives. How can we fan God’s flame of hope within us, and keep it burning?

Well, let’s watch what Gideon did. Let’s pick it up with the verse where the heavenly visitor makes His hope-inspiring promise.

Judges 6:16 – 18 [NKJV]: And the Lord said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.” Then he said to Him, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who talk with me. Do not depart from here, I pray, until I come to You and bring out my offering and set it before You.” . . . .

Now at this point, Christians who are acquainted with both the Old and the New Testaments might raise their eyebrows a little. “Hold on, Gideon,” somebody might say. “Aren’t you showing a lack of faith here? After all, Jesus Christ Himself – who is probably the one you are in conversation with right now – will later say in Matthew 12:39 that it is an evil and adulterous generation who seeks a sign.”

So – what about it? Was Gideon wrong to ask for a sign? Actually, he’s going to ask for two more signs in just a few verses. And still later, he’ll be given another sign he hasn’t even asked for. But what I’m really getting at is, do you and I have a right to ask for a sign from God?

As a pastor, I have had several people over the years come to me and ask me that very question – is it okay to ask for a sign, and if so, what kind of sign can I ask for which will let me know the Lord’s will? How will I really know what He wants me to do?

Well, this is a good chance to find out one answer, right here. Here is the Son of God Himself, standing and talking with Gideon. Gideon has just asked Him for a sign. Is Gideon a member of an evil and adulterous generation who asks for a sign, or not?

The answer is no. If you look at the context of Matthew 12:39, you’ll see that in verse 38, it is the scribes and Pharisees who are asking Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” Were they part of an evil and adulterous generation?

They certainly were. Jesus had already given them – and everyone else who paid attention -- hundreds and thousands more signs than He ever gave Gideon. Every crisp, warm loaf of bread created by a miracle on a hillside, every lame person whose limbs were now straightened, every sightless eye now sparkling with light, every leper whose skin scales had dissolved back into healthy flesh, every dead person who stirred and blinked and sat up and spoke, these were soul-shaking signs that the Creator had arrived and had begun re-creating. But these scribes and Pharisees would even go so far as to assert that it was Beelzebub, Satan, who gave Jesus that power.

Yet when Jesus’ cousin John sent word from prison wondering whether Jesus truly was the Messiah, Jesus didn’t say, “Have faith, John. You don’t need a sign.” Instead, Jesus told John’s messengers in Matthew 11, verses four and five: “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up . . . .”

So now that we have seen what Jesus thinks of signs both back when He cooperated with Gideon and here where He listed a few signs to encourage His cousin – I think we’re ready for the next sermon point. You see the three sermon points on your worksheet from last week, and here’s a fourth you can add to them.

Looking at Gideon’s story for clues, how can I maintain my hope?

I need to remember that if I work with God, He will work with me.

One January back when I was in college, it came time to register for my classes. The South Dakota college I attended was 40 miles away from my home, and I had planned to drive up and stand in the lines in the gymnasium to make sure I got the computer punch cards which represented the classes I needed.

But that morning there was a horrendous ground-blizzard. A ground-blizzard is when the north wind is so fierce that it picks up all the little snow particles that fell during another blizzard a day or so ago, and simply blows those tiny snowflakes at high speed south across the prairie. And that means that if you’re in a ground-blizzard, you can look straight up and see a perfectly blue sky above you, with no new snow falling, but because all that old snow is blowing around no more than six or 10 feet in the air, as you peer through the windshield of your blue 1960 Chevy, you can’t even see what’s beyond your hood.

I actually tried to make the trip. I drove maybe a quarter-mile, and realized that I had to turn around and go back. I was very discouraged, because I knew that some of my classes were open only to a limited number of students, and I would probably lose my place. Yet as I drove back into our driveway, I resigned myself to not being able to do anything about it.

But when I came into our farmhouse and told my mom about this, she said, “Give the college a call. They can probably work something out.”

I was dubious about this, but I put in a long distance call to the campus. And on the other end of the line I found a very helpful person, who sent somebody over to the gymnasium, tracked down my advisor, and got that advisor on the phone. He cheerfully told me that he himself would walk around and get those computer cards for me.

One truth the Bible teaches almost more than any other is that if I work with God, He will work with me. Adam and Eve cowered in the Garden, assuming their disobedience had doomed them forever. God walked over to talk with them, and worked something out. Moses cowered away from the thought of doing public speaking in Pharaoh’s palace, and God recruited Moses’ brother Aaron to come alongside for moral support. The stories go on and on and on.

 So how do you and I work with God in order to keep our hope alive? First of all, we need to review these Bible stories which prove that God is willing to work with us. He is willing to adjust His plans, and even abandon them for a while if He has to, in order to keep us moving in the direction He wants us to go.

So I would suggest that, if you’re facing some kind of decision, ask the Lord to direct you in the way He knows is best. If it’s signs, tell Him to give you a decisive sign. If He knows it’s best to direct you in some other way, give Him permission to do that.

And above all, don’t see a “sign” in everything that happens. I’ve talked with people who thought God was giving them a sign to marry this or that person, when they were probably simply wanting that marriage to happen so badly that they saw signs were there weren’t any.

So now let’s actually see how this sign Gideon asked for work out.

Verses 17 – 22: Then he said to Him, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who talk with me. Do not depart from here, I pray, until I come to You and bring out my offering and set it before You.” And He said, “I will wait until you come back.” So Gideon went in and prepared a young goat, and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot; and he brought them out to Him under the terebinth tree and presented them. The Angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so. Then the Angel of the Lord put out the end of the staff that was in His hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire rose out of the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. And the Angel of the Lord departed out of his sight. Now Gideon perceived that He was the Angel of the Lord . . . .

So now Gideon knows for sure that God has been in that place.

And now God doesn’t let any grass grow under His – or Gideon’s – feet. Watch what happens next. This will lead into something else we need to do to keep our hope alive.

Verses 25 – 32: Now it came to pass the same night that the Lord said to him, “Take your father’s young bull, the second bull of seven years old, and tear down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the wooden image that is beside it; and build an altar to the Lord your God on top of this rock in the proper arrangement, and take the second bull and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the image which you shall cut down.” So Gideon took ten men from among his servants and did as the Lord had said to him. But because he feared his father’s household and the men of the city too much to do it by day, he did it by night. And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, there was the altar of Baal, torn down; and the wooden image that was beside it was cut down, and the second bull was being offered on the altar which had been built. So they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And when they had inquired and asked, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” Then the men of the city said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, because he has torn down the altar of Baal, and because he has cut down the wooden image that was beside it.” But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Would you plead for Baal? Would you save him? Let the one who would plead for him be put to death by morning! If he is a god, let him plead for himself, because his altar has been torn down!” Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, “Let Baal plead against him, because he has torn down his altar.”

What’s the next step to maintaining the hope God has brought to me?

Well, not only do I need to remember that if I work with God, He will work with me, but I must immediately replace the idols in my life with an altar to God.

One of my most favorite – yet potentially dangerous – bumper stickers is one I’m sure you’ve seen. It is the word “COEXIST,” and each letter is created using the symbol from a different world religion.
It’s one of my favorite bumper stickers because it champions religious liberty. If my neighbor is a Buddhist, I should not persecute him and he shouldn’t persecute me. We should respect each other’s beliefs.
But that bumper sticker becomes extremely dangerous when I try to practice it with the idols God wants me to banish from my life. They can’t co-exist with the true God. Back on Gideon’s father’s farm, old Joash had allowed himself to become so hopeless about the true God that he had allowed not only an altar to Baal, but also a wooden statue – probably a statue of Baal – right there on his property.

Baal was the storm and fertility god. He was the god you hoped to have on your side if you wanted a lot of profits from your crops and your cattle. Honoring Baal like this was of course a direct slap in the face to the true God, who is the one who created this planet and all the forces of nature, and who – according to Jesus – sends His rain on both the just and the unjust. (Matthew 5:45)

So here, while Gideon’s courage is high, God commands that he directly attack one of the substitute deities spoken against in the first two Commandments. So Gideon follows orders.

In her book Patriarchs and Prophets, page 547, Ellen White puts this act into perspective. “Gideon must declare war upon idolatry,” she said, “before going out to battle with the enemies of his people.”
Which is an excellent reminder for us. Gideon was called to do battle with enemies who were invading his nation. You and I may not have that kind of battle this coming week, but we are still to be warriors. In First Timothy 6:11, Paul tells us to “fight the good fight of faith.”

And in Ephesians 6:10 – 12 he says, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” In other words, against seductive substitute-gods animated by Satan himself.

So just as Gideon and his warriors needed to be single-minded in advancing the true God’s reputation, you and I must be absolutely true to Him and Him alone, even during the fiercest of our own warfares.

So how do I replace my idols with an altar to God? Well, first I need to find out what my idols are. The 10 Commandments are a good place to begin this identification process. What does God specifically speak against there?

Idolatry, of course. But then comes the commandment about treating God’s name disrespectfully. It’s one thing to forsake all other gods except God, but if we continue to trash the true God’s name in casual conversation, that is not giving Him the reverence that other people need to see. And when I give myself the right to use God’s name carelessly, that’s putting Him down, making Him a punchline, and exalting myself over Him. Which means that the idol becomes myself.

As you can go through the rest of the Commandments this way. The longest and most central of the Commandments God chiseled into stone was the Sabbath commandment. “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God.” What idol am I worshiping if I choose to disregard this specific command of my Creator?

And if I disrespect my parents, I am disrespecting the direct line of ancestors which goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, the children of God. So again, I am putting something else in God’s place.

And when it comes to murder, Jesus reminded us in the Sermon on the Mount that mental murder is just a serious in God’s eyes as physical murder. If I take the life of someone (even within my mind), I am making myself god over that person, holding in my hands the power of life and death.

It’s interesting to see the reviews that the Desmond Doss movie “Hacksaw Ridge” is getting. I read the one in Christianity Today, and the one in yestesrday’s Seattle Times, and the message is coming strongly through that Desmond Doss was a Seventh-day Adventist who truly believed that when God said not to kill, He meant it. Desmond Doss enlisted in World War II, but wanted to save lives rather than destroy them. The Desmond Doss story reminds us how important it is to obey God always, no matter what.

And each of the remaining Commandments also sets up a choice between the true God and self-worship. God says don’t commit adultery, and Joseph rejects Mrs. Potiphar’s seductions by saying in horror, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9) So, like Joseph, I need to turn around and run if this temptation comes to me. In First Corinthians 6:18, Paul says, “Flee sexual immorality.”
If I steal, I seize godlike control over someone else’s property. And if I lie, I assert a godlike ability to create a new reality. I think one of the things that is so discouraging about recent political news is all the frank, barefaced lying that’s going on, spreading rumors that aren’t true. Just in the past 24 hours, some major public figures, and a major news organization, have had to backtrack on incorrect news stories.
(By the way, don’t get discouraged from voting. Outside on our readerboard I have put this little poem, “Just a quick non-partisan note—mark your ballot! Deploy your vote!”) So get those ballots out and study them over. Voting is a privilege that many around the world fervently pray for, so let’s not waste ours.

We need to be people who carefully respect truth, and to firmly draw the line between truth and speculation. We need to remember who it was, in John 8:44, that Jesus called the father of lies. If we disrespect truth, and if we spread around stories and gossip and unsubstantiated rumors, in whatever setting, aren’t we paying homage to the devil himself?

Well, Gideon’s story so far has shown me that you and I have every right to be confident and hopeful as we move into the week ahead. If we work with God, He will work with us. And if we immediately replace any idols, any God-substitutes, in our lives, we—like Gideon—can be used as powerful change-makers for heaven, as we will find out as we finish the story a week from today.

Would you like to be such a change-maker this week? You may not rescue an entire nation from captivity—but you may encourage the heart of just one person. Do you want to ask the Lord to lead you where He needs you this week?

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Expository Sermon on Judges 6
Bellevue SDA Church 00/00/16
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Judges chapter 6.

While you’re turning there, I’ll mention what I would like to do during the Sabbaths I preach between now and early December. I’d like to go through the Bible and look at several stories where people started out in an utterly hopeless condition, but God acted powerfully to bring hope back to them. So during this sermon series, which I’ve called “Here’s Hope!” we’ll be looking first at the hopelessness, and then we’ll see how God responded and fulfilled the hopes.

Today I’d like us to start looking at the story of Gideon. This is the first of what will probably be two sermons on how the Lord helped him to generate great hope when things were really hopeless.

Speaking of hopelessness, there’s a lot of it out there these days, some of it serious, some of it not so serious. For example, will the NBA return to Seattle in some form at Key Arena, or will entrepreneur Chris Hansen finally use his own money for a brand-new arena south of downtown? Will the native Americans protesting the Dakota pipeline project be successful?

And according to yesterday’s Seattle Times, those who are hoping that cranberries are a cure for urinary infections must face the hopelessness of knowing that rigorous scientific tests have just proved that it’s not.

And how about apartment rental rates? Will they continue to go up? Will ISIS ever be thoroughly stamped out? Will those dysfunctional governments from which millions of refugees are fleeing ever get their act together? A low, damp fog of hopelessness girdles the globe.

Well, one thing the Bible is clear about – God is in the “hope” business. And another Bible fact of life is that the greater and more appalling the hopelessness, the more astounding God’s solutions can be.
And that comes through powerfully in Gideon’s story, starting here in Judges chapter 6. By the way, if it’s been a while since you’ve read those old familiar Bible stories you learned about in Sabbath School when you were a kid, settle down and take another look at them. Because the older you get, and the more you understand about life, the more you will discover you missed from the simplified versions Sabbath school teachers must teach.

That’s what happened to me as I begin to re-read the story of Gideon. And I believe that as we look at Gideon’s story, it will help us answer the question, “When I’m losing hope, what should I do?” So let’s dive right into the story.

Judges 6:1 – 6 [NKJV]: Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years, and the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made for themselves the dens, the caves, and the strongholds which are in the mountains. So it was, whenever Israel had sown, Midianites would come up; also Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. Then they would encamp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep nor ox nor donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, coming in as numerous as locusts; both they and their camels were without number; and they would enter the land to destroy it. So Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites . . . .

So, according to Gideon’s story, when I’m losing hope, what should I do? (If you’re taking sermon notes, here comes Sermon Point One.)

When I’m losing hope, I need to first take responsibility for any role I might play in this hopelessness.

Now, as you know, there are a lot of hopelessnesses that can’t be traced back to anything you or I have done. For example, several years ago my brother-in-law Ken developed lung cancer. He was a Christian guy who never drank or smoked in his life. Yet he got lung cancer, and they had to remove one of his lungs. As far as anybody knows, Ken was not at fault for that lung cancer.

But here in Gideon’s story, it’s very clear who is at fault. The first verse says that the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian.

God’s logic seems to have gone like this: “I have told these people again and again – even in Commandments One and Two of the 10 Commandments – to not create and worship other gods besides Me.

Because as soon as they start worshiping those other gods, they are really worshiping themselves. And that is the same egotistical soul-suicide which Lucifer is committing. So since these Israelites are so fascinated with idolatrous cultures, I’ll just allow those cultures to occupy their land so they can see the kind of people who worship idols.”

And sure enough, over those seven years things got pretty hopeless, as we’ve just seen. As soon as Israelite farmers raised their crops, the Midianites swooped down, along with the Amalekites and the “people of the east,” whoever they were, and they would destroy the crops. That must’ve left the Israelites chronically hungry. And you can’t think straight, or keep your courage up very well, when you are chronically hungry.

But this particular hopelessness was self-caused. This was the fault of people who ignored the 10 Commandments, even though they had been spoken from the very lips of God Himself, and were treating those laws as though they were optional.

Okay, if I’m going through hopelessness which it’s clear is self-caused, what do I do?

Put a little marker of some kind in Judges 6, because we’ll be right back, and turn to Psalm 139. This is one of David’s Psalms, and pretty much all of Psalm 139 talks about how well God knows us already. But in the last two verses, David tells us what to do with myself-caused hopelessness.

Psalm 139:23 – 24: Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.

Do you see what David is saying? He’s basically saying, “Lord, I give you permission to hunt down any wickedness within me and to clean me up. Lead me away from my idolatries and into the way everlasting. Give me real hope.”

And what else do I need to do here? I need to never lose hope! Because God is in the hope business. No matter what you’re going through, God is a God of hope, not despair.

So what’s the next thing Gideon’s story suggests that I do if I’m feeling hopeless? Let’s pick up the story back in Judges 6, verse six.

Judges 6:6 – 10: So Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord. And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried out to the Lord because of the Midianites, that the Lord sent a prophet to the children of Israel, who said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘I brought you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage; and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. Also I said to you, “I am the Lord your God; do not fear the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell.” But you have not obeyed My voice.’ ”

When I’m losing hope, I not only need to take responsibility for any role I might play in this hopelessness, but I also need to cry out to God—and listen carefully to His response.

Again, God is in the hope business. This is why, when His wandering people finally called out to Him in desperation, He took the trouble to send a message back.

And what was that message? It was basically this: “I am your God, and you need to remember how powerfully I have released you from captivity. And you need to do what I say.”

I would imagine that this room is pretty well packed with people whom God has powerfully delivered from oppression. Some of you in this room may have recently fled to America from oppressive conditions in your home country. Some of you may have been released from an addiction. Somebody here may have fled from a dangerous relationship.

And several of you – because of the dedication of your parents – have been raised in homes where a lot of these captivities I’ve mentioned weren’t an issue for you. Yet maybe you still feel in captivity. Maybe you feel hopeless in ways Israel felt. Maybe you feel spiritually starved.

To those starving Israelites, and to you, God says, “Remember that I am your God, no matter where you find yourself.” Joseph sensed this encouragement in an Egyptian prison. Daniel and his three friends sensed this encouragement when they were Babylonian captives. No matter what happened to these exiles, they knew that God was their God no matter where they were – and no matter how hopeless things appeared.

And that is the same promise we can claim against whatever hopelessness we might feel right now. God is a God of hope, no matter where we are. So let’s call out to Him the way those desperate people did.
I was fortunate to have parents who knew how to do this. When my mom was worrying about something, she would take it to the Lord in prayer. And she would not simply mumble a few meek words and then say Amen. She would wrestle with the Lord. She would tell Him exactly what she thought about the situation she was praying about.

Sometimes she would grimly say to me the next morning, if that particular topic came up, “The Lord and I had a little talk about that last night.” She didn’t mean that the Lord would answer her back – though sometimes she would feel impressions from Him – she simply felt free to open her heart and speak her mind.

That’s what God wants us to do. He wants us to care. Joseph, while backing away from Mrs. Potiphar’s lustful claws of Mrs. Potiphar, cared enough about his Creator to say to Mrs. Potiphar, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” Daniel cared enough to boldly open his upstairs windows so that his enemies could clearly see him praying in the direction of Jerusalem.

So, crying out to God about hopelessness is one thing, but how is He going to get through to me with any message?

The primary way is through Bible passages like the one we’re studying. Jesus did a lot of “messaging” during His time on earth. Paul and Peter and James and John and Jude continued the messaging. And many times they quoted from the Old Testament, which contained even more messages from God.

In 2 Timothy 3:16 – 17, Paul didn’t say, “Wait around for the voice of God to speak to you, or wait around for a definite mental impression from Him. Instead, Paul said, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man (or woman) of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

So the Bible is our primary source of any response God wants to give us. In fact the Bible tells us several times to check any supposedly supernatural responses by the word of God.

Keep in mind that it’s very possible for us to be cherishing idols which we are worshiping in place of God. Remember, when speaking and later writing the 10 Commandments, God did not bury the idolatry commandments deep in the list as numbers nine and 10. He made them one and two.

In other words, it’s like He was saying, “Okay. Before we go on to anything else, make sure you are very clear about not replacing Me with any other deity—whether it’s a brass idol, or a good-luck charm, or money, or fame, or whatever.”

So when we pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart,” we could also add, “Reveal to me any idols I might be worshiping in place of You.”

Now let’s look at the surprising third step we can take when life seems hopeless. Watch what happens here.

Judges 6:11 – 12: Now the Angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth tree which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him, and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!”

Let’s just pause here for a minute. If somebody came up to you, somebody you suspected was a heavenly being, or at any rate a very authoritative person and said to you, ‘The Lord is with you, you mighty person of valor,” what would you say?

Would you say, “I’m sorry, but you have the wrong person. I am definitely not a person of valor”? It turns out that later, Gideon actually did say something like that, but not at first.

Or would you say, “Me? A mighty person of valor? I’ve always suspected that I was cut above everybody else, and now here’s confirmation that I am the greatest!”

Gideon didn’t say this either. In fact, ego and self-exaltation were the furthest things from his mind. I think it is very revealing what he did say. Watch this.

Verses 12 – 13: And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him, and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!” Gideon said to Him, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.”

Did you see what happened here? When the Angel of the Lord gave Gideon that spine-tingling challenge, Gideon did not cower timidly away. And Gideon did not shrug his shoulders carelessly and say, “Me? A man of valor? Of course. I could’ve told you that. Finally, someone is valuing me for who I am!”

Instead, Gideon says the words which mark him as someone God can really use. You see, Gideon cared—not about himself but about God’s people. As he responded to God, Gideon wasn’t complaining. He was truly concerned about his people, concerned enough to argue with the God of heaven about them.

And God promptly steps the challenge up a notch.

Verse 14: Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?

And this is where Gideon gets a bit trembly about his own abilities.

Verses 15 – 16: So he said to Him, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the Lord said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.”

Here comes Sermon Point Three. What else should I do when I’m losing hope?

When I’m losing hope, I not only need to take responsibility for any role I might play in this hopelessness, and not only do I need to cry out to God and listen carefully to His response. I also need to let God position ME to bring hope.

Within the last few days, CNN has announced the names of people it calls its “Ten Heroes.” These are not world leaders, not celebrities. Instead, these are otherwise ordinary people who have decided to devote their lives to bringing hope to others.

There’s Jeison Aristizábal from Colombia, who grew up with cerebral palsy, and has not only started law school, but he has dedicated his life to helping others reach their full potential. His nonprofit, ASODISVALLE, offers young people with disabilities a range of free services, including medical care, physical therapy and healthy meals.

There’s Craig Dodson, who was a semi-professional cyclist in 2005 when he was asked to speak to a group of students in Richmond, Virginia. He later learned that many in the crowd lived in one of the city's roughest housing projects. Craig then founded the Richmond Cycling Corps, a nonprofit that coaches cycling teams for at-risk children. For Dodson, cycling is a way into their lives and a path out of the projects.

There’s Luma Mufleh, who founded a soccer program and school through her organization, the Fugees Family, to address the unique needs of the refugee community in Clarkston, Georgia. Last spring, the Fugees Academy graduated its first class, and Mufleh's group has helped more than 800 refugee children.

There’s Umra Omar, who left a career in the United States to help people without any access to health care in her homeland of Kenya. Omar founded Safari Doctors, a group that travels by boat, road and air to bring free medical services to more than 1,000 people a year in remote and insecure areas near the Somalia border.

And that’s just four of the 10 heroes. And those 10 are just a few of the many people all over this planet who have allowed themselves to take the challenge of bringing hope to others. These people are doing some of the work of the Lord whether or not they attach the label of Christian to their names.

Think about the hopelessness you might be facing at the moment. Can you allow God position you to bring hope to others?

One of the thrills of being a pastor is getting acquainted with people who say, “I see a need, and I’m going to help fill it. I’m going to allow God to use me to bring hope to people for whom hope may be scarce.”

As I mentioned, we’ll be continuing Gideon’s story next week. Until then, let’s take Gideon’s spirit with us as we leave today – that spirit which is willing to care, and to dare, for God so that the sunrise of hope can shine again.

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Expository Sermon on Ephesians 4
For the 60th Wedding Anniversary of Bob and Carrol Grady
Bellevue SDA Church 9/17/2016
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Ephesians chapter 4.

One of the private frustrations every pastor faces is the shortage of marriage texts in the Bible. There are basically just a very few. There is the Genesis text which says that man and woman are to become one flesh. There are a few Song of Solomon texts to carefully pick among. There are Jesus’ urgent warnings not to get divorced. And then there are those highly popular passages of Paul which tell the wife to submit to the husband! And that’s basically about it.

You’d think that more would be said about marriage. Nowadays if you go into a library or bookstore you can find a lot of books on how to have a happy marriage. I mean, if Eve were living today, you can be sure that she would have published a memoir called How to Put Up With the Same Man for 900 Years. And other Bible spouses could’ve written other interesting marriage manuals.

As I was thinking about this topic this week, I decided that since several times in the Bible, God speaks of Himself as the Bridegroom, and His faithful people as his Bride, and since in the next chapter, Ephesians 5, verse 25, Paul tells husbands to love their wives even as Christ loved the church, that means that the entire Bible becomes the marriage manual, or the marriage memoir, for all the marriages on this planet.

And here in Ephesians chapter 4, the chapter just before one of Paul’s famous marriage passages, Paul describes in detail what he calls the “love walk.” He’s not specifically mentioning this in the context of a marriage – but since the Bible is a marriage manual, this becomes excellent advice for married people as well as for those who aren’t. It’s good advice for children and teens, and other singles, and widowers or widows. So wherever you are, wherever you’re coming from, Paul insists that you and I learn how to walk the walk of love.

I know that Bob and Carol have learned to walk this walk. Every Christian couple who love each other, and stays together over the decades, learns a lot of these principles by trial and error, by seeing what works and what doesn’t work, by seeing what encourages and what doesn’t.

But this morning, in the presence of the servant-hearted couple we are honoring today, let’s learn Paul’s “love walk.” But first, he’s going to lay the groundwork. Notice that he specifically uses the word “walk.” If you’re reading from the New International Version, you’ll see that it uses the word “live” instead, but it’s that good old literal Greek word for “walk.” It’s peripateo, and is the same word used to describe Jesus walking on the water, walking in the temple, walking around Palestine. In John 5:8, Jesus told a sick man to “Rise, take up your bed, and walk.” It’s that same word.

And when it’s used in a spiritual sense, this “walking” is talking not about some lofty, remote, ivory-tower faith. It’s talking about a faith, and a love, which gets out there and walks around with people. It’s a feet-on-the-ground love.

The feet belonging to Bob and Carrol Grady have been on the ground in many countries around the world during their mission service. They have had to learn to adjust to different cultures, and to show the love of God through their smiles and hard work to several generations of world citizens. They had to walk the “love walk” in many challenging arenas.

And it was the same with Paul. He was a missionary and world traveler too. Let’s listen as he lays the groundwork for the “love walk.”

Ephesians 4:17 – 24 [NKJV]: This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

So far, Paul has made some good points, but it’s all a bit theoretical. You find yourself thinking, “Okay, Paul, that’s great. But give us some specific how-to steps.”

Which is what he promptly does. If you’re taking sermon notes, get ready to write, because they’re going to come fairly thick and fast.

Verse 25: Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another.

What is Paul’s first principle of “love walking”? Here comes Sermon Point One.

The first step in the “love walk” is to walk truthfully.

Isn’t that one of the first things that courting couples do – open their hearts to each other – trust each other -- hold few secrets from each other? And then, as the marriage goes along from year to year, we learn more and more how to tell the truth to each other, how to be vulnerable, how to stop fudging the facts and get real.

Notice that in this verse Paul gives the reason for being truthful – “we are members of one another.” The word “member” here is the Greek word melos, which literally means a body part. If I am somebody’s “right-hand man,” I am even more useful than that person’s literal right hand.

One of the absolute joys of being a part of this congregation is that we work together, using our talents to help other people. Bob and Carol have felt the joy of changing peoples’ lives by using their God-given abilities over the years. One of the delights of preaching a sermon where Bob is in the congregation he smiles at the speaker, his eyes twinkling encouragingly. He does this not just to his pastor but to other speakers as well.

So when Paul tells me to “walk truthfully,” what should I do with that? Good thing to do would be to ask myself, who am I lying to? Am I lying to my spouse? Am I lying to someone else? Where do I need to become more truthful, more encouraging?

For Paul’s next “love walk” principle, look at verse 26.

Verse 26: “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath,

If Paul’s first step in the “love walk” is to walk truthfully, his second step is to walk forgivingly.

I’m not exactly sure what the “Be angry” part means. Certainly there are things which should arouse our righteous indignation. We get a strong clue as to how to do this right in verses 31 and 32.

Verses 31 – 32: Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

No matter what righteous, proper indignation we might feel, we must commit the sins these verses describe. We must not damage people. For the Christian, there should be no “taking it out on” someone.

And we must not allow ourselves to hold grudges. Just think of what a happy world this would be if we all raced around making things right with people before the sun went down! Wouldn’t there be a lot of peaceful sleep? No more tossing and turning, replaying contentious conversations you had with someone.

So what should I do to take the steps along this part of the “love walk”? I need to ask myself, who do I need to forgive – or ask forgiveness from? My spouse? Someone else in my family? Someone at work, or in my neighborhood? Walking forgivingly, “seventy-times-seven” forgivingly, as Jesus told us, is an essential and nonnegotiable part of the love walk.

The very next verse contains the very next step on the love walk.

Verse 27: nor give place to the devil.

This is a short little verse, isn’t it? Whoever made up the Bible’s verse numbering system (which happened in the 1500s A.D.) decided to give this little concept a verse of its own. “Don’t give place to the devil.” The NIV says “do not give the devil a foothold,” and I get their point, but the literal Greek word is topos, which means “place.” Matthew 27, verse 33, talks about a “place” called Golgotha, the “place” of the skull. In Matthew 28, verse six, an angel at Jesus’ empty tomb told the women who came there, “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” That’s that same word.

So when Paul says, “Do not give place to the devil,” what is his next step to walking in love?

Well, if Paul’s first step in the “love walk” is to walk truthfully, and his second step is to walk forgivingly, his third step is to walk devil-free.

Literally, don’t give the devil any room in your life. It’s a good idea to literally think through the rooms in your house. Does the devil have a place in one of your rooms? Another way to look at it would be, does the devil have a place in your schedule? Do you allot some time for sinful or devilish practices? These can be quite damaging to a marriage.

For Paul’s next “love walk” step, look at the next verse.

Verse 28: Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.

Again, Paul is not specifically talking about marriage here, but the principle is a good one.

Because if Paul’s first step in the “love walk” is to walk truthfully, and his second step is to walk forgivingly, and his third step is to walk devil-free, this fourth step is to walk selflessly.

Is it possible that stealing can be a problem in the marriage? I actually did hear, not long ago, a situation which happened in a church in another state where the wife had been embezzling money from the church, and the husband felt guilty about it, and as a result their marriage was a dismally unhappy one.

But closer to home, in what areas in my life am I being selfish to my spouse? Or to my family? Who am I stealing from, and what am I stealing from them?

What’s interesting about this verse is that Paul tells the thief not only to stop stealing but to give to people in need. In the same way, in Luke 19, when Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house, that newly converted thief wasn’t content to simply stop stealing, and wasn’t even content simply to restore what he had stolen, but he said he was going to give half of his goods to the poor. In other words, Zacchaeus had been fully converted, fully turned around. He had changed from being totally selfish to totally selfless.

Let’s close with just one more of Paul’s “love walk” principles.

Verses 29 – 32: Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

Paul’s first step in the “love walk” is to walk truthfully, and his second step is to walk forgivingly, and his third step is to walk devil-free, and his fourth step is to walk selflessly—and his fifth “love walk” step is to walk kindly.

One startling thing I discovered in the verses we just read is that the sin against the Holy Spirit – grieving the Holy Spirit of God, in verse 30 – that sin is buried in the center of Paul’s admonitions about treating people right. I used to think that the sin against the Holy Spirit was simply turning my back on Him often enough so that He had no further effect upon my soul, but here Paul discusses the unpardonable sin in the very center of talking about how Christians should treat other people. So treating people graciously isn’t just an add-on—it’s a salvation issue.

So the question I need to ask myself is, who do I need to be kind to? Maybe there’s someone I tend to be a little snippy toward, a little condescending to. I need to stop that. One of the charming traits of Bob and Carrol Grady is those smiles of theirs. During the six precious decades in which they have served the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist church, their faces have become instantly friendly ones. When it comes time for them to smile, it doesn’t take a major construction project. Those smiles are already in position, simply waiting to be used.

One more verse, which sums up the love walk perfectly. It’s the first two verses of the next chapter.

Ephesians 5:1 – 2: Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us . . . .

So how do we walk the “love walk”? We imitate God as dear children of His, just as children imitate their parents. Because that’s the way Jesus loves us.

How many of you would resolve to walk the love walk this week? Will you raise your hand with me?

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Texual Sermon on Jeremiah 29:11
For the baptism of Chelsea Jurgensen
Bellevue SDA Church 9/3/2016
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here. First you'll hear Chelsea Jurgensen's mom, Amber, tell the children's story, then comes the sermon.)

Please open your Bibles to Jeremiah chapter 29.

Chelsea has chosen a very familiar and well beloved verse for her baptism day. This is a verse which it just seems natural to reach out for during times of commitment. Parents dedicating their children to the Lord will invoke these words. Anybody who knows this verse, and who is facing a major decision or transition, gathers these words around them like a comforting blanket.

Why does this passage mean so much to people? I think part of the reason is that just this one verse contains several “courage words.” The way the whole verse reads provides courage, of course, but the specific words that are used are powerful ones. And as we look at these words, I believe that we can take even more courage than we may have already been able to from this verse. Let me show you what I mean.

Jeremiah 29:11 [NKJV]: For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

(Many Bible versions use “plans” instead of “thought,” and I’ll talk about that in a minute.)

So, what is the first “courage word” here? It’s the very first word in the sentence. And if you go back to the original Hebrew, which I did, you find that both English and Hebrew versions start with the same word – “for.” In English, it has three letters – F-O-R. in Hebrew, it has only two – K-I. It’s pronounced “kee.”

And in both English and Hebrew, it means “because.” So why is “because” a “courage word”? When you see the word “because” in a sentence, or when you’re using the word “for” to mean “because,” you realize right away that you’re not talking about chaos but about cause and effect. A sentence that uses “because” in it is most often signaling that things happen for a reason.

And to get more details, you need to look at what just came previous to the word “because.” In about a week and a half the Seattle Seahawks are going to be playing football games for real, and there’s going to be a lot of “because-ing” happening before, during, and after the game.  Coaches will insist that players do things a certain way because it will produce this or that result. And after the game, sports commentators will endlessly analyze what happened, and will do their own because-ing.

So what was happening here Jeremiah 29? Well, it turns out that the Lord has had to do a bit of disciplining of His people. I would imagine that as Chelsea was growing up, there were times when mom or dad had to talk seriously about what was right and wrong, and maybe apply a bit of careful, prayerful discipline. I know that my own parents had to do this with me.

At the time when Jeremiah quotes God’s words here, the Lord has allowed the nation of Judah to be taken captive by Babylon. In the verses just before verse 11, God tells His people to just go along with this discipline, go along with the captivity. And after 70 years, He will bring them back to their land.

It’s interesting that the Lord allowed the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for 40 years before leading them into the Promised Land. By that time all of the incorrigible rebel grownups would have died off, and hopefully their children would have learned some lessons from this. This time the Lord is going to sentence His people to 70 years of being gone, maybe to really clean out the idol-worshippers hopefully once and for all.

But let’s bring it back to right now. This verse starts with the word “because,” which means that God is going to do some explaining. I’m sure that, early on, Chelsea’s mom and dad would start giving explanations about why they were training her the way they were. “We’re doing this because we love you,” they might’ve said. Or, “We’re not allowing you to do this right yet, or have this right yet, because you’re not old enough.”

In this kind of setting, “because” is a tremendously powerful, courage-giving word. It shows that there are reasons, rather than chaos. I happen to know that Chelsea loves horses, and works with them every week. She is discovering that horses respond in a certain way because they are treated or trained in a certain way. A horse is healthy because it is fed and cared for correctly.

So what should I, and Chelsea, and you do with God’s “becauses” this week? We all need to remember that everything God does is because He loves us. He has given us free choice, and often bad things happen to us because we may have made the wrong choices. Or maybe bad things happen because some other reason which has nothing to do with us—maybe someone else made a bad choice.

But we need to remember that the safest way to live is to give God permission to teach us the best way to respond to the world we live in. We need to read our Bibles, and come to Sabbath school classes where the Bible is discussed so we can benefit from other people’s perspectives, and we need to be ready to share the good news about God’s love to people who are ready to hear about it.

Now let’s take a look at another “courage word” from Jeremiah 29:11.

Verse 11: For I . . . .

Do you see the second “courage word”? It’s the word “I.” and it’s not talking about the “me” I, but it’s God mentioning Himself. He is the “I” in this verse.

I think that this is tremendously encouraging, and tremendously powerful. God could have communicated second-hand. He could have told Jeremiah to say something like, “for God knows the plans He has for you,” and so on. Instead, it’s like God is gently shouldering Jeremiah aside and stepping right into the verse Himself. These words are a direct quote from the God of heaven. Jeremiah has been God’s press secretary or spokesman throughout much of the book, but here God becomes His own spokesman. God wants to make it very clear that He Himself wants to communicate up close and personal.

Recently astronomers – and especially those who are looking for signs of intelligent life in the universe – have been interested what seemed like a signal from outer space. The Russians had actually picked up this signal a year ago on their own equipment, but they came to the conclusion that it wasn’t really an intelligent signal from way out there, but could have been caused by a military satellite circling the earth. Other scientists are coming to the same conclusion.

But here in Jeremiah 29:11, God wants to make sure that this signal He is sending is absolutely clear. So He is the one who does the talking.

And it’s interesting the Hebrew word He uses when He says “I.” I am no expert on the Spanish language, but I know enough to understand that you don’t necessarily need to use the separate pronoun “I.” For example, the word tengo means “I have” all by itself, because of the “o” on the end. But if you want to add emphasis, you can say yo tengo, which means the same thing, but emphasizes the Spanish word for “I.”

Well, the Hebrew language is the same way. Technically, God could have said “I know” without using the pronoun for “I.” The “I” idea can be built right into the verb itself, by its ending, the same as in Spanish.
But God chose to powerfully insert the pronoun meaning “I” right there in the sentence. And while the English word “I” has just one letter, the Hebrew word has four. It’s pronounced an-no-kee, and as far as I know, it is the longest Hebrew word for “I.” in other words, God wants it very clear that He is present in this verse. He is the one doing the talking, doing the promising. It’s like He’s saying, “You might be confused about your future, but I know the plans I have for you.”

I mean, talk about a courage-word. On the phone a couple weeks ago my brother Chester reminded me of something that happened to him when he was probably in the second or third grade, at the little one-room Adventist elementary school which I had also attended several years earlier.

That little school was connected to a boarding high school, Plainview Academy. And the son of the academy principal, who sounds like a fairly dysfunctional kid, made it his habit to bully my little brother.
One day an older and much more muscular boy named Darrell discovered this bullying, and he decided to put a stop to it. He stepped right up to the principal’s kid, and threateningly said, “Don’t you ever touch Chester again.” I don’t know whether Darrell actually put a specific threat into words, but the strong implication was, “If you do, I will beat you up.”

My brother told me that he really appreciated what Darrell did for him. Like God in Jeremiah 29:11, Darrell got close, and Darrell got involved. By his actions, Darrell was saying, “I don’t care if you’re the principal’s son, I am here, and I am taking personal responsibility for Chester’s safety.”

And that is what God is doing here, and what He did so often throughout the entire Bible. God is for us, not against us. And by using this multi-letter three-syllable Hebrew word for “I,” He is saying, “I am present. Don’t worry.”

As I was studying with Chelsea, we got to the topic of spiritual gifts. I asked Chelsea what she thought one of her own spiritual gifts might be. She sat in silence for 15 or 20 seconds, and she finally said, “I think I’m a peacemaker.”

She told me about an experience – and this might have been at summer camp a few years back – when a couple of other girls weren’t getting along with each other. Chelsea carefully played a personal role in helping them become friends again.

Chelsea is someone who realizes that personal interaction is tremendously important in situations like this. Chelsea could have simply texted the two girls from a distance urging them to make up. She could have sent them website links which talked about reconciliation. But instead– like God – Chelsea got personally involved. And God must have nodded approvingly when He saw this.

So as we move into this coming week, let’s remember that God wants to get directly involved in our lives. And He wants us to have the courage – when appropriate – to actually be present in the lives of people who need to see a reflection of His face and His love.

Now let’s move to the third “courage word” in Chelsea’s Bible verse. And it happens to be the very third word in the verse, both in English and in Hebrew.

Verse 11: “For I know . . . .”

This week, 32-year-old billionaire and Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg was visiting Nigeria. He met with entrepreneurs and developers in the country, and even stopped by a school where elementary students were learning computer coding.

Zuckerberg mentioned that he felt a little sad having to giving up coding to manage his company. He said that coding is really just breaking down big problems into small steps. He said, “There is an elegance to writing code that I miss. The code always does what you want – and people don’t!”

In other words, Mark Zuckerberg could sit down at a computer, and start writing lines of code, and he would know with absolute certainty – if of course he hadn’t made a typo – exactly what that code could accomplish.

And when God says in this verse, “For I know,” He’s telling us that He is absolutely certain about what He is about to say next in this verse. God has no doubt about the past, or the present, or the future. He knows. God didn’t say, “For I would imagine,” or “For I think,” or “For I hope.” He said “For I know.” And in the Bible He has given us some very valuable insights about the past, the present, and the future. Which means that if I read my Bible, I can know these things as well.

We have a fire station not too far from where we live. The other day I happened to be walking past it just as a shiny red ambulance was returning from taking someone to the hospital, and was backing into the station. I looked at the big box on that truck and wondered how the driver could back up through that opening so accurately. But then I noticed that painted on the cement, and on into the garage, was a bright yellow line of paint. This meant the driver didn’t have to worry about what he could or couldn’t see behind him. All he had to do was to watch the yellow line in his mirror, and he could back that truck perfectly in. He could know that he was doing it right.

God’s words—telling us what He knows—are like that bright yellow line. The Ten Commandments are God’s yellow line for staying on course as we move into a future we can’t see. Jesus’ sermons and parables are bright yellow lines. Paul’s writings are bright yellow lines. And of course it was Paul who wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17)

This week I discovered that Jeremiah 29:11 is simply loaded with “courage words.” But let’s just look at one more.

Verse 11: “For I know the thoughts . . . .”

I’m reading from the New King James Version, and when the people who prepared it came to this word, they chose to use the same word as the old King James version had used, the word “thoughts.” It can mean that, but it can also mean plan or purpose. So it’s more than God just having a casual thought about something. This Hebrew word goes deeper than that, which is why pretty much every recent translation, from the literal to the less literal, uses the word “plans” instead.

God has plans. God is a planner. Yesterday afternoon Shelley and I went to our local library. Actually she went inside while I parked under a line of trees and worked on the outline for this sermon. I had my driver’s side window open, and all of a sudden something fell through it, and bounced against my leg.

It was this leaf that I’m holding in my hand. And to me, it was a perfect parable, not only of a “planner” God, but of the great controversy as well. I uncurled the leaf and looked at it, and I saw the stem and the little veins. As you come up from the stem, a vein goes to the left, and a little further up the next vein goes to the right, then a little further up, to the left. And all the way up the leaf, it’s first one side, then the other. Somebody – somebody with a capital “S” – planned that out.

And that Somebody also planned out a wonderful system where this leaf takes in bad air and gives off good air, again and again throughout its entire life.

But as I look at this leaf I can see evidences of an evil destroyer as well. There are holes in this leaf, probably the result of some kind of destructive insect. There are blown death-splotches on this leaf. As I sat below that tree in my car, this leaf was dying, which is why it broke loose from its branch and came spiraling down.

God has plans, and Satan tries to thwart those plans. Chelsea has seen this happen again and again. She’s seen nature live, and nature die. Satan’s plan is to separate Chelsea and the rest of us from God. But God’s plans are different. Let’s read about God’s plans again.

Verse 11: For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Satan promised Eve that if she followed his advice and ate the fruit, she would know not only good but also evil. And he was right. But God’s thoughts, God’s plans, are not about evil, but about those other “courage words” we won’t have time to talk about this morning—peace, future, and hope.

And nurtured within her family by two loving parents willing to sacrifice for their children make those children’s spiritual nuture the highest priority, Chelsea can take courage. And you can take courage, and I can take courage.

Because of God’s love, which reached its apex in Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins, we can look forward to a future of peace and hope. And that’s why Chelsea was baptized this morning. And if you haven’t been baptized yet, that’s why you should be baptized too. Because baptism symbolizes that you are uniting with Jesus in His death, and rising to new life in His resurrection, and stepping forth from the water to do what Jesus did—reveal God’s character and His salvation to everyone in your life.

Chelsea understands that this planet in its current condition, isn’t God’s last word. There is a better world to come, and Chelsea chose a closing song which reminds us of it. Let’s stand and sing it together—“When We All Get to Heaven.”

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Expository Communion Sermon on Matthew 26
Bellevue SDA Church 08/27/16
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Matthew 26.

Matthew 26:26 – 29 [NKJV]: And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

As I was reading through the events of Matthew 26 this week, both the Lord’s Supper and what follows, I noticed that when the verses I have just read come to an end, communion stops. There is no more communion. All through that night, there is no more communion.

