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Randy Rathman


Who Have We Overlooked

By Randy A. Rathman, Pastor
Harvest Church of the Nazarene
Arab, Alabama

LUKE 2:8-20

Just before the first Christmas of the new millennium a most amazing headline appeared in newspapers all over the world, “Bethlehem Cancels Christmas Celebration!”

The story that followed described the devastating impact of the deadly conflict between Israelis and Palestinians on the most famous of West Bank communities. After years of planning and untold dollars invested, major celebrations of the first Christmas of the 21st Century were scrapped. The risk for tourists and Christian pilgrims wanting to celebrate the occasion in the city of David was just too great. In contrast to the first Christmas Eve 2000 years ago, that Christmas Eve found the streets deserted, the shops closed, and the inns empty. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians which had been going on for centuries offered a peace-less birthday for the Prince of Peace. This most recent eruption in the conflict would result in the death of 200 Palestinians (seven from Bethlehem). Not only was it not safe, there was anything but a spirit of celebration in the air.

What the newspaper account didn’t describe was the plight of the Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem. Dependent on tourism to market their olive wood figurines and other souvenirs, those believers struggling to eke out a living in the birthplace of their Savior had no recourse but to seek God’s help. For years, they had lived with the uncertainty of political unrest and the resulting instability of the economy. But Christmas 2000 was the most difficult of any in recent memory.

Many of the Palestinian Christians were forced to sell furniture and family heirlooms in order to feed their family. Not exactly the sentimental scene pictured on Christmas cards. The little town of Bethlehem, consistent with the familiar Christmas carol, lay still that night. No tourists. No bustling business. No proclamation or celebration. While the silent stars moved across the dark middle-eastern sky there was the occasional interruption of mortars, bomb blast and exchanges of gun fire.

It occurs to me that the United States has maintained as long as I can remember a platform of support to Israel. We quote chapter and verse to explain why we believe God wants Israel to posses the “Promise Land.” But what about the Palestinians who are followers of the baby born in Bethlehem? They are about as marginalized as the first century shepherds who tended sheep on the hills surrounding that same little town two millennia ago.

In Jewish society at the time of Christ’s birth shepherds were low man on the totem-pole. They were at the bottom of the social structure, maybe one notch above a tax collector. They didn’t even enjoy the respect of today’s blue-color worker. They effectively had no status.

Listen to this interesting description of what it was like to be an overlooked member of first century Jewish society:

“It’s cold outside in this God-forsaken place and we’re stuck here with a thousand sheep. While life is exciting for everybody else, the highlight of our day is sleep. It’s lonely out here in this isolated job. Our positions without esteem. We’re socially challenged. We’re society’s scourge. We’re not exactly every woman’s dream. Shepherds have a humble purpose. Of our fate few people care. Sometimes I wonder if God knows we exist. If he does he’s forgotten where. Nothing ever happens to a shepherd. Life is boring as can be. While exciting things occur all over the world, nothing ever happens to me.” (“Nothing Ever Happens to a Shepherd,” Michael and Stormy Omartian’s Christmas Musical “Child of the Promise”).

In the culture of Jesus day shepherds had very little chance of ever doing anything different. They simply would not be offered an opportunity to move up the social ladder. That is what makes God’s choice of the Shepard David to be king over Israel so amazing. That is what makes it interesting that the proclamation of the birth of Christ was first announced to the shepherds. By instructing the angels to “go tell it on the mountain” God wasn’t just randomly selecting those who would be first to hear. God knew what He was doing. He was making a statement. Nobodies are somebodies to God. Those who spend their nights and days caring for sheep with matted wool matter to God.

Let’s read together the familiar passage from Dr. Luke’s gospel, chapter 2, verses 8-20: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.’  When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

You had better believe everyone who heard it was amazed. It wasn’t just what the shepherds had to say that left the crowds amazed; it was the fact that the shepherds were the chosen by God to broadcast the news. Of all people who would be privy to this kind of late breaking news you’d expect a Dan Rather or Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings. Certainly not a band of unshaven, uneducated shepherds. God is making a point here. There is a principle involved here, do you see it yet? God intentionally chose the shepherds to receive the initial announcement of Christ’s birth to validate their innate worth. God has no prejudice. God created us all equal and He sees right through race, color, rich or poor, it simply doesn’t matter to God. The ground at the foot of the cross is level my friend. “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

Listen, when you and I honor the “shepherds” in our culture by sharing God’s love, we honor God and follow His example. That’s what Jesus did! When Christ grew up and began His earthly ministry who did He hang out with? Not the upper-crust of society. Jesus befriended and hung out with the outcasts. He touched the lepers and elevated the status of sinners and women and children.

And get this. I think this is really cool. When Jesus wanted to explain His purpose in coming to earth He used a word picture. He referred to Himself as a shepherd. “I am the good shepherd,” He said. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

I’m reading between the lines again here but I think Jesus knew more than a few sheep herders by their first name. No matter their occupation, whoever needed His touch and attention, whoever was socially challenged or society’s scourge, those were the ones Jesus reached out to.

Touching the world with the love of God, Jesus identified with those who had little or no identity. And, thank You Jesus, He still does. In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and goats. Jesus is talking about His second coming and the bottom line is this. Like it or not, we will be held accountable for the way we responded to the overlooked and outcast of society. What is really amazing is that Jesus suggests that He is so identified with these marginalized people that when we reach out to them (or ignore them), we reach out to (or ignore) Him.

I read the story of a music teacher, (Jack Marten) in San Francisco who for over thirty years has ministered to teens in the inner city. Many of his students come from broken homes, are on welfare and most come from homes where English is not the primary language. Another example is a New York City court officer (Michael Christiano) who gets up every day at 4 a.m. to fix 200 sandwiches which he passes out to homeless people on his way to work. He has been doing it for over 20 years! He tells about one man who disappeared from the ranks of the sandwich takers. Christiano hoped the man had moved on to a better life. Some time latter the man showed up transformed. He was clean shaven, had on clean clothes and carrying sandwiches of his own to hand out.

I’m not suggesting that God has called us all to become another Mother Teresa but clearly God is calling us all to share what we have with those less fortunate around us. You and I may be the only Bible some people will ever read. So what does God want to say through you and me? What is the message He would have us share this Christmas?  The challenge for you and me today as we look back at the “cancelled” Christmas 2000 in Bethlehem is to make the effort to ensure that Christmas is not cancelled in the hearts of those who feel as overlooked as the Palestinian Christians in 2000 or the shepherds of Bethlehem did 2,000 years ago. As He did then, God is still sending his messengers to proclaim, “I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody” (Luke 2:10, The Message). You and I are God’s messengers today.

“Lord as we end this worship service I want to ask that You give us the grace, the desire and ability to do Your will, to be sensitive and faithful to every opportunity for service toward others You might providentially provide in the days and weeks to come. I would love to hear from everyone here their personal experience of service to someone this Christmas season. Lord, as You have shown compassion to us, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” let us show compassion to those we come in contact with daily. Help us to reach out to people who are not lovely but in need of Your love. Help us to recognize and minister to those in financial need. Give us wisdom and sensitivity to understand the needs of the overlooked. Make us Your messengers for ministry that we might glorify You in all the earth this Christmas season. Thank You Jesus, Amen.”


Holiness

By Randy A. Rathman, Pastor
Harvest Church of the Nazarene
Arab, Alabama

I PETER 1:13-16; HEB. 10:1-10


Have you ever asked the question, “What does God want from me?” I have certainly asked the question more than once. It is an important question; in fact it is THE question so it is critically important to get the answer right.

Some people don’t care what the answer is, they are indifferent toward God. Some people rely on religion or tradition. Some try to just figure it out for themselves, its called humanism. Some people think if you’re just doing the best you can that is all God expects.

In an interview with USA Today back in 1999 Sophia Loren was asked about her religious convictions. I think her answer reflects our modern western culture, “I don’t practice, but I pray. I read the Bible. I should go to heaven; otherwise it’s not nice. I haven’t done anything wrong. My conscience is very clean. My soul is as white as those orchids over there, and I should go straight, straight to heaven.”

