The Crucible (Palm Sunday)

Luke 19:28-40
Mark 14:26-72

Derek Lam is a courageous young Christian leader living in Hong Kong, who has entered The Crucible. In August, 2017 he wrote in The New York Times about the suppression of human rights for Christians in China:

Since I was 16 years old, I have wanted to be a pastor. I was raised in a Christian family in Hong Kong that urged me to live by biblical principles and it is for that reason that I am likely to be jailed next month and that I will be barred from ever becoming a pastor. There is an unprecedented erosion of Christian religious freedom in Hong Kong, believers forced to worship in underground churches, the government tearing down church buildings. The only way to avoid trouble, Lam says, is for Christians to bow down to the current leader of China—Xi Jinping. I won’t make Jesus bow down to Xi Jinping. Although there is nothing I would love more than to become a pastor and preach the gospel in Hong Kong, I will never do so if it means making Jesus subservient to Xi Jinping. Instead, I will continue to fight for religious freedom in Hong Kong, even if I have to do it from behind bars.” 1

hot crucible for melting metal

According to Cambridge Dictionary a ‘crucible’ is “a container in which metals and other substances can be heated to a very high temperature” 2 In that regard, crucibles come in various shapes and sizes and are used for the processing of metals and/or crystals.

Thankfully, Derek Lam didn’t enter a literal crucible. The word ‘crucible’ can also be used figuratively to describe being in a life situation that presents an opportunity for, according to Mr. Webster, “severe testing.” 3

History is replete with stories of people who have suddenly and often without warning found themselves in a crucible of severe testing.

Today’s history places our beloved Saint Peter in the crucible. The pressure must have been intense as Peter fears his reaction to the query about his relationship to Jesus could very well carry life or death consequences.

When re-live Peter’s story or hear stories of people who have suddenly found themselves in the crucible, we often wonder what we would do in similar circumstances.

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Situational Awareness

I Chronicles 29:1-18
Luke 12:13-21

A fellow was riding a bus when he suddenly realized he needed to pass gas. The music was really loud, so he decided to decrepitate with the beat. After a couple of songs, he felt better much as he approached his stop. As he was leaving the bus, people were really giving him the stink eye. And that’s when it hit him; the music he’s been tooting to is coming through his own ear-buds.

You could say that he needed to brush up on his ‘SA’; Situational Awareness.

The term ‘Situational Awareness,’ simply knowing what is going on around you, was coined first during the Korean War as it concerned aircraft and naval vessels. But it began to make its way into our everyday vernacular about 10 years ago as it concerns the ability to survive in an emergency situation. Today the term now includes Cyber SA, Emergency Response SA, Healthcare SA, Nursing SA, Plant Management SA, and so on.

It seems to me the term Situational Awareness can be adopted for use in the church as it regards our spiritual lives. For us to faithfully live as Jesus wishes us to, requires a sense of SA. This can be applied to many aspects of our life with God. Two weeks ago, I didn’t mention Situational Awareness, but it was implied as we talked about avoiding temptation. Last Wednesday, the Senior’s watched a video that reminded us that no matter how bad things might become, Situational Awareness remind us that God is closer than we think.

However today, I want to apply SA to Christian stewardship; that is our use of our resources, possessions and particularly money. If we are going to be faithful to God in this regard, then it is imperative that we are Situationally Aware.

And for us to be Situationally Aware as it concerns our use of money, we must come to grips with the Bible fact that GOD OWNS IT ALL!

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Avoiding Temptation

Matthew 6:7-13
I Peter 5:8-11

If you were only 8 years old and saw a commercial advertising a delicious Big Mac how far would you go to get your hands on one of those famous cheeseburgers? A boy from East Palestine, Ohio was not going to be deterred from getting one. While his parents slept, he tuned into YouTube on how to drive a car, grabbed his 4 year old sissy to ride shotgun and took off for the mile and half journey to the nearest McDonalds. When he pulled up to the drive-through window to get his hands on that burger, the attendant thought it best to call the law, who allowed them to satisfy their cravings while waiting to be picked up by their grandparents. Local police later discovered from cameras and eye-witnesses that the boy did a great job of driving through four lighted intersections where he stopped and waited till one red light turned green and then yielded to on-coming traffic to make the left into McD’s. 1

For that 8 year old, it was a Big Mac.

