Updated Children’s Safety Policy

THANK YOU, Bethany Martin, for updating our Children’s Safety Policy!  At Grace, it is very important that our kids are given a safe, loving environment to grow and participate in the Grace family.  A big part of us pursuing this value is that we adult are all on the same sheet of music regarding our Children’s Ministry, especially in the area of our kids’ safety!  Please take a look at our policy–and say “thanks” to Bethany next time you see her!

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Daniel 1:1-2 History and the Hand of God

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.  2 The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god.

I.  The History of the Fall of Jerusalem 1-2

1:1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon

A.  God’s king was defeated 

1.  The loser, Jehoiakim, king of Judah

  • Gladly served as vassal king to Egypt, and then to Babylon.
  • To raise tribute to pay to Egypt’s king, Jehoiakim used the forced, unpaid labor of his own countrymen.
  • Could not be trusted, either by Jews or Egyptians, or Babylonians. 
  • Notoriously attacked anyone who suggested “bad news” to him.  When he was read the writings of Jeremiah the prophet, (whom he later arrested and held prisoner in an empty well/cistern), he took out a pen-knife and cut up the Scriptures!  (Jer 36:22ff)

2.  The winner, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon

  • Nebuchadnezzar” = one of the most amazing, imposing military/ruling kings in the human history. 
  • Three deportations to Babylon: 605, 597, and 586 B.C.  The Babylonian army destroyed Solomon’s Temple in 586BC.

B.  God’s city was surrounded and sacked 1b

Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.

1.  The loser, Jerusalem, capital of Israel

  • “besieged it” = one of the three main attacks on the city of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.  While the initial defeat happened in 605 BC, the city finally was destroyed in 586 BC.
  • Deu 28: 49 “The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand,
  •  F.B. Meyer offers a poignant description of the siege and fall of the city of Jerusalem.  After describing the influx of citizens from the country, and its horrible drain on the resources and infrastructure of the city’s few, precious resources, he goes on to describe the final days of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem.

…So much for the earlier months of the siege:  but as the days passed on, darker shadows gathered.  It was as though the very pit of hell added in human passion the last dread horrors of the scene.  The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, lay by scores in the recesses of the houses, broken like earthen pitchers, the work of the hand of the potter!  The women become cruel, and refused to spare from their breasts for their young the nutriment they needed for themselves.  The tongues of the sucking babes become so dry and parched, that they could no longer cry.  Young children, whose weakness constituted a first claim, asked for bread, and asked in vain. (Jeremiah—Priest and Prophet, F.B. Meyer, Christian Literature Crusade, page 143.)

  • After the fall of Jerusalem in 605 BC, the nation of Israel did not exist as an independent, self-governing state for over 2,500 years, until 1948.

2.  The winner, Babylon, capital of Mesopotamia

  • There was a remarkable renaissance of learning, music, literature during the Second Babylonian kingdom.
  • The city of Babylon itself would impress even if it existed today, for sake of its defensive walls, canal system, parks, gardens, palaces, temples, roadways, gates, and cavernous public buildings.

C.  God’s temple was pillaged. 2

2 The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god.

1.  The loser, Solomon’s Temple…  2a

  • Note:  The Lord “gave” both the king of Judah (Eliakim) and the sacred utensils of the temple into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand.  [Arguably, Nebuchadnezzar also was given the youth of Judah—as had been prophesied to Hezekiah by Isaiah the prophet (Isa 39).]
  • As horrific as the thought is, the texts argues that God’s relationship with Nebuchadnezzar was much like that of an offended landlord hiring out a mercenary to forcibly evict His people off of the land, and out of the city of Jerusalem!  Thus, it is more true to say that Nebuchadnezzar did not steal the Temple’s treasure, but received it from the hand of the God of the Temple!

2.  …the winner, the temple of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian gods 2b

  • and he brought them to the land of Shinar, = (Gen 10-11: Nimrod settled and built a human-ruled kingdom, people settled, against God’s will, Tower of Babel…)
  • to the house of his god(s), and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god. “along with some of the vessels of the house of God…” =  the symbolic humiliation of God, and the safe-guarding of the vast wealth taken from the Temple in Jerusalem.  In the culture of the ancient Middle East, temples were also as banks–they were the safest place to store material wealth, such as the items that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem.

II.         The hardest part of the story:  It was the hand of God that handed over His people and their city!  2

2 The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god.

  • It is notable that the God here is Adonai—the personal, Hebrew name for God.  Despite Nebuchadnezzar’s presumption that he himself was responsible for the defeat of Israel—the text allows for no such possibility.  
  • Psa 44   12 You sell Your people cheaply, And have not profited by their sale.

A.  His means of destroying and pillaging His people: Nebuchadnezzar, God’s “servant”!

  • Nebuchadnezzar, “My servant” (!):  Jer 25   8 “Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Because you have not obeyed My words, 9 behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will send to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them and make them a horror and a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. = Like a boss paying a private contractor, God “paid” Nebuchadnezzar to defeat Israel.