Many people I have talked to over the years aren’t as confident as Sophia Loren. They are not sure they can ever “measure up” to God’s standard and the truth is we can’t “measure up” by our own effort because God’ standard requires us to be holy.

If you will just look up “holy” and “holiness” in the concordance at the back of your Bible you will find a whole page of references relating to the subject but I want us to focus on just a couple this morning. I’ll leave the rest for you to look up on your own. Turn in your Bible to I Peter chapter 1 and let’s read verses 13-16 together. Notice the heading over this passage, “Be Holy.”

Peter says, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you as Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” Peter was quoting Leviticus 19:1 and there you have the answer to THE question “What does God want from me?” God wants you to be holy just as He is holy!

In Matthew’s gospel account he tells us that Jesus was teaching one day and admonished his disciples to, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48). And someone is thinking, “Impossible! No way! Get real preacher only God is perfect.” Let me try to help you. Only God is perfect in performance and God is the source of holiness. God wants you and me to be grafted into His holiness (John 15). God knows you and I are human but since He created us He also knows our potential.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just compare ourselves to one another? That way the standard becomes, “Can I live at least as well as most folks?” or “Can I live better than average?” But the Scriptures won’t let us get away with that.
The Scriptures are telling us that the standard is the very character of a holy God Himself. Who can measure up to that standard? Who wants to go to the front of that line?

Thomas Aquinas, a great theologian many centuries ago, created one of the greatest intellectual achievements of western civilization. He wrote a massive work called Summa Theologica. His goal was to gather into one coherent theological work all the truth we could know about God.

Thomas Aquinas was a brilliant man who wrote in the disciplines of anthropology, science, ethics, political theory and theology. But in 1273 Thomas suddenly stopped his writing. He was in worship one day when he caught an unusual glimpse of the “otherness” and holiness of God. And suddenly he knew all his efforts to describe God fell so far short he decided to never write again. His secretary tried to encourage him to continue but he said, “I can do no more. Such things have been revealed to me that all I have written seems as so much straw.” He didn’t write another word and died a year later.

So who can stand up to the perfection and beauty and righteousness and truth and holiness of God? Not me! Not you! And yet God says, “Be holy, like I am holy.” And history reveals that the story of God’s relationship with His people is often a rather sad tale of people struggling to measure up, working hard to figure out how in this world we can possibly be found acceptable in the sight of God, how we can “measure up.”

The writer of Hebrews was speaking to a people who knew the historical story very well. They are part of a tradition in which their ancestors had received God’s call to be holy and along with that call received the law that essentially said this is what “holy” looks like.

The law set the standard. The Ten Commandments and all the implied requirements stemming from the commandments was a constant reminder of the unholyness of a people who were never able to “measure up.”

Max Lucado observed, “All of us occasionally do what is right. Some predominately do what is right. But do any of us always do what is right?” The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (3:10).

In His mercy God allowed them to come before Him with their sacrifices and offerings in recognition of His holiness and their unholyness and receive forgiveness. And for centuries that’s how it worked. Year after year the sacrifices of the old system were repeated. People made their pilgrimage to the temple to offer their sacrifice for sin. But “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). So the yearly sacrifice served only to remind them of their sin and their need for holiness.

But here is the good news. We no longer live under the old covenant. We no longer have to sacrifice bulls and goats, thank You Jesus! But we can carry the same mindset with us into our relationship with God. And even though we know forgiveness is “by grace through faith” in Jesus Christ, some of us still believe we can never measure up.

All of us no matter how spiritually mature we may be experience those times once in a while. The real tragedy is some Christians live in a state of defeat all their lives. Maybe you still live there. God says, “Be holy!” Jesus says, “Be perfect!” and you throw your hands up in defeat. There are too many people who see Christianity as nothing more than a constant reminder thy are not good enough. Too many people leave church every Sunday feeling only condemned and undone, never receiving the mercy and grace of forgiveness God wants for us all. Many have just given up on church altogether.

There was a telling article in USA Today some time ago about the increasing “unfaith” of Americans. The article said that 14% of Americans now claim no religion at all, up from 8% in 1990. In the western states it’s more like 25%. One young man featured in the story said he does attend a Baptist church once in a while in order to, as he put it, “get back in rhythm with God.” But he went on to say, “I totally understand my friends who hate church or think its boring or react negatively because of the formalities and customs. They think it’s strange, stuffy, weird, and ritualistic.”

People have given up because they think of God as a crotchety old man with a list of rules you can’t keep and then He’ll just get mad at you when you don’t keep them. Which sounds a lot like what the writer of Hebrews describes, “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties: again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (10:11).

“Today we don’t literally sacrifice animals, but we are equally caught up in our own kinds of ‘sacrificial practices.’ And they are just as repetitive, just as desperate, sometimes. We work hard to become good, or acceptable, or successful. We pride ourselves in our accomplishments that we’ve earned through our ‘blood sweat and tears’” (Tom Long).

Just like our forefathers we try to “measure up” by our own effort. “Lord didn’t I do enough? Didn’t I give enough?” But we can never do enough or give enough or be good enough to earn God’s favor. “So we keep our distance from the holy of holies, leave with a guilty conscience, and come back next week with another basket of good intentions to place upon the altar” (Long).

So, “What does God want from me?” We have answered what He doesn’t want; now let’s find out exactly what God does want.

Yes, God does say to us “be holy.” And yes God did create us to be holy – which simply means to be like Him and live in relationship with Him. And God knows what happened to His creation, that as a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience we are all in need of redemption. The entire human race is born estranged from God the creator and needs to be “born again” by His Holy Spirit. So God in His mercy did for us what we could not do for ourselves. God sent His Son, His only Son, to pay the price, to be the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.


“Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for Me…I have come to do Your will O God…And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…Since that time He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool, because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Heb. 10)

What is amazing to me is that this was in the heart of God all along. He said through the prophet Jeremiah, “The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with them. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (31:31, 33).

God never intended for you or me to live in futility or despair. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). He said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29, 30).

God’s desire for you and me and the entire human race is to bring us home, to bring us into the personal relationship He intended for us at creation. God understands better than we do our human limitations. God understands and accepts better than we do our faulty performance in our daily lives. And when we recognize, accept and in humility consecrate our imperfect selves to Him, God writes His perfect law of love on our heart and changes our motivation from the inside out.

Listen, Jesus is not impressed with your moral conservatism. His desire is to give you a pure heart. Jesus is not impressed by our power of positive thinking to overcome the hurts of the past. His desire is to give us genuine freedom from the past. He is not impressed with our tithes and offerings given out of compulsion. He wants to change our heart that we may give out of compassion for those in need. He doesn’t want to be just part of your daily routine. He wants to spend time with you as a friend who loves you and likes to spend time with you. That’s the heart of Jesus. And that’s the heart that Jesus wants to put in you. It is the heart of holiness, the heart of God.

Hebrews 10:10 says, “What God wants is for us to be made holy by the sacrifice (not that we bring, but the sacrifice) of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time” (NLT).

Elton Trueblood said, “The chief way you and I are disloyal to Christ is when we make small what he intended to make large.”

Don’t underestimate what God wants to do for you. Jesus did not die to repeatedly forgive a life of continuous failure and sin. Jesus died to make you holy. If you will stop striving in your own effort and just open your heart fully to Him, Jesus will fill your heart with His spirit and make you holy. That is what God wants from you.

I want to close today with the prayer of David when the prophet Nathan confronted him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba. I believe it was in answer to this prayer that God gave David a new heart and why he was known as “a man after God’s own heart” (Psalm 51)
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Pressing On
Toward The Goal

By Randy A. Rathman, Pastor
Harvest Church of the Nazarene
Arab, Alabama

PHILLIPIANS 3:10-4:1


Ask any sane, rational person you know and they will tell you they certainly want to be successful. That is a universal goal. Everyone wants to be successful in life.

It has been suggested that we might improve our chances of being successful by reading the biographies of successful people. One autobiography that has greatly affected my life is one written by a Jewish Rabbi. This man was so successful that his writings have been translated into most of the languages of the world. The Rabbi’s name was Paul and I want us to read a portion of his letter to the Philippians beginning with verse 10 of chapter 3.

