January 2, 2011

Well it’s 2011, who would have thunk it. And I would suspect that there have been a pile of New Year’s resolutions made in the past 2 days and if the truth was known there have probably been a pile of New Year’s resolutions broken in the past 2 days.
We have probably all verbally or silently, publicly or privately resolved to do something different this year then we did last year. Some will finally decide to give up the demon tabbacy, other’s myself included have decided to do battle with a more acceptable vice and that is food. You ever notice that the Christian argument against smoking and drinking: they are addictive and harm the temple of the Holy Spirit, ie our bodies, don’t seem to hold water for gluttony. Interesting.
You say Pastor the reason I’m overweight is that I have a glandular problem. Me too, if you consider the mouth a gland. Actually I decided a long time ago that I’m not overweight I’m under tall so my New Year’s Resolution is to get taller in 2011.
So what are your resolutions for 2011? Big, little, practical, impractical, what have you decided to change about your life in the next twelve months? On December 31st of this year will you be the same person you are now? A better person? Or a worse person? Will you have won a victory over some area of your life or will you have gone down to defeat? I want to go on record right now as saying I believe you can do it. And I know that you are sitting there thinking “But Denn you don’t even know what I’m struggling with.” You’re right, I don’t, but I know my God and I know that he can give you victory. Do you believe that? Do you believe that you are a partner in faith with the Almighty God?
Do you remember what Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:37? That’s right, Nothing is Impossible for God. “For nothing is impossible with God.” And if no thing is impossible with God then all things will be possible with God.
When Paul wrote his letter to the early believers in Philippi this is what he told them Philippians 4:13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
It doesn’t say “I can do some things” or “I can do the easy things” or “I can do certain things.” What the word of God says is “I can do everything.”
Perhaps as we step into a new year you need to apply those words to your particular situation. Perhaps you need to write down
“I can quit smoking with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.”
“I can lose weight with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.”
“I can stop being negative with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.”
“I can learn to love the unlovable with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.”
“I can become a stronger Christian with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.”
You know there are a lot of things in life that are impossible, there are a lot of things in this life that you will never be able to accomplish by yourself, but when God is your partner nothing is impossible.
Each year we resolve to be better parents, better spouses, to give up this and start that but how about making a commitment to walking deeper with God? To becoming better and stronger Christians?
Perhaps by December 2011 it could be said of you as Paul said of the believers in the city of Corinth in 2 Corinthians 8:7 Since you excel in so many ways—in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm, and your love from us—I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving.
You understand that when we read the section of the Bible called the epistles, which means letters that we are in fact reading other people’s mail. This section begins with the book of Romans and continues through to the book of Jude. It’s made up of twenty one books and represents at least five writers; I say at least five because there is some debate over whether Paul wrote the book of Hebrews.
And so Paul begins this statement with these words: You excel in so many ways: Paul is writing to the believers in the city of Corinth, which if we bring up a map we discover was located in what we now know as Greece, which is funny because back then it was Known as Greece. And even though the letter was written specifically to the believers in that church 2000 years ago because God in his infinite wisdom included it in what we now call the New Testament it applies to us as well.
Paul has just finished a litany of praise for the churches in Macedonia which were just north of Corinth. He talks about how even though they were going through some tough times they were still joyful, that even though they were poor that they were very generous. He tells about what great people and terrific Christians they were. And I’m sure that those reading the letter were yeah, yeah, yeah. Macedonians this and Macedonians that. Have you ever been in a situation like that? Standing and listening to how great somebody else is. Feels great doesn’t it?
It’s probably a character flaw of mine, because as much as I like to hear positive things about people when it drags on and on inside I’m thinking “Yeah whatever.” And here’s Paul laying it on with a trowel about how good the churches in Macedonia are. “Wow guys you would really like them they are a great bunch of Christians, you couldn’t help but love these Macedonians.” And probably the Corinthians are thinking, “yeah, right I’m sure.”
It was in 1988, I had just performed a funeral for a church member the day before and I was out for coffee and ran into a friend of mine from the church, he sat down and ordered a coffee and said “You did a good job yesterday on the funeral” I thanked him and then he added, “Let me tell you about the best funeral sermon I ever heard.” And before he starts he realizes what he just said and quickly adds “you probably don’t want to hear about it.” He was right.
Well it would appear that Paul suddenly realizes that he’s been going on and on and he switches gears and says: You excel in so many ways. What a compliment, the word that Paul uses here in the original language literally means to super excel or to excel to the point of flowing over. We’re not talking about almost enough or even barely enough or a bare minimum instead Paul is talking about having so much that you are unable to contain it and it runs over the top.
When Christ promised the believers in John 10:10 that we would have life and have it abundantly he used the same root word that Paul uses for excel. Here were Christians who didn’t want just enough to get by, they wanted it all and they more than excelled in what they had. Is your Christian walk one of fullness or do you feel like your spiritual gas tank is permanently on empty?
