Tag Archives: grace

Goodbye! – Ephesians 6:21-24
By Pastor Lee Hemen
May 7, 2017

There was a very schmaltzy song from the 1980s called “Friends” sung by Michael W. Smith that everyone and their monkey were singing. The chorus went: “And friends are friends forever, if the Lord’s the Lord of them. And a friend will not say never ‘cause the welcome will not end. Though it’s hard to let you go, in the Father’s hands we know that a lifetime’s not too long to live as friends.” I got sick and tired of hearing this over and over at every youth camp I did but it does express some spiritual truths concerning Christian friends and goodbyes.

Paul became close to the people in the churches he established. He knew that because of their small size and how few and far between these congregations were Paul feared for them as friends. And when he had to leave them for whatever reason it was tough for him to say “goodbye”. Let’s discover what Paul wrote about this…

READ: Ephesians 6:21-24

How would you say goodbye to someone you loved if you thought you may never see them again in this life? We discover in his closing words that…

I. Paul sent his trusted friend to say “goodbye”! (Vv. 21-22)

Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.

1. How would you describe your closest friend? What makes them close? The apostle Paul describes for us in this personal letter his friend Tychicus as a “dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord”. In Colossians he wrote that Tychicus was “a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.” (Colossians 4:7 NIV) So this man was beloved by Paul, faithful to him and the gospel message, and a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ! Interestingly in this writing we discover that Paul set an example for mature personal spiritual relationships. Besides remembering his friends and companions, he expressed genuine concern for them. Paul knew that the early church in its infancy would need extra care and compassion. His friend Tychicus would fit the bill, so-to-speak for Paul. Tychicus, which means fortunate, was an Asiatic Christian who, with Trophimus almost caused a riot in Jerusalem, accompanied the Apostle Paul on a part of his journey from Macedonia to Jerusalem. He is also thought to have been with Paul in Rome when he was imprisoned where the apostle sent him to Ephesus probably for the purpose of building up and encouraging the church there. This is why he had become so dear and faithful to Paul. Paul absolutely trusted Tychicus and knew if he sent him to do something he would do it. How many friends do we have that we know would do the same? Paul writes that this faithful servant in the Lord would be trusted to “tell you everything” and in doing so he would share exactly how Paul was and what was going on in the ministry. This was more important than you realize because there were those who sought to spread lies and distortion about Paul and the early church so Paul was sending him “for this very purpose” that these new believers would really “know how” Paul was doing and that he personally would “encourage” them by doing so. Paul knew that his faithful friend would be his voice to others he sent him to and that he would encourage them during perhaps difficult times. Paul was not someone who signed his letters with “Love ya!” or TTFN. His concern was real, deeply felt, and he wanted them to know it personally so Paul sent his trusted friend to say “goodbye”!

EXAMPLE: When I had to say goodbye to my best friend as we moved from my hometown to go live with my sister it was tough. My friend Greg and I had done everything together. We had built go carts, wind-powered cardboard wagons for our stuffed animals, humongous stilts that we could get on and off of by stepping onto our roof, and of course the hikes, Boy Scouts, adventures, bikes, slingshots, marbles, cars and trucks, swimming, and other things of childhood. How wonderful to discover later that my best friend now an adult was a believer as well! For us “goodbye” became a thing of the past. Here we discover that Paul sent his trusted friend to say “goodbye”!

I learned I guess that “friends are friends forever, if the Lord’s the Lord of them” and here in this final passage in Paul’s letter we discover that…

II. Goodbye is not forever for the believer! (Vv. 23-24)

Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.

1. Goodbye can be hard to say and it becomes even worse when you may not have a chance to say a proper goodbye. However if one knows that they will be reunited with the person they are saying goodbye to it isn’t as harsh as it could be. Paul wanted his readers to know that his letter was not all they would have form him and in fact we know just how much Paul cared about the Ephesian church. We know from Scripture that “Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost. From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.” (Acts 20:16-17 NIV) He then spoke to them, encouraging them, and Luke writes, “When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.” (Acts 20:36-38 NIV) To say Paul had a special relationship with the Ephesian church is putting it mildly. Paul deeply cared for these new believers and desired that they grow in their relationship with Jesus and is why we find him ending his letter with several concerns for them: “Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul desired they as fellow “brothers” in Jesus would know intimately God the Father’s and thereby Jesus’ “peace” (prosperity), his “love” (sacrificial love) “with faith” (deep conviction)! I believe Paul could not leave his emotions for them just there though and he continues to share with them in his closing just how much he did care for them by telling them “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with undying love.” Paul knew he would see them all again whether it was later in life or in the future in heaven with Jesus. God’s unmerited mercy is always extended to those who truly “love our Lord Jesus Christ with undying love”! Paul knew that goodbye is not forever for the believer!

EXAMPLE: When the young couple knew their first child was on its way they began to pray he would be a missionary to China. Later when that young man gave his life to Christ he knew he would go to China. Hudson Taylor’s mother and one or two friends boarded the sailing ship that would carry him far away and in his cabin they prayed and sang and read a Psalm. “Dear Mother,” he said, “do not weep. It is but for a little while and we shall meet again.” When his mother had gone ashore, he wrote on a piece of paper, “The love of God which passeth knowledge. J.H.T.” This note was tossed across to his mother as she stood on the pier weeping. As the ship sailed away, he climbed a mast that he might have a longer view of the friends on the shore. There he waved his hat, while they waved their handkerchiefs until the boat was out of sight. Hudson Taylor did not see his mother again in this life. Goodbye is not forever for the believer!

Conclusion:

Paul sent his trusted friend to say “goodbye”! Goodbye is not forever for the believer!
—-
This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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The Man Who Went to the Mat! — John 5:1-15

The Man Who Went to the Mat! — John 5:1-15
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 14, 2014

To “go to the mat” may come from the Old English matte, from Late Latin matta “mat made of rushes”, probably from Punic or Phoenician matta (Hebrew mittah “bed, couch”). Meaning “tangled mass”. That of “piece of padded flooring used in gymnastics or wrestling” is attested from 1892; hence figurative phrase go to the mat “do battle”. The Latin word also is the source of German Matte, matze ; Dutch mat, Italian matta. French natte “mat, matting” is from Late Latin. Interestingly, it was also a phrase from chess in the Arabic that meant to checkmate someone.

