Our lives should reflect the life of Jesus Christ. Paul told the Corinthians that they were a living epistle, a witness to God's way of life.
[Victor Kubik] Some in the church in Corinth made a request, maybe a demand, to the apostle Paul. They said, “Show us your credentials. Do you have any references? What qualifies you for the ministry? And is there any kind of a certificate that you could show us? You know, show us your credentials, where did you go to school and where were you trained? Why is it that we are having you? What qualifies you to come and visit us?” 2 Corinthians 3 is where this is brought up. And what we read here is Paul’s response to the question that is not actually asked here, but it’s a response to the question that he was hearing from them.
“Are we beginning to praise ourselves again? Are we like others, who need to bring you letters of recommendation, or who ask you to write such letters on their behalf? Certainly not! Surely not! So do we really need these letters of recommendation? I mean after all, I mean, I was here to start the Church. And why do we need to have these things that you’re demanding?” He was the one who started the Church. He was well known to all. He was a responsible minister and he is the one who was spearheading Christianity into the European world.
In 2 Corinthians 2:17 2 Corinthians 2:17For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.
American King James Version×, this is the New Living Translation, this is an interesting way that this is put, “You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit.” So he says, “We are not that kind of person and you should really understand us.” And, “You know me. You should know better.” Then in 2 Corinthians 3:2 2 Corinthians 3:2You are our letter written in our hearts, known and read of all men:
American King James Version×, “The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves.” That’s the only letter of recommendation. That’s the only credentials that we really need. “Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you.” Our lives should be sufficient. I mean, your lives should be sufficient to prove our credentials and our ability to be effective and to be qualified in doing this work.
Verse 3, “Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This ‘letter’ is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God.” In this letter of recommendation, that’s something that was stamped out in some office at a school, but is something that was written with the spirit of the living God. “It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.” I’ll read this now in the New King James translation because this verse is very, very important as to the point of what I’m trying to do this afternoon.
“You are our epistle” verse 2, “written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly, you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh of the heart.” The Holy Spirit was the pen that wrote these words. God’s words is ink and the tables, the tablets is the human heart. And really, this gets down to what Christianity and what our being here is all about, is having the Word of God being written in our hearts in such a way where it’s indelible, can’t be erased, and really does represent the work of the ministry, represents the work of the Holy Spirit, and represents our being able to get and understand what God is teaching us. What’s important about our lives is that people see what we really are, that we are genuine.
Paul says, “You are my credentials.” Now, God, from the very beginning, had wanted people to understand that being a genuine follower of His, I mean, they weren’t Christians in the Old Testament, but they were followers of God, they were His people, that they had a very, very special responsibility and duty. In Proverbs 7:1 Proverbs 7:1My son, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with you.
American King James Version×, we see from the Old Testament where often, we see an absence of the Holy Spirit working in people’s lives because it was not generally given. But it was God’s intent that people have written in their hearts the things that He’s teaching. And God has made His Spirit available in our time.
“My son, keep my words.” This is from Proverbs 7:1 Proverbs 7:1My son, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with you.
American King James Version×. This is the Old Testament now. “Keep my words, and treasure my commands within you. Keep my commandments and live, and my law is the apple of your eye.” But here’s what most important about this. Verse 3, “Bind them on your fingers; write them on a tablet of your heart.” He expected those things that God taught to be something which is a part of the way you think and the way you function and what you represent to others. Jeremiah 31, this is a prophecy of the New Covenant. This is prophesied long ago, hundreds of years before Jesus Christ came to the earth where a New Covenant was prophesied that gave the terms and the functionality of the relationship between God and man.
Jeremiah 31:31 Jeremiah 31:31Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
American King James Version×: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt…” It’s going to be a different arrangement, a different agreement based on the same terms but with another characteristic, another ingredient. “…My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord.” Verse 33, “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts…” Just like the apostle Paul was saying to Corinthians, that, “You are a living letter, you are my commendation, you are my credentials.” “…and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
You know, God had given the commandments in Exodus 20 first and then He had given them over again, the book of Deuteronomy which is a repetition of the law, kind of a summary of what had taken place before and also a repetition of a number of items. And one of those repetitions was the Ten Commandments again. But then He makes this observation about the people who had received the commandments in Deuteronomy 5:29 Deuteronomy 5:29O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!
American King James Version×. “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep My commandments, that it might be well with them and their children forever!”
“Oh, I wish that they would really get it.” But they didn’t have that ingredient that we have to have those laws be etched in our hearts and be operating automatically. They weren’t getting it in the Old Testament. In fact, the whole Old Testament is a story about people who didn’t get it, people who didn’t have the Holy Spirit that’s why they didn’t get it. We have the Holy Spirit and we should be getting it. You should understand the purpose of God’s law. You should understand the functionality of God’s law. You should understand it is the basis of eternal life and the relationship with God forever.
