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Revival and Awakening Part 2: Is the church ready for an awakening?

Jeff Miller

Revival and Awakening Part 2: Readying for an Awakening

1/9/22

Acts 2:40-47

Intro: Good morning. Last week, we began a brief two-week series on Revival and Awakening. Last week we talked about revival, and…I should have warned you there was a quiz…this week it’s what? Awakening. 

Last week, I talked a little bit about the difference between the two. Revival is the church reviving back to its first love; and an awakening is when The Holy Spirit wakes up the unchurched. And I said that revival should come first so that we’re not only spiritually revived for our own sake, but also for the sake of those unchurched whom God will awaken. We need to be ready, willing and able so that we can be the true church shining its light and ready to disciple the newly awakened. I’m going to use the words ‘disciple’ and ‘discipleship’ a lot in this sermon, and I really think those are the words for the church when it comes to our part during an awakening.

So if you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Acts 2:40-47. I’m going to read––out of the New King James Version today––I know, it’s rare that I do that, but I like how it was worded. We’re going to look at how the early church was ready, willing and able to be ready, willing and able.

In other words, they were like soldiers who were ready to be called to duty at any minute. What did that look like? And what can we learn from their example?

Scripture: Before we look at that, let me read to you one verse at the beginning of this chapter. It simply reads, “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” That phrase ‘with one accord’ doesn’t mean they all crammed into a little Honda. It means they were together not only physically, but also spiritually and mentally. There was no disagreement among them. 

So let’s go down to verses 40-47. This is how Luke, a physician and companion of Paul, who also wrote The Gospel of Luke, puts it. 

He said: 40 And with many other words he [Peter] testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

Central Truth: So you’ll notice “with one accord” is used again here in verse 46. And I don’t think that Luke uses this phrase lightly. When I write, I write intentionally. I write, rewrite and think about it and delete some things and rewrite some more. Sometimes when we speak, whatever comes out comes out. But when we write, we’re much more careful to choose our words, especially our phrases. And Luke wanted to make sure that his reader, Theopholis, and any other readers, got this concept. The disciples were in one accord. They were spiritually of the same mind and attitude.

And this helped them be effective for the Kingdom of God. 

Verse 44 puts it, “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common.” And in verse 42, we read, “And they [those who were being saved] continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” 

You see, three thousand people being saved in one day was a direct result of not only the gospel being preached and the work of The Holy Spirit, but also the oneness in thought and attitudes of the apostles. It’s not enough that we have truth, but as Jesus said, we speak the truth in love and everyone will know we are his by our love. And this goes for not only this church body, but the worldwide church needs to be of one mind. It’s hard, with the divisiveness going on in the world, and even in the church. But we need to be unified in Christ because that’s the only way the work gets done.

Have you ever been in a lousy work environment where people don’t get along? Or maybe there’s just a pervasive negative attitude? It’s hard to be motivated to get the work done. It’s hard to want to stay. And I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone to work there. I’ve had a job where I wouldn’t wish it on my own worst enemy.  

The church can’t be like that. We have to be in one accord in order to work effectively. 

Point 1: Here’s a perfect example of the church being both effective and ineffective. Last week, I read a few quotes by Greg Laurie on the difference between Revival and Awakening. And in that same article where I pulled those quotes from, he also said this:

The last great spiritual awakening in America was the Jesus movement, which took place about 40 years ago [now 50]. I was there, and I think we can not only learn from history, but we can be inspired by history.

A few years earlier, an April 8, 1966, Time magazine cover posed this question: “Is God Dead?” What a difference a few years can make, especially when God intervenes. Five years later, a 1971 issue of Time described a spiritual awakening: “Jesus is alive and well and living in the radiant spiritual fervor of a growing number of young Americans. … If any one mark clearly identifies them, it is their total belief in an awesome, supernatural Jesus Christ, not just a marvelous man who lived 2,000 years ago, but a living God.”

Do you see what God can do in just a short amount of time? Go from a dark, crazy, turbulent time to an awakening? I’m sure many of you know, and maybe remember, not everyone accepted the Jesus movement. And ironically, it wasn’t the world that looked down upon it as much as the church. You’d think that the church would be thrilled––all those long-haired hippie freaks are getting saved and turning their lives around! But no, they didn’t want those long-haired hippie freaks in the church. So the church hindered its own growth at that time, and I think we’re still reaping the results of some of those attitudes to this day, because the attitudes were not welcoming, and some didn’t even try to meet the needs of those who were different. 

Now, I’m not saying that the church didn’t have a right to be a little skeptical at first, afterall, the hippie movement had a lot of weird people who did weird and ungodly things. And a lot of people didn’t want that infiltrating the church. 

You could say that the hippies had good intentions, to a degree. They were young baby-boomers who wanted to change the world. But they wanted to be free from the staunch morals of their parents’ generation, yet they also wanted to find a way to live that more peaceful ‘one-accord’ lifestyle. So it was rebellion mixed with peace and brotherhood. And some of the peace and love they searched for was found in The Bible, but many hippies rejected The Bible and went seeking the answers through eastern religions, and experimental drugs and free love.

After a time, the hippies became disillusioned because many found out the hard way that eastern religion, and sex, drugs and rock n’ roll was not the answer. But love was still the answer. So, as the 70s began, many changed their tune and went back to their roots to see what The Bible had to say about peace and love, and the answer to the meaning to life.

This meant that a few of those long-haired hippie freaks started coming to church, and hence they became known as Jesus Freaks. A lot of Jesus Freaks had their own communes, and were not well-versed in Biblical doctrine, so some of them went off in sort of odd directions. But others genuinely found God––a lot of them did so among the charismatic churches, and you’ll probably remember that other churches back then didn’t know what to do with this new breed of Jesus Freaks.

And that’s what I want to talk to you about today. What do we do when people who are not like us come into this church? What happens when the lesbian couple comes and sits in the pews? What happens when a former inmate sits down next to you? What about someone with tattoos and piercings from head to toe?

In a lot of churches back then, you towed the line or else. Men had to have short hair, you had to wear your Sunday best, you read a King James Bible, and you listened to nothing but hymns and Southern Gospel Music, and maybe a little Country, but we won’t tell. And it was hard for the Jesus Freaks to comply. Some did, some didn’t. And like I said, they began to find God through the charismatic movement, and contemporary churches started to spring up so these young adults had a fellowship, and Christian coffeehouses sprang up. 

One of the biggest things that came out of this time was the birth of Contemporary Christian Music, or Jesus Music, or Christian Rock. And while the whole Jesus Movement was happening about the time I was born, if not sooner, I do remember when I was growing up the church still being at odds well into the mid 90s regarding Christian rock music. Was it ‘the devil’s music’ or was it ‘God’s music?’

Diana recalls the gossip among churchgoers when she was young because people in her church started wearing sandals and flip-flops. And it was generally looked down upon, until the past 15 years or so, for churchgoers to wear T-shirts and jeans to church; let alone the pastors wearing T-shirts and jeans, some of whom do now. It’s very rare to find anyone wearing their Sunday best to church anymore. And by the way, ‘the devil’s music’ is now the norm for Sunday morning worship music.

So why am I saying all of this? 

To give you an example of the last big awakening in America, and what we can learn from the needs of those being awakened, and the response of the church. Though the church is finally more accommodating to receiving the lost, it took decades and generations to finally learn how to receive the lost in a way that the lost could feel embraced by the church.

Many church leaders of the 1970s retired in the 1980s, and so the youth who grew up in the church in the 70s became leaders in the 80s and though some of them tried to loosen legalism and traditionalism a bit, they could only do so much because there were plenty of other leaders and people in the church who had been around for a while who could not understand the youth culture. 

