Sermon- Safety

Sept, 2013

As many of you know, I’m all about safety. I think about it a lot, I read about it, and I do my best to prepare for the unimaginable. Except that I have imagined it, and that helps in my preparation. But it must be said that my concern is not out of fear, it is more that I wish with all my heart to serve The Lord as the tool that he made me. And he made me to prepare for the unimagined.

The elders appointed me to the Governing Board with the express purpose of creating/preparing a safety plan and I would like to read from the statement.

Our Church is dedicated to providing worship services to the community in times of prosperity as well as times of adversity, for God has made the one and the other. Eccl. 7:14
What I discovered by studying dozens upon dozens of Safety Plans from across the country was a common intention of serving the people in times of trouble. And the disasters were very regional, earthquake country, hurricanes, tornadoes, dust storms. All that nature could throw at us requires planning. And I read pages after pages of warm blanket storage, potable water and water filtration systems, underground shelters, soup kitchens, phone trees, first aid stations, walkie talkies. 

All these things are good to do, necessary to do, the church should be the first place to be organized.. But do you know, very few plans focused on the need to continue to spiritually feed the people. Very few churches planned to step up their services to two or three times a day to provide a message of comfort, redemption, salvation, and the conquering of fear. I never saw one mention of the need of worship in time of trouble. Well, we here at this Church have a different thought. All the other stuff, yes, but God is first.

It’s not scriptural to operate out of fear. It’s natural to have fear, it’s God’s built in radar system that can alert you to a need. Maybe it’s trimming the brush from your home, maybe it’s storing an extra liter or two of water. These are sound decisions were fear may have acted as the alert system, but the Bible teaches us to not act upon fear.

Sometimes it’s useful to do a simple word search to help with a study. I have seven Bibles installed and accessible. The King James Bible, the New American Standard Bible, the Net Bible, the Holman Study Bible, the World English Bible, the Amplified Bible, and the Complete Word Study Bible. It’s a good mix, but what a difference in a basic word search. The King James Bible has 385 instances in scripture that uses the word fear. The Net Bible has 201. And just to show the range, the Holman Study Bible has 240. 

This it not to point out that you can’t trust the word of God, this only illustrates that there are many interpretations when you go from an ancient language to Modern English. What I can also tell you that all of these bibles agree that we are not to fear. All translate Ps 23.4 “Even though I walk through the *valley of the shadow of death, I fear no *evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Some have dread instead of fear, some have danger instead of evil. The overall sense is the same, we need to know that God is in charge, and that our fears actually put that to doubt. 

Psalm 27:1 
The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid? 

Psalm 56:3-4 
When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me? 
Hebrews 13:5-6 
For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” 

So the plan exists not because of fear, but because of the men of Nehemiah. The Book of Nehemiah, along with the Book of Ezra details what happened when the Exiles were finally released from Babylon.

One of the huge failures of some academics is to take the Bible and place it exclusively on the shelf of theology. Okay, it is the Word of God so I can see that, but it is also one of the most complete and detailed book of history of ancient peoples. The wars between Egypt and Babylon are well known through many sources on both sides, and the changes that occurred in the superpowers of that time are also well documented.

Just a little global background, if you think that the Middle East is confusing today, well, history repeats itself. For a thousand years until the time of Jesus, the Fertile Crescent was awash with conquering kings and vast armies. Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Assyrians ( who by the way may have been the cruelest of all people, unique because they were a volunteer people, you were Assyrian because you joined them), Medes, Chaldeans, and Neo-Babylonians. The Israelites were right in the thick of it, at the crossroads of all this movement and political power. 

The last of the Assyrian kings tried to conquer Israel but failed, only to be conquered a few years later by the Neo-Babylonians and their allies. It was at this time that the people were carried off into Exile, about 620 BC. It must be noted that not all the people, only the wealthy, only the priests, only the shopkeepers and the middle class. Most of the country people were left in place, of course Jerusalem was utterly destroyed. Perhaps it could be said only the educated and only the potential leaders were taken. 

You see the Babylonians had this agenda for conquered lands. Exchange all the people, move one group here, and another there, and it was much easier to keep control because it made all their conquered subjects strangers in a strange land.

