HERE I AM, SEND JOHN

There has never been a time when God wasn’t involved in sending people on a mission for Him.  In Isaiah 6 the prophet, in the year King Uzziah died, saw God high and lifted up in the temple.  The Seraphim were declaring, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.  The whole earth is full of his glory.”  Isaiah was so moved he cried out “Woe is me.  I am undone.  I am a man of unclean lips and dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”  God sent one of the seraphim to touch his lips with a coal of fire from the altar.  Then Isaiah heard God saying, “Who will go for us and who can we send?”  Isaiah responded, “Here I am, send me.”  But if you think through the Old Testament you can think of tons of times when God sent different people on a mission for him.  He sent Jonah to Nineveh.  He sent Jeremiah to his own people.  He sent Amos to Israel from his Sycamore farm.  He sent Samuel to Saul on different occasions and to David on others.

In the New Testament, Jesus called twelve men that he named apostles who were ones he sent on a mission for him.  They were to be his ambassadors to the world.  We speak of people being missionaries, even though the Bible never uses that word, the idea is to send people on a mission for the Lord.  Sometimes God sent people on a mission in some very strange ways.  He sent Joseph to Egypt by allowing his brothers to sell him to a band of Ishmaelite’s who carried him to Egypt and sold him as a slave to a man named Potiphar a soldier in the Pharaoh’s army.  He was lied about and sent to prison for several years, even though he hadn’t committed a crime. But it was all getting him ready for a mission God had for him to save his people from famine.  He sent Daniel and his three friends as Jewish boys to Babylon where they were trained in all the ways of the Babylonians.  Daniel spent his life on God’s mission for him in this strange land.  When Babylon was captured he became a leader among the Meads and Persians.  He worked as an advisor to the rulers of Babylon but God had him on a mission to that world all the time.

In the New Testament one of my favorite discussions on the whole concept of sending is in the Book of Acts chapter 8.  Persecution arose in the church in Jerusalem.  Stephen was the first Christian to be stoned to death for his faith in Jesus.  But his death led to persecution that pushed many of these new Christians in that city to go to other places sharing the good news of Jesus.  “The disciples were scattered and went about preaching the word.”  As one illustration he told about Philip, who had been a deacon in Jerusalem going to Samaria and preaching Christ there.  He had a great work in Samaria and many were converted to Christ, among them a magician named Simon.  He needed some further teaching a little later but became a disciple nonetheless.  Then God sent him out into a deserted area to meet an Ethiopian who was returning from Jerusalem to his home land and was interested in God.  He met him, taught him the gospel and baptized him out in the deserted area.  Then God sent him to Caesarea where he would live for the rest of his life as far as we know.  He married at some point and he and his wife had four daughters whom they brought up to be workers in God’s kingdom.  All of them became prophets of the word as well.

Sometimes we don’t get sent to the places we would like to go.  Think of Jesus casting the demons from the man called Legion.  After he was saved, healed and changed, he wanted to go with Jesus and be one of the apostles or at least a traveling missionary with him.  Jesus instead told him to go back to his own people and tell them what great things God had done for him.  It probably didn’t seem nearly as glamorous to go back home and talk to people who knew his past.  But it was God’s call on the matter.

There are some places God sends all of us.  If we are married he sends all of us to our home and family with a mission to live for him among those whom we love and who love us.  If we are parents we are all sent to our own children to bring them up in the ways of the Lord.  It never makes sense to neglect the family God gives us to go and work with those with whom we have no real connection.  If you are working around people every day in some industry or job situation, you can be certain God has sent you to be among them as their missionary to show them what God has done in your life and can do in theirs.

There are two huge points that everyone must learn if they are to be effective as God’s “Sent ones” into the world.  First, the message we try to deliver must be demonstrated by the way we live everyday.  To try to tell others how to live for God when I’m not living it serves to push people away rather than draw them toward the Lord.  Our actions always speak louder than our words.  We must “BE” first and then “TELL”.  The second absolutely necessary thing is that if I am God’s messenger I must tell his word.  Influence is powerful.  But the gospel message has to be shared with people for them to learn it.