What do I mean by that? Well, during the Last Supper, Jesus was communicating, and the disciples were responding. He offered to wash their feet, and they let Him—all except Peter. But when Peter understood the importance of that ceremony, he responded wholeheartedly.

Then Jesus offers the bread and the pure juice of the grape, and they respond—they eat and they drink.

But that’s when communion stops. Jesus will continue to communicate, but people will not let Him get through to them. His disciples won’t, and Judas won’t, and the mob sent from the high priests and Herod and Pilate won’t, no matter what Jesus says.

Can you imagine how lonely this must have made Jesus feel? The devil was working desperately, as hard as he could, because he knew that if Jesus kept walking resolutely through that loneliness, and finally staggered all the way up Golgotha Hill, then Satan’s doom was sealed.

So Satan did his best. John 13:7 says that as soon as Judas had eaten the communion bread, “Satan entered him.” Later, Satan must have stirred up the mob wend their way with torches and lanterns to capture Jesus. And the devil may even have pressed a hypnotic drowsiness upon the disciples, causing them to sleep even though Jesus begged them to watch and pray.

In a few minutes, our own communion service will be over, and we need to make sure that communion doesn’t stop, real communion with our Savior. When we walk out the door of this sanctuary, what can protect that precious communion with Jesus?

I believe that this is what the communion service is for. Remember, in Luke’s account of this event, Luke 22:19, Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” You might say that Paul “retweeted” this comment in 1 Corinthians 11:24—“Do this in remembrance of Me.” Jesus didn’t say, “Do this mainly because it expresses truths about salvation” (it does, of course) but He said to do it to remember Him.

And I think that, as you and I are faced with some of the same post-communion temptations the disciples were, the way we can avoid leaving Jesus lonely is to remember Him, remember communion. Let me give you an example. Let’s start with verse 30.

Verses 30 – 35: And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.” Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And so said all the disciples.

And they meant well. They really did mean well. They believed what they were saying, but they did not know how weak they really were.

So what can I learn from this? Here comes what you could call a sermon point from this:

When Jesus says, “You are weak without Me,” I must remember communion.

Because we are weak without Jesus, aren’t we? In John 15:5, Jesus spoke words which came after the communion service was over, and before the events in Gethsemane. So the disciples would have had those words ringing fresh in their ears. In John 15:5, in the “vine and branches” parable, Jesus flatly told His friends, “Without Me, you can do nothing.”

Without Jesus, you and I are weak. In Philippians 4, Paul described a lot of persecution he had been going through, persecution which involved standing on Jesus’ side no matter the cost, persecution during which it must have been terribly tempting to do what the disciples did--deny Jesus, or even run away.

But in Philippians 4:13, directly in the context of that persecution, Paul says confidently, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Paul remembered communion—communing with Jesus first on the road to Damascus, and then many times later as he taught the Corinthians and probably other churches about the Lord’s Supper.

Because the whole essence of the bread and the grape juice is not to observe an icon on a wall, or a statue in a niche. With the icon or the statue you can pause, ponder, and leave. But Jesus wants the kind of communion where you receive Him, and then take Him within you. In a few minutes you and I will be united with those little pieces of bread and that little glass of grape juice. We will not leave them on this table. We will take them with us, within us, when we leave.

When Jesus reminds me, “You are weak without Me,” I must remember communion. And I must pray that my union with Jesus will be as close as the bread and the wine are to me, as close as the connection of a branch to a grapevine. And moment by moment I need to be ready to pray, audibly or silently, that He will work through me to enhance His reputation, and change the lives of those I know.

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Expository Sermon on Proverbs 1 and 2
Bellevue SDA Church 8/20/2016
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles again to Proverbs chapter 1.

While you’re turning there, I’ll mention that today’s sermon is Part Two of a sermon I preached a couple of weeks ago. If there’s ever been a time in the history of the world where we need to learn to think clearly God’s way, it’s right now.

And it’s not simply that good logic is better than bad logic. It’s more deadly than that. In John 8:44, Jesus called Satan a liar and the father of lies, and First Peter 5:8 tells us that since the devil is our adversary, we must be sober and vigilant, because he is out to deceive and destroy us.

And since Satan was able to deceive a sinless human being named Eve, we sinful people need to fortify ourselves with the same wisdom which would have kept her safe if she had followed it. That’s the kind of wisdom the whole Bible reveals, including here in the book of Proverbs.

A couple of weeks ago we looked at four of Proverbs’ steps to clear thinking, found in Chapter 1 and the first part of Chapter 2.

The first step is to fear the Lord—to develop a no-nonsense certainty that God is not simply one salad-bar option we can accept or reject, but that He alone holds the power of life and happiness.

The second step to clear thinking is to learn from our parents. No parent is perfect, but we should treat their ideas reverently, and carry on the good ones into our lives and the lives of our children.

The third step to clear thinking is to reject “gang-think.” A milder name for gang-think is “peer pressure,” but the Proverbs 1 verses are talking specifically about gangs of men who would steal and murder without any sympathy and with total selfishness. Even though you and I may never belong to a real gang, or act with such bloodcurdling viciousness, it’s often tempting to go along with what a group is thinking or saying or doing even though it might be wrong. If that’s the case, we need to firmly reject gang-think, even though the whole group might turn against us.

The fourth step to clear thinking was to make what I called the “love-hate” flip. Proverbs 1:22 says that scorners delight in their scorning (they love scorning people), and fools hate knowledge. You and I need to “flip” that love and that hate. Instead of loving to be scornful (always being sarcastic and bitter), we need to hate it. And instead of hating knowledge like the fools do, we need to love knowledge.

Proverbs 1 and 2 contain at least two more of the steps to clear thinking. And of course Proverbs has a whole lot more wisdom left in it, mainly in little mini-paragraphs through the rest of the book. But I think that most of the rest of that wisdom, maybe all of it, grows naturally out of the principles in these first two chapters.

So let’s find these two additional clear-thinking steps here in the second half of Proverbs 1. In this allegory we are introduced to Wisdom as a woman, calling out in the streets of a city. Notice what she says.

Proverbs 1:20 – 23 [NKJV]: Wisdom calls aloud outside; She raises her voice in the open squares. She cries out in the chief concourses, At the openings of the gates in the city She speaks her words: “How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, And fools hate knowledge. Turn at my rebuke; Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.

It’s interesting that this allegorical “Wisdom” is not making her appeal in the ivory towers of academia, or in some remote seminar on philosophy. She’s shouting her message in workplaces and corporate conference rooms and city council chambers. (And did you see the “love-hate flip” verses? Scorners need to stop loving their scorning and start hating it. Fools need to develop a love for knowledge.)
But now, after she makes her earnest appeal, Wisdom’s tone changes. Listen to what she says.

Verses 24 – 27:  Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded, Because you disdained all my counsel, And would have none of my rebuke, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes, When your terror comes like a storm, And your destruction comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you.

Are you ready for Proverbs’ next step to clear thinking? You could call it the next sermon point. If you’re counting the first four steps from a couple of weeks back, this would be Sermon Point Five.

What is Wisdom saying here?

Ignore God’s wisdom and you’ll suffer the consequences.

That’s pretty brutal, right? But that’s what Wisdom is saying at this point. The wisdom which she is trying to share is so important that if people don’t follow it, they are likely to suffer calamity and terror and destruction.

The other day I was listening to a radio program where several experts and prominent people were being interviewed about the current political situation.

One of the people being interviewed was a conservative talk-show host. His voice was very serious as he said, “We are living in a post-truth society.” He went on to say that in past decades journalists tried to be even-handed and objective when reporting the news.

In those days people could read a newspaper, and watch or listen to a news broadcast, and they would be able to sense that the journalist was trying to present both sides of a story. People could listen to both those sides, and even though they might not always agree with one or the other of those sides, at least they could weigh the evidence and discover at least some of the truth from both perspectives.

Nowadays, however, there are whole networks and organizations whose main goal is to support one side over the other. And the journalists who work for those organizations are pressured to slant the news so it favors one side over the other.

And this talk show host said that what is especially chilling is that when a listener’s favorite channel or program actually does try to get at the full truth about an issue or a candidate, and the listener hears something he or she doesn’t want to hear, they’ll just switch channels and find somebody else who’s telling them what they do want to hear. In other words, this talk show host said, a lot of people are not concerned with the true truth, but would instead rather hear something which they want to be true.

Which makes a level-headed person want to tear his hair out. Wisdom herself seems to be really desperate about this too. Let’s keep listening to her.

Verses 28 – 32: “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me. Because they hated knowledge And did not choose the fear of the LORD, They would have none of my counsel And despised my every rebuke. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, And be filled to the full with their own fancies. For the turning away of the simple will slay them, And the complacency of fools will destroy them;

In other words, ignore God’s wisdom and you’ll suffer the consequences. And they are serious consequences. If it were just a matter of bad thinking versus good thinking, that would be one thing. But we need to remember that there is a murderous deceiver prowling the planet, and a glance at the daily news shows the horrors caused by people who are not seeking wisdom from God but who have abandoned themselves to the utterly ruthless selfishness of the fallen angel.

So what do I do, now that I’ve been reminded that if I ignore God’s wisdom I will suffer the consequences? I need to read the last verse in the chapter, which tells me how to protect myself.

Verse 33: But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, And will be secure, without fear of evil.”

Evil might happen, but we don’t have to fear it

So I need to listen to the wisdom of God, not only in all these Proverbs chapters, but all the way through the Bible. In Genesis I need to watch how wisely and creatively He founded this planet, and this leads me to trust Him more fervently. In every book of the Bible I need to watch God at work, listen to the love behind His words, tremble when He vows vengeance against those who oppress the weak, and learn to think in the utterly selfless way which He thinks.

And I must love truth—real truth and not just what I hope is truth. In a recent issue of the Biblical Archaeological Review magazine, I read how someone had discovered a stone carving of a pomegranate scepter-head in an area Bible-lands area which made the scholars think it might have actually belonged to someone in King Solomon’s court.

There was some Hebrew writing engraved on this little carving, so several experts on ancient Hebrew writing studied it, including a very credible scholar who was a woman. She decided that the handwriting was not like other items from that time period, so the carving must not be genuine.

Well, the editor of Biblical Archaeological Review wasn’t so sure about that. So he engaged the services of a photographer who specialized in taking detailed photos of old objects, with the light arriving from several directions. So the photographer took pictures of this pomegranate’s photo, and then they brought this woman scholar back to have another look.

She came back, and studied the photos, and studied the pomegranate again, and saw the writing more clearly than before. And then, even though she had already put her professional reputation on the line by declaring the carving a fake, she reversed her decision and said that  now she believed that it was highly likely to have been used by Solomon or his courtiers.

The magazine editor was profoundly touched, and impressed, by this woman’s search for real truth. If it meant getting the real facts, she was willing to admit she was wrong. I’m not sure if this woman is a person of faith, but she is thinking God’s way.

Now let’s look at just one more step to clear thinking. From all we can tell, Chapter 2 begins with Wisdom still speaking. We’ve just seen how she has threatened people who ignore God’s wisdom. When bad things happen as a result of this foolishness, Wisdom will simply say, “Ha, ha, ha, you had it coming. You’ve made your bed—you’ll have to lie in it.” (Parents sometimes use this kind of challenge to their kids when nothing else seems to work to warn them from folly.)

But now Wisdom takes a different tack. Now she introduces the benefits of thinking God’s way:

Proverbs 2:1 – 4: My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you, So that you incline your ear to wisdom, And apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if you cry out for discernment, And lift up your voice for understanding, If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures;

And now come the benefits of seeking God’s wisdom.

Verses 5 – 9: Then you will understand the fear of the LORD, And find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly; He guards the paths of justice, And preserves the way of His saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice, Equity and every good path.

What is Proverbs’ next step to clear thinking?

Well, if I ignore God’s wisdom I am doomed to suffer the consequences, but if I embrace God’s wisdom, I can unlock its treasures.

So what are those treasures? They are not lottery-winnings, or a legacy from a wealthy relative. Those treasures could be summed up in the sentence “God will take care of you.” He’s like your personal security service.

Verses 10 – 22: When wisdom enters your heart, And knowledge is pleasant to your soul, Discretion will preserve you; Understanding will keep you, To deliver you from the way of evil, From the man who speaks perverse things, From those who leave the paths of uprightness To walk in the ways of darkness; Who rejoice in doing evil, And delight in the perversity of the wicked; Whose ways are crooked, And who are devious in their paths; To deliver you from the immoral woman, From the seductress who flatters with her words, Who forsakes the companion of her youth, And forgets the covenant of her God. For her house leads down to death, And her paths to the dead; None who go to her return, Nor do they regain the paths of life— So you may walk in the way of goodness, And keep to the paths of righteousness. For the upright will dwell in the land, And the blameless will remain in it; But the wicked will be cut off from the earth, And the unfaithful will be uprooted from it.

I think that maybe the greatest benefit you and I can unlock by embracing God’s wisdom is the freedom He gives us to rest in His powerful care. The way of the world, the way of the fool, is to imagine that he (or she) is totally responsible for safety and success.

But the way of the Lord enrolls us under His protection. A lot of Adventist schools will be starting this coming week, and a lot of kids have been enrolled under the protection and wisdom of a lot of dedicated teachers.

And just like a parent longs for a child to see common sense in the parent’s guidelines, God longs for us to decide to trust Him even though we might yet have His wider perspective.

And just as students this coming week will be getting new textbooks, and learning truths that are more advanced than they learned the year before, all of us need to let the Holy Spirit, through the Book He inspired, guide us to Heaven’s clear thinking.

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Expository Sermon on Proverbs 1
Bellevue SDA Church 8/6/2016
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Proverbs chapter 1.

A little over a month ago Shelley and I took a trip back to my old Academy reunion, which happens in North Dakota, and after that we drove down to South Dakota for a few days to be with my family.
I got a chance to stroll around the state college I attended, which is now called Northern State University. I walked past the building where I took my absolute all-time favorite college class, called General Semantics. This sounds like a very nerdy topic. I was not a nerdy kind of person, at least not the type of person who becomes obsessive enough about a subject to stay awake till three in the morning devouring books about it. I was working a full-time night job 40 miles away, and most of the time I just tried to stay awake in class.

But one of the main ideas behind General Semantics really intrigued me. That idea said that if we as human beings would simply take the trouble to think and speak more clearly and specifically, we would probably avoid a lot of the problems which were caused by misunderstanding each other.

You don’t hear a lot about General Semantics these days, because its ideas have faded. Probably, people have realized that solving humanity’s problems is a whole lot more complicated than simply fine-tuning how we express our ideas. But I still remember the absolute joy I had going to each of those classes. In fact, I don’t think the teacher herself felt the joy I did. She was just teaching it is another class in the curriculum prescribed for English majors. But I loved that class.

For the next few years I bought books on General Semantics, books on logic. One of these books is the one I’m holding right here. It’s called “Fallacy: The Counterfeit of Argument.” It discusses 51 separate fallacies of reasoning, and tells you how to recognize them and pick them apart. The back cover says, “Examine these fallacies so that the next time you hear a political speech, or a high pressure commercial, you will be able to judge critically and accurately the value of the persuasion, and avoid being spellbound by the illusion of rhetoric based on unsound reasoning.”

Every once in a while during those years I would remember that the Bible book of Proverbs was a book of wisdom. So I would open it up and start reading, imagining that it might be the same kind of logic-book he would study in General Semantics class. But it wasn’t. I would get all excited as I read the first part, which urges us to get wisdom and understanding, but then it would move right into bits of advice like “Kathy why his son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother.” Or “He who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.”

I mean, this is all true, of course, but I was hoping for large sections on how to reason better, or how to pick apart someone’s argument, or that kind of thing.

But that is not Proverb’s point. And recently, as I read the first part of the book again, I slowed down and discovered that Proverbs is indeed about clear thinking, but clear thinking God’s way. It’s not a book about teaching you to reason better, because we already have wonderfully capable minds.

Instead – and this is just one way of looking at Proverbs – I believe that if we can start with some basic ideas, our thinking will become not only clearer but incredibly safe. Proverbs starts back behind the mechanics of argument. It’s not about debating—it’s about living well with others.

This morning were looking at Part One of this topic. In a couple of weeks I will introduce Part Two. Today we will discover four key principles to God’s kind of clear thinking.

Proverbs 1:1 – 6 [NKJV]: The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, To perceive the words of understanding, To receive the instruction of wisdom, Justice, judgment, and equity; To give prudence to the simple, To the young man knowledge and discretion— A wise man will hear and increase learning, And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, To understand a proverb and an enigma, The words of the wise and their riddles.

Can you see how exciting this could have been to a college kid studying General Semantics? The verses I have just read you read like the back of the textbook, or a course description.

But back then I didn’t realize that at this point I would have to slow down and look at thinking and wisdom from God’s point of view. Look at the next first.

Verse 7: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.

This idea is repeated in Proverbs 9:10, with a slightly different spin: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

So what is Proverbs’ first step to clear thinking? If you’re taking sermon notes, you could call this Sermon Point One.

Proverbs’ first step to clear thinking is to fear the Lord.

To a bespectacled General Semantics student, this doesn’t seem to be a good first step. Shouldn’t you first of all examine your own presuppositions, and then try to figure out your debating opponent’s presuppositions? But no, the first step to clear thinking is to fear the Lord.

And even that seems a little unusual. Why didn’t God say, “Agreeing with God’s ideas is the beginning of wisdom”? Why “The fear of the Lord”?

Maybe it’s something like Policeman Ron Tennill. Ron was one of the Redfield, South Dakota police force when I was a kid. Ron loved young people, and had a ventriloquist dummy named Terry Sabisco, which he would dress up in a little policeman’s uniform and take into school classrooms and teach kids about safety.

But Ron Tennill also packed a pistol. And when you were driving through town and you saw Ron’s car coming up behind you, you felt a touch of fear lest you had somehow wandered over to the wrong side of the law.

In my search for wisdom, I need to start with the idea that I must be very afraid of ideas which go opposite to God’s ideas. As soon as Satan entered the Garden of Eden and found a snake he could use as his ventriloquist’s dummy, he began to introduce ideas which were exactly opposite to what God had laid down. God had said, “You will surely die,” and Satan said, “You will not surely die.” Everything God has created and provided showed Him to be a God of love, but Satan portrayed Him as a God who was selfishly keeping His best gifts from His human family.

So these days, whenever I hear someone saying something that the Bible says isn’t true, I must lose any philosophical detachment, and instead fear the Lord with the deepest and most reverent respect, because as Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”

Now let’s take a look at Proverbs’ second principle of clear thinking.

Verses 8 – 9: My son, hear the instruction of your father, And do not forsake the law of your mother; For they will be a graceful ornament on your head, And chains about your neck.

So if Proverbs’ first step to clear thinking is to fear the Lord, the second step is to learn from your parents.

In the “love your neighbor” half of the Ten Commandments, “Honor your father and your mother” stands at the top of the list.

The older of my two sisters lives in the West part of Redfield, and just across the street from her and a half-block east is a humble, single-story little house. It’s blue in color, with white trim, and has a porch running the full length of the front.

That was the house my dad was born in. His family lived 10 miles east on a remote farm, but this must have been a midwife’s house, and my grandmother must’ve been brought there to give birth.

So right there, close by to where my sister and her husband live, is where my dad got his start. And his influence is even closer. I noticed, a month ago, as I was visiting with my sisters, that I could hear the influence of dad’s teachings. That would seldom lecture us – unless he was instructing us and driving a car or a tractor – and he taught us mostly by the way he acted, by his voice tones, by his love of God, and the way he followed with the Bible said.

Have you noticed that so much of what’s on TV and other media goes against the basic decency your parents taught you, and model for you? Nobody has absolutely perfect parents, of course, and if they did things God wouldn’t want you to do, you must always step back to that first principle of a deep, respectful fear of God and his commandments. But by and large, our parents teach us what God is like.

And if they have the right ideas about God – if they too have the deepest respect for Him, yet have learned how deeply He loved us -- they will pass that love on to their children. My parents never ever hinted to me in any way that God got annoyed at us. Instead, I always knew that God deeply loved me, because my parents deeply loved me.

This past Thursday I had the privilege of taking part in a funeral for Charles Scheuerman. If you’ve been here at Bellevue for a while, you might be member this couple who attended church here for a while until they had to move in with children down in the Covington area.

I can’t say that I enjoy funerals and memorial services, but the part I do appreciate the most is when family members and others tell what the deceased person meant to them. And this Thursday, person after person told about Charles’ gentleness, and love, and Bible reading, and mentoring. It’s wonderful when the grandchildren or great-grandchildren at such a service can hear this praise of these qualities.

And even people who don’t have children can be parent figures to the kids in the church, or to relatives. So let’s make a habit of looking back to what our own parents taught us. If they’re still alive, don’t wait until their memorial service to speak these things out. Tell them thank you – and tell them you will carry on the good things they taught you. And let’s be parents to those who may need it.

Now, take a look at this next Proverbs 1 passage. When I read this as a kid, I would always be tremendously perplexed. But this passage contains a third principle of clear thinking.

Verses 10 – 19: My son, if sinners entice you, Do not consent. If they say, “Come with us, Let us lie in wait to shed blood; Let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause; Let us swallow them alive like Sheol, And whole, like those who go down to the Pit; We shall find all kinds of precious possessions, We shall fill our houses with spoil; Cast in your lot among us, Let us all have one purse”— My son, do not walk in the way with them, Keep your foot from their path; For their feet run to evil, And they make haste to shed blood. Surely, in vain the net is spread In the sight of any bird; But they lie in wait for their own blood, They lurk secretly for their own lives. So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain; It takes away the life of its owners.

As I say, as I read these words on the calm prairies of South Dakota, I was puzzled. I had never met anybody like this, never met any group like this, and therefore have never been tempted to join them in their evil deeds.

But within this terrible tangle of verses, I can spot a third principle of clear thinking.

Because if Proverbs’ first step to clear thinking is to fear the Lord, and if the second step is to learn from your parents, then the third step to clear thinking is to reject gang-think.

A milder way to describe it is “peer pressure.” Gang-think is the attitude that you will respond to go along with whatever a powerful or influential group wants you to do. Gang-think means you will buy into ideas you haven’t totally thought through. You will do things you know you’re not supposed to do.

I’m certainly no expert on gangs. But some gangs will have initiation rituals in which a young person who wants to join will have to do something illegal to prove they’re worthy to be part of the gang.

When I was in the seventh grade in the little one-room Adventist elementary school I attended, we had the only male elementary teacher I ever had, Mr. Berry. He was a sober, thoughtful man, not a smiler.
One day during lunch hour, one of the girls convince the rest of the students that we should all hide from Mr. Berry before he came back from lunch. I still remember the strange feeling I got right around my solar plexus as I joined in with the rest of the students in their plot. We didn’t go far – we went down in the basement and hid in what was probably the furnace room – but waiting there in the dark, trying not to giggle, we could hear his footsteps when he returned. I don’t remember how he eventually tracked this down, but I remember that he seemed surprised and grieved at what we had done.

Gang-thinking happens everywhere, where you work, that a political rally, maybe sometimes at church. A conversation turns to gossip, and it’s tempting to join in and help assassinate someone’s character. Stephen Covey once said that as a general rule, we should “speak well of those who are absent.” We must all be individuals first, and then a group second, and not fall prey to gang-think.

How do we eliminate gang-think from our minds? Will, we go back a step in remember what our parents taught us about thinking for ourselves. And most importantly, we take a step still further back, and we fear the Lord. God is the one who gets to tell me what to do, whether I’m by myself or in a group.

And you remember all those Bible people who resisted the pressure of the crowd, those people who stood bravely, and sometimes totally alone, on God’s side. These are the people we name our kids after—Noah, Abraham, Samuel, David, Elijah, Daniel. And then you figure out what it is that God wants you to do, or not do, in that particular situation, and you follow through.

Let’s look at just one more principle about what God considers clear thinking.

Verses 20 – 22: Wisdom calls aloud outside; She raises her voice in the open squares. She cries out in the chief concourses, At the openings of the gates in the city She speaks her words: “How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, And fools hate knowledge.

Proverbs’ first step to clear thinking is to fear the Lord, and the second step is to learn from your parents, the third step is to reject gang-think. And Proverbs’ fourth step to clear thinking to—if necessary—make the love-hate flip.

What do I mean by the love-hate flip? Look at verse 22 again.

Verse 22: “How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, And fools hate knowledge.

Do you see how wrong-headed these scorners and fools are? The scorners delight in their scorning. The fools hate knowledge. It should be the other way around – the scorners should be revolted at their scorning rather than delighting in it, and the fools should love knowledge rather than hating it. So things need to be flipped.

There are a lot of scorners out there. Pretty much every workplace has one. Back when I worked the night shift at a state institution for the developmentally disabled, a woman who came to work wanted to unionize the employees under the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

She began to publish a newsletter and spread it around amongst the employees. And that newsletter was filled with nothing but scorn. She would write satirical articles making fun of the supervisors and administrators and anybody else who was a bit higher on the totem pole than the average worker. She loved pushing back against the bosses like that, but it made my stomach sick, and I never joined that union, though I was subtly threatened a few times.

The media, of course, has programs where people are perpetually scornful about various things. And a little satire isn’t bad from time to time. Satire was one of God’s weapons through the mouths of some of the Old Testament prophets. But evidently, the “corner” hearing Proverbs is somebody who’s mind has been twisted into a constant scornful attitude.

Do you remember the first stanza of the first song in the hymnbook of ancient Israel? These are the very first words those people saw as soon as they started unrolling their hymnal-scroll:

Psalm 1:1 – 2: Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night.

In other words, the “blessed” person who avoids gang-think and who stays away from the company of scorners has constantly turned his mind back to the law of the Lord, and that’s what he meditates on, day and night.

You and I need to love knowledge, seek and pray for wisdom, for the times we’re living in. What is the love-hate flip? It’s when I learned to hate scorning rather than delight in it, and love knowledge rather than hate it.

What about you? Amid the storm of ideas and counter ideas, and temptations to be less than what God wants you to be, will you join me in resolving to ask the Lord to help us through a prayerful study of His Scriptures to become clearer thinkers for Him?

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Expository Sermon on 1 Peter 1
Bellevue SDA Church 7/30/2016
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to the book of Second Peter, chapter one.

A month ago, Shelley and I were visiting my two sisters and their families back in my hometown of Redfield, South Dakota. It was fun to drive around town to see the sights, and to discover just how much had changed.

We drove out a mile west of the airport to the farm where I lived from about age 14 through the time I left home in my 20s. The people who bought the house after my parents died made changes in it, so it’s not really our home anymore. The trees which Dad and Mom had planted a half-century ago were huge.

I was thinking this week, as I looked at First Peter chapter 1, about power. Power is important anywhere you are. The power in Dad’s tractor was important to subdue the weeds on those 15 acres we had. Power was important in tightening barbed-wire along a long fence-line. (One time Dad tied one end of the barbed wire to the back of our 1960 Rambler and had me get behind the wheel and cautiously inched forward, tightening that wire while he quickly pounded staples into wooden posts.)

Power was important at the milk-bottling plant I worked at in town. (That building is still there, but it’s now a tire dealership.)

The machine I operated at the milk plant was a fairly simple one, but right next to it was a long and noisy machine called a PurePak machine, which rapidly filled quart cartons, pint cartons, and even half-pint cartons with milk or whatever else you sent over to the machine through shiny stainless steel pipes.

The PurePak was a very complicated machine. Before you even started it up, you had to stack a supply of flat milk cartons at one end, and then turn on the upper and lower heat sealers and make sure they were hot enough, and make sure that the milk was ready to be fed.

And when all was ready, you pushed a black button at one end of the machine, and suction arms grabbed the bottommost carton, flipped it open, and popped it onto a square shaft, and that shaft rotated a few degrees, and meanwhile the suction cup had grabbed and unfolded another carton and inserted it onto the next shaft.

As those cartons went around in a circle, a heat-sealer was melting the bottom of the carton, and eventually this was pressed shut. And then the carton was inserted onto a track, and eventually moved into position under a valve, and a gush of milk went into the carton, and then something folded and squeezed the top of the carton shut, and a stamping device imprinted the date, and then little jets of water went over the carton to cool it, and finally the carton was ejected onto a rotating stainless steel table, where the operator grabbed it and put it into a milk crate.

And of course it was important to keep the power on. If the electricity went off, or if the machine stopped for some other reason, at least 20 or 30 cartons of milk would be stopped in their places, and would have to be discarded along with the milk in them.

So the important thing was to keep the power on, and also to keep the machine from stopping for some other reason.

As I mentioned, that milk plant is now a tire dealership. I don’t know what happened to that old PurePak machine, or to the giant milk tanks which fed it, or all those stainless steel pipes which hung from the ceiling.

I do know that one day, those old machines – wherever they are – and also the small tires and the large tires and the really big tractor tires in that building now – will dissolve in flame, as the Lord cleanses this old planet and creates new heavens and a new earth. Think of all the power which will be needed for that conflagration.

But there’s an even more powerful power, more powerful than electricity, more powerful than intense flame. It’s a power which you and I can have and use. Peter talks about that power here in Second Peter chapter 1. It’s the power to renew our sin-infected human hearts and mind.

Here in just eleven verses, Peter gives us a complete discussion of what needs to happen in your and my lives. You might call these verse “full-gospel” verses—accepting what Jesus has done for us, and then following through to Christian maturity.

So let’s watch as Peter gives us a very practical, step-by-step set of instructions to become ready for heaven. Let’s start with verse one.

1 Peter 1:1 [NKJV] Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

Who is Peter writing to here? He’s writing to other Christians, and he is reminding them that they have been made acquainted with the same kind of faith he and the other apostles have. It’s a faith that comes from knowing that, because of Jesus’ love for us and his death for us, we can have His righteousness as a gift.

But that’s not all. Notice verse two.

Verse 2: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord,

So Peter first of all says that we can have faith because Jesus has given us His righteousness, and now he says that grace and peace can be yours and mine – in abundance – through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

What is grace? Grace is the undeserved love that God pours out upon us. And “peace” is that courageous inner calm we can have because we know that God has made salvation possible to us.

Okay. Now we come to the “power” part. Here comes the power that can get us safely through any earthly counter-power and into eternity.

Verses 2 – 3: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness . . . .

So if you or I ever wonder if it’s possible for us to be saved, this verse should be really encouraging. Keep in mind that we can’t just read this verse all by itself, and then shut our Bibles, and go merrily on our way. We need to keep reading. In fact, that’s a good Bible-study principle to keep in mind. Keep reading. Rather than focusing on a single verse or two, read through the chapter where that verse is found.
Anybody who has trouble reading and understanding the Bible probably stops reading when he or she comes to the part they can’t understand. Instead, keep praying and keep reading. What follows after a puzzling verse might just help explain what was hard to figure out.

Now let’s read verse 3 again, including the last part of it. In fact, let’s start back at verse two.

Verses 2 - 3: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us . . . .

You see why it’s so important to read the Bible, and in this case stories about Jesus, and the things He said? All of these things which “pertain to life and godliness”, come “through the knowledge of Him who called us.” Knowledge is an important first step to understanding the power God promises us here.

As I read those verses this week, I felt a chill go up my back. How much am I taking my salvation for granted? How accurate, how recent, is my knowledge of God and His Son? If all of these life-and-godliness blessings come through an increasing knowledge of God and Jesus, then you and I need to make sure we read our Bibles frequently. I have many Bibles at home, but I also have several versions on my iPad, and that makes it really convenient to read many chapters, or an entire Bible book, without a lot of trouble. I love to read all the way through one of the New Testament’s little books, from start to finish, at one sitting.

Because knowledge about how God and His Son think, and what they have done, and why, is terribly crucial. Remember that chilling parable where the bridegroom looks out at the five foolish bridesmaids trying to get into the wedding and says to them, “I never knew you.” What He most likely means is, “You never knew Me. Can you really be happy in My heaven if you don’t know Me for yourself?”

The good news is, Peter is not pessimistic about our salvation. He is optimistic. Look at verse four.

Verse 4: . . . by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

Isn’t that what we need, here on July 30, 2016? What Peter is insisting here is that the gospel is not simply a transaction, a purchase, and then we go ahead and live our life pretty much as we want to. No, one of the goals of the gospel is that we become “partakers of the divine nature” so that we can escape lustful corruptions of the world.

Now this seems like a pretty tall order. But, just as Peter was optimistic about our salvation, he is also optimistic about our being able to partake in the divine nature.

And rather than being vague about this important topic, he gives us a crisp and fascinating set of how-two steps to follow. And notice how he signals to us that these steps are important. He’s just told us that we need to escape the corruption that is in the world through lust, and now notice what he says:

Verse 5: But also for this very reason, giving all diligence . . . .

So whatever this step-list is going to be, Peter wants to make sure that we follow those steps diligently.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been having pain in my left foot, on the bottom of the heel. So this past Thursday I saw a podiatrist, a very thoughtful young gentleman who seem to know what he was doing. He studied an x-ray of my foot, and then poked around here my heel, and then said, “Congratulations! You have plantar fasciitis!” He even shook my hand!

Then he showed me a diagram of a foot, and told me exactly what was going on. And then he gave me a sheet of instructions which I would need to follow in order to help the problem go away.

In fact, he numbered those instructions. Number one was to rest my foot for a while (which is why I didn’t park in the north lot today, but in the school lot). Step Number Two was to ice the foot, and take ibuprofen if I needed to. Step Three was not to walk barefoot for a while. And there were several other instructions, which I understood clearly, and which I know are important.

And if you look at it one way, Peter’s instructions are “foot” instructions as well. Back in the book of Acts, Christianity was sometimes referred to as The Way, which was literally the Greek word for “road,” or a path you walked along. In First John 2:6, John says, “He who says he abides in Him [Jesus] ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”

And when Jesus went about collecting disciples, He didn’t simply say, “Accept Me,” or “Sit somewhere and think about Me.” Instead He said, “Follow Me.” Jesus didn’t stay in one place expecting people to converge upon Him. He went from town to town, told parable after parable, by sea-sides, on hillsides, in homes, in synagogues. He was always on the move.

So what Peter expects you and me to do with his list of instructions is to put them into practice this coming week. Walk them out. After all, most of us will be on the move this week, going to work, going to school, meeting appointments, maybe going to the doctor. Peter and his best friend Jesus want us to walk these instructions out.

So let’s take a look at them. It’s really key to understand that Peter seems to have a specific order in mind here, because of the way he lists them. Many of the instructions my foot doctor gave me really didn’t have to be performed in the order in which he numbered them, but Peter’s instructions seem to be important in the order in which they’re given. Let’s take a look.

Verse 5: But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge,

Notice how Peter is positioning the steps in order? He’s not simply giving us a list of qualities we should develop. Instead, unless I am very much mistaken, he seems to be saying, “First you need to have faith. And once you have that, add to your faith virtue, and to virtue you need to add knowledge,” and so on.

As you look at these steps, you see a blueprint for a maturing Christian. Each beginning Christian needs to exercise faith that there is a God who cares, and a Savior who gave His life to save us. But we’re not supposed to stop with faith. To our faith, we need to add a sense of virtue –we need to begin to live out that faith by being a virtuous person. Faith in God should change me from what I was before into someone safe to save in heaven.

And according to verse 5, we can’t stop there. I may resolve to be a virtuous person, but I need some facts about what God thinks is virtuous. That’s why – again, using all diligence – I need to add to my virtue knowledge. It would be dangerous for me to try decide for myself what is virtuous or not. I need the facts.

Every once in a while I hear on the news an ugly story where, in another culture, someone murders one of their own family in order to defend the family’s honor. The murderer considers that what he is doing is a virtuous deed. But God doesn’t think so. We need to allow the God who created us, and who created virtue, to be the one who defines it for us. We can’t make this up on our own.

Driving around the area where I grew up, Shelley and I passed by the old Adventist Academy building. When I was in grade school, I attended primary and kindergarten and junior Sabbath school classes there. That’s where I first heard those great Bible stories, such as the one about Daniel in the lion’s den. From that story I learned that part of being virtuous is to stay faithful to God no matter what might happen to you.

And I could go on and on, story after story. I learned what virtue was from Bible characters who practiced it--or who didn’t practice it and had to suffer the consequences. I learned virtue from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus systematically turned on their heads many ideas the average human being might think is sensible.

So, once our faith is steadied by virtue, and informed by knowledge, what’s the next step?

Verse 6: to knowledge self-control . . . .

Have you ever known someone who was so smart that he came to the conclusion that he had the right to do certain things – even sinful things – that other people didn’t get to? But here Peter implies that the more we learn, the more we’re responsible for—and the more we need self-control.

Verse 6:  . . . to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance . . . .

With my faith tempered by virtue, my virtue informed by knowledge, and my knowledge guided by self-control, I still need perseverance. Remember, Christianity is a walk, not a frozen posture of immobility. God has work that needs to be done, and He needs people to get up and go out and do it. Blessed are the “duty Christians” who persevere in the Lord has given them talents for.

If it weren’t for duty-Christians, Sabbath School lessons wouldn’t be thoughtfully prepared and taught. Potlucks wouldn’t be organized with lots of great food. If it weren’t for duty-Christians, our church budget offering wouldn’t cover our expenses. So thank you, duty-Christians! You have perseverance. You know how important it is to follow through. Spontaneity is great, but follow-through is greater.

Verse 6: “ . . . .to perseverance, godliness . . .”

That’s because a person who is good at persevering can get into the habit of thinking that his or her skills of stick-to-it-ive-ness are alone what produces success in God’s work. This kind of attitude gradually leads to the self-satisfied murmur of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4, as he gazed over the city of Babylon. He said to himself in Daniel 4:30, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?”

As you might remember, God got the king’s attention. He announced that Nebuchadnezzar would become mentally deranged for seven years, “until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.”

So what Nebuchadnezzar needed to add to his administrative perseverance was “godliness.” If you are a godly person, you are not puffed up with pride about your accomplishments. Instead, like the true God, you are humble and loving, and concerned more with people than you are with projects.

Do you see what’s happening here? Peter of course does not give us a detailed explanation of why he put the steps in this order, but can you see that what must be happening is that each successive step curbs, or corrects, or fine-tunes, what could become the excesses of the previous step.

Let’s keep going.

Verse 7: . . . to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.

 Have you ever known someone who seemed to be a godly person, but who had difficulty relating to people? This person might behave and speak righteously, but still rub people the wrong way. Again, Peter tells us to be “diligent” in applying these steps, and the “brotherly kindness” step is important so that we can remain gentle and humane and understanding.

Each week, you and I have to reinvent this congregation. Last week, we may have been the friendliest church for miles around, but this week we’ve got to start over and do it again. Because each new week there are always people in this sanctuary who have never been here before. We need to let our brotherly kindness glow warmly every single week, no matter how we might feel. I am so thankful that so many of you have made this a habit.

And finally Peter concludes his list with love. This is agape love, the kind of love spoken about in John 3:16. This is the love with which God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die for our sins. Peter’s first step was faith, and the last step is love.

Now, notice the triumphant way Peter closes off this discussion. He doesn’t simply list these steps and then hurry on to another topic. Instead, he pauses to emphasize how important these steps are.

Verses 8 – 11: For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

You see, I believe that each of these steps in Christian development is a “power promise.” If I cooperate with God, asking him to give me His Holy Spirit power to add these corrective principles to my daily walk, I can face each new day serene, knowing that I’m following my Savior.

I can stand firmly on these principles--and all the other “power promises” Peter may be referring to--and walk forward, every day approaching closer to that everlasting kingdom.

What about you? Would you like to resolve to follow Jesus more closely this coming week?

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Four F’s Equals an A
Topical Sermon preached on July 2, 2016
by Darren Milam
Photos and text (c)2016 by Darren Milam

(NOTE FROM PASTOR MAYLAN: Darren presented this as a sermon interspersed with slides of photos he had taken. I've inserted them into the text where they appeared in the sermon. Darren, thanks for the trouble you took to illustrate this message!)

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Good morning and happy Sabbath. I want to welcome all the visitors this morning.

The good news about this morning’s message – these won’t be my words heard today, they will be God’s. Let’s pray –

God – put YOUR words in my mouth. Let YOUR message be heard this morning. Hide ME behind YOUR cross. Amen.

I could ask any student or teacher that just recently finished their school year, and I am certain they would read today’s sermon title and not agree with 4 F’s equaling an A. Well, I am not saying that if you fail 4 classes, it will equal one class being a success. The F’s, referenced in the title – 4 F’s equals an A, are referring to something entirely different.

First I’ll explain a bit. When the Pastor asked me to speak – as I mentioned earlier – he did not hear my first response – or second for that matter. After I agreed, as he always does – he gave a few pointers, which I took note of. I also spent much time in prayer, asking for guidance and insight. If you have heard our pastor speak, you know he typically has a certain amount of ‘sermon points’ throughout. I don’t think it’s any secret, it helps the listeners follow along, gives ideas for self-study in the future and informs you of how far you are into the sermon.  So, I am using a bit of that formula. 4 F’s and an A – basically 5 points. Let’s get started:

The first F, stands for FOUNDATION.

I feel wherever we are with our walk with God – early stages of our Christian lives, or after years and years of studying – in either case, this is where is starts.  Having that TRUE Foundation.

Let’s turn to the book of Matthew. Chapter 7. Starting with verse 24.

Jesus’ words - “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.

 “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does NOT do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”.

I am sure we all have read this before. We have, most likely, sung the song that follows the story – NO – I will not be singing it for you.  We may have even seen a skit performed about it.  Yet with all that, do we base our lives on it? And when I say ‘lives’ I mean our daily lives. I believe it is far easier to say, “Yes, I will build my life, my foundation, on God’s word.  I will structure my life around Him being the Rock. Because of this, I will be able to spend all of eternity with Him.”  I feel it gets  a bit more challenging when we are in our daily routine and we are faced with one of life’s many decisions.  In these moments, do we pray and ask for guidance to ensure our decision is being built on that Rock - that foundation we all know?  If not, we will quickly roll away from God’s desired path for us – slipping and sliding on the sand that is being washed away from the rising tide.  Let’s make sure to build our lives – our daily lives, on the best foundation, on the true ROCK.

Next we have – FAITH.

A few weeks back in Sabbath School class, we discussed faith and doubt, and what it means in the grand scheme of our lives. I won’t go into great detail, but I will say we had a good discussion and in the end, we agreed so much of it is based on the relationship we have with God. And that relationship needs to worked on daily.

Standing at the observation deck, of the Tokyo tower, Tokyo Japan – you have the opportunity to walk onto this glass.  As you can see, you are a ways above the ground, in fact it’s more than 750 feet above the ground…standing there, with a few inches of glass between me and ground, the word "faith" comes to mind.  Faith that the glass holds and I don’t tumble down.  As I stood on that glass, it got me thinking.  Faith is more than, “strong belief or trust in someone or something”. In our case, it’s the feeling we have when we believe in our relationship with our heavenly Father. That relationship, fuels our faith.

This power of belief, started thousands of years ago – we can read story after story of men and women of the bible, giving their whole lives, based on this faith. Thousands of years later, in 2016, we can tell ourselves we have this faith. We can believe in God and model our day-to-day activities, showing our love to our creator, but that “faith”, that feeling in your heart that we can cling to the promise of life beyond this planet, comes with daily interaction - prayer and commitment. It’s not always easy but it’s what we, as believers, should be striving for.

In Matthew 8, we can read about a man, in a desperate time, having amazing faith.  In fact, Jesus says He has not seen this level of faith before. Let’s look at Mathew 8, verses 5-13:

“And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.” Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed that very moment.

We know we will have hills and valleys, during our Christian journey. There will be times we have an overabundance of faith – just like this centurion. We also know there will be times where doubt starts to creep in. Sometimes the doubt is from a situation we are experiencing – like seeing a loved one in tremendous pain and trying to comprehend this sinful world, Or maybe a question that was asked, where we weren’t quite sure of the answer. What do we do, during those times? Unlike this centurion, we don’t have the luxury of interacting with Jesus face-to-face.  But when that seed of doubt creeps in, we have to treat the situation like any other relationship we want to be successful – daily commitment. Prayer, devotion, solitude – to hear Him talking to us. The day is coming, to have that face-to-face meeting with our Creator. I believe that day is not too far off. Let’s make sure we commit to that relationship – building on our faith, each and every day.

Luke 6: 37 & 38 “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Have you ever broken a promise to a friend?  What about to a child?  It never feels good – does it?  It all depends on the specific circumstances but, some broken promises are easier to get out of then others.  With a friend, there is going to be some jabbing or razzing, but at the end of the day – in most cases – forgive and forget.  With children, it can be a little trickier.  Completely depends on the age of the child and what was promised.  After breaking these promises, how good does it feel to have the friend, or the child – tell you, that you’re forgiven. That relief. The burden is lifted. It reminds me of a fresh start.  A chance to start over.  - I always think of Cherry blossoms, as it’s springtime and winter is over – starting new.