The group that Christ was hardest on in His ministry, the group that He really reacted to the most in almost a violent way where He almost appears to be angry; He was hardest on people who lived an outward life that they wanted the world to see and a different life privately, especially among those who were leaders in the Jewish community. Adultery was rampant and even among the devoutly religious leaders of His time. And this was something which Christ reacted to quite often.
Now, as we approach the Passover, and that’s not too long from now, we have different things that we think about when we prepare for the Passover. In fact, we hear about preparing for the Passover, I’ve been preparing for the Passover for more than 50 years, long time. 50 years since I have been baptized, and we try to think of different things to prepare for and to examine and we take lists… lists of things that we haven’t done and things that we should do and to do them better and do them automatically and so forth.
But it may be good for us to take a real close look at the Passover and may be a good point this year to examine yourself whether you are genuine through and through. Are you a living letter? Are you automatically one who exudes and expresses what a true Christian ought to be? Is what people see genuine? In other words, are you inside what you want to portray to people on the outside? Are we a living letter? Are we properly representing Jesus Christ regarding His laws, principles, His revelation to us, and the relationship that we have?
Back in 2 Corinthians 3:6 2 Corinthians 3:6Who also has made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.
American King James Version×, I want to read one more verse there because this is what ties together where the power comes. 2 Corinthians 3, “This is the covenant, not of written laws but of the Spirit,” that best describes what is spoken of by Jeremiah, Jeremiah in the 31st chapter. “This is the covenant, not of written laws but of the Spirit.” The old written covenant ends in death, but under the New Covenant, the Spirit gives life. And hopefully, our lives are that recommendation of Christianity to others.
Now, the apostle Paul who did understand, the apostle Paul did understand this matter of being a pastor who did his job well. Then the outcome, the fruit was his letter of recommendation. In the first epistle, the first letter to the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 3:12 1 Corinthians 3:12Now if any man build on this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
American King James Version×, he talks about building on a foundation and talking about pastors or leaders in a church who build on a foundation with different materials, “Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials — gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day…” verse 14, 1 Corinthians 3, “…fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. This fire will show up a person’s work has any value.”
And our church had gone through quite a number of fires that have tested the genuineness of our conversion and of us being a living letter, of being a genuine real item. Because there are times, this happened over and over again, where people can live a life of one appearance but inside, there’s something else. And usually, that will be smoked out really literally by a fire. We don’t want that. We want to be able to be genuine with our Lord and Master.
The Church of God is composed of disciples. I want to talk a little bit about what disciples are. Now, the term “Christian” is only used three times in the entire New Testament. Surprisingly, it’s used so very, very little. Christian is used only three times. And the first time is used in Acts 11 in talking about the disciples who were scattered after the death of Stephen and they were scattered throughout different places — Judea and in Palestine. And a number of these disciples happen to be thrown into the city of Antioch which is a major, major center. It was the third most important city in the Roman Empire.
And as a result of the work of these disciples, many came to believe, as it says. And Barnabas was sent up there, and obviously, a church was started and so forth. But these disciples went up there and they had an effect, a profound effect on the people around them. They were called “disciples.” But it’s the outsiders, the people of Antioch will begin to call them “Christians.” They didn’t call themselves that at first, it appears. They were called “Christians” by the locals.
Then the second time the word “Christian” is used is in Acts 26:28 Acts 26:28Then Agrippa said to Paul, Almost you persuade me to be a Christian.
American King James Version×. This is talking about King Agrippa in Caesarea who had a discussion with the apostle Paul, and quite a lengthy discussion with the apostle Paul and him talked about various things. And he says, “You’ve almost persuaded me to be a Christian.” And the only time that the word Christian is owned by any of the writers of the New Testament is in Peter, where we “suffer as a Christian” in 1 Peter 4:16 1 Peter 4:16Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.
American King James Version×. But truly being a follower of Jesus Christ is defined by Christ Himself. And we’re called Christians, that’s fine. That’s great. I mean, we are Christians, those who are followers of Jesus Christ. But disciple, the term “disciple” is used 299 times in the New Testament to identify who is a follower of Christ, disciple. And Jesus Christ Himself is one who defines and really explains and defines that term better than anyone.
I’d like you to turn to Luke 14:25 Luke 14:25And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said to them,
American King James Version×. In this chapter, we see Jesus Christ speaking to many, many people — large audiences, great multitudes follow Jesus Christ. He was charismatic from the standpoint of people really wanting to hear what He had to say, He was good at what He did, and people followed Him. Thousands of people followed Him and had questions, such as, “What does it take to be one of Your followers?” They saw He had a staff, you know, His disciples that were following Him, those helpers, the apostles and so forth. And he said, “How do you, you know, become one of this group and how do you become part of membership in this group?” And Christ is answering a question in Luke 14.