If we aren’t living and telling the message of the Lord where we are now, with the people we now know and love, then the prospect of our doing so in a different part of the world with different people is extremely slim.  I wonder how the Lord feels when people talk about what they have done in some part of the world away from here but do nothing about reaching the ones whom they are around every day.  I wonder how God reacts when we constantly talk about what we are going to do once we get to some area or place where we believe God wants us to go, but we make no effort to reach out to the people who are all around us right now.

God is calling you to be one of his sent ones.  If it is to the other side of the world, make preparation to go and do what he has called you to do.  But don’t wait until you get there to begin telling others about His love and grace for them.  Your mission is always right in front of you, should you decide to accept it.

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WALKING BY FAITH

Which way is guiding and directing your life?  It is impossible to walk in both ways as the same time.  It would be like trying to drive down I-40 west and I-40 east at the same time.  It is altogether possible for you to go in either direction but impossible to go in both directions at the same time.  In the same way, it is impossible to walk by faith and by sight or appearance at the same time.  If you were guessing what kind of discussion was going on when the Spirit led Paul the apostle to record that phrase, “For we must walk by faith and not by sight” what would you think was being discussed?  I think if I had no idea what was being discussed at the time and simply thought to myself what kind of thing would arouse such a point it would be living the Christian life and being a person of obedience to God.  I might even think it was a discussion of how to become a Christian.  But if I look at a concordance to see where the phrase is found in the Bible, I will find it is in 2 Corinthians 5:7 and that it makes up the entire verse, not just a segment of it.

The discussion that led to making this statement actually began back in chapter 4 and verse 16.  “So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”  This led immediately into the discussion of the death of a Christian and their eternal home in heaven in chapter five.  “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.  For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened – not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”

As Paul is writing this letter he has gone through lots of rough seasons in his life.  If you read chapter four as a whole and then chapter eleven as he described all the beatings, shipwrecks, arrest, imprisonments and rejection he had gone through as a Christian it is obvious his life hasn’t been easy.  It would have been a normal question to ask Paul, how in the world he kept from getting so far down and discouraged that he wanted to give up.  His answer was that he was anticipating a far different and better life beyond this world and time.  He expected to lay aside this old body and enter into glory with the Lord in a very different world.

Look closely at the verse which declares we walk by faith and not by sight as it sets between two verses that say the same things.  “For we are always of good courage.  We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith and not by sight.  Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”  Paul, of all people, had been given a glimpse beyond this life and into eternity.  In 2 Corinthians 12:1-7 he described how he had been caught up into the third heaven and heard unspeakable words, unlawful for a man to utter.  He didn’t know whether that was in the body or out of the body, only God knew that.  But it had deeply affected him.  He isn’t in these verses discussing the eternal home after death and the resurrection.  At that point we will have new bodies that are immortal and incorruptible.  He is here describing the eternal home between our death and the resurrection, when will will leave the body behind and our inward man will go to the home of the soul.  As long as we are at home in this body, we are absent from the Lord.  It was a far better thing to be absent from the body and present with the Lord.

To walk by faith and not be sight means that we live our lives anticipating at death being with the Lord and enjoying his presence.  It is certainly true that the Lord is always with us in this life.  But it will be a much fuller presence with him when we leave the body and our inner being is there in the presence of our God all the time.  How can we live in such anticipation of being with our Lord even though absent from the body?  We walk by faith and not by sight.  We can’t see it now.  We don’t even have visions of what it will be like now.  But we trust our loving Father that it will be a wonderful time and place where he will lead us by eternal fountains of water and God will wipe all tears from our eyes.  When we walk by sight, we see, bombs, wounds, bloodshed, mistreatment of people and immoral godless behavior all around us.  It often seems to get worse with every passing year.  I choose to walk by faith and not by sight.  What about you?