In Isaiah 1:18 it says, “Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." God gives us that chance to start over. He not only is He willing to forgive, but He grants us the wisdom to become better.  How do we get better? It’s easier than you might think.

The message in Luke, when you read it, it almost feels “too good to be true”. I think there are plenty of times in our life that we look at something – directions, instructions, decisions…and we try to over complicate them. Having this promise from God - “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” – it feels too simple. It’s not. It’s really how we should live our lives. Asking and relying on our Creator to give us the wisdom and power, so we Don’t judge. Don’t condemn. And we forgive.

The last F, stands for FREEDOM.

The image, pardon the (visual) pun, screams of National Pride.  I first became very interested in Bald eagles early on, when I read of its classification of our National Symbol. Through numerous book reports and class projects, I learned about these majestic birds and the strength, size and power they have.  It has been the symbol of our country, since 1782, when Congress adopted the Great Seal of The United States – including the bald eagle, grasping 13 arrows and an olive branch.

We are only a couple days away from celebrating our great nations ‘birthday’ – the day we acknowledge our Independence.  Typically on the 4th of July, we celebrate with family and friends. And there are times we slip into (I’m guilty of it too) looking at the day as a day off work, an opportunity to eat food, play a game of softball and shoot off some fireworks.  Obviously the day means so much more than that.

One of the reasons this day should remind us more of our Freedom, than a picnic on a sunny afternoon, is our ability to attend church and worship, as we see fit – just like we are doing this morning.  There are plenty of countries, where that is not the case.  Many people, around the world do not have the same level of freedom that we do.

In Psalm 146, David praises the lord and speaks about God’s ability to give each one of us, that freedom we long for.  146:6 & 7

Who made heaven and earth,
The sea, and all that is in them;
Who keeps truth forever,
Who executes justice for the oppressed,
Who gives food to the hungry.
The LORD gives freedom to the prisoners.

Given the fact, we are all prisoners of this sinful world, I know we ALL can read these verses and cling to that hope. I know we all long for the day, when God’s second coming will provide freedom for all of His children.

Galatians 5:1 - It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

As Christians, THESE are the symbols of our Freedom. A long time ago, the price for our sins was paid and we were given the Freedom to be saved.

John 3:16 & 17 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

When Monday rolls around and you get ready for a day off work, a picnic, a barbeque, or just hanging out with friends and family – remember you are celebrating two Independence days. One Independence day for our great nation and the other independence day, that Jesus sacrificed Himself, so we could be free from sin.

OK – just to recap, we’ve had our 4F’s – FOUNDATION, FAITH, FORGIVNESS,  AND FREEDOM. All that’s left is the A.

The A is for the AMAZING ENDING (not to this sermon, but what we all hope for).

In John chapter 14, Peter is asking where Jesus is going and if he can follow Him, but instead Jesus predicts Peter’s denial. He then follows up with this:

John 14:1-3 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

This promise is to us, just as much as it was for the disciples He was speaking the words to. He went ahead of us. He prepares a place for us. He WILL return, to take us with Him.

When I see clouds like the ones in the photo above, I can’t help but think of the second coming. The day God descends on Earth and finishes what He started. I don’t know about you, but I feel that’s a pretty Amazing ending.

(Closing prayer)  Dear God – what a day of rejoicing that will be, in deed. We look forward to your second coming. We want it to be soon. While we are waiting – allow us to draw closer to you each and every day. We ask YOUR guidance to continue to be a blessing this coming week. And as we celebrate our Nation’s freedom. Let us never forget the freedom you have provided us, by sacrificing yourself on the cross. We love you. Amen.

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Expository Sermon on 1 Samuel
Bellevue SDA Church 6/11/2016
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to the book of First Samuel, chapter 1.

Two or three years ago I was undergoing one of my very infrequent hospital stays when for some reason I went into atrial fibrillation. They promptly rolled me over to the cardiac unit and got the a-fib taken care of, and put me in the care of a good heart doctor.

He had his office call me a couple of weeks ago to remind me that it was time to have a checkup, and during the checkup he asked me what I thought about having a heart stress test. I’d had one before, years ago, so since it had been a while I said yes.

A heart stress test is where they hook you up with a lot of little electronic leads, and take your blood pressure several times, and then put you on a treadmill and get you going fast enough and long enough that your heart rate gets up to 160 beats per minute. Then they hurry you over to a hospital bed and have you lie down, and then they press an ultrasound sensor up against your chest.

And suddenly, on a large computer monitor right there beside the bed, you see a grainy, ghostly picture of your heart beating. I had never seen my own heart beating before. It was amazing. I saw the heart squeeze, and then when it expanded, a little flap came over the whole where blood had just come through, and the flap closed down tight so that the blood wouldn’t simply suck back into the chamber it had just come from, but would be squeezed out further along the line.

I found that I couldn’t take my eyes off that screen. All these years, my heart had been beating like that, steadily and confidently (except for the a-fib moments), and I didn’t have to give it a thought. Wouldn’t it have been horrible if God had created us so that we would have to pump our own blood by hand? Here I would be standing talking to you, and all the time my hand would have to be squeezing a little valve to keep the blood pumping through my body.

But God knew that we would not want to personally worry about keeping ourselves alive in that way, so He set it up as an automatic process. And doctors have discovered that the best way to see how healthy the heart is is to put it under a bit of carefully controlled stress.

I have a feeling that God is even more interested in our spiritual hearts then He is in our physical hearts. He certainly has a lot to say about the spiritual heart in the Bible. One of God’s most emotion-filled verses is Deuteronomy 5:29, where He says, “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!”

I hope that this sermon is one which helps us discover something of the heart did God wants us to have. The word “heart” occurs about 830 times in both the Old and New Testaments. This morning I’m just limiting myself to the book of First Samuel, and really just the first 10 chapters. We’re going to go on a quick tour of a few Bible hearts. We’re going to watch them under stress, and see how they respond.
And one reason were going to do this is that in one way or another, our spiritual hearts come under stress from time to time. Let’s watch what happens during these Bible stress tests, and learn how we can pass them.

The first heart we’re going to look at belongs to Hannah. The first seven verses of the book of First Samuel tell why she’s under such stress. She’s one of two wives married to a man named Elkanah. The problem was that Hannah couldn’t have children, and the other wife could. And the other wife taunted Hannah about this, because she was jealous of Hannah. Their mutual husband loved Hannah more than he did the other wife. A very stressful situation. Notice how stressful it was.

1 Samuel 1:6 – 7 [NKJV]: And her rival also provoked her severely, to make her miserable, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it was, year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, that she provoked her; therefore she wept and did not eat.

Hannah had come to the point where she simply could not take this anymore. So what does she do? We get our first view of Hannah’s heart and how it handle stress when the family goes to the tabernacle at Shiloh for a yearly feast. Watch what happens:

Verses 9 – 13: So Hannah arose after they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the Lord. And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish. Then she made a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.” And it happened, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli watched her mouth. Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard . . . .

Eli gets the wrong idea, and thinks that she is drunk. But once she has convinced him she is serious, he cautiously expresses the hope that God will grant her request to have children. God comes through for her, and the child she bears is Samuel, and the rest is history. And because Hannah – and later her son Samuel – pass their hearts stress tests, their names have been given to millions of children all over the world.

Okay. What did Hannah do in order to pass her heart-stress test? Well, leasing what she did. She could have actually gotten drunk, and tried to take her mind off her troubles that way. Instead, she poured out her heart in prayer to God. As verse 13 says, she “spoke in her heart.” Her lips were moving, which means that she was actually forming sentences, but that prayer came straight from her heart.

And that’s what we can learn from Hannah. When life gets so stressful, and so unjust, how should I respond? If you’re taking sermon notes, here comes what you could call Sermon Point One.

When faced with stress as Hannah was, I need to pour out my heart in prayer to God.

Whatever stressful situation you’re going through, God is interested in it, and concerned about it. And He will always listen carefully to your prayers. And the more desperate that prayer is, the more He delights to work out creative answers.

And notice what Hannah did when she received the joyful answer to her prayer:

1 Samuel 2:1: And Hannah prayed and said: “My heart rejoices in the Lord . . . .”

Isn’t that interesting? When she was in trouble, she reached deep into her heart for an earnest sincere prayer, and now that God has answered, her heart rejoices with that same fervor. So don’t take it for granted when God answers your prayer. Thank Him as fervently as you prayed to Him. Read some of David’s Psalms to get an idea of how to do this.

Now let’s look into another heart. If you know anything about what happens in First Samuel, you know that the sounds of the high priest Eli service priests themselves, but they are morally corrupt. They behaved so disgustingly that the average Jewish worshiper got sick to his stomach at the thought of bringing a sacrifice to the temple, which was exactly opposite to how the Lord wanted people to feel.
So toward the end of chapter 2, God sends a spokesman to warn Eli about what will happen. And the bottom line is that neither Eli nor his sons can continue in their priestly role. And listen carefully to what God says in verse 35.

1 Samuel 2:35: Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind . . . .

So, whose heart are we looking at now? It’s God’s heart! God’s heart and God’s mind know what’s best for those He created. When my doctor suggested that I have my heart-stress test, I had the good sense to agree with him. If he thought it was best, I thought it was best.

And that’s the attitude you and I need to have toward our Creator. As I stared at the grainy image of my beating heart there on the screen, I was filled with a spine-tingling respect for how wonderfully God has created us. And that’s why, to me, God’s opinion is not just one of several salad-bar items in a philosophical cafeteria line. When God tells me that he is hunting for priests and priestesses to reflect the desires of His heart, I need to immediately tell him “Yes.”

So what’s this about us being “priests and priestesses”? It’s true. In Revelation 1:5 and 6, John tells us that Jesus “loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father . . . .”

So if you believe in Jesus, you are a priest or a priestess for Him. This past Wednesday, one of the “priestesses” who comes to our prayer meeting happened to spot another woman in a store, and promptly invited her to prayer meeting that night. The other woman was overjoyed, because she hadn’t realized our church had a prayer meeting. So here’s an example of priesthood—priestesshood—in action.

So when I look into God’s heart, and see that He also is under stress, what can I learn from that? Don’t ever get the idea that God is sitting blandly on a distant throne, glancing idly in our direction hoping things will go well. Instead, picture God leaning forward, watching us with interest, his heart throbbing with the fondest hopes for us, but hurting at the pain we cause each other.

So what do I need to do, knowing God’s heart-stress?

When faced with stress as Hannah was, I need to pour out my heart in prayer to God. And knowing the sorrow in God’s own heart, I need to open my own heart to His deepest wishes for the world.

Most of the Bible people (maybe all of the Bible people) we name our children after were people who responded in breathtaking ways to challenges God gave them. Abel offered a faithful sacrifice, Noah built a boat, Abraham traveled to a promised land, Moses led a nation back to that land, Samuel stabilized a nation in transition, and on and on. Each of these Bible celebrities got  their celebrity status by following God with steady faith.

The next heart we’re going to look into is actually several hearts. Let’s go to chapter 6. Remember that man who came and gave God’s message to Eli? By the time chapter 6 begins, all those prophecies of doom have come true. Eli is dead, his sons are dead, and the pagan Philistine army has actually captured the holy Ark of God.

Now, it’s pretty shameful that the Israelite nation didn’t behave in such a way so as to keep God’s Ark safe. But during the seven months that Ark was in the land of the Philistines, it was causing all sorts of problems. At first, the Philistines placed the ark in the temple of their own God, Dagon. But the image of Dagon ends up being smashed in pieces.

So then the Philistines began circulating the ark among several of their cities, and in each city people develop tumors, and that city is infested with mice, and a lot of people die. And soon the Philistines decide that the ark of God is just too hot to handle, and they need to return it.

Watch what happens.

1 Samuel 6:1 – 2: Now the ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months. And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it to its place.”

We’re not sure who those priests or diviners were, but they managed to come up with a plan for returning the ark. But now watch something very fascinating. These priests and diviners, it turns out, know a whole lot more about the true God than we might think they would.

Once they have finished giving details about how to return they are, they actually go into “preaching mode.”

Verse 6: Why then do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? When He did mighty things among them, did they not let the people go, that they might depart?

To me, that is absolutely fascinating. It’s easy to imagine that the nation of Israel wandered through the wilderness and nobody else really took much notice. But that was not the case. Any nation they came near took a great deal of interest in the amazing sight of thousands and thousands of highly-organized people trudging along following a cloud. When the two Israelite spies came to Jericho, the prostitute rehab told them that everybody knew that Israel was being led by a powerful God who had worked miracles for them.

So now, these Philistines are under a lot of stress. But their religious leaders forcefully remind them about the Israelites’ God and His power. And they very carefully send the ark back to where it belongs.
So what do I gain from this?

Well, when faced with stress as Hannah was, I need to pour out my heart in prayer to God. Knowing the sorrow and stress in God’s own heart, I need to open my own heart to His deepest wishes for the world. And just like these stressed-out Philistines, I need to allow the miracles God has done to draw me back to Him.

You just never know how much people actually understand. Just yesterday, Shelley and I were in a Costco store picking up produce. When we finally unloaded our cars onto the conveyor belt, we put one of those little dividers at the end, and the woman behind us started loading her things onto the belt. She looked at what we had, and she said humorously, “Everything you God is healthy.”

And then the checker, who had not heard any of this conversation, started processing our items, and out of the blue, he said that we should get a prize for buying the healthiest things. Shelley mentioned that we were vegan, and his eyes brightened, and he said that a friend of his had introduced him to vegan eating. And this clerk said that he had been trying to eat really healthy the last few months, and he noticed that his mental abilities were improving. Though he might not yet label it that way, a miracle was happening within him.

See you just never know what’s happening in people’s hearts.

Now let’s go to the next chapter, chapter 7, and look into some more hearts. We been looking into some searching hearts in the land of the Philistines, now we turn to the hearts of people in Israel. The ark has come back home, and – just as those Philistine religious leaders lectured their own people about how it was important respect Israel’s God – Samuel gives a similar lecture to the Israelites. Notice what he says.

1 Samuel 7:3 – 4: Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the Lord with all your hearts . . . .

Notice that he puts an “If” at the start of a sentence. And his sentence is not over. He didn’t just say, “Return to the Lord with all your hearts, period,” and just stop there. Instead, he goes on to tell them how to prepare their hearts.

Verses 3 – 4: Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” So the children of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only.

Down through the centuries, in Bible times as well as now, it seems like the hardest thing for people to do is to get rid of their idols. Back in Samuel’s day, those idols would be literal carved images which were worshipped. Later, in Matthew 6:24, Jesus would insist that a lot of people were trying unsuccessfully to serve two masters – God and Mammon, or money.

Years ago when I was in my twenties I wrote an article for Insight magazine called “Tivi-ism.” I suggested that a lot of people worshiping the God Tivi, and that they even had a large square glass-fronted glowing image to the God Tivi in their living rooms.

And since idolatries change, maybe it’s no longer the television we worship as much as what comes over our smart phones. How do we decide whether something in our life is an idol? What do we spend the most time with? What do we pay the most money for? What would we have to hide under a couch cushion if Jesus paid us a visit?
We have to decide for ourselves what our idols are. The young clerk in Costco has forsaken certain food-gods in favor of natural eating. He said he has especially cut down on drinking soda. Maybe soda was a god to him.

Whatever is a god to us, Samuel tells us that we must not simply identify it and stop there. We have to put those gods away, get rid of them. Shelley and I helped lead out in many stop smoking programs when we were at the Shoreline church, and we would always tell our new friends that one way to be successful in kicking the habit was to immediately get rid of all tobacco supplies. Don’t have them in the house. Don’t stash them in the car’s glove compartment. Don’t put them in the freezer. They had to be removed and destroyed so there would be no easy access to them.

Let’s take a very quick look at just one more heart, because this will be tremendously encouraging if we are wrestling with anything in our life which is keeping us from a full relationship with the Lord. Turn to chapter 10.

A tall young man named Saul has suddenly been put under a tremendous amount of stress. He has been chosen to be the very first King of the nation of Israel. The prophet Samuel has become his mentor, and has predicted that several amazing things will happen to him. Saul tries to take all of this in, and finally turns to go back to his family to wait until his coronation. Watch the amazing thing that happens now.

1 Samuel 10:9: So it was, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, that God gave him another heart; and all those signs came to pass that day.

What was the stress Saul was under? He had just been chosen to be Israel’s first king. And how did the Lord help him begin to deal with that stress? God gave him a new heart.

This is a promise that you and I can definitely claim, if we are having stress or struggles or trials in our life which result from our wavering heart.

When faced with stress as Hannah was, I need to pour out my heart in prayer to God. Knowing the sorrow and stress in God’s own heart, I need to open my own heart to His deepest wishes for the world. Like the Philistines, I need to allow the miracles God has done to draw me back to Him. And when I feel overwhelmed, I need to ask God for a new heart.

God promises this not just to a future king but to anyone who will allow Him to work this miracle. Let’s turn to Ezekiel 36, and let’s listen to God’s powerful promises to us:

Ezekiel 36:25 – 27: Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.

Isn’t that a complete heart-treatment? This is not band-aid repair—it’s a heart transplant! Isn’t that wonderful?

What about you? Would you like this to happen in your life? Would you like the Lord to begin moving within you in this way? If so, why not raise your hand with me?

(Back to the Top)

Expository Sermon on Jeremiah 29
Bellevue SDA Church 6/4/2016
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(The audio for this sermon includes Erica St. Michell (Violet's mom), Cindy St. Michell, and Elisa Westman reading Scripture. Then Erica's cousin Tom Gammon tells a children's story about a lost-and-found cat named Paisley. Pastor Maylan Schurch preaches the sermon below, and then Violet's dad Jay joins Erica in a prayer for their child, which Pastor Maylan concludes. To hear this audio, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Jeremiah chapter 29.

It is a privilege for me to have a part in the sacred and joyful ceremony which will happen at the end of this sermon. And it has a special meaning to me as well. If you know Jay St. Michell, I don’t know if it would be possible for you to picture him as a tiny baby. Well, I can, because it was I who helped his parents dedicate him to the Lord, just as he and Erica are dedicating their little girl Violet this morning.

This morning I am basing my sermon on a familiar passage of Scripture which means a lot to Erica and Jay. It’s the one which begins, quoting the Lord, “I know the plans I have for you . . . .” As I studied those verses this week, I took a peek at what happened before them, and what happened after them.

And I discovered something I had never realized before. These famous words are actually part of a letter. The letter was written by Jeremiah, but the entire letter contains nothing but the words of the Lord.

And the more I read this letter, and saw its context, the more I decided that this could actually have been written as a letter to Violet, and to her parents, and to all of us. Let me show you what I mean.

So, who was the letter written to, and why was it written? Look at Jeremiah 29, starting with verse one.

Jeremiah 1:1 - 3 [NKJV]: Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the remainder of the elders who were carried away captive—to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon. (This happened after Jeconiah the king, the queen mother, the eunuchs, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem.) The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon, to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon . . . .

This letter was written right around 590 BC. For centuries, the kingdom of Judah has immersed itself in idolatry, and the Lord has finally brought judgment. He allows Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, to defeat the nation, and to march thousands and thousands of Jews all the way to Babylon and other cities in Iraq – including, as we just read, the King and the Queen Mother and even all the best craftsmen.

And obviously, the Lord knew what was going through these exiles’ minds. Should we cooperate with our conquerors? Should we rebel against them? Should we try to assassinate Nebuchadnezzar? Should we even give birth to children and expose them to what happens in these idolatrous cities? Since the presence of the Lord dwelt in our beloved Jerusalem Temple, 600 miles straight west across the Arabian Desert, and since that Temple has now been destroyed, could it be that the Lord has finally rejected us? Has He gone back to heaven in disgust? Are we left to our own devices?

Every once in a while, over the years, conscientious and thoughtful young people have asked, “Since these are the end times, and they’re going to get worse, should we even have children? Dare we bring them into this terrible world?”

Well, Jeremiah pens – at the Lord’s dictation – some very encouraging words to every family that believes in God. As I looked at this letter this week, I decided that we could translate its thoughts into five sentences. It’s like the Lord is writing Violet a letter, and He writes five important sentences. And I think you’ll see how important these sentences are, for all of us.

In fact, in the verses we read, we’ve already heard the first of God’s sentences. I’d like to rephrase it this way – and if you’re taking sermon notes, this is what you might call Sermon Point One.

“Dear Violet—I’m writing to keep in touch while we’re apart.”

Back in the 590s BC, God need not have written that letter. He could have said to Himself, “These people have rejected Me again and again. Well, they’re just going to have to sort this out themselves. They made their bed, so let them lie in it.”

But instead, He gets Jeremiah to write a letter to them. And it’s a letter not just to the nation’s leaders who were carried away captive, but the letter was also for “all the people” who had been taken captive.

So why is this important to us today? Well, for one thing, all of us are exiles from Eden. Little Violet is an exile. She’s a refugee. Once Adam and Eve had sinned, it was clear that they had allowed Satan to inspire selfishness within them, the kind of selfishness that would make even previously perfect human beings ignore something God had said in favor of something different which they wanted. In other words, they had pushed God off the throne of their lives, and had taken that seat themselves.

And since God didn’t want sinners to be burdened with eternal life, perpetrating sadistic horrors on each other century after century, since He didn’t want them to get near the Tree of Life, He sent them out the gate, and guarded the way back in.

And again, God could have chalked this whole Planet Earth project as a failed experiment. And Jay, and Erica, and Violet would never have existed. But over and over, He walked out through those Eden gates so He could keep in touch with us.

And we need to keep this in mind. Yesterday morning I presented the school year’s final chapel talk to the students of the Kirkland Seventh-day Adventist School. I brought along two cardboard paper towel rolls rubber-banded together, and I called them “tunneloculars.”

I told the kids what “tunnel vision” was. I told them it was staring at, and focusing on, something so hard, that it consumed your whole life, and you couldn’t see anything else around it. I told them how if a friend of theirs at school suddenly decided not to be friends with them, it would be tempting to allow that to become a major life crisis.

Instead, I told them, we need to take off our “tunneloculars” and look around us. There are plenty of other students at the school besides the one who disrespected us. I suggested that the person who was disrespected go find someone else they can like, and be friends with, and encourage.

And the fact that God had to write that letter to those exiles shows that they themselves were in danger of keeping their tunneloculars clapped up against their eyeballs, obsessing about the tragedy of their captivity. But instead, God has some specific advice for them.

That brings us to this letter’s second sentence, the way I’ve translated it for us. And here is where we actually start reading God’s letter to those exiles.

Verses 4 – 7: Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.

What’s the next sentence in the Lord’s letter to Violet St. Michell and her parents? I think we could put it like this.

“Dear Violet—I’m writing to keep in touch while we’re apart. Until we’re back together, be the best citizen you can be.”

God could have told them to do just the opposite. He could have told them to gather closely together into little walled communes, keeping totally separate from even the faintest hint of any contact with the idolatrous Babylonians. He could have told them to incite a bloody revolution.

But instead He said, “Be a good citizen. Settle down and be a part of the culture, those parts of the culture which don’t conflict with My commands. Go ahead, have children. And the work for the peace of Babylonia. Work and pray that your host country will prosper.”

And Daniel did this. The house slave Joseph did this. The young Moses did not. Instead, he murdered an Egyptian and try to start a rebellion – and he ended up in his own exile, which lasted 40 years.
In a nutshell, God’s advice to Violet, and her parents, and to all of us, is to live and give like we will be here forever – but be ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice.

Earlier this week, my sister Penny told me that the night before, she had been on a news broadcast by a Sioux Falls TV station. The new story was about how domestic violence was increasing in the county she and I grew up in.

Penny works with the Sheriff’s offices of three South Dakota counties. When a domestic violence incident happens, the deputies take the man away, and Penny is put in charge of the woman and any children she might have. She takes them to a crisis center in Redfield, and puts them in touch with resources.

But Penny doesn’t stop there. I looked at the little news clip where she appeared, and I saw that around her left wrist she was wearing one of those plastic bracelets like we give out at Vacation Bible School, with a message on it. And the TV camera focused in on a close-up shot of that bracelet, and it said, “God’s Got This.”

And though Penny is very careful, she is not shy at all about privately introducing these women to Jesus when it seems appropriate, and praying with them.

“Seek the peace of your host country.” Why is this important? Because “God so loved the world.” That includes Muslims, Hindus, plus every member of any political party you and I happen to oppose. We need to pray for the people we hear about on the news. We need to pray about the Seattle homeless problem in all its complexity. As opportunities arise, we need to help people toward a better life, as our weekly clothing bank’s staff.

For another sentence, a very important one, in God’s letter to Violet and the rest of us, let’s start with verse 8.

Verses 8 – 9: For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says the Lord.

What else is the Lord saying in His letter? I think we could rephrase it like this:

“Dear Violet—I’m writing to keep in touch while we’re apart. Until we’re back together, be the best citizen you can be. And don’t let anyone confuse or discourage you about My plans for you.”

Just within the last couple of weeks I’ve been hearing about a congregation who is being torn apart because some of the people are listening to the off-the-wall ideas of a very divisive religious teacher.
Several years ago I helped a retired Seventh-day Adventist pastor in Oregon write a book called Blinded by the Light: the Anatomy of Apostasy. This pastor had had a lot of experience dealing with divided churches, and in his book he looks at Bible people who had gone into apostasy.

And there are some common denominators among these apostates. There is a lack of humility, there is an unwillingness to be convinced by the truth, there is the constant desire for some new teaching, some new twist to what the Bible says. Little Violet doesn’t deserve this kind of thing.

In Second Timothy 2, verses 3 and 4, Paul has a serious warning for young Pastor Timothy. Paul says this about the Christians in Timothy’s care: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables." (2 Tim. 2:3 – 4)

Could you spot the steps these people were taking? First, Paul says that “They will not endure sound doctrine.” Clear Bible teachings will no longer be tolerated. Instead, they seek for new teachings that conform with their own desires, the way they want things to be.

And then Paul says that they will “heap up for themselves teachers.” The NIV says that “they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” Right here in the Lord’s letter to the captives, He hints that the people are hunting around for teachers and teachings they like.

You don’t need me to tell you that there are hundreds of thousands of “teachers” out there on the Internet, laying forth every kind of idea imaginable. I am very convinced that we need to stay out of the habit of hunting through various theological websites. I could tell you stories of people who have gotten caught up in conspiracy theories, or speculations about what will happen to this pope, or the next pope. Somebody I knew when I was teaching back in Lincoln, Nebraska was stridently insisting a few years ago that Revelation predicted that Pope Benedict would be assassinated. Well, this person wasted a whole lot of energy on something that didn’t happen.

What you and I need to model for sweet little Violet as she grows is humility, and love for real Bible print, and a distaste for the adrenaline high we might get from reading or listening to an intriguing but fallacy-filled presenter on a website. As I say, I could tell you story after story.

And now we come to the verses Erica and Jay consider so important. Let’s look at them.

Jeremiah 29:10 – 11: For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

And what is the hope that God promises here? We can’t just insert any hope we might have into these verses and assume that God will make that hope come true. That kind of thinking leads to Babylonian-style captivity, captivity to our own selfish desires. Instead, in this context, this hope is very specific, and ought to give hope to every parent and every other person in this room.
But first of all, notice what our response needs to be.

Verses 12 – 13: Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

It sounds like God is suddenly talking about His own hope, rather than our hope. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if our hope – hope for a close relationship with Him – could be just as strong as His hope for us? Little Violet needs to grow up in a home, and in church, where people do call upon God, where they do pray to Him, where they do search for Him with all their hearts.

As many of you know, our church’s nominating committee time is happening right now. This coming Monday night at 7 o’clock, our nominating committee will meet for the first time. The first thing we do will be to make sure that our children’s Sabbath school divisions are stocked with people who enjoy being there, and who have a love for children. Only when we have fill those roles, do we turn to choosing other church leadership roles.

Please be praying for these very important nominating sessions. And if we call you on the phone and ask you to fill a role here at the church, please say yes.

Let me give you what I imagine could be the final sentence of God’s letter to Violet. But first, let’s listen as God promises to fulfill the fondest hope of these Jewish exiles.

Verse 14: I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.

Wherever we are on this groaning old planet, we are in exile. We are outside the gates of Eden. If this old world is puzzling and maddeningly perplexing to us, that’s natural. It’s because we are pilgrims and strangers.

“Dear Violet,” says the Lord, “I’m writing to keep in touch while we’re apart. Until we’re back together, be the best citizen you can be. And don’t let anyone confuse or discourage you about My plans for you. Violet, please stay in touch. Because it won’t be long until I come to take you home.”

When I was growing up, the only houses I ever lived in were houses which my dad had had moved from somewhere else. Those were the days when people moved houses, sometimes for several miles. Dad would see a house for sale far out in the country. He would hire house movers with their giant wooden beams and their long trucks. They would pick up and carry even a large two-story house to wherever the customer wanted it.

As I think about each of those houses, I remember that they were lovingly chosen, and carefully positioned, by a father who loved me. He did his level best to move – maybe not heaven and earth – but a house he had set his eye on, to exactly where he wanted it to be. He even moved a two-story house to within a pasture-length of the little Seventh-day Adventist elementary school where he enrolled me and my siblings.

And when you think of it, we serve a God who is a house-mover. One of these days, Jesus will indeed return and take us to the dwellings He has prepared for us. And finally, Revelation describes the most astounding house-moving operation in the universe. It’s when the Holy City, where all those dwelling places prepared for us are, will move through space and descend right to this planet, right to God’s original Eden home.

And who knows how old little Violet will be when this happens? But I know that Violet’s mom and dad hope it will happen soon. And so do I, and so do you. So let’s you and I each resolve to be a loving letter from God to Violet and all the rest of the young people in this congregation.

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Expository Sermon on Matthew 24
Bellevue SDA Church 5/28/2016
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 24.

As you know, this is Memorial Day weekend. Back in my hometown in South Dakota, some of the people have expanded this holiday’s original purpose. In addition to honoring the graves of military personnel who died fighting our nation’s wars, people often use this opportunity to put flowers on the graves of their departed loved ones.

So I would imagine that sometime this weekend, maybe even today, one of my sisters will get some flowers and then drive 15 miles west of our hometown of Redfield, to the little town of Rockham, and then drive north a mile and then west a half mile to the prairie cemetery where my parents lie side-by-side in their caskets beneath their headstone. My sister will read the inscription on the headstone, “In God’s Care,” and she will arrange those flowers.

On this weekend in which we are remembering fallen heroes (and my parents – though they never served in the military – were heroes in their own way, just as all parents are) I think we need to take time to remember another fallen Hero. This Hero fought a vicious enemy, and died, but left behind no occupied tomb and no headstone. And because this Hero conquered death, I can be sure that the tough prairie sod won’t trap my parents forever.

As I mentioned last week, Matthew 24 is important, and we should study it. But as we tiptoe tremblingly through its wars and rumors of war, its famines, its pestilences, we need to remember to spot the encouragement. I have found ten separate encouragements in Matthew 24. We covered four last weekend I’ve condensed the remainder into another four, which we’ll look at over the next few minutes.

Here are the encouragements we covered last week – and you can both hear and read the sermon on our church website if you weren’t here last week.

From the verses in the early part of Matthew 24, we learned that Jesus knows my future in detail, He insists that I can guard myself against deception, He assures me that I can keep calm during any end-time crisis, and He promises that I can endure. As I say, you’ll find those first four points in the sermon on the website.

Just to set the stage a bit, keep in mind that this is probably Sunday of the last week of Jesus’ life. In just a few days, He will hang on the cross, and will die at about 3 PM that Friday afternoon. As the chapter begins, He has told His disciples that the great Jerusalem Temple will be totally destroyed, and they quickly ask him for His insights into the future.

Let’s pick up His comments in verse 14.

Matthew 24:14 [NKJV]: And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.

If you’re taking down sermon points, here comes the first one for this sermon.

Jesus assures me that His side of the story will finally get out.

The one year when I went to the Redfield public high school, I was a sophomore. My dad wanted me to learn to play the trombone, so he bought me one, and a high school senior by the name of Bob Isaacson began teaching me how to play.

I never felt comfortable with the trombone, however. If you play music by ear, you don’t really have to think in order to play a piano by ear, because the notes are arranged in a neatly logical way. Lower notes are on the left, higher notes are on the right.

But as a beginner trombonist, an ear-player is pretty much dead in the water. The only thing I really learned well was the E-flat scale, and I never went any further with my lessons than the end of that school year, and after that I put the trombone away.

I went to college, and went down to Lincoln, Nebraska to teach at Union College. One day I discovered that my brother now had my trombone! Nobody had ever asked me if he could have it. He was actually doing pretty well on it, better than I ever was. But that was my trombone. What was he doing with it?

It was really no big deal, but I wondered what had happened. I’m assuming that since I was gone, dad simply bequeathed that trombone to Chester and suggested that he take some lessons. Maybe dad assumed that it was his, dad’s, trombone, not mine. I’m assuming that’s the case, but even though I would never make use of that trombone if I had it, I would like to know the full story.

When Jesus says that the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations, it’s kind of like getting the full story out to everyone so they know the facts. In these highly politicized months we’ve been passing through, we hear of all sorts of rumors about which we would like to get the true facts.

One of the things Jesus makes very clear here is that spreading the gospel isn’t simply a nice thing to do. Spreading the gospel isn’t simply providing people with the story of their redemption. It’s a lot more than that. It is a witness to all nations.

Why is it important for the gospel to be a witness to all nations? Well, the gospel – at its root – isn’t simply about getting me saved. The gospel witnesses to several facts, such as: There is a Creator God. There is a destructive cancer known as sin, which grows from selfishness. Our race has been seduced by this ugly selfishness. But God loves us. God sacrificed Himself so those who wanted to could be rescued. God sends His Holy Spirit to rehabilitate those willing people.

And this is so encouraging because it reveals the true character of God. Satan and his human agents have done a masterful job of destroying God’s reputation. The gospel, if people allow the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts toward it, restores God’s reputation, and shows Him to be truly a God of love, loving us with an amazing kind of love that we understand.

So what should I do, now that I’ve heard that Jesus’ gospel will be preached all the world as a witness? I need to be ready to share the story of Jesus and His love. So many of you in this congregation are doing this, naturally, tactfully, graciously, and the Lord is working through you.

Jesus’ next encouragement here in Matthew 24 probably refers primarily refers to the time just before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. But verses in other parts of the Bible hint that this also can apply to the end times as well. Let’s start with verse 15.

Verses 15 – 22: “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.

So what is Jesus’ next encouragement here?

Not only does Jesus assure me that His side of the story will finally get out, but Jesus promises that the end-times’ bad times will be shortened.

For the city of Jerusalem, the end times happened in A.D. 70 when the Roman general Titus captured the city and toppled the Temple. That’s when people needed to flee to the mountains when they saw pagan symbols being set up in the temple area. And mercifully, Jesus tells His disciples that this traumatic time would not last forever, but would be shortened.

So how about our end times? We know from Bible prophecy that time really can’t last much longer. Will these days be shortened as well?

It certainly seems so. After all, 20 years after Jerusalem’s destruction, the old apostle John spoke of Jesus’ return as though it were happening soon. In Revelation 2:25, John quotes Jesus is saying, “Hold fast what you have till I come.” That sounds like Jesus was urging His listeners to be ready for His appearance.

In Revelation 3:11, Jesus tells the church at Philadelphia, “Behold I am coming quickly.” And three times in Revelation’s final chapter, chapter 22, three times in that chapter Jesus says, “I am coming quickly.”
When you think of it, the long timeline of history isn’t really that important in the life of the individual person. Sure, timelines help us understand various historical periods, and this is very useful for historians as they track the patterns of human political behavior.

But to anyone alive when John wrote Revelation, Jesus’ return – to their perception – would indeed be soon. Some would pass peacefully to their death, and their next conscious perception would be the resurrection. Others might be martyred for their faith, and for them the resurrection would  also seem to be happening quickly, just as it must’ve seemed to Stephen when he was about to die, and looked up and saw the heavenly Father and the Savior side-by-side.

And this is encouraging. As I mentioned last week, we do not need to obsess about how much longer it will be before Jesus appears in the sky with all His angels. That time is coming soon. I hope to live a nice long life, but whatever life I have to live, I can live with the knowledge that my Savior is close, and that I will meet Him soon. In Luke 21 (which is Luke’s Matthew 24 chapter) Jesus summarizes some of the things which would happen just before His coming, and then He says, in verse 28, “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

Now let’s discover another tremendous encouragement from Jesus. Glance down to verse 30.

Verses 30 – 31: Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

 So how can we summarize this next encouragement from Jesus?

Not only does Jesus assure me that His side of the story will finally get out, and not only does He promise that the end-times’ bad times will be shortened, but Jesus tells me that He will return with overwhelming power.

Back on the Dakota prairies we would often get a lot of snow in the winter, and this would mean that even if you were a fairly expert snow-driver, you would sometimes get stuck. And if you were a careless snow-driver, you might end up deep in a snowdrift in a ditch at the side of the road.

If another car came along, and either of you had a chain, that car might try to pull you out, but if you were pretty deep in the ditch, and the road was slick, and that car did not have tire chains, your car might not even budge.

But if you were close to the farm of someone who had a tractor, and if that tractor got hooked up to your car, out you came. Tractors – at least the kind we had back then – weren’t fancy. Two little wheels on the front, and two huge wheels on the back with deep crisscross treads which gripped pretty much every ground surface except really sloppy mud. The tractor was nothing but pure power.

Jesus is coming with power and great glory, and that’s encouraging news. Far too often these days, we see powerful people and powerful forces oppressing those who are weak. Water is in terribly short supply, even in certain parts of the United States. Famines devastate whole sections of countries. Corrupt government officials often require bribes before they will perform their duties for a citizen.

But any oppressor needs to beware, because someone who is both God and man is returning to this earth. Jesus is not a “one-percenter” who has never suffered what we have suffered. He became a human being, and lived in humble financial circumstances, was tempted like we have been tempted, though He did not succumb to sin.

And He will return, not simply with empathy and understanding for what we have had to face, but He will return with great power and glory, and He will make things right. And as the oppressors and the fraudsters and bribe-takers see Him coming, they will know that their own feeble power is ended, and they are doomed unless they have repented.

Is there somewhere in your life where you need Jesus’ power? If that’s the case, we need to remember verses like John 1:12: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:” That word “right” is the Greek word exousia, and means “authority.” It’s a power-word.

We need to remember verses like Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

We need to remember verses like James 4:7:  “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you . . . .”

We need to remember verses like Mark 9:23, where Jesus told the father of a demon-possessed boy, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

Those are power-verses, and there are many more like them. Use a Bible concordance to look up the word “power,” and you can do this really easily online.

Let’s look at just one more encouragement Jesus has for us amid the earthshaking events in Matthew 24. This chapter contains a lot of Jesus’ predictions and prophecies, and look what he says in verse 35.

Verse 35: Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

How can we summarize this encouragement from Jesus’ lips?

Not only does Jesus assure me that His side of the story will finally get out, and not only does He promise that the end-times’ bad times will be shortened, not only does He tell me that He will return with overwhelming power, but Jesus declares that His words are more dependable than earth or sky.

I’m the oldest of a family containing a brother and two sisters. When we kids would banter back and forth, we would sometimes do a little “pretending” in our talk. But if somebody wanted to know if something somebody had said was true, all they had to ask that person was, “Honest?”

And by an unwritten rule, if the person answered, “Honest,” that meant that they were vowing that what they’d said was really true. The word “honest” was our code word for, “No, I’m not joking. I am really telling the truth.”

Jesus, of course, does not have to use a code word to let us know when He’s telling us the truth. None of His words is a flippant half-truth. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus says, “but my words will by no means pass away.” Do you see that phrase “by no means”? In the Greek, those are two very firm “no” or “never” words, put side-by-side. Jesus could simply have used either one of those words by itself, but He chose to put them side-by-side to doubly emphasize that no, no way, never will His words ever pass away, or become superceded by truer truth.

During this political season, I am just so weary of hearing potential leaders say one thing one week, and then exactly the opposite the week after that, and on and on. Can’t they get their story straight?
Providentially, Jesus’ words are dependable – more dependable than earth or sky. This sanctuary sits solidly on solid ground, but that solid ground could turn pretty wobbly if there were an earthquake. Yet even when our planet is destroyed in the final conflagration at the end of time, Jesus’ words will still remain true and dependable.

And if we could just remember how much He loves us, how much He is longing to return to be with us, if we could just remember this as we move out into the week ahead, I believe that these Matthew 24 encouragements could not only stabilize us but allow us to be a powerful influence among the people we know.

For our closing song, I’m going to teach you a little chorus which, once you get in your head, you might find hard to dislodge. We’ll have the words up on the screen, and as you see them, you might say to yourself, “Wow. That is a pretty idealistic song. I’m not sure if I quite qualify to sing it.”

But it might make you feel different if you knew that this song expresses Jesus’ fondest hope for His relationship with you. Think of this song as a greeting card you’re sending to Jesus. We’re going to sing this three times together, and I hope that by the third time you will have learned it well enough to allow it to come in your mind from time to time this coming week.

Oh how I love Jesus
Oh how He loves me
And we walk together
In perfect harmony

Not an hour that passes
Not a day goes by
But we have sweet fellowship
My precious Lord and I

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Expository Sermon on Matthew 24
Bellevue SDA Church 05/21/16
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles again to Matthew chapter 24.

Back in 1972, in the little Seventh-day Adventist church in Redfield, South Dakota where I grew up, our church members were very excited about a dramatic new evangelistic venture.

The program was called “Mission 72,” and the idea was that every Adventist pastor should preach his own evangelistic series to the people in his community. A lot of thought, and quite a bit of coordinated money, went into this series. Our local pastor, a very nice and mild-mannered person, followed the program to the letter.

A giant, professionally-designed billboard sign suddenly appeared on Highway 281 as you came into town from the south. Handbills featuring the same color scheme and logo as the billboard’s landed in every mailbox in the county. A large room in a building just off Main Street was filled with folding chairs which faced a platform decorated with artificial trees and bushes. Night after night, our pastor – and I was so proud of him – stood on that platform wearing a white suitcoat and projecting slides as he talked about Bible prophecy.

His first few nights focused on prophecies about the end times. The ominous Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was constantly simmering. None of us knew if – or when – a nuclear war would break loose. The Vietnam war was still killing many of our soldiers each year, and more of the enemy’s.

And one of the Bible chapters whose verses were projected upon that large screen was Matthew 24. I was very familiar with that chapter, because I had attended the Adventist elementary school southeast of town.

And as I sat there in my folding chair, I was wondering what the people from the community were thinking about those dramatic prophecies – wars and rumors of war, nations rising against nations, famines, pestilences, stars falling, and so on.

Because, no doubt about it, if you begin your prophecy talks with the great prophetic image of Daniel chapter 2, and combine that with Matthew 24, you have a very arresting and sometimes disturbing series of lectures.

I never thought, back then, that we would ever live through an era as unsettling as the Cold War and Vietnam times. But now we’re living through times nobody could have imagined back then. Back then, you dropped bombs, or launched them. Nowadays people wear bombs, and walk into the middle of large groups of people and set those bombs off.

Back then, people hijacked airplanes in order to go escape to another country or make a political point. But on September 11, 2001, terrorist used airplanes as weapons. And just a couple of days ago an Egyptian airliner crashed, possibly the result of a terrorist act.

Nowadays, millions are worried about a mosquito-carried virus which reaches right into a mother’s womb and causes tragic birth deformities.

Back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, young people knew that if they got educated, they would have a higher standard of living than their parents, and make more money. Nowadays that hope is fading fast.
So Matthew 24 and similar Bible chapters can indeed be gloomy and portentous ones. But even though Jesus did solemnly forecast the wars and pestilences and famines which are ravaging our planet today, He also provided a lot of encouragement in that chapter. I have found 10 encouraging statements here in Matthew 24, and we’ll be looking at the first four of them this morning.

And as I studied them this week, I found these encouragements tremendously comforting. I believe Jesus gives us permission to look at our world confidently and hopefully no matter what happens. Let’s go through the first four, and you can see what you think.

Matthew 24:1 – 2 [NKJV]: Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

Okay. Do you see any encouragement yet? Doesn’t seem like it, right? All it seems to be talking about is the destruction of all the temple buildings. But I can spot some encouragement – some really big encouragement. If you’re taking down sermon points, here comes Point One:

Jesus knows my future in detail.

So why would this be so encouraging? Well, for one thing, nobody else was predicting that temple’s destruction, especially in such devastating detail. It had taken forty years to build this temple, stacking carved rock blocks up on each other. You don’t just topple those stones on a whim.

And for another things, the Jews believed that the very presence of God was within that building (although the Ark of the covenant was not in the Most Holy Place but had disappeared several hundred years earlier.)

But here, Jesus was predicting that there would come a time when not even one single stone of God’s dwelling on earth would be left upon another. That seemed frankly blasphemous.

It’s fascinating to see how the disciples received this news. If you were to have strolled through Jerusalem and taken a straw poll of people who were walking by you on the street, probably close to 100% of them would’ve insisted that this temple would stay standing forever.

