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Why We Do What We Do: Church

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“Church” could mean several different things.

  • the universal body of believers (the “catholic” church)
  • the local church community (“My church really gathered around.”)
  • The building and the services in it (“Let’s go to church.”)

When I ask, “Why Church?” I am asking, “Why does the local church exist?” I am going to focus  for our purposes today, I am talking about the local church as a community. The Bible has no vision of someone who is in the church without being in a local church body.  It would be like my cut-off toes claiming to still be a part of my body. Well, yeah, sort of, but not in any way that meaningfully matters.

Just as a body is one whole made up of many different parts, and all the different parts comprise the one body, so it is with the Anointed One. We were all ceremonially washed through baptism together into one body by one Spirit. No matter our heritage—Jew or Greek, insider or outsider—no matter our status—oppressed or free—we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Here’s what I mean: the body is not made of one large part but of many different parts. Would it seem right for the foot to cry, “I am not a hand, so I couldn’t be part of this body”? Even if it did, it wouldn’t be any less joined to the body. And what about an ear? If an ear started to whine, “I am not an eye; I shouldn’t be attached to this body,” in all its pouting, it is still part of the body. Imagine the entire body as an eye. How would a giant eye be able to hear? And if the entire body were an ear, how would an ear be able to smell? This is where God comes in. God has meticulously put this body together; He placed each part in the exact place to perform the exact function He wanted. If all members were a single part, where would the body be? So now, many members function within the one body. The eye cannot wail at the hand, “I have no need for you,” nor could the head bellow at the feet, “I won’t go one more step with you.” It’s actually the opposite. The members who seem to have the weaker functions are necessary to keep the body moving; the body parts that seem less important we treat as some of the most valuable; and those unfit, untamed, unpresentable members we treat with an even greater modesty. That’s something the more presentable members don’t need. But God designed the body in such a way that greater significance is given to the seemingly insignificant part. That way there should be no division in the body; instead, all the parts mutually depend on and care for one another. If one part is suffering, then all the members suffer alongside it. If one member is honored, then all the members celebrate alongside it. You are the body of the Anointed, the Liberating King; each and every one of you is a vital member.  (1 Corinthians 12:12-27)

 

For in the same way that one body has so many different parts, each with different functions; we, too—the many—are different parts that form one body in the Anointed One. Each one of us is joined with one another, and we become together what we could not be alone. Since our gifts vary depending on the grace poured out on each of us, it is important that we exercise the gifts we have been given. If prophecy is your gift, then speak as a prophet according to your proportion of faith. If service is your gift, then serve well. If teaching is your gift, then teach well. If you have been given a voice of encouragement, then use it often. If giving is your gift, then be generous. If leading, then be eager to get started. If sharing God’s mercy, then be cheerful in sharing it.

Love others well, and don’t hide behind a mask; love authentically. Despise evil; pursue what is good as if your life depends on it. Live in true devotion to one another, loving each other as sisters and brothers. Be first to honor others by putting them first. Do not slack in your faithfulness and hard work. Let your spirit be on fire, bubbling up and boiling over, as you serve the Lord. Do not forget to rejoice, for hope is always just around the corner. Hold up through the hard times that are coming, and devote yourselves to prayer. Share what you have with the saints, so they lack nothing; take every opportunity to open your life and home to others.  If people mistreat or malign you, bless them. Always speak blessings, not curses. If some have cause to celebrate, join in the celebration. And if others are weeping, join in that as well. Work toward unity, and live in harmony with one another. Avoid thinking you are better than others or wiser than the rest; instead, embrace common people and ordinary tasks. Do not retaliate with evil, regardless of the evil brought against you. Try to do what is good and right and honorable as agreed upon by all people. If it is within your power, make peace with all people. Again, my loved ones, do not seek revenge; instead, allow God’s wrath to make sure justice is served. Turn it over to Him. For the Scriptures say, “Revenge is Mine. I will settle all scores.” But consider this bit of wisdom: “If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink; because if you treat him kindly, it will be like heaping hot coals on top of his head.” Never let evil get the best of you; instead, overpower evil with the good. (Romans 12:4-21)

So, why is the local church part of God’s plan for his people? There are a LOT of definitions for church, but here is what I am running with today: The local church is here to create mature disciples of and faithful ambassadors for Christ

  1. FOCUSING ON CHRIST

In gathering as a local church, we corporately remind ourselves and each other who is at the center of this community we are building.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching (start with right understanding of God) and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (move to righteous community).” Acts 2:42

C.S. Lewis wrote:

“We don’t come to church, to be a church. We come to Christ, and then we are built up as a church. If we come to church just to be with one another, one another is all we’ll get. And it isn’t enough. Inevitably, our hearts will grow empty, and then angry. If we put community first, we will destroy community. But if we come to Christ first and submit ourselves to Him and draw life from Him, community gets traction.”

It’s too easy to forget about the author and finisher of our faith in the rat race of ever day life. Every Sunday, we all turn our eyes on Jesus, because without Christ, there is no church and there will be no community, at least not the kind the Bible envisions.   