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A DIVIDED HOUSE

Jesus declared that a house divided against itself cannot stand.  It was his clear argument that the foolish notion that the religious leaders were promoting that he was casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub or Satan, was totally ridiculous.  If Satan were really involved in casting his own demons out of people it wouldn’t take long for his whole kingdom to fall apart.  This principle, that Jesus saw as so basic that anyone should be able to see it, is one that today seems beyond the grasp of most folks.

Think about the horrendous division that has become the norm in this country.  It isn’t a civil disagreement over a few things while both groups hold to the vital unity as a nation.  That kind of division could be healthy.  It recognizes the greatness of the nation and the principles on which it is founded, but disagrees over some actions or applications of the different ideas of how to serve the country.  There have been many times when, as a country, it was that sort of division that was normal.  Everyone in the different political parties recognized the other party as being made up of people who, like them, loved the country and wanted what was best for the people.  The disagreements had to do with what was the best way to accomplish the goals both shared for the nation.  Largely, that type of fundamental unity with divisions over method is forgotten and even despised in our day.  We have reached the time that we seem not to be able to disagree with a person in one area of life without attacking them in every way.  We can’t seem to see that one might see a thing differently from us and still be a good person, with great love for the country the same as ours.  The constant attacks on the character of those who differ from us has led to a total inability for those who differ in some areas to work together even in the areas where they are in total agreement.  It should be clear to everyone that if this mindset continues for long this nation will not and cannot stand.  I wonder how long after the fall of the nation it will be until people realize that their party spirit of attacking with hatred everyone who disagreed with them, destroyed the very nation they said they loved.

But, let me take that principle and apply it even closer to home.  It is certainly true that a nation divided against itself cannot stand.  But it is even more true that a church divided against itself cannot stand.  Most churches aren’t made up of many thousands of people.  Most aren’t even made up of many hundreds of people.  The vast majority of churches in the world have less than 100 people in them.  But, whether you are talking about a single local church or a particular kind of church made up of hundreds or thousands of congregations or even thinking of the church in the sense of all people who believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God and strive to follow him, the principle still stands, a church divided against itself cannot stand.  Here is what is so amazing.  Followers of Christ who all believe deeply in God, Jesus as God’s Son and in the Holy Spirit of God and who believe that the Bible is God’s word that guides us on how to live for him, too often turn to deny the faith of others who have those same beliefs because they disagree over some point of application, often in areas where the Bible actually had nothing to say.  Even in congregations it is so easy to disagree with someone over something that is insignificant and get into a fuss over it that leads to the destruction of the whole church.  Far too often that destruction is led by a preacher who just couldn’t face the idea that one could disagree with them over something and still be right with God.  Can you even imagine what it will be like for one to stand before the Lord in judgment after being part of the destruction of a congregation of his people, when he gave his life to purchase the church?  Not every disagreement is worth dividing over!  We desperately need to learn to distinguish between matters that are basic, fundamental and necessary as compared with matters that are expedient, alright and a matter of liberty.

Finally, think of one other application that is even closer to home.  The concept of a house divided against itself not being able to stand applies to our homes, our families.  It is common for any two or more people in any house to not see everything the same way. But when our attitude becomes, “My way or the highway” our home is in desperate trouble.  It breaks my heart and I am sure it breaks the heart of God to see couples who declared their love for each other, sometimes only a few months earlier, ready to attack and fight each other over some silly disagreement, knowing completely that such an attack will lead to the ruin of their home and family.  It is easy to decry divorce and the number of children growing up in single parent homes or with grandparents.  But it will not change until we grasp the lesson that a house divided against itself cannot stand.  Don’t argue and fuss over things that aren’t that important anyway.  Give the same amount of space for the other people in the home to believe what they believe as we want for ourselves.