B.  His reason the discipline of His people: their disobedience 

  because you have not obeyed My words…  

  • From Moses (Deut, Lev) to Solomon in the dedication of the Temple, to Isiah 39, Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Ezekiel and Habakkuk, it had been made abundantly clear in their Scriptures that the price of persistent, unrepentant sin against God, and violation of His covenant with them would result in His forcible eviction of His people from their own land, for 70 years.

III.        The (oftentimes hard) mystery of God’s Hand in Our Suffering

A.  Is God really the author of hardship?  God is frequently named as the source of hardship and suffering in the lives of His dearest saints…

  • It is Job crying out, “   17 “For He bruises me with a tempest And multiplies my wounds without cause. 18 “He will not allow me to get my breath, But saturates me with bitterness. (Job 9)
  • It’s Naomi complaining, after the death of her husband and both of her sons in a foreign land, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 “I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
  • It is Jeremiah saying, “ 7 O LORD, You have deceived me and I was deceived; You have overcome me and prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; Everyone mocks me.  8 For each time I speak, I cry aloud; I proclaim violence and destruction, Because for me the word of the LORD has resulted In reproach and derision all day long. Jer 20
  • It is David saying, “He has weakened my strength in the way; He has shortened my days.”  (Ps 102) = “God, You’ve made me WEAKER, not stronger, and You’ve SHORTENED my life expectancy!”
  • It is Psalmist who wrote, “You sell Your people cheaply, And have not profited by their sale. (Psalm 44:12)
  • But it is also Jesus fervently praying to God that the experience of the Cross might be avoided, but that He would put God’s “will” before His own, and go to that Cross.
  • It is Jesus crying out with a loud voice on a dark Friday afternoon, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?!”

CONCLUSION: So where is there hope to be found in suffering?

THE CROSS!  We don’t always know what God is accomplishing in our dark nights, but we DO know what He accomplished on the DARKEST day of human history—the day Jesus hung on a Cross.

  • From  a historical point of view it was just another Roman crucifixion—just another case of a government used by religion to get rid of a Troublemaker…
  • But in view of the hand of God in the crucifixion, something utterly amazing and marvelous happened… heaven’s door was opened for sinners!
  • The who, what, where, and whens of history will never bring us to the deeper meaning behind the things that happen to us–only God possesses the WHYs that we long to know.  And despite the darkness that might best describe the present chapter of your life–believers are blessed to know the end of the “book,” the whys of history–God is at work to bring about His own glory displayed in all creation, and the promised redemption of His people!
  • Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die? Would he devote that sacred head, for sinners such as I?  By God’s plan, YES!
  • Hope is found when we press beyond the mere history of trouble to see the hand of God at work in our lives through the greatest hope—the Cross of Christ.
  • Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Christ into the City: Corinth (Series summary)

With this final sermon of our series, Christ into the City, we can make some broad, general observations about the expected effects of believers in Jesus entering into their surrounding culture (the city of Portland, in our case!), and simply talking about Jesus in a way that invites our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc., to enter into a relationship with Him.

But, as we’ve seen over these past weeks in our sermons on Acts 16-18, when the good news of hope and forgiveness found in Jesus Christ bump up against the values of our culture, of any culture, that culture will inevitably bump back!  But, along with opposition and indifference, we can also count on the Lord Himself reaching into the hearts of those who hear our message, and calling people to relationship with Him.

In Philippi, we saw that the values of the culture bumped up against the materialism and profiteering nature of that culture, when slave-owners brought Paul before the town judgment seat because in driving a demonic spirit from their slave-girl, he’d destroyed their hope of continued profit off of her fortune telling.

In Thessalonica, we found that the good news of Jesus was offensive and threatening to the leaders of the synagogue there, as they saw Paul’s message taking hold of many of the members of their synagogue, particularly members who were very influential and prominent in their city.

In Athens, we found the simple, but astounding, claims of the gospel both offending and intriguing the intellectual gate-keepers and philosophy teachers of that city.

In Corinth, we find that the claims of the gospel can enter into the grittiest, most worldly culture imaginable, and powerfully convince people that there is hope beyond the simple satisfaction of their sensual desires.

In each city Paul, preached in (save Athens) the gospel was met with suspicion, opposition that led to persecution, and eventually, an appeal to the Roman government to intervene against this new religion brought to their city by this Jew from Tarsus.  But…in each city people believed in Jesus, and found deliverance from sin, hope for the future, and a genuine, spiritual community in which to belong, grow, and thrive!

In this sermon, we discuss both the need for courage in our speaking of Jesus to the surrounding culture and of the dynamic of opposition that we may well find as we seek to speak out of Him.  That’s the bulk of this sermon.  But the primary idea that I wanted to express is that for Christ to be truly brought to the city, to our city, we must open our mouths and speak of Him—clearly, courageously, often, and with great sensitivity and humility.  Many in in the United States and Europe today speak ruefully of the concept that we are now a Post-Christian socity:  our cultures values, laws, customs, lifestyles, etc., no long reflect a respect for the teachings, beliefs and practices of Christianity. This is demonstrated in many ways, from our entertainment industry to our financial crises, to our soaring rates of divorce, to our confusion regarding sexual ethics and the definition of marriage, to our educational system.  Well-meaning Christians sometimes seem to mourn the loss of a supposed Christian culture in the West.