Paul gives us several keys to genuine success and the first thing I see is that he has defined and focused on his main goal. What was Paul’s goal? Paul tells us in verse 10 his goal is to know, that is experience, Christ. He was not focused on being a great church leader or evangelist but on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in which he would experience the power and fellowship of a faith walk with Jesus. Certainly the fruit of his life was evident in his ministry as a great church leader and evangelist.

We need to focus on the goal but we need to make sure it is the right goal. How tragic to see someone come to the end of his or her life only to say, “It wasn’t worth it! I spent my life climbing the ladder of success only to discover when I reached the top it was leaning against the wrong wall.”

Someone might say, “I’m not going to pour all my energy into one thing! I want to be well rounded and fish in many ponds.” You know it is the river with the narrow, steep banks that runs the deepest and with the most power. You take away the steep narrow banks and you will end up with a marshy stagnant swamp. Likewise, if you take away the focus of your life you will become marshy and stagnant in your Christian experience.

If you really want to be successful concentrate on reaching one main, worthwhile goal. The goal for the Christian is Christ, to experience His indwelling presence.

The next key to success I see in Paul’s writing is his candid acknowledgement there are spiritual heights yet to be reached. Paul aspires to spiritual growth and like Paul you and I must recognize we are not yet where we are going to be. Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (vs.12). He says, “One thing I do, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (vs.14).

Some people who are not of our Wesleyan persuasion think that we believe when we are sanctified we have reached an ultimate goal that requires no further growth. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Christian’s life always requires dynamic spiritual growth.

The message Paul is trying to get across is that I might be all right for the stage of maturity at which I am now but I still have a long way to go. As Bill Gothard says, “Please be patient with me, God isn’t finished with me yet.”

You see, the day we cease to grow, cease to mature, is the day we begin to die.

When I was growing up there was a lot of talk about the trade war between the US and Japan. Their products were a lot cheaper than “Made in the USA,” but the quality left much to be desired. The Japanese kept working on improving the quality of their products and today “Made in Japan” no longer carries the stigma of inferiority it once did.

A few years ago in an article titled, “The Battle for Equality Begins,” the author suggested “America’s leadership in quality has been almost imperceptibly eroding for years. More and more executives have awakened to the fact that they are caught in a fateful struggle, for the Japanese have advanced by leaps.”

The article went on to explain that American technology developed before and during WWII was responsible for American made quality. After the war the Japanese flooded the market with cheap imitations. But the Japanese were determined to improve. They went so far as to import American quality experts. They worked for thirty years to improve quality and efficiency. At the same time American industry got comfortable with the lead and became complacent so that today we are playing catch-up with Japan.

We must individually be careful not to doze! We must constantly strive to improve, strengthen and mature. A physical therapist told me once, “Use it or lose it!”

Like Paul we must realize we have not “arrived.” There is never a time to just rest on our laurels. We must, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (I Pet. 5:8).

We can’t afford to allow ourselves to get distracted. Paul says, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (13b). Paul is encouraging us to pursue God’s calling with wise forgetfulness. He is encouraging us to eagerly reach forward and not dwell on the past. Don’t get caught up in the “What If” game.

“Wait just a minute preacher, Paul talked about his past. He talked about how he had blasphemed and persecuted the Church.” That’s right. You see, to forget does not mean to erase it from your memory. The dictionary defines forgetting: “To stop noticing. To conscientiously ignore something.” In other words, you treat something as though it never happened, even though you still have memory of it.

I want to suggest some things we need to forget in order to press on and grow as Christians. First we need to forget our past success.

The football coach in the locker room before the big game told his team, “Throw away your old press clippings men. The other team hasn’t read them and this is a new game.”

In our spiritual lives, Satan would love to neutralize us by talking us into taking an early retirement from God’s work. He may allow us a victory or two then convince us that we’ve done God and the world a great service. He tries to get us to build a trophy case and languish in our pride of the past. We can’t improve and grow languishing in the past.

We need to forget our past mistakes. Be careful never to play the game of life saying, “If only I had….!” We all know we can’t go back and repeat the past we have to let it go. Don’t despair over the past.

Do you know who holds the strike-out record in professional baseball? Babe Ruth! Yeah! The guy who held the home-run record until 1974. Babe Ruth still holds the record for the most strike outs.

Here is a little tougher question. Who holds the record for the second most strike-outs? Hank Aaron. He’s also the guy who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974.

The point is an essential part of success is failure. So maybe your track record has a string of failures, so what? Let failure be a part of your success to come. There is no gain without pain. There are no stars without scars.

Few things plague a Christian more than guilt feelings and Satan knows that. We have to take God at His word, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins…” (Col. 2:13). If we have confessed and forsaken our sin we are forgiven and we don’t have to bear the burden of guilt (I John 1:9). It is important to distinguish between genuine Holy Spirit conviction and false guilt that comes from Satan. Satan only wants to drive us to discouragement and despair. The Holy Spirit prods us back onto the course to finish the race.

So let go of past failure and focus on the future. Paul says, “Straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal…” He is using a figure of speech from athletics. He pictures an Olympic runner with a forward focus, pressing toward the finish line. He knew a runner could not win looking back over his shoulder.

A Sunday School teacher was telling her young students about Lot’s wife who looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. Anxious to participate one little boy offered, “Well last week coming home from the grocery store my mommy looked back and turned into a telephone pole.” We can’t go successfully in the forward direction if we are looking back.
Don’t look back and dwell in regret, focus on the future, lean into the finish. I notice Paul’s use of words like “press” and straining.” There is disciplined determination in the athlete pressing toward his or her goal.

The Christian life is not a 100 yard dash it is a marathon. We can’t afford to stop and gloat over completing a single leg of the course nor despair when we stumble. We must stay focused on the finish if we are going to finish strong.

Of all the great classical Greek orators Demosthenes is perhaps the most amazing. When he started out he had several serious problems. He stuttered and stammered. The when he spoke, he displayed distracting facial contortions. Add to that a weak, raspy voice, and cap it all of with a nervous tic in his shoulder. The first time he spoke in public he was laughed off the stage.

According to the historical record Demosthenes went home and shaved off half his hair. He did that so he would look too ridiculous to go out in public and would be forced to stay home and work at being an orator. And work he did!

He worked on his elocution and diction by practicing with his mouth filled with round pebbles. To overcome his facial contortions he practiced for hours in front of a mirror.

Then he went down to the Aegean Sea where the waves pounded on the rocks and he practiced shouting so that he could be heard above the roar of the ocean.

He suspended a sharp sword by a rope from the rafters in his home so that the tip was just touching his shoulder. Every time his shoulder jerked he received a painful reminder.

What do you think about determination like that? I know I would have been inclined to choose a different goal rather than try to overcome those handicaps.

The day came for his next and ultimately most famous speech. Two were to speak on that day, first Aristotle and then Demosthenes. When Aristotle finished the people marveled at the wonderful oration. Then Demosthenes took his place on the platform and began to speak. The crowd was amazed at his incredible eloquence, fervor and power. Before he finished the crowd was on its feet shouting, “Let us take up the sword and fight Philip!”

All because a man was focused on one thing. He forgot all of the past insults and failures. He channeled all of his energy into becoming what he was determined to be.

If in our Christian walk you or I can develop that kind of focus and determination we can move heaven and earth for God. God is calling each of us to focus on and strive for the prize which is to know, to experience Christ Jesus and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings so that we too might attain the resurrection from the dead. That we too might know the abundant life that Christ has called us into.


Created To Be Free

By Randy A. Rathman, Pastor
Harvest Church of the Nazarene
Arab, Alabama

GEN. 2:15, 16; 3:1-7

Will you open your Bible and read along with me beginning with Genesis 2: 15 & 16? And then we will skip to chapter 3:1-7.

God created man and woman and God placed them in a wonderful garden where they wanted for nothing. They were totally free and totally innocent. Adam and Eve did not know the difference between good and evil and God wanted them to remain in that blissful estate so He told them to stay away from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It was not to deny them their freedom; it was to perpetuate their freedom and special relationship with the Creator. God even warned them of the consequences if they gave up their innocence, “when you eat of it you will surely die.” God was talking about both physical and spiritual death. This is the first divine revelation to man in God’s Word. It is a revelation designed to allow man to keep his God given freedom and maintain the special personal relationship with God.

