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Monday, March 27, 2023

Women Can Preach. Amen!

Christians don’t always agree on everything.  That's why we have so many different denominations.  We all read the same Bible, but we may interpret it slightly different.  Today, I want to address a difficult disagreement among various Christian traditions.  Can women preach and be the pastor of a church?  Can women have authority over men?  Methodists say yes and today I want to show why.

The Bible is the Word of God and contains everything necessary and sufficient for our salvation.  The Bible is the foundation of all Christian belief and practice.  So if we’re going to learn if women can preach, we have to start with the Bible.  Those denominations that do not allow women to preach and lead churches believe the Bible forbids it.  I respect them for their decision (even though I disagree), because I respect their commitment to follow Scripture, even when it goes against the grain of cultural pressure.  Churches do not take their cue from society; we follow Scripture.  However, I believe the Bible says women can teach, but you have to look deeper than just the surface.

The Bible is a complex and ancient document--not a modern textbook or instruction manual.  Some things are very easy to interpret while others take a lot of effort.  There are different genres of literature in the Bible and we have to read and analyze them to understand what God is saying to us today.

Paul’s letters in the New Testament are an excellent source of information for Christian living.  However, we always read them knowing they are letters and we’re only hearing half of the conversation.  Hearing only half the conversation can be very tricky!  Do you remember the State Farm commercial a few years ago, about Jake from State Farm?  A wife catches her husband talking on the phone at 3 AM and it sounds like he may be having an intimate conversation with another woman, but she's only hearing half of the conversation.  She askes who it is.  The husband says "It's Jake from State Farm."  The wife snatches the phone and ask, "Who is this!"  The guy on the other end says, "It's Jake, from State Farm."  We have to be careful the conclusions we draw when we are only hearing half of the conversation.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes his letters to specific communities, often to address specific problems.  We only hear what Paul is saying, not what the community is saying and we must use a little detective work to figure out what is going on in the church to get the full story about what Paul is teaching and why.

The Roman world of the first century was very different from our own.  The Romans conquered a wide swath of cities over a vast area.  All these different cities had their own cultures and traditions and religions, which made Christian preaching and teaching and living quite challenging. 

There’s an intriguing document called Ehpesiaca, written around 50 AD by a man named Xenophon of Ephesus.  It’s fascinating because it was written around the same time the Apostle Paul ministered to the Ephesians (as recorded in our Bibles).  In the ancient document, Xenophon describes the great Temple of Artemis of the Ephesians.  Artemis was a goddess to the Ephesians.  According to Acts 19:25, the Ephesians believed the statue of Artemis fell down from heaven.  Ephesus was a religious center for the worship of Artemis.  People came from all over the world to worship Artemis in the “Artemiseum” (which kept a lot of Ephesians in business—selling religious trinkets, jewelry, idols, etc.). 

Xenophon describes that the Temple of Artemis was different from most other male-dominated religions in the ancient world.  Artemis was a female goddess and her temple was staffed by female priestesses.  The priestesses were at the top of the social order of Ephesus.  They adorned themselves with elaborate and expensive clothing and jewelry that showcased their sexuality and femininity.  They wore their hair uncovered and in special braids that indicated their wealth and beauty and devotion to their god.  Contrary to the Biblical story of Genesis, the Artemisian religion taught that the goddess Artemis created humanity out of a woman.  Woman were created first and then the man came from woman.  It was exactly the opposite of what the Bible teaches in Genesis.  (In Genesis, God created a man out of the dust of the earth.  Then when the man could not find a suitable mate from among the animals, God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep.  Then God took a rib from Adam's side and made a woman out of it so that she was bone of Adam's bone and flesh of Adam's flesh.) 

The Artemisian religion flipped the Christians creation story on it's head.  Rather than presenting men and women as equals (like Christianity) Artemis elevated women above men.  Furthermore, Artemis taught women they must worship and honor Artemis or they would die in childbirth.  Since childbirth was already one of the most dangerous experiences for women, this was quite a statement.  Ephesian women were afraid and wanted Artemis' protection.

Now this was a fanatical religion.  When Paul and some early Christian missionaries tried to preach about Jesus in Ephesus in Acts 19, some of the local businesses who made money off the Artemisian temple gathered a mob to start a riot opposing the Christians.  They took over the city and shouted “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” for 2 hours until authorities final got things back under control.  (This was sometime around 53-55 AD—around the same time Xenophon wrote Ehpesiaca about the Artimesian religious practices.)

