In any Christian community there is bound to be strong differences in opinions and convictions about disputable matters. This can sometimes lead to heated arguments, strained relationships, arguments, fractures in families, cell groups and even congregations.
Some people cannot live without clear black and whites, laws and regulations, and fine lines. They take a position and insist that others follow suit. They want uniformity, not unity. They feel uncomfortable and want to impose their convictions on the rest.
This is not the way of Christ, according to St Paul. He expressed this in Romans 14, 15. It seems that the network of home churches in Rome were grappling with such arguments and disputes specifically about what could be eaten and drank, and what are special holy days. These strong opinions seem to stem from the diverse cultural religious backgrounds of converts from pagan religions as well as Judaism.
It is no different in today’s church. There are disputable matters that can overturn peace and harmony in the church. Matters like eating food offered to idols, consumption of alcohol, dressing and musical styles in church, yoga, acupuncture, tai chi, martial arts, tattoos, dancing, and in recent years, vaccination. What are the guidelines as to how we are to relate to people with different opinions about such matters? In short, they are:
WHAT NOT TO DO (how to un-love)
DO NOT QUARREL OR FIGHT OR SPLIT (IMPOSE ON OTHERS) – Rom 14:1
DO NOT DESPISE OR JUDGE OTHERS – Rom 14:3
DO NOT CAUSE OTHERS TO STUMBLE – Rom 14:13
WHAT TO DO (how to love)
BE FULLY CONVINCED IN YOUR MIND – Rom 14:5,23
ENJOY YOUR LIBERTY BUT BE WILLING TO RESTRICT IT – Rom 14:14,15,22
SEEK UNITY & EDIFICATION – Rom 14:19; 15:5,6
I dealt with this in a sermon that was part of a series of on Romans done by World Revival Prayer Fellowship pastoral staff. In this sermon I talked about what disputable matters are, who are the “strong” and “weak” Christians, and how we are to handle such hot potatoes and relate to people in love throughout. I also talk about why it is important for us to do this and what is important to the heart of God. Finally I summed up the book of Romans. You can listen to the sermon titled “DISPUTABLE MATTERS: HANDLE WITH LOVE” in the video below:
“Pastor, do you have any sermon ideas for Advent 2021?” Advent begins on Sunday, 28th November and ends on 24th December, requiring a sermon series over four Sundays. I had posted a blogpost a few years back that was well-received about sermons that addresses the needs of seniors in church and this may suit you this Christmas season. You can access this HERE.
For this blogpost, I would like to suggest a fresh sermon series for Advent 2021 about Mary the mother of Jesus. Mary, as a model of Christian discipleship and feminine godliness is too often left neglected and forgotten in the dark church storeroom layered with centuries of dust. Haven’t we gotten over the Protestant reformation suspicion of all things Catholic? Is there such a deep unconscious fear of criticism from the pew if Mary is talked about too much from the pulpit? The Protestant pulpit need to talk more about Mary for she is the greatest model of godliness that can inspire, comfort and strengthen the silent majority of our churches (most churches have more females than males). Most pulpits are manned by males, and the dominant examples held up are male Bible heroes, and probably we pastors have forgotten that more than half of our listeners are faithful women starved of a female model of godly femininity, discipleship and leadership that they can easily relate to and identify with.
Enough of polemics, my suggestion is to keep each sermon compact, practical and focused on one main truth, since most services are hybrid (on-site as well as online), and it is challenging to keep the attention of people online with lengthy sermons.
This series is for all the ladies (adult and teenagers) in church, though it certainly is suitable for all God’s people, including the men. Perhaps it’s time for men to do the extra work of trying to relate, draw out and apply biblical truth for themselves from a sermon series that uphold a woman as an example to aspire to.