If Adam and Eve had obeyed God and stayed away from the knowledge of good and evil they would still be alive today. If that sounds far fetched just look at verses 22 & 23, “And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden…” Adam and Eve chose to “have it their own way” and it cost them paradise with God. I bet you thought Burger King made up the slogan, “Have it your own way!” Nope! It was Adam and Eve who first came up with it and you and I inherited it. It is what the Bible calls the “sin nature.”

What in the world happened? How could Adam and Eve have been so foolish to have blown it, not just for them but for all mankind? Look at verse six in chapter three again, “The fruit was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom.” Yeah! It looked good! It tasted good! Hey folks, if sin didn’t look good to us we wouldn’t be tempted to try it. But listen, God never intended for us to learn the difference between good and evil by experience. No! God wants us to develop a sensitivity toward evil and to flee from it. God intended for mankind to be innocent of the knowledge of good and evil but mankind has demonstrated an insatiable appetite to experience it all, grab all the gusto and decide for our self between good and evil. We have fallen for the lie of Satan just like Adam and Eve to “try it, you might like it.”

Fifty years ago, in 1957 Viking Press published On the Road written by Jack Kerouac. To everyone’s surprise the book made the best-seller list and has been touted as the catalyst responsible for the “Beatnik” culture of the ‘60s. In her beat-era memoir, Joyce Johnson says, “In the late 1940s, ‘beat’ had been code word among Jack (Kerouac), Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and a small group of like-minded hipster friends; it had connoted a saturation with experience almost to the point of exhaustion-then looking up from the depths for more.”

Do you know why the Beatnik culture flourished for awhile and then died away? Because it is like all the other human ideas and fads that have come and gone throughout human history. It was just one more attempt by man to take control of his own destiny rather than trust God. Mankind throughout history has tried to ignore God and write its own script and it will never work. And Jesus continues to hold out the answer, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

In the first chapter of Geneses we are told, “God created man in His own image.” God is Spirit and He created man a spiritual being. It is only when we are connected with the Spirit of God that we can experience the freedom God created us for. That is why Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” Jesus was talking about spiritual birth.

Because of Adam and Eve we are all born dead! That is without the spiritual dimension. We are all born completely self-centered and if you doubt that just ask any mother and father of a new-born. They are totally self-centered, helpless and totally dependent. That new-born is certainly alive physically and they remind everyone within earshot at all hours of the night. But as time passes a child becomes more independent. They want to feed themselves. They want to dress themselves they want more independence.

Have you ever noticed that an infant puts everything in its mouth? Does that remind you of Eve? Like an infant she was determined to put everything in her mouth even when her Father told her not to.

When our children were very small Michelle ate a book of matches. We called the doctor and he gave us the antidote. I still hold a vivid memory in my mind of holding Michelle over the curb outside the pharmacy after giving her syrup of epicac as she regurgitated those matches. I don’t think she was ever tempted to eat matches again.

We are all like the little child who wants to be independent and wants to experience everything possible in life. And the danger is not always obvious to us and we expose ourselves to things God never intended because we are all born spiritually dead and “The man without the spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14). The natural man cannot comprehend danger in the spiritual dimension and the evil one entices him and he follows into spiritual bondage and he doesn’t even realize he is doomed to eternal death.

There is no circumstance more intolerable than bondage yet it is the common lot of all mankind since Adam. The natural man is bound to fear, guilt, worry, anxiety, impulsiveness, anger, bitterness, resentments, strife and despair.

But there is hope! God’s Word tells us that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sin, a penalty we cannot pay.

“The wages of sin is death” and that was first demonstrated when “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (3:21). God killed an innocent animal, shed its blood, and used its skin to cover the sin of Adam and Eve. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God whose blood washes away the sin of every human being who places their trust in Him, who trades their self-centered will for God’s will.

Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly” (That it might be full and meaningful) (John 10:10).

Jesus Christ came that you and I might be released from the bondage of sin and be set free to live the life God created us for.

Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6).

“Fine preacher, but just how do we do it? How do we receive Jesus as Savior and Lord?” I’m glad you asked!

The Bible says, “Believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” This is one of the most profound verses in the Bible and one of the most abused and misused. The Greek word translated “believe” here is pisteo. John uses this same Greek word 99 times in his gospel so we really need to understand exactly what it means. The New Testament dictionary definition is “to be persuaded of, and hence, to place confidence in, to trust, signifies, in this sense of the word reliance upon, not mere credence. The synonyms are commit, intrust and trust.

One day in 1860 a crowd stood at the edge of the precipice and watched the famous tightrope walker, Blondin, cross Niagara Falls. He crossed it numerous times-a 1,000-foot trip 160 feet above the raging waters. He not only walked across it; he also pushed a wheelbarrow across it. Blondin noticed a little boy slack-jawed and staring in amazement. So after completing a crossing Blondin looked at that little boy and asked, “Do you believe I could take a person across in the wheelbarrow without falling?” “Yes sir! I really do” the lad responded. And Blondin said, “Well then, get in son.”

The one who truly believes in Jesus Christ is willing to get into the wheelbarrow. That is what it means to be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ. Jesus gives the invitation, “I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him” (Rev. 3:20).

You can become a disciple of Jesus Christ, a true Christian and discover the freedom He offers right now by faith through prayer. Prayer is simply talking with God. God knows your heart and He is not as concerned with your words as He is with the attitude of your heart.

Maybe you realize the need to recommit your life today. Maybe the Holy Spirit is speaking to your heart right now about taking Him for granted and doing your own thing. Jesus is asking for the place of preeminence in your life.

Listen, it is never too late and no one has ever gone too far to receive God’s promise of reconciliation. “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

I am going to share a prayer in just a moment that is appropriate if you want to make Christ Lord of your life or if you want to renew that commitment you made in the past. In any case I hope you will all agree in prayer with me as I pray in preparation for sharing Communion today.

“Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Abdicating the throne of my life to You I ask You to take control of my life and make me into the person You created me to be. Give me the grace to live according to Your perfect will from this day forward as I learn to be Your disciple. Amen!”


HOW TO BE
CONFIDENT IN A CRISIS

By Randy A. Rathman, Pastor
Harvest Church of the Nazarene
Arab, Alabama

ACTS 27:9-26

Have you noticed that life isn’t always fair? It isn’t fair that “God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). We all know the story of Job and there is nothing fair about it. It certainly wasn’t fair for King Saul to turn on David who had only tried to help him. It wasn’t fair when Paul and Silas were thrown into prison for preaching the gospel. And you know when you are the innocent party in a crisis, when you find yourself swept away, tossed and buffeted by the stormy winds of life’s crisis and you are an innocent party, that kind of storm is really hard to take.

Look at the concordance in the back of your Bible, it may surprise you to discover that there are only three references for fair or fairness but you will find two pages of references dealing with faith and faithfulness. Obviously God is not nearly as concerned that life is fair as He is that we learn to “faith walk” with Him through the crisis and trials we all experience in this life.

In Acts 27 we find Paul quite literally in the eye of the storm. The NIV translates it a hurricane. God by His divine providence had placed Paul as a prisoner on board a ship headed for Rome. Now in fact Paul’s desire was to preach in Rome. Paul was in complete harmony with God’s plan but I doubt Paul would have chosen this method to get there if God had consulted him first. Let’s read verses 11-20.

The story didn’t have to go like this but the rest of the characters had their own script which led them all into a crisis. This may be one of the best arguments against evolution because over the last 2000 years human beings are still making the same foolish mistakes. Human nature has not changed even a little bit.

We read that Paul warned the crew not to leave the harbor. They knew who Paul was and that he spoke for God so in effect they ignored what God had said to them. They relied on reason rather than revelation from God. They were bent on reaching their destination and it would cost them dearly. When you and I are bent on doing your own thing your own way instead of seeking God’s direction we can find ourselves embroiled in self-inflected crisis. We must “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” and God will take care of the rest of the story (Matt. 6:25-34).