However, I believe that our responsibility and tremendous opportunity as Christians in this time, wherever we are, is to view our culture as being decidedly Pre-Christian and waiting for someone to share with it an answer that truly works—the answer of the gospel of Jesus!  Let’s stop grieving over a past temple of our old practices and habits, and start reveling in the amazing opportunities and fascinating, precious people that the Lord has put before us!

We were hard-wired by God Himself to be obedient, effective followers of Jesus Christ, including witnesses to the gospel of Jesus–right where we’re at; here, today, at this specific time in history.  Let’s embrace that idea, and stop the hand-wringing over what our world has come to, and how tough it is to be a Christian, and how no one’s interested in Jesus anymore, etc!  Let’s stop the whining and complaining!  Instead, start planning to witness the amazing, earth-shaking power of the love of God, when it is turned loose in a culture–a culture like ours, when we simply open our mouths and tell people about Jesus.  We were made for this moment!  That’s how Paul seemed to have viewed his culture, and his place in it, and I believe our efforts and hopes should be set along the same lines as those of the great Apostle!

Blessings, Pastor Ken

Psalm 139:13-16 God knew you before we knew you…

This portion of Psalm 139 speaks of God’s relationship to human life in the womb, before birth occurs.  In fact, the Psalm even argues that God’s Personal relationship to every human life exists before a person even possesses a physical body!  

I.  God decided to create you before you were conceived. 13-14

13 For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb.  14 I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Thy works, And my soul knows it very well.

A.  It is GOD, and not us, who creates. 13

13 For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.

This verse takes away the argument that it is solely an issue between a father and mother whether or not they will conceive a child—God claims a proprietary (ownership) right in the matter.

1.  He formed our inward parts = our deepest, core identity. 13a

13 For You formed my inward parts; = kidneys = the deepest organs, most inaccessible. Ancient cultures/languages referred figuratively to the kidneys as the seat of the innermost core of one’s personality.

2.  He wove us in the womb. 13b

You wove me in my mother’s womb. = covered, protection and concealment.  = like the veils of the Temple and Tabernacle, intricately woven fabrics designed as the boundaries and borders of places where the Almighty God chose to dwell with His people.

B.  God’s creation of life—all life—is a cause for grateful praise. 14

14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.

Application: There are no “unwanted” or “excess” people with God, so all can thank/praise God for life itself.

II.  Before you existed God knew you. 15-16a  

15 My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; 16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;

A.  God knew you before you were “know-able” 15a

15 My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, = Our physical structure, our bones, were always present and observed by God.

Illustration: Part of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade was based in the court’s admission that the greatest minds of science, medicine, and theology had been unable to reach a consensus on when human life began, and so the Court would not bother itself with that issue.  But the Bible does tell us when life begins—it begins when God identifies it, names it, knows it—long before we can “see” it with our technology and scientific application.

B.  God made your body as a dwelling place for Himself 15b

And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; = woven (roqem) together in a skillful fashion, in the womb= Allusion to the roqem work of the tabernacle, the Psalm goes further, implying not only that God has made the infant in the womb, but also that the infant is being woven into a dwelling for God.  What tragedy it is that some would claim the right to violate and destroy this marvelous place of divine dwelling!

C.  God saw you before you were “see-able” 16a

16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; = (go’lem = embryo, fetus) = unformed substance = David’s substance (material aspect) BEFORE it was formed, as in conception.  This is how the verse has often been understood.  But an embryo or a fetus (medical names given to the unborn person) does have a form, a recognizable structure!  However, David states that God recognized us when we could not be seen, by the human eye, microscope, or any other instrument of measurement.   This means nothing less than the astounding assertion, by David, that God recognizes, plans, and sees human life before the life exists in a physically recognizable form!  As Pastor Ray Stedman said, “There is not a subatomic particle anywhere in the universe over which God is not absolutely sovereign.”  Apparently, to God, human life begins BEFORE conception—although it is at that time that human life becomes merely recognizable to other humans. According to this text, life begins when God began life—when God said, “Let there be…”, “and there was…”!

Application:  A God who took such care in creating you, from the yesterdays of eternity past, can be trusted to care for your life today.

III.  Before you were conceived God determined each day of your life. 16b

And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.

God has a plan and purpose for us, before we’re even born!  Cf. the acknowledgement of purpose and identity of unborn children in the Bible:  God knows and orders the events and course of human life before that life sees the light of day: There are a few places in the Bible where the lives of the unborn are mentioned.