Now, knowing that background, listen to part of a letter Paul wrote to Timothy who was leading a church in Ephesus at that time.

1 Timothy 2:9-10
And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. 10 For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do.

Do you see now what Paul is saying?  He's instructing Timothy to discourage the women from his congregation from dressing like the Artemisian priestesses.

11 Women should learn quietly and submissively. 12 I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. 13 For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve.  14 And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result. 
And here we see Paul is correcting the Artemisean false teaching about creation.
15 But women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.

This passage is one of two main Scriptures some denominations use to bar women from ordination.  Methodists disagree.  We ordain women.  Here’s why.

Paul is writing to Timothy advising on the best way to pastor a church in Ephesus.  Ephesus, the home base of the Artemisean temple, where women dress in expensive, elaborate clothing, and lord their priestly position over men.  No doubt, many women of Ephesus were highly educated and wealthy, but their status and wealth and education was a direct contradiction of Biblical Christianity.  It was tempting for some of these women to come into the church and feel they could immediately step into positions of authority in the church.  I mean, some of them may have been former priestesses of Artimus (or had aspired to be Artemisean priestesses).  Paul didn't think it was a good idea for them to immediately assume leadership in the Ephesian church.  They weren’t ready.  They had to die to their former way of living and learn a new way of living as Christian women.

Knowing the context of the Ephesian women makes all the difference. Paul is not saying all women, everywhere shouldn’t wear jewelry or fix their hair or wear pretty clothes.  he is only talking to the women of the Ephesian church.  

The context of the 1 Timothy also helps verse 15 make perfect sense.  Verse 15 – “Women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.”  Artemis told women they would die in childbirth if they forsook her.  Paul says, “No you won't.  You will saved in childbirth if you follow Jesus.  Artemis cannot hurt you.”

Paul was writing to say the women of the Ephesian church should not be in charge at that time.  It wasn’t good idea at that moment.  However, Paul did not intend to make a general statement for the whole Church around the world for all times.  We know that because there are other places where Paul explicitly affirms women in church leadership.

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul affirms that women can pray and prophesy in public at church.  Prophesy is considered one of the most important roles of church leaders.  In the Old Testament, a prophet was considered more important than the king.  Remember, it was the prophet Samuel God told to anoint Saul as the furst king of Israel.  And when Saul repeatedly disobeyed God, God sent the prophet Samuel to tear the kingdom away from Saul and annoint David in his place.  When David sinned with Bathsheba, the Prophet Nathan was the one who called him out on it.  And in 1 Corinthians, Paul says women can be prophets.  As the Apostle Peter preached in Acts 2:18 (quoting Joel 2:28-32), "In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—and they will prophesy."

Furthermore, Paul affirms many women who led churches. There are numerous references to women leaders in the New Testament.  For the sake of time, I will only list three here.  First there is Romans 16:1, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea.”  Deacons are the counterparts to the preachers/pastors.  Steven, the first martyr of the Christian Church, was a deacon.  In the United Methodist tradition, deacons are ordained just as elders (pastors) are and consider at the same level.

Paul wrote in Romans 16:3, “Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus.”  Priscilla and Aquilla were pastors who led a church in their home.  They are also credited with pulling Apollos aside and correcting some of his theological misunderstandings about Christianity.  So Pricilla (a woman) corrected Appolos (a man).  The fact that Paul mentions Priscilla and Aquilla together shows that he considers them equal.  In a male dominated culture, Paul was under no obligation to name Priscilla.  Paul could have just said Aquilla, but Paul always makes a point to name Priscilla and he puts her name first (indicating she was the leader of the pair).

Romans 16:7 says, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews, who were in prison with me. They are highly respected among the apostles and became followers of Christ before I did.

Junia is a woman.  The name is the Latinized version of Joanna—possibly the same Joanna who saw Jesus rise in Luke 24.  

The early church (up to 1000 AD), accepted that Junia was a female apostle who had been with Jesus and the twelve Disciples.  (The early definition of an Apostle was one who had physically seen Jesus before the crucifixion.  

Now, all these references by themselves do not prove that women were allowed to pastor and lead churches in the New Testament.  They are clues, but not proof.  However, taken with the New Testament worldview (as well as Paul's), we can see that women did (and should be allowed today) to be ordained as pastors and lead churches.

Look at Galatians 3:28-29.  "There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you."

According to Old Testament regulations of the Jewish religion, women cannot be heirs.  Women didn't inherit family property or money; only men could be heirs.  Yet in Galatians, Paul is saying gender no longer defines who is an heir.  Both men and women inherit the Kingdom of God.  So, if women are now equal inheritors, why shouldn't they also be equally called to preach and lead?