One of my bad habits is running my car on empty. I think it’s a throw back to my student days when it was a necessity, “yeah put in 2 bucks and check the oil would you.” Can any of you actually remember seriously buying two dollars’ worth of gas let alone having someone else pump it for you? And all the time my gas gauge is on empty I wonder: “Am I going to make it or will I run out of gas? Just one more errand and then I’ll go get gas, if I can make it.”
But when you are running on empty you’re never really comfortable, never really sure that you will have enough to last you. When your spiritually gas tank is on empty you never really have the joy you are supposed to have as a Christian. You are never really convinced that you are where you are supposed to be spiritually.
But after the car has been tanked up and I’ve given a little bit of my thirty dollars to the service station owner, and a little bit of my thirty dollars to Ultramar and a little bit of my thirty dollars to some prince in the middle east or Alberta. and a whole lot of my thirty dollars to Mr. Harper and Mr. Dexter I don’t have to be concerned about running out of gas because my tank is full. Now the neat thing about filling your spiritual tank is that God comes to you. And so in 2011 my aim is to excel, no to super excel in spiritual qualities. I want so much of the Lord that I’m like the old lady who said “I can’t hold much but I can overflow plenty.”
2 Corinthians 8:7 Since you excel in so many ways—in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm, and your love from us—I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving.
In 2011 I want to Excel in My Faith
The first thing that Paul said the believers in Corinth excelled in was their Faith. Now in the New Testament faith is used to mean one of two things. The faith that I most often preach about is faith the way that it’s defined in Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
And I love to preach on a seeing faith, of a believing faith of dreaming God given dreams and believing in faith that no matter how big those dreams might be that they can be accomplished through our God.
That is the first type of faith that is commonly mentioned in the New Testament, but that isn’t how Paul was using the word faith here. Instead Paul was using the Greek word Pistis which referred to a conviction of religious truth. It is simply the depth of belief that you have in what you believe. Paul was saying “You excel in the belief of your salvation and the truth of the Gospel.” We would say that these people were well grounded in their faith. When I was a teenager my parents made sure that I was well grounded several times, but that has nothing to do with what we are talking about here. We Need to Excel in our Faith.
After I graduated from Bible College Angela and I moved to New York and one morning after a major windstorm we looked out our back window and there was a great big spruce tree laying across our back yard. Now when that tree was standing it was tall, strong and majestic. It looked like nothing could knock it down. But when it had fallen down you could see that the roots were only about six inches under the surface in a sandy soil. The tree hadn’t been grounded well and the only reason it had stood so long was that the wind had never hit it from that direction before. But the day the wind blew hard enough and blew in the right direction down came the tree.
Christians aren’t always grounded deep enough, some people put their faith in the good things that happen to them as a Christian. “Why since I have been a Christian everything has been just peachy keen. My marriage has improved, I got promoted, my children always behave and never talk back and we have more money then we’ll ever need and Jesus is a wonderful God because he has made our life wonderful.”
And then one of your children arrives home and informs you that you’re going to be a grammy or grampy and you haven’t even gotten used to being a daddy or mommy yet and another kid winds up in jail, you lose your job and end up in the hospital and now things aren’t wonderful anymore and you start to question the reality of God.
Or you have your roots set in Jesus Christ because Denn Guptill preaches that you should and you have the utmost faith in Denn Guptill and what he says. And then he runs off with all the money in the building fund and buys himself a motorcycle, a really used motorcycle there’s not much in the building fund right now, and your faith is shattered.
It bugs me when a scandal happens with a major church figure and someone says “My faith has been destroyed.” If that’s all it took to destroy your faith then you didn’t have that much to destroy. You ever talk to backsliders, you know someone who used to serve God but doesn’t now. And they usually can pinpoint at what moment they walked away from God, and often it’s because a Christian disappointed them in some way.
That big old tree stood in our back yard for a lot of years before the wind blew just hard enough from the right direction. If you roots are shallow then Satan knows how the wind needs to blow to bring your faith crashing down. The old hymn says “My faith is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness, I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus name. On Christ the solid Rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand.”
Apparently some people have a belief in God but not the faith to back it up. R. Buckminister (Bucky) Fuller said “Faith is much better than belief. Belief is when someone else does the thinking.”
The second thing that Paul commends the Corinthians for excelling in is in their speech
Now there’s one thing most of us don’t lack in and that’s words. But that isn’t what Paul is talking about here, and he’s not saying they have good preachers. What Paul is talking about here is not the quantity of speech it is their purity of speech. It is a speech that builds up and doesn’t tear down, it is a speech that is full of love and encouragement, not jealousy or maliciousness. 2 Corinthians 8:7 Since you excel in so many ways—in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm, and your love from us—I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving. In 2011 I want to Excel in My Speech
Controlling our tongues is probably one of the most difficult things that most of us endeavour to do, and it is probably a commendable resolution for 2011. Listen to what James the brother of Christ writes in his letter James 3:2 Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.