By the time the mid-90s rolled around, more young people from the 80s were getting married and having kids and so they too became church leaders. So with the young people of the 70s and 80s now adults and in church leadership in the 90s, and having grown up in the MTV generation that they did, they understood the newcomers, the youth, and the unchurched, and finally things began to loosen up quite a bit, and many churches began to reach out. 

But that loosening up may have gone a little too far now, with churches becoming theologically liberal to accommodate everyone to the point that they are encouraging sinful behaviors and twisting scripture to make the Bible more politically correct.

Point 2: So what’s the right approach? Where’s the balance? How do we welcome and minister to new believers where they’re at while not watering down the gospel? How do we reach out to that gay couple without compromising? It’s tough. 

There’s a branch of theology called apologetics, and it’s the study of why we believe what we believe. So, it’s pretty brainy, but Tim Morey, in his book Embodying our Faith says this: 

“By [embodying our faith] I mean an apologetic that is based more on the weight of our actions than the strength of our arguments. This is an apologetic that is high-touch, engages people relationally, ordinarily takes place in the context of an ongoing friendship, and addresses the needs inquirers have and the questions they pose. It provides the weight to our answers that reason by itself cannot.”

In other words, we need to focus on investing in relationships and showing the newly-churched the community and purpose that we have in Christ. To accomplish this, the church needs to restructure its thoughts and practices of evangelism and discipleship. What do I mean by evangelism and discipleship? Evangelism is bringing the lost into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Discipleship is the next step, it’s helping new believers go from being saved and baptised to becoming mature disciples.

Going back to the book, the author said that one of the things we need to do is be patient with where people are in life’s journey. Conversion might have been quicker and easier for the hippies because they had some upbringing and understanding of Christianity. But now, people have not grown up in Christian households, so many people have not had a real taste of Christianity.

This means that the church should take a missionary approach to the unsaved right here in our own neighborhoods. What do I mean by the missionary approach? It means we should find common ground and start from there. 

Going back to Tim Morey’s book again, Embodying Our Faith, he explains that God came to us as one of us, not in his glorious form, but as a humble Jewish carpenter, “wearing Jewish clothes, speaking Aramaic and living by the cultural values of first-century Israel.” 

Paul said to the Corinthian church, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings” (1 Cor.19-23).

For most of us in America, and in this church, embracing this aspect isn’t so hard. We already wear the same clothes and hair styles as most others around us. It wasn’t so in the hippie days though, was it? So now that we can fairly easily find common ground with one another, then what?

Point 3: I’m going to use Embodying Our Faith, one more time. It’s author Tim Morey expressed how he came back to the faith after having left for five years. 

He said, “Of the things God used in putting me back together, none had as much impact as the amazing community of believers that embraced me.” Morey speaks of how his church, Life Covenant of Torrance, Ca., has embraced the essence of community through Christ. He explained that everyone who is baptized is immersed into one community of believers—one body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph 4:3-5).

He went on to say that, “A church is made up of baptized sinners at differing stages of spiritual progression and will necessarily be an imperfect place.” Did you catch that?  The church will necessarily be an imperfect place. In other words, this messiness of imperfection is, “part of what attracts emerging generations to the faith.” People want to see a genuineness of faith, and part of that genuineness is the fact that we’re not perfect. And I think a lot of people would rather see that than fake perfection. 

In addition, people want to see community and family. With the continued breakdown of the family, community has become an increased need among today’s generation.

Now the things that I’ve said already, you might be thinking, ‘this church is already well poised for community evangelism. We have a tight-knit church family, we’re not stringent on how people dress or where they come from or what status they have.’ That is a great thing. Did you know that’s actually modern evangelism? Did you know that attitude is what is needed to be a 21st-Century American missionary? Did you know that’s something God can use as part of an awakening? Did you know that our church is already attractive to outsiders?

Community is holy, it is scriptural. Why? Because it is necessary for everyone on an emotional level, and it is the embodiment of faith, not just the preaching up on the pulpit by one guy once a week, that points others to Christ and helps disciple them once they walk in that door.

Before I go any further, I need to point out that everything that we do needs to be led by The Holy Spirit. This isn’t an act where God folds his arms and sits back and says, “Okay, show me if you can do it.”

No, we need to work with God and understand that God is already working on the heart of that person. I’ve used this verse twice recently, and I’ll use it again. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

God is patient with people. He begins working with them where they are. Imagine sitting next to someone who is restoring a classic car. It’s been beat pretty hard. It’s rusted, it has a few scratches and dents, and a lot of miles on it. It has tears in the seams and it needs a whole lot of love. 

And that’s exactly what God is going to do when he restores someone, and he expects us to give that restoration a lot of love and patience, too. As the master craftsman, God knows not to rush a project. Certain things have to be restored delicately and precisely one step at a time. Some things have to wait before that coat of paint. God is in the business of restoration, and we need to be patient by his side as we help him in the process of discipling new believers. 

Conclusion: I started by quoting Greg Laurie, and I’m going to end with a quote from him. He talks about how the early church did their acts, not on their own, but with help from The Holy Spirit. They were in one accord, but they were not of their own accord.

He said: The Book of Acts tells the story of a handful of men and women who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, did not leave their world the same way they found it. They were ordinary people whom God enabled to do extraordinary things. It was the beginning of a movement that continues to this very day.

On the Day of Pentecost, about 120 believers were gathered together when the Holy Spirit was poured out. Everywhere they went, they were ridiculed and opposed and persecuted and physically assaulted for their beliefs. Some were even put to death. Yet within a period of about 30 years, this original group of 120 and their converts came to be known as those who turned their world upside down. When we see their fearless preaching and their expectant prayer and willingness to obey, these Christians almost seem radical.

There were 120 Christians in that upper room. But remember, there were originally 12. Look around here. Are there 12? How did they go from 12 to 120? They weren’t content with just being disciples, they were called, commanded and convicted to make disciples as well. In some way, we can be of great effect to make disciples and to disciple those who come here searching for the truth and hope and love that they are craving and are not going to find anywhere else. As the world becomes more topsy turvy, more chaotic, more uncertain, more ungodly, where else are people going to turn? Every other institution has failed them. They are going to seek a higher power and something with a firm foundation, and they know it’s the church.

As I was putting this sermon together, I took a little break and went onto Youtube. And I went to a channel I listen to now and then called Walking Faith, and the person who was speaking happened to say this on the day I was putting this sermon together. He based this out of Matthew 28:18-20, which reads:

​​18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The person who was speaking was making the point that we need to be disciples first. That is something that we need to concentrate on. Just like I said last week, the church needs revival so that we can be in a ready stance for when the world has an awakening.

And he said that we need to focus intently on being a disciple, that is to be disciplined in our walk with the Lord. Then he referenced these verses in Matthew and said, “Don’t see how many people you can tell the gospel to, but ask God to develop you as a disciple so that you can have the mentality and actions and work through the gifts that God has given you to be a teacher or to create or make disciples of all the nations.”

He also said, “There’s going to come a time and that time has already begun, where being a disciple is going to be the most important thing a person can be in this world. No matter where you live…The most important thing you can be is not a politician, not rich…not this or that. The only thing God really wants you to focus on is being a disciple, and he can send you into any environment and you can be the same person anywhere.” 

