Pastor Kirk

Notes from Scio Community Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Parable of the Weeds, 26 July 2015

Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43

Series Overview: this summertime series will examine the various parables of Jesus recorded in thirteenth chapter of Matthew.

Big Idea: good and evil coexist in our world—for now!

Introduction

Last week we began our series Parables, a look at several stories Jesus told as recorded in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel—good news—or biography of Jesus.

Lectio Divina: Matthew 13:24-30

Last week we talked about a man who sowed seed. The success of the harvest was not dependent upon the sower, the seed, the water, or the sun, but rather by the soil. Bad soil produced bad crops and good soil yielded a great harvest.

As we continue reading Matthew chapter thirteen, Jesus continues to talk about sowing seed, this time seed that apparently lands in good soil…but there is a problem. Its origins go back to the Garden of Eden—in more ways than one!

In the first chapters of Genesis, Adam and Eve are enjoying God, the Garden, one another, and work. Yes, they enjoyed work.

They were punished for their disobedience, listening to the enemy, the serpent, satan, the devil. They ate the forbidden fruit, and they suffered the consequences.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)

At the risk of oversimplifying the punishment, God allowed weeds to grow!

I hate weeds. Hate is a strong word, yet weeds were the bane of my existence as a child. You may have heard me share stories about pulling weeds in our garden and yard. I’m sure my mom would disagree but it seemed as if my sister and I spent half of our summer days pulling weeds in 100 degree heat, sun beating down, no water until dinner, no rest until bedtime, and no vacation until winter break! I love you, mom!

Obviously I had no such experience, but I do vividly remember moments—if not hours—pulling weeds, wanting to curse Adam and Eve for eating the fruit and causing me great hardship!

Weeds are nasty. I dare say weeds are evil.

As we will see from our text today, had I studied the Bible more as a child, perhaps I would’ve discovered this passage and used it as an excuse to not pull weeds!

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. (Matthew 13:24-26)

First, this is a parable, a story of what the kingdom of
heaven is like, a picture of the future. We are all so curious about heaven. Where is it? Who will be there? When do we get to go? What does it look like? Do all dogs go there?!

Jesus says a man sowed good seed in his field. Good seed produces…good crops, in this case wheat (my apologies to those who are gluten-free!). We can assume the soil is good, but unfortunately the man has an enemy. The enemy goes to the trouble of sowing in the same field, but instead of sowing seeds, he sows weeds.

Why? Weeds grow naturally. I have a garden full of them to prove it!

Growth takes time. It takes time for babies to grow into adults, for seedlings to grow into big trees, and for seeds to grow into crops. In the early days following planting, it’s difficult to know what is planted…or where. Many gardeners use popsicle sticks or other markers to show above ground what is below.

In Jesus’ parable, the wheat and weeds appear together.

The world is getting better. The wheat is growing.
The world is getting worse. The weeds are growing.


“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

“ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ (Matthew 13:27-28)


This is a great question. I’m sure I asked it many times of my mom. Do you
really want us to pull the weeds? Wouldn’t it be better for us to swim in the neighbor’s pool and not get our clothes dirty?!

No parable or analogy is perfect. As a general rule, pulling weeds helps the crops grow. This explains why I’ve grown so few crops in our garden over the years; we don’t spend enough time pulling weeds, they rob the crops of nutrients, and sometimes even choke them, winding their way around the stems of our plants. Weeds are evil!

The answer really is surprising.

“ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ ” (Matthew 13:29-30)

Jesus seems to be saying two things:

  • Pulling weeds risks pulling the wheat.
  • At harvest time, the wheat and weeds will be separated and have very different outcomes

Do you understand this parable? If you’ve read this chapter, you have an unfair advantage, one unavailable to Jesus’ disciples. A few verses later we get the explanation.

Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” (Matthew 13:36)

The more I read the Bible, the more I understand human nature and realize I’m not alone in my cluelessness! There’s so much of the Bible I don’t fully understand, yet that prompts me to pursue it all the more.