Now, this chapter, to me, is one of the most personally important chapters, you know, in my life. Especially when I began as a ministerial trainee back in 1969, the pastor who I worked for made this chapter live in the lives of all the people who he would talk to about baptism. He wanted to make sure that everyone who came to the point of baptism understood everything that was in Luke 14 in this section right here about what defines an apostle. And it wasn’t until after a person could say, “Yes, I agree to these terms.” And this is what describes a Christian, then the baptism would take place.
Luke 14:25 Luke 14:25And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said to them,
American King James Version×, “Great multitudes went with Him.” And He said to them — this is Christ, “And He turned, He responded to them.” And it’s as if the question is what does it take to be a disciple? And this is the answer. “If anyone,” verse 26 chapter 14, “comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brother and sister, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” Now, that’s certainly hyperbole. I mean, we don’t hate our mother and father. We don’t hate those around us. This was a hyperbole statement, an exaggeration.
It’s like we would say to somebody, “Look, I’ve told a million times.” Well, you don’t tell somebody a million times to stop doing something, maybe five times, six times. But you say some ridiculous number to really drive home your point. And it’s just like Christ who said, “You must forgive everyone 70 times 7.” So do we have to forgive everybody 490 times? No, once again, that’s a hyperbolic statement. So what he’s saying is that you have got to put Christ so far above any relationship that the second place hardly counts. You got to put Christ ahead of every single relationship. What He says and what He does and your relationship with Him is of utmost importance because your eternal life depends upon it. That’s the first thing. You’ve got to put Him first.
Next, verse 27, “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” Christ does not promise an easy life as a Christian, and I think that all of you know that. Life has its moments, lots of moments, a life filled with suffering. Jesus Christ suffered for us to set us an example. Becoming a Christian does not mean that you’re absolved of suffering. Suffering will come to an end in Revelation 21. But in this world, we live with death, with poor health, with turn-backs, persecution, all kinds of things that have happened to Christians and will continue to happen to Christians, and happen to everybody for that matter. But He says, “You’ve got to be willing to bear your cross, bear your trial, and come after Me. If you can’t bear it, if the first time that you get scorched with something that might happen, you cannot be my disciple.”
I recall that when I was baptized back in 1966, we had a young lady who was baptized several weeks either before or after me. She’s a very nice girl, Jewish girl from New York, just very friendly, wonderful person. She was baptized, and a few days later, her grandmother died, just very, very suddenly. It was devastating to her. It was devastating. She left, and we never heard from her again. No attempts to write or anything, she just disappeared. We were greatly saddened by that because it certainly was a horrible trial.
I mean, we all had certain things that have happened to us that had been devastating, that have hurt deeply, and we’ve wondered, “Why, why me? Why am I suffering from it?” But Jesus Christ says, “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” And that’s another area that we’re tested and the Church has been tested in is pain and the suffering that we’ve had to go through. Can we bear with the suffering that takes place? Now, Christ will walk us through with suffering, He will be with us in our suffering, He will be us in our trials, but He will not take necessarily every trial away from us. Certainly, we can pray to ease the pain and so forth.
The apostle Paul had a trial that he lived with the entirety of his ministry. I’m not sure what it was. All of us bear burdens all of our life of things that are difficult for us. It could be habits. It could be relationships. It could be things that we have just not done right. But bear with it. Jesus Christ will be faithful to bear you through it because He wants you to get to the other side. He wants you to learn. He wants you to become one of His followers that receives eternal life from Him.
Next, verse 28. This is talking about what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has sufficient or enough to finish it — unless, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’”
And the pastor that I worked for, he made a big point to this. Somebody was very enthusiastic about being baptized. Somebody wanted to do it right away. Somebody who wanted to… just knew at that moment that that is what they wanted to do for all their lives. And the pastor laid out stories from the Old Testament, the New Testament of people who had gone through trials. “Are you prepared to go through this trial? Are you prepared to lose your job? Are you prepared to have serious family issues as a result of becoming a Christian?” He laid it out pretty well. He says, “If I could talk you out of it, I will. Maybe I was too harsh.” But he says, “I want you to know that there’s a cost to it, and the cost is your life.”
So becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is giving up your life. Be prepared to do that. Are you able to finish the job? Are you willing to go through the whole course? Are you willing to endure to the end as we’re told in Matthew 24? “He that endures to the end shall be saved.” Endurance is not fun. We don’t endure going to the Feast in Hawaii. We don’t endure pleasant things. We do endure pain and things that are not pleasant for us.