Think about that, a disciple is a disciple anywhere. A true Christian is a true Christian anywhere. Wherever we go, we carry Christ with us. If we are disciplined in our faith everywhere, then we can use that genuine faith in love to reach anyone anywhere no matter where they’re at in their spiritual journey. People are hungry for something real, and they think––just maybe––that we may have what they’re looking for. If we are genuine disciples, they’ll see it. And The Holy Spirit will work on them and us for His purpose and His glory and their salvation.

Prayer:

Revival and Awakening Part 1

Jeff Miller

1/2/22

Revival and Awakening Part 1: Revival

2 Chronicles 7:14

Intro: Good morning and Happy New Year. I was talking with someone the other day about how I always inverted my “2 and 1” when writing the 2021 date, so that I was still in the year 2012. Now I won’t have to worry about that so much when writing the date 2022. Though, if I wanted to, I could always say, “darn, I inverted the two’s” and see what kind of looks I get.

But as we start the new year, I’d like to start a new series. This is just a brief two-week series called “Revival and Awakening.” I suppose you can guess what the two subjects will be. This week it’s revival and next week, it’s awakening.

So if you have your Bibles, please turn with me to the Old Testament, and we’ll read 2 Chronicles 7, verse 14. This is a pretty popular verse, I’m sure many of you know it. 

As you’re turning there, I would like to explain to you the difference between revival and awakening. What are they? How are they similar and how are they different?

Greg Laurie put it best. He said on Crosswalk.com that The words revival and awakening are often used interchangeably, but there is a distinction. An awakening takes place when God sovereignly pours out his Spirit and it impacts a culture. That is what happened during the Jesus Revolution [of the late 60s and early 70s], and it’s what happened in multiple spiritual awakenings in the history of the United States, even predating its establishment as a nation.

A revival, on the other hand, is what the church must experience. It’s when the church comes back to life, when the church becomes what it was always meant to be. It’s a return to passion. I think many times we overly mystify the idea of revival, but we don’t really need to. Another word I could use for revival is restoration – restoring something to its original condition.

And we know that God is in the business of restoration. 

Scripture: So let’s take a look at our scripture this morning, and we’re going to see what God has to say about how we get a revival, or a restoration within the church.

2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Central Truth: So, you’ll notice that God is speaking here, he’s speaking directly to Solomon after the dedication of the newly-built temple. The immediate context of 2 Chronicles 7:14 shows that the verse is tied up with Israel and the temple and the fact that from time to time God might send judgment upon the land in the form of drought, locusts, or pestilence. Because of the covenant relationship that he had with Israel, there was a direct correspondence between their obedience and their prosperity, and their disobedience and their hardship.

So what I want to point out to you today is that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. Even though God never made a covenant with the United States or any other nation, this shows you his heart. It shows you his standard. God never gave us a judgement on the United States; most people believe that judgement is reserved for The Last Days and the return of Christ. 

Some wondered if the attack 20 years ago on Sept. 11 was God’s judgement. I don’t believe so. I agree with Ann Graham Lotz, who said soon after the attacks, “for several years now Americans in a sense have shaken their fist at God and said, God, we want you out of our schools, our government, our business, we want you out of our marketplace. And God, who is a gentleman, has just quietly backed out of our national and political life, our public life. Removing his hand of blessing and protection.”

So I don’t believe that God doles out judgement, but instead blesses those who bless him. And it’s been pretty obvious that in the past 20 years since Sept. 11, we haven’t gotten the wake-up call. We did, temporarily, I think. But in the past decade or so, we’re right back to where we were. Here’s something else Ann said. She said, “We need to turn to God first of all and say, God, we’re sorry we have treated you this way and we invite you now to come into our national life. We put our trust in you. We have our trust in God on our coins, we need to practice it.”

And that is an awakening. But I’d like to start with revival because in order for there to be an awakening, there needs to be a revival first. We, who are called by God’s name as His people––we who are called Christians, or in the Greek, “little Christs,”––need to pray, seek God’s face and repent. We need to do as Anne Graham Lotz said a moment ago, and ask God to revive our hearts as it once was, or maybe as it never was. Maybe we need our spirits revived as never before so that we can be prepared for perhaps the greatest awakening of our lifetime.

Point 1:  If we go to the book of Revelation, we read Jesus’ message to the church in Ephesus. I’ll read that to you. Revelation 2:4-5 says, Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.”

Do you remember the kind of love we had for God at first? Life seemed new, it seemed different. I remember a professor of mine at Elim, who gave his testimony––this is the same professor who had the near-death experience that I told about one time––and he recalled getting saved during that Jesus Revolution I read about earlier from Pastor Greg Laurie. And this professor recalled going into work the next day and just being elated and overjoyed and people asked him what happened. And he said, “I met Jesus!” And they looked at him like he was out of his mind, but he didn’t care.

Do you remember how your life changed and felt different? Like a huge weight was lifted off and your spirit was revived. But it’s easy, living in this world, to get a little beaten down by the drudgery of everyday life––our old flesh starts to kick back in, the sorrows and trials and stresses of this life don’t quit just because we’re spiritually new. Traffic is still traffic. Our jobs are still our jobs. Our kids are still our kids. The customers at work who drive us crazy are still driving us crazy. We still have chores and stuff; cars still break down and roofs still leak, and it’s easy for those things to wear us down.

Gotquestions.org says that for the Ephesian church in Revelation, “What was once a love relationship cooled into mere religion. Their passion for Him became little more than cold orthodoxy.” In other words, it wasn’t that they had fallen astray, it was that their Christianity became nothing more than a belief system. 

If we go to the next chapter in Revelation, we read something similar to the church in Laodicea. I’m sure many of you are familiar with verses 15 and 16: I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

That’s quite a mental picture, isn’t it? God spitting people out of his mouth. Of course, we all know that is a metaphor, and this passage is filled with metaphors. But we get so caught up in that imagery that we miss the point. The point of this, when we read through the whole message, is that God is not eager to abandon his people. If we go a few verses down, God points out in verses 19 and 20: “19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

So that’s what I want to focus on today: God loves us. And because he loves us, he is waiting patiently for us to open our hearts to him so that he can revive us to what we once were or to the next level of what God wants us to be. 

In the Book of Joel, we read, “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. 

And I’ve read this not too long ago, in 2 Peter, we read: 8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

He wants to revive us. Think about that. We often think that God is more eager to judge, and sometimes that’s because we’re eager for God to judge. But God is eager for repentance and for us to come to him so that he can revive us. But as Ann Graham Lotz said, God is a gentleman, and he can’t force himself on anyone, and therefore he can’t force anyone to repent, and he certainly can’t force revival. He can only act if he’s asked.

I was having a Facebook messenger conversation with someone this past week who is an agnostic who couldn’t quite grasp the concept that there are millions of starving children, and there always had been since the dawn of time. How could God let that happen? And while that’s a whole other sermon topic, one of the points I was trying to make is that God doesn’t just jump in like Superman and save the day. He will eventually, but not until the fullness of time, the end of this age and the beginning of a new one.

And in a similar way, God won’t just jump in and revive us. Revival is a choice, it’s a condition of our heart. We have to ask God to revive us. 

Point 2: What is a condition to revival? Besides asking God, what else do we need to do? Well, if we look back at our scripture verse, we need to repent. God’s people are still prone to slide into sin, and we have to be committed to repentance.

What is repentance? Repentance is understanding that we’re heading in the wrong direction, and it’s the willful turning from the wrong direction and head in the right direction. God wants us, his own people who may be heading in the wrong direction, to turn around and follow Him.

What happens if we don’t? Well, the answer is easy. It’s not that God will judge us like he promised to do to Israel, we’ll just continue to slide into becoming more like the church of Laodicea and become more and more lukewarm to the point where we get cold––perhaps like the Ephesians where we just go through the motions. We come to church, we sing a few songs (not really paying attention to the lyrics), we say a few prayers, and we daydream through a sermon. Then we leave. 