When the Neo-Babylonians fell to Cyrus the Great, one of the first things he decreed was to allow the Exiles to return.

The people had spent over eighty years in captivity, certainly more than the Egyptian experience, but it was long enough that hardly anyone was alive that remember Jerusalem. Coming home was like coming to another strange land. The leadership of the land had reverted to pagan tribes, the Hebrew in the country had lived alone without the Law and had little knowledge of what once had been. It was a very Dark Time. Even in Exile the people had kept their identity, and they knew that Israel was where they were supposed to be as it was God’s gift.

So now you have this Nehemiah person, trying to get Jerusalem up from the ashes. The problem was that the walls of the city had been torn down, expose everyone to anyone walking by. The question to ask is why is that a big deal. For seventy years the walls had been down, who cared anymore? And now it was populated by a few thousand former slaves who had nothing, again, who would bother. What is not widely understood is that when Cyrus released the Exiles, he fully expected that Temple life would resume, so he also released the Temple’s golden lamp stands, the vessels, bowls, and all the silver trumpets. There was a treasure again in the middle of the city. And they local leaders didn’t mind a few more of the Hebrew coming in, after all, there were thousands of country folk all around, but these new folk were not the same. They were being replaced and they were in competition so they wanted the walls to stay down.

So this was the scene in Jerusalem in about 525 BC

Nehemiah 4:11 Our enemies said, “They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work.” 12 When the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, “They will come up against us from every place where you may turn,” 13 then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows. 14 When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.” 

15 When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. 17 Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. 18 As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me. 19 I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. 20 “At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” 

21 So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared. 22 At that time I also said to the people, “Let each man with his servant spend the night within Jerusalem so that they may be a guard for us by night and a laborer by day.” 23 So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water. 

We continue to fight. The analogy to battle is still true, although according to Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 

It is not out of fear that we act, it is out of conviction. The Enemy is like a roaring lion…

The church is here, on this ground, in this building. The story behind our two buildings is fairly remarkable. In our time, it might even be close to a modern miracle. If we aren’t aware of this, then we risk being like the Hebrews crossing the desert. Remember the story, having witnessed the pillar of fire, the parting of the sea, the destruction of an army…the Hebrews complain that things aren’t going well, and perhaps they should go home. It was going to be over before it started. We could pass over how the buildings came into our charge fairly easily. We need to be awake to see what God is doing.

This church has been through many trials and everyone was both difficult and full of growth. We have had people come and go, all with reasons, some that could be articulated and some just silently slipped away. My prayers are for each and everyone. There has always been a choice. We are so lucky that we in America have the freedom of choice in religion. God is worshipped in so many styles, in so many churches all across the country.

Now a little personal confession, very few people know this because, quite frankly, it wasn’t that important to anyone but me.

I was asked to be an elder about ten years ago. I said no, I wasn’t an elder, I know what an elder looks like, and acts like and that’s not me. I’m actually quite shy and have a hard time being social. I work at it, but it doesn’t mean I like it. I was told that it wasn’t my decision, it was God ‘s and think about it. In fact, not wanting to be an elder was one of the qualifiers. So, I prayed, and what came about was the realization that I had a skill the the Church needed, and God had given me the skill so…

The next few months I came to understand the wisdom of the structure here. God anointed the leaders, the Elders of the church to the task of bringing the House of God to the people of this community. I had listened to at least a dozen different pastors in this pulpit, all were men of God, some maybe a little more prepared, but I never left the church. Because it wasn’t about the Children’s programs or the Communion Service, or the type of worship songs… It was about God and His presence, and as long as I felt that I would remain. 

Now this church has been through several different worship styles, but the style here were set by the anointed leaders, the Elders. I suddenly understand and I believe the phrase is I was all in. I bought it, I believed it with all my heart and I had faith that a solid group of dedicated people who loved the Lord with all their heart would lead this to be God’s church.

So I was a believer, but now I was a believer!

Then I served my term and became an Elder Emeritus. It was a wonderful position, honor for no work. A few years passed and it was time to upgrade the by laws as periodically they should. There was a change in the by laws passed by the Elders that stated Elder Emeritus was just an honorific, once an Elder was not active, that member simply became a regular member.