He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. (Matthew 13:37-39)

Jesus begins by identifying the two teams! Jesus sows good seed—the people of the kingdom—into the world. The devil sows his people into the world, the weeds. The harvest is coming and angels will harvest the people of the kingdom and the people of the evil one.

God is real. The evil one is also real.

Most people prefer to talk about God than about satan. More people believe in angels than demons. They’re all a part of reality.

If you don’t believe me, last night “an 8½-foot-tall bronze monument featuring a goat-headed Satan” was to be unveiled in Detroit by The Satanic Temple. The monument, a “1½-ton Baphomet, which is backed by an inverted pentagram and flanked by statues of two young children gazing up at the creature, shows Satan with horns, hooves, wings and a beard.” (
freep.com)

So much for underground! For the record,

“The Satanic Temple Detroit chapter founder Jex Blackmore has said the group doesn't worship Satan but does promote individuality, compassion and views that differ from Christian and conservative beliefs.” (freep.com)

As I’ve said before, the essence of satanism is the worship of self, something that seems to be our national—if not world—religion!

Talk of heaven and hell, God and satan, angels and demons makes many uncomfortable, but whoever said life and reality were to be comfortable?

Here’s what Jesus said:

“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Matthew 13:40-41)

I don’t like the thought of hell any more than the next guy, but these are Jesus’s words. Heaven is for real. Hell is for real. There will be a separation of the wheat and weeds, the sheep and the goats, those who follow Jesus and those who follow their own desires, those who worship God and those who worship themselves.

Which are you?

The world really is getting better.
The world really is getting worse.

A day is coming when we will all be judged for the way we lived our days on this earth. Today really matters. There’s no guarantee of tomorrow.

This past week Heather and I attended one of the most gut-wrenching gatherings we’ve ever experienced, the funeral of a five month-old baby who died in his sleep. Like all funerals, it was a reminder of how fragile life is and how each day is truly a gift. They say you are not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Are you ready? Are your loved ones ready?

The reason Christians aren’t taken to heaven upon following Jesus is there is work to do here on earth. Light and darkness coexist. Good and evil coexist. One is always in tension with the other. Let’s make sure we are in the light of Jesus and reflecting that light to our dark world today. Tomorrow might be too late.

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

Parable of the Sower, 19 July 2015

Matthew 13:1-23

Series Overview: this summertime series will examine the various parables of Jesus recorded in thirteenth chapter of Matthew.

Big Idea: spiritual seeds produce a variety of results

Introduction

Stories. Life is filled with stories. In many ways, life itself is a macro story with a nearly infinite number of micros stories contained within.

What is your favorite childhood story? Why?

What is your favorite Bible story? Why?

Stories are powerful. They’re so powerful, in fact, that they’re strategically used to prompt you to spend money. The success of Tom’s Shoes lies largely in the story behind them; for every pair purchased, another is given to a shoeless person in another country. I have a friend, Joelle McNamera, who started a company as a teenager called Badala, which means “instead.” She employs former sex slaves to produce jewelry and sells it at market rate, providing alternative employment for these women “instead” of their former work. Purchasing a Badala product does more than just provide you with another piece of jewelry; it changes lives, and that story is getting noticed, now even available at some Chicagoland Target stores. Author Donald Miller has begun a consulting business showing companies like Intel, Chick-fil-A, and Steelcase how to use story in their marketing.

Stories are powerful in other ways. Most movies would be dreadful without a good story. Many songs tell moving stories in their lyrics. Ghost stories at a campfire, stories of the good old days told by the aged, or even the infamous fishing stories capture our imagination and seize our attention.

Some have found stories to be unnecessary, preferring nothing more than hard data. “Just the facts. Get to the point,” they say. Jesus vehemently disagrees. He used the sacred texts, He was straightforward in much of His preaching, but so much of His teachings focused on stories, parables in particular. For the next several weeks we’re going to look at one chapter of the Bible, Matthew 13, and the parables of Jesus recorded for us.