Then we do it all over again the next Sunday. Then, like many people, we don’t see the need to come to church anymore. And I think that’s why so many churches are seeing a falling away. Even the Elim church we went to that had hundreds of people is now down to half of what they used to be before COVID. I think COVID gave a lot of them an excuse to not come back.

If that’s what a church service means to you, then that’s something you need to repent of. But repentance is a whole lifestyle issue. It’s a heart, mind and soul issue. And if we don’t repent, we’ll end up in a place we don’t want to be. Like I said, it’s not about God’s judgment, it’s about us stepping back away from God. We’ll end up going back to our old lifestyles and habits. Next thing you know, we’ll be more like the World than the holy children of God.

The opposite of repentance is willfully remaining sinful. When we came to Christ, we were aware that we were sinners in need of a savior, but I’ll bet that there was a certain ignorance of certain sins that you didn’t even know that you were committing until after you were saved and started going to church. You’d hear the preacher or the Sunday School teacher say something and it was like, “Oh, that’s a sin?” And God would convict you of that, and you would have to repent of that.

But after a while we can become so complacent in our church pews that we shrug off the need to better ourselves, or the need to come back to our first love. We get comfortable right where we are, and we say, “More? No, I’m good.”

I can’t hardly say that to Jim’s pies let alone God. Can you say, “More of you, God? No thanks, I’ve had enough. I’m full.”

Some of us may say that and not even realize it.

We talked about King Solomon earlier in our scripture verse. In his book of Proverbs, he said, “Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy” (Proverbs 29:1). To be stiff-necked is to have a stubborn, obstinate spirit that makes one unresponsive to God’s guidance or correction. The stiff-necked are, by definition, unrepentant.

Point 3: Can you be a Christian and not feel the need for revival? I think there are some who feel perfectly fine right where they are. One foot in the church, and the other just inside the line of the World, with that foot getting ever closer to crossing that line. God calls us to become revived in his glory and to grow closer to Him. To have both feet in. To be all in.

The other day, I was talking with someone and one of the things we talked about was how controversial the Bible is. We’ve been lucky to have lived in a time and place where the Bible has not been controversial…until recently. 

But the way things have changed, from now until Jesus returns, we will live in a world where the Bible will be controversial. And we are going to have to make a distinct choice to follow the standards of the world or the standards of the Bible. If we do follow Christ, then we have to suffer whatever consequence that brings from the world such as the loss of friends, ostracized from family, maybe even divorce.

Revival will set us apart. Revival will set us and secure us in a holy place––it will secure us in God’s secret place, a place where we’re sheltered and sanctuaried under God’s wing. It’s a place where we’re set so right with God that we won’t care what other people think. Revival will make us so full of His Holy Spirit, that we will not seek the approval of anyone else. Sure, it’ll still sting if we lose friends and family. I’ve lost people on social media, and it bothers me. But does it bother me enough to go back and say, “I’m sorry?” No, because I’m not sorry. I’d rather be a fool in the eyes of man than a fool in the eyes of God. 

1 Corinthians 3:18-21 says, “If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness.” 20 And again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21Therefore, stop boasting in men.”

One of the commentaries I read said, Paul is calling for the Corinthians to renounce all worldly wisdom, to make an “about face,” a 180 degree turn back to the truth, to turn away from the wisdom of the world and to the wisdom of God. In short, be willing to be called a fool. Pride will fight against obeying this command for it does not want to be called a fool! 

Becoming a fool for Jesus is better than following deceptive worldly wisdom! Note that Paul is not playing games, for the verb “must become” is not a suggestion to the Corinthians but an order as from a commanding general, in essence calling for them to “Do this now!” “Do not delay, the need is urgent!”

An article appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution It reported the recent speech delivered by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to an event sponsored by the Christian Legal Society at the Mississippi College School of Law. He said that Christians must proclaim their belief in miracles and ignore the scorn of the “worldly wise.” He went on to say that the modern world dismisses Christians as fools for holding to their traditional beliefs, “We are fools for Christ,” he said “We must pray for the courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world.”

Conclusion: When it comes to the New Year, there is no better time to ask for revival. Now, as the world seems to have settled down some, it could be the calm before the next storm. There’s still a lot of uncertainty. If you look at the news, things are teetering a bit and we don’t know which direction things are going to go in 2022.

Inflation is the highest it has been in decades. The crime wave is out of control in large cities and no wonder, they’ve defunded those who control crime. The border is wide open and apparently the Federal government doesn’t care about making sure their own Federal laws about immigration are being obeyed or that those who come in are safe or not trafficking drugs or kidnapped sex slaves. COVID cases are raging, and the answer is apparently “get vaccinated or else.” And that doesn’t seem to really be the answer because many of those in hospitals right now are vaccinated. The Afghanistan withdrawal was a debacle. Who knows what the new Afghan Taliban leadership is capable of––yet. If that threat wasn’t bad enough, there are rumors of war between Russia and Ukraine. 

We need a widespread awakening. The gentleman I was talking to the other day about the Bible being controversial now, was also talking about how crazy the world has gotten. And I said, you know, there is going to be this delicate balance in the world like we’ve never seen. There’s going to be those who are going to increase in wickedness, and then there are going to be those who have had enough. But there’s nowhere stable for them to go.

They’ll see the institutions that they’ve placed their faith in dismantle. They’ll see that the political parties don’t have the answer, they’ll see that education and economics aren’t enough. They’ll see that the family unit has dissolved, and they’re going to come to something that is stable and solid and grounded. And they’re going to come to the church.

And we have to be ready. And that means, we have to be in the midst of a revival in order to be ready to help and administer their awakening. When they come into the church, when they seek God, we have to have God within us for them to meet. We have to have God’s presence in this sanctuary. We have to have what they need.

Are you ready?

One of the things about a revival is that although we have to make a conscious decision as to have a revival, a revival is not a planned event. It’s not something we sit in a board meeting and discuss. We have to have open hearts to receive a revival. 

When the apostles met in the upper room in the 2nd Chapter of Acts during Pentecost, the only thing planned was the time and place. The Holy Spirit did the rest, and transformed everyone there, and brought about a new power, a new boldness, a fresh wind and a fresh fire. Literally.

What will God do if we ask for revival? I don’t know the specifics. All I know is that whatever he does it will revive us, it will be good for us, great for those outside the four walls of the church and it will give God the glory.

So today, I want to ask you to ask God to revive you, personally. About 25 years ago, there was a worship chorus written by Matt Redmond, and its lyrics are this: 

We’re looking to Your promise of old, That if we pray and humble ourselves

You will come and heal our land, You will come, You will come

We’re looking to the promise You made, That if we turn and look to Your face

You will come and heal our land, You will come, You will come to us

Lord, send revival, start with me, For I am one of unclean lips

And my eyes have seen the King, Your glory I have glimpsed

Send revival, start with me

Prayer: Dear Lord, I pray that you will come to us. Our world so desperately needs a great awakening. But Lord, your church must be revived first. So I pray that you will come to us. Here we are with open hearts asking you to come, fill us anew. Revive us with the first love that we once had. Set ablaze a new fire within us, a fresh wind of your spirit and the greatest world-wide revival of your church that has ever happened.

The times are dark. And when it’s the darkest, that’s when light shines the brightest. So let your light, your church, shine bright in these dark times. Let your light within us shine so brightly that we cannot hide it, in Jesus name, amen.