So Jesus Christ is answering questions about what it takes to be one of His disciples. “Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he’s able with ten thousand to meet him against him with twenty thousand?” Because you’ve got to figure out, “Is this risk worth it? Can I handle it? Can I, with ten thousand, meet somebody with twenty thousand? Am I willing to rely on God to help me to make up the difference? Am I willing to take those risks with that faith?” And all these are factors that Jesus Christ brings out as a result of being asked, “What does it take to be one of your disciples?”
But even having our life also given up is very, very important. There cannot be anything between us and Christ. It will be continually tested on that. Christians are asked to sacrifice and Christians are asked to make a commitment. That’s why we’re so small. We’re not an easy church. We’re not an easy group to be a part of. We’re not nominal Christians. In fact, the term “nominal Christian” is an oxymoron. There’s no such thing as a nominal Christian. A Christian is one who is totally and fully committed to the task of being a Christian.
But, you know, I’ve been one for a long, long time and I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve experienced a lot of things. I’ve gone through life with a lot of wonderful, happy events, but also some that were traumatic. I wouldn’t give up anything. I wouldn’t give up what I’m doing for anything. Hopefully, I can stay with those words to the end of my life. But I don’t regret anything that would take me away from the relationship that we have, that I have with Jesus Christ. Do I feel His presence? I know He’s here in this Church. This is His Church. He’s given His life for me. I know there’s another life coming ahead of us. It’s getting closer and closer and closer as we head towards that moment of death and the resurrection and a new life. And I feel it, I know it.
I wouldn’t want to be out there where our television crew went out to interview people on the streets in Cincinnati saying, “What do you think a purpose of life is?” Or “Why were you born?” “I have no idea. I don’t know. I don’t know why I exist. I don’t know why I’m on this earth. I don’t know what my purpose is.” You know, I do and I think you do, too. You know what your purpose is and why you’re here on this earth. This is not a hobby or past-time. This is something which is called the “narrow way” in Matthew 7. Matthew 7, Jesus Christ said, “Enter…” Matthew 7:13 Matthew 7:13Enter you in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
American King James Version×, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many that go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, there are few who find it.”
You know about Jesus Christ and about the truth, we need to be narrow-minded, extremely narrow-minded. There’s some things that I’m very, very broad-minded about. I like to think about different possibilities and different ways and push the limits and go beyond the boundaries. But as far as what Jesus Christ spells out is required to be a Christian, you’ve got to be extremely narrow-minded. And that’s why there’s so few people who go through this narrow pathway.
A few more things that make up the Christian or a disciple. These are very, very important aspects and are spelled out in the New Testament. This goes back to what God intended for His people to be whether they were individuals or whether it was a nation of Israel or whether it’s Christians today. I’d like you to turn to Leviticus 18 because here, God sets forth His philosophy of what He wanted His people to accomplish and the way that He wanted them to influence the world around them. Leviticus 18, “Lord God spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: “I am the Lord, your God.”’”
Verse 3, “According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do,” He said, “Where you left from, don’t do those things.” That was their religion. That was their commerce. That was their manner. That was their national attitude. “You shall not be this way.” And “according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do.”
So He said, “The things that you saw, the values that you saw back in Egypt where you left,” and this, right now, they’re still in the wandering stage here in Leviticus, “To where you’re going, do not do that. Don’t do that and don’t do that. You’re a special people that have something else that I have in store for you. You shall not walk in their ordinances. You shall observe my judgments and keep my ordinances to walk in them: I am the Lord, your God.” Very, very simple. Very, very simple. We’re to be a special people who have a very special value system. “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.” Full stop. That’s your purpose, not to become like the world. A disciple does not conform to this world.
Now, we are to live in the world but we’re not to be of the world. You know, Christ never had His disciples and groups of people kind of get together in colonies and they were all one with another. No, He made a point that as a Christian, we are part of this world but we’re not of this world. We don’t have the same attitudes as people around us have. We’re called out to escape the world and not to conform to it. We’re to stand out. And we’re to be people who think differently from the rest of the world. Maybe a bold statement, but we are to think differently.
When the 12 spies came out of the Promised Land or came to from their spy mission, one thing is said about Caleb, that he was a person who thinks differently. “My servant, Caleb, he thinks differently.” Do you think differently from your neighborhood, from your relatives, from where you came? I certainly hope so. We have different value system. We think differently.
Here is what Jesus Christ said in a very, very impassionate [impassioned] prayer that John recorded in John 17. I’d like you to turn to John 17 because this is what Jesus in His last moments thought of as a very important statement. John 17:13 John 17:13And now come I to you; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.