When we go to the mat for someone it means we are willing to stand up and support that person. Paul writes about this wonderful truth by telling us, “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will…. Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Romans 8:27, 33-34 NIV)” We have Jesus who is willing to “go to the mat” for us! We see this wonderful truth displayed here in John’s gospel…

READ: John 5:1-16

We discover that…

I.  God goes to the mat for us where we are! (Vv. 1-5)

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, the paralyzed [–and they waited for the moving of the waters.] [From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.] One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

1. We are not told nor are we sure but “Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews.” It could have been the feast of Pentecost, as some think; or as others, the feast of tabernacles; or rather, the feast of the Passover. We do not know. However John describes that “there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda (house of mercy) and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.” Superstition is nothing new. It occurred before Jesus’ time and occurs right now as well. There are those who think that by breaking a mirror you give yourself seven years of bad luck. Some actually think that dead folks become angels, who are, according to the Bible, the created servants, heralds, and messengers of God who do not have any freewill at all! And, do not get me started on the veneration of dead folks, relics, or spiritual sites that people make homage or pilgrimages to. John explains, “Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, the paralyzed [–and they waited for the moving of the waters.] [From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.]” John does not tell us that he believed an actual angel did this but there were those who thought so! And sadly things have not changed much in our day and age. What I see John trying to teach us is not so much about the superstition but rather that Jesus was willing to go where folks were who needed him! Jesus went to this pool of mercy not for healing hmself, but rather to display the power of God! We discover he had a divine meeting scheduled there because “One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.” For thirty-eight years he had suffered and could not walk, for thirty-eight years he had come to this pool to receive mercy and soon he would meet the one who was willing to go to the mat for him! God goes to the mat where we are!

EXAMPLE: I am so glad I did not have to journey to some far distant land in search of some esoteric truism in order to find my god within. It is truly sad when people actually think that we can make God into their own image. How delightful and wonderful to realize that the Bible contains all we need to know concerning God and it is not some veiled or hidden message that only certain chosen ones can decipher! What is even more fantastic is the realization that God is everywhere we are! Daniel related, “He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. (Daniel 2:22 NIV)” Paul writes that it is “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. (Colossians 1:26 NIV)” And, God has told us to “be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ (Hebrews 13:5 NIV)” God goes to the mat where we are!

We learn that…

II. We must be willing to pick up our mat! (Vv. 6-9a)

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

1. Since Jesus has entered into the history of the world as our redeemer, the grace of God has been applied to us and within his preordained plan he has given us the freewill to choose. While he knows, in his omniscience, who will or who will not choose to follow him, he gives us the choice! In that choosing, we must be willing to pick up our mat! This is why “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’” It was the man’s choice. But more than this it was his choice to continue in his spiritual condition as well! Jesus desired to know if he was there simply to beg, garner sympathy, or to be truly healed. There are those who would rather use their condition in life to gain some convoluted advantage in order to benefit them in some manner. However, did this man truly “want to get well”? And here we discover that the man addresses Jesus in the same way as did the royal official whose son lay dying. He replies, “Sir,” meaning Lord or master, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” He simply and succinctly states his predicament to Jesus. When he is willing to see Jesus as Lord, as the Master of his life then and only then can he be cured. We know Jesus never healed all those who came to him nor did he cure all those he came into contact with. His main purpose was not to do away with human suffering but rather to elevate folks to a higher calling, the kingdom of God! As the old spiritual states, “This world is not our home; we’re just a passin’ through!” We should not get comfortable here in this life. And so here we see that the invalid had a choice to make; he could stay where he was and complain about not being able to get in the pool or he could trust Jesus and do what he asked, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!” Notice what occurs instantly when he decides to trust the Lord, “At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” At some point we must be willing to pick up our mat!

EXAMPLE: The theme of a lot of game shows has not changed much; the contestant must decide what is the correct answer, the correct door, or the best prize to take. And if he chooses incorrectly, well, he loses! (Wah, wah, wah!) Trusting Jesus is not some game we play in life trying to guess which door to choose. God is not some game show host trying to get us to choose the correct door or to trick us into choosing the wrong one. Yet, sadly, there are those who actually think this way. Trusting God is absolutely knowing that he is with us and we can walk with him no matter where or which “door” we choose in life. When we trust God through faith in his Son, Jesus, we then must trust him as we walk with him. Therefore, we must be willing to pick up our mat!

We should not be surprised that…

III. Going to the mat may mean going to battle for the Lord! (Vv. 9b-16)

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, “Pick up your mat and walk.” So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.

1. Whenever we find God at work, we often find Satan involved in trying gain a foothold as well. He often simply uses the resources already available to him. Things like our pride, arrogance, vanity, or selfishness. And here in John’s gospel we find Satan using God’s own day of rest because on “The day on which this took place was a Sabbath.” Can you hear the spooky music in the background? (Dun, dun, dun!) God intended there be a day of rest for his people to enjoy, worship, and give God glory for all that he had done in their lives during the previous week. However, the Jews had taken this noble and wonderful command of God and turned it into a duty, a requirement, and a means of trying to garner more favor from God. When God stated that his people were to keep the Sabbath Day holy and consider it a day of rest he never meant it to be a means whereby the Hebrews would sit around and concoct a myriad of methods in not breaking the rules! God just desired his people remember him on one day of the week and to rest from their usual labor! “And so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.’” No it did not. It never did, what had occurred is that the Jews had convoluted God’s command into their own myopic rendition and requirement. So instead of focusing on what God had just miraculously done through his Messiah, they strained for the gnat, or in this case, the mat! The invalid is not concerned with their arguments; he is only excited that he was cured from 38 years of being an invalid! He replies, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ So they asked him, ‘Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?’” John relates, “The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.” In fact Jesus was concerned for him and “Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.’” Jesus knew the man and his family would become the focus of the Jews. And either the man was unconcerned or he did not want to get on their bad side, so he “went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.” Jesus’ words begin to come true for himself and later the man as well, “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.” Going to the mat may mean going to battle for the Lord!

EXAMPLE: We live in a society where we think bad things should never happen to us. We tacitly believe that we should be destined for only a good and wonderful life free of any care, concern, or worry. This rather odd notion has crept into Christianity as well. God never promised us a life without harshness, evil, or ugly things happening. What he promised was to bless us through the trials and tribulations of life. No matter what occurs we can rest assured that God is with us. The Jews had so focused on their predicament they had lost touch with the reality of who God is and how he works. Instead of praising God for the man’s miraculous cure, they are angry and look to harm either the man or the one who cured him! John teaches us that going to the mat may mean going to battle for the Lord!