Communion:

The Bread: The New Year brings with it many resolutions. And one of those resolutions this year, I hope, is the resolution for revival within us. And collectively, not only this church, but the worldwide church can experience something fresh and new from God.

That certain something is made possible by The Holy Spirit. And the coming and indwelling of the Holy Spirit is made possible by the finished work of the cross. The inward transformation of the Holy Spirit is a covenant that God has with us. We read in our scripture verse this morning how God made a covenant with Israel, but through the finished work of the cross, God now makes a covenant with His people in a personal, individualized way. 

And that’s why we take the bread and the cup to remember and reflect on this covenant. Let us take the bread and remember.

The Cup: Before Jesus ascended to Heaven, he promised The Holy Spirit. And as I said earlier, The Holy Spirit came in the Upper Room at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is our seal of the covenant between God and each and every one of us. If we receive The Holy Spirit, then we’ve received God’s covenant with us. So there is no reason for us to not want or welcome a revival. There’s no reason for God to not give us a revival. We already are a temple of the Holy Spirit. God wants to revive us. And he went to great lengths to allow us to have a revival within our hearts. He went to the lengths of shedding his own blood to make that covenant. 

Let us never take that for granted. Let us take the cup and remember.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for your great covenant. We can each, individually have a covenant relationship with you. It isn’t just for Israel, but for whoever calls upon your name, all over the world over the past 2,000 years. We thank you, and we ask that you would come to us and revive us, oh Lord. Now, in the New Year and beyond. In Jesus name, amen.

It’s a Wonderful Life Part 4: Each life touches so many others

Jeff Miller

It’s a Wonderful Life Part 4: Each life touches another

12/26/21

Intro/Central Truth: Good morning. It’s the day after Christmas, and what a better place to be than in God’s house. We spent the day before the day before Christmas in God’s house, and now we get to spend the day after Christmas in God’s house.

Today, we finish our series on It’s a Wonderful Life, and I knew what I wanted to preach on, but I had a hard time narrowing it down. There’s so much to say, and the best way to say it is through the movie. I couldn’t settle on just one verse to preach from today, so I have several verses to share with you today, like I did a couple of weeks ago, so I’ll pepper them throughout the sermon, so you don’t have to follow along with me today.

Probably the biggest lesson we learn in It’s a Wonderful Life, is the title to the story. We learn that George Bailey, an ordinary man, had a rich life. He was never rich in material wealth, mean Mr. Potter had plenty of money, but he did not have love. Kind of similar to what we read in 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul lists a number of items that we can boast about, but if we do not have love, then we have nothing.

But George Bailey had a nice home in a nice town, a wonderful family, and many friends. And as we learn in the end, “no man is a failure who has friends.”

And his friends come to his aid when he is down and out. And he almost missed out on that blessing, had he jumped off of that bridge moments before.

 But through the help of Clarence Odbody, angel second class, George realized how different the town of Bedford Falls and even further, would have been different had he never lived. He saved the life of a boy who would have been poisoned when Mr. Gower accidentally put the wrong ingredients in his medicine. By saving that boy’s life, he in turn saved Mr. Gower’s life because he would have gone to jail and ostracized by the community for having done so. George Bailey also saved the life of his brother, and in turn, his brother served in World War 2 and earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for having saved the lives of men on a transport.

He touched so many lives and bettered so many lives, and he didn’t even realize it. And today, as we enter the new year, I want to ask you, how can you be someone like George Bailey? Maybe you already are, but you need to stop and think about it. Maybe you need to stop and realize what life would have been like for others had you never been born.

Point 1: George had gone from being a pretty content person to being in a dire situation in the blink of an eye. When I say content, I mean fairly content. He wasn’t happy, but he wasn’t miserable either. I could be wrong, but nobody dreams to be mediocre. When they’re asked what they want to be when they grow up, maybe they have a practical job in mind, but it’s hard to dream of being just ordinary. You want to be successful, and when people jump ahead of you and you see them take off at light speed, and you’re still stuck in neutral, it’s kind of hard to take.

And we’ve discussed that with George Bailey. He had dreams of getting out of Bedford Falls and seeing the world. He wanted to build skyscrapers. He had dreams of doing what he felt was a great accomplishment. But every time he wanted to leave and go off to college or explore the world, something came up where he had to stay.

His dreams might have not come true, but God used him to be a more effective and meaningful person than he would have been had he left and pursued his dreams.

Diana and I were just talking about that the other night. We’ve both dreamed of having jobs where we pretty much work from home. I’ve wanted to be a children’s book writer and illustrator, and if that didn’t work out, I’d be content with being a gallery painter.

Diana wants to farm and sell produce. But God seems to have had different plans for our lives. We’ve gotten detoured and we’ve found that we’re more effective being ‘out there’ in the real world and interacting and blessing people than being stuck inside just being content with what we want.

As I’ve said before, sometimes our plans get interrupted, but it’s for God’s greater glory.

Proverbs 16:9: “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”

And if we go a couple chapters to Proverbs 19, we read, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

One chapter later, in Proverbs Chapter 20, we read, “The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?”

Point 2: So what do we do in the meantime? How do we live? We trust God in our daily lives. Our daily lives might seem rather ho-hum to us, day-in-day-out, but to God, he sees it in light of eternity. He sees it the way Clarence saw it, as part of a whole. I just read to you a few verses from Proverbs. Here are a few from Psalms:

  1. Psalm 37:23-24: “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”
  2. Psalm 31:14-15: “But I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God. My times are in your hands.”
  3. Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to guide My feet and a light for my path.”

And this one is from Isaiah 48:17 “This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.””

See, this is the mistake that George Bailey made, and I think it’s the same human mistake we all make. We all look at our lives as ho-hum. Maybe we don’t want to be stuck in that drab building and loan office. But if we’re there, how do we make the best of it and serve the Lord by being there?

Well, we keep on living as Christ would have us to live. And whether he knew it or not, George Bailey did just that.

Micah 6:8 says, He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

We read from Hebrews 11 and 12 in this series. Here are a few verses from Hebrews 13:1-2

“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

That goes well with this movie. Then, if we skip down to verse 16, we read: “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

Did you notice that doing good and sharing with others is considered a sacrifice?

George Bailey did that. He sacrificed in order to share with others. When the townspeople came in to rush the bank, he lent them his own personal money that he was going to use for his honeymoon. 

He gave people loans that Mr. Potter wouldn’t loan to, and by inference, he most likely had a lower interest rate and made some exceptions, like not foreclosing on Christmas Eve, to help them out. 

Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

1 Peter 4:8-11 says: 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Point 3: And like George Bailey, God will come through for us in the end.

Galatians 6:9-10 says: “9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have the opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

George Bailey reaped a harvest for all of the good that he had done for the people of Bedford Falls, not only in his business, but throughout all of his life. He was rewarded for just being him. He was rewarded for the kind of character that he had. He had a character that mimics the fruit of the Spirit.

Going backwards in Galatians to the previous chapter, we read that the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. That was the life of George Bailey, and the kind of person not only he was, but you can see it in his father as well. It’s the way he was raised.

And in the end, he reaped the harvest of his kindness, his goodness and his faithfulness. What kind of harvest did old man, Mr. Potter harvest? If we go back to Galatians chapter 6, just before the verses we read a moment ago, we read, “7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.“

And then Paul immediately encourages us to not get weary in doing good.

I think George Bailey became weary in doing good. There was a moment where he was tempted to take Mr. Potter’s offer of a handsome salary, about $20,000 a year, which is worth about $300,000 in today’s money. But he didn’t do it, he couldn’t. Why? For the sake of the town. He couldn’t let Potter win and ruin the town. Even though George Bailey could have made a better living for his family, he was a man of integrity and couldn’t live with himself if he did Mr. Potter’s bidding.