We also see that Jesus discarded the cultural separation of roles between men and women. Jesus accepted women as equals throughout his ministry.  In the story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10:38-42, Jesus is teaching while Martha is serving food and doing what was traditionally considered "women's work".  Mary is sitting at Jesus feet learning.  Martha says to Jesus, "Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”  Now, notice Martha does say, "Why don't you tell Peter to come help me?"  Why?  Because fixing dinner was women's work and Bible study was what the men did.  But Jesus refuses to tell Mary to go help Martha with the women's work.  Jesus wants Mary to learn just like the men.  You see, Jesus is reforming the old ways of thinking and doing--even the roles of men and women.

God did not create men to rule the world and women to be subservient.  That was not God’s original plan.  It was a result of the fall because the first people sinned and the world became corrupt.  The world and the people in it are cursed by sin.  After sin, Genesis 3:16 says of women “you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.”  And ever since we have seen this curse in action.  Men throughout the ages have tried to subjugate women.  On the other hand, women have tried to break free, often going too far the opposite direction, saying men are less important than women.  Any time we hear it taught that men are better than women or women are better than men, we are seeing the results of the curse brought about by sin.  

Jesus came to break the curse.  What does that mean?  Well, it means a lot of things.  One important way we live out this new truth of equality is by recognizing women can have equal leadership responsibility in the church (and in the work place and in government).

In the Methodist church, women can be ordained as pastors of the church.  We believe this is based on the Word of God.  We aren’t led to this by the changing whims of culture.  Rather, we lead culture to this understanding because of the eternal Word of God and the new reality brought about by the ressurection of Jesus Christ.  The curse is broken and the realities of God's Kingdom are breaking in and taking over our world and ideas.

What Curse Needs To Be Broken In Your Life?  Come to Jesus.  He is the One who can set your free.  You don't have to keep living the broken ways you lived before.  Jesus has the power and the will to set you free. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Christians Worship the Trinity. Amen!

The Bible is the Word of God and contains everything necessary and sufficient for our salvation. The Bible is primary way Christians understand God and faith and what we teach and how we act. Amen!

Some things the Bible teaches are clear and straight forward and easy to understand.  Exodus 20:13 is pretty clear, "Do not murder."

Other teachings from the Bible require you to think a little bit more.  Among those deeper doctrines the Bible teaches is the Trinity.  So today, I’m gonna do my best to mine the depths of God’s Word to show you that Christians worship the Trinity.

Matthew 3:16-17
After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

These verses may be familiar.  They’re from the story of Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John in the Jordan River.  What I want to point out for you today is how the Trinity is embedded in the story. 
Who is being baptized?  Jesus.
What descends upon Jesus?  A dove. The Spirit of God.  The Holy Spirit.
Who speaks from Heaven?  God.  The Father.
So in this story all three persons of the Trinity are revealed.  

Now that word—Trinity—is never written in the Bible. It’s never literally written, but it’s definitely there. It’s embedded throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.

Genesis 1:26
From the creation story in Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.”  The original Hebrew words were plural, which shows the plural nature of God's character.  That's why English translations use the plural pronouns "us" and "our".  This indicates that God is a plurality (like a trinity).

Isaiah 48:16
In Isaiah, the Messiah speaks to Israel, “And now the Sovereign Lord and his Spirit have sent me with this message.”  So in this Old Testament passage, we see all three person's of the Trinity.

John 10:30
In John 10:30, Jesus said, “The Father and I are one.”

2 Corinthians 13:14
2 Cor. 13:14 reveals the trinitarian greetings use by early Christians like Paul , “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

I won't try to list all the passages in the Bible that reference or allude to the triune nature of God (there are over 100 in the Old Testament alone).  You can search them out yourself.  So thought the word "Trinity" is not there, the Trinity itself is a reality in the Bible.

Initially, no one in the Christian faith questioned or tried to define the trinitarian nature of God.  It was just assumed.  Jesus, the Son of God, taught in terms of his relationship to God the Father and the Holy Spirit.  The 12 Apostles carried on this tradition.  And in the beginning, the early Christians had some very pressing problems to deal with—trying to spread the Good News about Jesus while also facing severe persecution, imprisonment, and death.