I thought about that, and prayed about that. It didn’t strike my spirit and I must admit I disagreed. Or more accurately, I bought into the belief that God had asked me to be an Elder, and I still felt God had his hand on my heart even if I wasn’t active. My problem is that I also believed that God had laid it upon the Elders heart to change the by laws. So I was faced with the dilemma, who is right, who is wrong. How could both be right. It was for me a true test of faith.

So painfully I did the only thing that I could do, I left the church. You didn’t notice because nothing changed except that I wasn’t a member. I came as always, I tithed as always, God remained and I remained. I didn’t argued my position, I didn’t create dissection. I had bought in completely and gave God’s leadership and authority to the Elders. Another year passed and the Elders again revisited the by laws and felt lead to make a few more changes. They clarified their understanding that once called by God to be an Elder that they will remain an elder, an the only issue is whether they are active or not.

So I became a member because the by laws once again mirrored the style of how God wanted me to worship. I will always have the choice, but God has the authority. And believe me this isn’t a story of how eventually people will come around. It is a story of living what you believe, and also honored what God has set up. I don’t know why the ‘conflict occurred’, I don’t know why it was changed and changed back again. I do know that I have faith it was all Gods doing and my duty it to take a lesson from that, and apply it to my life

We should be reminded that it is not about us. There is a story told about me, and I’ve never had the opportunity to tell it first hand. So we had a particularly moving testimony, and I noticed that we were out of kleenexes, so I took it upon myself to race to Safeway to but several boxes. I needed to hurry because it was going to end soon and the crying was escalating. I got there in record time, had my arms full of boxes and then got in the 15 or less express line. Along with five or six other people. There were more people in the express line than the regular lines but it was fifteen or less so that made my choice. Except for the the person currently at the checker. Clearly there was a basic math deficiency because there was way more than fifteen, there was twice that much. I had dozens of weepy eyes and this person couldn’t count and was making me late. I felt this deep sorta warmth coming up from my stomach, I was angry, and I was getting angrier each time the person found yet another item deep within their basket.

Finally that person left and there was only one person in front of me and apparent that person could count. I could only see three things in her arms. Thank you Lord, I will have tissues in the hands of your people very soon. The items were wrung up and totaled and then the woman said she would pay in cash. Not the quick debit card or credit card. She would cash, in change, and more importantly in exact change This time the warmth was instantaneous and when it became apparent that she did not have the exact change, I blurted out that I would take care of it, just add it to the total of my tissues. The lady turned to with the sweetest smile and said, “Bless you, have a great Sunday!”

I made it back with the tissues and now even I was crying. It isn’t about me, it isn’t about us. It is about what God is doing if we just open our eyes to see and obey.

1Corinthians 3:4 “For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? 

5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 

The church is here, and you are here. And you thought that was your decision! Well, that is partly true, you do have free will to not be here. But if you followed God’s urging, you ended up coming through the door. That’s not the result of any marketing effort, or ads in the mail…this group of diverse, wonderful, devout people couldn’t be created by human effort. (It doesn’t mean we should use these tools, it just means that God is the reason, not us). I like to approach things with basic steps, using God’s gift of an inquiring mind, to lead me in rational conclusions. 

So backing up to recap what God has done here…

He gave us this church, 

He brought us this people, 

He made it happen here in Moraga, in this community. 

So the purpose is to gather like minded folks so we can encourage each other, put on events, eat great food, learn about the great diversity of culture and styles, even support the community, and help feed the homeless, fight human slavery, and wrap Christmas presents for needy children.

And you know something? We do all that, and more! We are a remarkable people, organized to be a force of good in a world that has an ever increasing need for positive action. Clearly this is a Godly thing, and God blesses our efforts. And we are doing what the Elks clubs are doing, the Rotary, the Moose lodges, civic leagues and hundreds, maybe thousands, of other God gathered people, helping to better the world. 

But let us be reminded that we are not just a fraternal, social group of people. We gather in God’s house, not the Veteran’s Hall. 

So now what? We have a very exciting few months in front of us. We have the opportunity to once again ‘Stand in the Gap’ for The Lord. I love that phrase, I see a vision of just common people with building stones in one hand, and the sword of truth in the other, standing in the rubble of the wall- standing in the gap of the wall of Jerusalem. Won’t you join me in prayer for this church.