Conclusion:  Today’s sermon is a little shorter than usual. But I think the point has been made over the past few weeks. The story of It’s a Wonderful Life shows us that even a well-loved man of integrity like George Bailey can reach a moment of desperation. He can suddenly feel as if he has no reason to live, and that he’s worth more dead than alive. 

But life is precious, and to prove it, the second-class angel Clarence shows George that not only is life precious, but what we may not even realize what we have done in our everyday lives affects so many others and causes a chain reaction. 

Today, I want to ask you to take a moment and seek the Lord. Pray that he shows you that your life is precious and it has been a blessing. Where would others be without you?

Maybe the story has inspired you to be a better person. I hope it has. I hope it motivates you to be a greater blessing. I hope it also makes you understand that our timing is not the same as God’s timing. He has a purpose for our everyday lives, and when we don’t see it all coming together, we can pray that in due season, not only will He show us the big picture, but if we keep at it, we will reap a harvest in the proper time. 

When we think of words like sowing and reaping, they’re not words we use in the English language other than when we reference The Bible. The word ‘sow’ means to plant by the scattering of seeds; and the word ‘reap’ means collecting the harvest or crop. Enduring Word Commentary says that:  As we wisely manage our resources before God under the principle of sowing and reaping, we need patience. This is because the harvest does not come immediately after the seeds are sown.

 The harvest comes at just the right time when the crop has matured.

It went on to say: “Not losing heart, we seek to do good with our resources, and to do good to all – but especially to those who are of God’s family.”

Prayer: Dear Lord, I pray that you would encourage us as George Bailey was encouraged in It’s a Wonderful Life. We know that it is just a story, but in it, we see your truths. And I pray that you would bless us with encouragement in knowing that our lives have made an impact on so many other lives. May we continue that impact, and maybe even greater, until the day you come for us. 

May we be faithful workers until you come. Just like the parable of the talents, may we be faithful until you come again. Let us not grow weary in doing good. May we be encouraged and motivated to do your will to impact the lives of everyone we come across.  

In Jesus name, amen.

Christmas Eve: The Greatest Gift

Jeff Miller

God’s Gift of Christmas

Intro: It’s great to be here. Christmas is almost here. It truly is the most wonderful time of year. The decorations really brighten things up. People seem to be in a better mood. We get to sing some great Christmas songs this time of year. And of course there are the gifts. But what makes this time of year even greater is that we gather to celebrate the real reason for the season. God’s gift to us, his son, Jesus.

I think a lot of people try to celebrate Christmas without Christ, and I think they are really missing something because, for me, what really makes Christmas special is the sweet, warm presence of God in our midst when we gather for services like this. There just isn’t anything like it. It is the most unique and special moment of Christmas. But that moment isn’t just once a year, it can be year round.

If you have your Bibles, turn with me to Romans Chapter 5. We’ll be looking at verses 15-17. I know, you’re not expecting to be reading out of Romans for Christmas. This is way past our traditional Christmas verses in the gospels. But I think it’s fitting because it has to do with our ultimate Christmas gift. 

Before I get to that, let me share with you a story that I came across regarding the Wright Brothers: In December 1903, after many attempts, the Wright brothers were successful in getting their “flying machine” off the ground. Thrilled, they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.” He totally missed the big news–man had flown! 

And that’s how it is today. As wonderful as it is for a family to be home for Christmas, the big news is the true meaning of Christmas. The birth of our savior.

Scripture: Romans 5:15-17

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

Central Truth: In that short passage, the word ‘gift’ was used five times. Five times in three verses. And what did Paul consider the gift? God’s son, Jesus. When we look back on our Christmases and we look back on some of our favorite gifts, we treasured those gifts all year long. Maybe we treasured them for many years, maybe we still have those gifts decades later. 

I still have things from my childhood and teenage years that I’ve kept because I’ve treasured them. Our families give us good gifts. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the passage where Jesus says, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him.” 

God promises to give us good gifts. But the single most important gift that God gave was his son.

Point: Going back to those words in Romans again, what Paul is relating to his readers is that Adam’s one act of sin opened up the gateway that flooded all humanity with sin. But God’s gift of his son brought salvation from sin for all of humanity.

Ray Steadman said that, All your life, as many times as you sin, you cannot out-sin the grace of God. No matter how many trespasses are involved in your record, there is freedom in Christ and forgiveness for all of them.

It’s kind of odd in our own human way of thinking to think that the forgiveness of sins should be a gift from God. I mean, we don’t deserve God’s gift of salvation. He’s the one we’re sinning against, and yet he’s the one providing a free way out. 

When we mess up, we feel as if we should do something to make it right. That we owe God compensation or something. We’ll work for it. What do I need to do to earn it?

But in God’s eyes, there is not anything that we could do to earn our salvation. There just isn’t. Our salvation is just too high of a price for us to afford to pay. We just don’t have the means to pay for it.

In June of 2008, a rich 80-year old Indian widow, spent thousands of dollars on a feast for 100,000 people hoping it would please the gods and open the doors of heaven for her. She fed lunch to people from surrounding villages and towns for two consecutive days. She has no family or relatives to bequeath her property, so Mrs. Kunwar spent $37,500 on the feast.

Isaiah 64:6 says that all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags in God’s sight. No amount of benevolence can earn someone the right to dwell in Heaven or forgive their sin.

So what can we do? Well, we can live the best life possible, right? But how good is that? How good is good enough? 

During an edition of the news program 60 Minutes, Dan Rather interviewed Jack Welch, the outspoken former CEO of General Electric. At the end of the interview, Rather asked Welch, “What’s the toughest question you have ever been asked?”

Welch replied, “Do you think you’ll go to Heaven?”

When asked how he had answered that question, Welch said, “It’s a long answer, but I said that if caring about people, giving it your all, if being a great friend counts—despite the fact that I’ve been divorced a couple of times, and no one’s proud of that. I haven’t done everything right all the time. I think I got a shot. I’m in no hurry to get there and to find out any time soon.”

The truth is, it doesn’t matter how wealthy you are or how good you might be, no one is good enough to get to Heaven. We must trust Him and Him alone to forgive our sins and save our soul.

They say that:

  • Longfellow could take a worthless sheet of paper, write a poem on it, and make it worth $6,000—that’s genius.
  • Rockefeller could sign his name to a piece of paper and make it worth a million dollars—that’s capital.
  • Uncle Sam can take gold, stamp an eagle on it, and make it worth $20.00—that’s money.
  • A mechanic can take material that is worth only $5.00 and make it worth $50.00—that’s skill.
  • An artist can take a piece of canvas, paint a picture on it, and make it worth $1,000—that’s art.
  • God can take a sinful life, wash it in the blood of Christ, put His Spirit in it, and make it a blessing to humanity—that’s salvation.

And it is a free gift. When Jesus said that “God so loved the world,” he meant it. God so loved the world that he sent us a gift. The greatest gift anyone could ever receive. The gift of salvation. But the gift cost God a lot.

To show us how much he loved us, he sent his son. It’s tough to go to war, I’m sure. But it would be tougher to send your child to war than to go yourself. I’m sure that when Abraham put Isaac on the altar, he would have rather chosen a way to put himself on that altar. When God sent his only son to Earth to die the cruelest death imaginable, it was an act of showing us just how much he loves us. 