Ishmael = Destiny foretold: Hagar conceived with Abraham, prophecy about the child in her womb  (Gen. 16)

Jacob and Esau = Destiny foretold (Gen 25)

Samson = Destiny, Consecration to ministry “set apart to the Lord” from the womb, “will begin to deliver his people from the Philistines” (Judges 13:5-7,16:7)

Jeremiah = Consecration, “from the womb”: Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

John the Baptist = Consecration, response to Messiah.  Leaping in the womb at the presence of the Lord Jesus (who was in Mary’s womb!) (Luke 1:39-44)

Paul = consecration: set apart “from the womb”: Galatians 1:15 But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased

Jesus = Consecration, from the womb (Isaiah 49:1 Listen to Me, O islands, And pay attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called Me from the womb; From the body of My mother He named Me.),  49:5 And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him (For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, And My God is My strength), = “from the womb” = before birth God has a relationship with people.  Purpose and role in life, from the womb: Isa 9   6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this. = The gender, political role, reputation, accomplishments, extent of power, source of power, etc., are all known and told regarding this Child, Jesus Christ.

What about us today, here at Grace Church?  The God who knew you, loved you, and then created you—can be trusted with your life today.

Acts 18:1-8 Christ into the City: Part 9: Κόρινθον

Introduction: Leaving Athens, Paul arrived in Corinth 1

1 After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth.

Athens = intellectual capital of the region/ancient Mediterranean world

Corinth = political capital, cultural capital, financial capital.  Geography: located in the narrowest part of Greece, between the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. Culture: Much wealth, much opportunity, much immorality, host of the Isthmian Games every two years.

Big Question: What can we expect if we seek to bring Christ into our city?  Answer:  If we intend to bring Christ to our city, we will need to find true companions to share life with, we’ll need to stick to a Christcentered message despite rejection, and we can expect to see a vibrant, growing, diverse, multi-cultural community of God’s people. 

I.  We need to have COMPANIONS if we are to bring Christ to our city. 2-3  

2 And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, 3 and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working; for by trade they were tent-makers.

A.  We are not meant to live our faith in isolation.

B.  Paul found people with whom he shared things in common, like Aquila and Priscilla…

1.  They shared a common homeland.  (Pontus, Asia Minor)

2.  They shared a common religious background—Judaism.

3.  They shared a common trade—tent makers.  Probably in Corinth for the same reasons, to make money sewing and repairs tents for tourists at the Isthmian Games.

4.  They shared a common experience of being evicted from a city because of their religion.

C.  The growth of their relationship:  Life-long friendship in ministry with Aquila and Priscilla.  (Ephesus, Rome, etc.)

Application: We must have quality, long-standing relationships with Christian companions if we are to sustain a life-long goal of reaching people for Jesus in our city. We will most likely enter into these relationships through the routine, normal events and circumstances of life—so we should always be alert!

II. We’ll need to stick to an exclusively CHRIST-CENTERED message if we are to bring Christ to our city. 4-6

 4 And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6 And when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads! I am clean. From now on I shall go to the Gentiles.”

A.  The Christ-centered message: Jesus is the only hope of every human being in the world!  Believe on Him and finds forgiveness, life, and hope!

Cf. 1 Cor 1  21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. = Paul didn’t cater his message to make it more pleasing and reasonable to the city.

Cf. 1 Cor 2:1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.  2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. = Paul purposefully limited all of his teaching and preaching to the facts of the death (and resurrection) of Jesus Christ.

B.  The resulting conflict: hostility and blasphemy/insult.  As we’ve learned in the other cities of Paul’s journeys, when the gospel pushes against the privileges and interests of a group, that group will push back against the gospel!

C.  The decision of Paul: Withdrawal from the synagogue, immersion into the culture of Corinth—the Gentiles.

Application: The message that we’ll share with our city will only be the gospel of Jesus Christ—and we will not share any other message as if it were the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is very tempting to design a type of “gospel” that will not alienate us from others, and that others will not criticize or scorn.  But to present anything other idea or action as a means of salvation is a terrible thing to do–only faith in Jesus alone can save!

III.  We should expect a distinct COMMUNITY to form—the church!  7-8

7 And he departed from there and went to the house of a certain man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue. 8 And Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.

A.  The process:  Hearing, believing, being baptized = all active verbs.  Literally. “As they continued to hear the message of Jesus there was a continuous stream of Corinthians believing in Jesus and identifying with Him and his church by being baptized.”

B.  Who made up this new community of God’s people, the church of Corinth?

…God-fearing Greeks, like Titius Justus

…Jews, like Crispus (former leader of the synagogue!)

…Paul, Silas and Timothy

…Aquila and Priscilla

…many Corinthians =

…Erastus, the Treasurer of the town (2 Tim 4:20)

…Phoebe, who lived in nearby Cenchrea (Rom 16:1-2)

…Stephanas (1 Cor 1:16),

…Fortunatus and Achaicus (1 Cor 16:17)

…Sosthenes (1 Cor 1:1)

…and a great number of people whose lives were changed, and changing–as they joined this new, grace-filled community of God in the city of Corinth = 1Co 6: 9 …fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God. = People with all sorts of hang-ups and sins and problems started showing up at this church in Corinth!  They did not show up to church perfectly resolved, completely improved, never-again-to-relapse, etc., but they came as they were–needy, eager, and hopeful.  