Conclusion:

God goes to the mat for us where we are! At some point we must be willing to pick up our mat! Going to the mat may mean going to battle for the Lord!

This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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The Incarnation! – John 1:14-18

The Incarnation! – John 1:14-18
By Pastor Lee Hemen
September 14, 2014

Joan Rivers made no apologies for all the plastic surgeries she had over the years. Sometimes we can look in the mirror and not like what we see. When you look in the mirror what do you see? What do you think it would feel like to be a different person? Vernon Grounds writes that “You will never know. You may modify your body by exercise and diet. You may change your mind and your behavior. You may even resort to surgery. But you and I will forever be the unique individuals God created us to be. Regardless of how much we may try, we can’t actually experience what it is to be another person.” He continues by relating, “What was it like, then, for God to take on our human nature and live as a man who was despised and misunderstood on this fallen planet? He already knew exactly what sinful people go through. After all, He is all-knowing. Yet He voluntarily came… That’s what the incarnation is all about.”

Yet, how does a holy, all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God actively enter into his creation that is now tainted by sin to become one of his own? It is hard for our mind to wrap itself around and this is exactly why God knew he was going to enter into our world the way he did, through his son Jesus. We have a habit of using words that some call “churchy.” Incarnation is such a word, but it means exactly what I just said. A holy, all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God entered actively into his creation to cleanse it from its sin condition. John writes to us about the incarnation; let’s discover what John writes about it and what it means for our lives…

READ: John 1:14-18

How can human beings become the children of God? LDS falsely teach there was a pre-existence, or a pre-mortal life, in which human spirits were literal children of heavenly parents. Earth was created as a testing ground. The doctrine of eternal progression was succinctly summarized by LDS Church leader Lorenzo Snow: “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.” This totally against biblical teaching; Scripture teaches us that there is one God, he created all things, and sin entered the world through mankind’s disobedience. However, God had a plan and John gives us that plan through…

I. The summation of the incarnation! (Vv. 14-15)
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”
1. God’s plan was truly simple, magnificently beautiful, and wonderfully wise. John writes, “The Word became flesh.” This should cause any rational person to pause and ponder at the magnitude of what God did. The Messiah, the eternal Word became one of us! Flesh in the physical sense not in the sinful weak worldly ungodliness of human existence. He did not simply appear, nor did he come floating down on the wings of his angels; rather, he entered into existence by making his “dwelling among us.” He literally pitched his tent within our camp! John could testify to this fact because he had seen it for himself, “We have seen his glory!” John was an eyewitness to the Word becoming flesh. He walked with Jesus, he ate with him, and he slept near the same campfire as the Messiah! The messenger of God told Joseph, Jesus’ adopted papa to “not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins… ‘and they will call him Immanuel’–which means, ‘God with us.’ (Matthew 1:20-21, 23 NIV)” John was witness to “the glory of the One and Only” and would later write, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. (1 John 1:1 NIV)” Jesus “came from the Father, full of grace (mercy) and truth (the gospel).” John the Baptist also testified concerning who Jesus was by crying out in the wilderness, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” John the Baptist knew his place in the plan of God. He would state, “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. (Mark 1:7 NIV)” Jesus would ask the crowds, “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind… I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he… For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. (Matthew 11:7, 11, 13 NIV)” John the Baptist knew that Jesus was the summation of the incarnation!
EXAMPLE: I watched an old western the other day and in it they had to send out scouts to see where the enemy was. A scout was sent, at the risk of his own life, into enemy territory so he could get an idea of what the enemy was up to. John the Baptist’s entire life was one of being a scout in enemy territory. John was aware of not only who the enemy was but who he was scouting for. “John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.”’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. (Luke 3:7-8 NIV)” He told the questioning crowds, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Luke 3:16 NIV)” John the Baptist knew that Jesus was the summation of the incarnation!

No one knew God before Jesus because he was unknowable. Paul would say, “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him–to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27 NIV)” John teaches us about…

II. The revelation of the incarnation! (Vv. 16-18)
From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.
1. John knew from what Jesus has done for all mankind that “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” Jesus is the source of God’s mercy and love and we will learn that he loved the world so much that he willingly sent his son for our salvation! What many do not understand is that the entire creation has received the grace of God, “one blessing after another”, because of Jesus, but those who receive him as Savior and Lord receive the ultimate grace of God, Jesus and an abundant life in him! Literally “grace in place of grace.” The Christian life is one that is continually blessed with the grace of God because of Christ! Paul would write that God “chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:4-6 NIV)” In fact it was God’s plan that “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. (Ephesians 1:7-8 NIV)” God pours his grace on us because of Jesus! Like Paul, John knew that what the old law of Moses could never do, Jesus did! “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The Law of Moses could only continually condemn folks because once the sacrifice was made by the human priest for sin, sinful man turns around and sins! This is why Paul would write, “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4 NIV)” Only God could do this because only God is holy and all powerful to do so! Jesus, being God did it! John reminds us, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” John reminds us of the revelation of the incarnation!
EXAMPLE: When a magician does a magic trick behind a curtain he often has someone throw back the curtain to reveal what has occurred. The curtain of God was torn away in the temple because of what Jesus did for all mankind. Because of Jesus we have free access behind the curtain! Viola, God has torn back the curtain through his Son Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins! We no longer live in the darkness because the light of God has revealed all the hidden spaces and shown us the way of salvation through the blood of Christ! John reminds us of the revelation of the incarnation!

Conclusion:

We have looked at the summation of the incarnation and the revelation of the incarnation, now what will you decide to do with this information?