American King James Version×, “Now I am coming to You,” this is a prayer now to the Father. “I’m coming to you, my Father. I told them…” the disciples, “…many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with My joy.” Hopefully, the things that Jesus is teaching us, you know, we’re being filled with that joy as well. “I have given them Your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world…” You and I don’t belong to this world of politics, this worlds system, this worlds attitude, “…just as I do not belong to the world.”
Christ was not an activator, activist. He didn’t have one candidate that He supported against another. He made no public statements about Caesar, about Pontius Pilate, about any other officials. He was not of the world. He wasn’t involved in that particular sphere. But He’s saying to the Father now, “I’m not asking you to take them out of the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world and put them into a colony of some sort, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do.”
Wow, these words are so powerful about what it means to be a Christian in what Christ was praying with impassion in His last hours. “Make them holy by Your truth…” Make them set apart by Your truth “…teach them Your word, which is truth.” Which is, in the Old King James, “Thy word is truth,” oft-quoted. “Just as you sent me into the world, I’m sending them into the world.” We’re sent into our communities, into our neighborhoods, into people that we interact with, with our schools, our jobs, and so forth. You interact with the world a lot. “And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they could be made holy by Your truth.”
How do you present yourself? How do we present ourselves to the world? There’s different ways and different methods that we project ourselves. Some of you are very involved with P.T.A. and involved with perhaps service clubs and so forth. I’m a member of Rotary Club that I’m very involved with with the people that are there who know exactly who I am. They know who I am. They know what I represent. They see me on Facebook. They put likes after some of my eNews blogs about what I say about the values that I have because they know who I am. They know that I represent something different.
It may not be something that they necessarily agree with because those people who attended our public appearance campaigns, three of them did, they’re still in their churches. But I don’t know what God is doing in their minds and so forth. My job was not to convert them. My job was to represent the truth. My job was to represent the United Church of God. We’ve had the Rotary Club here in the church, at the home office in Cincinnati. They see who we are. They see our values. They sense very, very quickly how people react to one another and they did make comments about that.
There are ways now that we are increasing our reach as to how we could reach the world. One of the cultural limitations of the Church over the years has been is that we’ve not been that involved. And this is not a plea now to start getting involved in some type of activity. But we’ve basically kind of stuck to ourselves and don’t talk about much what we do or not comment too much. But we do have opportunities, and those opportunities, we’ve seen the exercise, and sometimes, not in the best way.
I want to say a few words about social media that many people are involved with. I just downloaded Facebook again from my wife’s phone and I saw that there are over two billion downloads now for Facebook, so lots of people on Facebook, a big percentage of the earth and probably going up to even a higher percentage of how people relate to one another, how many of us in the Church relate to one another, but also how we relate to the outside. How do we appear in the ways that we express ourselves? Are we shining lights? Are we a living epistle? Are we a living Facebook? Are we a living Twitter account? Or do we say things that won’t distinguish us from the world in the way the world talks in its smart-aleck way, with its argumentative manner, with the derision that’s there with being argumentative? How do we appear? What do we say and how do we react to others?
Are we careful in what we like on Facebook? Somebody makes a comment about politics, upholding one candidate over another with some obnoxious things that he’s done, and say, “Yeah, I like that,” you know. And then, “Oh, Joe, church member. He likes that.” And somebody may be quizzical about that but somebody on the outside who sees that because many posts are seen by the outside. My posts are public. I say everything publicly and I have in mind that it will be seen publicly. And I want to, above everything, to glorify God by the things that I do whether it’s a picture of my wife or a flower or a comment or a statement about something that the Church is doing that’s good and righteous and holy. I think. I tweet on these things.
That’s the type of things that we, as Christians, should be doing, that we will begin to have a greater impact with the world. Are we involved in politics? Jesus wasn’t. Jesus was not… I know He lived in a totalitarian system but He could have gotten along with some of the other rebel leaders and said, “Hey, we got to have a plan. Let’s have an association perhaps or an alliance of different leaders.” “Jesus, you be the teacher group here and we’ll have this guy be another group.” Jesus wasn’t involved with that at all. He was totally separate. He didn’t comment on Pilate.
And the only time He did a political statement about Pilate was when He confronted Pilate in the last hours of His life when Pilate asked Him the question, “Are you a king?” He said, “You bet I’m a King. For this purpose, I came to this earth. I was born. And if this was our time, My servants would fight.” That’s a political statement but it was by the right person for the right occasion. He didn’t have His disciples going out there trying to stir up, drum up alliances, and make irresponsible statements through media of that time.