Do we every find ourselves grateful that these types of folks are NOT in our churches, when we should be frustrated and deeply concerned that very few of them ARE with us?!?!  Why aren’t more drunkards, thieves, homosexuals, etc., flocking to our churches to find hope and healing, and why doesn’t it bother us that they aren’t here?!

Application: When a Christian keeps sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, we can expect that people will hear, believe, and be baptized into the faith.  As this happens, we should fully expect that our community—this church—will continue to attract a widening array of different kinds of people from different kinds of backgrounds—all seeking to learn more, go deeper, and live out a life in Jesus Christ.

A bit of background on Corinth

Ancient and modern Corinth, Greece
Although modern Corinth is much smaller than ancient Corinth, both in size and population, the presence of modern homes, farms, and other structures has limited excavation of the ancient city to a mere fraction of its total area. The above picture contains both ancient and modern Corinth, and the area is believed to be where the synagogue of Paul’s day was located.

In case you would like to familiarize yourself with the background of this coming Sunday’s sermon (Christ into the City: Corinth), here is a brief survey of ancient city.  While two thousand years have passed, and it seems our North American culture is vastly different from that of an ancient Roman city—historians and archaeologists have provided ample evidence that we today in North American, perhaps more intently in our larger cities, could in many ways be considered cultural twins of Corinth.  Many of us might feel right at home living on the eastern slopes facing the Aegean Sea in that giant metropolis.  In fact, we might even be eager to live in Corinth, given the wonderful climate, cutting-edge culture, great wealth to be gained there, and the endless opportunities of pleasure and recreation found there…

Geographically, Corinth had a more-than-adequate water supply for its 700,000 residents, plentiful food sources, and a pleasant climate.  It couldn’t have been better situated for success and wealth, being positioned at the cross-roads of the ancient Roman world between North, South, East, and West.  Its location brought endless opportunities for trade and enrichment to the Corinthians through the variety of goods available in the city and the taxation of merchandise being transported through the city.  Corinth stood on a five-mile-wide isthmus (a narrow neck of land between two large bodies of water), separating the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas.  Rather than sail along the treacherous, rocky shores of Greece (over 200 very dangerous miles) merchant boats would sail to one of Corinth’s two harbors (one on its western side, one on its east), haul their boats out of the sea, and drag them along a marble-paved, well-greased road called the diokos.  The vessels were then put back into the water on the other side of the isthmus, and they continued on either to Asia (if they were going east) or to Italy (if they were going west).  Offering all that a merchant or sailor might look for in a port, Corinth became the favorite port-of-call for those who made their living on the seas.  Click here for a great map of Paul’s Second Missionary Journey.

Economically, being a major cross-roads town made Corinth one of the richest cities in the world.  Though the ancient city of Corinth had been destroyed centuries earlier by the Romans, Julius Caesar had rebuilt the city just 150 years before.  The city had the odor of new money wafting through its narrow, ancient Mediterranean alleys and streets, much like Gold Rush San Francisco or 1980’s Silicon Valley.  It was full of ex-slaves who had gone into business, worked like slaves to make a profit, and then became enslaved to their money and possessions!  If a person was quick on his feet, could smell a good deal and strike quickly to take advantage—he just might become wildly rich.

Culturally, Corinth was one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the ancient world, with Romans, Greeks, Europeans, Asians, and Africans making up its population.  Restaurants, trade-guilds, temples, businesses and shops abounded—along with a thriving adult-entertainment industry providing sexual services of all imaginable varieties, and some that we might have trouble imagining!  The multi-cultural nature of Corinth resulted in many varieties of beliefs and customs found in the city.  The Isthmian Games were held every two years, bringing much wealth and tourism into the city.  At the games, athletes from the ancient Mediterranean world would compete in events such as javelin throwing, foot races, wrestling, long jump, etc., drawing huge crowds to the festival associated with the competition.  Many tourists purchased tents to stay in during their stay for the Isthmian Games.  It is probable that it was to make some money from his trade as a tent-maker that Paul chose to travel to Corinth, of all places.  Another tent-maker couple, Aquila and Priscilla, had recently left Rome, and likely had chosen to go to Corinth for the same, economically-driven reason as Paul.  But aside from the usual practice of supporting himself through tent-making, Paul had another, deeper agenda in his heart as he made the trek from Athens to Corinth: He sought to extend the gospel of his Lord Jesus Christ into the city of Corinth through the preaching of that gospel of Jesus Christ.  But how to accomplish such a task in such a place?  Corinth as decidedly the most un-Christian city in the ancient world before it had even heard about Christ!  Its temple of Aphrodite, which daily sent scores, if not hundreds, of both male and female prostitutes into the streets and squares of Corinth below to perform sexual acts with tourists, visitors, and residents was already legendary in the culture of ancient Rome.  The general party-spirit of the city gave rise to the term Corinthize, which described the most morally base behavior imaginable:  On the stages of theaters across the empire, the classic character of The Corinthian appeared—always drunk, staggering across the stage, and acting the part of the fool.  As it is informally said of Las Vegas today, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” the same could truly be said, “What happens in Corinth stays in Corinth!”