Receiving God’s Word as the Final Word
Of course, the main point that St Luke was eager to point out to his audience in the passage Luke 1:26-38 was the deity and sinlessness of Jesus. However, there are many facets of Mary’s response to God that we can dwell on and gather fruit. In this case, it was her amazing child-like response to the angelic announcement. Her response was one of child-like faith in God’s word, in defiance of human logic and experience, the natural order of human conception, of God’s past ways of blessing infertile couples, and of the expectations of her culture. She accepted God’s word as final, and though she could never understand how the Holy Spirit would accomplish it, she did not doubt the angel’s explanation as to how a virgin can conceive! She took God’s word as the final word. “Blessed is she who believed, for there would be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45). The blessed life is one of believing and not doubting the love and power and word of God. It believes God’s word about any topic on beliefs, values and morality is final despite what others say, what science says, what the media says, what circumstances says. Herein we must stand as the people of the world gets blown here and there and everywhere by the winds of relativism. Everything must bow before God’s final word.
According to a Cambridge review study, women are almost twice as likely to experience anxiety as men due to differences in brain chemistry and hormone fluctuations, coping strategies, and other factors about which you can read HERE. Therefore, the issue of living with courage the way Mary lived out her faith has a high relevancy for women.
Marriage were arranged for teenagers in those days so Mary was a teenager when she had that supernatural encounter with the angel and believed those words spoken to her. It was this faith that sustained her and gave her the courage to live in the face of shame, suspicion, misunderstanding and disapproval – things that greatly affect teenage girls today. Teenagers and women experience such anxieties too and perhaps more so with social media amplification. They may also face such challenges with their families, workplaces and schools. Members will be encouraged, when their pastors uphold Mary, a simple village teenager, as an inspiring example of a godly woman, who used the shield of her faith in God, to defend her from the onslaught of fiery missiles aimed at her by the evil one.
As a sermon illustration, an inspiring example of a young Singaporean young woman in missions who faced fearful situations in the missions field with an attitude of faith can be found HERE.
Openness to God
Mary’s openness to God is one of the secrets of God’s blessing on her life. She had her eyes and ears open to discern what God is saying and doing through life’s many interactions, both supernatural and natural. Whether it was an angelic encounter, Elizabeth’s testimony, the reports of the sophisticated magi or lowly shepherds, or the exclamations of Anna the elderly widower, and Simeon an elderly visitor to the Temple, or her husband Josephs’ dream, or her child’s words, she received these as messages from God, and pondered over them throughout her life, letting those words orientate and regulate her expectations and direction in life. We need this kind of willingness to listen to God no matter how he chooses to communicate with us, as long as it is in line with God’s character and revelation of himself in the Bible. Such openness and meditation upon God’s communications with us enable us to walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, understanding what the will of the Lord is, and keeping ourselves filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:15-18).
A Blessedness That Includes Suffering
The Christian life is a balanced life. Mary was told that she was highly favoured and she was blessed among women. In addition, Simeon told her, “a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2: 34,35). Joy and pain would both be part of her life. It is also part of any believer’s discipleship. There is no doubt about this. It is clear that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places because we are in Christ. These are primarily spiritual blessings, but God is generous and cares about our physical and material well-being too. However, we have to see that suffering is also a part of the whole package. “Those who desire to live godly lives in Christ will suffer persecution”(2 Tim 3:12) and we should not be surprised when a “fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12-19).
Mary was greatly blessed, and indeed spiritual blessings like her special calling, and material blessing of providence, provision (like the magi’s gifts) and protection (escape from Herod) marked her path of discipleship. However, she was also familiar with suffering. The difficulties she encountered with Joseph at the beginning, giving birth in unhygienic conditions away from home and family support, the refugee status she lived with in Egypt after they fled from Herod, her widowhood, saying goodbye to Jesus, hearing rumours and slander about Jesus during his ministry, rejection from her community in Nazareth, and the “sword” that pierced her soul when Jesus was rejected by the religious leaders and when she saw her son crucified by the Romans. Grief, sorrow, opposition, rejection, criticism, judgement, misunderstandings, ostracism, disgrace and shame – she went through all these as part of being “greatly blessed among women” – an example of balanced discipleship. So too must the women in our church learn to accept this balance in their discipleship journey.
I confess that I have once used this story about the eagle’s renewal in my sermon. I had assumed it was true but now know it is not based on facts. Where and how it originated, I do not know but I can understand its powerful appeal to both the preacher and the congregation. It is a story of hope, of turn-around, of transformation. Sadly it is still available on the internet and preachers still tell the story.