What is it that tempts us beyond our capacity to resist? For to be sure, each one of us have certain temptations that are particularly troubling to us. And the world, the flesh and the devil work well together at finding our weakest points and seducing us with them.

Before we take the next step in this journey that will focus on overcoming temptation, it would behoove us to consider some ways that will help us avoid temptation in the first place. And all are rooted in the phrase, “Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13).

This is one of the verses we looked at last week where we saw that at first glance it looks as though Jesus is laying the blame for temptation at the feet of His Father.

But we very clearly saw that the rest of the New Testament is clear that God is not the one who tempts us. James 1:13 is representative: “And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and He never tempts anyone else.”

So what does, “Lead us not into temptation mean?”

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Overture to Temptation

Today as we open a Biblical inquiry into the subject of ‘temptation, ’I begin with an ‘overture.’ That is I’d like to talk about temptation in very general terms, while at the same time giving a preview of where we are headed in this series. With that in mind, let’s turn to the Bible as our foundation.

Genesis 3:1-6
Psalm 25:1-5
James 1:12-16

Four priests were on a spiritual retreat weekend and on Saturday evening they decided to confess their biggest temptations.

The first priest said, “Well, it’s kind of embarrassing, but I admit I do enjoy Playboy magazine, for the articles, of course.”

“My temptation is worse,” said the second, “Gambling, yep; once, instead of preparing my homily I went to the track to bet on the greyhounds.”

“Mine is worse still,” said the third; “I sometimes can’t control the urge to drink. One time I actually broke into the sacramental wine.”

The fourth priest was quiet as he carefully considered what they had confessed. “Brothers, I hate to say this,” he said, “but my temptation is worst of all. I love to gossip.”

What’s your weakness? Or weaknesses? This past Monday we arrived in Florida and Paige said, “Randy, guess what I bought for you?”
I don’t know, what did you buy for me?”
“A 1 pound 4 ounce bag of Peanut M & M’s and some Cape Cod Potato chips.”
Not a good combination for a guy who needs to lose 10 or 12 pounds.

The truth is things like Peanut M & M’s and Potato Chips are the least of our worries in comparison with many other things we can be tempted by.

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A Broken Orchestra

Acts 6:1-7
I Thessalonians 5:12-13

Reader’s Digest Life in These United States: A week after a father applied to enroll his son in a private school, he received a questionnaire. One of the questions was: “Is your son a leader or a follower?” He thought about it and then indicated his son was a follower. A couple weeks later, he was informed his son was one of 200 students accepted. The letter also said, “You may be interested to know that of the 200 accepted 199 were marked as leaders and only 1 follower.”

What is that old saying? Too many chiefs and not enough Indians?

Every organization has to have leaders who will initially define what that organization is about, how it is going to function effectively by encouraging participation by the people of that organization and then monitor it to make sure that it does.

That applies to the largest of organizations; take the good old USA, for example, which was organized by our Founding Fathers, who took the responsibility for drawing up principles set forth in the Constitution that would govern these United States of America.

Manufacturers and businesses have CEO’s/CFO’s/managers, etc. who are responsible to create, implement and monitor policies and procedures that will enable that business to function profitably and effectively.

What’s good for countries and manufacturers and retail businesses is also good for the church. Every church must designate leaders who are responsible for creating and then implementing policies and procedures that will enable that church to function effectively.

That’s exactly what Luke is describing in Acts 6. The early church was growing in numbers, quite dramatically. The 12 Apostles were up to their ears with too many responsibilities so they made a wise decision to recruit other folks who would help them out so that they could focus on what they felt they were gifted and called by God to accomplish. It is probably true that Numbers 11 had some influence over their decision. In that chapter, Moses is the overwhelmed leader who takes the advice of his father-in-law, Jethro, to recruit others to give him a hand.

As it was with Moses before them and then the Apostles in the early church, so it is now.

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Beautiful Feet

Matthew 28:18-20
Romans 10:1-15

As a young couple’s wedding day neared, both grew increasingly nervous over secret problems they had never shared with anyone. Privately, the groom-to-be approached his minister. “I have really smelly feet—and am afraid my fiancée won’t be able to take it.” “Look,” his pastor said, “Wash your feet twice a day and wear socks all the time.”

Meanwhile, the nervous bride had privately approached the minister’s wife. “I’m so worried, I have really bad breath when I wake up each day!”
She replied, “Set your alarm just a few minutes before your husband wakes up. Run to the bathroom, brush your teeth, and gargle before he gets out of bed.”