But eventually, some people began accusing Christians of worshipping more than one God—
that Jesus was a God, the Father was a God, and the Holy Spirit was a third God.  Others tried to rank the three persons of the Trinity—maybe saying the Father was the supreme God, but then God created Jesus and the Holy Spirit as lesser gods or angelic like figures.  however, 
these ideas are contrary to Scripture.  John 1:1 says, “In the beginning the Word [Jesus the Son] already existed.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Eventually, Christians needed to define the Trinitarian nature of God to dispel  misunderstandings and wrong teaching.  They said:

There is only one God.  The Bible is clear there is only one God and His followers must not worship any god but the Lord (Ex. 20:3).  So it cannot be that Christians worship three Gods.  

God is three distinct Persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Bible clearly teaches The Father is God and Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God.  Therefore, somehow, mysteriously, There is one God who is revealed as three different persons.  When Jesus prays to His Father, Jesus is not talking to Himself.  He is talking to a distinct Person.

Furthermore, Christians discerned, God is not created. God is eternal.  God has always existed.  And since God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all Three have always existed.  In other words, God did not create the Son or the Holy Spirit.  They were always part of God (Genesis 1, John 1)

All Three at All Times
Undoubtedly, someone will approach me and say they have a simple way to understand the Trinity.   They may say, "There is this example of water.  Water can be ice or liquid water or steam.  It is all three, yet it is still water."  This can be a helpful illustration (I’ve even used it before), but it still doesn’t fully capture the nature of the Trinity.  This is because water is either ice, water, or steam.  It is not all of them at the same time.

There were some Christians who tried to argue that God is one, but appeared in different forms at different times.  This is actually a heresy called “modalism”.  A right and biblical teaching is that God is all three forms at all times.  We know this because there are clearly times in the Bible when God was all three forms all at the same time.  The baptism of Jesus is a perfect example.  In the story, The Son is baptized, The Father speaks from Heaven, and the Spirit descends like a dove.  So all three Persons of the Trinity are present in the story at the same time.  

Reasons The Trinity is Important
Now, this is deep stuff; some people might wonder if this trinitarian stuff really matters.  It does. If a church does not accept the Trinity, they’re not really functioning as a Biblically Christian church.
Let me share some reasons why.

First of all, Christianity believe in only one God. 
Some religions, like Hinduism and Buddhism that believe in many gods, express appreciation for Jesus.  They will say he was a great teacher or they may even say Jesus is one of the gods (one among many).  But Christians cannot accept this.  We believe Jesus is God and the only God.  Jesus said in John 14:5, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”  So true Christian teaching says, Jesus isn’t just one of the ways; no, Jesus is the only way, the only truth, the only life.

Christians believe in only one God. There are other “one-god-only” religions, and it is sometimes said if there is only one god then we must all worship the same one-god.  However, Christians are different from the other monotheistic religions like—Judaism and Islam.  Jewish and Muslim people also believe there is only one God and those religions will sometimes express admiration for Jesus.  However, they reject the idea that Jesus is God.  For them, Jesus is a good man or a prophet.  But Christians believe Jesus is God.  Furthermore, we also believe the Holy Spirit is God.  And yet we also contend that the Trinity is One God.  The Trinity sets Christianity apart as distinct from other monotheistic religions.

There is a second reason for acknowledging the Trinity, one that is even more important.  The Trinity shows how God really is love.  You have to understand, God is and was and will always be fully complete without us.  Some people have this notion that God created people because He was lonely.  However, God wasn’t lonely.  God was already in a full and complete relationship before humanity.  In God’s trinitarian unity, He was already whole.  He lacked nothing.  He didn’t need anything.  He was already in a perfect relationship.  So, God created humanity (and all creation), not as a means to fulfill some longing within Himself, but rather as an overflowing expression of His deep, eternal love.

We struggle to understand God's kind of love because we often think of love as a longing within us.  We “love” someone or something and we need (them or it) to complete us, to fulfill us.  God love doesn’t work that way.  God is self-giving love, not a longing, consuming love.  God didn’t created the universe for his own benefit, He created us out of an overflowing love.  We are an expression of His self-giving love.  Because God was already a trinity in relationship, He was not lonely.  Your life is a gift—free and clear—no strings attached.  Your existence is an expression of God’s grace.  Thus, we learn the true nature of love from God’s trinitarian nature; and we are made in God's image.  We are made for love and by love.  Love is giving, not consuming.

Third, the trinitarian nature of God means we can truly be saved.  Jesus is not a creation of God.  Jesus is not an angel (or a created being). The Trinity reveals Jesus is fully God and fully human.  