This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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The Submissive Life! — James 4:6-10

The Submissive Life! — James 4:6-10
By Pastor Lee Hemen
July 27, 2014

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:6-10 NIV)

In God’s mercy, he extends to us more grace. Sometimes I wonder if we do not take advantage of the love of God in our lives. What I mean is that we can forget what the grace of God is all about. It is his unmerited love for us. We did not earn it, we could not buy it, nor could we be good enough for it. God freely gave it through the sacrifice of his Son Jesus. We still have the desires and lusts of our natural lives and our prayers are often the result of these desires that battle with in us. And, often they are not what God desires for our lives; however in his rich wonderful mercy he extends to us “more grace.” God sets himself against us when we lust after those ungodly worldly things that do us no good or that which is counterproductive to the kingdom purposes of God. He opposes it with every part of his being because he is holy and righteous. Herein is the wonderful beautiful truth of the gospel, he gives more grace not because we deserve it, demand it, but simply because we require it.  God gives us more grace because of what Jesus has done for us! Paul taught that, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8 NIV)” We are taught that the gospel message is the message of God’s grace, “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:16-17 NIV)”

However, we learn that “God opposes the proud,” those caught up in their own desires, “but gives grace to the humble;” those who have submitted themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ. Humility is a lost characteristic in our day and age. We misunderstand its biblical definition and consider it a weakness to be avoided at all cost. Humility is not weakness nor is it meekness. It is the character quality that the Apostle Peter had to learn over and over again. In arrogance he jumps out of the boat, yet in his fearful pride he begins to sink beneath the waves. He took his eyes off the Lord. He proclaimed for all to hear that he would never deny Jesus, but he did three times and suffered the humiliation of his betrayal! Yet, in his magnificent grace Jesus extends his love and forgiveness to Peter the same amount of times he denied his Master and friend. Paul did the same thing in much of his life. Arrogantly he was educated in the Scriptures, was well-read, and even given a trust to persecute those he thought who were opposing God. The problem was, he never asked God what he thought about Paul’s prideful way of life. God in his grace took a spiritually blind man and blinded him physically in order to help him see clearly his sinful pride. We can get so caught up in our own lives that we think we only need God when we need him. We forget that at just the right time he pulled us to himself, extended his mercy to us, bought us with a horrendous price, and gave us eternity. He does not give us more grace so that we will squander it, misuse it, or ignore it. God does not give us more grace so we will have a great day. He gives us more grace when we humble ourselves, confess our sinful condition, and return to him. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2 NIV)” God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

And herein is a wonderful spiritual truth, while he opposes the proud, he gives grace to the humble. However humility is a hard choice to those who are used to getting their own way. We are reminded by James to “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” We do not like that word submit. But it is as necessary in the life of a believer as water is to the survival of a fish. Christians cannot exist in a sin driven world without it. “Why?” you might ask and the answer is simply because we so easily fall prey to the wicked condition; the “natural order” of the world around us. We forget our true nature as we swim in our fish bowl of life. We get used to the filth we have to survive in day after day and without the constant reminder of God’s presence in our lives, we begin to enjoy our surroundings. In fact, James reminds us that when we do we secretly invite Satan into our lives. Not for our eternal destruction but rather for our momentary gratification. He becomes our partner in pleasure, our cohort in crime, and the embarrassment of our existence. We get embarrassed because we know whose company we should be keeping instead. We get angered if our dirty little secret sinful condition is pointed out. We get prideful of the perversions we now enjoy and justify our actions and behaviors. “I need this!” I deserve this!” “This makes me happy!” and we cling to the filth we dig up as if it were the most precious treasure we have found. Yet here in our most pathetic condition there is hope, a lifeline thrown from the shore, a lanyard we can cling to. If we submit ourselves to God, resist the Devil, he will flee from us! He cannot stay where the presence of the Lord is. He cannot stand in the presence of a holy one of God bought with the precious price of God’s only Son’s blood! When the fellowship of the cross is tenaciously clung to, his usefulness in our lives is exposed for its worthless nature that it truly is. But old friendships die hard. They are not easily given up and forsaken. But they must be if we are to resist those who would drag us back into the depravity of the world. If we come near to God, he will come near to us, but we must resist the one who roars like a lion, is as sly as a snake, who seeks to devour our lives.

Again, Paul reminds us that “where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21 NIV)” There it is again, the wonderful grace of God. In his mercy he reminds us through James, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” It is the whisper of our heavenly father asking us to leave the muck of the pigpen, to put down the slop we are eating and are sustaining ourselves on, and come home to his warm abundant table. Come home to the warmth and friendship of the one who truly loves us and never seeks to destroy our lives. “Come home,” he calls. Yet, how do we do that when we know we are stained by the ungodliness we were once part of? How can we enter into the dining hall with its richness, the white table clothes, the abundant food, and the warmth of family and friends who are waiting for us? How can we enter in when we are so filthy with the world? We can because of God’s grace, his mercy, when we cry out to him from the depths of our condition. We are to admit and see our lives for what they truly have become. James writes, “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” Those who came to dinner in a Jewish household always prepared themselves first before enjoying the meal or good company. Like my Mama who always asked before we dared eat, “Did you wash your hands?” we are reminded to do the very same preparation. As sinners we cannot enter into the good company of the Lord without doing so. It is a reminder of our need to confess our sins, to “purify” our “hearts.” Our entire lives are to be given over to the Lord, our Master, anew. We were once bought by his blood but we allowed ourselves the false company of strangers, the dirt of the road, and soiled our souls. We who once said we loved the Lord ran into the arms of another lover. We lied. And when we do not readily confess our adultery we cannot restore our relationship. We have to confess our sins and purify our hearts, all that we are, and no longer be doubled-minded. In fact, James says we should “Grieve” mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” He is saying we should be totally devastated by our sinful condition, not making excuses for our ungodliness. Like those who would hire professional mourners to cry and wail over the dead, we are to “grieve, mourn, and wail” over our death to sin. After all “the wages of sin is death”, we are told by Paul. We should be distraught over our death to the Lord after he sacrificed so much to give us his grace.

James leaves us with the promise, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:10 NIV)” His teaching is what the Psalmist tells us about the Lord God, “The LORD sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground. (Psalms 147:6 NIV)” Those who are willing to leave their sinful pride behind, God will lift up and restore! The key is humility. If we debase ourselves before the Lord, he will indeed lift us up. Our way to soar is first of all found in falling down. Those who willingly give up their ungodliness, our God will dust them off and lift them up. There is a marked advantage to our humility — eventually it brings us honor! Jesus taught, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:11 NIV)” Our problem is we do not like to give up our control. We think by humbling ourselves we lose part of ourselves, but nothing is further from the truth! This is why many young brides do not like the word “obey” in their marriage vows. They do not want to submit to anyone, thinking if they do they are less of a person. God, however, never asks us to be less than we are. In fact, he desires the very best there is for our lives! He desires us to be what he created us for, his kingdom purposes! This is why the Scriptures relate, “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor. (Proverbs 18:12 NIV)” Paul boldly wrote, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. (Romans 8:18-19 NIV)” And that, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:26-27 NIV)” When we place our faith and trust in Jesus as our Savior and Lord we are no longer our own, we are bought with a huge price. When we arrogantly sin and pridefully continue in that sin rather than coming back to the one who saved us, we place ourselves above God himself and his purpose for our lives. We never have to sacrifice that which God desires for our lives. We are his alone and when we come back to him and humble ourselves before the Lord, he will lift us up!