But once this prophecy of destruction emerged from Jesus’ lips, His disciples reluctantly but instantly decided it was true. After all, they had seen this Man feed more than 5000 people from a bit of bread and fish. They’d seen Him re-grow healthy skin upon the arms and faces of lepers, and new eyes in eye-sockets. They had watched Him reanimate dead people.

So when He declares that their national religious symbol will be ruthlessly demolished to its very foundations, they don’t argue with Him about it. They take it as a future fact. They believed – as you and I need to believe – that Jesus truly does know our future in detail.

Now, this does not mean that Jesus has programmed us to work out His plans. We do have free choice, and yet we do have a Savior who knows our future in detail. Don’t ask me to explain that. Some theologians, with limited thinking, have decided we can’t have it both ways. Either God does know the future in detail, and we therefore have no free choice, or we have absolutely free choice and God does not know the future in detail.

When we come up against such paradoxes, where the Bible says both are true, we need to remember that if you could go back to the 1700s to try to tell George Washington that one day a future president would be able to hold a piece of glass and metal in his hand and use it to speak to someone on the other side of the planet, George Washington would declare you either crazy or a witch. Because there would be no way Washington could have the mental equipment and knowledge to believe that. Yet it’s true nonetheless. Can glass-and-metal talk? No—and yes!

Jesus’ prediction about the temple proved true, of course. In A.D. 66, the Jews rebelled against the Romans, and four years later, in A.D. 70, the Roman general Titus led his army to Jerusalem and destroyed that temple, leaving no stone atop another.

So if Jesus knows my future with that kind of detail, why is this so important? How can this make a difference in my life?

Well, knowing that Jesus knows the future means that I don’t have to obsess about knowing all the details. There are 44 verses in Matthew 24, but they cover a lot of ground. Not all the details we might like to know are there, and that’s okay.

Back when I was a kid, my siblings and I enjoyed going for long country rides in the car with my parents. I never obsessed about where we were going – or whether dad might get into an accident – I just trusted that dad knew what he was doing, and that he would take care of us and bring us safely home.

I think that’s the way we should feel about Jesus and His plans. Certainly He wants us to study Daniel two in Matthew 24 and all of the other Bible prophecies, so that we’ll know enough not to be deceived. But knowing that Jesus knows the future in detail can give me great peace and comfort.

Now let’s look at another encouraging statement Jesus makes.

Verses 3 – 4: Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you.

Again, it might be difficult to spot the encouragement until we take a second look. Look at that last sentence: “Take heed that no one deceives you.” So here comes Sermon Point Two:
Not only does Jesus know my future in detail, but Jesus insists that I can guard myself against deception.

I mean, if it wasn’t possible for us to guard ourselves against deception—in other words, if the devil’s trickery was too overwhelmingly effective—then Jesus would have told us so. But Jesus insists that we can guard ourselves against the devil’s wiles. But how do we do it?

Look at verse 4 again. Do you see the phrase “take heed”? The Greek word there is blepete, which means “watch,” or “watch out.” The NIV puts it this way: “Watch out that no one deceives you.” The English Standard Version says: “See that no one leads you astray.” Notice the emphasis on seeing, keeping your eyes open?

When I was in my teens I became fascinated with conjuring. I wanted to be a magician who could do tricks to amaze people. I would read up on a trick in a trick book, and I would practice that trick, and show it to people. Eventually I learned enough tricks to do little trick shows for church socials and places like that.

And like every other amateur magician I quickly learned that adults are a whole lot easier to fool than kids are. As you do your tricks, you’re supposed to come up with a little running monologue to go with them, and adults will listen to the words you are saying, and they’ll be distracted from what you’re doing with your hands. Kids, on the other hand, are tuning you out, and instead they are carefully watching your every move.

It’s interesting that when the disciples asked Jesus to explain about the temple’s destruction, the very first words of His answer were to take heed that no one’s deceived them. In fact the very first word He said was “watch.” Blepete. Like little kids scrutinizing the hands of a magician, keep your eyes open. Don’t let yourself be bamboozled by someone’s chatter or patter.

In Ephesians 6, when Paul urges Christians to “put on the whole armor of God,” the very first part of that armor which he tells the Christian to put on is the belt of truth (v. 14). We need to surround ourselves with Bible truth. Satan tries to conjure that truth away and substitute his lies, so we need to read our Bibles every day, and pray about what we read.

I’ve been a pastor for more than three decades, and during that time I have heard about, and sometimes seen, people get deceived and pulled away from clear Bible truth. And most often what happened was that they allowed themselves to be blinded by a false leader’s strong personality, or supposed sincerity, or simply because that person’s ideas seemed fresh and new.

Years ago, not long after I arrived at this church, two men who were attending at that time asked if they could speak to me. So we met back in my office, and they both earnestly told me that I should spread the word that in October of that year, an asteroid would strike a mountain in Mexico, and that would be pretty much it for Earth’s history. In fact they were so convinced by this that they gave up the very nice Seattle apartment they’d been living in, and moved down to Mexico to be near that mountain. Evidently, if you were a faithful believer, the asteroid wouldn’t harm you.

During our conversation, I gently told these gentlemen that I did not believe them, and they recognized that. But one of the men, just before they left my office, presented me with a huge, thick newspaper -like newsletter and urge me to read it. This was where they had heard about the asteroid.

In other words, these guys had taken their eyes off clear Bible print – and had decided not to rest and relax in the fact that Jesus knows the details of the future, and has given us the details we needed -- and instead these men had allowed themselves to obsess about somebody else’s far-fetched interpretation. As I say, these guys moved down to Mexico, and when the asteroid did not arrive, they sheepishly motored back to the USA.

So what’s the lesson for us? The lesson is that we’ve got to keep our eyes wide open – wide open as we read the Bible, and wide open as we carefully observe what’s happening in our world.

Now let’s discover another crucial statement of encouragement from Jesus’ own lips.

Verses 5 – 6: For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled . . . .”
What is Jesus’ next word of encouragement?

Not only does Jesus know my future in detail, and not only does Jesus insist that I can guard myself against deception, but Jesus assures me I can keep calm during any end-time crisis.

I don’t know about this. It seems a pretty tall order. When I read about the wars and rumors of war in the news, it gives me a fluttery feeling in my stomach. When Russian and Chinese fighter jets fly dangerously close to American military ships, I get those old Cold War fluttery feelings in my chest again.

When Jesus says, “See that you are not troubled,” it’s interesting that He is again using the word “see.” It’s a different Greek word than the blepete we saw back in verse four, but it still gives us the feeling of keeping your eyes open. Just as the blepete (the “watch out”) was in a command form, this Greek word (which is horate) is in a command form too.

So what does this mean? It means that with the same intensity that Jesus commands us to take heed that no one deceives us, with that same intensity, Jesus commands us to “See that we are not troubled.” In other words, you have His insistent permission to be calm. It’s like the British poster that was supposedly put on display all over England during World War II, Jesus insists that we “Keep calm and carry on.”
So how can I keep calm when these terrible things are looming on the horizon – or maybe even actually happening? I mean, it’s especially hard for Christians to see all of this trauma, all of the horrendous things that human beings do to each other. The Holy Spirit works on a Christian’s heart to make us appreciate peace, and practice kindness. That is why, quite frankly, when we hear insults flung from one politician to another, it turns our stomachs. Because we believe that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, and so on. Jesus said, Blessed are the peacemakers. So how can I refrain from being troubled with all of this turmoil swirling around me?

Maybe it’s something like my attitude toward my dentist. I remember, as a kid, getting my first cavity filled. It was a terrifying experience, with that little drill screaming and grinding into my teeth.

But it’s been decades since I’ve been afraid of dentists. I’ve had all sorts of things done to my teeth – root canals, even implants, where they actually use a socket wrench to torque a screw into the root of your tooth.

But I am not afraid. Whatever they have to do, I approach that dentist’s chair with a tranquil smile, and I lean back and open my mouth in a very trusting way. And a lot of times I just fall asleep.

So why am I not afraid? For one thing, I have been going to the same dentist since 1989, and I know him well. I know that if something hurts, he will just shoot some more novocaine (or whatever they use now) into my gum, and it won’t hurt anymore.

And since I trust Jesus completely, I can trust Him when he commands me to not be troubled. I have His permission to face life serenely.

This morning let’s look at just one more encouragement from Jesus. Let’s pick it up at verse seven.

Verses 7 – 13: For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.

No doubt about it, this is serious trauma. Jesus doesn’t soften the blow when it comes to telling His disciples about the trench-battles between the kingdom of heaven in the kingdom of darkness. But his last sentence is not only a statement of fact but an encouraging promise: “He who endures to the end shall be saved.”

So what is the encouragement here?

Not only does Jesus know my future in detail, and not only does Jesus insist that I can guard myself against deception, and not only does Jesus assure me I can keep calm during any end-time crisis, but Jesus promises that I can endure.

Notice what He doesn’t say. Jesus doesn’t say, “Well, it’s really hardly worthwhile telling you about this, because hardly anybody will endure to the end.”

No, instead, Jesus emphatically expresses the truth that you and I can endure to the end.

Now this is not automatic, of course. A lot of people down through the centuries have not endured, they have not kept calm in the face of persecution, they have not guarded themselves against deception. But Jesus promises me that I can endure.

But how can I do this? This week I heard a very interesting radio interview with Kenneth Bae, the Korean-American Christian evangelical missionary who was held captive in North Korea for two years.

Kenneth Bae said that just after he was captured, he wasn’t sure how long he would be held. But once he came to the conclusion that his prison term might be a long one, it was then that he began to try to befriend the people who were holding him captive. Once he gained their confidence, they started asking him questions about America. Later, some of the guards would tell him, “Pastor, I need to talk to you.” And they would pour out their marriage struggles, and family struggles, and he said he was able to do quite a bit of marriage and family counseling.

I think one powerful way we can endure is to behave like Kenneth Bae. He stopped obsessing about when he would be freed, and – like Joseph in prison – he befriended the people who were there, and worked to encourage and help them.

One of the delightful things about this congregation is that a lot of you are doing this. You are comfortable in your beliefs, you are not obsessing about just exactly when Jesus will return, or just exactly what will lead up to it, and this serenity gives you opportunities to influence other people in God’s direction.

Because Kenneth Bae knew what Christians down through the centuries know, that no matter what happens, God will take care of us. He may choose to rescue us from a challenging situation, or He may choose to accompany us through those difficulties. Either way, God will take care of us.

How about you? Can you understand, and accept, this encouraging fact?

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Expository Sermon on Mark 6
Bellevue SDA Church 03/19/16
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(Hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Mark chapter 6.

When I was a kid growing up on the prairies of South Dakota, I had a mother who didn’t necessarily love to cook. But she loved Dad and me and my brother and two sisters, so once she found out what foods we liked, she prepared them for us generously, over and over.

Most of the time, my folks bought their bread from the grocery store, just basic white bread, something to put fried eggs between, or hamburgers, or peanut butter and jelly.

But at one point, Mom must have felt guilty that she wasn’t baking bread from scratch. So during one glorious phase, which must’ve lasted a year, we kids would return from school to a house filled with what must be a kitchen’s greatest and most evocative aroma – the smell of bread baking. This bread probably had about the same nutritional value – and probably as much sodium – as the store-bought bread, but it had those glorious slabs of golden crust which were heavenly to gnaw on.

Have you ever wondered if the thousands of bread-loaves Jesus created on that Palestine hillside were served warm or cool? I don’t think I’ve ever thought about that until this week. I have a feeling that they were served warm. If Jesus could multiply organic matter, He could heat it up too.

Let’s read about another miracle at the end of Mark chapter 6. I’d like to focus on a sentence I hadn’t really paid a lot of attention to until just recently, a sentence that talks about those multiplied loaves. This miracle happens, by the way, immediately after the feeding of the 5000 men plus those women and children.

Mark 6:45 – 52 [NKJV]: Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.

Do you see that sentence, “they had not understood about the loaves”? What does this mean? Is there something about the loaves, some principle or principles behind what happened with them, that you and I need to know for the week ahead?

This week as I studied Mark 6, I discovered several truths that I think could partly help us understand the secret of the loaves. And I think this is important, because any Christian has the potential of being just as much a disciple of Jesus as those twelve were. And as the end of the world looms toward us, we need to be fully-equipped disciples in His service.

So let’s go back to the beginning of the chapter and discover some of the secrets of the loaves.

As Mark 6 begins, we find Jesus paying a visit to His hometown. Watch what happens, and I think we’ll spot the first of the “secrets of the loaves.”

Verses 1 – 3: Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him.

So here is Jesus’ hometown crowd, who have come to hear a sermon by the hometown boy. And in typical hometown-crowd fashion, they squint their eyes at Him, and if you boil down all their comments, they could sound like this: “Well now. Just who does He think He is, anyway? We saw this little kid grow up, right on these streets. His brothers and sisters are still here. So what’s so special about Him?”

And look at verse 2 again. Let’s watch them wrestle with the idea of the carpenter’s son having all this power

Verse 2: And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands!

This is a disturbingly different response to Jesus’ miracles then how some non-hometown people responded back in Mark 2. Put some sort of marker here in Mark 6, because we’ll be right back.

In Mark 2, Jesus is in Capernaum, about 40 miles northeast of Nazareth, far enough away so that the “hometown crowd” effect isn’t happening. Watch how the Capernaum people respond to the miracle where Jesus healed the paralytic who was lowered down through a hole in the roof:

Mark 2:12: Immediately he [the paralytic] arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Notice that these Capernaum people instantly recognize where Jesus’ power is coming from. “All were amazed and glorified God.” But back in Mark 6:2, the Nazareth hometown crowd can’t bring themselves to admit that Jesus has a direct connection to God. Instead, they speculate about what “wisdom” He was given.

And what is at least as intriguing is that somehow this attitude ties Jesus’ hands when it came to doing miracles. Let’s go back to Mark 6 again and look at verse 5.

Mark 6:5 – 6: Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief . . . .

 I think it’s very important to point out here that the hometown crowd’s unbelief wasn’t the honest ignorance of people who simply hadn’t been given all the facts. Instead, this seems to have been a deliberate, obstinate, hardhearted refusal to open their hearts.

So as we’ve come this far in this chapter, what could be the first of the secrets of the loaves? Jesus’ own disciples didn’t understand about the loaves, and we need to make sure that we avoid their error.
If you’re taking sermon notes, here comes Sermon Point One. What is Jesus’ first “loaf secret”?

Jesus’ authority responds to my faith.

The Capernaum people evidently were willing to relax their prejudices and open their hearts in faith to Jesus, which was why He could do so many amazing miracles there. But here in Nazareth, the people’s hearts were closed, guarded, suspicious, unwilling to humbly recognize that divinity was present. And because they lacked faith, they missed out on a lot of blessings.

Again and again Jesus tried to pound this idea home. Standing out on the waters of Galilee in Matthew 14, He gives Peter permission to step out of the boat and walk. Peter does okay for a while, but lets his fears get the best of him, and sinks. Jesus hauls Him up out of the water and says to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

Okay, if Jesus’ authority responds to my faith, what does this mean? Is it like when I take my car to a manual carwash and start feeding quarters into the slot, and the more quarters I feed the machine, the longer I can wash my car? Does Jesus require a minimum of faith-quarters before His power can start to work?

Well, in Matthew 17:20, Jesus insists that if we only have a tiny amount of faith, that can help cooperate with heaven. Then how do we get the kind of faith that cooperates with Jesus’ authority? In Romans 10:17 Paul says that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

In our Sabbath school classes this morning, we studied the word of God. Here in this sermon, we are listening to the word of God. Every time we thoughtfully, prayerfully study a passage of Scripture, our faith is becoming more solid.

So if Jesus’ authority responds to my faith, what do I do now that I know this?

First, of course, I need to become even more familiar with the Bible than I already am. Some of you are listening to Scripture on a recording of some kind as you walk or drive. Some of you come to church with beautiful, badly-bent Bibles, containing highlighting and underlinings. Some of you are studying the Bible with people who may not know it that well. I believe that the more we study our Bibles, the less amazed we might actually be if we were to see a miracle happen. We would be grateful for that miracle, and praise God for it, but the more we understand that God has all power, the more confidence we have that, according to His will, He can work out solutions to seemingly impossible problems.

Another thing, besides the Bible, which has increased my faith in recent years is to simply keep an eye out for faith builders in the natural world. I think that we take birds, and insects, and animals, and everything else too much for granted. I know I do. Instead, let’s allow our faith to grow by recognizing them for the wonders of intelligent design that they are.

Here in Mark 6 I find another loaf-secret. Look at verse seven.

Verses 7 – 13: And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits. He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts—but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics. Also He said to them, “In whatever place you enter a house, stay there till you depart from that place. And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!” So they went out and preached that people should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.

What’s a second “loaf secret”?

If a first “secret of the loaves” is that Jesus’ authority responds to my faith, a second could be that Jesus’ sufficiency means I can travel light.

It kind of makes my head a little dizzy to think of Jesus sending off those disciples two by two, with nothing but their clothes and sandals and their staffs. What this did, of course, was to force them to make contact with people. (That that was probably a more naturally-hospitable culture than today’s can be.) If you don’t have money to rent a room at an inn, you would need to find the nearest synagogue and let people know that you are a couple of  traveling preachers, and hope that their natural hospitality would give you a place to stay.

And if those disciples had fixed the travel-light principle firmly in mind, they would be able to resist the generous bags of cash people must have tried to reward them with, once they started exercising those healing and exorcism powers Jesus had given them. And if they healed people in the humble way Jesus did, the same thing happened to them that happened to Jesus. Once the people saw the healing, they would immediately glorify God and not the human instrument.

Okay, what does this have to do with me? What does “traveling light” mean for me this coming week? We can’t always just leave our jobs and travel around doing what Jesus’ disciples did during this time.
Well, the Sermon on the Mount gives us some traveling-light principles we can apply, principles like “Pray a Lord’s-Prayer style of simple prayer,” or “Don’t lay up treasure on earth,” or “Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat and what you will drink. Do not worry about tomorrow.”

I guess a good rule of thumb for traveling light this week might be to put yourself in the same frame of mind as those disciples, who were forced to interact with people. Anything that weighs you down or distracts you from people and their needs should really be left behind. Anything that gets in the way of real, meaningful communication with our families needs to go by the wayside as well.

I saw something earlier this week which made me think about families. In our neighborhood, there are several clusters of mailboxes. Normally anywhere from 6 to 8 mailboxes are bolted to a platform between two sturdy posts that are sunk in the sidewalk cement. Over the tops of those mailboxes is a roof, often with shingles.

Earlier this week, Shelley and I were taking a walk, and we noticed that someone had evidently smashed into one of those mailbox clusters and had broken the posts off, leaving the mailboxes still attached to their platform but lying on their back on the sidewalk.

This was concerning to Shelley and me. We both enjoy getting mail – in fact, that’s how we met. March 15 was the anniversary of the first letter I wrote Shelley from Lincoln, Nebraska. She was teaching in a logging camp on an island in Southeastern Alaska.

Anyway, as we saw that fallen mailbox lineup, we hoped someone would come along and get them upright and securely anchor them again where the mail deliverer could get to them.

As I thought about it, I decided that those mailboxes could symbolize a family. Before the crash, each of these family members could receive mail messages from whoever was writing them. But after the crash, they were no longer able to receive these messages.

And I thought how important it was for every mom and dad to make sure that they end each of the children is positioned to receive messages from Jesus. A very important way to do this is to talk to your kids about God and the Bible, the way my parents always did to us.

Another very important way to keep your family’s spiritual mailboxes at the ready is to bring your family to church every Sabbath. That’s where the kids hear those wonderful Bible stories, and where grown-ups can dig deep into the word of God, so we can all learn better ways of traveling light.

Now let’s skip down to the actual story of the loaves themselves. Let’s start with verse 30, where the disciples are returning from their traveling-light adventures.

Verses 30 – 37: Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves. But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him. And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things. When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late. Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.” But He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat.”

If a first “secret of the loaves” is that Jesus’ authority responds to my faith, and a second secret is that Jesus’ sufficiency means I can travel light, then a third secret is that Jesus’ challenge to me is to never underestimate what He can do through me.

Notice something very important. The disciples had just come back from a wildly successful apprenticeship in healing and casting out demons and teaching. It’s almost like Jesus is saying to them, “Okay, guys. You’ve been successfully using the power of God for the last few weeks. Now, see if you can figure out how you would apply that power to solve this new problem.”

But they panicked. You and I would have probably panicked too, if we didn’t know the end of the story. I mean, these guys had been traveling light for the last few weeks, but at this new and staggering crisis, their minds snapped back to traveling heavy, in this case to money. They began rapid mental calculations as to how much money would be needed to buy that many loaves.

Verse 37: But He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?”
And now it’s interesting to watch the way Jesus handles this. He could have just as easily made a little cluster of loaves and fish appear magically on the grass beside each family. Or He could have supernaturally nourished each person from within, causing them to lose their hunger pangs.

But instead, watch what He does.

Verses 38 – 44: But He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they found out they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties. And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. So they all ate and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish. Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men.

You see what Jesus is doing? He is doing things in an organized and systematic way, and He is involving His disciples in the miracle. Even though they don’t yet have quite the faith it takes to do the miracle themselves, He lets them be a part of it.

So if Jesus challenges me to never underestimate what He can do through me, how can I put this to work this coming week?

Maybe the real secret of the loaves is the presence of Jesus. Jesus arrives in my life, and my faith works to release His power. That means that my faith needs to be continually growing, through prayer and Bible study.

And since Jesus’ sufficiency means that I should look for ways to travel light, because He travels with me. “I am with you always,” He told His disciples in the last verse of Matthew, “even to the end of the world.” I should practice saying, “Lord, I give this worry to You, this burden to You, this decision to You.”

And since Jesus’ challenge is to never underestimate what He can do through me, this means that if I let my faith stretch more and more, He will be with me, working through me, just as He worked through those twelve disciples.

Is this what you would like to have happen to you more and more this week—Jesus present within you, working His will through you? Would you like raise your hand if that is your desire?

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Expository Sermon on James
Bellevue SDA Church 02/13/16
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to James Chapter One.

Just a quick note of thanks to those who attended the young adult vespers last night in Seattle. Tristinn Williams had invited me to lead out in the half-hour Bible study which is a part of this event, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I would like to think not only Tristinn but also Kelly Lin, who led out in last night’s gathering. And I know that Rishana and Patrick and Kathy Lin and others are solid supporters too. Please pray for them all as they provide a warm-hearted, accepting place of fellowship for a lot of busy young Adventists.

Anyway, you have that young adult group to thank for the topic of this morning’s sermon. This group is currently studying two or three smaller Bible books, and one of them is the tough little no-nonsense book of James. So as I prepared last night’s study for them, and this sermon sort of grew out of it.

I don’t know what you thought the last time you read through James. What I always think when I dip into that book is that seems a bit unorganized. In fact, this week as I was studying James very intensely, it struck me that James, the book’s author, was behaving something like a military drone.

What do I mean by that? I mean that just like a military drone buzzes back and forth across the sky looking for enemy activity or problem areas, it will once in a while return several times to targets that are of particular concern.

And that’s what James does in his five-chapter letter. He’ll be going along, and then he will mention a certain topic. Then he’ll talk about something else for a while, and then he will zoom back to that topic and say some more about it, and in a couple of instances will even return a third time to that issue.

Probably, this is related to who James was. This is not James the brother of John, one of the two sons of Zebedee. According to Acts 12:2, James the brother of John was executed by King Herod. But in Acts 15, we see someone else by the name of James, and this James seems to be the leader of the church. We know that because, when Paul and some other Christians brought it to the church council, it was James who gave the consensus ruling.

So you could say that James was something like the first General Conference president. It’s not easy being a general conference president, or even a local conference president. Because, if a church is having problems, it’s often the conference president who gets called in.

And you get the impression that, as James kept hearing about challenges from all the churches, he finally said to himself – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – “I am going to send out a general letter to all the Christian churches and talk about some of these matters I see causing such problems.”

We get a clue about this in the very interesting greeting in chapter 1, verse one.

James 1:1 [NKJV]: James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.

Notice how he puts this? Paul would often address his letters to specific churches, such as the one at Thessalonica or at Corinth or at Rome. But here, James makes this a general letter. Any Christian back then could read it and profit by it.

And as I was reading it this week, I thought, “Maybe the topics which were good for all those Christians scattered abroad back then would be good for a Friday night young adult vespers, and for a Sabbath morning worship service.

What I would like to do is to look specifically at some of James’s “drone” issues – the ones he felt so strongly about that he returned to over and over. And just judging from the response last night at the young adult vespers to the first issue, which was all we had time for, I think these issues are relevant for today.

Let’s look at the first one. James’s drone focused three times on this issue. Let’s find out what it is.

James 1:9 – 11: Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.

What is James’s first key issue, one he felt strongly enough to return to again and again? Let me give you Sermon Point One and then we’ll see what else he has to say about it, and why it’s so important.

I think that James’s first “drone issue” is the relationship between the poor and the rich.

So, what has he told us so far about the poor in the rich, in the verses we just read? Basically, he is saying that life is uncertain and brief for both rich and poor.

Among our group of young adults last night were several medical professionals, several nurses and at least one person getting ready to start school to become an M.D. Each of them understands how quickly and often unexpectedly life can fade away.

In our discussion last night, a couple of people mentioned how much they admired individuals who may have been blessed with a lot of money, but who used those riches to make people’s lives better, both physically and spiritually.

After making this point, James’s drone moves over to some other topics, but then he points its nose back to this one again.

James 2:1 – 9: My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

I have read these verses several times over the years, but this time I was jolted by something I had never seen before. Did you catch what verse nine was really saying?

Verse 9: but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

That’s sobering, isn’t it? If you show partiality, treating a rich person more favorably than a poor person, or an educated person better than an uneducated one, you commit sin. It’s like breaking one of the 10 Commandments. That’s what James says here. You are convicted by the law as a transgressor.

I asked the young adults last night to give me some examples of how they’d seen this happening in the various churches they came from. They immediately mentioned situations where a student in school may have been treated more favorably than other students because of how rich his or her parents were. Someone mentioned how some people would donate large sums of money, but would attach unreasonable stipulations to that gift.

I don’t know how this is playing out in your life. I know that I have never once looked at our church treasurer’s books to find out who is giving what. I don’t know how much anyone gives in tithes or offerings. And I don’t want to know.

I’m not going to take the time to read through James’s third drone-visit to this subject, which happens in the first six verses of chapter 5. But he says some very earnest things to rich people who oppress the workers in their power, and who withhold their wages.

Somebody last night made a very perceptive comment at this point. I forget exactly how she said it, but her point was that we need to truly perceive who we are, and once we have realized who we are, this may help take care of some of these how-the-rich-treat-the-poor issues. Jesus, and other parts of the Bible, mention how God exalts the humble and humbles the exalted. God wants to bring us to the place where we understand that it is not by might nor by power that we have what we have, but by His permission.

So what should we do, now that we know this? Let’s discover who we really are in God’s eyes, and let’s make sure we understand that God shows no partiality, and neither should we.

Now let’s look at James’s second “drone” issue, one he circles back to and comments further on.

James 1:26: If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.

What is James’s second key issue he thinks is really important?

I believe that if James’s first “drone issue” is the relationship between the poor and the rich, then his second “drone issue” is the tyrannical tongue.

If we pause for a moment, and cast our eyes over today’s political landscape, we’re seeing this happening. I’m not going to talk politics here, but we do need to remember Jesus’ sobering comments in Matthew 12:36 – 37: “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
We’re not responsible for what a political figure or somebody else might say, but Jesus insists that we not use our tongues to tyrannize people. Because according to James in the verses we just read, what we do with our tongue shows whether or not we are religious.

If I claim to be a religious person, a follower of Jesus, yet if I don’t control my tongue, I am acting a lie. Let’s listen as James circles back and tackles this topic again, because he knows it so important.

James 3:1 – 12: My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.

James starts out by urging people not to seek the role of the teacher for the wrong reasons. Several years ago I saw a situation which showed me how important this is.

I was attending a pastors meeting, and one of the speakers was a very famous Adventist author who had written a number of books. But as he talked to us, he said something which shocked me. He said, “Some of what I wrote in those books I don’t even believe anymore.”

Now, this man is still a steady Adventist author and teacher to this day. And I’m sure that what he meant as he said those words was that we all grow, and mature, we all look back on our previous writing and speaking and realize that we could have expressed something more clearly than we had.

But I still remember the sinking feeling I felt when he said those words. He should have quickly followed them up with an explanation of what he meant, but I had placed a lot of faith in this man, and I admired him, and I was quite jolted. That’s the kind of effect our careless words can have, if others have placed the faith in our leadership.

I am very privileged to have had Shelley, over the years, fine-tune some of the things I say from the pulpit. She is mainly concerned with things I might see which are flippant, which people might take wrong. I have had the common sense to listen carefully to her, and recognize how right she is.

I think we need to follow James’s advice back in chapter 1.

James 1:19 – 20: So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

You know what I think? I think that each of us should memorize a few ways to say, “I’m sorry.” (And we should NEVER say something like this: “I’m sorry if anything I said or did offended you.” That’s not a real apology. That half-apology doesn’t admit personal guilt. Instead, it puts it on to the other person’s shoulders: “For some strange reason, you feel that I have offended you. I don’t believe I did, but if it means that much to you, I’ll say some apologetic words.”) Instead, we need to learn how to quickly and clearly apologize. Along with the words “I’m sorry,” we need to say words that show that we understand what we did.

I can find one more issue that James returned to more than once. First let’s go to James 1:22.

James 1:22 – 25: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

I believe that James’s first “drone issue” is the relationship between the poor and the rich, and his second such issue is the tyrannical tongue, and that the third issue he felt strongly enough to address it repeatedly was the relationship between faith and follow-through.

Somewhere in my stock of books at home I have a little book I bought at Barnes and Noble several years ago. It is a book which promises to teach the reader to play the violin without the need of a teacher.
Now, if you plan to be a professional violinist, it is definitely NOT a good idea to learn the violin without a teacher. If you don’t have someone to help you, you can develop some pretty bad habits on the violin. You can let your right elbow sag as you hold the bow. You can always play the strings with the entire width of the bow hair rather than just the edge, and if you don’t move the bow just right, you will squeak.
But I went ahead and bought the book, because I just wanted to learn how to play, and didn’t plan on inflicting my music on a lot of other people. I studied it carefully, and the more I looked into its pages, and the less I tried to play the violin the way I had always played it, the better I got. I have never really become easily listenable to, but at least I have developed some better habits.

Now let’s watch the “James drone” circle back and take another look at this topic.

James 2:14 – 26: What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

In other words, faith must generate follow-through. I have never piloted an airplane, but I know that flying a plane requires faith plus follow-through. A marriage requires faith plus follow-through. Even the taking-n of a breath requires faith plus follow-through, because you have to have enough faith that out there in front of your face there’s another lungfull of breathable air if you let the one you’re currently holding go.

Last night, my drive from my home to the Seattle apartment where the young adult Bible study happened took faith plus follow-through. I was following the little blue dot on Google Maps on my iPad. The iPad held the truth about my destination, but I was the one who needed to push the gas pedal and make the turns, trusting that the GPS was correct as I drove through the dark.

One of my favorite lines from a hymn is the one we’ll be singing in our closing song, which is page 609. Once you find it I’ll show you what it is. This whole little song is all about follow-through, all about responding to God’s grace by going into action.

My favorite line is “Must I be carried to the skies on flow’ry beds of ease, while others fight to win the prize and sail on stormy seas?”

As we sing this song together, let’s resolve to follow through on what James, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, has challenged us to do.

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Topical Sermon on Acts
Bellevue SDA Church 02/06/16
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Acts chapter 2.

Two weeks ago tonight, Shelley and I were somewhere between Lynnwood and Everett, in an Asian restaurant. We were sitting with a group of other pastors and their wives, and we had all just come from the memorial service of Edmonds church pastor, Larry Zuchowski. Larry had passed away during his third heart operation in a month, and the Edmonds church was absolutely packed.

At some point before the service, one of the pastors had sent an email to some of us who had been in the conference the longest together with Larry. Larry, by the way, came to the Edmonds church just a year or two after Shelley and I came here.

Anyway, there we were at the restaurant. The memorial service had gone long, and we were glad to be together. I was sitting across the table from retired pastor Tom James. Tom’s last church before retirement had been the Centralia church, which isn’t far from the Chehalis church my brother pastored for several years.

Tom looked at me and asked how things were going at Bellevue. We talked a bit, and then I mentioned that we were having Dan and Gloria Bentzinger do an “Incredible Prophecies” series for us. He nodded his head judiciously, and said, “Good.”

Tom was simply joining the chorus of approval that many other pastors have given me when I’ve mentioned that the Bentzingers are coming here. Everybody seems to have had a positive feeling about Dan and Gloria and their work, whether their church was a small one or a large one.

As you’ll see on Night Number One, Friday night, March 11, Dan is presenting what is known as a “classic” prophecy lecture series. And thanks to the sense of vision and leadership of a couple of people in this congregation, we are mailing out 87,000 handbills, more than twice the amount of handbills that we usually mail out. And we are mailing many of these handbills to areas which have not received any kind of prophecy brochures over the last couple of decades.

Sometimes when we hear the word “classic” we think “retro” or “old-fashioned.” By a “classic” series, I mean a series of prophecy lectures which begins with the statue in Daniel chapter 2, and goes on to address what prophecy has to say about all the world crises we see happening all around us. This is how Seventh-day Adventist Christians have been created for decades and decades. I would imagine that most of you in this room have ancestors – or maybe this happened to you personally – who either attended a classic prophecy series, or took a Bible study set based on the same flow of topics.

People have tried other approaches, but nothing has ever worked as well as standing up before a group of people, and pointing to the world conditions which occupy our worries, and asserting that the Bible does have something to say about these current world events, and proving that with chapter and verse.

This is what Jesus did all the time. He came not merely to inaugurate a new philosophy of life, but to inaugurate a kingdom – the kingdom of God. In Matthew 24:15 Jesus personally recommended the study of the book of Daniel. Because Jesus knew that once that statue’s weak and disoriented final kingdoms had come on the scene, the very next literal kingdom would be God’s kingdom.

I remember how exciting those classic prophecy lectures were when I was a Wesleyan Methodist kid attending an Adventist elementary school. In Matthew 24 Jesus predicted “wars and rumors of wars.” Back then, we didn’t really have a war – because the Vietnam conflict hadn’t ramped up yet – but there were certainly rumors of war. The big rumor, and maybe the only one that mattered to us, was potential conflict with the Soviet Union. A couple of hundred miles to the west of where I lived, were underground missile silos which contained nuclear warheads which at a moment’s notice could lunge up out of their holes, programmed to explode just above Moscow.

I remember that in those days the classic prophecy lecture brochures pictured an hourglass, superimposed on a clock with the hands set to 11:58. All this was against the orange backdrop of an exploding atomic bomb.

Those were real fears back then, even in the middle of barren South Dakota. So when a prophecy lecturer arrived and demonstrated from the book of Daniel that God knew already what was going to happen, people came to hear him.

Nowadays, of course, we have wars – many wars (and of course satellite news technology lets us hear about more wars than we were able to back then) – all going on at the same time. And they are crazy wars. Back when I was a child, we sort of assumed that – unless some lunatic somehow got his finger on the nuclear button – the Soviets would decide not to bomb us after all, because they knew that we would bomb them back.

But nowadays, what do we have? We have fanatics who consider it meritorious to destroy themselves along with as many people as possible, whether on the ground or in the air. And we have the famines and pestilences that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24. We have a disturbing new pestilence (at least new to us) called the Zika virus, which is reaching right into the wombs of mothers who have been exposed to it, and deforming their babies.

That’s why I’m glad we’re presenting a “classic” prophecy lecture series rather than a more generic one. People need to know what the Bible says about the future, and that these statements can be depended on. I would strongly urge you to help me present Dan and Gloria with a packed church the first couple of weekends of the series. They know how to keep people coming back night after night, and it’s easier to keep people interested if there is a large population to start with. So plan your calendars for Friday through Monday night, March 11 and on, and then the following weekend, and the following weekend, and so on.

Now—let’s go to the book of Acts and find some encouragement I found. I think one way to look at the book of Acts is to think of it as being full of a lot of people who had found out that there was a missing piece in their life – some kind of gap that needed to be bridged.

Let’s take a look at the first gap, here in Acts 2. To set the stage, we need to know that it’s probably been a month and a half since Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus is back in heaven, and His followers are meeting together for mutual comfort in a house in Jerusalem.

When suddenly, God makes the first move.

Acts 2:1 – 13 [NKJV]: When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?” Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.”

Isn’t that the way it always goes? Here you have a wonderful, phenomenal miracle of God, with people speaking in real languages they had never learned, telling the native speakers of those languages about Jesus. But there are always those who will give a knee-jerk response that it can’t be true. No, they won’t do the research to see if those languages are real languages and can be understood by people who speak them. Instead, they will toss off an accusation and not go any further.

Notice what was happening here. This was where God was filling a gap for these people. What was that gap? If you want to take down sermon notes, this could be called Point Number One. What is that first gap?

The first gap is the gap between the Jewish people and their promised Messiah.

Jesus had been crucified a month and a half earlier, during Passover week. Thousands of people had gathered from all over the Middle East and down into Africa and up into Turkey, gathered at Jerusalem to celebrate another time when God had made the first move – when He had led His people from Egypt.

And since these Jewish people from many language groups were devout enough to travel long distances to celebrate the Passover, they knew all about a coming Messiah. But aside from about 120 of Jesus’ disciples, nobody believed that a carpenter’s son from Nazareth, of all places, was really that Messiah. Visitors to the city probably listened to stories about Him with interest, and maybe a bit of amusement, but there were no wholesale conversions to believing in Him.

Until God took the first step.

God’s Holy Spirit got hold of those 120 disciples, and gave them the gift of all these other languages that were mentioned, so that God’s people could hear about His Son without having to work through a translator. Translators are wonderful, of course. Several people in our congregation are translators, and they have helped people and even saved lives by using this talent.

But God cared enough to work this language-miracle so that people could hear His good news in the very accents their mothers had taught them. As a result, all of these foreign people would spread back out across the Roman empire and witness to the miracle of the languages and the God who cared enough to finally send the Messiah.  

So what does this have to do with me? Well, at the end of this service, as you walk out, you will meet people at the door who are holding crisscrossed little stacks of ten prophecy lecture brochures each. You should take one of those stacks, and another if you want, BUT you don’t have to worry about the stress of pressuring other people to take them. We’ve just seen here that when God wants something to happen, He makes the first move. And we’ll see this a couple of more times here in Acts before we’re done.

So take a little stack of brochures, put them in your car, slip a few into your briefcase if you have one. Fold a couple of them into your purse. Just pray that the Lord will in a natural, tactful way, give you an opportunity to make someone aware of this prophecy lecture series. If it happens, just say, “Here’s something I’m planning to go to. You might be interested.”

Because it is God who does the drawing. God does the impelling. All I need to do is to have an invitation ready if it’s needed. All you and I should do is to pray, “Lord, lead me to someone who needs to know about the Messiah.”

Now let’s look at another gap that needed to be filled. Turn to Acts chapter 8. While you’re turning there, let me again set the stage. By now, the young Christian church is growing by leaps and bounds. The Jewish authorities have become so concerned about this that they have enlisted the services of a young man who would probably have fit perfectly into an ISIS terrorist team.

This young man was so certain that what Christians were doing was blasphemous that he decided to do everything necessary to destroy them. This young man’s name was Saul, and he was the one who held the coats of people who stoned to death one of the first Christian deacons, a man named Stephen. That’s where we pick up with Acts chapter 8, starting with verse one.

Acts 8:1 – 4: Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.

Which is another of God’s talents—bringing good out of bad. Saul shows up, terrorizes people, and they run, and they simply spread the good news wherever they end up. Good try, Saul. Didn’t quite work the way you wanted it to, did it?

Anyway, a fellow-deacon of Steven’s, a man named Philip, was one of those who ran for his life, but didn’t stop spreading the word about Jesus. Watch what happens.

Acts 8:26 – 38: Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.” So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.

Notice what was happening here? Philip wasn’t standing beside the road waving prophecy-lecture brochures. No, God again had made the first move. This Ethiopian treasurer was another of those devout, faithful Jews who had come to Jerusalem to worship. He was returning home, reading the book of Isaiah as he was riding along, and he had come to a verse he couldn’t understand.

As we heard, this man was secretary of the treasury to the queen of Ethiopia. Here was a “detail guy.” Here was somebody who had to make sure the books balanced every time the queen called for an accounting. So he was accustomed to needing everything to make sense. But he couldn’t make sense out of this passage. He had a strong and growing feeling that these words were important – supremely important – but there was no way he could figure them out on his own.

This man, you could say – and here comes Sermon Point Two --was facing a gap:

We could call this second gap the gap between a treasurer and a puzzling Scripture.

What was happening, of course, was that once more, God had made the first move. Just as it was God’s Holy Spirit who reprogrammed 120 Jewish brains to be able to speak in other real languages, it was God’s Holy Spirit who entered the mind of this godly Ethiopian and fixed his mind upon a verse he knew he needed to understand.

And then the same Holy Spirit alerted Philip to chase after what was obviously a Rolls-Royce model chariot, maybe even guarded by an intimidating security staff. But Philip doesn’t seem to have been intimidated. He jogged alongside, hears the treasurer reading Isaiah out loud, and called out, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” And the rest is history – a history in which God, again, makes the first move.

So what do I do, now that I’ve heard this story? Well, like the Ethiopian, I need to read the Bible with an open heart and mind. God wants me to understand more than I already do about what His Word says. And, like Philip, I need to be ready to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, even if it means checking in with someone who is sending signals that they are having Bible questions.

As I mentioned, the book of Acts is full of “missing pieces” stories, but let’s look at just one more. Turn to the next chapter, Acts 9.

Again, setting the stage. Our old friend Saul, the terrorist, is still making life hard for the Christians. It is so poignant, by the way, to read about where this is happening, because nowadays, in modern Syria, life is not easy for anybody, including Christians. Terror is still happening in that land.

But watch what happens to Saul, and why it happens.

Acts 9:1 – 2: Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

So what’s the gap here? It’s an important one.

This is the gap between the true God and Saul’s false god.

Saul had bought into the idea of a tyrannical God who hated Christians and believed they should be annihilated. But watch what happens:

Verses 3 - 18: As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.” Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.

Again, who took the first step? God took the first step. He had to. Saul felt no need to change. Ananias felt no need to try to go change Saul. It was God who took the first step in perhaps the most dramatic conversion in the New Testament. Because eventually Saul was re-named Paul, and he wrote much of the New Testament. Because of Paul’s writings, we know a great deal about practical Christianity which we might not otherwise have learned if God hadn’t made the first move toward him.

You know what all these stories do to me? They give me courage. Like you, I’m going to take a little 10-pack of those prophecy lecture brochures. I’m going to keep them on the back ledge of my car, and I’m going to pray that the Lord will naturally bring me to someone in whom He has already built up an intense interest about the deepest questions of life.

I’m going to ask God to do another Acts miracle in which He takes the first step, He makes the first move. I’m going to remind him of these book-of-Acts stories, and urge Him to repeat these same miracles in my life, and in your lives.

Remember those people you listed on the prayer card Dan gave us last August? This is the time to think about how you might alert these friends to the “Incredible Prophecies” series.

I’m going to pray that God will stir up someone’s interest in who the world’s next superpower will be, so that on his two large projection screens, Dan Bentzinger can show that person the Bible truth.

I’m going to ask God to get someone worrying so hard about why bad things happen to good people, so that Dan can tell her about “the most destructive character assassination in history.”

And surely someone out there needs to learn “The Bible truth about death and ghosts,” or about “Darwin’s claim that defeats evolution.”

And God literally knows that there are many children out there who need to be nurtured in the children’s programs Emily and her team will be offering.

Right now I would like those who are ready to hand out those packets to just step forward for a moment so that I can pray for these little bundles. Then during our closing song you can take your places back by the door. This will be the closing prayer, so there won’t be one after the closing song.

And again, folks, don’t obsess over these brochures. Just pray about them. Ask the Lord to do just what He did so many times in the book of Acts, take the first step, make the first move, position someone who needs this information in your path.

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Expository Sermon on BOOK
Bellevue SDA Church 01/30/16
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles again to Matthew chapter 5.

We’ve actually been spending quite a bit of time in Matthew 5 in recent weeks. I did a two-part sermon on the Beatitudes, and last Sabbath’s Pathfinder program had the theme “Let Your Light Shine,” which comes just a few verses past the Beatitudes.

And it’s very clear that the reason Jesus gave us the Beatitudes, and then gave us His parables about being the salt of the earth and the light of the world, is that Jesus wants us to be difference-makers.
Before we go any further, let’s read Jillian’s text again. I’m going to add in a few texts around it to give it context:

Matthew 5:14 – 16 [NKJV]: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

As you can see, Jillian has chosen a text which is a very practical one. It does not say, “Here are some philosophical ideas to think about and store away in your mind.” Instead, it says, “Here is how you can make a real difference in the lives of the people around you.” This is an action text, a difference-making text.