Why is that important?  Well if Jesus wasn’t fully man, then He couldn’t truly understand our situation.  (How can a perfect, infinite, all powerful diety understand anything about living as broken mortals in a broken world?)  Thankfully, in Jesus, God became fully human.  The all-knowing, all-powerful God of the universe compressed Himself into the limited time and space and perception of a human body.  As Philippians 2:7-8 says, “He gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave, and was born as a human being.  When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”  Hebrews 2:17 says, “It was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God.”  Jesus knows what it’s like to be you.

Yet if Jesus was only a man, He wouldn’t have the power to save us.  Our problems are too big.  Thankfully, Jesus is also fully God.  That means He has the power to save you.  No matter how terribly lost you are.  No matter how sin sick is you soul.  No matter how awful your problems, nothing is beyond the control of the all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present glory of our God in Jesus Christ. 

Jesus’ ressurection from the grave is the ultimate sign of God's ability to save you.  If Jesus can rise from the dead, He can raise you out of any deadly problem you face.  And He will if you will trust Him.

Maybe, I’ve given you a lot to think about today.  The Trinity is a very deep subject.  Yet, we can be thankful the Trinity is so hard to understand,
because it shows that our God is a Big God.  If God were easy to understand, He wouldn’t be much of a God.  (Listen, I can’t even understand myself a lot of times.  Why do I do the things do?  Why do I get upset or respond the way I do?  I don’t know.)  
If I can’t even fully understand myself, how can ever expect I will understand
the infinite nature of an eternal God who has always existed, and always will
who made stars and planets that are so far away from us
it has taken trillions of years for their light to reach us;
who made all the animals and plants and river and mountains we can see,
but also made microorganisms so small we don’t even o they are there.
(There were 10X more microbes in the breathe of air you just inhaled
than there are people in County where you live--and you inhaled another breathe, and another…)  Our God made all of this.

Let us take a moment to try and wrap our heads around the infinite nature of God.
And also to marvel that this Great God gave up the glory of heaven
to come to our broken world to die on a cross to save you and me.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Christians Practice Equality. Amen!

The Bible is the Word of God and contains everything necessary and sufficient for our salvation.  I started this series with that statement about the Bible because everything Christians believe and do is based off what the Bible teaches.  Thus, we also say amen when the Bible teaches:
Jesus Saves us from sin when we have faith.
That faith without good deeds is dead.
That Christians to practice spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, and study.
That Christians are witnesses for Jesus.
Today, we learn that the Bible teaches Christians should practice equality.  

Galatians 3:26-29
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

If we’re not careful, we will miss the revolutionary nature of what the Bible is teaching us here.
The first century world into which Jesus was born was a defined by many categories.  In Israel especially, the Jews defined people by whether they were Jews or Gentiles.   A Gentile is anyone who is not a Jew.  The Jews believed they were special—that God favored them more than all other people in the world.  Their belief goes all the way back to Genesis 12 where God blessed Abraham for trusting God and said, "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you."  The Jews were descendants of "father Abraham" and believe God favored them above all other people.  Of course, ever nation at the time believed they were the greatest people.  The Greeks thought their culture was superior to everyone else's.  The Romans believed they were the greatest because they conquered everyone else and made them pay tribute.  So all people sought to define one another by whether their cultural and religious background.  But Paul writes that that these categories don't matter anymore because of Christ.

People of the first century were also divided as male or female.  Males dominated and females were subjugated.  In the Jewish culture, a woman got her identity from her closest male relative.  When se was young, she got her identity from her father.  As a woman, she got it from her husband.  If her husband died, she got her identity from her son.  If a Jewish woman had no father, husband, or son, she had no identity and was destitute.  It was the worst condition to be in for a Jew.  It was right, but it's the way the Jewish world worked (as well as most other ancient cultures).  But all that changed because of Jesus.  So Paul writes, there is no longer male or female.  He wasn't saying that people aren't biologically male or female.  He was saying you are not defined by your sexual organs.  Both male and female ore equal before God through Jesus Christ.

What Paul was saying, because of Jesus, was a revolution has occurred.  Everything has changed!  There is no longer even slave or free.  The slaves that you formerly "owned" and could make do whatever you want are no your equals.  We are now all on a level playing ground because of Jesus.

God’s Word to us through Paul in Galatians 3:28 is, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Thus, we cannot define one another by the categories the world uses to identify who is important and who is not.  All are created equal.

Jesus breaks down all the human categories by which people try to define themselves.  The Bible teaches there is only one thing that defines you—is Jesus your Lord?  This is a clear teaching of God’s Holy Word, but (because people are broken and live in a fallen world) we have always struggled to practice this truth. We still try to put people into categories.  But I believe Jesus is speaking to the world today, telling us to stop dividing ourselves by the world's categories.

