Monthly Archives: August 2017

Inside Out and Right Side Up

Peninsula Community Church

Inside Out and Right Side Up

August 13, 2017

Luke 11:37-41 While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.  And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.” 

I began my formal ministry in 1979. Immediately following Bible College, I moved to New York where I began to minister in a number of different ways to a number of different communities. One of the things I remember about my earlier days of ministry is that there were times where I learned more about what not to do in ministry than what to do from those who were around me. Now granted, those that surrounded me were not evil people, they just lived out of the distortions in their life. It was these distortions that directly impacted the way they did ministry. After a couple of years of ministry, I realized that some of those to whom I was connected loved themselves more than they loved God. They loved the notoriety of being a pastor more than they did the glory of God. They tended to use people for their gain, but did little to personally assist in the growth of individuals.

As I read this passage, I began to identify with what Jesus was confronting here. It is noteworthy that throughout Jesus’ ministry, He showed such grace and mercy to the sinner and the struggling believer. He did, however, reserve His harshest criticism for the Pharisees and the spiritual leaders of His day. At one point, Jesus described them as tombs that were painted white on the outside but were empty on the inside (Matthew 23:27). The idea presented by Jesus is that outwardly they appeared to have it all together, but inwardly they were empty. Because of the emptiness experienced by the Pharisees, they tended to focus more of their attention on their outward appearance than on their inward depth. Spiritually they were wide but not deep. Today, we will look at the attitudes exhibited by the Pharisees and then make an application of this truth.

First of all, we find that the Pharisees were empty on the inside so they flexed their spiritual muscle on the outside. Listen to Jesus’ words here. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it (Luke 11:44). And then in Luke 11:46 Jesus had this to say. “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers (Luke 11:46). Here is the bulk of the problem for the Pharisees. They burdened people with rules, laws, and requirements that they themselves were unable to obey or follow. I have often said that when our hearts are not right with God it is easier to make a law than it is to allow God to transform our hearts. Jesus is and has always been more about the transformation of the heart than He is about obeying man’s religious rules. The Pharisees missed this as they thought they could legislate morality but from my experience you cannot legislate morality. And for that matter you cannot legislate immorality. Legislation does not make right wrong nor does it make the wrong right. For Jesus, it was more about relationship than it was the law. Now unless you misunderstand, there are biblical, godly principles that we are called to obey but when applied correctly they are not burdensome but in reality they are very freeing and they move us to a place of growth and depth.

Jesus had the Pharisee’s number. He uncovered the fact that they not only forced others to obey these mandates but they did little to help others to obey. Those to whom Jesus referred to as lawyers, loved to weigh people down with laws and regulations. They were well educated, well trained people but they loved to place great burdens on others. The problem is that they imposed laws on others but were not willing to lift a finger to help carry the burden they forced on others. This is juxtaposed to Jesus’ desire for us to help each other, encourage each other, and push each other to do our best.

These actions were a result of their emptiness and dryness inside. Their emphasis was on the outward man and not the inward. As you know, I love football. To me there are two types of players. There are the ones who are puffed up and brag about how great they are and then there are the guys who go out on the field and prove they have the ability they say they do. That brings us to our second point.

The second characteristic related here is that instead of grace they functioned from a perspective of legalism and idolatry to the rules.But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others (Luke 11:42). They thought the rules applied to everyone else but not themselves. They felt they were above the law. They expected everyone else to tow the line. They expected everyone else to follow the rules. And yet, they bent the rules when it favored them. It could be said they worshipped the rules of God more than they worshipped the God of the rules. When this occurs, it creates a disconnect between what is true and what is false.

Notice here that they were good at giving gifts. They were dutiful and followed through with outward spiritual disciplines but they missed what was important. They attended church. They sang in the choir. They even taught a class but they missed the mark by failing to exhibit justice and love. These can be summed up in one word, grace. They lacked grace. They were well educated on the rules but missed the mark of loving others and showing others the amazing grace they had been given. Outwardly, they were obedient and rigidly held to the rules of the day, but inwardly they were empty and lacked spiritual depth. Here is a truth for us. Following the rules is great but to do so without grace and love leaves us cold and indifferent.

The third characteristic is that the Pharisees were all about control which was centered in a spirit of pride. They wanted the best seats in the house. They wanted to be recognized in the town. They would enter a room with great fanfare and pomp and circumstance. You knew they were in the room because they made sure you knew they were there. Once again listen to Jesus’ words. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces (Luke 11:43). The Pharisees were the type that would arrive late and would make a fuss coming into the building so that you would know they were there. They were the type that would continually remind you how important they were. Again this action was a means for them to cover up the emptiness within them.