And Jesus knows better than anybody else how much this world needs difference-makers. Back in the Beatitudes, which came just before this passage, He tells us we need to BE different. And in the salt and light verses he tells us we should be ready to MAKE a difference. In fact, being different (in a good way) is the first step in making a difference.

At first, this might seem pretty intimidating. You might have heard the humorous radio commercial which played on KIRO during the Seahawks games. The theme of this commercial is that if you’re are sitting in the CenturyLink field seats wearing an official Seahawks jersey, someone might grab you and put you into the game—because you look authentic!

As I say, that commercial was joking, but Jesus is not, when He insists that we are not supposed to be mere spectators in the great controversy between Christ and Satan. We must make a difference.

If that seems pretty intimidating, let me tell you a little story which I think shows how this works.

When I was back in college, I was studying to be an English major. This was a South Dakota state college, not a really large one, but there were about 2000 students there at any one time. Each teacher had to teach several different courses.

There happened to be a husband-wife team teaching in the English department, Tom and Illona Hansen. They were both good teachers, and both had taught on the high school level, and had developed a great sense of humor.

One of the subjects Tom taught was Masters’ level modern poetry. Tom himself had actually had several poems published, though he never compiled them into a book, at least not back then. But Tom came to class every day, beaming with delight about the poetry he was so passionate about. And because of that, I became fascinated with poetry, and wrote some myself, and even got a couple of those poems published.

Tom’s wife Illona taught several courses also, and one of them was General Semantics. I had never heard of this class before, but at that point it was required for an English major. And that became my all-time favorite college class. In a nutshell, general semantics says that when we are talking about important issues, we need to speak very specifically, and not jump to conclusions.

For example, instead of making a broad-brush statement like, “Congress is corrupt,” we should do our research cautiously and humbly, and say instead, “On July 15, 1985, Congressman John Jones did this specific act, which I consider to be corrupt, and here is specifically why.” And we shouldn’t go any further than that until we have some more data, and then we should examine that data carefully before we draw any more conclusions.

This idea was tremendously exciting to me. Just think of all the misunderstandings might be avoided if people did more of this! So I bought books on general semantics that were not even required for the class. I even got hold of a gigantic ancient copy of Alfred Korzybski’s (kor-ZIB-ski) Science and Sanity, the very first book on general semantics.

Okay, where am I going with this? You see, neither Tom nor Illona would ever admit that they were the best possible poetry teachers or general semantics teachers. Tom was nowhere near as famous a poet as Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman. Illona had simply allowed the English department to add General Semantics to her course load. She had read the main textbook enthusiastically, which was S. I. Hayakawa’s Language in Thought and Action, but she didn’t have a degree in that subject.

No, what Tom and Illona did was fill a position. They occupied a post. Tom was the go-to guy for poetry, and Illona was the go-to-gal for general semantics.

Some people say, “But how can I let my light shine when I might not know as much about the Bible as my Sabbath School teacher or my pastor?” But they need to do what Tom and Illona did—be a witness to what they know about, and cheerfully admit when they don’t have all the answers about something, and suggest that they and the questioner study the question together.

And Jillian does the same thing at her school, Jillian is a go-to Seventh-day Adventist. She is actually one of several Adventist kids at that school, and they all need to be go-to people when it comes to their faith.

And she’s making a difference. She probably doesn’t realize how much of a difference she is making. But as our personal security continues to unravel as the end-times crunch toward us, her fellow students, and her teachers, and others, will remember the young lady who calmly was able to give an answer for the faith which was within her.

And for Jillian, and for all of us, the Difference in us will be Jesus.  We remember the promise of Philippians 1:6, that He who began a good work in us will complete it.  He is the one who gives us the wisdom, strength, and grace to be a difference-maker. Because Jesus needs difference-makers.  

Glance back a verse or two to the “salt of the earth” passage. Again, this is Jesus speaking:

Verse 13: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

Things were different in Jesus’ time. Nowadays, if you mention salt to me, I think of the dark-blue container of Morton Salt on an upper shelf in our kitchen. I think of all the salt that’s added to the processed food on the store shelves nowadays. I think of how the medical profession has warned me that I need to be careful about taking in too much salt.

But when Jesus brought up the subject of salt to his hearers, He wasn’t talking to people who got too much salt, but who were in danger of getting too little. The hot climate dehydrated people, and they needed to balance this with salt intake, the same way today’s farmers have to provide large blocks of salt for cattle to lick.

So for the people back then, salt wasn’t something you had to limit—it was something you really needed to keep your body in balance, because unless you took steps, you were likely not to get enough.

So when Jesus told His listeners that they were the salt of the earth, this put a very serious responsibility on them. This meant that they needed to be the people who would bring balance to the spiritual health of others. And if they allowed the life-giving salt to evaporate from their lives, they wouldn’t be a benefit to others any more.

In other words, Jesus needs difference-makers.

And it’s a certain kind of difference-making. When terrorists want to make a difference, they muster up their guns and masks and horrifying, atrocity-filled videos. They want to make a difference by force and fear.

But Jesus wants difference-makers who use influence, not infantry. In the Beatitudes, He tells us how to BE, and in the salt and light parables He tells us how to spread that influence.

Just as salt is needed for our physical health, the salt of who Jesus is, reflected in us, is needed for our spiritual health. Just as people hunger for physical salt, they hunger for spiritual salt too. But we don’t force spoonfuls of salt down their throats; we stand ready to offer it.

And light is needed where it’s dark. If we have light, and it’s dark around us, we don’t hide the light. But neither do we take flashlights and shine them painfully into people’s eyes. No, we just let the light shine, and people who have discovered that they’re living in darkness will seek the light, and find it.

And how do we let our lights shine? Jesus makes this very clear:

Verse 16: Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Some people think that doing good works is a bit legalistic. But Jesus doesn’t think so. Jesus said that if we do good deeds with a humble and self-effacing attitude, people will give glory not to us but to God. Because these words and actions show that there is indeed a loving God, and that God loves us so much that He gave His only Son—with the Son’s wholehearted consent—to restore to us a future and a hope.  And these days, that is desperately what God’s damaged reputation needs.

Think ahead to the coming week, and to the good deeds you could possibly do, the Salt and Light you can be. Ask God each day to inspire and equip you to show His love to someone at work, or at school, or in your neighborhood, show them that there is more to life than getting and hoarding. The word “inspire” literally means “breathe in,” and just as we breathe in oxygen for physical life, we need to breathe in God’s Holy Spirit to then be able to truly show God’s love.

And remember—the glory goes to God. We need to get in the habit of thanking Him more. That’s what Jillian’s choice of a closing song reminds us. Let’s stand and sing it together, with thankful hearts to the One who is our Source of salt and light.

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Expository Sermon on Matthew 5
Bellevue SDA Church 01/16/16
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles again to Matthew chapter 5.

On the wall above the closet in my home office is one of those “atomic clocks.” It’s silver plastic, and about a foot square, and it receives signals from a tower somewhere which helps to keep it exactly on national standard time, to the second.

Except for yesterday. I glanced up at it, and I discovered that my atomic clock is now 4 ½ hours ahead of real time. This means that when it’s 8:30 p.m., the atomic clock says that it is well after midnight. This is quite startling when you are finalizing your sermon on a Friday evening!

When I discovered how wrong that clock was, I peered closely at the upper left-hand corner of its display panel. And sure enough, I did not see the little time-tower icon. When that icon is showing on the screen, that means that every hour or so, or maybe it’s once a day, the clock has received a synchronizing signal from the tower. But when you don’t see the little tower icon, it means that communication has been lost.

I think that the main problem is that the clock’s battery has died. Why in its death struggles that battery chose to advance the time 4 ½ hours, I do not know. But right now, in my home office, it’s already the middle of the afternoon.

I think this could be a great illustration of what Jesus is trying to communicate in His Beatitudes here at the start of Matthew five. If you and I are not connected to Jesus’ “time tower,” – in other words, if we don’t have an accurate and ongoing reading on information He knows we need, we are like those US sailors who mistakenly drifted into Iranian waters over the last few days.

I believe that Jesus’ Beatitudes give us some important course corrections as we try to navigate through a world that is often hostile to Christ. Each of these “Beatitudes” (“Beatitudes” means “blessing”, and the Greek word there means “happy,” a deep settled joy.) And each of these Beatitudes will give us a happy hope, because they are not uncertain hopes, or despairing hopes, but hopes we can bank on.

Even though we got a little way into this passage last week, let’s take it from the top for a quick review.

Matthew 5:1 [NKJV]: And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.

Here is Sermon Point One, which I gave you last week. How can we make it hopefully through this coming week?

Follow Jesus up the mountain.

This verse tells us that Jesus saw the multitudes, the crowds, down there in the low lands, but He did not begin speaking right here. Instead, He turned his back and headed up the side of a nearby mountain.
And that’s what you and I have to do, down here on this bedraggled planet. We need to follow Jesus “up the mountain,” and by that I mean follow Him to a place where we can listen to Him without distractions.

What I’m talking about, of course, is some quiet time each day where we prayerfully read our Bibles and pray.

Why is that so important? Because if we stay down on level ground – and ignore going to Jesus for the truth He wants us to know – if we don’t take that time, we are in danger.

You see, those multitudes who came to see Jesus had a decision to make. He turns His back, and walks away, and His disciples follow. And each person in that multitude needed to decide, “Do I stay down here amongst all the conversation about whether or not Jesus is really important? Do I stay down here with the Pharisees, who are probably going to try to talk me out of any relationship with Jesus? Do I stay down here with some of my friends who don’t share the same spiritual longing I have, and might try to entice me back to doing things I shouldn’t? Or do I follow the One I sense has words of eternal life?”

Within just the last few days I met someone I knew from years ago, someone who used to be a faithful Seventh-day Adventist, but who drifted away from the church, and got into the company with some very earnest people who have convinced him that what he used to believe was wrong. And now he believes the way they believe, not the way Jesus believes. He made the switch not because of new Bible truth but because of strong lowland voices.

What you and I have to do is to pull away from all of the voices that are trying to water down Bible truth. Some of these voices are articulate, some are very popular, but if they keep you down in the lowlands, and if you don’t resist them and follow Jesus up the mountain to learn from Him directly, then pretty soon you will be believing things which sound pretty good but aren’t true.

Last week I gave you a Sermon Point Two, but this week I have changed it slightly. What I’m going to do over the next few minutes is to do some Beatitude-combining.

Let’s read verses three and four:

Verses 3 - 4: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.

How else can we make it through this coming week hopefully and happily?

Not only should we follow Jesus up the mountain, but we also need to discover and deplore our spiritual poverty.

The American Heritage Dictionary says that one of the meanings of “deplore” is “To express sorrow or grief over; to regret.”

When Ellen White talks about this beatitude, this is the first meaning she gives to it – when we realize our spiritual poverty, we mourn over this.

And it’s important that when we feel guilt or sorrow over what we’ve done, to not ignore it but deal with it. In 1 John 1:8 - 9, one of Jesus’ closest disciple friends said, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Are there any unconfessed sins you need to make right with God, or with people you have sinned against? Remember, Jesus says “Blessed ARE—happy ARE (right now) -- the ones who have discovered their spiritual poverty and who mourn about it.” As I mentioned last week, once I found out I needed a root canal, I was happy to go and get it taken care of.

Now let’s look at another couple of Beatitudes. First let’s go down to verse six.

Verse 6: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.

And now down to verse eight:

Verse 8: Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.

How else can we make it through this coming week hopefully and happily?

Not only should we follow Jesus up the mountain, and discover and deplore our spiritual poverty, but we also need to develop a healthy appetite for heart-righteousness.

In other words, hunger and thirst for righteousness, which leads to a pure heart.

It’s funny how appetites change. When I was growing up on the farm, even though that farm was just a mile southwest of town, our family had such strange schedules that we basically ate at anytime of the day.

I worked the eleven-to-seven night shift at a state institution six nights a week, but also commuted 40 miles one way to college every weekday, so I would eat my mom’s breakfast after I got off work, then ride up to college with a couple of other people, and throughout that day I would eat three hamburgers, with a Doctor Pepper with each one.

Then I would come home, grab a quick supper which mom had fixed, and then I would go to work, and eat another supper at 12:30 a.m. I think I even ate some oysters at that midnight supper once, just once.

Nowadays I don’t eat any of those items. And I love what Shelley prepares for me about 10 times better than any of those previous foods. Back when I was a little kid I loved candy corn, and ate it whenever I could, which was only at Halloween time. Nowadays I could probably make it through three or four pieces, and I would say to myself, “What’s the use?”

Jesus said, “Happy ARE – not, sad now but happy sometime in the future, but happy ARE those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Happy are those who are allowing the Holy Spirit to purify their hearts.”

And just as He does in all His other Beatitudes, Jesus gives the reason for our happiness: “For they shall be filled.” Many earthly hungers are ones which can never be fully satisfied. But Jesus promises that if we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will be filled. And it is the people who have clean hearts, pure hearts, these are the ones who will “see God.”

No wonder the remorseful adulterer and murderer David wept, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.”  (Psalm 51:10 – 11)

Here was a man who, even though he had behaved shamefully and barbarically, sincerely hungered and thirsted for righteousness, and truly did want God to create within him a clean heart.

Now, here’s a key point. So far, so good. We are beginning to hunger and thirst after righteousness, and we are asking God to purify our hearts.

But we can’t stop here. I have known people who have tried to stop here. They recognize how unrighteous they are, but because they do not keep moving onward through the Beatitudes, they get obsessed with their own character and their own salvation, and stop being as concerned about others. They end up becoming joyless, legalistic grumps. On their very faces you can see the lines of someone with a critical, judgmental spirit.

So to prevent us from ending up like they are, let’s keep moving through those Beatitudes. Because the rest of these Beatitudes put into healthy action what we’ve learned so far. Glance back at verse 5:

Verse 5: Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.

How else can we make it through this coming week hopefully and happily?

We need to follow Jesus up the mountain, we need to discover and deplore our spiritual poverty, we also need to develop a healthy appetite for heart-righteousness, and we also need to master “mighty meekness.”

Yesterday morning Shelley and I took a walk in a different part of our neighborhood than where we normally go. At one point, a worried-looking lady with a dog walked toward us and asked if we could check on a house she had just passed. In its yard she had seen a large pile of wood chips or mulch, and the top of that pile was smoking.

She said she had planned on going to where her car was parked, then going home and getting on the Internet to see if a smoking mulch pile would cause a problem. (I guess she was shy about knocking on that door until she knew if there was real danger.) We told her that we would stop by the house and knock on the door and make sure the owner knew about it.

Sure enough, as we rounded the corner we saw a big pile of mulch gently smoking. I went up to attend put my hand in close to the smoke, and the pile was warm. So I went and knocked on the door of the house, and a very friendly man came out. He told us that sure enough, mulch does get warm, but he was keeping an eye on it.

As we talked, I noticed a tall radio antenna on top of his house. He said that he had been a ham radio enthusiast for many years, but had not done that recently. He told us how when CB radios became popular, hordes and hordes of people would tie up the airwaves, and would buy or make illegal amplifiers to be able to broadcast more than the maximum power allowed. Those broadcasts would encroach on the ham radio bands.

He said that what really disturbed him was to listen to all these CB radio people. Because of course everyone was anonymous if they wanted to be, and he said that a lot of people just seemed to want to stir things up. Someone would try to pick a fight on the radio with someone else, and then the language would get really bad. Then along came the Internet, and people started doing the same thing there. It’s like, under cover of anonymity, people feel as though they can ignore meekness and turn to cruel abuse. This man told us that he thinks that some people get high by doing this.

But Jesus insists on a consistent meekness. For one thing, over in Luke 12:2 – 3 He says, “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.”

A statement like that should put fear into the heart of anyone who imagines that what he or she does in secret will never be made known. It will.

Jesus’ way is to be able to come to the end of your life, and look back over it, knowing that you have not left behind you trail of injured hearts. If meekness is cowardly, Moses – the meekest man the Bible knew – was a coward. Jesus was a coward.

But there’s something else we need to remember about the meek. If the pure in heart will be the ones who will see God, then it is the meek who will inherit the earth. Not this beleaguered old planet, but the new earth the Bible promises. Forget the billion-dollar lottery. Forget any billionaire presidential candidate. The earth the meek will inherit will shrink those billions to the worth of a few cents.

So this week, even if you’re in a situation where because of your position you might think you can afford to be brusque or snappish, remember that it is the meek and not the bully who will inherit this planet.

Now take a look at verse 9:

Verse 9: Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.

The dear old King James Version becomes surprisingly inclusive here, and says “They shall be called the children of God.” Not just sons, but children.

How else can we make it through this coming week hopefully and happily?

We need to follow Jesus up the mountain, we need to discover and deplore our spiritual poverty, we also need to develop a healthy appetite for heart-righteousness, we also need to master “mighty meekness,” and we need to do peace.

That’s literally what the Greek phrase says: “Blessed are the peace-doers.” To me, that’s a bit more powerful than “peacemakers.” Are you a peace-doer?

Over the last few days there was a bright spot in the news. A few American sailors made a navigational mistake and drifted into Iranian waters, and were captured by the Iranians. Fortunately, the Iranians didn’t treat our sailors badly, and fortunately, nobody was in charge of our country whose philosophy it is to bomb anybody we don’t like.

Instead, from what we understand, people on both sides of that dilemma did some peace-doing. Nobody escalated anything, nobody got killed, and the sailors got returned, and this quiet little oasis of diplomacy reminds us of how important it is to be in the business of peacemaking.

And just as it is the meek who are going to inherit the earth, the peace-doers, the peacemakers, are going to be those God will be proud to call His children.

Are there relationships in your life that need peace? Take the first step toward peacemaking. Remember how when our sin separated us from God, He took the first step, and then a series of steps, through the evening graphs of Eden. And remember how Jesus took the first steps toward us sinners, and walked toward us, across our ground, and didn’t stop walking until He walked up the hill of Calvary.

So be one of those children of God, and take the first peacemaking step where you need to, this week.

The final two Beatitudes are side-by-side, and they both cover the same topic. Let’s start with verse 10:

Verses 10 – 12: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 How else can we make it through this coming week hopefully and happily?

We need to follow Jesus up the mountain, we need to discover and deplore our spiritual poverty, we also need to develop a healthy appetite for heart-righteousness, we also need to master “mighty meekness,” we need to do peace, and we need to not be surprised if we’re persecuted.

This is probably the set of Beatitudes which seem least able to produce happiness. But we need to remember that Jesus says not “Happy you will be sometime in the future” because of this, but “Happy ARE you,” happy right now. In other words, you can feel the deep, settled joy that Jesus promises, no matter what’s going on around you, or what is being done to you.

Just a few days ago, according to a news story in Christianity Today, the World Watch list was released. This organization tracks Christian persecution year-by-year around the world. According to them, 7000 Christians were killed for their faith this past year. This is up from 4300 the previous year. These numbers don’t include North Korea, or certain parts of Syria or Iraq, where the numbers are hard to obtain. The organization does know that 70,000 Christians are in labor camps in North Korea.

So a good prayer focus would be Christians around the world who are being harassed, and sometimes murdered, because of their belief in Jesus. And there are good people in these situations who are trying to help. The article talked about a Muslim security guard in Pakistan, who sacrificed his life to keep suicide bombers from approaching a Christian church.

So right here at the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus comes right out and tells His disciples – and any of the rest of us who want to be His disciples – that we need to be not surprised if persecution comes our way. By the way, on Sabbath, February 20, religious liberty leader Greg Hamilton will be speaking to us, both for a morning and afternoon session that day. He will have up-to-date news for us from religious liberty front lines.

It’s really is tough to think about being “happy” or “blessed” in situations like this. The same World Watch organization who keeps track of religious persecution said that often, persecuted Christians will take comfort in an old saying from India. It goes like this: “Children only throw stones at a ripe mango tree.” Persecuted Christians the world over are saying, “we are persecuted because we are doing something right. And this persecution shows that we are ripe fruit for Christ.”

So this week, if you catch a whiff of persecution for your faith, follow Jesus’ advice and “rejoice and be exceedingly glad.” Jesus thinks that persecution should really be the best news of all. Not that we go seeking for persecution, but if we stay faithful to Jesus and what He has commanded (and this is a time when we should NOT be peacemakers, not “go along to get along”), that no matter what it might cost us, to stay faithful to Him, because “great is our reward in heaven.”

Aren’t these happy hopes we have? Jesus our Creator and our Redeemer has walked the “Beatitudes path” before us. He has shown us by His example how to fulfill each of these. He has done nothing He doesn’t expect us to do. So we can walk forward into this coming week, ready for anything, because of the deep, settled happiness He promises us, if we make seeking His kingdom our highest priority.

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Expository Sermon on Matthew 5
Bellevue SDA Church 1/10/2016
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bible to Matthew chapter 5.

A couple of weeks ago I happened to be in the big upstairs meeting room at the conference office in Federal Way. It’s the same room in which the conference executive committee meets – this committee is sort of like the church board for the whole conference.

I don’t know whether what I’m about to tell you relates to something that happened at a conference committee meeting, but standing there in the room was a whiteboard. On that board was written a longish sentence. At that point I had no idea what that sentence was about, but I liked it.

The part I especially liked was where it said, “A Christ-centered message of hope and wholeness.”

I stood there and looked at that sentence, and I even got out the camera I carry on my belt and took a picture of it.

Later, I learned that this was the mission statement of the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist church. And our own Washington Conference is looking it over to see if they can adopt some parts of it for their own mission statement. In fact, this past Wednesday, all the Washington conference pastors got together and gave input as to how we can better express the mission the Lord has called us to do here in Western Washington.

And it turned out that everybody else liked the “hope and wholeness” phrase too. To me, and to my fellow pastors, that phrase sums up about as concisely and correctly as I have ever heard, what Jesus is about. Jesus comes to give us both hope and wholeness. Not just hope alone – but a hope which changes us more and more into His image, right down here on earth while we wait for His return.

I think I’m somebody who keeps a fairly close eye on what is happening in the world, at least as far as you can do that with internet news sources. And if that’s what you like to do, too, you will probably agree with me when I say that across the curve of this old planet, there are not a lot of hopeful signs.

There IS, however, a lot of hope. It’s hope that doesn’t always have a lot of encouragement to back it up, but people are still hoping. In 2014, over 3000 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean and other bodies of water hoping to reach a better life. Even more have died in 2015. Over the last couple of years, more than 1 million people with desperate hope in their hearts have embarked on those perilous water journeys. Fortunately, most make it safely across.

Others have hopes as well. The protesters who are occupying the wildlife refuge station near the town of Burns, Oregon are hoping that the United States government will give a lot of the land it is holding back to the people. And a group of Native Americans are telling the protesters that, no, this was their land first, and that the land should be returned to them.

ISIS, of course, is hoping that they can establish a gigantic caliphate where conservative sharia law can be enforced. Saudi Arabia and many other countries are hoping this won’t happen. Russia is hoping to add more Soviet-bloc countries back under its umbrella, and almost everybody else is hoping this won’t happen.

And in each of these cases, these hopes are desperate hopes. Occasionally people will do desperate things to try to achieve those hopes.

But I believe that Jesus specializes not in desperate hope but in happy hope. This morning we’re going to look again at the very first part of His very first sermon recorded in the Gospels. You might almost say that this is Jesus’ inaugural address.

And the first thing He does is not to start laying out His five-point plan to economic prosperity and world peace. Instead, it’s a message of happiness.

Actually, it’s a message of happiness that goes deeper than the standard English meaning of “happy.” If the Seahawks win their first playoff game against the Vikings tomorrow, a lot of people will be happy. But they won’t necessarily be “blessed.”

If you go to Bible Gateway and find how many different versions translate the Beatitudes, you find it most of them cautiously use “blessed” rather than “happy.” The Greek word makarios, according to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, means this: “the distinctive religious joy which accrues to man from his share in the salvation of the kingdom of God.” This is a deep, settled joy, a secure joy. You and I may not feel secure about what will happen to us this coming week, but we can feel a deep and unshakable joy about our salvation.

This is probably partly like the joy you feel when you are loved unconditionally by a spouse or a close friend, and you know that no matter what you might do, you will always have their love.

Another very important thing to realize about the Beatitudes is that Jesus chose His subjects carefully. He did not say, “Blessed are the people who are free from Roman occupation,” or “Blessed are the people whose paychecks are guaranteed.” Jesus understood that true happiness comes from far deeper sources than a nation’s freedom or a steady income.

I’d say that a top priority for us here at the beginning of the year should be to take a careful look at what Jesus says can make us deeply and securely happy. Let’s try to find out how to respond.

Matthew 5:1 [NKJV]: And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.

I see a response here, and I don’t know whether Jesus planned it this way or not. Jesus looked around at the multitudes, and rather than starting His sermon right there, He turned and headed up a hill. When I took speech class in school, the teacher told us never to turn our backs to the audience. But this is exactly what Jesus does.

The main reason, of course, was probably that the current setting was too crowded, and that not everyone who wanted to hear Him would easily be able to. The nearby mountainside probably offered more of a natural amphitheater setting where His voice could be projected farther.

But notice what happened. A multitude had gathered, presumably so they could observe Jesus in action. But then He starts walking away, and everybody has to decide what they’re going to do about that. The verse says that when Jesus found the place He wanted to sit, His disciples came to him.    

So, what happened to the multitudes? Where are they? Was the whole Sermon on the Mount delivered only into the ears of the Twelve? To answer that, turn ‘way over to the end of chapter 7, where the red print turns to black again.

Matthew 7:28: And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching,

If you have a version other than New King James, you’ll probably find another word used in place of “people.” What is that word?  It’s the word “crowds.” That’s what the original Greek word ochlos means. That’s exactly the same Greek word used back in verse 1 before the start of the Sermon, where it says that Jesus saw the “multitudes.” So a whole lot more people were listening to Jesus at the end of His sermon than were listening at the start. So they had gathered while He was speaking.

So what does this have to do with me? It means that one of the most important New Year’s resolutions I need to make is to follow Jesus to a place without distractions where I can listen to Him.

Because the twelve disciples – unless I’m missing something – were the only ones who got to hear the Beatitudes, at least until Jesus spoke them again later in His ministry, and the disciples wrote them down. So if I’m a faithful disciple of Jesus, I need to make sure that I am where I can hear Him.

That’s why it’s so important to come to Sabbath school, and not just to church. This morning you’re going to hear some truth from Jesus in this sermon, but people who faithfully come to our Sabbath school classes – all the way from Beginners through the youth department through the young adult through all of our classes – aren’t missing out on what Jesus might want to tell them each Sabbath.

There are many ways to be present when Jesus wants to communicate something. Several people I know are listening to audio versions of the Bible as they walk or drive. Others study Scripture off a computer tablet. A few weeks ago I found a King James version that omits the verse numbers, and I’ve downloaded that and I’m reading it through and enjoying it, because I was raised on the old King James version.

Make sure you choose a devotional plan that puts real Bible into your mind. A couple of people at Candlelight Communion last night mentioned that passages of Scripture they had memorized were very encouraging to them at various points throughout the year. We need to get real Bible into our minds, because you don’t need me to tell you that there are plenty of people, online and otherwise, who are perfectly happy to try to convince you of what they believe the Bible says.

But you and I need to study it for ourselves, like those faithful church members at Berea, who studied the Scriptures to find out if Paul was preaching the truth. A couple of days ago I got an email from the conference office, forwarding a letter from a conference president several states away from here.

The letter told about an Adventist husband and wife who had developed a weird and scripture-twisting belief about what they claimed was a new Bible time prophecy. They had been going around teaching those ideas, along with other ideas which were not in agreement with the Bible, and they had been causing confusion and discord.

Finally, their activities became so disruptive that their local church was forced to take their names off the books. While claiming to be Adventists, they were teaching ideas which were not biblical and were very divisive. To allow them to continue to claim church membership would give people twisted ideas about Adventism and cause even further trouble down the road.

So let’s make a habit of following Jesus to a place where He can have our full attention – in our home devotions as well as our church – and listen to what He and His fellow Bible writers really tell us, first-hand.

So now, if we are interested in not merely hope but “happy hope,” let’s hear what Jesus has to say.

Matthew 5:1 – 3: And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

If you’re taking down sermon points this morning, maybe the first one could be—

Follow Jesus up the mountain.

In other words, follow Him to a place where you can hear His voice, here what He is wanting to say to you.

The second point, which we’ve seen in the verses I just read, could go like this—

Recognize your spiritual poverty.

At first glance, that doesn’t sound very much like it could generate “happy hope.” But Jesus said, “Blessed [or happy] [or deeply joyful] are the poor in spirit.” In other words, the ones who recognize their spiritual needs.

In Luke 5, Simon Peter had been part of a fishing crew who had lowered their nets into the Sea of Galilee all night long, and had caught not one single fish. But in the morning, Jesus comes along and urges them to take out the boat and try one more time.

And immediately the net squirms and sags with fish, and starts to rip. And in Luke 5:8, when Peter realizes that divine power is at work, the verse says, “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

And this recognition of spiritual poverty happened again and again, not only through the Gospels but throughout the Bible. When Isaiah saw God’s glory in the temple, he said, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)

So if, as you follow Jesus up the mountain and listen carefully to what He and other Bible writers say about your soul, if you feel suddenly very sinful or unworthy, that’s okay. That is what is supposed to happen. In fact, you are in serious danger if you don’t feel spiritually poor. In Revelation 3, Jesus firmly warns the church at Laodicea that He is tempted to gag, to spit them out of His mouth. Why? Here’s what He says: “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked . . .”

But Jesus hadn’t given up on Laodicea, of course. In the verses that follow, He promptly tells them what they need to do to pull them out of their dangerous apathy.

Because, take another look at this first beatitude. Notice its amazing second half.

Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Do you feel spiritually poor? Then the kingdom of heaven is yours. It stays being yours, of course, if you don’t lose that sense of spiritual poverty and allow yourself to become apathetic and Laodicean. Remember the father of the demon-possessed boy in Mark chapter 9? After he tells Jesus about the horrible way the demons are hurting his son, the father says, “If You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” (Mark 9:22)

And Jesus’ sensitive ears picked up on the “If.” And immediately He presents the father with an “if” of His own. He says, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

And in one of the Bible’s most heart-wrenching heart-cries, the father sobs, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” And Jesus promptly ejected that demon and restored that boy to health. This dad had suddenly realized how faith-poor he was, and he did what anyone else who is faith-poor needs to do—he cried out to Jesus to strengthen his faith.

Ellen White wrote a little book on the Sermon on the Mount called Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, which I would highly recommend you get hold of a copy of, and read it right along with Matthew 5-7. On page 7 of this book she says, “Whom Christ pardons, He first makes penitent, and it is the office [or “work”] of the Holy Spirit to convince of sin.”

Just before Christmas, I discovered that one of my teeth was starting to hurt. It didn’t ache continuously – it wasn’t a cavity – but whenever I tried to bite on that side of my mouth, the tooth sounded the alarm.

Did I consider myself happy? Or blessed? Not a whole lot. Just days earlier, my tooth didn’t hurt. However, after the pain had sent me to my dentist, he discovered that this tooth needed a root canal.

And even though my tooth was hurting, once I got the word that I needed a root canal, I was fine with that. Root canals are no fun, as you know if you’ve had them, but since I had gone through several myself, I knew that this root canal would bring my tooth to the place where it didn’t hurt anymore. So I was tranquil, and I made the appointment with an endodontist, and got it done. It took 2 ½ hours, because there was an extra little canal in there that they hadn’t seen with the x-rays, but they did their job so well that I actually spent most of the time they were working on me, asleep. They deadened the nerves, of course, but  they hadn’t given me anything to put me under, it’s just that I always sleep in the dentist’s chair.

Just as, blessed are they who understand when their teeth need working on, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. In both cases, they know they need fixing, and they put themselves in the hands of the specialists.

Next week we’re going to look at the rest of the Beatitudes, but why not do as I plan to do – create and maintain a daily time where Jesus can speak to you through His Word the Bible, and respond to any feelings of spiritual poverty by asking Jesus to forgive you and restore you?

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Expository Sermon on Hebrews 11
Bellevue SDA Church 01/02/16
©2016 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Hebrews chapter 11.

I don’t know if you are actively activating any New Year’s resolutions this year. Yesterday I did a search on the top 10 new year’s resolutions, and I came up with a researched list.

The people who operated the website where I found this list were also promoting the city of Pittsburgh, so once they had listed a resolution, they promptly supplied their readers with places in Pittsburgh you could go to help you keep those resolutions.

Anyway, here’s the list of what the website said were the top ten New Year’s resolutions people made.

1. Spend more time with family and friends.
2. Fit in fitness.
3. Tame the bulge.
4. Quit smoking.
5. Enjoy life more.
6. Quit drinking.
7. Get out of debt.
8. Learn something new.
9. Help others.
10. Get organized.

Of course, you and I don’t have to go all the way to Pittsburgh to make and keep these resolutions. And they’re all good ones.

As most of you know, at the beginning of every year our church has a special communion service we call Candlelight Communion. It happens up in the Fellowship Hall, and it’s a time when we spend some thoughtful moments celebrating the Lord’s Supper together. You are invited to join us there. We set out a lot of chairs, and we can bring out more if we need them. So please join us at 7 PM this coming Friday evening.

I would like to thank the students in the Wednesday night Bible study class for the idea for this sermon. They have been doing some thoughtful study on the sanctuary, which of course looked forward to Jesus’ sacrifice as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Some of the class members suggested that it would be nice if there was some way of helping people think about the communion service so we could all prepare for it.

In a way, such an orientation shouldn’t actually be necessary. Even though Jesus Himself was going to be transforming the Passover service into a far simpler commemoration of His death, there’s no record of His having any special conversation about that service. Actually, everything He taught, every parable He told, every sermon point in the Sermon on the Mount, all this was meant to prepare His friends for the events of that terrible, glorious weekend.

It’s the same today. Every Sabbath school class discussion, every encouraging bit of good news in the Celebration and Concerns time, every song, every sermon – all of these should add up to preparing us for this special communion service. In other words, we all should be paying attention to God, all through the year.

However, I remember back in my home church in South Dakota, how every time the communion service happened, the attendance would drop. Only a few would stay. And I think part of the reason was something Paul said here in First Corinthians chapter 11. Let’s take a look at those verses for a moment.

1 Corinthians 11:27 – 28 [NKJV]: Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

I think that this must have been part of what scared people off. No conscientious Christian wants to take part in communion in an unworthy manner, so I think folks just stayed away.

By the way, I am delighted at the large attendance we have at our communion services here, especially the ones in the sanctuary Sabbath morning. Because this is how Jesus wants it. In Luke 22:15, as He sat there in the upper room and gazed around His disciples, He said, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” And all His disciples were present. Not a one of them was missing.

And not a one of them was sinless, or perfect. Sitting at that very table was a man who in just a few hours would loudly and profanely deny that he had ever been acquainted with Jesus. Sitting nearby was another man who would just flat-out disbelieve that Jesus had come back to life after He was resurrected.

In just a few hours, those two men and everybody else around that table would be running for their lives, deserting their closest Friend. All except one man – the one who would betray Jesus to His enemies. He would later stagger away in frustration and fright and hang himself.

Yet Jesus wanted them there at that table. He knew them all very well, but He wanted them there. If you are thinking ahead to this coming Friday night, wondering if you should be there, remember that Jesus wants you there. Because He will be there, gathered with many more than two or three in attendance.

So what about the “eating and drinking unworthily” issue here in First Corinthians 11? Since this chapter is the only one that says anything about worthiness or unworthiness at the Last Supper, we owe it to the apostle Paul – and to Paul’s Savior – to find out just what is being spoken of here, to put our minds at rest. And I’m certain that what we leaern this morning can also prepare us for the New Year.

Anybody who reads all the way through the book of First Corinthians will quickly discover that this was one crazy bunch of Christians. No other church Paul wrote letters to had the problems the Corinthian church had. We won’t go through what all was going on there, but just keep in mind that these were a bunch of loose cannons.

This will set the stage for what Paul is about to tell them right now, starting in verse 17.

1 Corinthians 11:17 – 18: Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.

Paul is leading up to talking about how some of the Corinthian Christians would behave at the Lord’s Supper. And the first thing he mentions are the “divisions” that exist in that group. The Greek word there is schisma, which is where we get our word “schism,” which means “the separation or division into factions.”

We’ve got to be careful that we don’t jump to conclusions here. The only way we know for sure what these “divisions” are is by reading the rest of this chapter. We can’t assume that these are doctrinal divisions – we have to go with what’s right here in this context.

But first, let’s lay down Sermon Point One.

What do Paul and Jesus tell us about preparing to celebrate the Lord’s Supper?

The Lord’s Supper is the time to lay down our differences.

Even back at the very first communion service, there were differences and divisions among the disciples. In Luke 22:24, right here as that Last Supper was happening, it says, “Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest.”

Talk about divisions and differences. Each of these men was jockeying for the most important position. Who would be greatest in the kingdom of God?

And there at those rowdy Corinthian communion services, Paul says that there were divisions, and differences. He gets specific starting in verse 20.

Verses 20 – 21: Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk.

So here, when Paul is talking about divisions or differences, he doesn’t seem to be talking theology. Instead, he’s talking about that same old selfish “me-first” attitude which the original disciples displayed. Evidently, people were bringing their own food to these communion services, and the wealthier people brought richer food – and maybe even alcoholic beverages – and the poor people brought simple food. Everybody just started in eating, whenever and however much they wanted.

It sounds like chaos, and it must’ve been. And Paul flatly tells them in verse 20 that whatever they were doing, they were not celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

So what does this have to do with us? In all my 30-plus years of pastoring, I have never seen people bring their own food to the communion service. So this part of these verses won’t apply to us this coming Friday night.

But what about other divisions and differences there might be in our lives? Is there someone I need to reconcile with? Is there a family situation that really should be resolved, inasmuch as it’s in our power to resolve it? Even in your own immediate family, does someone need to ask forgiveness, and does the other person need to show forgiveness? And as I say, this is not only a prepare-your-hearts-for-communion issue, but an excellent 2016 New Year’s resolution.

Because there at Friday night’s communion service, we will all be sitting, and lifting reverently to our lips the symbols of Jesus’ body and blood. There we will be accepting His sacrifice for our sins, and absorbing it symbolically into ourselves. That bread and that sweet liquid assure us that we can be forgiven for whatever we have done. And any person we may have a difference with can be forgiven too. Isn’t that a precious truth to take with us into 2016?

Why not think about this over the next few days, and make things right with someone if you need to? And maybe this can even be done during the footwashing ceremony itself. Ellen White once mentioned that in early Adventism, the footwashing time was when people asked forgiveness of each other if this was needed.

Now let’s keep reading First Corinthians 11, and we’ll find out something else Paul and his Savior would like us to know about the Lord’s Supper—and something which can be a powerful New Year’s resolution for us.

You are about to see one of the deeply interesting things about studying Bible passages in their context. For many years I have been reading verses 23 through 26 aloud at every communion service. I had just automatically assumed that in these verses Paul was simply re-educating the forgetful Corinthians, reviewing the details of what happened at the Lord’s Supper.

But these verses are not stand-alone verses. They belong right in this chapter, in this context. Some versions of the New King James Version, and maybe other Bibles, will separate these verses into a little block of their own, with the title “Institution of the Lord’s Supper.” But we need to mentally eliminate all these little helpful titles and subheadings added in by the Bible printers. They are not inspired.

Watch what happens when I read these verses in their context. Let’s start with verse 20.

Verses 20 – 25: Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you. For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

Doesn’t the context give it a different focus? Now, these verses are not simply a recap of how Jesus conducted the first communion service. Instead, Paul uses these simple Lord’s Supper details to show the sharp contrast between Jesus’ original service and the disjointed and sometimes drunken chaos of how the Corinthians did communion.

In fact, let’s lay down Sermon Point Two. What do Paul and Jesus tell us about preparing to celebrate the Lord’s Supper?

The Lord’s Supper is not only the time to lay down our differences; it is also the time to cherish the Supper’s simplicity.

This week I saw a New Yorker magazine cartoon which pictured a doctor in his office talking to a man who was his patient. The doctor is looking at his computer screen, and he says to the man, “I’ve got you on the waiting list, but I think it’s for a Birkin bag.”

That was the first I had never heard of a Birkin bag. But by coincidence, also this week I happened to hear a National Public Radio interview about these handbags. A Birkin purse will cost you between $10,000 and $200,000. If that boggles your imagination, it boggled mine too. The NPR interviewer first talked to a woman who had wanted a Birkin bag for a long time and had finally come up with the money to buy one.

And then the interviewer talked with an experienced marketer. She asked him, (and I’m paraphrasing) “Is it really true that these bags are so special that they take a long time to make, and that’s why they are in such short supply, and have to have long waiting lists?”

And he told her no, of course not. Those waiting lists are marketing ploys. Even very rich people can become fascinated and obsessed with something that is just barely out of their reach, and the length of those waiting lists merely increases the hunger for these handbags, and makes people willing to pay those exorbitant prices.

As you can imagine, Paul would have been firmly against this kind of status-seeking. Keep some kind of marker here in chapter 11, and flip back to First Corinthians chapter 1. Paul is firmly on the side of the humble.

1 Corinthians 1:26 – 29: For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.

The Lord’s Supper is the time to cherish that supper’s simplicity. It is staggeringly simple. As a contrast, keep in mind the beauty and the complexity of the Old Testament tabernacle – the exact measurements required, the specific recipe for the incense which was not to be used for common purposes, think of the careful carvings and stitchings and metalwork.

But one Thursday night a little over 2000 years ago, Heaven’s High Priest sat in a humble upstairs chamber, no gold on the walls, no embroidered curtains separating one part of the room from another, no glorious candlestick ablaze, just humble little oil lamps. The bread was not resting ceremonially on a beautifully carved table, inaccessible to common lips and teeth.

No, the Savior who had given those sanctuary instructions now sat with His friends and broke a common piece of bread and held a common cup filled with common grape juice. The Lord’s Supper is the time to celebrate that Supper’s (and that Savior’s) simplicity.

So what do I do, now that I know this? Before Friday night, why not think about your life – after all, the turning of the year is often when we do this. As you move into 2016, is there anywhere you need to simplify, downsize, downscale, down to the level of your Savior? Nothing should be higher than Him – nothing in our lives should supersede Him.

Now let’s look at just one more thing we can learn from Paul about the communion service, something we need to carry with us into the new year.

1 Corinthians 11:26 – 29: For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.

What else do Paul and Jesus tell us about preparing to celebrate the Lord’s Supper?

The Lord’s Supper is the time to lay down our differences; and it is the time to cherish this Supper’s simplicity; and it is also the time to remember what this service is about—Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

Because just as that flat crust of Palestine bread was real, Jesus’ boday was real – and it was cruelly broken. And just as that dark, delicious maroon grape juice was real, Jesus’ blood was real, and it was cruelly spilled.

If you’ve attended our Candlelight Communion service as before, you know that while that service is thoughtful, it is not gloomy. Because as we eat the crisp, flat pieces of bread our deaconesses will have baked, and as we drink from those glasses, we will be celebrating the most glorious event in human history – a God who cared enough about those He created that He became them, and died for them.
And that would be a wonderful thing to contemplate as Friday evening approaches. You can face the new year with the highest courage, because God utterly loves you.

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Expository Sermon on 2 Timothy 1
On the occasion of Sabrina Topp's baptism

Bellevue SDA Church 12/12/2015
©2015 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles again to Second Timothy chapter 1.

As you know, this is the season of gift-giving. Kids are filled with hope that their parents have taken their hints and requests seriously. And parents have been trying to gauge just how strong their children’s desires have been for this or that toy.

By the time I was probably six years old, I had developed a deep fascination for road graders. A lot of the rural South Dakota roads where we lived were still nothing but dirt, and whenever I saw one of those long yellow road graders in action, its blade hanging halfway between the front tires in the back tires, authoritatively scraping the road surface, it’s like I was hypnotized. I guess it was the tremendous power that fascinated me, the ability to smooth those rocky roads and make them perfectly level, no matter what was in the way.

I don’t ever remember asking for a toy road grader. I think my dad was so tickled by my interest in them that he must have ordered one from the Sears catalog. And sure enough, when I unwrapped my Christmas presents, there it was. And sure enough, it was yellow just like the real ones, and as a bonus it was made of heavy duty toy metal. So as soon as the snow melted away, I was out in the yard on my knees, pushing that little road grader back and forth through real dirt.

As you know, parents are givers. Parents give all kinds of gifts to their kids. A tiny number of these presents are things the kids have asked for, and look forward to, for birthdays or Christmas presents.
But the vast majority of parental gifts aren’t wrapped up in pretty wrapping paper. They are just given. And when the kids get them, they rarely squeal with delight. Because kids take those gifts for granted.
When you think of it, parents do little else but give. First, they give life. Then they give love, then shelter, then food, then clothing. They give round-the-clock care. As their children grow, parents give mentoring and modeling.