  1. SERVING ONE ANOTHER

The word translated one another is used 100 times in the New Testament. About 1/3 focus on unity, 1/3 on love, 1/6 on humility an deference, and the rest are a smorgasbord (kiss each other, pray, teach, be hospitable, bear burdens, etc.) Here’s a brief list of only 59:[1]

  • “…Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)
  • “…Wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
  • “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
  • “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
  • “…Love one another…” (John 13:35)
  • “…Love one another…” (John 15:12)
  • “…Love one another” (John 15:17)
  • “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)
  • “…Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
  • “Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:16)
  • “…Love one another…” (Romans 13:8)
  • “…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13)
  • “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7)
  • “…Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)
  • “Greet one another with a holy kiss…” (Romans 16:16)
  • “…When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (I Cor. 11:33)
  • “…Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25)
  • “…Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (I Corinthians 16:20)
  • “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (II Corinthians 13:12)
  • “…Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)
  • “If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.”
  • (Galatians 5:15)
  • “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Gal. 5:26)
  • “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)
  • “…Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
  • “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)
  • “…Forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32)
  • “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)
  • “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
  • “…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
  • “Do not lie to each other…” (Colossians 3:9)
  • “Bear with each other…” (Colossians 3:13)
  • “…Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Colossians 3:13)
  • “T each…[one another]” (Colossians 3:16)
  • “…Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)
  • “…Make your love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12)
  • “…Love each other.” (I Thessalonians 4:9)
  • “…Encourage each other…”(I Thessalonians 4:18)
  • “…Encourage each other…” I Thessalonians 5:11)
  • “…Build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
  • “Encourage one another daily…” Hebrews 3:13)
  • “…Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
  • “…Encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)
  • “…Do not slander one another.” (James 4:11)
  • “Don’t grumble against each other…” (James 5:9)
  • “Confess your sins to each other…” (James 5:16)
  • “…Pray for each other.” (James 5:16)
  • “…Love one another deeply, from the heart.” (I Peter 3:8)
  • “…Live in harmony with one another…” (I Peter 3:8)
  • “…Love each other deeply…” (I Peter 4:8)
  • “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9)
  • “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10)
  • “…Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…”(I Peter 5:5)
  • “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (I Peter 5:14)
  • “…Love one another.” (I John 3:11)
  • “…Love one another.” (I John 3:23)
  • “…Love one another.” (I John 4:7)
  • “…Love one another.” (I John 4:11)
  • “…Love one another.” (I John 4:12)
  • “…Love one another.” (II John 5)

We can’t “one another” if we are not around others. To not be involved in a local church is to reject the role that you are expected to play in serving the family of God, and to deny others the opportunity to use their gifts to serve you on behalf of God. In church community, we are meant to minister and be ministered to.

If you are…

Hospitable

Encouraging

Admonishing

A unifier or peacemaker

Can work nursery

A cleaner

Can fix or cook stuff

Listen well

Are kind

Think well

Sing

Build stuff

…we need you.  The church needs you to serve and be served.

Are you the kind of person who offers all kinds of caretaking challenges to those around you (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually)? These are all kinds of opportunities to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

We need you.  It’s part of God’s plan for his church to mature well by learning to love and serve well.

If you have surrendered your life to Christ, you are part of God’s body and thus this body, andyou bring something into our midst that the church needs. You might just be a big toe, but as some of us know, it’s really, really nice to have all your toes.

  1. MTURING IN CHRIST

If you reject life in a church community, you are rejecting the plan that Jesus has for your growth and discipleship. I don’t say that to pressure you to stay in this church in particular; I’m talking in a much broader sense. It is crucial that we commit to ongoing, purposeful, engaged life with a local church.

“Henri Nouwen defines "community" as the place where the person you least want to live with always lives. Often we surround ourselves with the people we most want to live with, thus forming a club or a clique, not a community. Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community.

As I look around on Sunday morning at the people populating the pews, I see the risk that God has assumed. For whatever reason, God now reveals himself in the world not through a pillar of smoke and fire, not even through the physical body of his Son in Galilee, but through the mongrel collection that comprises my local church and every other such gathering in God’s name.  ― Philip YanceyChurch: Why Bother?: My Personal Pilgrimage

We don’t mature through ease. We mature through pressure, conflict and tension. One person sharpens another like iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17).  There are no shortcuts to maturity. We must go through the things that God uses to make us mature.  Think of how Jesus brought a zealot (Simon) and a tax collector (Matthew) together into his disciples.  This is marriage, too. If you ever hear someone who is married say, “We never have any conflict,” they aren’t maturing as God intended. They are avoiding things. I promise you that they have work to do in every possible way, and God has placed their spouse in the life to love them well, and one of those ways is by helping them mature.  If there is no conflict in your life, you aren’t growing. If you aren’t growing, you are simply existing at best and dying at worst.

In the same way, there is plenty of opportunity in the local church.

"Yes, the church fails in its mission and makes serious blunders precisely because the church comprises human beings who will always fall short of the glory of God. That is the risk God took. Anyone who enters the church expecting perfection does not understand the nature of that risk or the nature of humanity. Just as every romantic eventually learns that marriage is the beginning, not the end, of the struggle to make love work, every Christian must learn that church is also only a beginning.