This Sunday, we’ll hear what does happen in such a city when a determined, unknown travelling preacher named Paul arrives with a message of hope and forgiveness to a truly burned out culture, exhausted by its own relentless pursuit of pleasure and meaning…

Acts 17:16-34 Christ into the City, Part 8: Athens

To hear this sermon, click here.

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.  17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. 18 And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”– because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? 20 “For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” 21 (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.) 22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ 29 “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” 33 So Paul went out of their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

Big Question: We are pretty clear on the WHAT of the good news of Jesus Christ, but HOW are we to deliver this good news to the city?  Perhaps we are more clear on the Content of our message, but not so clear on what should be the Character of the messengers!!

1. We must cultivate a SENSITIZED SPIRIT to the customs, experiences and need  of those around us.

Paul’s “spirit was provoked” as he realized and felt the emptiness of the lives of the Athenians, and recognized their desperate attempts to connect with the divine.  Their many idols betrayed the utter failure to find spiritual peace and wholeness, and the tragic end of man living a life that does not acknowledge and worship the one true God.  We will make better connections with the people we hope to share Christ with if we gain not only an understanding of their life experience, but also tender, “provoked” heart towards them.

2.  We must practice a GRACIOUS APPROACH to those we wish to speak to about Jesus.

Paul recognized and followed the customary, accepted modes of effective communication for the city of Athens.  Paul showed respect for those who disagreed with him, despite their discourteous responses to him.  “Men of Athens…”  A hearing that is earned and desired from our listeners will prove to be more productive than one that is demanded by the Christian.  It is our responsibility to learn and apply what has been proven the most effective means of communication in the culture that we hope to reach.

Bad Examples today: “Religious interviews”, Bullhorn evangelism, Door-to-Door, manipulative giveaways, “free” concerts and meals, tract bombing, cold calling, confrontational, videotaping, etc. These are evangelism strategies that at best seem misguided and out of touch with the culture’s communication norms, and at worst manipulative and self-serving.

3.  We must develop a CLEAR, CONCISE PRESENTATION of the gospel.

It is arguable that this sermon is recorded here in its entirety—but whether this is the entire sermon or not, it is clear that Paul spoke very directly, succinctly, and got to the point without wasting time!  To share the good news of Jesus Christ clearly and succinctly demonstrates respect for those we are speaking to and also gives evidence that we truly understand the message ourselves. We are to speak as Charles Spurgeon, a historic 19th century preacher, sought to preach:

 “Do not aim to simply be understood by your listeners…speak so that you cannot be misunderstood!”

This calls for a thought-out, concise, reasoned presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ. 

4.  We must demonstrate a HUMBLE ACCEPTANCE of peoples’ response to the gospel.

“So Paul went out of their midst” = he was excused!  He didn’t cause a scene—just submitted himself to their decision, and treated them with respect.  When the conversation is over–as judged by our listener communicating that he/she is no longer interested in pursuing it–we should respect what is being communicated to us, not insist on continuing to speak, though unwanted!  People may indeed physically hear what you are saying to them, but once they have stopped listening, you have lost the ability to influence them.  An effective communicator seeks to win people, not arguments.  

5.  We must rest in a UNSHAKABLE CONFIDENCE that some people will believe the gospel!

Dionysius, Damaris, and “others”!  We can rest assured that God’s word, when shared with clarity and respect—will definitely be blessed by God. Though many or most may reject our message of hope—some will believe, and their lives will be forever blessed!  We cannot control how people will receive our message of hope, and many later think more about what they’ve heard and receive it, without our even knowing!  However, we can draw great assurance knowing that God will bless His Word, in His way and time, if we simply put it out there in kindness, sincerity, and courage.

It is most likely that Paul spoke to the Areopagus Council in a public stoa (porch), such as this one at the foot of the Acropolis.
It is most likely that Paul spoke to the Areopagus Council in a public stoa (porch), such as this one at the foot of the Acropolis.

 

People still sell and shop as they did in the time of Paul at the Old Market in Athens.
People still sell and shop as they did in the time of Paul at the Old Market in Athens.

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Christ into the City, Part 7: Berea Acts 17:1-15

To hear the audio of this sermon, click here.

When we survey the growth of the Christian faith in the book of Acts, it is apparent that we are really looking at the growth of the gospel into, and out of, cities.  In our series Christ into the City we are considering the effect of the gospel when it reaches the cities of Paul’s Second Missionary journey (Acts 16-18), particularly the cities of Greece.

The Bereans are called “noble” by the author, Luke.  This nobleness has to do with having an open mind and a welcoming attitude towards the Word of God when Paul shared it with them–in the synagogue.  Particularly, the Bereans are noted for the open-mindedness and intellectual honestly in contrast to the Jewish leaders of Thessalonica, just 40 miles to the east of there.  It is key that we understand both the response of the Thessalonians (vv1-9) and the Bereans (vv10-15).  In considering these two groups and their different responses to the gospel, we can understand the differences between a city rejecting the gospel and a city receiving it.