And God – who is also a Parent – does exactly the same. He does carefully give us some of what we earnestly ask for. But mostly He provides us with “mom and dad” types of gifts, the gifts that truly nurture and protect.

And here in Second Timothy chapter 1, we are going to discover just a few of the gifts God has on his “gift list” for Sabrina, and for the rest of us. Let’s go ahead and unwrap them.

Just to set the stage, this is the second letter that we have record of which Paul sent to his young pastor friend Timothy. We get the impression that Timothy must have needed a bit of cheering up, so Paul promptly does everything he can to encourage him. Part of this encouragement is reminding Timothy of several wonderful gifts God gives us.

2 Timothy 1:1 – 2 [NKJV]: Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus . . . .

Do you see the first of God’s gifts mentioned in this chapter? It’s the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus.

This week Shelley and I received a card from my younger sister Penny. Penny lives on a farm probably 20 miles southwest of town we grew up in, Redfield, South Dakota.

A few weeks ago, Penny lost her husband Ken after several years of failing health. Ken was a farmer, and after his death, several nearby farmers converged upon his land and finished his harvesting for him. I think it must’ve been Ken’s younger son Nick who drove his dad’s combine down the very last row, the last pass, of the harvest.

The front of this card is a photo of Ken’s combine, parked at the end of that last row, silhouetted against the sunset. And inside the card, here’s what Penny handwrote:

Dear Maylan and Shelley,

As the sun sets on the end of the final pass of Ken’s last harvest (here on earth, as we know it) a new season is ushered in! As fall turns to winter, our hearts are saddened with the loss of my “Honey,” the kids’ father, and “Papa” to the grandbabies! But in time, the sun will return and shine on the cold and dark days, and with its warmth will bring a season anew! [And here she speaks to Ken] We will see you when the Son returns!

Penny and Ken have been both solidly Christian, and because of that they were very familiar with the promise of life in Jesus Christ. Penny is grieving, but as Paul says, she is not grieving like those who have no hope. She trusts in Jesus and His resurrection.

And this promise of life is a wonderful gift of God. God did not wire our minds to become comfortable with death. Instead, we are most comfortable with staying alive. We want to keep on living.

What shall we do, now that we’ve been reminded of this? Let’s do as Sabrina is doing today. Let’s choose life. Because that’s what Paul talks about in his discussion of baptism at the start of Romans six:

Romans 6:3 – 5: Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,

This morning, Sabrina has reenacted Jesus’ death, His burial, and His resurrection, right over there in that baptismal pool. Jesus loves to have us act out our faith in Him, just as He will be the delighted guest at the wedding later this month when Jonathan and Sabrina “act out” joining their lives in my brother’s church in Oregon. So today, Sabrina has – in a way – been married to Jesus, which will make her marriage to Jonathan even happier.

There are a lot of gifts in this chapter, and we won’t be able to cover them all, but let’s look at the next little cluster of them.

2 Timothy 1:1 – 2: Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, a beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Isn’t this a beautiful gift bouquet?  “Grace, mercy, and peace.” If that phrase sounds familiar to you, that’s pretty much the way Paul began all his New Testament letters. Most of the time in his salutations he simply uses the phrase “Grace and peace,” but in both letters to Timothy, he adds “mercy” in the middle, and also he does this when he is writing to Titus. John also uses this same phrase in his second little letter.

What is grace? The American Heritage Dictionary says that grace is “A favor rendered by one who need not do so.” In other words, grace is unmerited favor. Grace is overwhelming generosity which you and I did not earn.

Have you ever been offered a gift so generous that you felt like you had to refuse it? Several years ago a woman who had been a beloved teacher at one of our Adventist schools in Western Washington got cancer as she was retiring. She knew that I played musical instruments, and one day she called me to come over to her house in Edmonds. And she presented me with a beautiful polished-wood bowed psaltery. Jeanette Salsman plays one, and so do Carolyn Howson and Carrol Grady.

What a special gift that little psaltery was. I was so touched that I found it difficult to accept, but I recognized that she really wanted me to have it. My tendency on receiving a gift like that is to say to myself, “How will I ever be able to pay this back? What could I ever do in return?”

God’s grace is an overwhelmingly generous gift. All of us are sinners. The Bible firmly insists that anything that we do that we think is righteous is really like a filthy rag. That is how personally polluted we are. “There is none righteous, no, not one.”

If we are laboring under the fantasy that, well, maybe we are not so bad, there are a lot of other people more bad than we are, then we are just like the Pharisee in the Temple who prayed pompously, thanking God that he was better than everybody else, especially that corrupt tax collector who seemed to be begging God for mercy in the corner. Yet when the two men’s prayers were over, it was the tax collector who was forgiven, and not the Pharisee, because the Pharisee didn’t think he had anything which needed forgiving.

Is it true that God’s grace is for everyone? If you’re still in Second Timothy, flip ahead a couple of pages in your Bible to Titus chapter 2. It’s the book immediately after Second Timothy.

Titus 2:11 – 14: For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men . . . .

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? And by “all men” Paul of course means “all women” too. God’s grace has appeared to Sabrina, and to Shelley, and to all the women and men and the boys and girls in the world.

So what do we do in response to God’s grace? Stay right here in Titus 2 and we’ll see. Because just like many of the gifts our kids will be receiving in a couple of weeks, God’s gift of grace comes with a list of instructions for making it work most effectively.

In fact, if you are looking for Bible passages to memorize, this is a wonderful one. The verses we are about to read, I think, summarize the very balanced Seventh-day Adventist message:

Titus 2:11 – 14: For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.

So there you have it—grace, and its follow-through.

The gift of grace is something like that little yellow road grader my dad gave me. Let’s say that once I had torn off the wrapping paper and found that little road grader nestled in its box, let’s say that I had told Dad, “Thank you very much, Dad!” And let’s say I had placed that box carefully on the floor and just sat there looking at it.

Dad would say to me, “Well, aren’t you going to open it up?”

And I would say, “No, I’m going to keep it in its box, because one of these days it’s going to become a collector’s item, and I don’t want to get it dirty or scratched up.”

And Dad’s jaw would sag, and he would stare at me, and mom would come over and touch the back of her fingers to my forehead to see if I had a fever.

Because their whole point of giving me that road grader was to have the fun of watching me roll it across the floor, making engine-growls in my throat, and watcing me go out later and scrape that little blade through the half-dried mud of a South Dakota spring.

Or you could say that grace is like a heart transplant. Once that new heart is beating within you, you need to work with the physicians to strengthen it and get ready to get yourself back to a normal life.
Paul wrote to Titus that the grace of God not only brings salvation, but it immediately begins to teach us several things – to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, to live soberly, righteously and godly, and to allow Jesus to redeem us from every lawless deed and purify us as His own special people, who are zealous to do good works. You could call that “Grace – the Full Story.”

I’m going to have to skip over some wonderful gifts in Second Timothy 1. We could talk about the gift of mercy, which the dictionary defines as “a disposition to be kind and forgiving.” We could talk about the gift of peace, which is the soul-calming result of really understanding God’s grace and mercy.

And we could also talk about the gift of the faith heritage that Timothy received from his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. Both Jonathan and Sabrina have a wonderful Seventh-day Adventist faith heritage they are returning to. That heritage is going to make it pretty easy for them to move right back into the faith they grew up in.

And if any of the rest of you have such a heritage, treasure it, and pass it on to your kids. Don’t treat it lightly. Because a lot of prayer and mentoring and hard work and church school tuition bills went into giving you that heritage.

And if you don’t have this kind of faith heritage, start building it right now. Come to church regularly, attend a Sabbath school class, make sure your kids are in the children’s Bible classes. Get them into Kirkland Adventist School or Puget Sound Adventist Academy.

I can leave this chapter without showing you just one more incredibly valuable cluster of gifts on God’s gift list.

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.

It’s pretty easy to be afraid these days, isn’t it? The other day I got an email from our homeowners association telling us that a woman was caught stealing packages off porches in our very neighborhood. And the other night I discovered that our neighbor across our back fence has installed a brilliant backyard light beside his patio door, and I have to tightly adjust the slats of our bedroom shade, or that blazing light will smack me right in the eye as I’m trying to get to sleep. Obviously, he wants to make sure a potential burglar knows that that yard is fully illuminated.

And these are just minor fears compared to the ones which could really frighten us.

But let’s read these gift-list items again:

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.

The next time I feel fear stealing over me, I’m going to claim this verse. I’m going to say, “Lord, you said you have not given us a spirit of fear, but of power. Please let me sense your power at this moment.”
Then let’s also claim the spirit of love – which my Greek New Testament tells me is agape love, the same love as in John 3:16: “For God so loved . . . .”

And please, don’t neglect to claim the spirit of a sound mind. I don’t know about you, but I almost start frothing at the mouth when I listen to political discussions by people who seem to have lost much of the soundness of their minds.

If we know that God’s power is ours for the asking, and if we know that we do not have to cherish a spirit of fear (I’m sure it’s fear which gives rise to a lot of political paranoia), and if we can maintain love even for our enemies, and if we could remember to be grown-ups in our thinking, to be patient and humble and unwilling to jump quickly to conclusions, then we would be unwrapping and putting into excellent use these blood-pressure-reducing gifts of God.

Now let’s take a look at a verse which has been made into at least one song. In fact as your eyes follow along while I read it, you will probably hear the melody in your mind.

In this verse, Paul will express how confident he is in heaven’s great Gift-giver, the one Jesus called our Heavenly Father. Let’s pick this verse up partway through verse 12:

Verse 12: . . . for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.

Isn’t that what faith is all about? It’s about really knowing someone. It’s about knowing how much God has invested in this planet and in His children – even his wandering children – knowing God so well that we can trust Him to keep us in His care.

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Expository Sermon on Hebrews 11
Bellevue SDA Church 12/6/2015
©2015 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Hebrews chapter 11.

If you were here last Sabbath, you might remember that we began a two-part sermon series on the “pilgrims” we meet in Hebrews chapter 11. In just the first 12 or 13 verses of this chapter, several people are mentioned. And even though relatively few of them literally traveled long distances from one place to another like pilgrims do, verse 13 says that whether they were travelers or stay-at-home-ers, they were all pilgrims.

Hebrews 11:13 [NKJV]: These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

Before we continue through the chapter, let me tell you about a news story I heard about this week. If you grew up as a Christian young person  (or if you are one now), and if you resolved to keep hold of your Christian faith, you knew how a pilgrim feels. Every day you walked out your front door, you discovered that you were a stranger in a strange land. So many temptations lay in wait for you, temptations to do things or say things or view things or ingest things that you knew a good Christian shouldn’t.

And I think that the sooner a young person gets used to the idea that following Jesus is more important that following other people, the easier it is. You’ve got to decide that early on, and the earlier you decide it, the better. It won’t be totally easy, but at least you will have made that decision—and you’ll be better able to deal with what comes along.

This past Monday, at Holy Trinity high school in the town of Torbay, Newfoundland and Labrador, a senior named Lynelle Cantwell was in math class when she learned that she and some other students had been ranked in an anonymous online poll as the ugliest girls at Holy Trinity High. Lynelle herself was number four on the list.

I heard about this story on the way home from prayer meeting Wednesday. I was listening to a Canadian radio program, where the program’s hosts were honoring this girl for her response.

Lynelle had several ways she could’ve responded to this harrassment. She could have ignored the ranking. She could have gone into a brief depression, and then tried to get on with her life. Or she could have struck back with a similarly vicious poll of her own.

But Lynelle decided to be a grownup.

A newspaper article quotes her this way (I’ll put the link along with my sermon on the website later): Lynelle says, "It outraged me ... all of these girls are hurt because of this one person who has no heart or sympathy for anything. I wanted to be the bigger person, and instead of fighting fire with fire, I decided to fight it a different way and make something that was really negative into something really positive."
So here is what she wrote on what has become a viral Facebook post (I’ll quote part of it):

 “To the person that made the "ugliest girls in grade 12 at hth [Holy Trinity High] " . . .I'm sorry that your life is so miserable that you have to try to bring others down. To the 12 people that voted for me to bring me to 4th place. I'm sorry for you too. I'm sorry that you don't get to know me as a person. I know that i'm not the prettiest thing to look at. I know i have a double chin and i fit in XL clothes. I know i don't have the perfect smile or the perfect face. But i'm sorry for you. Not myself.  . . . .  I'm sorry that you'll never get the chance to know the kind of person i am. I may not look okay on the outside.. But i'm funny, nice, kind, down to earth, not judgemental, accepting, helpful, and i'm super easy to talk to. Thats the same for every other girl on that list that you all put down. Just because we don't look perfect on the outside does not mean we are ugly. If thats your idea of ugly then i feel sorry for you. Like seriously? Get a life.”

Here's a link to read about this:

I don’t know whether Lynelle is a Christian—since she’s going to a Catholic high school she might be—but I do know that she is a pilgrim. She is someone who decided to walk courageously through persecution (as many pilgrims do) and blaze new trails of decency and maturity.

I think that each of us – no matter how young or how old we are – needs to decide whether or not to behave in a grown-up way. I’ve known kids who are more grown-up than their parents seem to be.

The people here in Hebrews 11 decided to approach their challenges in a grown-up way, which meant that they journeyed resolutely away from the Land of Self and toward the kingdom of God.

Last week I pointed out that the very first “faith hero” in this chapter is not Abraham or Noah, but “we.” Look at verse 3:

Hebrews 11:3 [NKJV]: By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
In other words – and here is the first of the two sermon points we covered last week, which you can find online at our church website – here was the sermon point I drew from that.

To become a pilgrim, I must believe that God can control what He creates.

In other words, since God created everything out of nothing, He can exert control whenever He wants to. The Bible is full of stories, end to end, where God turns what we think of as natural laws on their heads. He speaks, and things appear which didn’t appear before. He predicts the future. He gives an aged couple their own baby. He parts large bodies of water. He somehow stops the rotation of the earth so the sun stands still above a battle.

God can do exactly what He wants, when He wants. If I want to be courageously successful as one of His pilgrims, I need to believe that.

Last week we also looked at the story of Abel. Abel brought the right kind of sacrifice to God – a sacrifice which pointed toward the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. And here was sermon point two:

Last week I also suggested that to be a pilgrim, I must also believe that I can’t save me – but God can.

Now let’s meet this chapter’s third “faith pilgrim.” As we’ll see, this man took the most astonishing pilgrim journey of them all.

Verse 5: By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

When I was a kid, I would read that verse and say, “Lucky Enoch.” Enoch got to walk right into heaven. But at the same time, I would feel a little uneasy. When it says that Enoch pleased God, I would get the idea that maybe God was looking everybody with a stern or dissatisfied expression, and then He suddenly sees Enoch and His eyes light up. “Finally,” He says. “Here’s somebody who pleases Me. Finally!” I figured it was kind of like pleasing your boss at work, keeping him happy.

But there’s more to the story than what we read here in Hebrews 11. If you go back and read Enoch’s story in Genesis 5, you’ll see that it says that “Enoch walked with God.”

As I studied Enoch’s story, it suddenly struck me that Enoch was giving God the personal companionship that God had hoped for from Adam and Eve. Because as soon as Adam and Eve sinned, they ran from God, and He had to walk sadly through the garden and find them, and try to get a conversation going again.

But Enoch was evidently someone who sought God’s company every day. Enoch would have had some kind of gainful employment, of course, but he didn’t let that stop him from seeking God’s presence every day. He must not have just prayed in the morning. He must have talked to God on the way to work, hummed hymns on the job, and so on.

And this pleased God. Not in the sense that Enoch was cheering up a grumpy deity, or buttering up a boss. By wanting to walk with Him at every opportunity, Enoch was giving pleasure to God. We need to remember that God created us to be friends with Him. And this means that He is incredibly lonely unless we pay Him some attention.

And look at the next couple of verses here in Hebrews 11. These can easily be misunderstood, and can be a bit intimidating, until we think about them.

Verses 5 – 6: By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Again, this could be a bit scary if we read it the wrong way. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him?” Doesn’t that set kind of a high bar? How do I know my faith is of the kind that would be possible to please God?

I think, rather than being intimidated by this call to a strong faith, we need to remember just how much we already live by faith. Outside our church at the intersection is an array of red and green and yellow lights. Thousands of people move through that intersection every day, coming from all points of the compass. Some of them go straight through, some of them turn right, some of them turn left.

And I have never seen or heard of an accident at that intersection. There probably have been accidents there, but they have been comfortingly rare. You never hear about them on the news. And why are all those ton-and-a-half motorized machines so safe? Because of faith. Through faith, drivers believe that when the light is green, they can go ahead, because through faith, they also believe that when their light is green, the lights controlling the traffic to the left and right are red.

All of us already live by faith pretty much every second of the day. We go to sleep believing that we will wake up. We eat our food believing that it will nourish us. We dial 911 believing that a law enforcement person or fire department or aid car will come and help us. And I stand here right now, saying things, and I trust that the AV system will send these sounds into your ears, and that your ears will send my words to your brain, and that your brain will translate them into things you can understand.

If we can have such overwhelming faith in these earthly things, why would it be so difficult to have faith in our Creator? Right now I’m reading a book which talks about the extreme complexity of the human brain. Each of our brains has about 100 billion neurons. If you were going to count each of those neurons out loud, counting one neuron per second, you would’ve had to have started counting back at the time of Samuel, a little over 1000 BC, in order to get all of your brain’s neurons counted by today! Because counting them one every second would take over 3,000 years.

And it almost makes my blood run cold to think about how astonishing it is that all of these billions of neurons can connect with each other in the various areas of the brain in order to do something as simple as understand a sentence, or catch a ball which someone has thrown to you, or even tie your shoe.

So it’s like God is saying to us, “Hey. Even though you have a wonderful brain, it’s really a no-brainer to have faith in Me. You live by faith in thousands of earthly ways – why not extend that same faith-courtesy to Me, and let Me have the pleasure of knowing you trust Me?”

So how do you please God? You give pleasure to God the way Enoch did. You bring Him into your life. You spend time with Him. You become a companion of God. You trust Him.

Tell Him that you want to walk with Him like Enoch did, and ask Him to show you how. Your Bible, of course, must be the central part of this. That’s where we find the most dependable information about God.
But we need to mention the sermon point that comes out of this. How can I be a pilgrim?

To become a pilgrim, I must believe that God can control what He creates, and I must believe that I can’t save me – but God can. And to be a pilgrim, I must also believe that God is homesick for me.

You see, God enjoyed those walks with Enoch. He looked forward to them. If Enoch skipped this friendship for a day, which he probably rarely did, God was lonely. Can we believe, can we have faith, that God is homesick for us? Can we stop thinking of Him as a remote, relatively emotionless alien, but instead as the doting Father Jesus always told us He was?

Now let’s look at the next” faith pilgrim.

Verse 7: By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

What can I learn from Noah about how to be God’s kind of pilgrim?

To become a pilgrim, I must not only believe that God can control what He creates, and that I can’t save me – but God can, and that God is truly homesick for me, but in order to be a pilgrim, I must also believe that since God will finally cleanse my planet, I need to get myself and my family ready.

I think I’ve mentioned before in other sermons how when I was a teenage full-time worker at Sunshine Dairies in Redfield, South Dakota, we used two powerful cleansers. One of them was Dilac, which looked like Coke. The other was Diton A, which was a pink powder.

If you used them individually, they were pretty effective. But if there happened to be an oil or grease spot on the cement floor in the bottling room, and you couldn’t get that out with Diton A alone, you just laid down a layer of that pink powder, and then you poured some Dilac on it.

This was something that you probably would not do nowadays unless you used a mask of some kind. Because as that Dilac hit that Diton A powder, there would be this tremendous, hissing, fizzing, bubbling, which smelled terrible. But you grabbed your brush and scrubbed away at that foaming mixture, and once you rinsed it off, you saw a patch of bright, clean floor, as clean as the day it was new.

That’s what’s going to happen to our planet. God has promised He will not destroy the world with another Noah’s flood. Instead, He will use fire.

And we can learn from Noah about how to walk as a pilgrim toward that time. After all, in both Matthew 24 and Luke 17, Jesus tells us that as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man.

What that means is that some will be rescued from this planet-cleansing, and others will choose not to be rescued. And in the verses we just read about Noah, we discovered that he didn’t simply believe in the coming destruction and let it go at that. He believed, and--following God’s instruction--he got ready, and he got his family ready. We can’t make spiritual decisions for our children, of course, but we can do everything in our power to prepare the soil of their souls, to get them educated God’s way, to pray for them, and to speak about Jesus to them.

My own parents did not take this matter lightly. Like Noah, they didn’t simply believe in Jesus’ coming and hope vaguely that their kids would be ready. They got proactive about that.

We four kids always knew that we and our eternal security were our parents’ highest priority. Without being legalistic, or oppressive, or over-protective, without giving us the wrong idea about God, Mom and Dad worked and prayed for the salvation of our souls, just like Noah did for his children.

And the bottom line was that when that monsoon started, Noah and Mrs. Noah and the kids were in the ark, not outside scoffing with the scoffers. If your kids happen to be straying at the moment, keep on telling the Lord you want those kids to be in the ark. God hears prayers like that, and listens to them with a great deal of attention, and there are probably many of you in this room who can personally testify about the power of your parents’ prayers.

Of course, no study of Bible faith pilgrims would be complete without looking at the lives of Abraham and Sarah.

Verses 8 – 12: By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.

The story in Genesis mentions that when Sarah first heard God’s promise of a son, she snickered. But Hebrews 11 tells us that she quickly took up this faith challenge, and her offspring formed the backbone of 2000 years of Bible history. And Paul tells us that if you and I believe in Jesus, we become their offspring too.

When you think of it, maybe Abraham and Sarah had to have the greatest faith of all, not only in believing that they could give birth to a son, but in believing that God would accomplish His vast promises in the generations to come.

After all, God called Abraham from Iraq all the way over to Palestine. And when Abraham got to Palestine, he saw a land that was already inhabited by people who knew nothing about God. Abraham gradually realized that claiming this inheritance was going to take a whole lot longer than his own lifespan.

That meant that Abraham needed to have a faith that looked far into the future, toward a scarcely believable inheritance.

And that is the next sermon point. How can I be God’s kind of pilgrim?

To become a pilgrim, I must believe that God can control what He creates, and that I can’t save me – but God can. I must believe that God is truly homesick for me, and that God will finally cleanse my planet and wants me to get myself and my family ready. And Abraham’s experience shows me that to be a pilgrim I must believe that God has a scarcely believable inheritance prepared for me.

A few weeks back I drove the oldest of our cars to North Seattle to my favorite Honda repair man. I dropped it off, and I hopped aboard a bus to go down to the University District. Later, as I was riding the bus back, the bus pulled to a stop, and a mother and her little boy got on.

The little boy was somewhere around three or four years old, and as he climbed the steps and looked at the inside of the bus, he said to his mom in an amazed and delighted tone, “Whoa! This is a new bus!” As they walked along the aisle to the rear of the bus I heard him repeat that two more times. “This is a new bus!” (The bus wasn’t really new, but it just must have been different from the one he was used to.)

I think that finally, when our faith-pilgrim journey is over, and our happy, homesick Heavenly Father ushers us into the inheritance He has prepared for us, we will make similar noises of absolute delight. “Whoa! This is a new planet!”

Let’s look at one more powerful passage, in second Peter chapter 3. Peter was one of Jesus’ most faithful pilgrims. And through the prophetic power of the Holy Spirit, he was able to look forward in faith to the end of our world and the creation of the new one.

2 Peter 3:10 – 13: But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

How about you? Knowing Jesus’ promise, are you also looking ahead in faith for the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness dwells?

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Expository Sermon on Hebrews 11
Bellevue SDA Church 11/28/15
©2015 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Hebrews chapter 11. (By the way, the further I got into this chapter this week, the more I realize that this is going to have to be at two-part sermon. So today’s sermon is Part One, and next week we will do Part Two.)

Think back to your school days for a minute. How many of you have ever had someone dress you up like a Thanksgiving Pilgrim?

How many of you have ever dressed up a child or grandchild as a Pilgrim?

A couple of weeks ago when I was back in South Dakota to attend the funeral of my brother-in-law, I stayed in the house belonging to the older of my two sisters and her husband.

One evening she pulled out an old photo album filled with snapshots from when we were a lot younger. And suddenly I saw one of the younger students I remembered in the little Adventist one-room church school I attended, standing there in the schoolroom dressed like a Pilgrim – sober black broad-brimmed hat with the buckle on it, sober black coat and trousers, and I think some kind of white tie. And of course his shoes had big buckles on them too. His mouth was open as though he were reciting something a Pilgrim might have said.

I don’t know whether schools focus as much on the Pilgrims nowadays as they used to. But back then, maybe because it was a Christian school, we admired the Pilgrims because they had left the Old Country where they were persecuted for their faith, and traveled all the way across the Atlantic Ocean in search of freedom.

Later on, of course, I discovered that when the Pilgrims got here and set up their society, they themselves turned out to be just as intolerant of other religions as their persecutors had been of theirs.

What is a pilgrim? The latest edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language mentions the capital-P Pilgrims, but also gives two other definitions –(1) “A religious devotee who journeys to a shrine or sacred place,” and(2) “A person who travels, especially to foreign lands or to a place of great personal importance.”

We often call Hebrews 11 the “faith chapter,” but glance down at verse 13 and you will see that it is also a “pilgrim chapter.”

Hebrews 11:13 [NKJV]: These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

So that means that at least everybody mentioned up to verse 13 is not only a faith hero or heroine, but also a pilgrim. All of these people are pilgrims, whether or not they literally left one country and journeyed to another.

One thing I am sure of. Everybody in this room today has either been a literal pilgrim or is the descendent of a literal pilgrim. My own ancestors came from Germany and Switzerland in the 1880s, and settled in the Great Plains. Some of you are first generation Americans. Even if you have Native American blood in your veins, somehow your ancestors probably came from the western tip of Russia across the water to Alaska. Somehow you folks also are descendants of Adam and Noah.

And what’s more, the Holy Spirit caused Hebrews 11 to be written to remind us that we are spiritual pilgrims, or should be. And this is incredibly important. Put some kind of a marker in Hebrews 11, because we’ll be back in a few seconds, and turn to Psalm 84. If you’re using the New King James Version, or the New International Version, this will come through especially clearly.

In Psalm 84:5, the New King James says, “Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.” And the NIV backs off from the male reference and makes it apply both to men and women, which of course it does: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.”

Just looking at the way this Psalm begins makes me wonder if maybe it was one of those songs used during the feast days, when Israelites made pilgrimages to Jerusalem. And they were happy, or “blessed,” if they’d set their hearts on these pilgrimages. It’s like camp meeting nowadays – a lot of people set their hearts on camp meeting, and even take their vacation at camp meeting.

Anyway, I think that Hebrews 11 very clearly tells us how important it is to set our hearts on pilgrimage, especially in the bewildering times we’re living in. So let’s go back to Hebrews 11 and find out more.

So if we are all supposed to be pilgrims, what country are we departing from, and what other country are we going to? I would suggest that God challenges each of the Hebrews 11 pilgrims we’ll be reading about to depart from the country called Self, and journey from there toward the kingdom of God.

Let’s take a look at how this works.

Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.

No wonder this is called the “faith chapter.” By my count, the word “faith” shows up 24 times in 40 verses, an average of about once every two verses. So faith, of course, is what you need in order to be a pilgrim journeying toward the kingdom of God.

But let’s get more specific. Every time I read through a Bible chapter I thought I knew pretty well, I always get a surprise. And for me, that surprise happened in verse three.

Verse 3: By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.

So, what’s so surprising about this? There’s nothing here that the Bible-reading Christian doesn’t already know. God created the worlds out of invisible material.

What surprised me so much was that the first “faith hero” we see in Hebrews 11 isn’t one of the Bible patriarchs. It’s you and me! Notice, Verse 3 starts with the words “By faith we.” It’s not “By faith Abraham,” or “By faith Noah.” It’s “By faith we.”

So no longer are we spectators, settling back on the bleachers ready to watch the parade of faith heroes and heroines. We are right down there on the parade ground with everybody else. And since we’re first, maybe we get to lead the parade!

And what is the very important “pilgrimage principle” you and I are supposed to understand and believe by faith? If you’re taking sermon notes, here comes what you could call Sermon Point One. How can I become a spiritual pilgrim?

To become a pilgrim, I must believe that God can control what He creates.

Verse three tells me that God created everything that is visible out of invisible material. I don’t think that He necessarily created every single visible thing for the first time on day one of creation, of course. After all, on that first day, there was already water on the globe, and presumably some kind of core underneath that water. These had been evidently created – out of nothing – at some earlier point.
But I believe that God wants us first of all, before we look at any other kinds of “faith hero” faith, to understand that God can control what He creates.

So why is this such an important faith-builder? I think it’s important because it shows me that we do not serve a helpless God. God is not a latecomer to a pre-existing universe, fumbling along like we often do, trying desperately to get control of our environment to keep ourselves safe.

No, God is the source of all created material – dirt, rock, metal, atmosphere, food, animals, people. And as you know, one of God’s amazing creations is the human mind. And I think one of the mind’s most powerful abilities is the way it can adapt to new things.

Back in 1970, a man named Alvin Toffler wrote a book called Future Shock. His premise was that change is happening faster and faster, and humanity is in danger of simply going into mental shock because it can’t deal with that change. I was a college student at the time, and since I was working nights and going to school in the daytime, I didn’t have a lot of time to brood about things, but I brooded about that book a little bit. I told myself that I would do my best not to go into “future shock” if I could help it.

Well, in recent years, things have been changing the whole lot faster than Alvin Toffler ever thought they might. Toffler wrote his book before personal computers and even pocket calculators, and the Internet and email, before instant planet-wide communication between ordinary people. Our minds are incredibly adaptable.

All of this means that I have an even greater respect for God’s creativity nowadays than I had back then. After a bit of adjustment, after a learning curve, our minds have picked up on computers and put them to work. And it seems that the youngest people don’t even have to learn these things – they simply pick them up and start using them.

So God deserves every ounce of respect and admiration we can generate for His creative work. And God can do exactly what He wants to with anything He created.

When it comes to human choice, of course, God has placed limits upon Himself. He will not save anyone who desperately does not want to live forever in the presence of God. Not only would such a person be in perpetual agony in that happy universe, but he or she would be a danger to its serenity. And God will not allow that.

If you’ve been listening to the news, you know that earlier this month in Chicago’s Southside, three gang members lured a nine-year-old boy into an alley and shot him to death, in retaliation for something done by gang members who were this boy’s relatives.

As you can imagine, the police superintendent in that particular district is very angry. According to the Chicago Tribune, he vowed that both gang factions suspected in the boy’s killing (and in other retaliatory slayings and shootings) had signed their own death warrants. "We're going to go in and destroy that gang," he said. "And the other gang, too."

How successful the superintendent and his department will be at that, only time will tell. But the God of heaven is even more outraged by what happened there, and Hs is outraged by the millions of other atrocities which do not make the news media coverage. And unlike a human being, God can – and will eventually – settle matters like this once and for all.

So what’s my takeaway from this? What should I do now that I know that God can control what He creates?

This might be a good time to run over in your mind some of the things you are afraid of. Are you afraid of terrorists? Home invasion burgers? Illness? An economic downturn? A work situation?

God can control all these things, and all these people. There’s probably not a person in this room who can’t tell a story of some miracle he or she has experienced. And the safest thing you and I can do is to leave that small, desperately-fortified but powerless country called Self, and keep moving in the direction of the Kingdom of God, and ask God to take control of what we can’t. There is no safer destination than the presence of the One who created you and all you own. Because He not only created you, but He also loves you. That’s the reason you are here in the first place. If you are alive, and listening to this, God loves you just as much as He loved any of the famous Bible people we’ll be looking at in this chapter.

And each of these Bible heroes and heroines will teach us a puzzle-piece about how to be a better pilgrim. So let’s keep traveling with them.

Verse 4: By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.

The Cain and Abel story happens in Genesis 4. It is recorded just after the story in which God made garments of animal skin for the brothers’ parents. That animal, or those animals, which had to die to provide these skins were probably the first sacrificial animals which pointed toward the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.

And Abel understood that this was the proper sacrifice to give to God. Down through the centuries after that, animals would be sacrificed on alters, reminding generation after generation that sin kills, and must be atoned for.

In fact, Abel’s insight gives us Sermon Point Two.

How can I become a spiritual pilgrim?

To become a pilgrim, I must believe that God can control what He creates, and I must also believe that I can’t save me – but God can.

Since Abel’s story is here in the faith chapter, we probably owe it to ourselves to give it some attention back in Genesis 4. Let’s go back there and watch what happened.

Genesis 4:1 – 5: Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the Lord.” Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.

It’s interesting to watch God carefully here. Back in Genesis 3, when Cain’s parents sinned, God strolled toward them in order to talk it over. He got them into conversation, and eventually provided them the coverings they needed.

And notice that Cain actually hasn’t physically done anything wrong yet. His mother had reached out to take the forbidden fruit, and his dad had taken some bites out of that fruit as well.

But all Cain has done so far as to get angry, and get a grouchy look on his face. And what is so wonderful about Cain’s Creator is that God does not wait for Cain to act out his anger and do something bad. Instead, God hurries to Cain to try to get him into conversation, probably to prevent something more serious happening. (By the way, don’t let your own conscience get tough and callused. Ask the Lord to keep it tender.)

Verses 6 – 7: So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”

What is so tragic here is that Cain doesn’t say a word in response. Only later, after the cold-blooded murder of his brother, will he grudgingly allow God to get him into conversation. But here – as God gives him the opportunity to settle down and change his heart, to renounce his citizenship in the Land of Self and join his brother’s pilgrimage, Cain is obstinately silent.

And then, in an act as brutal as the one in Chicago’s South Side, Cain murders Abel.

Let’s go back to Hebrews 11 and read the story summary there again.

Hebrews 11:4: By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.

Cain remained alive, and was left to wander the earth. But though Abel died, he is the one whose story is told here in the faith chapter. Abel knew that as he traveled on his pilgrimage to his Creator, he could not save himself, but God could.

So what should I do, now that I know this?

I need to remember that, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, I have some of Cain’s seeds of rebellion within my heart. It is very possible that I could be cherishing the same attitudes that Cain had when it comes to responding to what God wants me to do.

You see, Cain was not innocently incorrect. If Cain’s attitude had been different, and he had merely made a mistake about what to sacrifice, God would’ve been able to simply bring him up to speed, and tell him more about why Abel’s plan was a better sacrifice than the fruit. But Cain was so solidly planted in the Land of Self, that he didn’t even talk to God. He didn’t allow the Holy Spirit to touch his heart.

Let’s not be like Cain. Let’s be like Abel, who was humble enough to submit to God’s way.

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Expository Sermon on Luke 2
Bellevue SDA Church 11/21/15
©2015 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Luke Chapter 2.

Thanksgiving isn’t until next Thursday, but if you walked through pretty much any store this week, you noticed that the Christmas items have taken command of the store shelves. Christmas music is beginning to creep into radio ads.

This week as I was getting the sermon ready, I suddenly thought, “Maybe it’s good to have Thanksgiving just before Christmas, because Thanksgiving is a great time to practice showing gratitude, so you’ll remember how when you get your Christmas gifts.”

As Christmas approached when I was a little kid, my dad would solemnly tease us about the Christmas gifts we would be getting. He grew up during the Great Depression, and he would tell us, “When I was your age, I was glad to get a penny pencil in my Christmas stocking. Or an orange.” And then he would go on to hint that this is what we would be getting for Christmas.

This filled me with dismay, partly because I had heard him tell other stories about his impoverished childhood, about how he and his brother and sisters carried their lunch to the country school be attended in a tin pail which had once contained lard, and how their lunch was often two thick slices of bread smeared with lard, not butter. And I could believe that during those gray, dismal, dust-bowl days, a brand new penny pencil and an orange maybe were received with great delight.

And then I would think, “What kind of rich, spoiled child of luxury have I become, that I don’t appreciate the humble joys of a glossy brand-new pencil?” And I wondered how I would respond, how I could summon up the emotional energy to genuinely thank Dad if that pencil did show up in my stocking?”

Well, Dad never did give us a pencil or orange for Christmas, even as a joke. We generally got the presents we asked for, but we were very careful to ask prudently and inexpensively. I remember getting a Lionel train set back when I was five. I can still smell the electricity which powered that little train.

Over the years I have preached Thanksgiving sermons such as, “Why Jesus said Thank You,” “Why Hannah said Thank You,” or “Why Paul Said Thank You.”

This time I came up with a couple of Bible people who you might say link the Thanksgiving season with the season we traditionally celebrate Jesus’ birth. Jesus of course was not born December 25, but probably earlier in the fall. But according to Jewish religious practices of that time, it may have been getting close to December when His parents brought Him to the temple to present Him to the Lord.

And this morning we will meet two people who rejoiced and gave thanks when they saw Him. And neither one of these was the priest who was officiating. The priest probably couldn’t see any difference between the baby Jesus, who would have been 40 days old, a little over a month in age, and any other baby boy.

But these two lifelong, faithful, senior believers could. Just setting their eyes on Jesus made these two elderly saints burst forth in their greatest gratitude. And I think you and I will be able to discover why we ourselves should reserve our greatest gratitude not for any earthly blessing or opportunity or gift, but for Jesus.

This pick up the story here in Luke two, verse 21.

Luke 2:21 [NKJV]: And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

If you’re like me, you might find it easy to quickly skim over the verse we just read. But if you stop and look at it, you see that this is astounding. I think it’s probably pretty rare that a human parent would name a child before he or she was even conceived, but that is what happened here.

And what’s more, the angel who named Jesus did so because he was relaying these instructions from heaven. In other words, Heaven was so absolutely certain that this little baby that would be born would grow resolutely to adulthood and become the Savior of the world, that He was given a name which means “Savior.”

In other words, Jesus didn’t have to grow up first to see if He would be qualified to be our Savior. This was all decided ahead of time, and He agreed to this plan before he was born.

If you’re taking sermon notes, here comes what you might call Sermon Point One. Why should I save my greatest gratitude for Jesus?

Jesus’ salvation – if I want it – is absolutely guaranteed.

It’s a done deal. It’s already been accomplished. All I have to do is understand it and accept it.

Why is this important? One reason is important is that there is a lot of uncertainty these days, very few rock-solid guarantees out there. Europeans and Americans are uneasy, wondering when the next terrorist strike will happen. Syrian refugees are uneasy, now that it’s been discovered that a couple of the Paris terrorists pretended to be refugees and entered Europe that way. And peaceful Muslims all over the world are feeling uncertain about how they will be treated because of the actions of radical offshoots of their faith.

I heard a radio interview earlier this week with two elementary-school-age sisters, both of whom were Muslims living in the Seattle area. Their accents were perfectly American, and you could tell that they had been born here. They talked about how they understood that they would be feeling greater pressure, and sometimes persecution, because of the news stories they’d been hearing. The older girl spoke confidently about how she would tell her friends that Muslims weren’t like the ISIS fighters, and the younger girl said, “We don’t have anything to do with murder.”

The more we learn about Jesus’ birth, how it was prophesied for centuries in the Old Testament, and how these prophecies were fulfilled at His arrival, the more certainty and security we can have.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a few days in the South Dakota town I grew up in, spending time with my brother and two sisters. My sister Penny had just lost her beloved husband Ken, and her weary sorrow was hard to watch.

But though Penny’s grief was real, it was not the grief of wild despair. She and Ken’s Christian faith, which they believed and practiced and taught to their children, gave them rock-solid certainty that they would be together again. In First Thessalonians 4:13, Paul assures Christians that they do not need to grieve in the same way as others who have no hope.

So, what does this have to do with you and me, 1600 miles west of Redfield, South Dakota?

You and I can be sure that Jesus’ salvation – if we want it (and who wouldn’t?) – is absolutely guaranteed. Absolutely certain. How do we become saved? How do I know if my version of salvation is the same one that Jesus can save me with?

Well, let’s not depend on hearsay. I would suggest starting with John 3:16 and work backward and forward from it. Read the whole chapter. Do what it says. And then go on to read the rest of John’s Gospel, and then the little letter of First John, and on to the rest of the Bible from there. And at each step, pray that Jesus’ Holy Spirit will change your heart and encourage you, and give you the strength to follow through.

And I believe something that can give us additional courage is to find out the second reason we can devote our greatest Thanksgiving gratitude to Jesus.

Verses 22 – 24: Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

What’s another reason we can be supremely grateful to our Savior?

Well, not only is Jesus’ salvation – if I want it –absolutely guaranteed, but the second reason to be grateful is that Jesus and His Father are on the same page.

While I was back in my hometown a couple of weeks ago I went to a store on the corner of Main Street and Seventh Avenue called Spink County Mercantile. It’s a huge antique store. I was moseying through it that Wednesday, when I noticed something really interesting.

A decade and a half ago I helped write a book which describes how a German Seventh-day Adventist pastor and father was drafted into Hitler’s army. When he came home in his brand-new German army uniform, the kids were intrigued to see what was engraved on his silver belt buckle.

An eagle was standing atop the swastika symbol, and arching above this image were the words “GOTT MIT UNS,” (“God With Us.”)

 And in a glass case in the northeast corner of Spink County Mercantile, I discovered one of those buckles, complete with a wide black belt. I didn’t buy it, but the storekeeper let me take it out of the case and hold it in my hands. Evidently it had been brought home as a trophy by an American G.I.

To that dedicated Adventist soldier, that belt buckle was an ironic blasphemy. That belt buckle’s claim was entirely contradictory to the character of the true God. Hitler and God were definitely not on the same page.

And people who don’t take the trouble to read thoughtfully and prayerfully through the Bible can sometimes come to the uneasy conclusion that God and His Son aren’t exactly on the same page either. Wasn’t the God of the Old Testament angry, and wasn’t His Son kind and loving and self-sacrificial?

In the verses we just read, we can get strong hints that even from the very beginning, Jesus and His Father were totally on the same page. Jesus’ parents carefully followed God’s law when it came to dedicating their child. Later, Jesus Himself would commit no sin. Jesus was no rebel against His Parent. Instead, Jesus was a righteous, God fearing Jew. Isaiah 42 is one of the Old Testament chapters which prophesies Jesus’ arrival, and in Isaiah 42:21 it says that the coming Messiah would “exalt the law and make it honorable.”

And Jesus did this. One way He did this was in the Sermon on the Mount, where He insisted that lawbreaking happened in the heart before it happened in the hand, and the heart needed to be cleansed. And Jesus was so thoroughly “on the same page” with God that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to His Father, “Not My will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)

So what should I do, now that I know that Jesus and His Father are on the same page?

One thing I need to do is to read the Old Testament with the understanding that the puzzling things which God does or allows in those stories are truly done in love, the same love that His Son expressed in His teachings and His death.

And I need to read the New Testament with the understanding that Jesus came not to do away with God’s great moral laws, but to establish them and to internalize them in our hearts. Hebrews 10:16 says, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them.”

This means that people who consider themselves “new covenant” Christians need to make sure that this “new covenant” promise is included in their teachings.

Now let’s look at a third powerful reason to give fervent thanks to our Savior.

Verses 25 – 32: And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”

What’s a third reason to give our greatest gratitude to Jesus?

Not only is Jesus’ salvation – if I want it – absolutely guaranteed, and not only are Jesus and His Father on the same page, but Jesus’ Holy Spirit draws all willing people to Him.

Simeon had spent his whole life responding to the Holy Spirit’s work on his conscience. And now he was privileged to see what he had prayed for—the Messiah Son of God.

And of course no one can come to Jesus without the Holy Spirit’s help. The good news is that the Holy Spirit is helping all the time. Some people worry that they may have committed the unpardonable sin, “sinning away” the Holy Spirit. The bottom line is that if you are concerned about this, you haven’t committed that sin. The Holy Spirit is still drawing you toward your Savior.

Last night, Shelley and I spent some time on the phone with my sister Penny. She told us how grateful she is for all the comfort and encouragement and support many people have been giving her in the two weeks since Ken passed away. She also talked about how rewarding it is to volunteer at the food and clothing bank called the Good Samaritan Center, which is located right across the street from the Spink County Mercantile. The Center is open every Thursday.

Penny has often told us how, even though the Good Samaritan Center is a community organization, she and her fellow-volunteer Sherry spend the hour before the Center opens praying together. Last night she told us what they pray for. They tell the Lord that they know that this is His Center, and they pray for wisdom as they deal with the people who come and ask for help.

Penny told us that a lot of desperate people come through those doors – desperate not only because they need food and clothing, but because they may be in the grip of addictions, or facing other crises, such as domestic abuse.

And she says that often, within just a few minutes of entering the Center, a visitor will be in tears, their hearts softened by the atmosphere of the Holy Spirit. Then Penny will take them into her office and talk to them about the Lord. She says that she doesn’t know what happens to them after they depart with whatever food and clothing they need, but she is very sure that the presence of the Holy Spirit in that prayed-four room has started to draw these people to God.

I think it’s truly touching to think about old Simeon walking into that Temple. The Holy Spirit is mentioned three times in the verses we’ve read. First it says that “the Holy Spirit was upon him,” and then that the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would see the Messiah before he died, and then it says that “he came by the Spirit into the temple.”