So how are we as far as how we talk? It may be a subject necessarily that we talk about, that it’s not a bad subject they were discussion about, but the way we talk about it and the way we talk among ourselves about it. Is it a way that is bringing unity and goodwill or it’s something that’s causing people to become disunified [disunited] and angry with another, as people argue with one another on Facebook or on forums?
The electronic age has made it possible for us not to have to face people face-to-face, eye-to-eye. You can sit there at 10:00 at night and be at your keyboard and say anything you want. You get a couple of drinks, nobody knows. Oh, you know, you get really brave, then, you know, you start pounding the keyboard and saying obnoxious things. There’s one person we knew that had two personalities. The day time he was one way, but at 10:00 at night, he was different.
What types of things do you endorse? Or do you get into somebody in a fight about homeschooling or alternative medicine or vaccinations or any things that perhaps have an audience? But it’s becoming problematic as people start arguing about these things and don’t really set a good example, especially if somebody can see us arguing. Why? You know, one thing identifies Christians as Christ said in John 13, “By this shall all men know that you love one another.” On Facebook or Twitter, or some of the… usually, it’s just Facebook, not too many on Twitter comparatively speaking, then there’s some other forms as well, how do you represent the values of the Church?
When we hire ministerial trainees, we have a session on social media at the Pastor Development Program. You know one thing we tell them, “We want you to change your identity from what it may have been before. No more goofy faces, no snotty remarks to people, no uncomplimentary pictures of people, no tables full of beer bottles and glasses and adoration of alcohol. That’s got to go.”
We had a church member who, in Indianapolis, worked for at the governor’s office and she took care of Judy O’Bannon’s calendar. One rule was you never photograph anybody in that governor’s mansion or any public event with them holding glasses of wine even though they were moderate as far as I know. You just don’t do that. You can’t have whole tables of beers. You can’t have whole tables of big, you know, one and a half liter bottles of wine and so forth. And everybody just kind of looped-looking. What kind of an example, you know, is that? We don’t need that. We need to set a much better example.
In 1 John 2:15 1 John 2:15Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
American King James Version×, John is the one who commented about this matter of things of the world. 1 John 2:15 1 John 2:15Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
American King James Version×, “Do not love the world or the things of the world.” That’s the way the world is. “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” If you act that way like the world acts, and loves the same things that the world loves, and is filled with those values, the love of the Father is not in him. “For all…” this is 1 John 2:16 1 John 2:16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
American King James Version×now, “For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world.” And how much plain can you get about the relationship that Christ has with us and the responsibility that He places upon us? “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” I want to look at this passage more before the Passover this year. Do I love the world?
Now, we’re in the process right now of trying to get rid of cable T.V. This is so hard to kind of figure out what to do. And so I’m just looking at something on Roku right now and they have all these promos for different shows for the next year, you know. And they think they’re so funny. They’re so stupid. The humor is so stupid. The things they say are so silly. I say, “I don’t want to be a part of this. This is honestly really beneath me. I’m not going to be thinking this way.” But that’s the world. And they think that’s funny. They think that’s entertaining and that’s humorous. Their relationships are so wrong and their realities are so unreal.
We live in a different reality, brethren. We live in a different reality. The reality of the Kingdom of God that’s coming to this earth and us being representatives of it, of being representatives of Jesus Christ here on the earth. I hope that those who use social media can really up their portrayal of themselves. You know, there are groups that really do a lot of social media to promote their cause, and we as a church, just plain don’t no matter how much we stand up and holler, saying, “How about reposting a B.T. daily? How about reposting a B.T. program?” You know, it’s just like pulling teeth to get people to do it. Those are the kinds of things that we should be doing. Our excuses come out, “Well, I’ll lose my friends… I’ll do this,” you know, all kinds of things that come to mind.
Well, it’s a skill and an art to being one who’s a third-party endorser, somebody who says, “You know, I saw something very, very good here in this little two-minute or four-minute video of Beyond Today B.T. daily.” Or, “Here’s a program that really answers some questions about depression and suicide,” as we had one here several months ago that I retweeted. We need to have more people doing that. I truly believe that the president we had before the current one was through a lot of work on the streets. At street level of social media helped get him elected as people bounded together and tweeted the things that were right and good, at least for him, you know, not that I agree with that. I’m not involved with politics at all, zero.
The way we appear on Facebook is very, very important. And that includes not just kids, it includes those who are 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 years old. I’ve seen things that are irresponsible by older people as much as I’ve seen irresponsible things by younger people as well. You shouldn’t be liking things that are contrary to God’s way of life. And whatever we do, we should be doing to edify and to unify ourselves and to be a shining light to the people around us. Think before you post.