In Philippians 2:1-5 Paul wrote, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is your in Christ Jesus.” This passage needs to apply to our lives in all the different areas of our life.  If we have any part of God or His Spirit in us it should bring a longing for unity, love and accord.  That longing should lead us to act out of humility instead of ambition and count others more significant than ourselves.  It should lead us to care about the other person’s needs and interests instead of just thinking of our own.  It should lead to our having the mind, heart and attitude of Jesus who emptied himself to become one of us and to die for us to be saved.  What an amazing sacrifice!  What an amazing blessing!  Don’t waste it!

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HAVING AN AGENDA

How do you evaluate the dreams and plans of another person whose work and dreams affect you and the people you love dearly?  It is interesting that when we talk about our plans we use words like our goals, or our dreams for the future.  But it is pretty common when we are talking about another person’s dreams and goals for life or for the organization we will say of them that they have an agenda.  Even in church it is common when a new shepherd is added or a new person becomes part of the staff of the church for someone to say of them “They have an agenda.”  What exactly do we mean by this statement about another person?  What is the difference between a goal, vision or plan and an agenda?

In our mind there are likely two differences between a plan and an agenda.  First, if it is a plan of action that we agree with and believe is really what is best for the group as a whole then we will refer to it as a goal, dream or vision.  But if what is being put forward isn’t what we agree with or even what we feel is needed then we will describe it as an agenda the other person has.  Second we tend to think of plans and goals as ones that are stated, clear and open for everyone to see.  But if it is an unstated goal or plan that if people had an inkling that was where the person was trying to go with the group or organization they would object or even fight it, we will refer to it as an agenda.  So, often whether we think of an action or dream as a goal or agenda is based solely on how we feel about the goal or vision.

The truth is just about everyone that is put into a place of leadership has an agenda in their minds.  They wish to be part of leading the church or organization in a direction that they believe will be best for all the organization.  I can’t image, for example, a new preacher moving into a church thinking that I will just keep everything just like it is and we will keep doing them the same way as always the entire time I am part of the church. Instead we normally think to ourselves that we will lead the church to make certain changes in their work or worship that will bring in more people who can be reached with the gospel of Christ.

One thing that would help others buy into the agenda of any leader is if we can clearly tell people where we are trying to go, why we believe it is the best way to go and what the results are that we are anticipating if we follow the plan.  Think of Paul and his agenda as he wrote the churches in Rome or in Corinth.  He told the Corinthians of his efforts to collect a large contribution from Gentile churches to give to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.  His goal was to help them with the physical problems they were facing with the ultimate dream of tearing down the walls between the two kinds of churches.  The Jewish churches were still wanting to maintain separation between them and the Gentile congregations.  But in these outlying cities where Paul had been preaching the churches were usually mixed with both Jews and Greeks worshiping in the same group and helping one another.  He was hoping and praying that when he carried this great contribution from the Gentile churches that it would tear down the walls of prejudices that were still there.  When he wrote Romans he told of plans he had to come there and be helped by them on his way to Spain to preach the gospel.  His agenda was to come and visit them and have them help him on his way to Spain.

Here is the problem with laying out such agenda’s.  Quite often the dreams never develop beyond that point.  Paul’s dream of coming to Rome and having a great ministry there, were crushed when he was arrested in Jerusalem while there to deliver gifts of money and support to the poor among the saints in the area.  He spent the next three years in jail in Caesarea and after appearing before both Felix and Festus appealed to the authority of Rome, appealing to Caesar.  He came to Rome but in a very different way than what he had supposed.  Whether he ever made it to Spain or not we don’t know.  His agenda that he strongly believed was one blessed by God, turned out not to be in God’s plan at all.  It was during those years in prison in Caesarea and Rome that he would write many of the letters we now have as part of the New Testament.  God’s agenda was different from Paul’s and it was God’s that prevailed.

Do you have an agenda in your home or in the church where you worship?  Are you willing to lay it out before God and the church for their examination?  Are you willing to submit it to the will of God?  What happens to you and your dreams if the church rejects your agenda?  Will you be ready and willing to go in the direction God is leading when it turns out that your agenda and his are going in very different directions?