A little later in this chapter, the prophetess Anna will arrive, probably summoned by the same Spirit, to see the baby. Both of these dear saints not only felt the Spirit’s encouragement, but their words confirmed again to His parents who Jesus really was.

So why should this be important to me? Jesus called the Holy Spirit a “comforter,” and He has been comforting my grieving sister. And I am certain that He has drawn us together this morning. Maybe He has brought you here to help you become better acquainted with Him. I am just so thankful for a praying congregation. I have had people, both members and visitors, tell me that they feel the presence of the Holy Spirit here.

So if you sent the Holy Spirit drawing you, don’t resist. It is the most natural thing in the world to feel close to God. God created us. He is our heavenly Parent. Even though we may not have had ideal earthly parents, let’s not place cardboard pictures of our parents in front of God and look at Him that way. Instead, let’s allow God to redefine the word “parent” for us. Let’s allow Him to draw us to Himself.

I’m going to mention just one more reason we should overwhelm heaven with our gratitude.

Verses 33 – 34: And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against . . .

What’s one more reason to give our greatest gratitude to Jesus?

Not only is Jesus’ salvation – if I want it – absolutely guaranteed, and not only are Jesus and His Father on the same page, and not only does Jesus’ Holy Spirit draw all willing people to Him, but Jesus is the ultimate equalizer.

Simeon tells Mary that “this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel.” In other words, as Jesus performs His ministry on earth, some who were exalted will become low, and others who were low will become exalted.

Jesus is the ultimate equalizer. In Luke 14:11 He specifically said, “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” In Matthew 23:11 He said, “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant.” He insisted that His disciples not jostle for a place at the head table, but sit in the least important seat.

Why is it important to realize that Jesus is the ultimate equalizer?

Because people all over the world are oppressed into inequality by armies, militias, insurgencies, and they are shamefully and horribly treated by them. Imagine the combined agony and anger of the relatives of the victims in Paris and in Mali this past week. Imagine the bewilderment, the shock, the helplessness they feel at the slaughter of the innocents.

Thankfully, God’s Word gives us permission to be as patient as possible. In Romans 12:19, Paul quotes God as saying, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” When Jesus returns, He will level the playing field. In the last chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22:12, He says, “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.”

I don’t know what injustice you may have suffered in your lifetime, but if you will surrender to your Savior, He will eventually bring justice and equality, in eternity if not now.

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LISTEN TO "Communication 101/201/301," Gary Salsman's November 14 sermon. Gary gives Bible examples of how God has communicated with us. This sermon opens the heart of God and shows how He would love to relate to you. (For audio, click here.)

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Expository Sermon on Genesis 2 and 3
Bellevue SDA Church 10/31/2015
©2015 by Maylan Schurch

(Summary: From Genesis 2 and 3 you'll learn three cruicial Bible facts about death--and discover comforting insights about God's character.)

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Genesis chapter 2.

Wednesday night after prayer meeting, Shelley and I made a quick stop at the QFC grocery store about 12 blocks south of here. We had picked up the items we wanted, and were heading to the counter, when I spotted a circular loaf of bread under a plastic cover.

My grasp of Spanish was just good enough to translate the name of the product: Pan de Muerto—bread of the dead. According to Wikipedia, this sweet bread is baked for the celebration of the Day of the Dead, which is celebrated November 1 and 2. The bread is eaten in honor of departed loved ones, and often the favorite foods of those loved ones are eaten at the same time. Even though this is probably a beautiful and tenderhearted tradition, I was startled by the picture on the pan de muerto package. The artist had drawn a woman facing the viewer, wearing a long dress. But her face was painted white, with huge eyes and a strange upturned mouth. On either side of her was a large skull, and out of the top of each of those skulls projected burning candles.

It’s Halloween time when I realize again how obsessed even cultured, sanitized 21st century western-civilization people are obsessed with death. Pretty much everybody knows who spoke the lines “To be or not to be, that is the question,” and most of these same people realize that Hamlet was talking about whether to live or die. And for the rest of that gripping soliloquy, he worries about what lies beyond the grave.

Popular movies feature sorcerers and vampires and zombies who won’t stay dead. Bookstores still carry the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King. Some people even teach their dogs to “play dead.” A few blocks away from our house is a neighbor who always decorates for every holiday, and for Halloween he has inflatable illuminated pumpkins, and a little graveyard surrounded by a picket fence, which at night glows orange.

Our very language is sprinkled with death idioms. “That chocolate cake is to die for.” “I almost died laughing.”

It seems like everywhere you turn, people young and old are doing a nervous little dance with death, toying with it, playing with it, imagining scenarios about it.

Normally at this time of year I blissfully ignore Halloween in my sermons, but this year – since today is the day and tonight is the night – I decided to talk about death. And as I studied this week, I found it surprisingly encouraging.

What I did was to go back to Genesis 2 and 3, which is where death is first mentioned in the Bible. I can actually find three important facts about death from these chapters, facts which we desperately need to know and remember. Because I believe they will fortify us against a morose obsession with the end of life. And I believe that if we understand what these chapters say, we will be able to give comfort and courage to others as well.

So let’s take a look at Genesis 2, starting with verse 15.

Genesis 2:15 – 17 [NKJV]: Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

So here we have the Bible’s first mention of death. A couple of interesting things to notice. First, God does not say, “In the day that you eat of it I will destroy you,” but instead He says, “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

In other words, God is not calling death a punishment for distrust or disobedience. Instead, it seems like a natural consequence—separating ourselves from God’s life-support system of trust and total dependence.

A second interesting thing about what we just read something we can’t really get the full force of in an English translation, nor in Spanish. Both simply say, “You will surely die,” or in Spanish, ciertamente morirás.

But in the Hebrew, it says literally “dying you will die.” It repeats the word “die” twice. It’s like God is saying, “You’re going to die die.”

So what’s so encouraging about this? If you’re taking sermon notes, here comes Sermon Point One.

I believe that the Bible’s first important truth about death is that God saw it coming.

Why is that so important? What difference would it make if this weren’t true – if God hadn’t seen death coming?

Wouldn’t it be terrible if death had been a surprise to God? Could this mean that death somehow crept up on God unawares, and that death is more powerful then God, that death can out-maneuver God?

But even though God is a Life giver and Creator, he could see death coming a mile away. When I was in my late teens I took my first airplane flight, in a little single engine plane owned by a farm family who lived about 15 miles east of us. As we soared above the flat South Dakota prairies, I realized that from up in this vantage point, I could see things happening a lot further away than if I were standing on the ground. I would be able to see an approaching car many minutes before the people on the ground would.

You see, God was prepared for the worst. He wants the best for us, but He is fully prepared for the worst. We don’t understand why sin kills, but if it could turn a an intelligent, created being like Lucifer away from the God he had been so close to, and set him on the course toward defaming God and destroying his creation, we flesh-and-blood people need to take sin seriously.

So what should I do, now that I know that God saw sin coming a long way off? I should put even more trust in God than I already have. And I do that because I know His character is trustworthy. He didn’t leave us in the dark about death, but warned us about it. I go to an excellent Honda repair shop in North Seattle, and the owner Greg is always very careful to warn me about things like how thin my tires are getting.

Pretty soon it will be a staggering 30 years that I’ve been going to Greg’s shop, And I keep going there because I know that not only does Greg know Hondas (he works on nothing else), but also that Greg cares. It’s gotten to the point where if I take in my car or Shelley’s car for the next scheduled service, I just say, “Greg, if you see something else that needs to be done on it, just do it.” That’s how much I trust him. He absolutely will not cheat me.

If only we could trust our Heavenly Father that way. If only we could trust Jesus – the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” – if only we could trust Him that way. And we can.

Well, here in Chapter 2 God has warned Adam about not eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and then He suggests that Adam name all the animals. Then God puts Adam under some kind of natural anesthetic, and takes a rib from his side and creates Eve. And at some point Adam relays God’s warning about the tree to Eve.

As chapter 3 begins, we discover a second surprisingly cruicial truth about death.

Genesis 3:1 – 5: Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

I believe that the Bible’s first important truth about death is that God saw death coming, and the second truth is that Satan denies death exists.

It suddenly struck me as I was studying Genesis 2 and 3 this week that Satan had been an interested eavesdropper on God’s conversation with Adam. We know this, because when Eve quotes God as saying that if they eat of the forbidden tree they will die, Satan comes right back at her with the words, “You will not surely die.”

Satan is quoting God very accurately right here. Eve did not use the word “death” twice, but just once. But Satan uses the same phrase, “surely die”, that God had, only Satan says that is not true. You and I need to listen to God very carefully, and quote Him very accurately, because Satan knows the Bible better than any of us. And he’ll twist the Bible words if he can.

I don’t know if you listened to the presidential debate this week, there was a moment when one of the moderators challenged Donald Trump about something he had said or done, and he emphatically denied it. This abrupt denial startled and intimidated the moderator, and she apologized to him. But it was later discovered that she had been right after all.

An emphatic statement, made with great self-confidence, is a powerful thing. It rocked the CNBC moderator back on her heels, and Satan’s emphatic denial of death rocked Eve back on her heels.

We’ve got to be very careful not to be taken in by emphatic pronouncements. Donald Trump may have honestly believed that the moderator was wrong, but she should have had her facts straight, and her sources ready in order to get at the truth.

And Eve should have adopted, early on, the unshakable resolve that “God says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”

So why is it so important to remember that Satan denies the existence of death? It’s important because this is a “character of God” issue as well. Satan must’ve known that God did not design the human mind to accept death. Death was foreign to the thought processes of that young couple. They had never seen it, and probably didn’t know what it was.

But Eve’s thinking should have gone something like this. “God said don’t eat from the tree because it would cause death. I don’t know what death is, but if God urges me to avoid doing something that will cause it, it must be bad. Therefore I will not eat from that tree.”

But Satan doesn’t let her even have time to think about that. He immediately follows up his denial of death with some enticing news—if she eats the forbidden fruit, there is wonderful knowledge to be had – the knowledge of both good and evil. Eve was missing out by not adding evil to her knowledge-base.

The sad thing is, a lot of us human beings have allowed our natural distaste for death to cause us to agree with Satan. “No, I will not really die. I will continue to exist in some form. When I die, my spirit will glide away to some other place.”

And this denial of death has caused some ugly results. If Uncle Ben is still alive in the spirit world, maybe I can try to talk with him in a séance or with the Ouija board. Maybe the lady on the corner who runs the fortune-telling shop really can get in touch with the beyond.

And maybe, if my loved one has passed away, maybe that loved one is still with me. Years ago my brother told me the story of how he was visiting someone who came to an evangelistic series, but who had stopped coming after the lecture on what happens when you die. So Chester went out to see this man, and he told Chester that every night he poured two glasses of wine, and set one across the table from himself, and his dead wife would come to talk with him from the chandelier above the table. And at the end of their conversation, when he looked at the other glass of wine, it was empty.

This is the kind of thing that happens when you join Satan in his denial of death. He says “You shall not surely die,” and if you buy into that, you not only may come to believe that the dead can communicate with the living, but you are also forced to realize that your departed parents or grandparents can look down upon this earth at its horrors and sadness which means that if they really care, heaven for them would not be happy in the least.

Satan, of course, knew very well that death exists. Revelation 12:12 says that the devil has come down with great wrath because he knows he has just a short time. The devil knows that a full-stop death exists and that he will experience it. And if we don’t know this, we’d better get up to speed, fast.

So what do I do, now that I know that Satan tries to deceive people into believing that there is no death, but instead a reincarnation, or at least a continued existence on another plane?

Well, I believe that you and I need to become more and more expert on with the great controversy between Christ and Satan is all about. We know that the main issue in this controversy is the character of God. What is God really like? Is He truly a God of love, or is He an alien being with a twisted mind who can somehow get enjoyment from torturing people for eternity in an ever burning in hell?

I would suggest that you read Ellen White’s church history book The Great Controversy. If you haven’t read it recently, read it again. It’s basically the story of the Christian church from the end of the book of Acts through to our time. As always, she thoroughly soaks her pages in Scripture.

I believe that if every Christian in Bellevue would read his or her Bible with open eyes, through the lens of the this cosmic controversy, which is over the character of God, I believe that many would be deeply encouraged. By the way, don’t forget that evangelist Dan Bentsinger will be talking about these issues starting Friday night, March 11 of 2016. I’ll get you more details about this series in the weeks ahead, but your friends and neighbors – those who are interested in the truth about God – will deeply appreciate Dan’s presentations.

Let’s look at just one more truth about death. And this may be one of the most powerful testimonies about God’s character.

Let’s pick up the story just after Eve has plucked the forbidden fruit and eaten it.

Genesis 3:8 – 9: And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”

I think that anyone who slows ‘way down and reads through this gentle conversation with find it really difficult to think of God as a tyrant. Instead, here we have a gentle Father gathering His kids into conversation about their disobedience.

Anyway, God asks Adam what he’s done, Adam blames it on Eve, Eve blames it on the serpent. Then God announces consequences in reverse order--the serpent, the woman, and finally the man.

But now watch what happens. All during this conversation, this couple is shivering in the cool of the evening, covering themselves with scratchy fig leaves. They’re doing the best they can to cover up, and God knows this, so watch what He does.

Verse 21: Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.

And where did He find those skins? The most logical answer is that two animals had to die. This seems to have been the very first animal sacrifices for sin. God had sadly told His children that the day ate from the tree they would die—but on that same day He provided a substitute to die for them.

We do know that the concept of sacrifice is in full force by the beginning of Genesis 4, when Cain and Abel bring their sacrifices to God. God refuses Cain’s sacrifice of fruits and vegetables, and He accept Abel’s sacrifice of his firstborn animals. And these substitutionary deaths point forward to the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.

In fact, that brings us right to a third important truth about death.

I believe that the Bible’s first important truth about death is that God saw death coming. The second truth is that Satan denies death exists. The third truth is that Jesus took death full force for us.

This was predicted in the Old Testament, and triumphantly in the New Testament. “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities,” says Isaiah 53:5. 2 Corinthians 5:12 says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Paul says in Romans 6, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

 Once more, this is a “character of God” issue. Does God really care? How much does He care? John 3:16 tells us how much He cares:

John 3:16 – 17: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

As God worked on those garments of animal skin in that evening twilight, there is no indication that Adam and Eve backed away and continued to run. Instead, from all we know, they accepted those garments gratefully.

And that’s what you and I need to do as we think about these great truths we learned this morning. Let’s not back away from the new garment of Jesus’ righteousness God would like to give us right now. Let’s humbly wait as our prodigiously prodigal Father runs toward us, and flings the robe of belonging around our shoulders.

And He can do this because of the subject of our closing song, “Lamb of God.” Let’s stand and sing it together. Let’s sing it to Jesus Himself. Let’s make it a praise to the heavenly Lamb.

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Communion Sermon on Matthew 26:26-29
Bellevue SDA Church 10/24/2015
©2015 by Maylan Schurch

(Sorry, the audio for this sermon is not currently available.)

I’m holding in my hand right now a large coin. It’s about the size of a silver dollar, but it’s three times as thick. And you can’t use it for money.

I got this coin when I attended a one-day Dave Ramsey financial seminar orientation along with several other pastors. The idea of the orientation was to interest church leaders in hosting Dave Ramsey financial seminars at their local churches.

At one point in this orientation, each of us was given one of these coins or medallions. On one side it says, “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). On the other side it says “The Momentum Theorem,” which is Fi/T (G) = M: “focused intensity over time multiplied by God creates momentum.”

I guess the idea of this coin is that you can carry it around in your pocket, and whenever you feel you need some momentum, or think life is pretty challenging, you can reach into your pocket and pull out that coin and read what it says.

I thought about this coin when I was planning these remarks for today’s communion service. In Matthew 26, we’ve just heard Jesus tell us that the little squares of bread and the tiny glasses of grape juice are reminder-emblems, just like this coin is. Jesus wanted His disciples to remember the Last Supper.

But why didn’t He have someone create a little medallion like this Dave Ramsey coin? Jesus’ coin could maybe have the cross on one side, and the Ten Commandments on the other, or the Golden Rule.

I mean, it’s not like God hadn’t already used emblems or mementos. Every sanctuary item stood as a reminder about something significant. Items important to Israel's history were stored inside the ark.

So why, instead of something permanent or durable, did Jesus instead have us remember Him with simple chips of bread and glasses of the pure juice of the grape?

I can think of at least three reasons, and I think these reasons are overwhelmingly important.

First of all, this Dave Ramsey medallion is impressive-looking, and has common sense written on both sides. But it’s easy for me to leave it at home rather than carry it in my pocket. In fact, until this morning, I have never carried it in my pocket, except maybe the day I brought it home from the seminar.

I’m very sure that Jesus wants to be more to us, and mean more to us, then a circular piece of metal, or even a cross on a chain around our neck. Just as even a little piece of this communion bread gives nourishment, and even just a little glass of pure grape juice gives a tingle of joy, in the same way, Jesus wants to nourish us and bring joy to us by entering within us.

The first reason: He wants to nourish us and bring us joy.

A second reason Jesus may have chosen the bread and the wine as His emblems of remembrance was that He wanted to reassure us that He was giving us all He had.

The Gospels make it very clear that Jesus as a human being was never wealthy. As He traveled around Palestine, He would make comments like, “Even foxes have holes in the ground they can go to, but I do not have anywhere to lay My head down at night.” In other words, Jesus had no estates, no little cottage on the shores of Galilee, no retreat center. All He had was Himself – His body and His blood.

And even these He did not withhold from us. In fact, He insisted that we consume Him. And He said this not only at this Last Supper. Back in John 6, starting with verse 53, He says,

John 6:53 – 58 [NKJV]: Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”

The next few verses say that these comments really jolted His disciples, and that many stopped following Him at that point—probably these were the folks who thought of Him as the latest trending sensation, but were uncomfortable with how close He longed to be with them.

And this morning, you and I also need to face up to the true shock of this idea that Jesus wants to be within us. We are about to act this out, following His instructions. Do we really want to allow Him to be where He would like to be? We sing softly, “Into my heart, into my heart, come into my heart, Lord Jesus,” and a lot of times I don’t think we realize just how earnestly He would love to be this close to us.
Because He does want this, very much. He wants to nourish us and give us joy, just like this little piece of bread and small glass of grape juice. He redeemed us by giving us all He had—His body and the blood it contained.

This is how He wants us to remember that Last Supper. For centuries, sacrificial lambs and other animals were totally consumed on the Temple altar, completely giving their lives for the sins of the people, and pointing forward to the Lamb of God, through His utter self-sacrifice would pay for the sins of the world.

I think there’s one more truth about these emblems, one more reason, which Jesus would like us to remember.

You see, this Dave Ramsey coin is made of a heavy, durable metal. It is not rusting, it is not cracking. As long as this planet remains, this coin will exist.

But these little pieces of bread, and these little ounces of grape juice, will disappear within us, and do their nourishing work, and after awhile we will feel hunger again.

And I was thinking this week that perhaps this is one of the most wonderful qualities of our created human forms. Our nourishment needs to be renewed. When you think of it, God could have created us to run only on solar power. Or He could have put atomic-powered engines within us, so we could go for hundreds of years without refueling.

But instead, God created us to need new nourishment, day after day. And He created us with our multitalented sense of taste, so we could look forward to this nourishment with joy. And Jesus wanted His disciples there in the upper room to remember that, just as they needed regular physical nourishment, they also need the regular nourishment of His Holy Spirit.

And that’s why the communion service isn’t simply looking back and contemplating the Passover bread and wine from afar. Instead, Jesus wants us to act this out again and again, to remind ourselves that we need His Living Bread as much as we need the daily bread He taught us to pray for.

The Bible says that where two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name, He is there. And this morning you will give Him great happiness if, when the tray of bread comes by, you take a piece, and when the tray of little juice glasses come by, you take one of those.

Because by doing this, you are telling your Savior that you want Him to be exactly where He wants to be, within your mind tenderly working to change your heart and prepare you for an eternal life filled with a joy like His.

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Expository Sermon on 2 John
Bellevue SDA Church 9/26/2015
©2015 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to the tiny book of Second John.

Last week I began a sermon series in which we are looking closely at the Bible’s smallest books. Last week we looked at Third John, the Bible’s smallest book. Second John is the next-smallest book.

While you’re turning there, I’ll mention that this is our Elder Parish Group Consecration Sabbath. We are breathing life back into our Elder Parish Group plan, and you will hear more about that in just a few minutes.

As I studied Second John this week, it struck me how similar it is, in a way, to Third John. In Third John, the word “truth” is used six times in just 14 verses. And here in Second John, “truth” is used five times. In Third John, we heard how we need to “walk in truth,” and will hear about that in Second John as well.

But here in his second little letter, John’s subject is a sinister one. And as I think we’ll see, the problem he was writing about doesn’t just deal with a Christian heresy of 2000 years ago. It’s relevant right now. Let me show you what I mean.

2 John 1 – 3 [NKJV]: The Elder, To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth, because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

We have no idea who this “elect lady” and her children are. She could have been a woman with little kids, or this might have been John’s way of writing to a woman who hosted a Christian church in her house, and since John liked to call Christians he knew his “little children,” these could be referring to the local church members.  We don’t know anything about this group, but as we read this little letter, we’ll discover an intimidating challenge they are facing.

So, notice what has happened in these first three verses. For one thing, John has used up four out of the five uses of the word “truth” that he will use in this book. Right here at the start of this little letter, he wants to make clear how important he thinks truth is.

Now watch as he lays some solid groundwork which can keep this little group from fulfilling one of the devil’s most dangerous goals for them.

Verses 4 – 6: I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father. And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.

What John is doing here is to closely intertwine law and love. He does not separate them. When you interpret them right, God’s laws and His love are never separate. God wants us to love one another, and His commandments are the ways we show our love--work out our love.

And now, here comes the dangerous heresy John wants to warn these Christians against.

Verses 7 – 8: For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.

The more I studied about this this week, the more dangerous I decided this idea is, even for us today. Back in John’s day there were a group of people who considered themselves Christians, but who were called the Docetists. That name comes from the Greek word which means “seems.”

What these Docetists would do is to hurry around to Christian churches and tell the church members that Jesus did not really have a human body after all. It only “seemed” that way.

So where did they get this idea? Evidently, these Doceists were working with the Greek-philosophy idea that spirit and matter cannot be combined. God is a spirit, and if Jesus is also divine, this means that He could never under any circumstances become a part of the matter that is in the human body. It wouldn’t be possible.

This is a classic example of starting with an idea that seems to make perfect sense, and trying to force it back into the Bible, when the Bible says something exactly the opposite. This has happened many times in Christianity.

Well, John and other Christians of his time saw how dangerous this idea was. It’s so dreadfully dangerous that he actually called these people who taught this idea “antichrist.”

Because John could spot the devil’s fingerprints all over this idea. If you glance back along Bible history, you will see that it has always been one of Satan’s chief goals to pull God and humanity apart and keep them widely separated.

Think about what happened in the Garden of Eden. God creates the garden, then creates Adam and Eve, and puts them in the garden. Satan slithers into the garden and begins to accuse God of lying and selfishness. And sure enough, Eve drifts away from God’s earnest warnings and believes the snake instead. And then, she and Adam run away into the twilight, while Satan snickers in the shadows. And God has to go track His children down.

And for centuries and centuries, Satan has created or fostered ugly philosophies that either show God as an angry tyrant who must be appeased (in other words, who would never be someone you wanted to get close to), or he depticts God as a deity who never existed at all.

And remember how desperately Satan tried to keep Jesus from being born as a little baby. Satan evidently knew that the greatest possible proof that God loves us would be for divinity to enter into humanity.

Evidently, the deceivers John was talking about who were harassing this little Christian church were fine with the idea of thinking of God and His Son as filmy spirits. It seems as though they would rather keep God at arm’s length, watching Him from a safe, chilly distance, rather than believing that He really did care enough to become one of us. After all, if Jesus did truly become one of us, we need to take Him into account—factor Him in.

If you’ve been following the Pope’s journeys this week, you’ll remember that at one point he attended a dinner under a tent with 300 homeless people. I heard clips from radio interviews with some of those homeless people, and several of them mentioned how impressed they were that the Pope hadn’t simply talked about his ideas, but had walked them. One of the people said, “He came to be with us, and that means a lot.”

And of course Jesus came to be with us in a way that no human Pope or anyone else could ever be. The Pope visited for a few minutes, and then went on to his next scheduled event.

But over in John 17 are verses which tell how close Jesus wants to be with us. In His John 17 prayer, He first of all prays for His disciples, and then He prays for the rest of us. And here’s what He said:

John 17:20 – 21: “I do not pray for these alone [His disciples], but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.

And in Colossians 1:27, the apostle Paul – who before his conversion did maybe as much damage as these Docetists were doing—Paul emphasized how important it was for Jesus to be closer than close. He said that “Christ in you” is “the hope of glory.”

And Satan, of course, knows this very well. He himself was at one time closer to God than any other created being. He knew what it was like to be close to God – but he became selfish, and wanted to be God himself. And when God did not allow that, Satan doggedly devoted his time to fragmenting, separating, causing division among first the angels and then those whom God had created a little lower than the angels.

And that’s why Second John verse nine is so important.

2 John 9: Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.

Do you see that word “transgresses”? That’s the word you see if you have the New King James or the old King James. The great majority of more ancient New Testament manuscripts which have come to light over the past two or three hundred years have shown that the more dependable word is “go before,” or “go ahead.”

The NIV, for example, says “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God.” And the English Standard Version says something similar.

That’s exactly what those Docetists had done. They knew that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John had communicated clearly that the real Jesus had been born as a real human baby. But these Docetists had come up with what they thought was a better idea, so they ran on ahead, leaving Bible truth in the dust behind them.

And what you and I need to realize is that Satan is still working hard today to separate you and me from our Savior. Jesus wants to come into our hearts, as a little Sabbath School song says. “Into my heart, into my heart, come into my heart, Lord Jesus.” But Satan does not want that to happen. He wants us to live like the Docetists – live as though Jesus is a mysterious, distant spirit rather than an occupant of our hearts. Satan knows that this separation will hurt God’s heart, and make us feel lonely and discouraged, and cause us to lose eternal life—and that’s exactly what he wants.

So how do we defend ourselves against 21st-century Docetism? We follow John’s advice in the last half of verse nine:

Verse 9: . . . He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.

Don’t be intimidated by that word “doctrine.” Doctrine simply means teaching, and “teaching” is the way the NIV and ESV and other recent versions have translated it.

So John says that if we abide in the teaching of Jesus, we will have both Him and the Father within us. So this means that we need to learn and review what Jesus’ teaching contains. The pope quoted Jesus’ Golden Rule in his speech to Congress on Thursday, and the message got home—it was reported in many media outlets.

How many of you want Jesus to be close to you, even within you, this week? Would you raise your hand if that’s your desire? If you raise your hand, you vote the devil down. If the pope can quote the Savior’s words, shouldn’t we study Jesus’ teachings too, and ask the Holy Spirit to seal them in our own hearts and help us work them out into our lives this week?

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Expository Sermon on 3rd John
Bellevue SDA Church 9/19/2015
©2015 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to the little book of Third John. This is the Bible’s smallest book, and it is two books back from the start of Revelation. I thought what I would do for the next few weeks is to take a close look at the Bible’s tiniest books – the ones we often skip over or read too hastily – and try to discover why they made it into the official canon of Bible books.

Usually, about the only time you hear a quote from Third John is when the topic of health comes up, and we quote John saying to someone named Gaius that he is praying that Gaius will prosper in all things and be in health.

But the main theme of Third John is not health. Instead, it is truth. Third John has only 14 verses, but the word “truth” shows up six times. To give you an idea how unusual this is, the word “truth” shows up only one time in the 28 chapters of Matthew. (Of course, all of Matthew is true—it’s just that Matthew doesn’t happen to use the specific word “truth” more than once.)

“Truth” is used just three times in Mark, three times in Luke, and three times in Acts. “Truth” shows up only four times in the five chapters of Galatians, only once in Philippians, and so on.

The Gospel of John, however, by my count, uses “truth” more than 20 times. So John was deeply concerned with the concept of truth, even in the tiny letter of Third John.

In these 14 verses I have found four truths about the truth John was so concerned with – four ways we can put the truth to work to change us and those around us this coming week. Let me show you what I mean.

3 John verse 1 [NKJV]: The Elder, To the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth:

If you’re taking down sermon notes, here comes Sermon Point One. What is John’s first powerful truth about God’s truth?

God’s truth shows me how to love God’s way.

Take another look at verse 1. John has already called Gaius “beloved,” but then he repeats the word “love” and connects it with “truth.” He could have just said, “Gaius, you’re a great guy, and I love you like a brother.” But instead he said “Gaius, I love you in truth.” Back in Second John in the first couple of verses, John mentions that he loves his readers there “in truth.”

And that’s important. Because back in those days, just as now, the word “love” got tossed around pretty carelessly. John wanted to make sure that Gaius understood that this love was based on God’s truth.

What does God’s truth have to do with love? Well, love is where God’s truth began. Just as parents look forward to the birth of a child, God looked forward to creating men and women in His own image, after his likeness. Parents will sometimes dedicate an entire room in their house for their first child, and God created a magnificent planet  “nursery” for His newborns.

And God’s caring, dependable love throbs through every book of the Bible. Sometimes He administered “tough love,” but immediately after talking and acting tough, He spoke of His promise to forgive if the people would turn back to Him.

So when John tells his friend Gaius that he loves him “in truth,” Gaius knows exactly what he means – especially since truth is the major theme of the rest of this little letter.

God’s truth shows me how to love. If when we were kids, our parents were loving to each other and to us, we understand how to be loving to our own spouse or child.

And it’s the same with God. Once upon a time, in Exodus 33, Moses begged God to show him His glory. God answered with what was more important. He said, “I will make my goodness pass before you.” (Exodus 33:19). And then in the next chapter, God fulfilled His promise and listed some of His own loving qualities. Exodus 34:6: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,” and so on.

God’s truth shows me how to love God’s way. So how can I take this to work on Monday, or to school? How can I take it to the car with me on the ride home today?
Well, the more I understand about how merciful and gracious and dependable and good and true God has been, the more I can be generous and courageous enough to offer that same love to the people in my life. After all, as 1 John 4:9 says, “We love because He first loved us.”

So I need to get into the habit of focusing on the good in people. I need to remember my own failings, and how Jesus died for my sins too. These are powerful truths which will keep me humble in the presence of others.

There’s another powerful truth about God’s truth in the next few verses.

Verses 2 – 4: Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.

 Do you see that word “prosper”? In Greek, it originally meant “have a good journey,” because it’s a combination of two words, “good” and “road.” In other words, may you have a good journey along whatever road you travel. I don’t know whether John specifically intended this, but it ties in perfectly to the rest of the verses we just read, about “walking” in truth.

Let’s put down Sermon Point Two, and then we can talk about it. What is another of John’s powerful truths about God’s truth?

God’s truth not only shows me how to love God’s way, but God’s truth heals my soul as it is “walked out.”

What do I mean by this? Back in verse two, John says that his friend Gaius’ soul is a prosperous one. As Gaius makes his journey through life, he is “traveling well” along that road. He is spiritually prosperous. And John kindly mentions that he hopes that other areas in Gaius’ life are as prosperous as his spiritual nature is.

Now, watch carefully as we see what Gaius’ spiritual prosperity is based on.

Verses 3 – 4: For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.

So this means that Gaius isn’t just a nice guy, fun to be around, a jovial companion for a Sabbath afternoon walk. John’s love for Gaius is solidly based on the truth about God – remember, John was a close personal friend of Jesus, and Jesus and His Father are one. And Gaius is also walking in the truth, which is why his soul was prospering so greatly. God’s truth heals my soul as I “walk out” that truth in my daily life.

This past Wednesday I spent a hugely enjoyable hour and a half with three children of Dorothy Trussell. Dorothy passed away not long ago, and the family have asked me if I would preside over her memorial service, which will be Sunday morning, October 11. I hope you will be able to mark your calendars to be there, because you will hear about a truly amazing lady.

From what I understand, Dorothy with somebody who walked out God’s truth in every aspect of her life. She ran the clothing bank at the Snoqualmie Valley Adventist church. She put together huge boxes of food for people who were in need. She loved hiking, and camping, and growing things. This tiny lady seems to have had the energy of a whole squad of Proverbs 31 women. And as she walked and worked for the good of others, her own soul expanded with caring.

So what do I do, now that I know that walking out God’s truth heals my soul?

I need to remember that truth needs to be walked. Truth needs to be a part of life, not separated from it. In Acts 9:2, we see that one of the names of Christianity was “The Way,” which is that same word Greek word for “road.” From the very first, people who were watching Christianity noticed how they not only talked but walked their faith.

So that means that when you and I leave our homes – or even leave our beds as we are getting up in the morning – we must not leave our truth behind us between the pages of our Bibles. We should not store our truth in a sort of “truth shrine,” but take it with us to the breakfast table, and to the car as we take the kids to school, and to wherever we work, and to wherever we go for recreation.

In fact, the best thing about God’s truth is that it is most effective not on paper, not in digital form (even though these are valuable and essential ways to preserve and spread the truth) but God’s truth works best is when it lives in the heart, and works lovingly out from that heart, person to person, in our real lives.

And this just naturally leads into another of John’s truths about God’s truth.

Verses 5 – 8: Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well, because they went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth.

Here we see another of John’s powerful truths about God’s truth.

God’s truth not only shows me how to love God’s way, and God’s truth heals my soul as it is “walked out,” but God’s truth also needs my help to go public.

In other words, this is a step beyond what Gaius was already doing. He was walking in the truth, living his life by God’s principles, obeying Jesus’ teachings.

But here, John is also praising Gaius’ hospitality and generosity to people who were going from place to place, working to establish the truth about God and His Son.
In verse six, do you see that phrase “send them forward on their journey”? If you are returning a faithful tithe on what you earn, then you are a 21st-century Gaius. The tithe goes on beyond this building to enable people to spread the gospel all over the world.

If you have established a percentage of your paycheck to devote to the church budget offering, you possess the giving heart of Gaius. How can the church budget offering advance the spread of the gospel? Did you know that out of every $100 you donate to church budget, 38 of those dollars go to our elementary and high schools, and our Pathfinder club? These funds help send teachers and Pathfinder leaders “forward on their journey” to nurture children in the love of Jesus.

Did you know that during this current church year, we will spend close to $5400 on Sabbath school quarterlies and other Sabbath school supplies for children and adults? These booklets and magazines are messengers of the gospel, and your church budget contributions send them “forward on their journey.”

And even those church budget funds which go into maintaining our facility and paying our $10,000-a-year insurance premium, and building up reserves for large expenditures such as renovations, all of these things – including your generous outpouring of funds for our Capital Improvement Projects – all of these funds go to provide a safe and comfortable and nourishing place for people to study God’s Word, and listen to music and the spoken word, and enjoy potluck fellowship dinners and other gatherings.

God loves gatherings, Jesus gathered groups around Him, and church budget funds which can provide a haven for us and our guests to retreat to from a busy and hectic week, these funds we give to make this possible are doing God’s work as well – helping God’s truth to spread.

At this point in his letter, John pauses to give a couple of examples – one of a person who is not walking in the truth, and another who is.

Verses 9 – 12: I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God. Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself. And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true.

So here we have two church members, Diotrephes and Demetrius. If you type both names one by one into Wikipedia, you will find that nobody seems to have named their boys after the church tyrant Diotrephes, but many people have named their boys after Demetrius.

What’s fascinating is that both of these gentlemen seem to have been raised by pagan parents. Diotrephes’ name – according to The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia – means “nourished by Zeus,” while Demetrius’ name means “belonging to Demeter” (Demeter was the goddess of the harvest). So here were these two men, both dedicated by their parents to pagan gods, and both had been converted to Christianity.

But Diotrephes had not allowed the truth of the humble Jesus to become his walking-companion. Diotrephes did not “walk in the truth.” Instead, he left the truth rolled up in those scrolls he kept at home, and didn’t take that truth with him – not even to church! In verse nine, John says that Diotrephes “loves to have the preeminence.” In other words, he wants power. He wants to be the go-to guy, but he very clearly shows that he is not leading people the way the Good Shepherd would lead them.

But now let’s turn our attention from the “go-to wannabe” to the good guy.

Verse 12: Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself. And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true.

So, this man whose parents had dedicated him to a Greek harvest-goddess was totally different from Diotrephes. Did you see where it says that Demetrius had a good testimony from even the truth itself? This means that you could look into the Bible, and read about good people there, and say, “Look at that! That describes Demetrius, to a T!”

That’s because Demetrius did not leave the truth about God and His Son rolled up in those scrolls, but carried those words and ideas and practices in his heart wherever he went. The Holy Spirit had warmed and softened Demetrius’ heart, and given him the joy of service.

I can spot one more truth about God’s truth as this little letter concludes.

Verses 13 – 14: I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face. Peace to you. Our friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.

So what is the final truth about God’s truth we find here in Third John?

God’s truth not only shows me how to love God’s way, and God’s truth heals my soul as it is “walked out,” and God’s truth needs my help to go public—but also, God’s truth loves company!

What do I mean by that? I mean that God’s truth doesn’t just invite us to individually nod our heads in agreement with that truth. God’s truth also calls us together. God loves groups. God loves individuals, too, of course. But God really loves it when we gather in His name for fellowship with His people.

Ever since I was in college, I have been fascinated with three paintings by American artist George Tooker. In fact, over the years, I have most often forgotten the artist’s name, but every once in a while I would either remember one of those paintings, or actually see it in a book or magazine.

All three paintings are very eerie. One of them is called “Government Bureau,” it shows a lot of weary, patient people standing in line at a government office waiting their turn. But you never see the government officials, only their eyes peering through round holes in the ground glass of the windows.

But the George Tooker painting which really communicates despair is called “Waiting Room.” It’s a picture of – again, weary, discouraged-looking people – this time waiting in a room. But this is not like a doctor’s waiting room. Instead, we see a long line of little partitioned booths, which are open to the room, but they have numbers on them, 116, 117, 118, 119, and so on. In those booths stand people, in couples or singly. All of them are wearing coats, as though the giant room is chilly.
And they all have despairing expressions on their faces. We don’t know what they’re waiting for, but nobody seems happy about what will happen when their number gets called.

That is not what God is like. That is not like what His gatherings look like. You and I are waiting too – waiting for Jesus’ return – but God doesn’t want us to wait like that. He wants us to come out from those individual booths where we try to protect ourselves from each other. He wants us to get to know the people we are waiting with, and share His truth about how joyous the Second Coming will be if we have responded to the truth about the One who will be returning.

So how should I respond to this? I need to remember that God’s truth loves potlucks. So I need to stay for potluck, and get to know people. God has a special place of honor for church members who, when they get up to the fellowship hall, look around for somebody they don’t recognize, and go over and ask if they can sit at that person’s table. God’s truth is grieved to see people sitting alone at a potluck table.

God’s truth says that God loves gatherings. Jesus loves gatherings. So let’s make Them happy, and gather with each other. Because where two or three are gathered, that’s where He may be found.

And let’s not forget that Jesus will be our ruler. Jesus the joyful gatherer is the one who will be our King.

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Topical Baptismal Sermon for
Brian and Eric Rojas and Kincade Fowler
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue SDA Church 9/12/2015
©2015 by Maylan Schurch

(Sorry, the audio for this sermon is not available.)

This past Wednesday evening I had the very enjoyable experience of standing before our large Pathfinder club and giving a worship talk to them.

I mentioned to them that a “Pathfinder” wasn’t a path-creator or path-inventor. In some parts of life, blazing new trails and being creative is very important--but not so much when you are planning on eternal life. Because you and I can’t get there on our own. When Jesus walked through the land of Palestine inviting people to become His disciples, He didn’t say “Follow your own desires,” or “Follow your own path.” Instead, He said, “Follow Me.” That means that Jesus wants everybody in this room to be a pathfinder, whether or not you spell it with a capital P, or whether or not you have a uniform. Each of us is a pathfinder, and Jesus is the one who creates the path – a path which leads to a thrilling, delightful, creative eternity with Him, where His followers will be loved and cherished forever.

As usual when I prepare to baptize someone, I ask that person to provide me with a Bible verse or passage which means a lot to him or her. Eric and Brian gave me their verses, and Kincade has provided me with an insightful Bible concept which was played out in many different passages, in the lives of many different Bible characters.

And as I gathered these verses and ideas together this week, I came up with what I consider to be three very important “marching orders” from God to these three gentlemen, and to every other person in this room. Just as a Pathfinder drill instructor gives marching commands to the squads, God gives very clear marching orders to anyone who dares to follow Him.

So let’s find out what these marching orders are. First let’s turn to the verses which Brian chose. If you don’t have a Bible with you, there may be one still available in the little box under the pew just in front of you. Please open your Bibles to Jeremiah chapter 29.

The Jeremiah 29 verses we are about to read have given not only comfort but courage to many people over the years. And within them we will find God’s first marching order. At this point He is speaking to Jewish people who are still in captivity in Babylon. The reason they were taken into captivity was that they had rebelliously and knowingly disobeyed God. But notice what He says to them:

Jeremiah 29:11 – 13 [NKJV]: For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

So, what is God’s first “marching order”? If you’d like to take down sermon points, here comes Sermon Point One.

God’s first marching order says, “Hunt Me with all your heart . . . .

At the end of that marching order, don’t put a period. Instead, put a dot-dot-dot, because that’s not the end of the sentence. In fact, I have gathered all three marching orders into a single sentence, so that they hopefully will be easier to remember.

“Hunt Me with all your heart,” God says. My nephew Christopher is a freshman this fall at Southern Adventist University in Tennessee. His home, however, is in Oregon, and he is an intensely loyal Seahawks fan. All through the preseason, he has been sending Shelley and me his predictions for those preseason games, and yesterday he sent us his predictions for the Seahawks’ opener this coming Sunday. (He thinks, by the way, that the Hawks will win, but by no more than seven points.)

Shelley and I have known Christopher ever since the night we saw him as a tiny preemie baby, held gently in his father’s cupped hands at the Walla Walla Adventist hospital. It’s been fun to watch his various enthusiasms as he has grown.

And he is definitely gung-ho about the Seahawks. Along with his prediction email yesterday he attached some Seahawks “wallpaper” for our computer’s desktop if we cared to use it. It features a very stern-looking Seahawks bird logo, and above the logo are two giant words: “I’M IN!”

And unless you have been wearing very dark glasses this week, you have seen what I’ve seen – a large number of people wearing blue jerseys with numbers on them, people who have decided that they, also, are “IN” with the Seahawks.

Which is exactly the way God wants not only Brian to be but also Eric and Kincade, and everybody else in this room. God wants us to hunt Him with all our hearts.

Because we know that God was not merely saying those words to the captive Jews in Babylon.  And He doesn’t merely say them to New Testament Christians, either. When the apostle Paul addressed the pagan philosopher-wannabes on Mars Hill in Athens, he told them that God “has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;”

In other words, God gives everyone – from no matter what culture – the marching order to hunt Him with all their hearts. So how do I do this? How do I hunt for God?

The only way to get a deep, baseline knowledge of God is through a prayerful reading and study of His Word.

A key reason it’s so important to read the Bible is so that we can understand things from God’s point of view. We need to recognize how much He is determined to give us free choice, yet how deeply He loves us and yearns for us to choose Him.

We need to realize just how dreadfully bad we have made things for God, yet how wonderfully patient and forgiving He is. He will not, and dares not, allow anyone into eternal life who would not be happy in His presence, or who would poison perfect minds like Lucifer did. Yet in Brian’s verses, God promises that if we do hunt Him with all our hearts, we will find Him.

But this isn’t the whole story. Get ready for God’s second marching order. We find this in the verses which Eric chose for his baptism this morning. They’re found in Matthew chapter 5.

Matthew five is the first chapter of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This is where He cuts through all of the cloudy teachings of the rabbis and Pharisees and gets right to the point, which is that our relationship with God begins within us, and works out into our actions.

And in the verses Eric chose, we see that at the very moment when we step forward in that first march-step following Jesus, we stop being spectators or observers. Instead, watch what happens.

Matthew 5:13 – 16: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

What is God’s second marching-order? In this case it’s Jesus who’s doing the talking, but here’s how it goes:

God’s marching orders say, “Hunt Me with all your heart, so I can use you to reflect My life-light to others . . . .”

And again, don’t put a period yet. Put a dot-dot-dot, because we still have one marching order to go.

Life is in light—speaking in an earthly way. The sun shines, and food grows, and we stay alive. And in Eric’s verses which we have just read, Jesus very clearly tells us that Eric and Brian and Kincade are supposed to reflect the life-giving love of God, and the truth about God so that when people see that light, they will glorify not Eric or Brian or Kincade but God. Not a lot of people are glorifying God these days, are they? Most of the time when people mention God, they are using His name merely as a careless way of expressing surprise or disgust about something. This is not glorifying God.