THE ROMANTIC STORY OF AN EAGLE’S RENEWAL
This story has been circulated in a slide presentation and its origin is unknown. Here is one version of the story of the eagle’s renewal:
“The Eagle has the longest life-span among birds. It can live up to 70 years. But to reach this age, the eagle must make a hard decision. In its 40th year its long and flexible talons can no longer grab prey which serves as food. Its long and sharp beak becomes bent. It’s old-aged and heavy wings, due to their thick feathers, stick to its chest and make it difficult to fly. Then the eagle is left with only two options: die or go through a painful process of change which lasts 150 days. The process requires that the eagle fly to a mountain top and sit on its nest. There the eagle knocks its beak against a rock until it plucks it out. Then the eagle will wait for a new beak to grow back and then it will pluck out its talons. When its new talons grow back, the eagle starts plucking its old-aged feathers. And after 5 months, the eagle takes its famous flight of rebirth and lives for 30 more years.”
THE STORY DEBUNKED BY EXPERT
Now here is the feel-good story refuted by someone who knows better: “This has brought to mind a story that I occasionally get asked by visitors at The National Eagle Center and I have also seen it pop up in the chat room as well. It is how when an eagle gets to be about 40 years old and wants to live for another 30 years or more, the eagle will fly to a mountain top and go through a rebirth.
This is an inspiring story that has circulated widely on the internet for years. It is a story of transformation and determination to live. The wide appeal of this story speaks to the eagle’s extraordinary power to captivate and inspire human beings. While this story is inspiring, and may offer us a way to reflect on our own life journey, the story is just that, a story. It is not accurate biologically. I have underlined what the storyteller usually says and then I have written below that a rebuttal to that statement.
“The eagle has the longest life-span among birds”
Eagles typically live between 20-30 years in the wild. As apex predators, they are relatively long-lived compared to many other birds. The oldest wild eagle on record is about 32 years of age.
“It can live up to 70 years. But to reach this age, the eagle must make a hard decision. In its 40’s its long and flexible talons can no longer grab prey which serves as food.”
Talons are hard, sharp and curved throughout the eagle’s life. Talons and the beak are made out of keratin, the same material as our fingernails. Think about how long it takes for your nails to grow.
“Its long and sharp beak becomes bent”
An eagle’s beak is hooked to rip and tear it’s food. It has this distinctive hooked beak throughout its life, like all birds of prey. Beak and talons are critical to eagles’ ability to catch and consume food. No eagle can survive without a beak or talons for any amount of time.
“Its old-aged and heavy wings, due to their thick feathers, become stuck to its’ chest and make it difficult to fly”
Feathers are replaced throughout an eagle’s life. The process is called molting. An eagle does not lose all of its feathers at one time. It is a gradual process, continually renewing the feathers.
“Then the eagle is left with only two options: DIE or go through a painful process of change which lasts 150 days. The process requires that the eagle fly to a mountain top and sit on it’s nest.”
An eagle’ nest is used only for the rearing of the young. Eagles do not use their nest except for the few months of the year when they are actively raising their young.
“There the eagle knocks its’ beak against a rock until it plucks it out”
Beak and talons are critical to eagles’ ability to catch and consume food. NO eagle can survive without a beak or talons.
“When its new talons grow back, the eagle starts plucking its’ old-aged feathers”
An eagle cannot survive without food for anything close to 150 days. A few days without food might be possible, but no longer.
“And after five months, the eagle takes its’ famous flight of rebirth and lives for 30 MORE YEARS”
Reading the story definitely makes you feel good, but remember it is biologically impossible for this story to be true. Our story that we are watching on this webcam is true, and we all are learning a lot by watching it!”
A NOTE TO PREACHERS
Sorry preachers, one of our favourite crowd-pleasing stories have been cremated before our eyes. We need to verify stories that seem far-fetched, fantastic, astounding. These days the internet makes it possible for us to verify the claims of others before we present it to our people in sermons.