The composer Igor Stravinsky once wrote a new piece that contained a difficult violin passage. After several weeks of rehearsal the solo violinist came to Stravinsky and said that he could not play it. He had given it his best effort but found the passage too difficult, even unplayable. Stravinsky replied, "I understand that. What I am after is the sound of someone trying to play it."  - Phillip Yancey in Church, Why Bother?

4. MISSIONAL LIVING

17 Therefore, if anyone is united with the Anointed One, that person is a new creation. The old life is gone—and see—a new life has begun! 18 All of this is a gift from our Creator God, who has pursued us and brought us into a restored and healthy relationship with Him through the Anointed. And He has given us the same mission, the ministry of reconciliation, to bring others back to Him. 19 It is central to our good news that God was in the Anointed making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. But it also means He charges us to proclaim the message that heals and restores our broken relationships with God and each other.20 So we are now representatives of the Anointed One, the Liberating King; God has given us a charge to carry through our lives—urging all people on behalf of the Anointed to become reconciled to the Creator God21 He orchestrated this: the Anointed One, who had never experienced sin, became sin for us so that in Him we might embody the very righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5)

God’s plan for the spread of the Gospel is for us to embody the very righteousness of God. For us to be a representative of reconciliation for broken relationships with God and with each other.

  • Does your spouse know this and experience this through you?
  • Do your kids (or your parents) know this?
  • Do your friends see this?
  • Those with whom you work?
  • When you post online, does the Facebook world see you as an agent of reconciliation in a broken world?

The Church is here to create mature disciples of and faithful ambassadors for Christ. May God give His church the wisdom, grace and strength to do this for the good of the world, and for His glory.

* * * * * * * **

[1]From Carl F. George, Prepare Your Church for the Future (Tarrytown: Revell, 1991), 129-131.

 

Love From A Pure Heart (1 Peter 1:22-25)

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YOU CAN LISTEN TO AUDIO HERE  

God declared Israel ‘holy’ to reveal Himself to the world through them.

  • Jeremiah 2:3 "Israel was holy to the LORD.…’
  • Exodus 22:31 "You shall be holy men to Me…”
  • Deuteronomy 7:6 "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
  • Exodus 19:6 “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'

To use last week’s language, He set them apart for His divine purpose so the nations would know what Yahweh was like. The prophet Isaiah said that the nations would flock to Israel if they lived in God’s design for their holiness:

  • "…I shall submit you as a light unto the nations, to be My salvation until the end of the earth' Isaiah 49:6.
  • "I the LORD have called unto you in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand, and submitted you as the people's covenant, as a light unto the nations." Isaiah 42:6.
  • "And unto your light, nations shall walk, and kings unto the brightness of your rising" Isaiah 60:3.

Paul, in Galatians 6:16, refers to followers of Jesus as the “Israel of God.” The idea is that you don’t have to be born Jewish to be one of God’s holy, chosen people. You can be “grafted in” through the acceptance of the divinity and lordship of Christ and your surrender to Him and His will.

Followers of Jesus are ‘peculiar people’ (1 Peter 2:9) who are set apart to be the way in which God reveals Himself to the world. We are called to live in God’s design for our holiness to reveal His holiness.

After last week’s message about being set apart, I was thinking there needed to be a follow-up sermon on what characterizes this holiness. It’s one thing to say, “As a child of God, you are holy and set apart; now live as those holy and set apart.” It’s another thing to put skin on those bones. What does that even mean?

  • Do I dress like the Amish?
  • Do I live in a monastery?
  • Does that mean if the culture does it, I can’t do it?
  • Does this mean we create a Christian sub-culture in everything?
  • Should there be a holy glow about me that convicts or shames everyone around me?

I started jotting down some notes, and I quickly realized it was all leading me back to one thing: love. And it turns out that’s the next thing Peter wrote, so that worked out pretty well.

 22 Now that you have taken care to purify your souls through your submission to the truth (“obedience to God, which the knowledge of the truth demands”), you can experience real love for each other. So love each other deeply[1] (earnestly – at full stretch)[2] from a pure heart. 23 You have been reborn—not from seed that eventually dies but from seed that is eternal—through the word of God that lives and endures forever. 24For as Isaiah said, ‘All life is like the grass, and its glory like a flower; The grass will wither and die and the flower falls, 25 But the word of the Lord will endure forever.’  This is the word that has been preached to you.[3] (1 Peter 1:22-25)

So if we are going to talk about living holy lives that fulfill God’s purpose of revealing himself to the world through us, we are going to need to talk about living loving lives. Specifically, how do we get this kind of holy love, and what does it look like when it is displayed in our lives?

* * * * *

The first one is easy. A holy love – a love set apart from any other kind of love – has to come from a holy God.

This love happens after God purifies our hearts, and He does it through our surrender, our obedience to His Word. Peter says that’s the process God uses, and on the other side of it we emerge as holy lovers of truth and of others.[4]

We often talk about how the world needs more love. I agree. But in order for that to happen, we must first surrender ourselves so that our hearts are pure. If our hearts were pure through our surrender to the truth of God’s Word and resulting work God does in our life, we could love each other deeply from a pure heart.