The fourth characteristic of the pharisee, and this for me is the saddest one of all, is that they stripped people of the joy of knowing God. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering (Luke 11:52). Because they burdened people with the law, they failed to minister with grace, and they exhibited a spirit of pride that stripped people of the joy of knowing God. The fact is they gave what they had, a lifeless, empty lifestyle. They stood in the way of others knowing the truth by virtue of their attitudes and actions toward others. Rather than seeking a knowledge of God by way of a personal relationship, they rejected that for an attitude of performance and outward visibility.

As we close this today, I am keenly aware that there two ways we can apply this passage to our life. First of all, we can look at this study and do an evaluation and then come to the conclusion that we often act as the Pharisees did. We want others to tow the line but we give ourselves grace and compromise on the very rules we set in place. We judge and condemn others while crying out for grace in our life. We are good at knowing the rules and we make sure that everyone else follows them when we fall short in accomplishing that ourselves. One way to illustrate this how do you respond when someone asks you about your Christian walk. Do you list your good deeds or do you list the good deeds of a heavenly father that loves us more than we will ever know or understand this side of heaven? Are we more concerned about following the rules, or receiving God’s grace which actually assists us in obeying the rules? Are you more concerned about how others follow the rules or do we come along side of others to help them grow in the knowledge of God.

The second way we can make application of this passage is to recognize that we often live under Pharisaical influences. We are subjected to the judgment and criticalness of one who knows the rules and expects everyone else to obey while they themselves fail to do so. They hold us to a different accounting than they are willing to hold themselves. The result is that we can become discouraged and weakened in our spiritual state. We are hindered by the words of others. But the truth is we don’t have to be. We can recognize that God’s grace is there for us and we do not have to be subjected to the emptiness of others. The fact is we must show the grace of God of those who show so little grace to us.

Here is the deal there is grace at the foot of the cross. There is grace to overcome the Pharisaical attitudes we express. There is grace to overcome the power exerted over us to obey the rules at the cost of a depth in Christ. In Matthew West’s song “Grace Wins Every Time” reminds that grace wins in every situation. We receive grace and we give grace.

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Copyright © 2017 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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The Power of Prayer

Peninsula Community Church

The Power of Prayer

August 6, 2017

Mark 9:29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

If we were to poll the group gathered here today, I am sure that we would find that everyone one of us have an issue or problem that is exerting its influence upon our life. Too often, these issues are exert their influence which causes us to doubt our connection to God as a believer. It also move us to a place where we fail to recognize the power of God in our life, or at least we question His power. As we consider these issues, today, we will review one of the great principles of Jesus’ ministry. This principle is the power of prayer. It is a principle that can change us from having an ineffective and fruitless life to one where we live in the fulness of what God has done and is doing in us.

To understand this principle, we begin with the premise that there is power through prayer. Throughout Scripture there is a consistent and ongoing reference to the power of prayer. In the Bible there are illustrations of the power of prayer. There are stories of God’s intervention through prayer. There are statements made by Jesus and other writers that encourage us toward a lifestyle of prayer. The passage before us is one such reference. Here we find that Jesus makes a powerful proclamation of truth. He states “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Personally, I am grateful that Mark thought enough of this story to include it in his narrative of Jesus’ life. The result is that we are the benefactors of the truth expressed here. The result is that we come to an understanding that prayer has an impact on our lives.

Let me relate the story to you. The parents of a boy had a son who had a spirit attached to him. In those days many illnesses and diseases were defined as demonic or spiritual attachments. They did not know how to define it any other way. His condition was one that made him mute and at times caused him to be thrown to the ground where he would grind his teeth, foam at the mouth, and become very rigid. The symptoms experienced seem to describe some kind seizure activity. Regardless of the problem, this issue was pressing on the parents and it caused grief to the young boy. The parents had become tired of the activity and they wanted something to change. They wanted to get past this obstacle. They wanted their son to be free and they wanted to be free from the torment they realized as a result of his condition.

Because Jesus was busy teaching and ministering to others, the parents brought the child to the disciples in hopes they could bring some relief. The disciples did what they knew to do but were ineffective. They tried to cast out the spirit but were not able to do so. This was a frustrating moment for the mother, for the child, and for the disciples. What they wanted to do did not happen. They were frustrated that nothing changed. Nothing was different.