God sent Jesus to Earth. Jesus, out of his love for his father, obeyed and came to earth as a baby in a quiet, silent night to show us in multiple ways throughout his life and death the true heart of God. It was planned before the foundation of the world. God knew that we would need a savior. The trinity agreed upon the plan of salvation of mankind before going ahead with making this earth and the people that would inhabit it. 

Adam’s sin was no surprise. It was expected. It was a natural outcome for the plan of humanity. Adam’s sin and Jesus’ sacrifice was worth it to God to have you and I as adopted children of God. 

Christmas is about that. Christmas is about God’s gift to us. Not just our gifts to each other. Not just Santa Clause bringing us presents, though that’s a wonderful way to add into our celebration, it’s not the real reason. Santa isn’t the one who brings the greatest gift. God’s gift of salvation is the real reason for the season. A gift that we cannot earn, and a gift that we do not deserve. 

And the least that we could do is to praise God and celebrate the coming of his son. 

Conclusion: Before we close, I would like to offer you a chance to receive God’s gift of salvation. I don’t want to leave anyone out. I don’t want to make an assumption that because you are all here that you have already received God’s gift. Today would make the perfect day to receive God’s gift of salvation. Just before we celebrate Christmas, and just before we enter into a new year and new decade, maybe there can be a new you, too.

If you’ve never prayed to receive Christ, all you have to do is pray this prayer with me. You can repeat it silently in your heart, if you’d like.

Prayer: 

  • Dear Lord, I thank you for sending your son as my free gift of salvation.
  • I know that I cannot earn that gift, and I know that I do not deserve that gift.
  • But Lord, right now, I accept that gift and ask for the forgiveness of my sins and the cleansing of my heart right now. 
  • I pray that your Holy Spirit would make me new. 
  • I thank you and praise you in Jesus name, amen.

It’s a Wonderful Life Part 3: The Perseverance of Clarence Odbody, AS2

Jeff Miller

It’s a Wonderful Life Part 3: Even Clarence Had to Wait

Hebrews 12:1-3

12/19/21

Intro: Good morning. Wow, one more week until Christmas. Actually just less than a week. We’ve been using It’s a Wonderful Life as our sermon series, and being the 75th anniversary of the movie, it seems an appropriate time. It’s a movie that has many different sermons rolled into one movie, and we’re in sermon number three out of four. I’ll wrap it up (no pun intended) next week and do a little more traditional Christmas sermon for our Christmas Eve Eve service. 

So if you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Hebrews chapter 12, and we’ll read the first three verses. We referenced Chapter 11 last week, but today, we’ll look at chapter 12.

There seems to be an unintended theme to our sermon series. And that theme is the theme of waiting patiently for the Lord. As we talked about before, George’s plans got interrupted time and time again. George had to wait until the very last minute before his life was saved. His problems weren’t prevented, and Clarence didn’t come through and help right away.

And so, what can be said about Clarence? Well, he had to wait, too. He was 292 years old when he visited George Bailey, so that means he was born in the 1650s. If you do the math, he probably died in the early 1700s, and so he had to wait in Heaven somewhere around 220 years or so to finally earn his wings.

Now, of course this is just a story, and angels don’t have to earn their wings, but what can we learn from it as an illustration or a parable? We can learn that in this story, even Clarence had to wait. And that’s okay. Where you are in the waiting, what you don’t have yet does not define who you are.

I kind of want to take a look at Clarence Odbody today, rather than George Bailey, and I want to take a look at Clarence from two perspectives. One ties in with the other. He had to wait a long time to earn his wings. And after a while, he must have become a bit of a laughing stock. You can picture the other angels up there looking at him and talking about him, “that Clarence hasn’t gotten his wings yet? If he hasn’t gotten them by now, he’ll never get them.”

Even George mocks him a little bit––sort of patronizing him by saying, “I don’t know whether I like it very much being seen around with an angel without any wings.”

But Clarence never gave up and he never stopped trying to earn his wings, even when the “grumpy town-father” angels saw nothing much to him. So today, I’d like to talk more about the perseverance of Clarence Odbody, AS2. 

Scripture: And that’s where Hebrews 12:1-3 come in. Let’s take a look at that.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Central Truth: So, you see, Clarence had to persevere. He never seemed proud to have been an “Angel, 2nd Class.” He acted as if he knew he was behind everyone else. So he seemed determined to earn his wings. And he finally did. But for us today, are you as determined as he was in accomplishing your work for the Lord, or are you easily down because you feel as if it’s useless or too difficult, or you’re not good enough or whatever it might be. As we read in Romans a few weeks ago, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Point 1: We learn from the story that when the angels sent Clarence to earth, they equipped him to know all there was to know about George Bailey. And then they sent him and said, “okay, go for it!” 

They didn’t give him a plan or a manual to follow. He just had to wing it (no pun intended), and he had to improvise. The first idea he had was to jump in that water, so that George would save him and thereby George wouldn’t drown. Pretty clever.

But that didn’t solve everything. That was sort of a temporary fix. While they were warming themselves inside the booth for the drawbridge operator. At least, I think that’s what it was. Maybe it was a toll bridge booth, I don’t know. But George makes it clear to Clarence that he still believes that he’s better off dead. If you remember, in the story, George had a life insurance policy worth $15,000, more than enough to pay for the missing $8,000. Remember, George’s uncle misplaced the money, and not only did old Mr. Potter find it, but he purposely never returned it so that George could go to jail, and now mean Mr. Potter could have the monopoly on the town’s banking business.

So Clarence has to do something to convince George that his life is actually worth something. George said that he wished he was never born. And that’s where Clarence gets the idea to show George what the town of Bedford Falls would have been like if George had never been born. 

Now that’s another sermon for another time, but Clarence gets his big break here––220 years later, and finally, he has something that just might earn him his wings.

So what does the Bible have to say about this? What can we learn from the Bible? Well, if we go back to Hebrews 11, the writer gives us a rather lengthy list of Old Testament saints who lived by faith. Hebrew 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Clarence had to hang onto his faith with confidence, and he had to hope with assurance. He knew that someday, he’d get his wings.

When we read about the Old Testament saints who lived by faith in Hebrews 11, we might think of them as mighty men of God when we watch the Hollywood version, or even the version we’re told in Sunday School. But we forget that they were ordinary men who were not mighty in their own eyes.

If we go to Judges 6:12, we read about another angel––a real one––who appeared to someone. Notice what he calls this person. “When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.””

Mighty warrior. Was Gideon a mighty warrior? Well, to God he was, but did Gideon see himself as that? I spoke about this a few months ago, and I’d like to revisit it again today.

You notice how the angel of the Lord just kind of casually addressed Gideon as “mighty warrior?” That’s what struck me about this. He didn’t address him as the son of Joash. Or Gideon, son of God. Or just plain Gideon. He doesn’t say, “God has chosen you to be a mighty warrior.” 

No, the angel addressed him as “mighty warrior” in the present tense. That had to have knocked Gideon off his feet a little bit, right? I mean, first of all, an angel appears to you, and it’s not an angel like Clarence. But even if it were an angel like Clarence, and the first words out of his mouth are, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior,” it might be shock upon shock.

I don’t know about you, but if an angel tells me that God is with me, and that I am a mighty warrior, I might believe it. Until the angel leaves, then doubt would start to creep in. But Gideon doesn’t believe it even with the angel right in front of him. He says, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

Now, I said that’s unbelief, but that’s not unbelief, per se, it’s an inability to understand. One week before Christmas, I think it’s appropriate to use the Christmas story as an example. It was like the difference between Mary and her Uncle Zechariah. Mary didn’t understand, but she believed. Zechariah didn’t understand and therefore he didn’t believe. Here, Gideon doesn’t understand but he wants to believe, and he’s having a hard time with it. So he asks for confirmation. And when that confirmation is given later on in this chapter, he asks for even more confirmation. 