This is a daunting conclusion for me, but I can’t get away from it. I want it to be the other person’s fault that I can’t love them well. That lets me off the hook. But it’s when we surrender to God - we repent, we pray for his mercy and forgiveness and heart transformation – then we love like more and more like God loves. And God’s love does not waver based on the likableness or the worthiness of the person He loves. Think of how 1 Corinthians 13 describes love:

“Love is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, not easily angered, keeps no record of wrong. It does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always, trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Can you image what it would look like if we did this from hearts that were pure? There is nothing that would stop us from loving.

Later Peter writes that we are to love each other fervently, because “love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8). All but one commentary I read noted that the primary message is about the ability of the fervent lover to let love cover or forgive the sinfulness in others.

  • This is not the same as ‘like.’
  • It’s doesn’t mean we have to ignore the ripple effect of consequences that sin has on us.
  • It doesn’t mean we must pretend like nothing happened.
  • It doesn’t mean we ignore safe boundaries and ongoing care as God turns our wounds to scars. I don’t mean to ignore the fact that other people can do things that make them really hard to love. I think we all know the reality of that.

But today’s passage isn’t about them. It’s about us. Our heart is the heart of the issue. If we enter into the purification process by surrendering ourselves to God and the truth of His word, God works in that process to change our hearts so that we can love with His love and display the glory of his love to the world.

Parents, do you know why it’s hard to love our kids well? Yes, they are hard to love at times, but our hearts are not pure, not surrendered in obedience to the Word of God. Better love starts with our personal surrender to Christ.

Do you know why it’s hard to love our spouses? Our parents? Some of our Extra Grace Required friends? That obnoxious person online who always says stupid stuff? That Buckeye fan? That politial enemy you have? Your neighbor or co-worker whose lifestyle choices make you cringe?

They may be dauntingly hard to love – and they may have earned that feeling honestly - but the solution to our mutual spiritual and relational health is Christ in both of us, purifying us, and the solution to my problem of loving them in spite of them is Christ in me purifying my heart.

It would be nice if others people were easier to love, but I can’t make them that way. I can pray for God to do work in them because that’s never a bad thing for them, but my primary prayer is for God to do work in me.

God works in our surrendered lives to purify our hearts so that we can love even the most unlovable around us, because now it is God’s love pouring from us. And God is really, really good at loving the unlovable. We should know.

So how does this make us light in the midst of a dark world?

I’m going to take us back to the first followers of Christ. One thing that stands out in the historical record is their reputation for love. Some people hated them, but even they noted how the love of those following Jesus was unparalleled – and costly. [5]

Clement, Bishop of Rome from 88 to 99:

“He [the Christian] impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother. He likewise considers the pain of another as his own pain. And if he suffers any hardship because of having given out of his own poverty, he does not complain.”

http://earlychurch.com/unconditional-love.php

The Epistle to Diognetes, c. AD 130

“They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all... They are poor yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things and yet abound in all; they are dishonored and yet in their very dishonor are glorified.They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life…those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. To sum it all up in one word -- what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.

From the Apology of Tertullian, AD 197

We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope….We pray, too, for the emperors, for their ministers and for all in authority, for the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace, for the delay of [Christ’s return]. We assemble to read our sacred writings . . . and with the sacred words we nourish our faith, we animate our hope, we make our confidence more steadfast... On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are . . . to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines or banished to the islands or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their [faithfulness] to the cause of God's Church… But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred. See, they say about us, how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves would sooner kill."

A General Historical Observation

In Rome, the Christians buried not just their own, but pagans who had died without funds for a proper burial. They also supplied food for 1,500 poor on a daily basis. In Antioch in Syria, the number… reached 3,000. Church funds were used in special cases to buy the emancipation of Christian slaves.

During the Plague in Alexandria when nearly everyone else fled, the early Christians risked their lives for one another by simple deeds of washing the sick, offering water and food, and consoling the dying. Their care was so extensive that Julian eventually tried to copy the church’s welfare system. It failed, however, because for the Christians it was love, not duty, that motivated them.

https://www.plough.com/en/topics/faith/discipleship/pandemic-love

* * *

This is what I’ve pondering this week: In the early church, the surrounding pagan culture, no matter how hostile, could not help but note, “See how they love one another.” Christians were radically different because Christ’s love in them was of a radically different nature.

When is the last time we have heard anyone from our culture say this about the American church? What are we known for? One thing that is supposed to set apart a holy people is the ability to love as Jesus loves, because the love of Jesus transforms us and flows out of us. Our love bears witness to our Savior. Do we love well?