Now, let me ask you, are you willing to live the submissive life and enjoy all that God has to offer you or will you take advantage of God’s grace and return to the pride of your sin?

This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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Do You Live According to God’s Truth? – Isaiah 28:14-18; 30:12-18

Do You Live According to God’s Truth? – Isaiah 28:14-18; 30:12-18
By Pastor Lee Hemen
February 16, 2014 AM

Many folks in our day and age think they are okay with God. So much so in fact, that they would deny they need Him at all! Ray Comfort has a great way of confronting folks who think this way. He asks them a series of questions. “Would you consider yourself a good person?” Most answer, “Yes.” Then he asks, “Have you ever told a lie?” Most answer, “Yes.” “What does that make you?” “A liar”, is the usual response. “Have you ever stolen something?” he continues. “Yes.” “What does that make you?” “A thief”, they respond. “Have you ever looked at someone else with lust?” And, of course most answer in the affirmative. He then blandly remarks, “Well, by your own admission, you’re a lying, thieving, adulterer at heart and not a good person at all!”

Some who claim Christ do not fair much better. We like to think that if we say we love Jesus, this is enough, but let me ask you, “Do you live according to God’s truth?” Jesus said the greatest command of God was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31 NIV) Now, be very careful in your response because Jesus also reminds us, “Consider carefully what you hear. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you–and even more.” (Mark 4:24 NIV) Isaiah began asking the nation of Judah if they also lived according to God’s truth. In what Isaiah shares with Judah we can be reminded of how we are to live according to God’s truth as well. Let’s see how…

READ: Isaiah 28:14-18; 30:12-18

Isaiah’s message to Israel of destruction by foreign invaders was also for Judah. Though Judah would not be completely destroyed, because Jerusalem would not be taken, Judah would face a lot of suffering. The people of the Southern Kingdom had much the same attitude as their Northern brothers. They too were scoffing at God’s revelation through Isaiah. They needed to…

I. Reject Self-Deception (Isa. 28:14-15)
1. Isaiah had condemned the Northern Kingdom of Israel’s drunken priests and prophets and had prophesied their doom (Isa. 28:1-13). “Therefore” connects the fate of Judah’s political leaders to the fate of Israel’s religious leaders. Judah’s leaders should be able to look at what was happening in the north and draw conclusions regarding the consequences of their own sinful actions. Isaiah referred to Judah’s political leaders as “scoffers who rule this people”, the Old Testament’s strongest term to describe wicked folks. Scripture tells us that a mocker “behaves with overweening pride.” (Proverbs 21:24) Rejecting correction, they acted contrary to God’s law and delighted in leading others away from God into evil. These scoffers of God and His truth ruled Judah. When national leaders live opposed to God, the nation’s populace assume they can also. Those who seek to follow God soon discover maintaining their faith and devotion to God becomes very difficult. Judah’s leaders cared nothing for God or the tradition of faith in Jerusalem, believing they knew better than God Himself. Faced with choosing life or death, Judah’s leaders had decided not to trust patiently in God and experience life but to trust in Egypt’s military might and in a covenant with Death. Isaiah tells them, “We have entered into a covenant with death; with the grave we have made an agreement. When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, it cannot touch us, for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place.” Even today, nations and people experience and fall prey to the temptation to trust in human solutions and power. As with Iran, Syria, or Egypt today we may trust more in politicians rather than what God desires we do as a nation. We cannot save ourselves no matter how clever we think we are. God actively works in His creation; and when we ignore His work and reject His truth, we deceive ourselves. Rather than concocting our self-serving schemes, we need to allow God to guide us. We must reject self-deception!
EXAMPLE: Psychologists have often pondered if the likes of an Adolf Hitler or a Charles Manson considered themselves as good people. The answer of course is yes they did and do. Why would those who are such evil folks consider themselves to be good? Paul gives us the reason, “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God!” (Romans 3:10-11, 23 NIV) And this should bring us up short in how we deceive ourselves into thinking we are good people as well. We are at heart sinful. We do not want to think of ourselves as being “evil”. We forget while we may be saved, we still delude ourselves into thinking we are good people when in fact we may not be that great at all. Isaiah teaches us rather than concocting our self-serving schemes, we need to allow God to guide us. We must reject self-deception!

In the Ugaritic pantheon, death was personified as the god of the underworld. The Jerusalem leaders were trusting in other gods to save them from the coming scourge, the Assyrian invasion. However, to trust in false gods was futile. They needed to…

II. Rely on God’s Foundation (Isa. 28:16-18)
1. God reminds Judah, “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation,” in fact, “the one who trusts will never be dismayed.” Judah’s leaders had trusted in human alliances rather than God, believing military forces offered better protection than quiet trust in God. God would show His power by laying a stone in Zion. This stone would provide a sure foundation for building a life and a nation. For those who rejected God and His way, the stone would cause them to stumble and suffer punishment. Jesus’ parable regarding the choice of the proper foundation for a house reminds us, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24 NIV) As a house built on a solid rock foundation endures the elements, so a life based on God provides peace, serenity, and joy no matter what happens. A life based on human wisdom and strength results only in feverish activity and temporary happiness and eventually crumbles under the events of life; like a house built on sand collapses in a powerful storm. Trusting in God does not guarantee worldly success but provides lasting peace and satisfaction. Those who continued to trust in their own plans and power would face destruction. Contrary to the world’s wisdom, God remarks, “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line!” We all want justice when others are guilty, but when we are guilty of breaking God’s law we want mercy instead! The shifting sands of scheming instead of trusting God would “sweep away (Judah’s) refuge, the lie, and water will overflow (their) hiding place. (Judah’s) covenant with death will be annulled; (their) agreement with the grave will not stand. When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by, (Judah) will be beaten down by it!” Just when Assyria posed its greatest threat, Egypt would renege on its agreement with Judah, leaving Judah to become debris flattened and washed away by a flood. Judah’s leaders staked the future of their nation on trust in human power and schemes rather than relying on God’s firm foundation for their lives. We often face temptations to do the same. We must rely on God’s foundation!
EXAMPLE: Denise and I lived in a house in Portland that was built right before WWII. It was a cozy little home, but it had one flaw. The foundation was crumbling. Many of the prewar builders, in order to cut corners and save money, went down to the Columbia River, dug up river sand to mix with their concrete. It worked for the short term but as the weather, the heat and cold, and moisture worked on its molecular structure it began to deteriorate. You could take your finger and slowly poke holes clear through the basement wall! Paul reminds us, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11 NIV) And that, “Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.’” (2 Timothy 2:19 NIV) Judah’s leaders staked the future of their nation on trust in human power and schemes rather than relying on God’s firm foundation for their lives. We often face temptations to do the same. We must rely on God’s foundation!