Lectio Divina

There is a real art to telling a great story. Listening to one is quite a different experience from silently reading one. Lectio Divina is an ancient practice of simply listening to a passage of scripture read repeatedly, asking the Holy Spirit to speak through the text.

We have done this a time or two in the past. Today’s text will be read aloud three times. Please sit comfortably still as the text is read. Consider these two questions:

  • What word or phrase grabs my attention?
  • What question about the text would you ask a New Testament scholar?

Remember, the text will be read three times. Be still and listen to God’s Word and ask Him to speak to you now.

Matthew 13:3-9

Then he told them many things in parables, saying:

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Reflection

  • What word or phrase grabbed your attention?
  • What question about the text would you ask a New Testament scholar?

It is essential that we read the Bible, but things get especially exciting when the Bible reads us!

Our text today will be especially familiar to those who were a part of the Envision DR trip two weeks ago to the Dominican Republic. Our team presented this parable to various groups of students at a Compassion International site hosted by one of our Alliance Churches near Santiago. We used readings, songs, drama, and even puppets to present this account. I’m sorry, but I don’t have the puppets today!

Context

There’s a bit more to this parable that what was read. The previous verses provide the context.

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. (Matthew 13:1-2)

Jesus then begins with the first parable, a story of a sower scattering seed.

Food

We take food for granted. It seems like it’s everywhere—grocery stores, roadside stands, coffee shops, in our pantries and refrigerators, drive-thru windows, …We are very blessed to live in a land of abundance and plenty, yet so many in our country and countries around the globe will go to be hungry tonight. May we always be grateful and generous.

In the midst of our wealth, I have heard stories of urban children actually believing food was produced in the grocery store, unaware of its agricultural origins (or chemical laboratory origins in the case of our processed foods!). Food is important to us, but in Jesus’ day it was not as convenient to obtain as it is for us. Jesus taught His followers to pray not for a full refrigerator and freezer but for daily bread. Needless to say, agricultural metaphors are not powerful in our culture as in Jesus’ day, but the parable is no less powerful.

Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. (Matthew 13:3-4)

What is needed to grow a crop?

  • seed
  • sun
  • water
  • soil

This is a parable about sowing seeds, but the attention is on the soil. It’s commonly understood that the same type of seeds, sun, and water are used in each of the four accounts. Notice these were not gardens. People often grew crops in open areas with footpaths.

A footpath was not a good place for seeds. Even if it was once good soil, the feet of travelers and their possessions would compress the soil, making it hard. It’s no wonder the birds were able to eat the seeds. You can’t grow many crops in a hard road!

Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. (Matthew 13:5-6)

It’s not enough to have soil. You need an adequate amount of soil for the roots to grow deep. Each time I add a new plant to our small rose garden I read how deep I must first dig. A seed in shallow soil will not last. A plant is only as strong as its roots.

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. (Matthew 13:7)

Have you ever touched a thorn? They’re terrible! It’s no wonder they made a crown of thorns for Jesus during His torture. They destroy everything they touch, including plants.

Finally Jesus saves the best for last.

Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:8-9)

Good soil is essential to good crops. It always amazed me how tiny seeds can produce huge crops in months or even weeks.

Story: my tree Herman

What Does It Mean?

Besides basic gardening techniques, what is Jesus’ point in talking about the sower? We can know because we can read ahead, but often (usually?) Jesus’ parables were not understood. In fact,

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” (Matthew 13:10)

Jesus spends several verses answering their question before addressing what must’ve been their primary question: what does this parable mean?

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. (Matthew 13:18-19)

Perhaps this is like drive-by evangelism, the megaphone guy yelling at people he doesn’t know and will never see again. Although some claim fruit, many hear and leave confused, hurt or angry. Like a baby or a plant, growth takes time.