  • Do we embrace ‘the other’? Put Jews, Gentiles and Samaritans together with rich and poor, slave and free, male and female, educated and uneducated, soldiers and civilians, in the same church and there is going to be issues. Race, class, politics, religious background: it was a perfect storm. How committed are we to showing the kind of love that comes at the cost of our emotional or personal comfort?
  • Do we sacrifice for the needs of the church? You didn’t go to the early church to look good. You got broken and poured out for the church and the city. There was no room for pride, greed, or jealousy. Literally, you put your life on the line because that’s what Jesus did for you. How deep and radical is out commitment to showing the kind of love that comes at the cost of our financial or physical comfort?
  • Do we live in Traverse City like a people set apart: caring, sacrificing, building up, nurturing, loving in ways that can only come from a purified heart surrendered to Jesus? If a local were asked what group of people do they think of as loving everyone even at great cost, would they say, “Oh, the church!” Would it even come to mind?
  • Even closer to home: What am I known for? If someone asks anyone who knows me, “Who do you think of when you hear the phrase, ‘See how they love one another?” would I make that list? Would my kids name me? My wife? My friends? You?

This has been unsettling me all week, and it’s bringing me to my knees. I know myself; I know I don’t have it in me to love like this. No matter how hard I try, no matter what list I make of things to do. I’m just not good at that kind of love.

But God is. He will equip us for the things to which He calls us. May this call to love as a witness draw us in prayer to the foot of the cross where we kneel with others, surrender our hearts and lives in repentance for his purification, and pray for a loving, merciful, powerful God to help us love well for our good and His glory.

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[1] The comparative form of the closely related adjective  ektenes (ektenesteron) is used to describe the intensity of our Lord's prayer in Gethsemane. And being in agony He was praying very fervently (ektenesteron); and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. (Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: Eerdmans)

[2] Fervently (1619) (ektenos [word study] from ek = out + teíno = to stretch; English = tension, etc) literally pictures one "stretching out" to love others! It pictures "an intense strain" and unceasing activity which normally involving a degree of intensity and/or perseverance. Stretched out and extended to the limit is the idea. Jowett suggests the picture of the tension and energy of a stringed instrument, "as when the string of a violin has been stretched to a tighter pitch that it might yield a little higher note." Cranfield suggests the figure of "the taut muscle of strenuous and sustained effort, as of an athlete." (Lange’s Commentary)

[3] “God does not tell us anything that we may [simply] know. He tells us in order that, knowing, we may be and do. And right actions, or rather a character which produces such, is the aim of all… moral and religious truth… And if[people] think that they have done enough when… they can say, ‘All this I steadfastly believe,’ they need to remember that religious truth which does not mould and transform character and conduct is a king dethroned; and for dethroned kings there is a short step between the throne from which they have descended and the scaffold on which they die.” (MacLaren’s Expositions

[4] “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

"The whole law comes down to this one instruction: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:14)

[5] Sociologist Rodney Stark: ". . . Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose in response to the misery, chaos, fear, and brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world. Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fire, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services. . . . Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity

https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1-300/what-were-early-christians-like-11629560.html

 

Free To Repent

 

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• “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations...” (Jesus, in Luke 24:45-47). • “They… glorified God, saying, ’God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.’” (Acts 11:18). • “The sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation…”(2 Corinthians 7:9-10). • 'Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first...” (Revelation 2:5).

This week, I’m talking to me and you as the offenders, the sinners, the ones who have helped make the world a little more broken. The question we are going to ask is, “How do we genuinely, healthily repent??” ______________________________________________________________________

1) Own our offense

People try to find creative ways to say “I’m sorry” that can sound good but often conceal a deflection of blame. A popular phrase going around right now is ‘fauxpology,’ words that sound apologetic but really aren’t.

“I’m sorry I’m not perfect.” (the other person’s standard is too high) “ I am sorry that you were hurt.”(the other person is too sensitive) “I’m sorry that I don’t meet your expectations.” (the other person is too judgmental) “I’m sorry that I was not more self-aware.” (my stupidity is too blame)

Now all of these things might in some sense be true, and it doesn’t mean this should not be part of what you say if you have sinned against someone. But there is a far more important thing to acknowledge. The heart of the biblical words of genuine repentance are as follows: “I have sinned against God and you.” Repentance requires you to own what you need to own. Repentance does not excuse, justify, avoid, deny or cover up. I read an article a number of years ago about Lance Armstrong’s attempt at an apology for the performance enhancing drugs he used:

More than once in the interview Armstrong indicated that his hyper-competitiveness fueled his toxic need to control every outcome. That control was much in display throughout the confession. At one point, Oprah mentioned Betsy Andreu, one of the honest critics that Armstrong smeared. Armstrong acknowledged that he called her a b**** and crazy, but disputed that he ever called her fat. Such defensiveness undermines the whole apology.

An effective apology means giving up your argument with history. It means letting the victims have the last word. But throughout the interview, Armstrong displayed a constant need to have the last word for himself. It’s clear that he is not quite ready to do the heavy lifting of apology. (http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2013/01/18/why-lance-armstrongs-apology-was-just-plain-sorry/)

Repentant people face a hard truth — they have offended God and others. It’s the hardest thing in the world to just take a deep breath and say, “God, I have sinned against you. And my friend, I have sinned against you and really hurt you. I’m sorry.”

Some of you were interacting with me on Facbook this week about this issue and pointed out that our rational, decision-making capacity can be deeply, deeply influenced by our environment. I was introduced to a new term last week: “epigenetic trauma,” which is a fancy way of saying that experiences change our DNA, which effects our genetics. In other words, experiences change our very biology. Or consider that our memory is not stored just in our brains; memory is stored in organs like the heart and can be passed on to heart transplant recipients.