A second issue is they were anxious, impatient. In the same way we don’t want to wait on God’s timing so we take matters into our own hands. Abraham and Sarah were impatient and resorted to having a child by their maidservant Hagar and the world today suffers with the Arab and Jewish conflict. When we are impetuous, no matter how honorable our motives, we can get ahead of God and expose ourselves and others to unnecessary crises and grief.


Over in verse 12 it says the harbor where they were was unsuitable in winter so the majority voted to sail on. And that is the third reason they got into trouble. It is always dangerous to follow the popular opinion. The majority is often wrong because the majority often has a temporal rather than an eternal perspective. We truly need to be more concerned about what God thinks or says than what the majority of our peers think or say. Amen?

The Israelites weren’t far into the journey when the majority was ready to turn back to Egypt. When Jesus entered Jerusalem the majority extolled Him as King. Just a few days later the majority demanded his crucifixion. The majority can not be trusted, the majority is often wrong. We can really get into a mess by following the prevailing opinion, the most popular ideas.

Verse 13 says that when a gentle wind began to blow they thought they had it made so they pulled up anchor and sailed away. They made the mistake of relying on circumstances.

They thought they were embarking on a pleasant Mediterranean cruise and they were deceived by the circumstances. Listen, its pure folly to ignore what God says. Things may look great from our myopic human perspective but God is up there in the Good Year blimp and He sees the whole parade from beginning to end. If God says to wait in the harbor you better wait. Remember the devil is a master of deception. He makes things look good to fool us. And a word especially to the young people, listen to your parents. They are the primary mouth-piece God uses to communicate with you. And parents, you had better keep the lines of communication clear between you and God so you get it right.

Now that we have looked at how people get into crisis lets consider how people react to crisis. The reactions of the sailors on Paul’s ship are pretty typical.

Verses 15 and 17 tell us they were out of control and being blown along by the storm. Often when we are in crisis we loose site of our goals. We forget where we were heading. We turn lose of our core values and just start drifting.

It occurs to me that they didn’t have a compass in those days, and because the stars were completely obscured by the storm they were really in total darkness. When you are in a dark situation and can’t get your bearings you are beaten and driven by the storms of life. Life can be exhausting and you feel like saying, “What’s the use? Why fight it? I’ll give up and just go with the flow.” In boxing parlance we are “down for the count.”

When we are being driven along by the storms of life we begin discarding things from our lives. With the sailors it started with the cargo, then the ship’s tackle, then their provisions and finally themselves. As the vessel was breaking up they jumped overboard and swam for shore.

Often when we get into a crisis we are tempted to throw out the very things that are important for our survival. We disregard the core values that support our character and abandon the relationships with those who mean the most in our lives like parents or spouse. We have a tendency to just throw everything out because we are under pressure and we get desperate and panic. Be become impulsive and emotional and our judgment is impaired. We give up our dreams. We run out on relationships. We throw away values we learned as children. And one day we look back with great regret because we didn’t handle it like we should have.

Verse 20 says they came to the place where they gave up all hope. Like so many today they despaired and lost hope. Maybe you feel like that right now. You have been going through a problem the past week or past month or past year. It has been battering you back and forth, and you have been throwing things out and now you have come to the point of despair. Like the sailors on that ship let’s hear Paul speak to us today in verses 21-26.

Paul is calm and confident. He has courage in the crisis. He is steady as the rock of Gibraltar. You see one test of our faith in God is how we handle a crisis. Everyone can look cool in a calm. We are all dynamic Christians when our prayers are being answered the way we expect, our health is good, and our income is rising. It is easy to be a Christian in fair weather. The real test of our faith is when we are being driven before the storm and temped to despair.

Listen, character is revealed in a crisis, not made in a crisis. Character is made in the day-by-day, mundane, routine of life. Character is revealed in the shipwrecks of life, in those situations that threaten to swallow us up.

Listen, the smartest thing we can do when we get caught in a storm is to drop our anchors. Just stand still, wait on God. Situations change, and the sands of time shift. But the Bible says that he who puts his trust in God is immovable like Mount Zion (Ps. 125:1).

You and I can draw strength from the same three fundamental truths Paul did. These are the truths we can build our life on that will anchor us in the storm.

The first truth is in verse 23. We must anchor ourselves in God’s presence. There is no where on earth He is not with us. We can not see His physical presence. We may feel like He is a million miles away but God is watching us and is with us everywhere, all the time. God is omnipresent. He says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). “Surely I will be with you always” (Matt. 28: 28). “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Comforter” (John 14:16).

We never go through anything by ourselves because God is always with us. No matter what the situation God is the anchor in whom we can fully trust.

I see a second anchor in verse 24. God told Paul, “I have a plan and a purpose for you. You will preach in Rome and no storm is going to stop you.” Like Paul God has a plan for you. You are not here to just take up space and use up air. God has got plans for you so anchor yourself in His plan and purpose.

You can choose to reject God’s plan and He will not stop you but you will expose yourself to storms He never intended. If you will allow Him to chart your course God will keep you off the rocks. So don’t focus on the storms or problems, seek His purpose and allow Him to develop your character in the storms or problems of life. Instead of drifting and discarding God will load you up with treasures for eternity.

I don’t know what God’s specific purpose is for your life but God does have a universal purpose for mankind. God’s universal purpose is to build the character of Christ in us and that is the very essence of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

In verse 25 I see the anchor of God’s promise. The Scriptures are full of promises from God to those who are faithful to Him. Listen, storms cannot hide our faces from God, because God is always with us. Storms cannot change the purpose of God because He is omnipotent. Storms cannot destroy the child of God because God’s promise is assurance of eternity with Him.

If you are going through devastating crises right now, if your problems are overwhelming, and you think you are going under for the last time. Let me say this from God to you: You may lose the cargo; you may lose the tackle of the ship; you may lose the ship; you may even get wet—but you are going to make it if you just trust God. Put down the anchors He offers and hold on. You see, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28)

“Sounds good preacher but I’m in a class 5 hurricane.” Listen friend, God says, “No hurricane has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tried, tested or tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are in the eye of the hurricane He will also provide a way out so that you can survive it” (I Cor. 10:13 my paraphrase)

Hey, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” So relax, be confident, anchor yourself on the truths of God and pray for daylight.

This story has a happy ending, “When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground…” All 276 people jumped overboard and got safely to the beach (vs. 39-44).

In the storms of life God says, “I’m with you.” Let His truth stabilize your life and give you the confidence you need in every crisis you face. Storms cannot hide you from God. You may be going through some difficult times right now, but God has a purpose for your life. There’s a reason for it all, and you’re going to make it safely to the beach!


How Can I Cope With Stress?

I COR. 10:13; JAMES 1:2-8

By Randy A. Rathman, Pastor
Harvest Church of the Nazarene
Arab, Alabama

July 15, 2007
This is the age of the half-read page. And the quick hash and the mad dash. The bright night with the nerves tight. The plane hop with the brief stop. The lamp tan in a short span. The Big shot in a good spot. And the brain strain and the heart pain. And the catnaps till the spring snaps-and the fun’s done. – Virginia Brasier

Can you relate? Billy Graham told about the stressed out secretary who declared to her boss, “When this rush is over, I’m going to have a nervous breakdown. I’ve earned it, I deserve it, and nobody’s going to take it from me.”

We all have to cope with stress. We may be living in the most stressful period of human history. I’ve read that Americans spend millions of dollars on self-help books every year in the quest for practical solutions to life’s problems and the stress they bring. Unfortunately most of the advice offered by books, psychologists and counselors only deals with the superficial symptoms. It fails to get to the root of our problems so it is often at best a Band-Aid for the symptoms not a real solution to our problem. I have suggested to several people in difficult circumstances recently that they were dealing with the superficial symptom rather than the underlying spiritual problem.

This is the age of the half-read page. And the quick hash and the mad dash. The bright night with the nerves tight. The plane hop with the brief stop. The lamp tan in a short span. The Big shot in a good spot. And the brain strain and the heart pain. And the catnaps till the spring snaps-and the fun’s done. – Virginia Brasier

Can you relate? Billy Graham told about the stressed out secretary who declared to her boss, “When this rush is over, I’m going to have a nervous breakdown. I’ve earned it, I deserve it, and nobody’s going to take it from me.”