Relying on God proves difficult sometimes because we cannot always see how God is working or will work. Trusting in God provides the only way to experience a quality of life that transcends all difficulties and brings deep satisfaction and joy. We need to…

III. Receive God’s Message by Resting in His Grace! (Isa. 30:12-18)
1. God called His own chosen a “rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the LORD’s instruction!” (v. 9) they no longer wanted to see or hear from God or His prophets! In fact, like spoiled brats, they sarcastically declared, “Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (v. 11) Wow! Can you imagine God’s folks doing such a thing? “Therefore” Isaiah tells them, “this is what the Holy One of Israel says: ‘Because you have rejected this message, relied on oppression and depended on deceit, this sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly, in an instant.” There would be no protection for God’s obstinate folks! They ignored their sin, but God did not. A crack may take years to bring down a wall, but unless someone notices the problem early and fixes it, the wall will crumble! The wall’s collapse would be as total as the smashing of a pottery vessel into tiny, unusable shards, “It will break in pieces like pottery, shattered so mercilessly that among its pieces not a fragment will be found for taking coals from a hearth or scooping water out of a cistern.” Sadly, often those who are in sin refuse to recognize their sin! Like pigheaded Judah, we can be just as stubborn in our ungodliness. Isaiah’s words therefore ring true, “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” We falsely think we can solve our sin problem by either ignoring it or running from it, “You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’” But the consequence of our sin always catches us, “You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’ Therefore, your pursuers will be swift! A thousand will flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you will all flee away, till you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop, like a banner on a hill.” All that is left from a life ignoring sin and God’s devotion is a lonely reminder of what once was — a forlorn banner fluttering in the wind on a hill! In fact, that flag would become a warning for others not to do what God’s people did in forsaking Him! Is your life like that? However, in the midst of rebellion, Isaiah reminds Judah and us, “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him!” The answer for our sin condition is to receive God’s message by resting in His grace!
EXAMPLE: The Waldo Canyon fire destroyed 346 homes in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and burned more than 18,000 acres. It was 100-percent contained when perimeter lines were built around the entire area of the blaze. It was confined to a defined area until it could be fully extinguished. Officials warned residents that they might continue to see smoke in the burn area because although the fire was fully contained it was not out. When we are rocked by tragic events and evil acts, we may long for the day when evil is destroyed and God’s kingdom established. Until that time, however, God gives us His grace. He gives us His grace and strength to endure the trials of life as we look forward to His return. Isaiah reminds Judah and us, “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him!” The answer for our sin condition is to receive God’s message by resting in His grace!

Conclusion:
We can live according to God’s truth when we reject self-deception, when we rely on God’s foundation, and receive God’s message by resting in His grace!

This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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Talking about the Gospel – Galatians 1:6-9, 11-12, 15-16; 2:1-6

Talking about the Gospel – Galatians 1:6-9, 11-12, 15-16; 2:1-6
By Pastor Lee Hemen
July 21, 2013 AM

One test of being a good student is to understand the instructions for an exam. Once in seminary, our class gathered for a final exam in a Greek language course. We received the test paper with its instructions. Unfortunately, several students misread the directions and translated the wrong Scripture passage. As an act of grace, the professor did not give the students failing grades or automatically lower their grades. Instead, he evaluated their work on the passage they mistakenly translated. He pointed out, however, that they did poorer than they probably would have done on the assigned passage. Their lack of a clear understanding of the instructions cost them.

Without being aware of what they are doing, folks often reveal they do not clearly understand the gospel. They make such comments as, “I hope God will let me into heaven.” Or “I hope I’m good enough to get into heaven.” Or “I may not be a good Christian, but God has got to love me anyway.” Or even, “I study my Bible and I know a lot about it.” Statements such as these do not reflect the true gospel of Christ. They reflect a false gospel of salvation based on works or on knowledge. The true gospel is that salvation is by faith alone. God wants people to understand this is the only gospel. Unless Christians are clear about the true gospel, they may be deceived about its content.

READ: Galatians 1:6-9, 11-12, 15-16; 2:1-6

Like all biblical writers, Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit as he wrote this letter. He began with a salutation in which he identified himself and the letter’s recipients. Then he wrote a greeting that included a prayer, a statement concerning Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation, and a doxology that we adhere to even today. Like Paul, we need to…

I. Recognize the true Gospel! (Gal. 1:6-9)

1. Usually, Paul followed words of greeting in his letters with an expression of thanksgiving for the recipients. In his Letter to the Galatians, he moved quickly from greeting them to addressing their critical situation. Paul expressed surprise and perplexity at the Galatians’ actions. He was shocked and dismayed that they were so quickly turning away from Jesus. God had called them to salvation by the grace of Christ. Their redemption had come as a sheer gift from God through Christ’s atoning self-sacrifice. Yet they were in the process of deserting God! The phrase “so quickly” may indicate soon after these believers’ conversion, soon after Paul’s departure, or soon after the false teachers’ arrival. In any case, believers displayed a readiness to turn away from the gospel that Paul preached to a “different gospel”! The Greek term rendered “different” means “another in kind or nature.” Paul quickly asserted no other gospel of the same kind existed, only the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone! Any gospel other than the one Paul proclaimed was bogus. These false teachers were Jewish Christians who insisted Gentiles had to become Jewish converts to be full-fledged Christians. They wanted to require Gentile males to be circumcised and all Gentiles to strictly observe the Jewish law. These “Judiazers” acknowledged that faith in Christ was needed but said it was not enough. Paul flatly rejected their view as salvation by works of the law, declaring legalism has no part in a person’s redemption. Salvation is by grace; it is God’s gift received by faith. The false teachers were trying to pervert or corrupt the gospel of Christ. Paul expressed his anger by presenting a hypothetical case in which he or an angel proclaimed a different gospel contrary to the one Paul had preached to the Galatians, they should be cursed! The Greek word for curse (anathema) describes people or things so detestable to God that their destruction honors Him! Paul emphasized his distaste by repeating his curse! He consigned to destruction anyone whose message contradicted the gospel of God’s grace in Christ. Believers need to recognize the true gospel!