I suspect Philemon had a real agenda for Onesimus the slave.  But when he escaped and ran away, everything changed.  Onesimus became a convert to Christianity.  In a Roman prison he happened to meet Paul who taught him about Jesus.  There he was baptized into Christ and Paul sent him back to Philemon.  But things had changed.  In the days to come he would be a beloved brother instead of a runaway slave.  I doubt Philemon was ever able to look at Onesimus after that time without thinking of Paul and his charge to take anything he owed him and put it on his account.

Agendas aren’t bad if we are ready to subject them to God’s will and change when the Lord leads us to a whole new agenda for our life and others.  Even in the political world, every new congressmen or president goes into office with a huge agenda on their mind.  No matter how hard they work at it, much of the agenda will never be accomplished and a great deal of it, the person will realize wasn’t really a good idea after all, it was based on a lack of good information and thus is dropped if we are people of integrity.

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THE SCARLET CORD

Help doesn’t’ always come from the sources we think it will.  One of the intriguing things in Scripture are the times when God breaks the mold of our thinking.  Jesus did it with the story of the Good Samaritan.  The Jews of the time couldn’t think of a single good thing about a Samaritan.  If one of them fell among thieves and was left injured, their prejudice was so deep that they might well have said they had rather take their chances with the thieves as to have a Samaritan come to their aid.  Yet Jesus told the story of the man falling among thieves who was passed over by the priest and Levite.  But a certain Samaritan came by, looked at the man in need and went to him to help him.  He went far out of his way, risking his own life to minister to the Jew who would have hated him.

One of my favorite such stories in found in the second chapter of Joshua.  The children of Israel were on the banks of the Jordan preparing to enter the Promised Land.  Joshua had learned the lesson about sending out twelve spies to look over the land.  So he sent two spies, just like he and Caleb, to check out the situation.  They crossed Jordan and came to the walled city of Jericho.  Of all places when they entered the town they entered the home of Rahab the prostitute.  It was a hostile city, fearful of the Jews and ready to kill such spies to keep the danger of destruction away.  Why would they go to her house to find a place to stay?  We aren’t given an answer but most likely it was God’s providence that led them to her house.  God already knew her heart and willingness to help them.  But it likely was also because this would be the one place they could go without arousing suspicion.  Men were going in and out of her house all the time.  Whatever happened when they entered her house, it didn’t take long for them to recognize they could trust her.  Did she somehow recognize them as from the Jews?  Did they explain to her their mission and the people they represented?  We don’t know, but we do know that she recognized them as from Israel.  She knew that it wouldn’t take long for the word to spread that she had taken in these men.  The king sent to her to bring the men out and she told them that they had indeed entered her house, but that they didn’t stay and had left her house and the city before the gates were closed at the end of the day.  Knowing her profession it was believable, so they sent out troops chasing the spies out in the area around the city.  In the mean time she had hidden them among the flax on top of her roof.  After danger passed she went up on the roof to them and told how the people in Jericho were shook to the core about Israel.  They had heard of their escape from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea on dry land by God’s mighty hand.  They knew of the Egyptian army following the Israelites into the bed of the Sea and the waters crashing down on them so that the whole army was destroyed.  They knew of the battles with the kings in the desert and how Israel had destroyed them.  She told them how the people throughout the area had lost heart when they heard of all that had happened.

Imagine how these men felt when she came upon the roof where she had hidden them and laid out what she knew of Israel.  If they had ever heard of the report given by the ten spies that came into the land 40 years earlier, this had to be shocking.  Those spies came home telling how strong the people were in the land.  There were giants there.  We were like grasshoppers in their sight and in our own as well.  Their plea had been that we can’t take this land.  It is too strong for us to fight them.  Now they are hearing this lady say the people there had been living in dread and fear since the time they crossed the Red Sea.  She had a request of them.  “I’ve spared your life.  When you return to fight this city spar the lives of my family and I.”  They agreed to do as long as she kept the scarlet cord in her window and she got the whole family into here house they would be protected.  Sure enough when God gave Jericho into the hands of Israel, they spared the lives of Rahab and her whole family.  From that time on she lived among them and served the God of Israel along with them.

