Friday, September 25, 2015

A Family Feud in the House of God - September 27th

Message notes by Pastor Ewings on a sermon based on Numbers 12:1-15

There was a family feud going on in Moses’ life, and it was no game show.  Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ sister and brother, are leading the charge against God’s prophet. Moses has already faced one struggle after another.  God’s people have already complained that Moses had brought them out of Egypt into the desert to die.  They have moaned and groaned against their leader, and now Moses’ own family decides to get in on it.  This story is an example of sibling rivalry—but not among children. These are adults who adopt the tactics of children in the school yard. 
The initial attack on Moses concerns his wife.  Miriam instigates the bickering with her reference to Moses’ Cushite wife.  It is possible that Moses’ wife, Zipporah, is the one whom Miriam slanders, exaggerating the claim.  It is also possible that Zipporah has died and Moses recently took a new wife who was a Cushite.  This attack is obviously meant to hurt, and the account paints the term “Cushite” in a contemptible manner, like a racist slur.  But really, this is just the pretext.  Like so many, Miriam presents a smoke screen before she comes out with the real issue.  Her main concern is, “Why is Moses God’s favorite?”  Together with her brother, they try and topple Moses from his position of authority and claim some fame for themselves.  They verbally object to Moses’ leadership, asking “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t He also spoken through us?”
The next verse is quite interesting.  In your NIV Bible, it reads, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” That is a very likely translation of the verse, but another option is possible. It would seem strange for a humble character to make the aforementioned claim, that of being more humble than anyone else on the entire planet. It could rightly be that Moses fought with the Holy Spirit, saying, “Please don’t make me write that!” and the Lord said, “Moses, My servant, you will write what I have authored; you don’t get a say in the matter.”  That would attest to Moses’ true humility.  It could also be that the word translated “humble” could mean “miserable.”  The word “miserable” could hardly be more fitting in the context of the chapter considering Moses’ plight.  He has found his lot so difficult, the task so unmanageable, the pressure so unbearable that he cried out “The burden is too heavy for me!” in the previous chapter.  With attacks now originating from within his own family, he is indeed miserable.
Some of the most harrowing words in this text come follow Miriam and Aaron’s outcry.  We read, “And the Lord heard this.” What follows is a dramatic appearance of God with pointed words defending His prophet and condemning all who would oppose Him.  He called Miriam and Aaron forward. Then He called them to listen.  And then He spoke.  His words settle the matter; Moses speaks with God’s authority and no one has the right to question the man the Lord has put in place.  The last line of His response is chilling: “Why were you not afraid to speak against My servant?”  To heighten the matter, the Lord speaks of His burning anger against this sin. Worse yet, He left them. The God Who does not abandon or forsake left them.
Wouldn’t you expect Moses to rejoice?  Wouldn’t you expect Moses to say I told you so!”? Yet we see why so few men are as highly regarded in the Bible as the one who spoke with the Lord face to face.  After all the harm she had caused him, he pleaded with the Lord to heal Miriam.
What lesson are we to learn from this? “Don’t speak against your pastor or else!!!” “Leprosy awaits all who make racist remarks!!!” No; let the Lord Himself show us. He takes sin seriously.  He punishes all who transgress His commands and here, His justice was swift, firm and public in the face of a public sin.  At the same time, see the heart of God’s servant who demonstrates love even in the midst of a family feud.

Lesson 1:  Numbers 12:1-15
Lesson 2:  James 3:13-18
Gospel:  Mark 9:30-37

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Which Way Are You Going? - September 20th

Message Notes by Pastor Ewings on a sermon based on Jeremiah 38:1-13

In today’s Gospel, Jesus told His disciples that if they wanted to come after Him, they must take up their crosses and follow Him.  As we read the account of Jeremiah, a man of God who was tossed into a pit and left to die for proclaiming the Word of the Lord, we have to ask: how heavy was his cross?  At the same time, as we look around at our lives, we have to ask ourselves the same question: how heavy is mine?  Have your feet sunk into the mud with the prophet? 
While we might not find ourselves in the bottom of a pit, struggling in the mud and muck to survive, each one of us bears a cross.  The pain and suffering that mark our lives identify us as followers of Christ.  Yet, the devil wants to take us down, down, down to his level. Satan doesn’t just want you to get your feet a little dirty with the filth of sin; he wants you in over your head.  He wants to sink you deep into the mud and the muck of the sin of this world.  He tries to twist your worldview to make good seem evil and what is godless seem pious.  So which way are you going?
When you find yourself in these spiritual depths, there is no other escape than to run to the Lord for rescue.  He washed you from the filth of the world in the pure waters of baptism.  You are His Own dear child! His Son Jesus’ death and sufferings cover over your wrongs. With your sins forgiven and guilt removed, He pulls you out of Satan’s hell and lifts you up with Him.  Jeremiah surely remembered that when he was in that cistern.  Sunk deep into that muddy pit, he was on firmer ground than anyone else in Israel.  He knew that when he was firmly grounded in the Lord, no one could take him down.  The Lord lifts His people up with Him. 
Jeremiah made it out of the cistern but his cross bearing days weren’t over.  What could be worse for a prophet of God than to have to tell your people, give up, God has forsaken you?  Jeremiah had to watch God’s prophecy fulfilled before his very eyes.  Jerusalem was destroyed.  Many of God’s people were cut off all because they refused to take His Word seriously.  Yet it is there when you might expect Jeremiah to have abandoned all hope in God.  But we see a completely different attitude.   Jeremiah sat in its ashes and penned Lamentations – found just a few pages later in your Bible.  Among his sighs, cries and lamentations, we read:
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord  is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;  it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
When there was literally nothing left for Jeremiah, that is when he must fully rely on God.  Is there a better place to be?  He shows us how dear and wonderful life as a cross bearer is.  Jesus sends crosses to you because He wants to hold you close today and for eternity. 