So the impact of our influences should not be overlooked, because they certainly form us and incline us certain directions. “Hurt people hurt people” is a proverb that reflects the reality that we often pass on our woundedness either intentionally or unintentionally. The impact of mental or emotional health issues are important as well. Our bodies reflect the broken reality of this broken world in many ways.

Ideally, when we face this reality, we develop a longing for God to bring us freedom from the damage and sin in our past, at whatever level that has impacted us. And while there are helpful ways to address this with medicine or counseling, we can only be truly healed by the transformation of our hearts and minds that only Christ can bring.

So should we ever give ourselves a pass when it comes to our sin? In Luke 12, Jesus offers a clear principle: “If you are given much, much will be required of you. If much is entrusted to you, much will be expected of you. (Luke 12:48). I think this is a broad way of saying that we are held responsible for what we do with who we are or with what we have been given.

The Bible does not allow followers of Jesus to passively shrug off our patterns of sin because we have found an explanation for “the sin that so easily besets us” (Hebrews 12:1). It demands that on the one hand we repent for the sinful things we have done. Then we beg for the God’s healing mercy, knowing this is our only hope. Then we ask for the forgiveness of others, because no matter the reason we did these things, we hurt them, and we must own our offense.

2) Turn Around “They were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, [John] said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance…” (Matthew 3:5-8).

Being emotionally undone is not the same as repentance. It might be part of the process, but tears do not equal repentance. Repentance requires a reorientation, a fundamental transformation in one’s relationship with God and others.

“Some tax-gatherers came to be baptized, and they said, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” And some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” (John the Baptizer, in Luke 3:11b-14)

Once again, you see this idea of a change of direction – a change of life.

By the grace and power of God, the truly repentant will surrender to God’s will and proactively reject their former patterns of sin.

If someone says to you, “I appreciate your repentance, but it’s going to be hard for me to believe that you will not lie to me again/keep watching porn/stop demeaning me with your words,” mere words are not going to do the trick. You need to establish a commitment to changed patterns in your life to show that you meant what you said.

The truly repentant surrender themselves to God’s will, submit themselves to the accountability of others, and deliberately plan to not do what they did before.

This requires God’s strength because we’ve already shown our strength is not enough. This should make us really, really humble. This also requires a community of accountability, a plan where we put people around us who can be strong when we are weak, or who have understanding when we don’t.

Only God can do the necessary interior work in our hearts and minds that genuinely brings about righteousness in what we think and what we love. Meanwhile, we can put safeguards in place to restrain and maybe even retrain us. This does not save us, but investing whatever sweat equity we are capable of shows our honor of God’s desire for our lives.

3) Brace Yourself

After his adultery with Bathsheba, David wrote:

“For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight. You are justified when You speak, and blameless when You judge. “ (Psalm 51:3-4)

David repented - then asked for nothing. He knew what he deserved, and he did not ask God to remove the consequences.

Be ready to harvest what you planted. There is a principle of sowing and reaping God has placed in the world (Galatians 6:7). If you drive drunk and have an accident, God and others will forgive you, but you will still do time. Repentance is not a ‘get our of jail free’ card in a very practical sense. And God designed the world to work that way.

More personally, brace yourself for the intensity of emotions from those you have wronged—anger, hurt, grief, disappointment, and distrust. The truly repentant don’t pressure people to move on. They don’t ask why the other person just can’t get over it. They simply ask for forgiveness, turn around, and patiently wait as God uses His Holy Spirit, time, and our new way of life to heal the wounds. (We will talk about forgiveness next week)

In addition, repentant people accept boundaries. They recognize that they have created distrust and earned caution. Their offense may be of such a nature that trust can be regained – or it might not. That’s the reality of their situation, and they accept their boundaries. To be sure they do this well, they become accountable. They invite people into their lives, and they embrace correction, direction, and encouragement.

4) Pursue Life Together

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24).

If you are right in the middle of focused worship, and you know that you have hurt someone else, Jesus would rather have you try to mend that relationship than continue in your worship. If you show up on a Sunday and see someone across the room who has something against you – that is, you have sinned against them, wounded them, offended them – you should skip music and the sermon and take them into the prayer room and be reconciled before you sing or ‘amen’ as if nothing is wrong. It’s more important.

Once that community has been restored, there is more. David did not see repentance and forgiveness as the whole story. He desired to teach others:

“Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You.” (Psalm 51:13).

David would be teaching sinners as a repentant sinner. His teaching would seek to turn sinners from their sin. Why waste forgiveness and repentance on just ourselves?

Repentant people should be bold. Stories of repentance and forgiveness make beautiful testimonies, but no one can benefit from your experience if no one knows. If you say, “Forgiveness and grace are beautiful things,” and someone says, “Why?” What will you say? “Oh, just because…”

Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).

Paul wrote without shame: ”For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10)

Free - From Slavery To The Shadows

Plato told a story in which people are trapped in a cave, watching shadows on a cave wall and thinking it’s reality. Occasionally, some of them recognize the shadows for what they are and leave the cave, entering into the sunlight of Truth and experiencing Reality for themselves. It might surprise you to know that the Apostle Paul tells a very similar story.