The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. (Matthew 13:20-21)

I’ve seen this in people. It’s like the old expression, “Easy come, easy go.” They get excited about everything, so they can quickly move from Jesus to Buddha to whatever the latest fad may be. They may also be sincere in their faith until storms come, they blame God, and renounce their faith. I’ve heard so many tragic stories of people who used to follow Jesus…until a priest abused them, a Christian betrayed them, a storm destroyed them, or they simply weren’t willing to pay the price to follow Jesus. We take our freedom of religion for granted in this country, yet most Christians on our planet pay a dear price for their faith—and they have since Jesus arrived and experienced the ultimate persecution. Following Jesus is not just praying a prayer, getting a “get out of hell free” card, and living in guaranteed health and wealth. It’s a 24/7 fully surrendered life to Jesus as LORD, as King. We must die in order to experience the abundant life He offers.

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22)

This is so common in our culture, too. We are obsessed with consumerism and stuff, working crazy hours to be able to maintain lifestyles we don’t need and even buying things we can’t afford. Jesus said we cannot worship God and money.

But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:23)

Many crops are contagious. One planted seed might produce multiple plants over the years. That’s what happens when we are infected by the love virus of God’s Word: it spreads to others. Good news must be shared!

So What?

I believe we are to both sow the Word of God into the lives of others and also tend to our own soil.

The sower had a job to do. He took action. It may have been hot! I’m sure it was in the Middle East! He couldn’t run up to Meijer and grab a bag of salad or an apple. He sowed seeds…but seemed careless about where he was placing the seeds, especially the seeds that fell on the path. It’s easy to be discouraged when people don’t respond positively to your faith. I believe the key to all sowing of spiritual seeds is prayer. It’s like supernatural fertilizer for the soil. There are many you and I know who simply are not interested in matters of faith today. We must persevere in prayer for the Holy Spirit to soften their heart and prepare the soil of their soul. Others, however, are ready, their soil is prepared, they are receptive and it’s a joy to plant and cultivate those new crops!

How is your soul’s soil? What are the thorns in your life? Worry? Wealth? Busyness? Consumerism? Work? Social media? Politics? Religion? What is keeping you from becoming a “little Jesus,” a choice fruit, a reproducing crop?

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

God Is Life, 1 John 5, 14 June 2015

Big Idea: God is light, love, and life.

Scripture: 1 John 5

Introduction

Today we conclude our series on the first epistle or letter written by Jesus’ friend John to the first Christians. I have been overwhelmed by the rich content of this short book. We have titled this series “Love Illuminated” and we could say the theme of the first chapter is God is light. The theme of the next chapters is God is love. The final chapter’s theme is God is life.

Jesus said plainly to Thomas in John’s biography of Jesus, the Gospel or good news of John…

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Jesus is life.

As I have said previously, we could take months to dissect this short letter, yet it is just that—a letter. It’s not a painting needing endless interpretation, a song for us to learn to sing or dance, or an inner feeling requiring unpacking. It’s a rather straightforward letter, a letter we will finish reading today.

Victory over the world

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:1-5)

When you trust Jesus you trust what He did and who He is, His identity. If Jesus is LORD, you have been born of God, new birth. You’ve been born again. God becomes your Father, your Dad. Your Dad loves you, you love your Dad, and you love your siblings, brothers and sisters in Christ along with our big Brother, Jesus.

How do you know you’re a child of God?

  • You are righteous. You do what is right. (1 John 2:29)
  • You stop a lifestyle of sin. (1 John 3:9)
  • You love other Christians, your spiritual siblings. (1 John 4:7)
  • You believe in Jesus. (1 John 5:1)
  • You overcome the world. (1 John 5:4)
  • You keep yourself from satan. (1 John 5:18)

Love, obedience, and truth.

Loving God shows we are His children. Last week we said love is more than a feeling, but a verb; it’s action! If we love God we obey His commands. What are they?

Be filled with the Holy Spirit
Love your neighbor
Pray without ceasing
Encourage
Rejoice always
Give thanks in all circumstances
(and so many more; many are found in 1 Thessalonians 5)

How do we overcome the world? Faith. We’re in the world but not to be of the world.

This is the only time “victory” occurs in the New Testament.

Faith saves us.
Faith keeps us.