But if our three newly-baptized young men will simply reflect in their words and their actions the truth about God, people will begin to pay glory and respect and honor to their Creator, the way people who wear Seahawks’ jerseys with the number 3 on them are honoring and respecting and wishing to identify with the quarterback they hope will have a successful game this Sunday.

I mean, with most people, Russell Wilson gets far more glory than God does! Eric and Brian and Kincade, you need to help change that. We all need to change that. Fortunately, Russell Wilson himself often uses his prominence to help give glory to God.

So far God’s marching orders say, “Hunt Me with all your heart, so I can use you to reflect My life-light to others . . . .”

Every Labor Day weekend, the Half-Price Books stores offer a 20% discount on your entire purchase during those days. This is why, this past Monday, Shelley and I visited the Crossroads Half-Price Books.

Both of us always have our little sections we go to in bookstores, and I went into the religion section to look at the Bibles. The religion section is kind of a square-horseshoe-shaped area, with a free-standing bookshelf in the center. On the left you have Buddhism and Islam, and then Judaism, then the Christian section, and around the corner you have the astrology and occult books.

As I was scanning the Bibles in the Christian area, I glanced around the corner of that freestanding bookshelf and saw a woman sitting on the floor. She was probably in her early 30s, and she was flipping rapidly through a book.

A woman friend was with her, but was out of my sight because of the freestanding bookshelf. The woman on the floor said something, and her friend said, “Nostradamus,” and the woman on the floor said, “Does he say anything about the future, or just about the past?” The friend said, “Well, I guess it depends on how he’s translated, but they say he’d does talk about the future.”

And the woman on the floor, still flipping through the book, said anxiously, “Does he say anything about next month?”

As I listened to this conversation, I had no idea why this woman might have been concerned with next month. Later, Shelley reminded me that some people are worried about what will happen October 7.

And then I vaguely remembered that we are approaching still another date-setting prediction of the end of the world. Since I know my Bible well enough to know that we know not the day or the hour of the coming of the Son of Man, I haven’t even bothered to figure out what the fuss was all about.

And whether this woman thinking about the October 7 scare, or whether something else was on her mind, she was hungrily looking for answers. In that bookstore, of course, she was around the corner from the books where she could really find the truth.

Also, here I was, a silver haired pastor she had never met and would probably be instantly suspicious of if I had rounded that corner and loomed over her. This clearly wasn’t the right time for a stranger to suddenly break into the conversation. A whole lot of ground work would have had to have been laid.

No, what this desperately searching woman needed right then was a trusted friend who knew a whole lot more than the lady she was with. Because that lady, also, was over in the astrology section, probably flipping through the books herself. If this friend had been a Christian, she could have comforted the woman on the floor, and told her that no, the world is not going to end October 7, and could have guided her along the path leading to God. And that is the kind of friend Eric and Brian and Kincade, and you and I, need to be.

In Luke 21, along about verse 25, Jesus predicts that there will be no shortage of desperate people like this woman on the bookstore floor. He says that just before He returns, there will be “on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth . . . .” (Luke 21:25 – 26) Though she didn’t know it, this bookstore woman was fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy.

And that’s why God’s first two marching orders say, “Hunt Me with all your heart, so I can use you to reflect My life-light to others . . . .

So, what do I do with this? I need to pray that the Lord will give me opportunities – what a couple of weeks ago Dan Bentzinger called “divine appointments” – to help guide people onto the path toward their Savior.

But that’s still not the end of the story. Remember those dot-dot-dots at the end of the first two points? There’s still more to come.

Kincade didn’t supply me with specific Bible verses, but with a general Bible theme, which he noticed has been played out in the lives of quite a number of Bible people.
In fact, let’s just lay down God’s third marching order right here. I’m going to connect it with the first two. Here goes.

God’s marching orders say, “Hunt Me with all your heart, so I can use you to reflect My life-light to others , and yes—I can use you, whoever you are.”

That’s one of the things about the Bible which is so interesting to Kincade. Kincade likes the stories in the Bible when God uses unexpected people to do great things. God used a young shepherd boy to defeat an armored, battle-hardened giant. God used a little nameless captive servant girl to alert Captain Naaman to go to where he could be healed of leprosy. God used a despised and equally nameless Samaritan woman, after a single conversation with Jesus, to rush back into town and bring all the people out to listen to Him. Kincaid likes the idea that God can, and often does, use unlikely heroes.

This means that as Eric, Brian, and Kincade leave this building today, they never ever again need to feel as though they are not useful to God. Nobody else in this room needs to feel that way either, if we are determined to hunt God with all of our hearts, and to reflect God’ love and understanding to anybody in our path, and to remember that each person who catches the gleams of God’s light from us – no matter who he or she is – can themselves become reflectors of that light.

So, as we have seen these young men take their stand for their Savior – to follow Him, literally, in the path He walked, down into the waters of baptism and up to a life of service for Him, I’m wondering about everyone else in this room. Have you committed your life to Jesus the way they have? Would you like to move toward your own baptism, as they have?

Would you like to start hunting God, or continue hunting God, with all your heart?

This is a decision you need to make in your own heart, of course. I’d like you to think about where you are spiritually, what path you are on, as we sing our closing song, which is about the one who loves us so much, who died for us, and who invites us to follow Him.

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Expository Sermon on John 15 & 16
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue SDA Church 9/5/2015
©2015 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to John chapter 15.

This is the final sermon in a series I have been preaching ever since January 24. Week by week most Sabbaths I have been moving through Ellen White’s excellent little book Steps to Christ and preaching on Bible passages found in those chapters. Anytime you want to fine-tune your grasp of salvation, reading through that book will be an excellent way to do it.

I would like to thank Denise Childs for thoughtfully preparing our congregational Scripture readings which you have heard during this series. And thank you to all of you who have taken part in these readings – you have helped us experience Scripture in refreshing ways.

The last chapter in Steps to Christ is called “Rejoicing in the Lord.” Ellen White does something interesting in this chapter. It’s definitely not a standalone chapter, something you might find as an article in a religious magazine. Instead, it’s a natural capstone to the previous chapters. As she gives us suggestions in ways we can “rejoice in the Lord,” she gets really practical.

For example, she goes into detail about how important it is for us to carefully guard our Christian joy. Here are just a couple of examples about how she gets down to brass tacks:

“If we do represent Christ, we shall make His service appear attractive, as it really is. Christians who gather up gloom and sadness to their souls, and murmur and complain, are giving to others a false representation of God and the Christian life. They give the impression that God is not pleased to have His children happy, and in this they bear false witness against our heavenly Father.” (Steps to Christ, p. 116)

She gets right to the point, doesn’t she? A few paragraphs later she tells a story which is often quoted. It’s so good that I’m going to quote it again right here:

“Many, walking along the path of life, dwell upon their mistakes and failures and disappointments, and their hearts are filled with grief and discouragement. While I was in Europe, a sister who had been doing this, and who was in deep distress, wrote to me, asking for some word of encouragement. The night after I had read her letter I dreamed that I was in a garden, and one who seemed to be the owner of the garden was conducting me through its paths. I was gathering the flowers and enjoying their fragrance, when this sister, who had been walking by my side, called my attention to some unsightly briers that were impeding her way. There she was mourning and grieving. She was not walking in the pathway, following the guide, but was walking among the briers and thorns. “Oh,” she mourned, “is it not a pity that this beautiful garden is spoiled with thorns?” Then the guide said, “Let the thorns alone, for they will only wound you. Gather the roses, the lilies, and the pinks.” (pp. 116-117)

In other words, dwell on the positive, and get out of the habit of dwelling on the negative.

As I looked at the Bible verses that Ellen White used in this chapter, I was reminded how Jesus Himself wants us to have joy. He wants us to rejoice in Him with the same joy He has.

So what makes Jesus joyful? I think we’ll find some answers about Jesus’ joy as we look at some verses in John 15 and 16 this morning. And as we read these verses – as we look at all of this red print (if you have a Bible which prints the words of Jesus in red) – we need to remember when He was speaking these words. It was on a Thursday evening, and He has just finished hosting the Last Supper. And the last verse of the previous chapter, John 14, lets us know that they have actually left the upper room and are on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane.

In other words, Jesus has less than 12 hours to live. He knows that He has been betrayed, He knows who his betrayer is, and He knows that His betrayer will lead a mob to capture Him in the middle of that very night.

So this red print must have an even greater intensity than if Jesus were sitting on a hillside speaking to a large crowd. Everything Jesus says is equally important, of course, but we dare not take our eyes off what He now says to His disciples, knowing full well how distraught they will be over what happens to Him from this point on.

And amazingly, He talks about joy. But first, He mentions love. After all, the first two items in Paul’s “fruit of the Spirit” passage in Galatians 5 are love and joy, in that order.

John 15:9 – 11 [NKJV]: “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.

I believe that in these verses we can find at least one way to discover Jesus’ joy. If you’re taking sermon notes, here comes Sermon Point One.

We can find Jesus’ joy by remaining in His love.

The Greek word for “abide” can also be translated “remain.” To abide, or remain, means to stay with. Shelley and I have been abiding or remaining with each other for a little over 37 years. And that’s the way we like it. And one strong theme pulses through these red-print words of Jesus as He tries to prepare His disciples for His death, and that theme is abiding, remaining.

So if remaining in His love is so important, how do we do it? Jesus gives us one important way in the verses we have just read.

Verse 10: If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

So is it true that we abide or remain in Jesus by keeping His commandments? Doesn’t that sound a bit like legalism?

Not if you understand it correctly. Remember how Jesus once told someone that the two great Commandments are to love God and love your neighbor? Well, the 10 Commandments simply give more details about how to fulfill those two great laws.

If you’re new to Christianity, or if you need to review what Christianity really is, the Ten Commandments give helpful details about how to love God--don’t replace Him with any other gods, don’t create images to worship, don’t defame Him by using His name loosely, and remember His Sabbath day to keep it holy.

And if you need specifics on how to love your neighbor – the other people in your life – honor your parents, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, and don’t covet. Love and action go together. For example, if you say you love your spouse, but you also commit adultery, you can’t really be in love.

Theologian Alden Thompson suggests that the further away from God we go, the more details we probably will need about who He is and how to serve Him. But the closer we become, all of these sub-commands will take care of themselves, since our love for God will cause us to automatically obey.

Because the greatest command, the umbrella commandment, is love. It’s not a kind of love that fudges the commandments, or does away with them, or replaces them. In his first letter, John makes this very clear. 1 John 5, verses 2 and 3, says: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”

One of the most powerful test cases of this idea is shown by what happened to Zacchaeus, whose story is in Luke 19. (Keep a marker in John 16 as you turn to Luke 19.) If he were alive today, and had not yet been converted, Zacchaeus’ corrupt tax-collecting practices would have had him up before Senate committees, and he would be sentenced to a good stiff jail term.

But when Jesus arrived in town, Zacchaeus sensed that this traveling Rabbi could provide something that he desperately needed. So he climbed the tree, and as Jesus passed underneath, He looked up and invited himself to the tax collector’s house for a meal, which symbolized to all the onlookers that the righteous Rabbi--and the corrupt tax collector who wanted to be in the Rabbi’s presence--had now become friends.

And in Luke 19:8 and 9, Zacchaeus shows what happens first in the heart and then in the deeds of someone who has accepted Jesus:

Luke 19:8 – 9: Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house . . . .”

You see, Zacchaeus knew all along what was right and wrong. The Holy Spirit had been working on his heart, and Zacchaeus approached the Savior, and the Savior wanted to abide with him.

So we can find Jesus’ joy by abiding or remaining in His love. And the way we do that is to allow the Holy Spirit to help us do what Jesus wants us to do.

As we continue to walk with Jesus and His disciples on the way from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane, we hear Jesus mentioning joy again. And we see Him signaling to us another way we can discover that true joy which He longs for us to experience.

When we join the conversation again, we see that the disciples are puzzled about something Jesus has just told them.

John 16:19 – 22: Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, “Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’? Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.

So how else can we find Jesus’ joy?

We can find Jesus’ joy not only by remaining in His love, but by hungering for His return.

If you’re on our church email list – and if you looked into your bulletin today – you saw a letter from me doing a bit of rejoicing of my own. In what I consider a breathtaking leap of faith, our congregation under the leadership of George Nordby created a list of major renovation projects which this church badly needed. And without borrowing one single cent from any outside source, we all pulled together and have paid for all of these projects, and even have enough left over to finish off three more. If you haven’t had a chance to read that letter, do so. (And go online to our church website, to read all ten CIP newsletters.)

One of the incentives to complete the majority of these projects was our church’s 50th anniversary celebration in September of 2013. I consider that reunion weekend as an almost holy experience. Bev Riter and her team planned that weekend wonderfully well, and made the invitation so enticing that all our former living Bellevue pastors traveled back here and stood on this very platform. Hundreds and hundreds of people converged on this building and celebrated together, and our joy was full.

How can we enhance our hunger, our longing for Jesus’ return if we don’t already have it? We soak ourselves in the Bible promises of the new Earth in the glorious city Jesus has prepared for us. And at the same time, we don’t shy away from what is happening on this planet.

Several years ago I conducted a memorial service for a Seventh-day Adventist lady here in this sanctuary. One of the people who attended was a non-Christian man. At the reception in the fireside room afterward, I talked to this man, and at first didn’t realize where he was coming from. From something he said, we got onto the topic of what was happening in the world, and I just automatically said something like, "Well, world conditions are getting worse and worse.”

Abruptly this man shook his head. “No they aren’t,” he said earnestly. “Things are going just fine, and getting better and better all the time.” I tactfully decided not to push the point, but I remember wondering how this man could believe that this planet is getting better.

The Bible very clearly tells us that we will not have world peace without the arrival of the Prince of Peace. Still, we should work toward world peace as much as we possibly can, in the areas of the world where we can improve it. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

The point is, we should not let our imploding planet frighten us. We should work to make life better for people here, as Jesus did. But we need to remember Jesus’ joy – which was a joy in the reunion He was planning. I remember during our church’s 50th anniversary weekend, just standing and looking at all the reunions which were taking place. It was almost like standing on Heaven’s sea of glass, watching old friends create each other gladly.

I believe that this leads naturally into one more way we can find Jesus’ joy and make it our own.

As we rejoin the conversation Jesus is having, He must be remembering how daily during the last 3 ½ years, His disciples would pepper Him with questions. And even in this very conversation they have asked Him for clarification.

But notice what He tells them now:

Verses 23 – 24: “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

So what’s another way we can find Jesus’ joy?

We can find Jesus’ joy not only by remaining in His love, and by hungering for His return, but also by asking for what gives Jesus joy.

People who don’t “get it” might hear Jesus say “Ask for whatever you want in My name,” and their thoughts might turn to a bigger house, or a more expensive car, or a higher rung on the corporate ladder, or some other earthly ambition.

But remember Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus got the point. Jesus arrives at his house for dinner, and Zacchaeus, instead of asking selfishly for himself, instead did what made Jesus happy. The reformed tax collector promised to refund abundantly what he had defrauded, with generous interest. It was this which prompted Jesus to say joyfully, “This day salvation has come to this house.”

Back in 1977, September 3 was on Sabbath. That Saturday night, I took Shelley up to the faculty lounge on the third floor of the administration building at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. A couple of days before, I had hidden a Seiko watch in its case under a couch there, hoping against hope that no janitor would disturb it.

So I took Shelley into the lounge, sat her down on the couch, and I think I even got down on my knees. I asked her if she would marry me, and when she said yes, I reached under the couch and gave her that watch.

When I asked her to marry me, I was asking for something which would give me joy. And I sensed that it would give her joy as well. And I know that my request gave Jesus joy, too, because it was He who provided several staggering miracles which bridged the gap between Alaska and Nebraska to bring us together in the first place.

And when I brought Shelley home to my parents, meeting her gave them great joy. Shelley is a joyful giver, and she has a talent for thinking about people and giving them gifts that give these people joy. Over the years she has lavished a number of such deeply thoughtful gifts on my mom, and my sisters.

What gives Jesus joy? Togetherness, where people can be together with each other and together with Him. If you glance back along Bible history, you will find that God always works in groups. He calls individuals to come to Him, of course, but He always gathers them into groups.

Jesus is overjoyed with togetherness where his Holy Spirit can be present. In fact, in one of His most famous parables, He plainly tells us what gives Heaven the greatest joy. Let’s turn to Luke, chapter 15.

Luke 15:4 – 7: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

So there’s that word “joy” again. Reunion is Jesus’ joy.

I don’t know where you are on your personal spiritual journey. I don’t know how many steps you have taken toward Christ. But as we have just read, from his very own lips, what would make Him happiest would be if he could list you on His shoulders and carry you back to the fold if you have strayed from it. Will you decide to do that today?

(Back to the Top)

Topical Sermon by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue SDA Church 8/22/2015
©2015 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Romans chapter 11.

We are almost to the end of this sermon series I’ve been preaching for several months. I have based these sermons on Bible passages which show up in the chapters of Ellen White’s little book on salvation, Steps to Christ. Today’s sermon is based on Scriptures found in the chapter called “What To Do With Doubt,” which is the second-to-last chapter in the book.

Yesterday at home Shelley heated up some hash brown potatoes as part of our breakfast, and as I usually do, I went and got the olive oil bottle and drizzled a little on top. And as soon as I smelled the aroma, and tasted those potatoes, I thought of Gottlieb Beck. Because it was Gottlieb who introduced me to the pure joy of olive oil on potatoes.

Gottlieb was a member of the Redfield, South Dakota Seventh-day Adventist church, where I attended. If I have my story straight, Gottlieb had been one of the German-speaking Russian citizens who decided to leave Russia when the Bolsheviks took over in 1917. So he had come to North Dakota, and had eventually married Katherine. And the two of them had somehow made their way down to Redfield.

Back in Russia, Gottlieb had been a fighter. He told me that every once in a while, probably under the influence of vodka or something similar, he and some other guys would get into knife fights, just for something to do.

But even though Gottlieb finally became a faithful Seventh-day Adventist, he was also intensely superstitious. And one Saturday night at our church social, this man who had introduced me to olive oil also introduced me to doubt. It’s not that he taught me to doubt – instead, it was he who doubted me.

I think I’ve probably told this story here in the pulpit before, but I don’t think very recently. What happened was that I was doing a little magic trick show at that church social, and Gottlieb was there, along with several other church members. My little tricks at that time were even more rudimentary than they are now, but I had practiced them, and had just done the first one or two, when Gottlieb spoke.
“No,” he said. “No-no-no-no.”

When I glanced at him, he was staring at me suspiciously, his eyes open wide and his lips pressed firmly together. They opened only to allow another couple of “no’s” to escape, and then they clamped together again.

Since then, I have wracked my brain to try to remember what trick it was I was doing, but I can’t. Nobody else seemed especially astounded by it, but Gottlieb definitely was.

“Gottlieb, what’s wrong?” I asked him.

“No-no-no,” he said. “That is from the devil!”

My jaw dropped. “No, Gottlieb,” I gasped. “This is just a trick.” But he continued to shake his head and give reproving glances at me as though I were Lucifer himself.

I glanced at the rest of the audience, and then back at Gottlieb. Suddenly I realized that if I simply ignored him and went on with the show, Gottlieb’s disapproval and agony would increase, and he wouldn’t get any enjoyment out of what I was doing.

So, I made the decision which goes against the grain of every professional or amateur magician – I would show Gottlieb how to do the trick. So I took him around the corner out of sight, and explained it to him. His eyes opened wide, and he grinned, and he said, “Oh!”

I think the reason that story stays in my memory is that it really hit me hard that Gottlieb thought I was using the power of the devil to do my magic tricks. Gottlieb had seen me grow up there in that church, but suddenly, here he was doubting me, doubting my faith, doubting that I was on God’s side.

And the only thing that removed that doubt was when I took him around the corner and showed him the machinery – showed him the secret to the trick.

When it comes to faith in God and in the Bible, doubt is a very real possibility. Ellen White mentions this in the very first sentences of the “What to Do with Doubt” chapter of Steps to Christ. Here’s what she says:

“Many, especially those who are young in the Christian life, are at times troubled with the suggestions of skepticism. There are in the Bible many things which they cannot explain, or even understand, and Satan employs these to shake their faith in the Scriptures as a revelation from God.” (Steps to Christ, p. 105)

When Gottlieb doubted me, it was an easy thing to quickly show him that my magic trick was just that – a trick, with nothing supernatural involved. But with God, it’s most often not that easy. Probably because of our mental limitations, God cannot immediately pull back the curtain and blow away all doubts.

In fact, we might even be more confused than before. It’s like when I ask a computer expert about how a smartphone is able to accomplish this or that task, I see that expert’s eyes grow very thoughtful. Because they know that they’ll have to use such technical language that I will probably end up more baffled than before!

But as I was studying this subject this week, I discovered that God gives me three “permissions” when it comes to doubting, and I believe that these permissions will allow us to move more quickly toward faith in Him. Let’s go through these permissions and you can see if you agree.

Romans 11:33 – 35 [NKJV]: Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?” “Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?”

These verses – and other Bible verses – give me God’s first “permission” as I deal with any doubts I might have. If you’re taking sermon notes, here comes Point One. 

When it comes to dealing with doubt, God gives me permission to be humble.

So, what does being humble have to do with dealing with any doubts I might have?

Thursday morning I was drove up to both our schools, Puget Sound Adventist Academy and Kirkland Seventh-day Adventist school, to help greet the kids as they arrived for the first day. I saw the freshman with their huge eyes, looking at the other teens around them and wondering if they would have a good year, and make any friends.

And then I saw the math teacher and also the science teacher. And suddenly I felt very humble. Math has always been a weak subject for me, and also all the formulas for scientific processes. If either of them told me the answer to an algebra problem, or told me what chemical reaction would happen if I mixed two substances, I would humbly nod my head and believe them. Who would I be to try to challenge them? Knowing very firmly that my abilities in these two areas are very inferior, I can give these teachers the benefit of the doubt. In other words, I’ve given myself permission to be humble in the presence of their expertise.

I think it’s the same way with God. If I remember that no, the universe does not revolve around me, and that no, I am by no means the smartest person on the planet, I can – with His permission – let Him be God and not try to take His place.

But is humility really important? Of course it is. Humility, I believe, is the chief quality of heaven, after love. And of course humility is not “after love,” but the essence  of love. Because the most humble beings in the universe are God, His Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, by His words and His actions, showed God’s humility. The only times in Bible history when God has had to thunder majestically were times when He had to get people’s attention so they could listen to something important. And even when He spoke the Ten Commandments, He spoke them not from the halls of heaven but from somewhere among the barren rocks of a mountain in the Sinai Peninsula desert.

You see, God was humble enough to come right down to where His children were. The wilderness tabernacle was never staked on a high ridge far from the camp, but positioned in its very center, because that’s where God wanted to be.

If you want to get the clearest possible picture of how humble Heaven is, turn to Isaiah 53. Remember how Jesus said in John 10:30, “I and my father are one”? The first five verses of Isaiah 53 prophetically describe Jesus – and since He and His Father are one, it is also describing the character of God. Jesus is the model of  Heaven’s humility.

Isaiah 53:1 – 5: Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.

Humility is the attitude of heaven.

So, now that I know that God gives me permission to be humble, what do I do about it? I believe that this means that I do not have to be right in every conversation. I do not have to win every argument.

And I do not always have to be first. Every once in a while on my iPad these days I see a commercial where Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is standing on a field with a group of little kids. The kids are choosing sides for a game. One little girl keeps getting not chosen, and she doesn’t look happy. Russell Wilson bends down to her and says, “Don’t worry – 74 people were picked before me in the NFL draft.” The little girl brightens up.

So when it comes to what to do with doubt, just remember that God gives me permission to be humble.

But we need to go further. It’s one thing to be humble, but humility by itself does not remove the possibility of unbelief. Let’s look at another permission God gives us. Turn to Matthew chapter 28.

We pick up the Matthew 28 story after Jesus has come back to life. He has met with His disciples several times since then, and now He is about to have his final meeting with them. Remember that His friends have seen Him, and they have heard Him speak. Yet watch what happens at their final gathering.

Matthew 28:16 – 17: Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.

This staggers the mind, doesn’t it? These disciples had gathered together, they saw the resurrected Jesus--but some doubted. What doubts they could possibly have had, I do not know, but the Bible says that some doubted.

But notice what Jesus does. He does not abandon his original agenda and switch to a “How Not to Doubt” seminar. He does not become angry with them for doubting.

Notice what He does instead. Tranquilly and confidently He gives them the Great Commission. He speaks these well-known words not only to the believers but to the doubters.

Verses 18 – 20: And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Here comes Sermon Point Two:

When it comes to dealing with doubt, God not only gives me permission to be humble—but He also gives me permission to doubt.

At first, this sounds really strange. Doesn’t God want me to have faith? If He wants me to have faith, why would He give me permission to doubt?

Well, if you look back through Bible history, a surprising number of its famous heroes and heroines we name our kids after were at first doubters. They didn’t stay doubters, but they were doubters for a while. If you are experiencing some kind of doubt right now, you are in excellent company.

Take Eve, for example. God had told her something specific not to do, yet when Satan’s ventriloquist dummy the snake told her something exactly opposite, Eve doubted God and believe the snake.

And when God told Abraham that he would have a son born to his wife Sarah, both Abraham and Sarah doubted, and acted on their doubts with disastrous results.

And when God told Moses to do a bit of public speaking in the courts of Pharaoh, Moses panicked. And even though God kept trying to convince him, Moses stuck to his self-doubts, which were actually doubts about God’s abilities.

And Gideon was another classic case of doubting at first. But God patiently worked with Gideon through two separate fleece tests, and an additional overheard conversation outside a soldier’s tent, before Gideon’s doubts were fully erased.

We talk about "doubting Thomas," but all Jesus’ disciples deserted Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. The two travelers to Emmaus expressed their doubts to the Stranger who was walking with them. “We had thought it was He who would redeem Israel,” they said sadly.

And later, Peter would doubt that the Gentiles were truly worthy of the gospel, and his doubts were so strong that God had to send him a triple vision of unclean animals in a bed sheet. And Saul of Tarsus was, of course, a vicious, ISIS-like militant persecutor and doubter at first.

This is good news that God is patient enough with me to give me permission to doubt. Of course He does not want me to remain a doubter. Each of the notorious Bible doubters I mentioned finally became people of such powerful faith that they were ready to lay down their lives for their Lord.

But the bottom line is that God loves doubters just as much as He loves believers. Jesus’ preaching audiences were packed with doubters as well as believers, but some of those doubters eventually became His followers. Acts 6:7 says that as the disciples preached in Jerusalem, “a great company of the priests believed.”

So if I sense doubts within me, what should I do? I should move forward, in the full confidence that God loves me and sees great believer-potential in me. If Saul of Tarsus could change from persecutor to preacher in three days, then there is hope for anybody else who doubts.

But now let’s get even more specific. When it comes to dealing with doubt, what is the third permission God gives me? Turn to the book of 2 Peter.

2 Peter 3:14 – 16: Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

To me, this is delightfully funny (not the scripture-twisting, but Peter’s comments about Paul’s writings). Peter, of course, is being very serious. But as he’s writing along, he admits that – even back then, even though he knew Paul personally – Peter comes right out and says that Paul wrote some hard-to-understand things!

This actually gives me courage too. Because do you know what I think God’s third permission is:

When it comes to dealing with doubt, God not only gives me permission to be humble, and He gives me permission to doubt--but He also gives me permission to be puzzled by His two books.

What are God’s two books? The most important one is the Bible. But early on, Bible students realized that God’s second book is the book of nature.

We’ve already heard Peter humbly admit that even he must’ve had trouble clearly understanding some of Paul’s writings. And we don’t have to look far to be confused about some of the things we see happening in God’s natural world.

On our morning walks, Shelley and I stroll along the fence that separates us from the Lake Youngs reservoir. It’s a pleasant walk, especially in late August when the wild blackberries are at their ripest.

But earlier this week as we walked beside a patch of blackberries, I reached deep into the vines to try to get a juicy one. As I drew it out, I got scratched by a thorn. I looked at that thorn, and I discovered that after the thorn-points leave the vines, they curve back toward the berries. That put them in the perfect position to allow the human hand to reach out for a berry, but to scratch that hand on the way back.

Now that is very difficult to understand. Why thorns? That is puzzling. But God gives us permission to be puzzled by His first Book, the Bible. And He gives us permission to be puzzled by His second book, nature. The only clue we have about why thorns exist – and it’s really not an answer to why they exist – is found in Genesis 3:18, where God predicts that thorns and thistles would grow in the post-Eden soil.

So, who made the thorns? Did God make the thorns, or did the devil mutate the thorns? We don’t know. And it’s not a matter of salvation to answer that question, because God gives us permission to be puzzled.

The bottom line is that there are some parts of the Bible which are at first puzzling, and there are other parts which continue to be puzzling. However, the vast, vast majority of the Bible is crystal clear.

And we do not have to demand that everything be made clear before we can step further into faith. Turn back to Deuteronomy chapter 29 for a verse which not only backs this idea up, but shows us the path to faith.

Deuteronomy 29:29: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Did you notice the two parts to this verse? The first part says that God has some secrets, and that they belong to Him. Though we need to keep studying His Word, we will probably not know many of these secrets until we get to heaven.

But look at the second part of the verse – “those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

Right there you have the path from doubt to faith. How do I know that this is the path of faith? Because Jesus says it is. Turn to John chapter 7.

Here we find Jesus responding to some people who are trying to cast doubt on His credibility. And in His answer to them, Jesus gives them the secret to losing doubt and gaining faith in what He and his Father say.

John 7:16 – 17: Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.

Do you see what Jesus is saying here? What He is saying goes arm-in-arm with Deuteronomy 29:29. What is revealed in the Bible is for us, so that we may do all the words of God’s law. And here Jesus says that if we “will” – in other words, if we wish to and decide to –do God’s will, we will come to know and understand it better.

And we will be helped in this understanding by the Holy Spirit. In John 16:13, Jesus said, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.”

Ellen White comments on this on page 111 of the standard edition of Steps to Christ. She says:

“Christ has said, ‘If any man willeth to do His will, he shall know of the teaching.’ John 7:17, R.V. Instead of questioning and caviling concerning that which you do not understand, give heed to the light that already shines upon you, and you will receive greater light. By the grace of Christ, perform every duty that has been made plain to your understanding, and you will be enabled to understand and perform those of which you are now in doubt.”

So, God loves doubters. He certainly devotes a lot more energy to doubters than He does for non-doubters. He spares no effort to bring these individual lost sheep into the fold with the other ninety-nine.

God loves doubters so much that He gives them permission not to have to know all the answers but to be humble. He gives them permission not to have to believe everything right away, but to doubt for a while as they move toward faith. He gives them permission not to have to fall apart if they can’t understand everything in the Bible or in nature. He gives us permission to be puzzled.

And of course the ultimate proof of God’s love for all of us – doubters and believers – is that He sent his very willing Son to die for us on the cross.

And because of this, we can take what little faith we have and look up to our Savior, because He can take all our guilt away.

(Back to the Top)


Expository Sermon on Matthew 6]
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue SDA Church 8/15/2015
©2015 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click here.)

Please open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 6.

Today’s sermon is Part Two of a two-part sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer. Part One was last week, and the springboard for this mini-series is the chapter called “The Privilege of Prayer” in Ellen White’s little book Steps to Christ. Week by week, I’ve been preaching on Bible passages which show up in the chapters of Steps to Christ.

Yesterday Shelley and I were at the Fairwood Library near our home shortly after the library opened. The event was the annual Friends of the Library Book Sale, where you could pick up hardback books for two dollars apiece. The books were laid out on tables, with the spines conveniently pointing upward so you could read the titles.

As I scanned the titles, I noticed a black book which was 2 ½ inches thick. It was the Modern Library edition of the English translation of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. The English title was simply Capital.

If you paid attention during World History class, you will remember that it was the writings of Karl Marx (in Capital and also in The Communist Manifesto) which gave a powerful boost to the ideas of socialism and communism. These ideas taught that after a class struggle between the rich and the working class, a society would be created where everyone is equal and nobody lords it over anybody else.

And another thing you probably learned during World History class that things haven’t worked out this way. Marx taught that if a country wants to move toward communism, there must be a transitional period of great struggle between the classes. However, countries who tried communism never got beyond the transitional phase, because things pretty much ground to a halt with the Communist leaders themselves in charge, lording it over the weaker people. What’s Karl Marx didn’t take into account, of course, was selfish human nature.

Even though Marx’s ideas didn’t work out, the fact remains that he saw a lot of abuses there in the 19th century, with the rich getting richer and the poor getting more oppressed, and in his writings he pointed out these problems and offered socialistic solutions. His writings could be called a “manifesto,” a statement of principles he felt would move a bad situation toward a good one.

And as I set eyes on Karl Marx’s book in the library yesterday, I suddenly realized that if you look at it one way, the Lord’s Prayer is a manifesto. Most if not all of the familiar phrases in this prayer declare that what is happening here on earth is indeed opposite to the way God planned them to happen.

For example, the phrase “Our Father” declares that God is a father, and that He is “our” father. Most of the world doesn’t believe this. And many people who think they’re really believing in God would never really want a father like Him. Because they distrust Him. But Jesus’ prayer manifesto challenges that idea.

And the next phrase, “Who art in heaven” (to use the old King James phrase) reminds us that too many people have dragged God down to the human level, and have leg-chained Him to ideologies and philosophies He doesn’t believe in. Some people in this world believe that God condones and commands human butchery, and other people believe that He blandly nods with approval at whatever anyone wants to do.

God needs to be rescued from these fallacies. He needs to be exalted to a place where people will look to Him for truth, rather than distorting His image to match theirs. And He can’t do this in a blaze of heavenly glory, because this would frighten people more and drive them further away. He does this instead through human ambassadors—you and me.

Let me quickly summarize the two points about the Lord’s Prayer I mentioned last week. The question we are asking is “What good does prayer really do?” Last week I mentioned that when Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, He must have believed that prayer would do some good, or He wouldn’t have bothered to teach them how to do it.

Last week I reminded us that this prayer contains the very words of Jesus Himself. As we looked at the prayer’s first phrase, we discovered what I called Point One of the sermon, and here it is:

Jesus’ words remind me of what kind of God I have.

What I mean was this. Here in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had been telling His hearers about two kinds of ineffective pray-ers—the hypocrites who used their religion to enhance their own prestige, and the heathen who believed that prayer was a mechanical process which would get them better results the longer and more volubly they prayed. Spin the prayer wheel faster, or gabble out the same phrases, all afternoon, and you might get better results.

I mentioned that both of these ineffective kinds of prayers give the wrong idea about God. Faith in God should not be used to gain you political points. Faith in God is not learning to operate a machine more effectively to get better results.

No, God is “our Father.” No matter who I am, or who you are, we are all equally beloved in God’s sight. Just as the farmer in Jesus’ parable loved the prodigal son and the stay-at-home son equally, God loves us all the same.

And that was the second point I suggested last week, the second “good” that this prayer does:

Jesus’ words in this prayer remind me not only of what kind of God I have, but also that I am a brother or sister in His large family.

As I mentioned last week, our congregation comes from all over the world, and God looks on each of us with parental fondness.

And those first two points, those first two ideas – that I have a truly fatherly God, and that I am a beloved part of his family – these two ideas need to be solidly understood and believed, as we look at the next phrase in Jesus’ prayer.

Matthew 6:9 [NKJV]: In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.

How many times have we repeated that last phrase, unaware of its tragic implications. What does “hallowed be Your name” mean, anyway? I mean, isn’t God already holy? Isn’t His name holy as well?

The tragedy is that while God is indeed holy, His name most often is not treated that way. A few weeks ago I mentioned that most of the time, God’s name is used not with reverence but in ways that we would never use our mother’s name or our spouse’s name or our boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s names.

So when Jesus says “Hallowed be Your name” He is not simply repeating a pious prayer formula. No, this is a manifesto. This is a declaration that all is not well with God’s name, God’s reputation, here on earth. That name needs to be regarded as holy again.

Satan, of course, is delighted at the way things are now. From his very first spsoken syllables in Genesis 3, Satan has tried to convince us that God is not only untrustworthy but also unfair. Satan wants you and me to eventually decide that God is irrelevant, and finally nonexistent.

In fact, this is where we can lay down our next sermon point. What good does this prayer really do?

Jesus’ prayer reminds me not only of what kind of God I have, and that I am a brother or sister in His large family, but also that the character of God is at stake.

“Hallowed be Your name.” Okay, since Jesus has mentioned this in his prayer, how should I respond? Is there anything that I can do to change the situation? Is there any way in which I can “hallow” )or make holy again) God’s name?

Well, just think of some other names which we now consider “hallowed,” or at least respected. Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Junior, Susan B. Anthony, and many other people we name buildings and counties and cities after, and whose faces we put on coins and bills and postage stamps. Since many of these people struggled against powerful but popular wrongs, they were often vigorously persecuted. Their names were defamed.

So how did these world-changers become finally respected? It was when the facts about them became known. Anybody can tell a lie about somebody else, but when the shadows vanish and the truth shines out, the lie loses its effectiveness.

One of the most important doctrines the Seventh-day Adventist church has brought before the Christian world is that there is a great controversy going on, and what is at stake is the character of God. Satan accuses God, but Jesus insists that the Heavenly Father is holy, and that His holy reputation must be restored.

So what can you and I do about this?

For one thing, I need to really know what the real truth is about God. And the way I get that is to read my Bible. The staggering fact is that the Christian world is filled with partial-truth believers. Some people base their Christianity on only part of the Bible, or part of the New Testament, while other Christians include more Bible in their beliefs.

And the chilling truth is that most Christians hold beliefs not because they have studied them from the Bible but because other people tell them these beliefs are true. Most Christians do not do what the Bereans in Acts 17:11 did--carefully examine their Bibles for themselves to discover whether or not their Bible teachers have the whole story.

So to prepare to defend God’s reputation, I need to read my Bible and refresh my own truth-supply. And I also need to remember to be grateful to God even for things I take for granted. Some people think it’s a bit foolish to “go overboard” in praising and thanking God. Isn’t that being just a bit too pious?

But we need to remember the wonderful physical and mental resources God has given to us. If we were not as well-designed as we are, some really bad things could happen to us. All of us have free choice, of course, but God has given us wonderful equipment to work with, wonderful capacities to adjust and react to things that happen. And His angels have protected us many times when we haven’t realized it.

This morning I was thinking about how we should thank God for the abilities to develop habits. Take shoe-tying, for instance. What if you and I had to think through every single step of tying our shoes each time we did it. It might take us ten minutes every morning.

So I should read my Bible, and practice being grateful to God, and I need to uphold God’s reputation every day. Many times people have said things to me, or emailed things to me, which show that they don’t have a complete view of God. If it’s appropriate, I tactfully and gently introduce them to additional Bible verses which could give greater perspective. I literally did this within the past week with an email correspondent who is not a member of this church. This person had an incomplete knowledge of a certain Bible doctrine, and I was able to supply that person with a verse that filled in a puzzle piece. That’s what you and I can humbly and graciously do as God gives us an opportunity to restore and enhance His name, His reputation.

At this point, as a person who prays the Lord’s Prayer, I might understand that God is our loving Father, and that as His children, we are equal sisters and brothers. I might understand that there is a great controversy over His character happening right now, and I need to do my best to defend that character in my words and actions.

But that leads us right into the next crucial “good” which this prayer can do.

Verses 9 - 10: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.

What other “good” does this prayer do?

Jesus’ prayer reminds me not only of what kind of God I have, and that I am a brother or sister in His large family, and that the character of God is at stake, but Jesus’ prayer also reminds me that God’s agenda is always more important than mine.

Those two women activists who interrupted Bernie Sanders’ rally in Seattle a few days back firmly believed that the agenda they were championing was at the moment more important than what presidential candidate Bernie Sanders might have said if he had been allowed to speak to the people who had come to hear him.

Now, there are valid opinions on both sides is to how appropriate it was for these women to shut down Sanders’ speech in this way, but when you think of it, Jesus often confronted the power figures of His day in a similar way. Normally, He challenged the Pharisees after they had challenged Him in some way. But Jesus was always fearless in pointing out the dangers of following an agenda which was opposite to God’s.
Earlier this week I was approaching a major intersection near our home, and I saw a man holding a square sign. At first I thought he was a panhandler, but then I saw what was on the sign. He held the sign high above his head, and I could see that while the lettering was hand-printed, but it was easy to read. On one side, in large capital letters, it read, “READ ‘1984’,” and on the other side it said “We are being enslaved!”

The sign must  have been referring to George Orwell’s book 1984, which was a futuristic story about a totalitarian state which suppressed dissent. I don’t know who the man on the street was, but his sign had no website or any organization’s name. He simply felt so strongly about his ideas that even though people might think he was a lunatic, he decided to stand on the street corner and warn the people in the cars that their freedoms were vanishing. This man considered that doing this was the highest agenda item he could be pursuing at that point.

So since the Lord’s Prayer tells me that God’s agenda is always more important than mine, what should I do about that? What can I do, starting right now, in the car on the way home – or on the way to the potluck at Jing and Brendan’s place-- what can I do throughout this week to respond to this?

Well, if God’s agenda is more important, I need to act out that agenda. I’m doing it right now, by meeting to worship on the day He rested on, made holy, and blessed. That’s an example of acting out God’s agenda.

I need to make sure that the rest of the 10 Commandments are not only on my agenda list but in my very heart. I need to pray thoughtfully through the Sermon on the Mount, remembering that Christianity begins on the inside and works its way to the outside.

I need to think about what’s going on in heaven right now. If God’s will is being done in heaven, what’s happening there?

I know that the angels are praising God almost constantly, so I need to keep in the habit of expressing gratitude to God for His goodness to me. I need to look at my hands, my knuckles, the way my fingers bend. I need to remember how wonderful it is that my eyelids close and that tear-ducts lubricate the surface of my eyeballs. Rather than always grousing about how I wish things were better, wishing I didn’t have this or that disability, I need to thank God for what I have – and for the disability-free eternity he promises to those who have accepted His sacrifice for their sins.

And what this prayer teaches me next follows right along from this.

Verse 11: Give us this day our daily bread.

Jesus’ prayer reminds me not only of what kind of God I have, and that I am a brother or sister in His large family, and that the character of God is at stake, and that God’s agenda is always more important than mine, but Jesus’ prayer also reminds me that all I really need are my daily rations.

Yesterday afternoon on I saw the face of a woman who looked a little like my mother. She lived in one of the houses that are threatened by one of the huge Chelan fires. As she spoke to the TV reporter, she glanced up the ridge at the fire blazing there. Talking about her house, she said something like, “It’s your whole life, and in a few minutes it could be gone.”

She was talking about the mementos and memories in her home, and how it any moment she might be required to evacuate, leaving the house to its fate, just as others have had to do.

Jesus’ prayer reminds me that all I really need my daily rations. Don’t worry about tomorrow, He said elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount. Let tomorrow take care of itself. Plan for the future, of course, but don’t be obsessed about storing up treasure on earth.

My parents never had much money. Mom stayed at home with me and my three siblings, and dad worked long hours to provide us the essentials. Over the years since I was a kid, I have tastesd many wonderful foods which Mom never knew existed, but I can’t think of anything that tastes better than what Mom would serve us on winter nights – white-bread toast and cups of cocoa.

That white bread was bad for us, of course. Since I have become someone who has to watch his salt intake, I have discovered that an ordinary slice of bread has a horrifying amount of salt in it, so I can’t eat much of that kind of bread anymore. Mom’s full-strength cocoa had sugar and chocolate, and I can’t do chocolate anymore.

But the love that surrounded that “daily” white bread was real. And the kindness that accompanied that cocoa warmed my soul as well as my tummy. And it was my parents’ love which first began to settle gently into my mind the idea that God is a kind Father, and that I am truly a child of His.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” I need to be careful of all my consumption habits, and not of just food, but of other things as well. I need to keep life as simple as possible. For example, if I am in debt, I need to get out of debt as soon as I can, so that I can more easily live life day by day.

Let’s look at just one more truth which shows me the good that this prayer can really do for me.

Verse 12: And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.

What good does prayer—and this prayer in particular—really do?

Jesus’ prayer reminds me not only of what kind of God I have, and that I am a brother or sister in His large family, and that the character of God is at stake, and that God’s agenda is always more important than mine, and that all I really need are my daily rations. Jesus’ prayer also reminds me that forgiveness is just as important as food.

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

What kind of debts is Jesus talking about here? Money debts? It’s more than that. Glance down at verse 14.

Verses 14 – 15: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Notice that Jesus has changed words here. First He talks about “debts,” and here he talks about “trespasses.”

We all fall short in some way, don’t we? I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a culture where some people held grudges. Some people let wrongs fester, and fester, and grow crustier, and life became colder and more miserable the longer these grudges went unforgiven.

Forgiveness is hard, especially when one has been horribly sinned against. And I’m not saying that forgiveness of horrible sins against you must happen in an instant, with the careless snap of a finger, as if what happened to you was no big deal. But we need to be growing toward forgiveness all the time. Sometimes it takes time and maturity to get perspective so that you can fully forgive.

And if we don’t know how to forgive, w