We all have to cope with stress. We may be living in the most stressful period of human history. I’ve read that Americans spend millions of dollars on self-help books every year in the quest for practical solutions to life’s problems and the stress they bring. Unfortunately most of the advice offered by books, psychologists and counselors only deals with the superficial symptoms. It fails to get to the root of our problems so it is often at best a Band-Aid for the symptoms not a real solution to our problem. I have suggested to several people in difficult circumstances recently that they were dealing with the superficial symptom rather than the underlying spiritual problem.

Modern psychology operates at the level of human intellect but Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free!” He was talking about spiritual truth. Real freedom from personal hang-ups, from the emotional, psychological and spiritual baggage we all pick up along life’s journey comes only “If we walk in the light as He is in the light.” With the result, “we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin” (I John 1:7).

I want us to go to the Light, to the “Manufacture’s Manual” today for some practical help with stress we all face in life. I particularly want us to consider the example of Jesus Christ who was constantly under stress producing pressure. The demands on His time were grueling; He rarely had any personal privacy; He was constantly interrupted; people repeatedly misunderstood Him, criticized Him, and ridiculed Him. Most of us would have caved in under the incredible pressure. It is amazing how He remained at peace in spite of the pressure. He was never in a hurry. He was always at ease. He had a calmness about His life that enabled Him to handle enormous amounts of stress.

So how did He do it? I’m glad you asked! He based His life on sound principles of stress management. If we can discover and apply these same principles to our lives they will work for us too.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12). He said, “I am the door” (14-16). “I am the Good Shepherd” (10:11). “I am God’s Son” (10:36). And this is the first principle: Jesus Christ knew who He was! Jesus said, “I know who I am. I testify to myself.” (John 8:14-18).

This is a very important principle because if you don’t know who you are someone else will try to tell you who they think you are. And a lot of stress in our lives is the result of trying to be someone we aren’t. We set unrealistic standards for ourselves which result in unrealistic pressure to perform. We need a clear understanding of who we are and whose we are.

You are a child of God. You were put on this earth not by accident but for a purpose. You are deeply loved by God. You are accepted by Him. He has a plan for your life, and because He put you here you are significant, you have worth. And that is true for every single one of us.

My friends, if you are going to handle stress you must know who you are. Until you handle this issue you’ll be pressured by insecurity. God designed every detail of your being and He put you here, you are significant to God.

This leads to the second principle for stress management. Jesus declared, “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself, but Him who sent me” (John 5:30). The principle is this: Know whom you’re trying to please. Jesus knew who He was trying to please. His purpose for being here was to please God the Father. And the Father replied, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).

When you don’t know who you’re trying to please you stumble over three things. Criticism, because you are concerned about what others will think about you. Competition because you worry about who is getting ahead of you. And conflict because you’re threatened when anyone disagrees with you. But if we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then we can trust God to take care of everything else (Matt. 6:33).

Do you get it? If I focus on pleasing God it simplifies my life. I will always be doing the right thing, the thing that pleases God and it doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks.

You know we love to blame our stress on other people: “You made me…my job required me…the devil made me.” The truth is we are seldom forced to do anything and we have no one to blame for our stress but ourselves (I Cor. 10:13).

Now the third principle ties right in. Jesus said, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, My testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going” (John 8:14)
Jesus was on a mission and He knew the route He must take to accomplish His mission and return to the Father. Unless you and I plan our life, and set priorities we will be pressured by what other people think is important. We live every day either by priorities or pressures. What drives your life? Do you decide with God’s help what is important in your life or do you let others decide for you? Do you live under the tyranny of the urgent or do you set your priorities to maximize what you accomplish? Having clear God inspired goals greatly simplifies life.
Jesus knew that organization and preparation simplify life and reduce stress because you know who you are, whom you’re trying to please and what God wants you to accomplish.

From time to time there were people who attempted to distract Jesus from His objective. They tried to distract Him from His God given purpose in life. His response was, “I must preach the Good News of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43). He simply refused to be distracted by less important matters. And this brings us to the fourth principle which is simply stay focused.

I think it was an old Indian chief who said, “You can’t catch two jackrabbits at once. You’ve got to get them one at a time.”

When we dilute our efforts we become ineffective. When we focus our efforts we become more efficient and effective. Light diffused produces a hazy glow, but light focused can be magnified to produce enough heat to start a fire. Jesus Christ did not let interruptions prevent Him from focusing on His goal. He did not let temporal issues distract Him from an eternal perspective.

One day “Jesus went up into the hills and called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him” (Mark 3:13). He appointed twelve men whom He designated as apostles, so they might be with Him and He could send them out to preach. In other words, Jesus delegated His authority. And this is the fifth principle to deal with stress. Don’t try to do it all yourself, use the principle of delegation. Certainly one of the reasons we get uptight and tense is that we think everything depends on us. Here I am, Atlas, holding up the whole world.

Why don’t we delegate? Why don’t we get other people involved? Why in the world do we try to do it all by ourselves? Two reasons. First, we think no one will do it right. “If I want the job done right I will have to do it myself.”

Question: Would Jesus have done a better job than the Apostles? Of course! But Jesus saw the need for some on the job training. He allowed them a valuable lesson in “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” The result was there faith and trust increased and they became more effective in the ministry He called them to. (James 1)

The other reason we don’t delegate is we are insecure. “What if they do a better job than me?” But we won’t be threatened by that possibility if we know who we are, whom we are trying to please, and what He wants us to accomplish. In order to reach our maximum effectiveness, our greatest potential, we must keep an eternal rather than a temporal perspective. We must discover our part in His-story and allow everyone else to play their part (Rom. 12; I Cor. 12; I Pet. 4:10).

Have you noticed that Jesus often got up “very early in the morning, while it was still dark…and went off to a solitary place” to pray? (Mark 1:35) I would suggest to you that this is the sixth principle of stress management, the habit of personal prayer and meditation.

Prayer is a fantastic stress-reliever. It is a God-given tool for releasing anxiety. If Jesus made time for prayer when He was so busy, how much more do you and I need to make time for prayer? A quiet time, getting alone with God. It is the decompression chamber for the stress of an intense life.

I read somewhere that “It seems to be an ironic habit of man that when he loses his way he doubles his speed.” Like the pilot who had lost his bearings and flown out over the Pacific Ocean. When he radioed in the controller asked, “Where are you?” The pilot replied, “I don’t know but I’m making record time!”

A lot of people are like that: they are speeding through life but they don’t know where they are headed. The best way to get our bearings is to begin our day in prayer just like Jesus did. And then periodically throughout the day stop and pray to keep our bearings and refuel our engines.

On one occasion the Apostles gathered around Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. They had been too busy to even take time to eat. So Jesus said to them, “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). The seventh principle is relaxation, taking some time off to rest and enjoy life. Rest and relaxation are not optional. In fact, rest is so important that God included it in the Ten Commandments. The Sabbath was made for man because God knows that our physical, emotional, and spiritual constitutions require periodic rest. A balanced life that includes R & R is a key to stress management.

The eighth principle of stress management is one Jesus didn’t need because He is the Son of God. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

To put it plainly, this final principle is simply give your stress to Jesus. You will never enjoy complete peace of mind until you have a personal relationship with the Prince of Peace. Jesus says He will give us rest, relief; He is the great Stress Reliever.

Christ can transform your life and your lifestyle from stressful to satisfied. The greatest source of stress comes from trying to live our lives apart from the One who made us, trying to go our own way, and be our own god.

If you have never committed your life to Christ, you need a transformation. Give your life with all its stress to Him and say, “Lord, please give me a new life. Replace the pressure I feel with the peace you offer. Help me live by Your principles of stress management. Forgive me for trying to do it my way. From this day forward I want You to take control of the throne of my life. I want to play the part You designed me for in His-story. Come into my life, take control and transform me into the person You created me to be by the indwelling power of Your Holy Spirit. Thank You Jesus, Amen.”


Raise A Child According To His “Bent”
Proverbs 22:6

By Randy A. Rathman, Pastor
Harvest Church of the Nazarene
Arab, Alabama

I’m sure anyone who has children and grandchildren will agree that the greatest satisfaction in life is in having raised a family. My greatest joys in life and my fondest memories are of raising my children and now helping with grandchildren. But I am also certain you would agree some of the most challenging and frustrating experiences in life also derive from raising children.