Moderns Divisions
We have come a long way since ancient times when women were treated as property in a male dominated society 
(at least in the US).  Women may vote and work any job or hold any office (at least in principle).  Yet, we have not completely discarding sexism from our society yet.  Can we please just defining people according to male or female?

My wife works as a nurse--a job that traditionally staffed by mostly women.  There are much fewer male nurses.  Why?  Can we finally throw out the erroneous notion that a man is not qualified to be a good nurse!  And why have we not yet had a woman as president?  Let Christians be leaders in practicing equality; let us no longer judge a person ability for any job based on whether they are male or female.  Let us judge only by a person experience and ability.


Because Christ is Lord, let us forever be finished with judging people based on their race--whether they are black or white (or Hispanic or Asian or Native American...).  We can be proud of our heritage, but it is not our main identity.  Do not judge a person but the color of their skin or even by what side town they are from.  We are not defined by our race or social background.  Let us forever stand against any policy or teaching that favors one race against another or seeks to discriminate among people based on their race.  And do not let such racial bigotry--whether against back people or white people or any people--be part of your thinking or speech.

People are not defined by their sexual attraction or whether they feel like a man or a woman.  In the past, people were mistreated or reviled because they were attracted to someone of the same sex or their feelings about their sexual identity did not conform to the norms of society.  Their mistreatment was not right.  Today, the social pendulum has swung in the exact opposite way; people now claim a person can define their own identity based upon who they are sexually attracted to--whether they are gay or straight or something else.  Or they claim they can make up their own identity based on the gender they feel fits them best (or have no gender at all).  However, our sexual attractions do not define who we are--nor do our feelings about gender.  In Christ Jesus, there is no gay or straight or trans or anything else.  You are a child of God if you trust in Jesus.  That is what defines you.  These other categories should not.

Another worldly division Christians must discard in America is whether a person is a citizen or an immigrant.  Christians must learn to value citizenship in God’s kingdom above all else.  I am proud to be an American and thankful for the blessings it affords me.  However, my American citizenship is secondary to my calling in Christ.  And the way I value or treat others is not defined by whether or not they are an American citizen.  We should look for their true identity--is Jesus their Lord?  Is Jesus my Lord?  What would my Lord have me do?  How would my Lord want me to treat someone? 

A person is not defined by whther they are rich or poor.  When we look at a depiction of the rich and poor (like the one to the left), we have interesting assumptions about what makes a person rich or poor.  We might assume the man in the suit is rich and the shabby-clothed man is poor.  Why do we make those assumptions?  Perhaps we need to redefine the way we look at things.  God does not define rich and poor the way we do.  James 2:5 says, "Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith?"  We should pray that God would heal the broken way we see and define people.  God sees people differently.

We are not defined but our political affiliation.  I will say up front that I tend to vote republican and I consider myself conservative.  However, I need to be very clear: Jesus does not care if you are a democrat or a republican.  Jesus does not favor one over the other.  In fact, if Jesus appeared today, I think He would rebuke both parties equally.  And I believe Jesus would also rebuke anyone who is elevating a political party or a certain candidate as God’s favorite.  Jesus was very clear and we need to hear Him today.  He said, "My Kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36).  Jesus did not support a certain party in his own day (Pharisees or Sadducees) and doesn't support on today (Democrat or Republican or whatever party is in your country).

We need to stop defining one another according to our generations.  Don’t discount people in a different generation from you.  Young people have much to learn from older people. Older people have much to learn from younger people.

Galatians 3:29, 
Now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham.”  If Jesus is truly our Lord, God loves us all as His own children.  God loves you as His son or daughter (if you follow Christ).  God loves your neighbor just as much as you.  You are incredibly special and treasured by God, but you are no more special than anyone else.  

We have to discard our broken ideas about favoritism.  None of us deserves God’s love.  That fact that God saves us and accepts us and loves us is a miracle (not anything we can  earn or deserve).  That means we are no better than anyone else.

Let us define ourselves the way God defines us and not by the evil, broken categories of the world.  Christians practice equality, because we are all made in the sacred image of God and we are all equal in God’s eyes.  In the Kingdom of God, there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female, black or white, gay or straight, American or foreign, rich or poor, republican or democrat, young or old.  We are all one in Jesus.  If you believe that, say Amen!  Now let’s practice it.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Christians Are Witnesses for Jesus. Amen!