The Colossian church had a problem with living in the shadows. Paul started out his letter by stressing the preeminence of Christ in everything, then noted how glad he was that the Colossians were rooted in and built on Christ, because He was the source of all that mattered.

“Be strong in the faith, just as you were taught, and always spill over with thankfulness. Make sure no one deceives you through some misleading philosophy and empty deception based on traditions fabricated by mere mortals. These are sourced in the elementary principles originating in this world and not in Christ. You see, all that is God, all His fullness, resides in Christ.” (7-9)

Paul goes on to say that God, through Christ, has beaten all the principalities and powers – that is, every spiritual or supernatural force - and publicly displayed their ineffectiveness and Christ’s effectiveness. Then he adds:

“It was God who brought us to life with Him, forgave all our sins, and eliminated the massive debt we incurred by the law that stood against us. He took it all away; He nailed it to the cross. He disarmed those who once ruled over us—those who had overpowered us. Like captives of war, He put them on display to the world to show His victory over them by means of the cross.

But here comes the problem. There are those who want them to rob them of the freedom Christ has offered. There are those who want them to go back to the world’s “elementary principles” that will keep them in a spiritual cave. And Paul tells them what this will look like:

Don’t let anyone stand in judgment over you and dictate what you should eat or drink, what festivals and feasts you should celebrate, or how you should observe a new moon or Sabbath days—  all these are only a shadow of what shall come.* The reality, the core, the import, is found in Christ. Don’t be cheated out of the prize by others who are peddling the worship of heavenly beings and false humility.[i] People like this run about telling whoever will listen what they claim to have seen; but in reality they testify only to an inflated mind, saturated in conceit—not in the Spirit. They are detached from the very head (Christ) that nourishes and connects the whole body (of Christians) with all of its nerves and ligaments, a body that grows by the kind of growth that can only come from God. Listen, if you have died with Christ to the world’s legalistic ordinances, then why are you submitting yourselves to its rules as if you still belonged to this world? You hear, “Don’t handle this! Don’t taste that! Don’t even touch it!” but everything they are obsessed about will eventually decay with use. These rules are just human commands and teachings. They may seem wise, but they are promoting self-imposed forms of worship, self-humiliation, and bodily abuse. No matter which way they try to tether their bodies, they cannot harness their desires. (Colossians 2:13-23)

Shadows aren’t bad things in and of themselves, because they point toward the real thing. In a drought, you want to see the shadow of clouds across the land. On a hot day, you want to see the shadow of a tree. But those don’t exist without the cloud or the tree; we would be foolish to exalt the shadow and ignore that which cast it.

The same it true of spiritual realities. The Old Testament was full of shadows: the Law; various people whose lives we now see as in some ways prophetically revealing of God; the promise of physical blessing to Israel that pointed toward spiritual blessing in Christ.

One could argue that even the pagan cultures had shadows. Tolkien and Lewis were fond of pointing out how fictional myths of the gods captured our greatest fears, longings and desires. They were stories we made up about what we feared or longed to be true. In Jesus, all the deepest human longings and hopes were fulfilled truly and ultimately in history in a real world in a real way.

So shadows aren’t bad things. They point us toward the Shadow Caster. But a "shadow" is an imperfect representation of the thing it reveals. Problems arise when people mistake the shadows for the Real Thing.

Paul identifies two ways of “staying in the shadows” that can rob us of our prize: that is, rob us of 1) fullness of the new life and freedom he has given us in this life, and 2) our heavenly reward. I’m going to address two shadows in this passage that Tim Keller calls moralism and mysticism.

“What you eat and drink”

This refers to Old Testament laws that focused on diet and hygiene. The problem was not in the regulations; it was that this physical “clean” was only a shadow of the genuine spiritual “clean” that Christ gives to us. For us, it’s probably not “Don’t go to Red Lobster or eat bacon.” It’s probably more along the lines of, “I don’t have a TV… I only listen to Christian music and read Christian books… I don’t shop at certain stores.”

None of those things are bad in themselves. If God convicts you that in your life this is important, honor Him with your obedience. But if they become the standard by which you think you or others can become clean enough for God, that’s moralism, and you’re in trouble. This is still a version of “Don't Handle, Taste or Touch!” which come from the idea that if I just try hard enough that I can be clean enough for God.

Eventually, nothing else will matter as much as your self-imposed regulations of what it means to be good enough, and you will constantly be looking for all the ways in which you are currently failing as well as how you are succeeding. If you do well, you will tend to become proud and sit in judgment of those who don’t do what you do. When you fail, you will tend toward despair because you believe God and everyone else thinks you are a terrible person. 

“Festivals, feasts, moons and days”

There was an understanding that honoring the festivals and feasts pleased God and brought reward, and dishonoring them displeased God and brought punishment. Their conclusion? Faithful observance made them good, holy people. Once again, the problem was not in the holiday or festival or in obedience; it was that they were just shadow pointing to the reality of Christ, and the people had made them the most important thing.