We have to be careful or our people will believe a lie and circulate false facts around making them look ridiculous and naïve. Our integrity is also called to question, and if not our integrity, our due diligence as preachers. “Do your best to present yourself approved to God, an unashamed workman who accurately handles the word of truth.”(2 Tim 2:15 ESV)
It is not uncommon for Pentecostal churches to shelve preaching on Pentecostal distinctives as they seek relevance with a contemporary audience. Addressing felt relational, emotional and felt needs of church members take priority over church’s distinctives. This can happen because the Pentecostal doctrine of baptism of the Holy Spirit can be an offence to today’s young adults. Yet it must be talked about or we will lose our heritage, our identity and one of God’s greatest gift to his church and his greatest resource to reaching the world for Christ.
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit
I announced and planned a series on the Holy Spirit. I initially planned something that began with the works that the Holy Spirit would do according to the teaching of Jesus in John 14-16, and then talk about the Baptism of the Spirit, and finally a session on Speaking in Tongues.
However, as I proceeded to prepare, with the Lord’s influence, it began to be (1) The Baptism of the Holy Spirit, covering the five incidents in Acts when the Spirit was poured out as initiation experiences/encounters. After feedback from members, newbies and mature ones, I slowed down and stayed with Acts 2 the Day of Pentecost and drew most of my observations and conclusions from Acts chapter 2, after painting a picture of what happened there, giving the Bible background of the passage. I also brought in two persons, one of mature age, and another younger person to share their experiences of being baptized with the Holy Spirit and how the gift of tongues had blessed them.
At the end I gave an invitation for prayer for fresh anointings and healings, and invited those who wanted to be filled with the Spirit to meet at the conference room after the service. Three adults in their 50’s showed up. After giving them a briefing, several of us laid hands and prayed for them to be filled and remarkably they were granted the gift of tongues within fifteen minutes, and we spent the rest of the time praying, prophesying, anointing with oil, and singing in tongues for another 20 minutes or more.
My Cry and Prayer
It was a blessed time and gratifying. My only disappointment was that not many of the younger age group were there desiring and thirsting for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. I am praying that God would stir the hearts of people who had been content with what they have experienced of the Christian life thus far, with a holy discontent that wants more, indeed ALL of what God promised and intended for His people. May we have a people with hearts aflame for the passion of His name.
I wonder if it is the same with the church you worship in. Do they preach about their distinctive? How often?
A relevant prayer for Lent season. You can call it the soul searching prayer. Or better still I would call it the prayer of inward journey.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts, And see if there be any grievous way in me,and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23,24 ESV)
This is a well known and beloved Psalm. In verses 1-6, shows us that God knows all; and verses 7-12 tells us God is everywhere; and 13-18 tells us God is our loving and wise Creator. In verses 19-22 the Psalmist prays against those who rise up against such a wonderful God. He hates them and prays for them to experience the worst! Then suddenly in verse23,24 his tone changes and he prays that famous prayer, Search me O God…. Its like he is praying, Lord I don’t want to be like these guys who rise up and fight against Your love and power. See if there is even a tiny bit of them in me, for I want to be rid of that and be changed by your power. Instead please lead me to the everlasting path instead of the path that leads to grief.
This is indeed a prayer we all need to use when we feel disturbed, upset or hurt. When we lost our peace and feel out of sorts and in disequilibrium, we can seek God’s help in understanding what He wants to show us about ourselves and Himself.
Its a prayer that sends me inwards to look at my heart, my thoughts, and even “any grievous way” in me. The Hebrew for “grievous” denotes forced labour, or the fruit of sorrow, bondage and misery it brings. This inward journey can be daunting and intimidating.
That’s why it has to be a guided tour. The Psalmist invites God to be his guide on this inward journey. I wouldn’t go on this journey alone. It is fraught with the dangers of discouragement, self-hatred and condemnation. However with this God who loves me, has forgiven me, and dealt forever with all my sins past present and future, I have no fear, only assurance and peace that this journey will heal and help me, not harm me.
Lastly, its a blessed journey because there are many blessings. One blessing is increased self-knowledge. Another blessing is knowing which areas of weakness Satan will seek to tempt me. I can watch and pray at those particular weak areas in my defence.