EXAMPLE: When we are clear about the one true gospel, we will reject all efforts to change or add to it. We will reject false gospels such as salvation by works, through knowledge, or through mere identification with any religion. One test of any teaching is whether it strengthens Jesus’ church. We must examine carefully any teaching that threatens a church’s peace. Generally, we will reject them; but we should accept no such teaching without careful, in-depth consideration. Those who would teach anything other than what Jesus taught in the gospels, should be condemned because they hinder the lost from coming by faith to Christ, this is why believers need to recognize the true gospel.

Quickly, without an expression of thanksgiving for the Galatian believers, Paul addressed the threat to these Christians that deeply concerned him. He rejected the idea that anything could be added to the gospel of salvation by faith alone, through Christ alone, and warned that such an effort produces a false gospel. Paul knew that believers needed to…

II. Realize the Gospel is divine! (Gal. 1:11-12, 15-16)

1. Evidently, the Judaizers accused Paul of saying what people wanted to hear in order to win their favor. In their view, he preached an easy salvation of grace rather than a more difficult righteousness based on works. Paul countered that he sought to please God, not people! The phrase “I want you to know” is literally “I certify to you” and calls attention to what follows. Paul stressed that the gospel he preached was not “man made up”. The good news of salvation by grace through faith in Christ is not the product of human ingenuity. It was not Paul’s idea, he “received it by revelation from Jesus Christ”! He did not “receive it from any man”! The gospel differs from any human message in character and content; but of more significance, it is divine in its origin! No human source relayed the gospel to Paul. No apostle or other early Christian taught him the gospel’s content. Paul received the gospel he preached by a direct revelation from Jesus Christ. Paul probably referred to his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road (Acts 9:1-9). Paul briefly reviewed his “previous way of life in Judaism” and “how intensely (he) persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.” He was near the top of his class in Judaism, “extremely zealous” for his ancestors’ “traditions” (v. 14). First, God set Paul apart. The Greek term rendered set apart means “to select” or “to appoint.” Paul had been a Pharisee—a “separated one”—but God had separated him for a better purpose “from my mother’s womb”. Second, God had called Paul to salvation and special service by His grace. Third, God revealed His Son in Paul. God revealed Christ to Paul so He could reveal the Savior through Paul. Specifically, God selected Paul to proclaim Christ to the Gentiles. Paul’s salvation and his commission as the Apostle to the Gentiles were at God’s initiative. Paul reinforced his assertion that the gospel he preached came from Christ, not from a human source. Following his conversion on the Damascus road, he did not immediately consult with anyone. He received no human instruction. We dare not add to its content or its teaching. For Paul the gospel was and is divine!

EXAMPLE: Messages claiming to be ultimate religious truth from divine sources continue to proliferate today. When we are clear about the true gospel’s being from God, we will reject these other so-called gospels. They wrongly thrust their leaders or their ideas above God, or above the teaching of Holy Scriptures, or above both. ?Christians today need to understand clearly that the message handed down from the saints, the gospel, is divine!

Paul resisted any idea that the gospel he preached came from another person or represented a human point of view. He emphasized it came only from Christ. Because Paul treasured the gospel he preached, he refused to do anything that could be understood as a compromise after presenting it to the church’s leaders. In fact, he received their affirmation of his gospel. Like Paul, we must…

III. Refuse to compromise the gospel! (Gal. 2:1-6)

1. “Fourteen years later” from Paul’s conversion, he “went up again to Jerusalem.” Paul not only defended this gospel to the Twelve, but they also recognized “the grace that had been given” to Paul. (2:9) Paul took Barnabas and Titus along with him. Barnabas was the leader in this church who had persuaded the apostles to accept Paul. Later he enlisted Paul to assist in the work in Antioch of Syria. They also worked together on the first missionary journey. He “took Titus along also.” Barnabas would have great influence among Jerusalem Christians, while Titus would have directly challenged the Judaizers because he was a Gentile convert and was not circumcised. Paul said he “went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.” Paul was concerned that opposition from the Jerusalem church’s leaders would severely hamper his work. Such disapproval could lead to a sharp division between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Paul acted prudently to prevent misunderstanding. Paul emphasized that the Jerusalem church accepted Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile convert, without demanding that he be circumcised. Paul’s implication was clear: The Judaizers who were perverting the gospel did not have the Jerusalem church’s approval. However, some of their sympathizers who had entered the discussion uninvited insisted that Titus and all other Gentiles be circumcised. They may have been looking for evidence that Jewish Christians were disregarding the law. Their purpose was to discredit Paul and his message of grace so believers would be enslaved again to legalism. Salvation by grace frees people from legalism. Paul refused to budge on his insistence that circumcision plays no part in salvation. He did not knuckle under to the Judaizers’ demands “for a moment.” He refused to yield on the crucial issue of how people are made right with God. Paul’s refusal to compromise was so that the truth of the gospel would remain for all Christians. To him, the gospel’s integrity was at stake. Paul stressed that the church leaders “added nothing my message”. They imposed no new requirements, conditions, or limitations on his ministry. Thus, the gospel remained the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. Like Paul, we should refuse to compromise the gospel!

EXAMPLE: Gaining a fuller understanding of the gospel is important. We can grow in our understanding by talking to, listening to, and studying with others as well as reading Christian materials. Yet we must test any idea batted around in such venues by the true gospel, not by what is most popular or pleasing or by what is presented most effectively or forcefully. When we are clear about the true gospel, we will oppose ideas or actions that compromise it.

Conclusion:
When we are clear in our understanding of the gospel, we will recognize the true Gospel, realize the Gospel is divine, and refuse to compromise the gospel.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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Esther 2:1-23 – Inner beauty and outer beauty!

Esther 2:1-23 – Inner beauty and outer beauty!
By Pastor Lee Hemen
April 14, 2013 AM

Jesus once related, “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’” (Mark 7:20-23 NIV) While in our day and age we place great importance on outward beauty, we discover biblically that what matters most is what is inside a person. This is what reflects the true inner qualities of a person. During the days of Esther, folks were not much different than they are today; they valued outward appearance more then what was found inside.