How many people here have ever said something they later regretted? I have and there are people in this world that I will never be able to minister to because of something I’ve said. And I will be held accountable for that. James goes on to write James 3:10-11 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?
You can’t stand and sing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” and then go home and talk about what a dummy the preacher is. You can’t testify to the wonderful love of Jesus in your life and go home and run your spouse or children down. We need to heed the advice of Mark Twain who said “Keep your words sweet because you never know when you might have to eat them.”
The scriptures tell us that everything should be done in love, it could very well say let everything be said in love. As a matter of fact it does in Ephesians 4:15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.
When you excel in speech does it make people better or bitter? Do your words draw people closer to God or push them further from God? It’s your choice.
2 Corinthians 8:7 Since you excel in so many ways—in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm, and your love from us—I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving. The third thing that Paul commends these believers for was their knowledge. The knowledge that Paul speaks of here is head knowledge, something acquired something learnt. These people were knowledgeable about their faith.
In 2011 I want to Excel in My Knowledge Our greatest failing as evangelicals is a lack of sound biblical knowledge. If I was giving a course in Remedial Nuclear and Molecular Physics and you only came to half the lectures and never opened the text outside of class what type of mark do you think you would get? You would fail.
Most of us will be in serious trouble if God pops a surprise Biblical Knowledge quiz on us when we get to heaven. And I know that some of you are thinking, “But Denn Bible study comes hard for me.” I’ve got news for you; Bible study comes hard for me too and if the rest of this bunch was honest you’d find out that it comes hard for most people. And I’m pretty sure that anyone who has an education especially a post-secondary education would concur that there is very little in this life that we don’t have to work at learning.
I went to college with a fellow who was asked to leave Bethany in his second term because of his grade point average. At college a 4.0 was an A, a 3.0 was a B, a 2.0 was a C. Just to stay you needed a 2.0 and in the ministerial program you needed at least 3.0 in your major courses This fellow was from Louisiana and I asked a friend of his where’d Vance go, and this was his response. “Vance, Vance, Vance’s grade point average couldn’t have got him arrested for drunken driving.” I said “So what’s he doing now?” and he replied “He’s a fuel injection for Exxon” “Really” “Yeah he’s pumping gas”
Now Vance wasn’t a dummy but he wasn’t willing to do the work to get the knowledge. I saw some talented young men and women leave college because they thought that if God had called them to the ministry then he should unscrew the top of their heads, pour the knowledge in, screw it back on and turn them loose on the world. Well God called me into the ministry and there were times that I was wading around waist deep in Systematic theology that I wished he had called me to be a fuel injection specialist. Gaining knowledge may not be easy but it is essential. Nobody can learn for you except you. God doesn’t expect you to have a doctorate in theology and biblical knowledge but he does expect you to learn to the very best of your abilities and talents.
It’s unfortunate that Christians are like everyone else in the world 5% think, 15% think they think and 80% would rather die than think. In 2011 let’s make every effort to excel in knowledge.
2 Corinthians 8:7 Since you excel in so many ways—in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm, and your love from us—I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving. The next thing that Paul talks about is Their Enthusiasm
In some translations the word that is used is diligence and earnestness and they probably capture better the intent of the original language. Christianity was not a game to these believers, they didn’t go to church because it was the right thing to do or they were afraid of what people would think if they didn’t. By embracing the claims of Christianity the early believers were forfeiting their right to worldly happiness. Their work, their homes, their belongings, even their families and lives could be demanded of them by the Roman Authorities because of their alliance to Christ. In 2011 I want to Excel in My Diligence
Maybe the reason we sometimes fail to be as diligent as we ought to be in our Christian life is that our faith cost so little. If we could no longer claim what we give to the church as a tax deduction we’d cry persecution but there are still countries in the world where believers lose their freedom and their lives just for being Christians. In 2011 let us be resolved to become more earnest in our faith.
And finally Paul thanks the Corinthians for their love.
The word that Paul uses here for love is the Greek word Agape which means an unconditional love. 2 Corinthians 8:7 Since you excel in so many ways—in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm, and your love from us—I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving. In 2011 I want to Excel in My Love God doesn’t want us to love people because they deserve it he just wants us to love them.
If God had waited until we deserved his love before he sent His Son, we’d still be waiting. And the scriptures are filled with admonitions for us to love .
John 15:12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.
John 15:17 This is my command: Love each other.
1 Corinthians 13:13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
1 John 2:9-10 If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness. Anyone who loves another brother or sister is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble.
So in 2011 let us resolve to overflow with Faith, pure speech, knowledge, diligence and love.