In Indianapolis, when we still live there, there was a campaign of billboards, I’m not sure who sponsored it, it was a school system or somebody, which just simply said to teenagers, “Think before you post.” You think that, well, what’s the big deal there? Well, things that you post, things that you say, irresponsible remarks that you make are there forever. Now, we may have a hard time getting people to do right things but people will notice us for doing things that are wrong and things that are not Christian in their conduct.
Here is what we should be doing, Romans 12:1 Romans 12:1I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
American King James Version×, about conformity to the world. This is something for all of us as disciples. Romans 12:1 Romans 12:1I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
American King James Version×, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this world.” Do you ever have a Bible study or talk with your family, with your kids, with your wife, with your husband? Are we too worldly in the things that we do and the way we think and the things that attract us?
You know, Bev and I, just so much of the things that are out there in the world are just not worth the time and there’s so little time left. We have really enjoyed listening to online sermons. You might say, “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding.” No, I have really enjoyed that. Last night, we listened to the Wednesday night bible study, “The Book of Nahum.” I learned so many things. You know, I felt good. I felt good. I still feel good by hearing that Bible study. There’s so many things that are worth reading and worth watching that are wholesome, righteous, and good. Whatever things, as Paul writes the book of Philippians, are righteous and true and wholesome, and turn to that, just write that down, Philippians 4:8 Philippians 4:8Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
American King James Version×, “Think on these things.” Don’t think on the garbage that’s out there in the world.
I’m not going to have Hollywood tell me how to think or to structure my values. My values are going to be continued with the commitment that I made back in 1966 when I was baptized. Verse 2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” What are you going to do about renewing your mind before Passover? Is there some trash that needs to be taken out? Probably so for all of us, “…that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
One thing that I pray for all the time, “God, give us the United Church of God growth.” Now, we are growing and we are having new people come continually. We also have people who are coming to the point where they can’t come to services and people who are dying. But I’m waiting for a bigger group of people to come in. I’m waiting for a quantum leap based upon the things that we teach, the things that we produce, and the things that we have an excited ministry and membership want to see. I’m just wondering if we need to take a look at all of us individually and saying, “Is there too much world in us?” I’m not blaming it on the world and being the world in us, but it’s a question that we could certainly ask. How much of the world is still in me? How much of those things that are defined at 1 John 2:15 1 John 2:15Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
American King James Version×?
How much of the passion of Jesus Christ keeps them from the evil one? “I’m not taking them out of the world but I’m asking you to be with them, Father.” Perhaps that’s something that we should be taking a closer look at. Our conformity is to Jesus Christ, Romans 8, going back a few chapters in verse 29, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” We are predestined to be like Jesus Christ, to think like Him, to act like Him, to react like Him, to be merciful and kind, be able to stand up to hypocrisy ourselves or others. We’re to be like Jesus Christ.
In Philippians 2:5 Philippians 2:5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
American King James Version×, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider robbery to be equal with God.” Do we have the mind of Jesus Christ? Made Himself of no reputation, become bondservant. He humbled Himself even to the point of death, even a death of the cross. Do we say, “God, give me the mind of Jesus Christ. Help me think like He does.” He was God made man, and one of purposes is so that He could relate to us and we could look to Him and to follow His example, to be like Jesus Christ.
There’s one more thing about being a living letter, one thing about being a living letter, just to be good, to have a transformed life. But there’s one thing that’s brought up in John 7:38 John 7:38He that believes on me, as the scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
American King James Version×. This is the chapter that talks about Christ speaking at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day period. John 7:38 John 7:38He that believes on me, as the scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
American King James Version×, “Anyone who believes in Me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from His heart.’” Now, we know that the Holy Spirit is in us and is helping us to have the words of God written in our hearts by the agency of the Holy Spirit on the tablets which is our heart, and the ink being the word of God. But also, it says that rivers of living waters then will flow from His heart. And “When He was saying ‘living water,’ He was speaking of the Spirit…”
There has to be an outflow. We have an inflow of the Holy Spirit into our lives, but there has to be an outflow as well. A river reaches places which its source never knows. It says that rivers of living water will come from us. And Jesus said that, “If we have received His fullness, that these rivers of living water will flow from us, and they will come to even the ends of the earth.” Christ said this in Acts 1:8 Acts 1:8But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come on you: and you shall be witnesses to me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.
American King James Version×, “That rivers of living waters will flow from us to the ends of the earth,” regardless of how small the visible effects in our lives may be.
Do you realize that every good thing that you might do may not have immediate recognition, so to speak, or immediate effect on you, or you’re sort of wondering why you’re doing it and then you don’t realize that it could maybe a year or two or five later that some good will come of what you do? I could give you several examples, maybe the one from myself here. Number of years back, I spent time with a minister of the conference who was very distressed, very, very distressed. It was in an international area. He came to my room and said, “I need to talk to you. I need to ask you some questions.” And I, in a sense, I was not even wanting to talk that much but I did. I was patient with him and we talked for a long time. In fact, we spent the whole afternoon talking. I never really got to know this person very, very well.