J. Vernon McGee says Canaan represents the world where we live today. We’re blessed with all spiritual blessings. Joshua led the people into the Promised Land, but there were battles. Jericho was the first battle (the world). Ai was the second (the flesh). The Gibeonites deceived Joshua (the devil). We overcome the world not by fighting but by faith. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down.

We cannot overcome the world by fighting it.

Assurance of Salvation

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:6-12)

Water and blood both came from the side of Jesus on the cross.

Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. (John 19:34-35)

Water speaks of the living Word of God. We must be born of water, the Word.

Blood speaks of life and the death of Jesus.

We need the Holy Spirit.

Note: verse 7 may have been added later.

The Spirit, water (the Word) and blood agree Jesus is the Savior of the world because of His death and resurrection.

The witness or testimony of God is greater than that of humans.

The Holy Spirit is given to all followers of Jesus.

If you have Jesus, you have life. It doesn’t say who goes to church or reads the Bible. Is Jesus your Savior and LORD? Salvation and eternal life comes through trusting Jesus.

The next verse is very important.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:13-15)

We can have confidence and boldness in approaching God.

Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance but laying hold of His willingness.” - Martin Luther

We have a great Dad who will hear and answer.

Prayer may be one of the most misunderstood aspects of the faith, yet it might not be that complicated. I often relate it to talking with my son. I love my son and will do most anything for him…unless I’m unable—which God is not!—or I know it’s not in his best interest (which would be unloving).

John’s gospel records numerous statements from Jesus regarding prayer, talking with our heavenly Father.

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:13-14)

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16)

In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:23-24)

We are to pray in Jesus’ Name, not because it’s a secret password to miracles but because it states our desire to follow Him and seek the will of God. It means our will and His are the same. To accomplish this, we often must listen as well as speak. Prayer is a conversation, not a monologue. What is God saying to you? We can have confidence when we pray. The Father loves to give good gifts to His children, but prayer is not a formula to be followed guaranteeing our immediate desires. He is not our butler, but prayer is not wishful thinking, either. Daddy knows best. He can be trusted, even if He doesn’t make sense at this moment.

If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. (1 John 5:16-17)

This refers to physical death. Not all sins are the same, though they all displease God.

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:18-20)

The new nature will never sin. It has a desire for God and righteousness.

Christianity is not a religion but a Person, Jesus.

Finally, we come to a short yet profound command, an interesting way to conclude the letter.

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)

That’s it!

It occurs to me either

  • there’s more to the letter that has been lost
  • he had to get the letter in the mail because the mailman was coming!
  • these are his final words and he wants them to linger for emphasis

Keep yourselves from idols.

What is an idol? Anything we love more than God.

The Bible is filled with them. The Golden Calf may be the most infamous. It was common for religions to have physical idols, often statues believed to possess power.

This week I was reminded of the importance of wisdom…and the consequences of ignoring it. A few days ago in our daily One Story readings God says to Solomon

“As for you, if you walk before me faithfully with integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’ (1 Kings 9:4-5)

Imagine God offering to establish your royal throne forever! Solomon was given one request, he asked for a heart of understanding, and God gave him wisdom, wealth, power, and everything this world can offer.

But he forgot God. He did not keep himself from idols, essentially the first two of the Ten Commandments.

The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD’S command. So the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. (1 Kings 11:9-11)

John’s final words…

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)

What are your idols? We all have them. Money? Career? Family? Friends? Pleasure? Sports? Education? Food? Religion?

Jesus is life. He is the way. The truth. The life. Is He your life?

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

God is Love, 1 John 3, 31 May 2015

Big Idea: We are in the midst of a battle fought with love and prayer.

What is your favorite book of the Bible? Why?

What is your favorite chapter in the Bible? This may be a less popular question.

As we continue our series “Love Illuminated” on the book of 1 John, we come to the fourth chapter of this essential letter from one of Jesus’ three best friends, John. While this may not be my favorite chapter in the Bible, few are loaded with more incredible, memorable verses. It’s packed with theology, challenge, encouragement, and insight.