In light of all of this think of two mentions of Rahab in the New Testament that offer us some more insight.  First, she is mentioned in Matthew 1:5 in the genealogy of Jesus.  She is one of four foreign women that married Jewish men and became part of Jesus family background.  The others were Tamar, Ruth and Bathsheba.  The second time is found in James 2:25 “And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way.”  Both these are important passages for us.  If you have ever heard anyone make excuses about their ability to do anything because of their family background it would be good for them to remember the first of these Scriptures.  Jesus had people in his background that had lived horrible lives.  Think of having a prostitute in your background.  The other is that in a list of people who were saved by putting their faith to work in the Lord, she is one of the two illustrations.  The other was Abraham who believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.

So God had his man to use her as an example of one who is saved by an obedient faith in the Lord.

There is a question that arises from this whole event.  “Is it ever right to lie about a thing?”  I was in a group of people not long ago who were discussing the whole topic and one person declared that the Bible says, “All liars will have their part in the lake that flows with fire and brimstone.”  I brought up this passage.  What if Rahab had said when the authorities came looking for the spies, “I have them hidden upon the roof of my house among the reeds for the roof.”  Instead she said they had gone out earlier and they should rush out to find them.  They followed her advise and went searching for the spies in the woods but missed them.  Soon they were aroused by her and escaped through the window over the wall with the help of the scarlet cord she was to leave out when they were coming in to destroy the city.  What if she has declared, “I’m sorry but I can’t tell a lie.  The men are hiding upon the roof.”  The spies would have been killed and the mission of God set back for a long time.  Just as when God commanded Samuel to go down to the house of Jesse and anoint his son to be the next king.  Samuel said if he did Saul would have him put to death.  God said to tell Saul he was going down to offer a sacrifice and when he arrived they made the feast and then he anointed David to become the new king.

What if tonight you were asleep in your bed and your wife and children were all in bed asleep as well.  Suddenly there is a noise and you hear someone breaking in.  You tell your wife to grab the children and hide.  She does and you go to confront the robbers who are breaking in.  When they get in and tie you up and begin to ask where your wife and children are, what will you say?  Would you say, “I cannot tell a lie.  My wife and children are hidden in the closet in the attic.”  Surely not.  Surely you would have the presence of mind to say, “They aren’t here.  They have gone to the grandparents for a visit and I’m here alone.”  There are sometimes in our lives when we must violate one law or principle to fulfill a higher law or principle.  The life of your wife and children is of far greater importance than whether or not you tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Sometimes we have two great laws of God in conflict.  In this case the principle of protecting your family is more important than obeying the laws of the land or being consistent all the time.

Rahab didn’t just make a claim to believing in God.  She went from belief to action when she risk her life to protect the spies.  I’ve had people to asked what I thought I would do if someone broke into my home and were about to harm my wife or some of the grandchildren there.  I’ve usually said I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to shoot such an intruder and usher them quickly into eternity.  Usually someone will say but we aren’t supposed to kill people.  First, we aren’t supposed to commit murder and protecting the family or any innocent person isn’t murder but putting our priorities in the right place.  Second, when the choice is between the life of a crook, an intruder or robber and my family, friends or some innocent person, it would be a greater crime to allow it to go on when I can stop it.  Sometimes two laws conflict and we must choose the higher law.  In Rahab’s case it was either lie about where the spies were or be guilty of turning God’s men over to these officials where they would be killed.  She chose to be the protector of the men God had brought into her home.

Praise God for Rahab and her example for good.