My Fair Lady is a musical based upon George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. The story concerns Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from Professor Henry Higgins, a phoneticist, so that she may pass as a well-born lady. What transpires is that Eliza’s true inner qualities stand out through her course Cockney flavor, and when it is highlighted by her new personification, Eliza truly shines both inwardly and outwardly. While we discover that Esther needed little preparation in her outward beauty, we also discover her true inner beauty as well. It is something believers need to remind themselves, concerning their relationship with God. Let’s discover why…

READ: Esther 2:1-23

Esther teaches about the importance of a good…

I.  Foundation! (Vv. 1-7)

1. How we weather the storms of life is contingent upon what we’ve used as a foundation! The Jewish historian Josephus says that when Xerxes’ anger was over he was exceedingly grieved that the matter was carried out. He would have liked to have been reconciled to Vashti but because the judgment was irrevocable, those around Xerxes had to make him forget her. They contrived how to entertain him with a bevy of beauties and then to get him to like the most agreeable among them in order to find a new wife and queen instead of Vashti. As the world often does, it is out with the old and in with the new; yesterday’s queen is today’s bag lady, and the superstar that once shown so brightly is but an ashen cinder in the eyes of the ever-fickle world of today. “Then the king’s personal attendants proposed, ‘Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful girls into the harem at the citadel of Susa. Let them be placed under the care of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let beauty treatments be given to them. Then let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.’” (Esther 2:2-4a NIV) Proverbs reminds us, “My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” (Proverbs 6:20 NIV) And, “The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures.” (Proverbs 30:17 NIV) Just as foundation is important when applying makeup, a strong spiritual foundation is important for one’s life! Esther did not forget her foundation. Of course, “This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it.” God was preparing just the right girl for the job. There was a man named “Mordecai [who] had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This girl, who was also known as Esther, was lovely in form and features, and Mordecai who had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.” Esther was being raised with the proper foundation!

EXAMPLE: Over by the Costco next to the Panda Express near our church, they built a small strip mall. The buildings look great, modern, and they are in an excellent location. There was only one problem; they did not establish a good foundation. The doorways and windows in the buildings soon sagged and buckled because when they put the building in place they did not make sure the ground was stable. A poor foundation creates all kinds of problems. This is true of our lives in God as well. Many mega churches and new work starts are discovering that they have failed to properly train their congregations concerning what it means to be a Christian, a member of a local church, and how to develop themselves in the Lord. Esther had a good foundation passed down to her by her uncle.
We discover from Esther that our lives cannot be glossed over with…

II. Spackle and paint! (Vv. 8-15)

1. God does more than make us look good; He cleanses us completely for His service! Paul wrote that we need to be careful what we build our lives from, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11 NIV) Xerxes’ order was followed and all the girls that met his criteria were pampered, prettified, and brought before him. “Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem.” Of course, Esther “pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. (Spackle and paint.) He assigned to her seven maids selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her maids into the best place in the harem.” Now, Esther was not stupid, she did exactly what Mordecai told her to do, “Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so.” In fact, we discover that “Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.” Not only had Esther’s upbringing helped her now to cope with what was happening, but the wisdom she had gained helped her to use those around her for her benefit as well. We learn that Esther “had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics.” Esther learned that “Anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace.” The idea was that she had to be completely cleansed from her old life in order to be able to enter the presence of the king. No stink, sweat, or old odor could remain. It is not unlike those of us who must be completely cleansed of our old sins in order to go before our King of kings. Far too often, the world tries to cover up the mess instead of completely cleansing it away. (Spackle and paint.) No amount of Febreze, Spackle and paint, can rid your life of the stink of sin. Esther “asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her.” True inner beauty is found in God alone.

EXAMPLE: The old hymn asks, “What can wash away my sins?” The immediate answer is, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus!” God alone is the one who can cleans us completely of the stink of our sin. Humorously, Ecclesiastes tells us, “As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.” (Ecclesiastes 10:1 NIV) When building restoration occurs after a fire one of the things they work hard to do is to get rid of the smell of smoke. Restorers will tell you it is more than just using paint and Spackle. We often try our own way to cover our sin and it never works, only God can cleanse us completely. Only God can clear the air of the stench or of sin condition. When we reject God’s ways we come under His judgment; He reminded Jeremiah, “What do I care about incense from Sheba or sweet calamus from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me.” (Jeremiah 6:20 NIV) Esther did not depend upon the world’s paint and Spackle, her inner beauty shown through because her outer beauty was in her faith.

Esther and Mordecai show us how God is involved in the…

III. Highlights! (Vv. 16-23)

1. God’s grace is always at work. Finally, Esther “was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.” Her foundation and all the paint and Spackle now come down to whether or not she can impress the king. No worries, “the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.” It is the highlight of her life! She is the queen and no one suspects she is a Hebrew because she had kept that her little secret as per her uncle’s instructions. “And the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality.” Esther was where God wanted her, and “Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate,” where God desired him. God always works behind the scenes in our lives to highlight His work and His ways. Nowhere is this seen more than in the lives of Mordecai and Esther. God’s grace was working in Modecai’s life; it was working in the life of a young teenage girl named Esther, and God’s grace was working in the life of an unworthy arrogant king. We find that “During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes.” In fact, when “Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther,” she, “in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai.” Isn’t God amazing! God worked in Mordecai’s life, Mordecai worked in Esther’s life, who also allowed God to show her what to do. And God is glorified because we discover “when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were hanged on a gallows!” Nehemiah and Ezra would profit from God’s grace extended to this king through Esther. Proverbs reminds us to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV) Here we discover the highlights of God working in the lives of Esther and Mordecai.

EXAMPLE: Highlights are important in makeup and in art. In fact, the great masters knew how to use highlights in such a way that made their art come alive. Highlights can give art depth, vibrancy, and bring the viewer into the work itself. Thomas Kinkade was an American painter of popular realistic, pastoral, and idyllic subjects. He is notable for the mass marketing of his work as printed reproductions and other licensed products via The Thomas Kinkade Company. He was claimed to be “America’s most-collected living artist” before his death it has been estimated that one in every 20 American homes owning a copy of one of his paintings. He characterized himself as “Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light,” a phrase he protected through trademark but one originally attributed to the English master J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851). Turner was a British Romantic landscape painter, water-colorist, and printmaker. Turner was considered a controversial figure in his day, but is now regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivaling history painting. Although renowned for his oil paintings, Turner is also one of the greatest masters of British watercolor landscape painting. God highlights our lives as well, just as He did with Esther and Mordecai.

Conclusion:
Today we learn from Esther about the importance of a good foundation, that Spackle and paint cannot hide our true nature, and God is involved in the highlights of our lives.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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