Its overarching theme is a four-letter word which best summarizes the entire Bible.
It’s a four-letter word which best summarizes God.
It’s a four-letter word which best summarizes what we are called to be as followers of Jesus and as the Church, the Body of Christ. The word is…love.

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1 John 4:1-3)

There were and are false prophets, false teachers, false teachings. Test the spirits. Test me! The Bible is our authority. Jesus is our authority. The reason cults exist is people follow leaders that are not following Jesus.

The question isn’t do you believe in God, but what do you believe about God. What do you believe about Jesus? We note previously how there were those in John’s day—and ours—who believed Jesus to be human but not God or God but not human. He is uniquely fully God and fully human.

This the the third time John mentions antichrist (1 John 2:18, 22). We said antichrist can mean against Christ or instead of Christ. Jesus said many would come in His name and also there would be opposition. There are many antichrists but they are not the antichrist mentioned in Revelation.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because
the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (1 John 4:4-6)

The spirit of antichrist is in the world. We are engaged in a real, cosmic battle between good and evil. Can I let you in on a little secret? We win!

The Holy Spirit is given to all believers. The Holy Spirit teaches through the Word of God, the Bible. Believers have the Holy Spirit living inside of us, but unless we surrender to God we can still sin and rebel against God. If, however, we remain or abide in Christ (John 15) and invite the Holy Spirit to fill and guide us, we will have the mind of Christ and act like Jesus, bearing fruit.

Imagine you’re in a bicycle race, hot and sweaty. You just happen to have a bottle of ice cold water, but never reach for it and drink it. Does it help you? No. Is it available? Yes. Would it be foolish to not take advantage of it? Absolutely! It’s not enough to have the Holy Spirit, which all believers do. We are to let the Spirit take control. Hands off! That’s hard for many of us who want to be in control. It’s not whether you have the Holy Spirit, but whether or not the Holy Spirit has you!

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)

Believers are to love one another. This is not sentimental, sexual, or social love but supernatural, unconditional agape. It says, “I love you. Period.”

In 1984 the band Foreigner had a huge hit that said, “I Want To Know What Love Is.”

When I was in high school our youth leader told the story about proposing to his wife. He knew he had feelings for this woman but struggled to define love. He was reading 1 John 4 and saw this verse (and verse 16).

God is love.

One of my greatest fears for us is that we become so familiar with the
idea of love without actually receiving and/or giving it. We know about love, but do we love?

Love is not being nice.

Love is not avoiding conflict.

Love not the absence of hate. In fact some have said the opposite of love is indifference, not hate, since love and hate are both intense. How often are we indifferent?

Love is a verb. It requires action.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:9-12)

He is the propitiation for our sins. The word means mercy seat, the place where the priest met God in the Old Testament. The word atonement means to cover. Jesus is the mercy seat for our sins. He died. He conquered sin and death so we can come boldly into the presence of Almighty God.

Do you love?
Do you love believers?
Do you love unbelievers?
Do you love your enemies?

The question is not can you but do you. The test of our faith is not our knowledge but our love.

Don’t miss the last verse. No one has seen God but people can see God’s love in us, through us. This is what it means for us to shine, to reflect God’s love like the moon reflects the light of the sun.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. (1 John 4:13-16a)

This is not a human love. The fruit of the Spirit is love…Some believe love is the fruit and the rest of the fruit of the Spirit emerges from love.

Who is Jesus? This question is hugely important! He is the Son of God. If Jesus is not who He claimed to be, His death was useless. He was arrested and crucified for claiming to be God…and He proved it by the resurrection!

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:16b-18)

Here John says again, “God is love.” Love is made perfect or complete.

1 John 4:8 God is love
1 John 4:16 God is love

You can’t say God is mercy or grace or justice, but God is love. God reveals His love at the mercy set, Jesus.