The Thessalonians’ rejection of the gospel, and subsequent persecution of Paul and his associates, and the new Christians of Thessalonica, was rooted in jealousy (v5).  We are jealous when we feel we are threatened with the loss of gaining something we want, or keeping something we value.  The Jewish leaders of Thessalonica valued the influence they had with the wealthier men and women of their city, the power they had in their own synagogue, and the relatively safe and protected relationship they had with the local government and the national government in Rome.  Paul’s message, and its acceptance by synagogue attenders who attacked themselves to Paul, having believed in his gospel–threatened the Jewish leaders, leading them to provoke, threaten, misrepresent, and seize Jason, a new convert.  Ultimately, Paul and his company were forced to leave the city, fleeing by night to Berea.  When the gospel is clearly preached and believed people who do not believe and value it are sometimes threatened, and respond with hostility to those who have chosen to believe.  That’s what happened in Thessalonica, and it may happen today when a person’s choice to believe in the gospel is interpreted as loss to those in his/her world.

The Bereans, on the other hand, were open-minded, and enthusiastically explored “daily” the teaching that Paul brought to them–pouring over their own Scriptures to see if Paul’s assertion that this Jesus he spoke of was actually the promised Messiah.  Their open-mindedness and humility, their willingness to follow the truth, no matter where it led–led them right to a God who loved them so much He sent His Son to the earth to die for sinners!  They eagerly studied the Scriptures, believed, and then became courageous Christians–protecting Paul from the same Jews who had chased him out of Thessalonica, and then come to Berea to do the same to him there!  The Berean brothers saw that Paul was safely taken away from danger, escorting him to the safety of Athens, 300 miles away.  This took courage on their part, in the face of their angry and hostile fellow Jews of Thessalonica.  Also, they became members of a new community–the church of Berea.  They joined themselves into a new family–the church, identifying with the people of the Messiah over and above all social, gender, and class distinction.

Acts 17:1-9 Christ into the City, Part 6: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Acts 17.1-9 Christ into the City, Part 6 1 Thess 2:1-10

There is no audio available for this sermon, sorry!  Here are the notes…

1 For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.

It appears that Paul had come under criticism from the Jewish synagogue leaders of Thessalonica.  Their accusation may well have been, “This Paul fellow rolled into town, upset the status quo, tried to bilk our good citizens out of their money and loyalty, and when he was exposed—he beat feet out of town in the middle of the night!  He’s a phony!”  Paul’s response?  “Our ministry in Thessalonica was certainly NOT a waste of time!  Why in the world would anyone continue to preach a message that brought them so much pain and hardship?!  The very fact that we continued to speak boldly, despite threats and hardship, gives testimony of the sincerity of our motives, and of our personal confidence in what we were preaching to you!!”

Paul goes on to list the value and nature of his ministry to the Thessalonians, in both negative and positive descriptions.  He fully expected the Thessalonian Christians to affirm his argument; six times he reminds them in these verses, “You yourselves know this!”   The point here, as I see it, is that just as the Thessalonians were perfectly capable of discerning a true versus a phony pastor, so we today possess the skills of observation and discernment to do that same!

Our big question today is, How can we recognize a genuine, trustworthy pastor? With Paul’s example from this text we will see that the answer is this: The trustworthy pastor is the pastor who lives to please God, not people, and who deeply loves the people he leads, not himself.

 The trustworthy pastor…

1.  His teaching is clear and logical 3a

3 For our exhortation does not come from error  

2.  He doesn’t harbor a desire to seduce and use people 3b

…or impurity  = (akarthos = filthy, unclean) = mostly used to describe sexual sin, along with the word porneia.  It was routine for the religious leaders of the cults to lure their followers into sexual relations as a part of their religious ritual.  A trustworthy pastor steers a wide path away from the mere suggestion of being flirtatious or inappropriate or overly focused on sexual issues.  He maintains very high and clear standards in all his relationships, especially with those of the opposite sex!

3.  He never schemes to get his way 3c

…or by way of deceit; 4  but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. = the awareness of his accountability before God keeps the trustworthy pastor from pursuing manipulative, self-serving schemes with those he leads.

4.  He never uses flattery to control people 5a

5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, = Flattery = assuring people that they are, in their present state, exceptional, okay, in no need of change. When a leader flatters those he leads, he is taking advantage of people’s desire to feel valuable, exceptional, and acceptable as they are. When a leader uses this need to gain influence over people, he is violating his calling to speak truth at all times, no matter the cost.

5.  He doesn’t cherish a secret longing for wealth 5b 

…nor with a pretext for greed– God is witness— = Pretext for greed = NIV: “…nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed

Cf: 2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God. = there were many in Paul’s day who made a living out of public speaking, including exegeting the OT (Jewish) Scriptures.  

Cf: 1 Tim 6  9 But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.  10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. = As Christian leaders are trusted with great responsibilities, and often resources, there are many temptations to use the ministry for one’s personal enrichment, instead of the good of God’s people.  The desire for wealth is a deep, dark hole that many good preachers have fallen into—and some never have climbed out of it!