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SAVING THE __________

Think for a moment before getting into this article.  If you thought back to all the ads, all the conversations and all the pleas you have heard just in the last week, how many different endings could you think of for the title of this article?  “Saving the planet” would surely be one that you would think of.  What about “Saving the country?” or “Saving the church?”  I’ve heard “Saving the children” and “Saving the schools” several times recently.  Also, “Saving the family” and “Saving the marriage” have been among the ones often used.  It may have been a little further back but most of us have heard “Saving the whales” and “Saving the eagles.”  Almost every time we use the phrase it relates to now trying to save something that people have either destroyed in some way or at least have allowed to go in the wrong direction for a lengthy time.

It is interesting how our attitudes change on almost everyone of these things from one time to another.  I can easily remember when people thought nothing of saving the planet or the environment because we thought it was beyond destroying.  While we as youth went swimming and fishing in every river, creek or stream close enough to us to get there, the thought of it ever becoming polluted never entered our minds.  People threw things out of the windows of their cars as they rode along on a regular basis and thought nothing of it.  I remember riding with an older man from our home in Vernon, Alabama to Birmingham and him rolling down his window and throwing trash out the window making the comment, “I feel like it is helpful to throw trash out, since it gives people a job that might not have one otherwise.”  Of  course that was years before there were signs about polluting or keeping America clean.

Do you ever wonder why we take responsibility for saving everything?  Can you imagine the animals having a meeting to discuss how they can save the planet or even the different species of animals that are becoming extinct?  Look at these words from the very first chapter of the Bible.  “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  And God blessed them.  And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”  From the beginning God gave humans the responsibility to fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion over it.  When chapter two tells of God putting man in the Garden of Eden it was for him to “dress and keep it.”

Think of how many of the things we are trying to save that wouldn’t need to be saved if we gave them the proper care to begin with.  The earth wouldn’t need saving from pollution if we didn’t pollute it to begin with.  Schools and family wouldn’t need saving if we did what we should do with them all along.  How many of the problems faced in schools really go back to the breakdown of the family?  I think of how often we at church encourage people to become foster parents or adopt children that need a home and I believe it is truly one of the greatest things that can be done.  But I also think that if we worked on teaching boys and girls that becoming a parent is a lifetime responsibility it might do more to solve the problem over the long haul.

Cures for every sickness and problem in the world are extremely important.  I pray for a cure for cancer, heart disease, mental illness and addiction.  But I know at the same time that if we could prevent such problems before they begin it would be worth even more.  How many of the ills of society really have their source in the sins of the people who make up the society?  Perhaps that is the reason the Bible puts the emphasis on one kind of saving.  It is the saving of people from their sinful and lost condition.  Paul declared, “Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I’m the very worst.”  There may never have been another follower of Christ as sold on the idea of saving others from sin as Paul.  When he thought about his life he said he was free from all people, yet he made himself the servant of all that he might gain more.  “To the Jew I became as a Jew that I might win the Jew.  To those under the law, I became as one under the law that I might gain those under the law (though not being myself under the law).  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under het law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”  His passion for winning others to God and saving them from sin had its roots in his own understanding that when it comes to sinners, I’m the worst of them all.  As long as we minimize sin in our life we aren’t that concerned about saving others from the guilt and trauma of sin.

Why wasn’t Paul committed to saving the whales, the eagles or the planet?  Because the ultimate problem for all people and all the universe is the problem of sin in humans.  I am interested in the environment, the schools, the homes, our country and all kinds of other things.  But I know beyond a doubt you can’t save the institutions or the environment without first reaching people and changing them from the inside out.  Our hearts have been polluted by sin and we need a Savior who can save, not just our soul but our entire being.  So, let’s put one title far about all the others.  SAVING THE PERSON!

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TOWARD ALL THE SAINTS

Have you noticed that reading the Bible often means that we finds words and concepts presented to us that run completely different from the way we usually think or even hear those who are followers of Christ, speak in day to day life?  Every time I run upon the word “Saint” in the Bible I’m amazed that it is never used in the sense we normally think of it today.  Notice a couple of examples.  “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:15-16). “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours”                        (I Corinthians 1:2).