I love the phrase, “Perfect love drives out fear,” but this is not any fear (although love probably has the capacity to drive out any fear). This is about fearing judgment, something we need not fear because Jesus died for us and showed us His love…in action.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:19-21)

God loved us first. He took the first step, made the first move. Our love for God and others is always a response to knowing and experiencing His love for us. If your love tank is empty, only God can fill it up. He has plenty to share, just ask!

How many claim to love God yet hate others?

Love is a command.

Do you love?

I confess

  • not loving my enemies
  • not loving my friends
  • making it about me and my name rather than the Name of Jesus
  • failing to share God’s love with the lost

Conclusion

Two weeks ago the Christian & Missionary Alliance held their General Council in Long Beach, California, a national gathering that occurs every other year. Viewing it online I heard President John Stumbo share for the first time as President his report, his state of the denomination address. His first word to us was simple: love.
I realize this isn’t fancy, complicated, or trendy, but Jesus loves you and, therefore, you are to love Jesus and people, those Jesus loves.

But what is love? God is love, but who is God? Love!

Twenty five years ago this past week I said “I do” to my bride, and she returned the favor! During our ceremony, we had a chapter of the Bible read aloud. It was not written for a wedding. It is not about romance. It does not discuss eros love. It’s a great description of agape, however.

These words were read that day:

  If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
  Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

Children of God, 1 John 2:28-3:10, 24 May 2015

Big Idea: We are children of God…or children of the devil.

Scripture: 1 John 2:28-3:10

Introduction

My name is Kirk. Most people call me Kirk. Some call me Pastor Kirk. Three very special people call me Daddy or Dad. I love to hear that word. I have three adult children presently in three different states and I love being their daddy. I must admit in addition to great joy, there is great challenge involved in being a dad, not the least of which is calibrating invitation and challenge, encouragement and discipline, good cop and bad cop, warm love and tough love.

As we continue our examination of John’s first letter about twenty years following his biography of Jesus—the Gospel of John—we see John speaking like a dad, a shepherd, a pastor who has great concern for his sheep, his flock, his disciples. He showers them with confidence and challenge and provides for us an incredibly relevant message two thousand years later.

And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. (1 John 2:28)

John refers again to the “little born ones,” his precious followers, believers in Jesus. He echoes Jesus’ words in John 15 about the vine and the branches were Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Remain in Me. Abide in Me. Continue in Me.” The quality of fruit is directly related to the health of the branches and their connection to the vine and the roots. Good fruit cannot come from a dead tree.

Why remain and do life with Jesus? He’s returning and we want to be ready. We want Him to know us, to welcome us, to say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” This life matters. Our actions count. This is preparation for the future. When Jesus returns it will be both wonderful and woeful. If we know Him, it will be a wonderful reunion. If we have rejected Him—and I don’t just mean in our head, but with our life and deeds—great peril awaits.

We don’t know when He is coming but we know He is coming and we’ll all have to give an account for our lives. Are you ready?

If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him. (1 John 2:29)

Children look like their Dad. Have you noticed? This is not only true physically but also in mannerisms, habits, and actions.

God is righteous. His kids are righteous. It’s one thing to know Jesus but another to act like Him. Righteousness runs in the family!

One feature of this passage is the subject “everyone who” which appears nine times.

everyone who acts righteously has been born of God

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)

This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. Although the NIV translation omits it, may read, “Behold, what manner of love the Father has lavished on us.” Lavished!

We don’t expect to be God’s children, we don’t hope to be…we are His children! This is fantastic!

This love is great. It is special. It is unusual. This isn’t “I love ice cream” love or even “I’ll love you as long as you make me happy” love. It’s agape. It seeks nothing in return. It’s unconditional. It’s real! He proved His love by sending Jesus to die for us.

Keep in mind John is writing to believers, to children of God. He is inviting them into a deeper relationship with God. He is encouraging them. He is increasing their confidence in God and their adoption into His family in the midst of opposition, skepticism, and religion which says we’re saved by our works rather than the work of Jesus. Neither religion nor the world understands grace, unmerited favor. Our identity is given to us by God as we follow Jesus and are adopted into His family.