Lesson 1:  Jeremiah 38:1-13
Lesson 2:  1 Peter 4:12-19
The Gospel:  Mark 8:24-35

Friday, September 11, 2015

You Are Dressed for Success - September 13th

Ephesians: United in Christ
Messages notes on a sermon by Pastor Ewings based on Ephesians 6:10-20 
Living in Alaska, you know that you have to be dressed appropriately for the occasion.  In fact, you’ll find many guides encouraging tourists heading to the Great State to be prepared for all four one day.  While the elements can be fierce, biting winds, bitter cold and blistering blizzards are not our worst enemies; no, we are up against a much fiercer foe.  The devil himself along with the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil unleash their arsenal against us.  If we hope to stand firm, we have to be dressed for the occasion.  We need the armor of God to be dressed for success!

The first piece of armor named is the belt of truth, and appropriately so.  If a soldier had every other piece yet lacked a belt, he would be neither fully equipped nor securely armed. The belt was not merely an adornment but an essential part of his equipment to secure the armor in place.  In the same way, truth is essential to the Christian armament, equipping and securing us for our spiritual battle. 

Next, we are told to put on the breastplate of righteousness.  The Roman breastplate was composed of many pieces of iron fastened together by leather straps, giving great protection to the vital organs.  The Christian is to endue himself with righteousness to protect his heart and will against the fatal thrust of his spiritual assailants. Truly, this is nothing other than the righteousness of Christ. 
If the Christian soldier is to stand up against the attack of the demons, he must see to it that his feet are properly protected and equipped. The Roman soldier wore sturdy, supportive sandals with soles were thickly studded with nails. The Christian soldier should see to it that his feet are equipped with the sandals which will give him a firm footing—the good news that speaks peace to a sinful heart.

The next piece of the panoply described is the shield.  This piece of armor was a large and oblong one, four feet tall and two and a half feet wide.  This shield which the Christian soldier takes up is faith, a trusting faith in the Lord Jesus Who gives victory over sin and the hosts of the devil. The fiery darts refer to arrows tipped with tow, pitch, or such material, set on fire before they were discharged.

The fifth piece of armor is the helmet which wrapped thick iron around a soldier’s head.  Cavalrymen would often carry broadswords which they swung at the heads of enemy soldiers to split their skulls or decapitate them. Although the devil and his minions are armed to the hilt, the Christian soldier is equipped with the knowledge that the outcome of the battle is sure: salvation is ours in Jesus. 

The final element of armor is the sword of the Spirit.  A Roman sword was rather short—just 18 inches long—but extremely versatile and deadly in close combat.  So also is the Word of God.  God’s Word serves both for attack and to parry the thrusts of the enemy, jus as Jesus used it when He was tempted. We can find no greater offensive or defensive weapon in our arsenal than the Word of God.
While the devil will willingly help you into any other armor and put many other weapons in your hand, his ultimate and only goal is to slay you eternally.  So put on the armor of God!  With this armor and weaponry in place, we are more than just dressed for success; we are dressed for salvation. 

Lesson 1:  Deuteronomy 4:1,2,6-9
Lesson 2:  Ephesians 6:10-20
The Gospel:  Mark 7:1-8,14,15,21-23

Friday, September 4, 2015

Your Marriage is Perfect - September 6

Ephesians: United in Christ
Messaged notes by Pastor Ewings on a sermon based on Ephesians 5:21-33

When most people get married, they hope for a fairy tale marriage.  A brand new bride likely expects her handsome beau to sweep her off her feet, her knight in shining armor to rescue her from all her dragons and demons and her prince charming to make sure that she lives happily ever after.  A newly wed groom likely believes that the princess in his castle will always be the fairest one of all, that his Cinderella will joyfully and willingly fulfill all of his needs and desires and that the queen of his heart will submit to his rule.  Many people come into marriage with the expectation that the fairy tale romance will be theirs only to find out soon enough that the lofty dreams are nothing more than a fantasy.
How’s your marriage?  Are you and your spouse living the dream?  Do you have the perfect marriage...or have you spent more time dealing with your imperfections and failures?  Have you and your spouse had your fair share of nightmares?  There are so many things that shatter the dreams of all who fantasize of living happily ever after. Premarital pregnancies, troubled marriages, no-fault divorces, overbearing or abusive husbands, domineering wives, and families caught in the crossfire of the war between the sexes—these are just a few of the reasons why this portion of God’s Word is so applicable to life in today’s Christian congregations.
Of all the advice offered by secular counselors, newspaper columnists and talk-show hosts, none compares to the marriage guidance which God gives in his Word. Who can better define the roles of husband and wife than He who created them in the first place?  The Lord Jesus shows the extent of His love to His bride, the Church, as He describes the components of a perfect marriage.  To the husband, He says love; love your wife as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. To the wife, He says submit; submit to your husband as you submit to the Lord.  These two qualities are what make marriage a little piece of Heaven on earth.  United in Christ, your marriage is perfect—and that’s no fairy tale! 

Lesson One:  Joshua 14:1,2a,14-18
Lesson Two:  Ephesians 5:21-33
Gospel:          John 6:60-69