I'm not a die hard sports fan, but if I chose favorite teams, I would probably choose the Georgia Tech and Washington, and I'll tell you why.  My brother went to Georgia Tech.  He was eight years older than me and sometimes would invite me to come up and stay with him at college.  It was really cool.  And though we were never hard core college football fans, I guess if I had to choose a college team, I would choose Georgia Tech.  But really, our family's team was the Washington (formerly Redskins).  Why?  Well, even though I've lived most of my life in Georgia, I was born in Maryland (along with my brother and two sisters).  We all moved to Georgia when I was only about 7. So we left everything we knew behind and came to a strange new place--Macon, Georgia.  People thought we talked funny and we felt the same way about them.  And my family still rooted for Washington; it was sort of our thing we were proud of because of where we came from.  

In church service this past Sunday, I asked three people why they chose to be fans of their favorite team.  One was a Green Bay Packers fan.  One was a Georgia Southern fan.  Another was a Ole Miss fan.  I didn't warn them ahead of time that I was going to ask them why they liked that particular team.  I just asked them write in the middle of the sermon.  Not surprisingly, each one of them could easily share why they loved their team and each had a great story.  The Packer fan had a family connection to Wisconsin, near the Green Bay area.  The Georgia Southern fan and his wife both attended the college and actually met while working together at the original Zakby's in Statesboro.  The Ole Miss fan grew up near Oxford, Mississippi and saw a friend with an Ole Miss notebook when she was a young kid and eventually went there.

We usually don't have a hard time talking about our favorite teams.  If we're not into sports, there are probably lots of other things we love to talk about that seem natural--our kids, our favorite movies or TV shows, etc.

We like to support our favorite teams.  They’re important us for many reasons.

Today, I want to talk about being a witness for Jesus, because Jesus commanded His followers to be His witnesses.  I want to talk about 3 ways to be wintess for Jesus. If you are ready to learn, say Amen! Amen!

Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The Book of Acts tells the story of how the early Church, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, told people everywhere about Jesus.  Every Christian told their family, their friends, their neighbors, their co-workers about Jesus.  It started in Jerusalem, where followers shared the amazing Good News that Jesus died and rose from the grave.  The Holy Spirit enabled them to do miracles, like the supernatural ability talk to people in other languages they didn't know so that those people could hear and understand the Good News about Jesus in their own native tongue.  No one was in need in the early Christian community because everyone loved each other and they looked after one another as family.  It was a beautiful movement--the original "Jesus Revolution". 

Then persecution broke out.  The temple authorities got jealous and started killing Christians and driving them from their homes and canceling their businesses.  Christians stared leaving Jerusalem and going out into the countryside.  They went out into Judea and told people there about Jesus and more people believed and followed Jesus.  Christians even went to Samaria—a country that was traditionally rivals and enemies of the Jews.  The Jewish Christians didn’t care.  They went to Samaria and told them about Jesus and the Samaritans believed and got saved and became Christians too!

Then the Christians went up into Syria and Turkey and told people there the Good News about Jesus.  Then they went to Greece and Macedonia and even to Rome.  Everywhere they went, Christians told people about Jesus.  They told about his death and ressurection.  They told how Jesus changed their lives.  Even when talking about Jesus could get you in trouble or even killed, Christians were faithful witnesses.  In fact, the Greek word for being a faithful witness--martyr--became synonymous with giving your life for your Christ.  Christians are faithful witness who tell people about Jesus.

Today, I want to talk about three ways to be a witness for Jesus.  1) Sharing Your Love for Jesus. 2) Inviting People to Church. 3) Recruiting people for Jesus.

Sharing Your Love For Jesus
It wasn’t hard for me to decide who to ask about their favorite team.  I knew, because some people are such devoted fans of their team, everyone knows who they support.  You can probably think of several people you know and which team they support.  You could ask them why and they would be glad to tell you.

Being a witness for Jesus can be as natural as sharing about your favorite team.  I hope your love for Jesus is something that everyone knows.  Hopefully, Jesus is the most important thing in your life and that comes through to everyone everywhere, all the time.

It doesn’t have to be hard to be a witness for Jesus.  If you have a real relationship with Him, people will know.  Sometimes, they will just see it. Maybe they saw you wearing a cross or overheard you talking about your faith or they knew you went to church last weekend or saw you doing Christian service.  

If you live for Jesus, people should be able to see your faith at work.  Are you doing the kinds of things that show people Jesus is your Lord?  If someone was looking to find out more about what it means to be a Christian, would they know to come talk to you because they know you’re a Christian?