6.  He doesn’t seek praise from people 6a

6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, = Paul neither sought nor needed the praise of people to feel satisfaction with his work.

7.  He never intimidates people to get his way 6b

even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority = baros = heaviness)  = Literally, Paul never threw his weight around to push people into a corner, forcing the to support his ideas and desires.  Some pastors (and I think I’m one of them!) benefit from hearing the word “No” spoken to them regularly!

8.  He loves his church like a Mother loves her children. 7-8 

…gentle = But we proved to be gentle among you, = (nepios = a little child) = gentle and not harmful

…caring = as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.

…deeply affectionate = 8 Having so fond an affection for you, = fond or tender feeling toward somebody or something

…open-hearted/vulnerable = we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. = Paul was transparent with the Thessalonian believers, sharing his very life with them.  This included his ups and downs, successes and failures, etc.  We might say, “Paul let them in to his real soul—warts and all!”  It is a challenge for leaders to be transparent, humble, and genuine before their church, week after week, Sunday after Sunday, knowing that some may judge their vulnerability and openness as a weakness or dis-qualifier for ministry. (cf. 1 Cor 2:1-5)

9.  He leads his church like a good Father leads his family. 9-12

  …sets an example of hard work in service to others 9

9 For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. = Note, it is not simply working hard at any job…Paul is here commending working hard so that those he cared for would not be burdened by him.  There was a purpose to his hard work that went way beyond simply “Bringing home the bacon”!

…sets an example of spiritual integrity 10

10 You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers;

Devoutly = towards God, holy and godly

Uprightly = dikaios = righteously = towards people, treating people right

Blamelessly = innocent, a clear conscience, with nothing to hide, no secret, cherished sins or unresolved ethical issues.

…consistently points each member of his church to please God with their lives. 11-12

11 just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, 12 so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. = Note, the goal here isn’t to encourage each member to live a life that pleases the pastor, but to live so as to please God!  Also, note that Paul’s example was to encourage “each” of the Thessalonians; a trustworthy pastor invests in the personal, one-on-one encouragement of his members as much as the preparation and delivery of the weekly sermon to the crowd.

 

1 Thessalonians 1:5-8 Christ into the City, Part 5: Thessalonica

Big Question:  What are some evidences of a living, healthy church of Jesus Christ today? 

Answer:  A living, healthy church of is a place where the members honor the Word of God, they turn away from idols and to God, and they begin to place their hope and desires on Jesus Christ alone. 

I.  THE BIBLE: A healthy church is exclusively focused on the Word of God 5-8

5 for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.

Restated: When Christ is at work in His church, there is an unwavering, singular loyalty to the Bible, the very Word of God.

a.  The preaching and teaching is treated as more than “word only” but is marked by supernatural power, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and overwhelming confidence as it is preached and taught. 5

b.  There is a joyful willingness on the part of the members to endure suffering and mistreatment for their obedient adherence to the Word of God. 6-7

c.  There is a deliberate, resounding proclamation of the Word of God out into the surrounding culture. 8

II.  IDOLS: A healthy, living church constantly turns away from the empty, dead idols, and instead turns to serve our living, true God.  9

9 For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God,

Restated:   A life-long struggle is begun to expose and reject the faulty goals and desires we’ve served, and to instead embrace a true, living God.

What is an idol?  (Bible Background Commentary) = Among major cults in Thessalonica were the Egyptian cults of Serapis and Isis, as well as those of the more traditional Greek gods like Dionysus; some of the upper class sponsored the cult of Cabirus from the Aegean island of Samothrace.

Dr. Timothy Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods, gives this definition: “[An idol] is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” Keller makes a powerful and repeated point that idols cannot be simply removed from one’s life—they must be replaced by a better object of worship (one that accomplishes what your soul cries out for!):  Jesus Christ.  Which naturally leads to the final mark of a healthy church…

III.  JESUS:  A healthy church places all her longing and trust in the Lord Jesus.  10

10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. 

A.  Raised from the dead = validated as righteous, confirmed as the sin-bearer

Acts 17 30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

B.  Rescues from the wrath to come = (cf. 1 Thess 5:1-11) 

God’s wrath towards His enemies: Nahum 1:2 A jealous and avenging God is the LORD; The LORD is avenging and wrathful. The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies  3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. In whirlwind and storm is His way, And clouds are the dust beneath His feet.

God’s wrath is Jesus’ wrath, and will one day overwhelm all on earth = Rev 6 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

C.  How does Jesus rescue from this coming wrath?

a.  in the past, He rescued from sin’s power, when He died on the Cross for sin.

b.  in the present  He rescues us from sin’s power by granting us His Holy Spirit to empower us and assure us of our adoption into God’s family.

c.  in the future He will rescue us from the horrors of the Day when God the Father unleashes he fury against sin, and from the very presence of sin forever.

Application:  For us today…  Believe in Jesus; escape the coming wrath of God!

John 3:36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”