The only one in the story not frustrated was Jesus. In His review of the situation He ascertained that the problem lay in the fact that the disciples had tried to exert spiritual power without being connected to the source. For that reason, Jesus stated that the resolution to this kind of problem could only come by prayer. You see they faced a problem that was bigger than they were and it was a problem bigger than they could manage. It was a problem that devastated the family. They needed an answer and prayer was the one tool that was most effective in bringing needed results.

The fact is, in life, we are all confronted with problems that are bigger than us. We feel devastated and we fill powerless to accomplish much or overcome the difficulties we face. Let me bring this closer to home. We all have family members we want to see be better or do better. We all have issues that seem so large that it is almost impossible to overcome them. We all have fears and anxieties that loom large in life. These issues control us and neuter our ability to make progress in life. For example, here in Sussex County, as in many parts of our nation, we are facing a drug epidemic that is effecting everyone in some way. Recently, I met with some folks in regard to the drug epidemic and the overwhelming sense was that there was not much that could be done immediately. In their mind the problem is out of control without a solution. But I am convinced that through prayer even the drug epidemic can be dealt with. There is power through prayer.

Through prayer we can confront the problems we face. No matter what the problem is, there is hope. There is power available to us. We can overcome. One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is the story of David and Goliath. In 1 Samuel 17, we find that the nation of Israel was neutralized in their power and were back on their heels. They were filled with fear and anxiety. Why? They had a giant that stood before them. Day after day Goliath, the giant, mocked them and ridiculed them. He did all of this without throwing a spear or actually attacking them in any way. He simply hurled insults and lies their way.

For forty days, all he did was throw out accusations and demeaning words at them. The children of Israel succumbed to these words which resulted in them standing powerless before the giant. They were intimated and were frozen in their tracks. You see the army of Israel and Saul were to be the protectors of Israel. Instead they stood cowering in the shadow of the giant. He had power over them and they gave him this power. He neutralized their ability to answer his attacks.

While they stood cowering in fear, a young boy shows up. David had no outward sign of being able to take on the giant. He had no armor. He had no professional training as a soldier. But he had something that no one else had. He had a connection with God that was missing in the army’s life and for that matter in the king’s life. This was no ordinary boy. He had a confidence in God’s ability to overcome whatever was thrown his way. He had an experience that far exceeded any training or education the army had.

What made the difference? Day after day David communed with God. He prayed to God. He worshipped God. He had a connection with God like no other in his day. How do we know this? We find that David had overtaken a bear. He had destroyed a lion that had gone after his flock. We see this through the Psalms that David penned. He proclaimed the greatness of God. He proclaimed the need to have a connection with God. The Psalms give insight into the heart of David. David was a worshipper of God and he was a man of prayer.

We should know that the army of Saul were not bad people. They were good at what they did. The disciples were not bad people either. The problem is that they missed a critical part of the mission to which they had been called. They needed to communicate to the one who was truly in charge and who had the power to bring the victory they needed.

The difference was found in their ability to pray and focus on God. Through prayer David lived in a reality that caused him to focus on a source bigger than himself and his problem. It allowed him to recognize the character of God. When we focus on a source bigger than ourselves, it allows us to see God for who He is. We will see Him as the one who is able to destroy every giant we face. Whether we face a spirit that demoralizes us or a giant that intimidates us, through prayer these issues are neutralized.

Listen to the words of David. “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hand” (1 Samuel 17:45-47). Powerful words from a man who had encountered a powerful God.

Through prayer we invite the presence of God into our lives. We can have Him in our heart but not allow Him to direct our life. Too often we try to live without God and then wonder why things are so messed up. The fact is we need God to be intricately involved in every aspect of our lives. Through prayer we are focused on inviting Him to do that in our lives. By having His presence in our lives, we are conditioned to hear the voice of truth rather than the lies the enemy tries to promote.

So what are your giants today? Is it anxiety? Is it fear? Is it intimidation? Is it family issues? You name it, we all have giants that want to intimidate us and destroy us if at all possible. We all have giants in our life that desire to minimize our impact for God. What is your giant? I can tell you that if you will focus on God in prayer that your giant will be diminished.

As we close take a moment and listen to a song by Casting Crowns entitled the “Voice of Truth.” Listen to words and recognize today that the giants in your life can and will fall when we hear the voice of truth and commit ourselves to focusing on God’s will and plan for our  life.

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Copyright © 2017 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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