So for several months after marriage, they managed to keep their issues a secret. Then one morning, the husband awoke before dawn to find that one of his socks had come off in the night. Frantic, he searched the bed, afraid of what might happen if he didn’t find his sock. His bride woke with a start, and, without thinking, blurted out, “What in the world are you doing?”
“Oh, dear!” the young man wailed. “You swallowed my sock!” 1

On a scale from 1 to 10, what would you assign the beauty of your feet? Maybe we need to take our shoes and socks off and check them out?

Would you believe that the Bible has a prescription for having more beautiful feet?

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I Believe

John 20:24-31
Romans 10:8-15

Formal statements of beliefs like ours, what are formally known as creeds have been part and parcel of the faith we hold dear for over 3,000 years.

Yes, that means they appear in the Bible. Twelve centuries before Christ, the first Hebrew creed, known as The Shema, appears in Deuteronomy:

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut 6:4).

Those words continue to form the basis for the Hebrew faith to this day. It is said that Jewish babies raised in orthodox homes are not weaned on milk but, rather, on The Shema.

As far as I am aware, there at least three creeds in the New Testament. All three appear in letters from Paul in which he quotes an already established song/poem of belief.

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How Can I Be Sure?

Mark 8:27-38
I John 5:1-13

In 1967, I went with high school buddies to the historic Akron Civic Theater to my first rock concert to see one of my favorite American bands, The Young Rascals. The band was famous for Good Lovin which appeared on their first album in ‘66. That summer they released their second album Groovin’ that contained two singles Groovin’ and the song How Can I Be Sure.

“How can I be sure, in a world that’s constantly changing,
How can I be sure where I stand with you.”

If I asked you, ‘Do you know for sure that you are a Christian and have complete confidence that when your name is called up yonder that you will be going home to be with the Lord in His heaven?’ what would you say?

The truth is that there are several different ways of thinking about and answering a question like that.

It’s probably true that some here whom we might categorize as seekers who would say something like, ‘Not at all sure if my faith is real, I’m not sure that there is a place we go after we die, that’s why I am here; to find out if there is a God and if He has anything to offer me.’ But can you be sure?

It’s probably true that there are some here who have progressed beyond being a seeker and although you feel you have faith in Christ you have doubts about that. You might be thinking something like, ‘I think I believe, I’m pretty sure I have accepted Jesus as my Savior, but sometimes I wonder about whether or not I am really going to heaven.’ How can I be sure?

Then there are those who hope that there is a heaven and hope that because you worship with those who believe there is that you are going with them someday. And so you have made this worship thing a routine been showing up, some been showing up for years. You too wonder, how can I be sure?

How can we be sure?

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Who Do You Say I am?

Mark 8:27-31
Isaiah 53 (selected)
Romans 5:6-17

I have another question for you this morning. I call it the question of the ages. For in my mind, there’s no more important question that can be asked of any living human being residing on the face of this planet. For the answer to this question will forever shape the future of the one who accepts the challenge to answer it.

Matthew and Luke join Mark in providing this little vignette, in which Jesus takes His followers aside to ask this vital question: “Who do you say I am?”

But before we go any further, it is interesting to note the place Jesus took them to ask this vital question. Caesarea Philippi is located 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee region which served as a base of operations for Jesus. It was in the time of Jesus a very modern Greco-Roman city located at the base of Mt. Hermon which rises up 9,200 feet above sea level. The question is why would Jesus take the time and trouble to make a 50 mile round trip journey on foot to make this inquiry?

Caesarea Philippi was known for being associated with the four main religions of that part of the world at the time. There is a large cave that was said to have been the birthplace of the Greek god Pan. Also, note the head of the Jordan River which springs from underground to make its journey south to the Sea of Galilee and into the Dead Sea. We know that the Jordan River was very much associated with the Jewish religion, being mentioned 175 times in the Old Testament. Notice also in this picture the man-made cut-out in the face of the rock. This was one of no less than 14 little shrines that honored the Old Testament Canaanite storm-god Baal. Finally, Herod the Great had a large white marble Temple built  here to honor Caesar Augustus, who demanded to be worshipped as a god.

So Jesus leads His followers on this pilgrimage to a place steeped in religion to ask, “With these four major world religions looking down on us, who do you say that I am? In other words, people, where and how do you think I fit in?”

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