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

God sees what we will be. He knows the future. Jesus is returning and there will be a new heaven and a new earth, we will have new bodies like Christ’s body, and we will see the glorified Christ and be like him. These are encouraging words. If you’re a follower of Jesus today, you are a child of God. You can be confident and secure.

All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:3)

everyone who has this hope based on Jesus makes himself pure

Following Jesus is just that…following, imitating, becoming like Him. This requires action. It doesn’t say all who think purity is a good idea are pure. It doesn’t say if I pray a prayer to accept Jesus into my heart I’ll live a pure and righteous life. It means if we follow the pure One we will live increasingly pure lives that reflect Jesus.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4)

everyone who acts sinfully is really doing sin

This is a reference to habitual sins. Anything contrary to the will of God is sin. It’s serving our old nature. Sin will disrupt our relationship with God. Since the Fall in the Garden of Eden, we have been battling the allure of sin. Isaiah said

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

We all sin and fall short of God’s glory, His purity, His perfect standard of holiness. We need Jesus not only to forgive us but also to model for us what it means to be human, what it means to be pure and righteous.

But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:5-6)

everyone who abides in Him does not commit sin
everyone who commits sin has never seen Him

Jesus came to take away our sins—plural. He never sinned. If we know Him, love Him, and follow Him we will not sin. This does not mean we will never sin, but it will be a regretful mistake rather than a prideful habit. If sin is rebellion against God, we can’t follow God and sin.

The believer who remains/abides does not practice sin. We do sin, and God can deliver us from sin. Jesus died to forgive us and allow us to be reconciled to our Dad.

When believers sin, there is sorry and remorse. If you keep on sinning and don’t feel guilt or conviction you’re in deep trouble!

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. (1 John 3:7)

God’s children look like God’s Son. The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree!

Everyone who acts righteously is truly just

Now John gets clear. Crystal clear. He shifts from invitation to challenge, from encouragement to warning.

The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. (1 John 3:8)

everyone who acts sinfully belongs to the devil

These are strong words! You are either a child of God or a child of the devil. You can’t be both. Who’s your daddy?

Jesus died to take away the sin of the world, to put an end to sin and death and broken relationships. That was His mission, His purpose. I love what Paul wrote to the Colossians:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15)

This discussion of sin is challenging because we do sin but we don’t want to sin when we are following Jesus. We have two natures, the old and new. They are in constant conflict. Paul described it this way:

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:14-20)

That’s the definition of frustration, right there! He continues:

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. (Romans 7:21-23)

John continues:


No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. (1 John 3:9)

everyone who has been born of God does not act sinfully

We must be born again! The new nature will not commit sin. The Prodigal Son left his life of sin and came home to his father.

This doesn’t mean we never sin but we don’t live in sin. Remember earlier John said

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

Have you been born of God?

J. Vernon McGee said he believed in the security of believers and the insecurity of make believers!

When we are helpless and hopeless, He’s able to take control. You can’t do it yourself. We need help. We need the Holy Spirit. We need God. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. We must remain/abide/be with Him if we want to emulate Him.

This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. (1 John 3:10)

everyone who acts unrighteously does not belong to God

It’s pretty simple. We are children of God if we do what is right and children of the devil if we live in habitual sin and fail to love others.

What fruit are you bearing?
Do you do what is right?
Do you love your brother and sister?

So What?

Perhaps the great question is not do you sin but do you want to sin? Do you
want to do what is right and love you brother and sister. If so, call upon the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth and keep you from sin. God’s children are not perfect, but they are unconditionally loved, and with that love comes the Son and the Holy Spirit to offer salvation, forgiveness, sanctification, power, love, and hope.

If the world sees righteous Christians, they will see Jesus.

Followers of Jesus, be encouraged by God’s invitation for you to be His children, but also be challenged by the responsibility to follow Him, to look like Jesus, and to exhibit faith, hope and love…one day at a time.

Credits: some thoughts from Thru the Bible by J. Vernon McGee

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

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