Sometime people will see your faith and know you are a Christian.  Other times, you will tell them.  If you’re a serious Georgia Bulldog fan (or Alabama or whatever), no one has to twist your arm to get you to talk about your team. Right?  You probably look for opportunities to get in a conversation about them.  You love to talk about the game that's coming up this weekend or you want to celebrate the win last weekend (or cry about the loss).  It just comes natural.  Are you that quick to talk about Jesus?  Do you look for reasons to tell people why you love Him?  Do you relish the chance to share the difference Jesus makes in your life (or even be honest about how He's helping you overcome your shortcomings)?

Inviting People to Church
Following Jesus isn’t just a private thing.  We live out our faith in a community.  One of the ways you can be a witness is to invite people to experience Jesus at Church—the body of Christ.  Here again are some striking similarities with sports fans.

Being a fan of a certain team means being part of a community.  Right?  I mean, you get together with other fans and watch the game.  There’s a whole community.  It can be electric to be in the stands with thousands of other cheering fans, all rooting for the same team.  Or how many of you have gotten together with friends to watch the game on TV?  Even if you watch the game all by yourself, there’s this sense that you are part of something bigger.  You are part of a community and that matters.  And if you really want your friends to experience what it’s like to be a fan of your team, you would probably invite them to go to a game with you (or watch it on TV with you).

The same is even more true for Christians.  If you want people to experience the risen Jesus you know, you might want to invite them to church (or a Christian retreat or Bible study, etc.).  Christians experience the fullness of our faith in a community of believers.  Yes, your relationship with Jesus is personal, but it’s not only personal.  It’s something that takes place with other people.  Stories about Jesus always took place in a group setting.  Jesus called twelve Disciples and they worked together asa group.  Jesus was transfigured in front of Peter, James, and John.  The Last Supper was a meal shared with all the Disciples—even Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus.  When Jesus rose, he appeared to hundreds of people—often in groups.

Christians experience the love of Jesus most fully through other Christians.  We learn in groups.  We worship as a body.  Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three gather in my name, I am there with them.”  That doesn't mean Jesus isn't present when we are all alone.  He's with us when we are alone too, but there's something something sacred and essential about Christians gathering together.  And if you want your friends to experience what it means to really be a Christian, you probably should invite them to Church—the Body of Christ.

Recruiting For Jesus
There’s one more way to be a witness that I want to talk about:  Recruiting.  Sometimes, you just need to be direct.  Sometimes the situation calls for it.  Sometimes all it takes is, “Hey, come to church with me.”  But recruiting could also mean:  “Hey, my church is packing sack lunches on Wednesday nights for the school next door.  Why don’t you come help us out?”

Again, let’s go back to the sports analogy.  In order to build a winning college team, coaches have to get out and find the best high school athletes and convince them to come to their college.  Right?  But it’s not just the coaches that do the recruiting.  How many of you who went a certain college and had a good experience and you try to encourage others to go to that school too?  And it's not that you're trying to sell something people don't need, right?  If you know your school had a great nursing program and you have a friend that's looking for a nursing school, you'd be like, "Hey, the college I went to has a great nursing program.  You should check it out."  We would be doing them a favor by hooking them up with our great alma mater.  Right?

If we believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, I hope we will recruit people to be part that.  Don’t you?  We’d be doing people a favor to recruit them to be on Jesus’ team.  So why not?  A lot of people out there are looking for a team—they’re looking for meaning and hope and peace and love and healing…  Jesus is all of that.  Why not be the ones to tell people where they kind find what they’re looking for?

So there's three easy to understand ways to be a witness: 

  1. Sharing your love for Jesus,
  2. Inviting people to Church, and 
  3. Recruiting for Jesus

I Challenge You to Be A Witness for Jesus.
I’ve been giving you challenges throughout this series. Here’s one for today.  Make a list of specific people you know to whom you could be a witness.  Pray about how you could witness to them.

Could you share with them a spiritual struggle you need Jesus to help you with? 
Could you share with them a way you are growing spiritually because of Jesus?
Could you invite them to come to church with you (or Sunday school or Bible study…)?
Could you ask someone if you could start praying together. (Maybe you and a co-worker go out to each lunch every Tuesday.  Could you ask to start saying a blessing before you eat?)
Is there someone you know who needs to pray to accept Jesus as Lord?  Could you pray with them about it?

Start with a list of people. Write down their names.  Look at it every day and oray that God would show you how you could be a witness to them.  Let the Holy Spirit guide you and empower you to be a witness for Jesus.