If you listen to people talking today, if anyone mentions the word “saints” at all, it will likely be to say that either they aren’t a saint or that someone whom they know that is a devoted follower of Christ isn’t a saint.  The other extreme will be to listen to the news or read in some magazine about someone being declared a saint by the Roman Catholic church.  Sometimes it will be that some person is being considered for sainthood and it will be a person that lived long ago, usually whom no one alive really ever knew.  Now it is obvious in reading the Bible that saints were people alive and well at the time they were writing and that it referred to anyone who was a Christian.  There isn’t a single church ever mentioned in the Bible that had more problems in it than the church in Corinth yet the letter started with referring to them as saints in Christ.  There isn’t even a hint of the notion of the church or some human determining that someone is or isn’t a saint.  It was simply used of those who had devoted their lives to Jesus Christ as their lord and savior.

The word translated “saint” is the same word translated “holy”.  It means to be set apart particularly for God’s use.  Think of the different things in Scripture that are referred to as holy.  Jerusalem was called the “Holy City”, both Israel and the church are called “A holy nation”, and the Sabbath was a “holy day.”  The fact Israel and the church were called a holy nation didn’t mean about either one that they were perfect or that there were no problems or flaws in them.  It meant that they were set apart for God and his service.  A saint is one that has been sanctified or set apart for God’s use in life.  Later in I Corinthians  Paul will say, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  Just as the sinner is washed and justified by the Lord and by the Holy Spirit they are sanctified or made to be saints by the Lord and by the Holy Spirit.  So, every person who is a disciple of Christ is a saint.  Some are weak.  Some are strong.  Some are struggling.  Most have problems and challenges in their life.  But sainthood is bestowed on the person when they are washed and justified.  Certainly their holiness will grow as they get stronger in their faith and commitment to Christ.  But the 10 or 12 year old that gives their life to Christ becomes a saint then and there.

Focus on the statement to the Ephesian church again.  Paul told them because he had heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love for all the saints he didn’t ever stop giving thanks for them and remembering them in his prayers.  We would surely all agree that it is absolutely imperative that one have faith in the Lord Jesus to be right with God.  “Without faith it is impossible to please him.  He who comes to God must believe that he is and that he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).  Jesus even said if one didn’t believe that he was the Christ, the messiah then we were not one of his.  So, it is not a surprise that Paul would say that his hearing about their faith in the Lord led to him praying and giving thanks for them on a regular basis.

But he added that it was hearing of their love for all the saints that led to such prayers as well.  Jesus said to the apostles in John 13:34-35 that it was by the love disciples had for each other that the world would know that they were his.  It is interesting that John 13 begins by pointing out that Jesus “having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the very end.”  So when he said to the disciples that they were to love one another as he loved them it means that even when we fail, struggle and mess up royally, we are to keep on loving each other just as Jesus kept on loving his own even in their failings.  Jesus demonstrated that love when at the last supper with those disciples he laid aside his outer garments and wrapped a towel around him and began washing the feet of his disciples.  Love won’t quit and love serves instead of just waiting to be served.

If everyone that is washed and justified in the name of the Lord and by the Spirit of our God also is sanctified or becomes a saint and we are to love all the saints, then our challenge is huge.  As a follower of Christ I’m not just to love the saints that look like me, are of the same race as me, go to the same church as me, or believe everything just like me.  Remember how many problems were in the Corinthian church whom God referred to as saints in Christ.  They were divided, immature, fussing, taking one another to court, immoral, had huge marriage problems, had worship problems and wars, and even had members who denied the resurrection from the dead.  Yet they were saints in Christ Jesus.

Let’s face it, one of the reasons the world has a hard time taking the message of Christ seriously is the failure of those followers to love one another.  Love for God should have the effect of drawing all the people who love him closer to him and to each other.  How in the world do we think we can get closer to God and still hold each other at a distance?

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