But then just a few years ago, this person made a donation, kind of a large donation to one of our causes. And I said, “You know, you hardly know me, and I’m just kind of curious. Why did you do that?” He said, “Because of that talk that we had in France.” He says, “I appreciated what you did and it stuck with me all these years. You really made a difference. You really produced some good effect in my life.” How many things do we do that have some effect where somebody comes up to us later on and says, “I want to thank you for what you said.” We don’t even realize what good we did. Or we might help somebody with a difficulty that they have. They might not even say thank you at that moment. It may seem just like what’s the purpose of anything?
But the Holy Spirit, when it acts in us, it’s like waters that flow from us and flow downstream, and as Jesus said in Acts 1:8 Acts 1:8But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come on you: and you shall be witnesses to me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.
American King James Version×, “Flow to the ends of the earth.” Because when water starts, like up in Minnesota near Bemidji where the Mississippi River starts, it flows all the way to the big cities, all the way down to New Orleans, out into the oceans, who knows where that water goes? The Little Miami River here? I’m not sure where it goes. Ohio River probably, which goes into Mississippi, wherever it goes. Water has this way of going to different places to do its work — the same way with the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit of God does its work in the way that we don’t know. We don’t know what it does. One thing we do know of where it comes from. And that’s what we need to be absolutely sure that we have a supply of that Holy Spirit for us doing the things that we do.
In my work, I look at the various things I do in my job as president. Sometimes, I wonder, you know, “What good am I doing?” I’d like to be encouraged by the people around me, by Bev, “Yes, you are doing well. Things are happening.” Probably one of the most encouraging people is Peter Eddington. He always knows that things are going to be producing good and they will have their outcomes because that’s what we work on. That’s our life. That’s what we work with.
Sometimes, we don’t always see all the effect that we have on people or we know that down the road, this Holy Spirit that flows from us will be like waters that will do its job. They will go around obstacles. As water goes down through a creek and so forth, turns around, it goes around obstacles. They may build up for a while but then, it finds a way through. And all the water that comes from a source eventually gets to where the lowest level for water is. So a river is victoriously persistent in overcoming all barriers.
And the Holy Spirit is working with you, it will do the work of God and it will do it in the lives of other people. And don’t think that it doesn’t. I do believe and I know that all of you are here, sitting here because somebody supported a work, proclaiming a voice that made a substantive, quantitative, qualitative change in your life. We don’t know who that person is but they did it. They supported it. And the truth was brought to you in the same way we do the same. I’m absolutely and totally convinced. Also, waters from a river that come from without us have a functionality of being healing and bringing growth. Our lives ought to be lives that bring about growth and help in others.
So I hope that as we take a look at the Passover which is coming up where we need to examine ourselves, and I hope we don’t go through the same old charts and say, “Okay, here we go all through again. I’ll better be friendlier to so and so. I’ll better be nicer here and don’t snap at my wife” and all this kind of thing. Take a look at different ways in which we can be a living letter. Are we what we really want to be? The way that we project ourselves and what’s inside, is it of the same spirit? Perhaps it needs to be confluent and needs alignment from what we should be to what we are, to where we are a living letter.
The apostle Paul could say that about the Corinthian church. You know why? Because he wrote them 1 Corinthians, and he really was hard on them because of a number of sins that occurred in the Church ranging for the worst which was the sexual misconduct by a son having an affair with his stepmother, terrible. With people taking one of them to court, people in cliques. You know, there’s all kinds of things that were going on.
And when he got 2 Corinthians, when he was writing this, he was still talking about people that were still critical of him, but he said he was pleased with the repentance of these people. In fact, he was so pleased that the person who was asked to leave the Church, the person who was involved with sexual misconduct, he said, “Bring him back, bring him back. We don’t want to discourage him. Let him come back. He’s learned his lesson.” And then the other things were put in order, and he was impressed by the repentance of these people. And that’s why he could say in 2 Corinthians 3, he says, “You are a living letter. You are a recommendation of what a church ought to be in the way you conduct yourselves and your genuineness and the way the Holy Spirit flows from you and outside of you.”
So take a look at your life. Are you a living epistle? Are you a letter of recommendation for a number of things, recommendation for people coming here, recommendation of your minister, recommendation for others, where others would say, “Hey, I want to be part of that group because those people, the way they conduct themselves.” Are you a river of water to bring about good and healing and growth? So let’s not be swallowed up by the world but be a living epistle of Jesus Christ.