It is really amazing to me how those we love so much, who bring such joy into our lives can also bring such frustration and consternation. I head about a lady who had four very small children. Some friends realizing her need sent over a playpen. Several days later they received a thank you note that said, “Just what we needed. I sit in it every afternoon to read, and the kids can’t get me.”

We can probably all agree that raising kids has its joys and it has its frustrations. And while they are different at different ages and stages of life the joys and the frustrations last a life time. Whether they are 2 or 20 or 40 our job is never done. The process of parenting is never over and I want us to look at Proverbs 22:6 this morning and share some truths that can help us be better parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

With all the books written on the subject, with all the courses and counseling available today why should raising children be so difficult? We have seminars and videos that tell us “how to” but when we push the buttons we don’t always get the results we are looking for.

I heard about a man who had three theories on raising children, but later had three children and no theories. I can relate to that. You see, every one of us is a unique creation, we are individually designed, blue-printed by God before we are conceived (Psalm 119). The writer of Proverbs 22 is emphasizing the importance of training children in their formative years in keeping with their God given aptitudes and inclinations. In other words, don’t try to make rabbits climb trees or horses fly. We must know our children, their personality, temperament and unique characteristics in order to encourage them to develop their God given abilities.

There is a second dimension in this verse. The Hebrew sage is speaking to the need of moral training as well. The ancient Hebrew culture placed a strong emphasis on the moral training of a child by his parents so that “when he is old he will not depart from it.” James Dobson suggests that if we have not instilled the moral shape of our children by the time they are eight years old it will be very difficult to catch up. Children are very pliable but the clay begins to set from the inside out by the time they are about eight years old.

In a study of American families researchers were looking for the three most common answers that fathers give when their children come to them with a request:
1. “I’m too tired!”
2. “We don’t have enough money!”
3. “Just keep quiet!”

With answers like that it is pretty obvious that part of the problem with kids today is that parents are simply not doing their job. Parents are not being parents. We can not be a parent until we know our child and two of those answers deal with exactly that issue. How can we know our child if our standard response is “I’m too tired,” or “Just keep quiet?”

I love the observation of one little boy who says, “As soon as you’re born, the first thing they do is teach you how to walk, and then they teach you how to talk, and then they tell you to sit down and shut up.”

Folks, I believe this is a critical issue for the future of our country and the Church and I will admit to you I don’t have all the answers. I have raised three children but it is with great humility that I tell you on this subject I preach with fear and trepidation. Since the day I walked down the isle of a little Wesleyan Church in California and dedicated my three children back to God I have realized that my greatest responsibility as a Christian is to leave a Godly heritage through my children. Francine and I pray daily for our children and grandchildren. That God will give us wisdom as parents and grandparents to influence and encourage them in the ways of God. In fact before we go any further let’s pray together.

“Heavenly Father, help us. We need wisdom and insight. Lord give us the courage and the strength, give us Your grace today that we might be the parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles that we need to be. That we would see clearly today Your plan and purpose, Your agenda for raising Godly children. Help us Lord, in Jesus name Amen.”

Folks, you can’t raise children apart from the grace of God and it is in the humbling experiences of raising children we discover the opportunity to receive more grace. That is the desire and ability to do God’s will.

“Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.” I suspect when most of us read this we are thinking, “Be sure your child is in Sunday School and church at an early age. Teach them a lot of Bible verses and hymns and make sure they can recite the Ten Commandments by heart. Teach them a few prayers to use at meal time and bed time and in case of emergencies. If possible send them to a Christian school and see that they attend a Christian camp each summer. Strictly enforce your rules and regulations because after all the kid is going to grow up and rebel and maybe sow some wild oats. But when they are finished with their fling, when they are old and gray-haired, they will finally come back to God. You can count on it.”

Now let me help you really understand what this verse says to us. First we need to understand what it means to “train up.” The Hebrew word used here is chanak which means “to dedicate.” The Jewish celebration of Chanukkah is the celebration of the dedication of the temple. We need to start by dedicating our children to God.

When a Hebrew mid-wife delivered a baby the first thing she did was put some crushed grapes or dates on her finger and put it in the baby’s mouth. This was to cultivate a taste for grapes or dates. When the ancient Hebrew sage wrote, “train up a child” he was speaking of our responsibility to create a certain thirst in their life. We are to cultivate their taste for God. It will backfire on us if we wait till they are older and then try to force feed them.

In studying to prepare this message I discovered a note I had written years ago in the margin of my Bible. It says “the way he should go,” is literally, “according to his way.” I really appreciate the way the Amplified Version says it, “Train up a child in the way he should go, in keeping with his individual gifts, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

My dad is an Eagle Scout. He was always proud of that achievement and he made it a priority in my life. I wanted to please my dad and largely out of that motivation I became an Eagle Scout. When my son David was old enough I expected him to carry on the tradition. David is a third generation Eagle Scout and I am very proud of that but if I had it to do over again he might not be. You see I raised my son according to my bent rather than his. There is certainly nothing wrong with being an Eagle Scout it is a great honor and privilege and it can be a wonderful character builder but it can also produce a personality that may be sitting down on the outside but standing up on the inside.

If I had it to do over again I would spend more time learning to know my children than trying to mold my children. God is the potter, He is the master molder. Our job as parents is to create an environment for our children to co-operate with God in that process. Our children need to learn to reverence God. They need to understand the rules for life are established by God not mom and dad. Let’s look at several things we can do as parents to help our children co-operate with the Master Molder.

One thing we can do is help our children know who they are. When they know who they are and like who they are they can be themselves and they will enjoy a real sense of security.

We do our children a great disservice when we compare them to one another. “Why can’t you be like your brother or sister or the kid next door?” If they are going to know and like who they are and develop their God given aptitudes, interests and talents we should not compare them to someone else. Our objective must always be to develop the “good bents” in our children. Psalm 139 talks about how God formed us from the inside out, every detail and that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” God created each of us with special potential. As parents our responsibility is to help our children cultivate and develop that potential. So how do we develop the “good bents?”
Good bents are developed when a parent understands that God has a plan for His child. The Bible teaches that God has a plan for our life; He created each of us to play a unique part in His-story. So when I understand that God has a unique plan for my child I can pray, “God, You have entrusted this unique personality to my care. Now help me nurture and encourage this child to become all You intend. Give me the wisdom and the grace to help them develop their good bents for Your purpose.”

Listen, you will only come to really know your child when you spend quantity time with them. Quality time is important but it isn’t enough. It takes quantity time to really know your children and discover their bent. It is a cop-out when you hear someone say, “I don’t get to spend much time with my kids but what we do spend together is real quality.” It is in the quantity time they will pop of with something out of left field, something you never heard out of them before and you gain a nugget of insight into their heart or bent.

As we come to know our children we can encourage them to develop their strengths and overcome their weaknesses. We want to build up what is right and battle what is wrong. Certainly the frustration comes in the battling doesn’t it? At some point we all come to realize the truth of what the Psalmist said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” He said every child is born a sinner. And I know you might buy them a T-shirt that says, “I’m a little angel,” but there are going to be times when you wonder if you brought the wrong kid home from the hospital.

Have you ever known anyone who had to teach their child how to throw a fit? Did you ever sit down with your child and say, “Now watch me demonstrate how to hold your breath, lay on the floor and kick your feet?” Of course not, it just comes naturally doesn’t it? No one had to teach us to lie. We are born with a sinful nature and lying comes automatically. So how do we as parents deal with it? What do we do as parents to help our children overcome the natural tendencies we are all born with? I don’t have all the answers, this sermon might be complete with I’m 75 so let’s keep learning.

I believe we have access to some inside help. At the earliest age possible we need to introduce our children to Jesus Christ. Most children, by the time they are three or four, if they know anything about Jesus who loves them, they want to say the prayer. They don’t understand everything yet but it is a start. It is the beginning of their awareness of God and who He is. It is our responsibility to help them keep the momentum until they really do understand. It is our responsibility to help them develop from a young age their personal relationship with Jesus Christ by modeling our relationship, by hearing us pray, by seeing us read our Bible and living out what we read and say.