It’s not wrong to struggle with doubt. Like I said, I’d still struggle with doubt after the angel left because, well, the angel left. I’d feel all alone. We don’t see God. We don’t always hear God. We don’t always feel God’s presence. It’s easy to doubt that God has called us mighty warriors.

Be encouraged. Those who are the most dependent upon God is who God is going to use. That’s who God can work with. God can’t work with someone who won’t work with Him. God chooses the person that will willingly work with God or need to lean on God for support. 

There are many times when I thought, “God, I can’t do this pastor thing.” And God said, “I know. That’s why I chose you.”

Crosswalk.com said:

​​ Once a frightened warrior hiding in a winepress, God called Gideon to overcome fear and a lack of faith to be a faithful, mighty commander. Fittingly, Gideon is included as one of several “heroes of faith” mentioned in Hebrews 11:32-34

God appeared to Moses as a burning bush and identified Himself. Next, God told Moses that he would lead His people out of Egypt to the Promised Land (Exodus 3:1-10). However, Moses, multiple times, responded with uncertainty about his calling…

God sent the prophet Samuel to Jesse to anoint a new king. Once Samuel saw Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son, Samuel thought he had found him. However, God had someone else in mind…

1 Samuel 16:7 says, But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 

So Samuel continued with seven of Jesse’s sons. “And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all the young men here?’ Then he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep'” (1 Samuel 16:11). That was David, who was likely a teenager at the time. He was the least likely to be chosen, but God told Samuel that David was the one.

And God can use an angel second-class, even one like Clarence, to change a man’s life. And if he can use a Clarence to change someone’s life, he can use you and me.

Point 2: If we go back to our scripture verse, Hebrews 12:1-3, we read that we have kind of the same backing that Clarence had. We certainly have the same backing that the Biblical heroes had. God has our back. But not only do we have God, but we have a crowd cheering us on, as well.

Imagine being a sports star. This time of year it’s football. And if you live where I do, everyone is a Buffalo Bills fan. We went to Highmark Stadium this summer to see Billy Joel (I know, a pastor shouldn’t announce that from the pulpit) and the place was sold out. There had to have been at least 50 or 60 thousand people there. And we had the nosebleed seats––fourth row from the top. And Caleb had a seat in the very top row, just behind us. It was great to be there during the summer, but I have no desire to be there in the winter. 

And it was amazing just seeing a crowd that huge. Now imagine being a Buffalo Bills player on your home turf and you have your hometown cheering you on. Here, the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” So the writer is using a race as an illustration, with a crowd cheering on the runner.

But what does that mean for us? We have our friends and family and church family cheering us on, wanting us to succeed. One commentary I read says that, “the author pictured these previous champions of faith [from chapter 11] as spectators from the heavens, cheering us as we press on to overcome present discouragement as in an athletic competition.” 

Remember, he just got done talking about a number of saints in the previous chapter, so he continues his thoughts about those saints here. It’s unclear whether he’s stating that they’re cheering us on from Heaven, or that he’s tying in the last chapter as having them as examples to look up to when it comes to faith and endurance. But in either case, we at least have our friends and family cheering us on; and we have the examples of the saints to encourage us. We do have those two things for sure.

Looking further in this passage, we read, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” 

Notice the writer separates sin from everything else. We can see how sin can entangle us and wrap us up and distract us and lead us in the opposite direction from where God wants us to go. But what else hinders us?

How about fear and discouragement? How about insecurities? How about unworthiness? How about being called before you’ve been equipped? That can be scary. That can make us hesitant. How about not seeing any fruit after we’ve sown seed after seed. How about facing rejection and failure. How about feeling like it’s all on us to perform, rather than having faith in God to do the work through us? Remember, God said, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit.” That’s an encouraging thought.

And we have many promises that God will not abandon us or forsake us, but that he’s with us, always.

And knowing that God is with us, and that God is for us and nothing can be against us is a great weightlifter that can help us run the race with swiftness and confidence, even if it’s taking us longer than we––or anyone else––expected.

William Barclay said, “Endurance is needed to run that race. Endurance is translated from the ancient Greek word “hupomone, “which does not mean the patience which sits down and accepts things but the patience which masters them… It is a determination, unhurrying and yet undelaying, which goes steadily on and refuses to be deflected.” 

  Here’s another Greek lesson, and a little something about the word ‘race’ that I didn’t know. Race is the ancient Greek word agona, a word used for conflict or struggle of many kinds, and a favorite word of Paul. He used it many times in scripture. So, we see it used as an illustration for running a race, but it literally can mean our struggles. So it’s a great word to use when talking about perseverance.

And Paul is a great example of endurance. But the greatest example, and the example in Hebrews 12:3, is the example of Christ. Verse 3 says, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Think of all the hostility Jesus endured from sinners:

· At His own synagogue in Nazareth they wanted to kill Him.

· The religious leaders constantly tried to trap and embarrass Him.

· They lied about Jesus, saying He was a drunkard and a glutton.

· He was betrayed by one of His own disciples.

· He was mocked and beaten by many.

· His own people cried out against Him, “Crucify Him!”

If Jesus endured that, then we can endure whatever comes at us, because Jesus and the apostles suffered through much more than we ever will. Yet, they stayed the course and ran the race. They fought the good fight to the finish. They never gave up and they never quit, no matter how hard and literally agonizing it was.

Conclusion: You may have heard the story of John Stephen Akhwari, the marathon runner from Tanzania who finished last at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. No last-place finisher in a marathon ever finished quite so last.

Injured along the way, he hobbled into the stadium with his leg bloodied and bandaged. It was more than an hour after the rest of the runners had completed the race. Only a few spectators were left in the stands when Akhwari finally crossed the finish line.

When asked why he continued to run despite the pain, Akhwari replied, “My country did not send me to Mexico City to start the race. They sent me here to finish.”

The attitude of that athlete ought to be our attitude as we grow older. There is a “race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1), and we are to keep running until we reach the finish line.

No one is too old to serve God. Remember, Clarence was going to turn 293 years old next May. Talk about old age. Talk about never giving up. Talk about perseverance. And you know what? God never gave up on him, either. God––or the ‘angels in charge’ or however you want to put it, kept giving Clarence a chance until he got it right. Don’t think that God will give up on you because you make a few mistakes and there’s some failure along the way. And as I said before, that’s how we learn, and failure is what we need to push through to keep our endurance.

Our Daily Bread says of this passage: “We must keep growing, maturing, and serving to the end of our days. To idle away our last years is to rob the church of the choicest gifts God has given us to share. There is service to be rendered. There is still much to be done.”

So let’s keep running “with endurance.” Let’s finish the course—and finish strong.

Prayer: Dear Lord, it’s easy to give up and give in after so long. We don’t see results, we think we’re not gifted or we are too focused on our faults and our own mind hinders us. Lord, I pray that whatever it is that you have us do in this church and outside these four walls, that you would call attention to the weight that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles so that we might cast them all aside.

Help us to focus on you, the perfecter of our faith. Lord, let us have blinders on so that we will not get distracted by anything, but be focused solely on you. Let us understand that you are there, cheering us on, and that we have others cheering us on as well.

I pray that you will bless this congregation in 2022, so that we might be mighty warriors like Gideon. We may not see ourselves that way, but Lord, I believe that you do. May we accomplish great things in the coming year. 

In Jesus name, amen.

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