Listen parents, you demonstrate for your children every day what Jesus Christ means to you. So what are you demonstrating? Your example has a profound influence on your child’s concept of what it means to be Christian. So what are you modeling for your children?


In closing I want to share this insight from the imagination of a five year old explaining why we have “holes” in our tummies. “When God finishes making babies, He lines them up in a row. Then He walks along in front of them and pokes His finger in their tummy saying, ‘You’re done, you’re done, you’re done.’” Well, God may do that, but I’m telling you as a father, when we get them they’re certainly not done. Amen? They are perhaps our greatest challenge as well as our greatest satisfaction.

Let’s pray, “Lord, I realize that some who have heard this message don’t have children. But some are parents who are crying out for wisdom. Lord, we recognize that every age of a child’s life has its joys and frustrations. I just pray You would help us to be patient and kind, give us the grace to understand and encourage our children and grandchildren. Help us to see life through their eyes. Help us to make the time, to invest quantity time so that we do a quality job as parents. Help us to discipline our children with love and encourage them to develop their own personal relationship with You. Help us to realize the great responsibility You have entrusted to us as parents and inspire us to live our lives as an example to our children. Help us as a church family to encourage and support one another to Your honor and glory. Thank You Jesus, Amen.”


Becoming A “Friend Of God”
Gen. 12:1-8; James 2:22-23

By Randy A. Rathman, Pastor
Harvest Church of the Nazarene
Arab, Alabama


Daniel Webster was asked, “What is the greatest thought that can occupy a man’s mind?” He said, “His accountability to God?”

In the 12th chapter of Genesis we read the beginning of the story of one who understood and embraced his accountability to God. His name was Abram. Let’s read the first eight verses of the chapter together.

Abram lived in Ur of the Chaldeans which archeologists tell us was a relatively sophisticated city for its time. We would call it primitive by modern standards but it did have running water, libraries, and a legal system. It would have been considered pretty comfortable and relatively safe place to live. Abram and his family were of some means and stature in the community so when God said, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” Abram was probably a bit apprehensive. Abram was already 75 years old when God said, “Go north old man, go north” Abram was no doubt concerned about taking his family on a long journey across a desolate land. It would be a dangerous trip by any account.

From where Abram stood he could not see the future and there is no indication God revealed to Abram what He was up to. With the advantage of hindsight and archeological discoveries we can see today what God was up to. The fact that Abram’s wife Sarai was barren and yet God promised Abram a son in spite of his old age tells us something of God’s plan. God’s chosen people did not come by natural generation from the post Babel peoples. God was bringing a new humanity into being of whom Abram was the father. God’s purpose for calling Abram out of Ur was to separate the new race from the pagan culture of the Chaldeans to establish a new God centered culture. Archeologists tell us that the moon-god was worshiped at Ur.

By the way, have you ever noticed the symbol of Islam? A crescent moon!

Abram may not have understood what God was up to but he did understand and embrace his accountability to God and he trusted God enough to take the first step of faith. The result of Abram’s accountability was obedience and his obedience resulted in a growing faith so that God could trust Abram with greater responsibility and a richer more fulfilling life. Throughout Abram’s life God kept prodding, challenging, and molding Abram into the man God created him to be. God was the potter and Abram was the clay. Abram acknowledged his accountability to God, determined in his heart to obey God and the result was he was known as God’s friend (2 Ch. 20:7; Isa. 41:8).

We need to really understand what happened here. Abram accepted his accountability to God, obeyed God and trusted God. Abram didn’t dig in his heals, rather Abram was willing to be willing for God to call the shots and God established a covenant relationship with Abram. God revealed His own heart to Abram. They had a relationship, a friendship. Abram experienced God, he was God’s friend.

Listen, the first step toward being a friend of God is accountability and obedience to whatever or wherever God directs. Just as God spoke to Abram He speaks to you and I today, “Get out of your comfort zone. Get off the bench and into the game.” It is so easy for us who live in the land of milk and honey to get complacent isn’t it? God says, “You can’t sit out the game on the sidelines and still expect to participate in the victory celebration. You gotta get into the game. If you want to catch some fish you gotta get into the boat with Jesus.” (That is a pastoral paraphrase)

Ok, the first step toward becoming a friend of God is to realize our accountability to God for every detail of our life. He knows every hair on our head, nothing misses His scrutiny. When we become accountable to God with every detail of our life we will be motivated to obey God in every detail.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 10:28-30). If we will just trust and obey God will take care of the rest. “Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”

You see, when we “trust and obey” we are able “both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13) and we become “His workmanship, created…for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

When you and I set our heart on God, determine to play the game of life according to His rules rather than our own then God can begin the process of rebuilding us, of molding us into the character of Christ to be His friend. We must abdicate our will for God’s will in order to experience the reality of 1 John 1:7, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son, purifies us from all sin.”

Listen, don’t expect God to give you more light than you are willing to walk in. it is only as you and I exercise our faith to walk in the light God has given us that our faith will grow and God will give us more light to grow our faith. The Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples and said, “You are my friends if you do whatever I command you.” In other words, “You are My friends if you walk in the light I shine on your path through life.”

“Lord Jesus help us to realize that when we fail to walk in the light You give us we fail to experience Your best for our lives.”

In His covenant with Abram God said, “I will bless you.” God wants to bless you and me today. He wants to light a path for us that leads into blessing. We must simply be willing to be willing.


God also told Abram he would make his name great. This is a key to Abram’s faith walk, his name. In the Hebrew culture a person’s name was his character, the very essence of his being. To make his name great was actually a promise to develop, shape, and mold Abram’s character.

Abram’s name, his reputation and stature in the eyes of God and men would literally be shaped by God’s hand on his life. Truly, the blessings of obedience to God are immeasurable. Obedient faith is truly a key that unlocks the blessings of God on our lives. God’s greatest blessing is not what He does for us but what He does in us. God’s universal purpose for every one of us is to build the character of Christ in us. But it takes our cooperation. He will guide us but we must respond. He will discipline us in holiness because He loves us. God will instruct us so we can know and do His will. In the process God will metamorphous us into the person He created us to be and we too will be called His friend.

God will reveal Himself to us so we can love and obey Him and receive all that He desires for us both here and in eternity.

God took Abram on an amazing journey. It was a journey to teach Abram to “faith walk” with God. To develop a man of character through whom God could bless all the nations of the world. The farther Abram “faith walked” with God the more God developed Abram’s character. As his character changed there came a moment when God changed Abram’s name because he was a different person. The name Abram means “exalted” or “high one.” God changed his name to Abraham, “father of a multitude” or “father of many nations” (Gen. 17:1-8). Abraham became the father of a new spiritual race and every true disciple of Jesus Christ is his descendent.

Along with his new name came a new test. In Genesis chapter 22 God brings Abraham to the ultimate test and because of his response Abraham is a model for us today. Listen to what James says about him, “Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ And he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (2:18-24).

God shaped Abram to be His friend and God wants to do the same for you and me. Have you been progressively experiencing God’s shaping your character to become His friend? What is God doing in your life today? Are you experiencing God in you life? Do you realize you are on a “faith walk” with God?

Every Christian is saved and called by God to be on mission with Him as a disciple of Jesus Christ in His world. From the moment we are saved God begins the process of conforming us to “the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:28-30).

When was the last time you recognized a personal encounter with God? You can’t be a friend of God, a disciple of Jesus Christ and not have a personal relationship with Him.

Listen, none of us are too busy or too old or too tired or too whatever to respond to God’s invitation to cooperate with Him in whatever He is doing in us or through us.

“Lord help us to understand and embrace our personal accountability to You. We recognize that too often in our culture people want to pick there own path and then ask You to bless it. Our attitude too often is to hold You accountable for the mess we have made when we write our own script and suffer the inevitable consequences. Lord God, help us to be willing to be willing to cooperate with whatever you are up to in our lives. Give us the grace today to get into the game with you so that we can participate in the great victory celebration You have planned for those who trust and obey, who faith walk with You. Thank You Jesus, Amen”

 

 

 




 
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