What do we do? We have Sundays, Christmas, Easter, the National Day of Prayer, The March for Life, 40 Days of Purpose, Prayer Circles, and every big push in Christian circles that is promoted as being the crucial thing that will bring God’s blessing if we just observe them properly.

Once again, if God convicts you that in your life it is important that you observe any or all these things in a particular way, then by all means do so. That’s an important part of God’s work in your life. But if they become the standard by which you attempt to honor God and therefore earn his blessing, that’s moralism, and you’re in trouble.

When you do well, you will become proud and sit in judgment of those who aren’t as committed to the cause (“Are they embarrassed of Christ? Don’t they care like I do?) When you fail, you will despair because you believe you have let God down, and now you are in trouble, and probably everybody else around you thinks of you as a failure – so you try even harder the next time to do even more.

Here, I think, is a good question to ask in relation to the quest to do the right things: Is doing good things about honoring God or elevating the person?

  • Is my self-control about my work or the fruit of the Holy Spirit in me?
  • Am I doing this to be good or as an act of worship to honor the God I serve?
  • Do I need to be noticed?
  • Am I more interested in behavior modification or heart transformation? (Do I want to ‘surrender my desires’ or merely ‘tether my body’?)
  • When I tell my testimony about a changed life, does Jesus increase while I decrease? Do people go away talking about me or Jesus?
  • When I look at others, do I try to see what God is doing in them or settle for what they are doing for God?

“Worship of Heavenly Beings/False Humility”

Some of the Jews thought angels were intermediaries between God and men. Other sects actually tried to be an angelic presence on earth. There was a desire to know more about God, but they got so enamored with the messenger that they forgot the message. They began to believe that superior knowledge and experiences made them important.  What should have fostered a desire for others to know and experience God instead became a desire to be known and seen for their experience.

And to make it worse, they expressed false humility. Elliot’s Commentary explains it well:

“Humility is a grace, and is unconsciousness, and cannot live except by resting on some more positive quality, such as faith or love. Whenever it is consciously cultivated and “delighted in,” it loses all its grace; it becomes either “the pride that apes humility,” or it turns to abject slavishness and meanness. Of such depravations Church history is unhappily full.”

There are still people and groups in Christianity that put a lot of stock in those who convey information about visits with angels, or being caught up into heaven, or having supernatural encounters in which they spend time with really important people and are given crucial insights, or even simply having overwhelming ecstatic experiences.[1]

If you have a genuine supernatural encounter with God, that’s an important part of God’s work in your life. But if those moments become the standard by which you gauge if you are doing things right or getting to know God, or if your experience becomes the measure by which everyone else’s walk with God is judged, you are giving in to mysticism, and you are in danger of worshipping the shadow rather than the One who casts it.

The pursuit of or fascination with angels and visions will take you captive when nothing else matters as much as your experiences. If something glorious happens, you will tend become proud and sit in judgment of those who don’t have the connection with God that you do. Sometimes people even feel pressured to lie about what they’ve experienced. When you don’t have them, you will despair because you believe something is terribly wrong with you, and you will become increasingly radical in what you will do to recapture the experience.

Here, I think, is a good question to ask in relation to genuine supernatural encounters with God: When I think or talk about it, who increases: me or Jesus? Does what happened cause people to think about me or Jesus? Does my story of emotional rapture cause people to think about me or Jesus? Does my testimony of healing cause people to think about me or Jesus? Does my miraculous conversion story cause people to think about me or Jesus?

  • I wonder if this was why Paul wouldn’t talk about being caught up into heaven, and why in his epistles he never talked about raising a young man from the dead (maybe because his sermon killed him, I don’t know J (Acts 20:9-12)
  • Paul and Barnabas were mistaken for Zeus and Hermes. I think I would probably love to tell that story if someone thought I was a god. Paul never talks about it.
  • Peter heals the lame (Acts 3) and paralyzed Acts 9), gets visions from God (Acts 10), and raises a woman from the dead (Acts 9). People tried to position the sick so his shadow would fall on them (Acts 5)  – and Peter never talks about it in his New Testament writings.

What they experienced brought them closer to Jesus, and what they did pointed others toward Jesus. We don’t read that they continued to pursue a replication of those things. They just faithfully did what God put in front of them to do. I wonder if that’s why Paul wrote, “Forgetting what lies behind, I press on…” In the context of that verse he was not talking about hardship or failure. He was talking about success (Philippians 3).

The Law is a good thing  - it is a ‘schoolteacher’ to show us how God has designed us to live – but it is a shadow of the Lawgiver who fulfilled it. We can settle for trying to ‘tether our bodies’ when what Jesus offers is a transformation of our desires that will transform our hearts (and our bodies will follow). We will never find the freedom to flourish in God’s Kingdom through behavior modification. Because of Jesus, we are freed from the bondage of perfect living on our own power and drawn into righteous living through the power of God.

Supernatural experiences are a good thing – they reveal the reality of “God with us” – but the experiences are a shadow of the One being experienced. We are free to simply pursue Jesus, and allow God to decide if, when, and how He will reveal Himself in a miraculous way.

So what is Paul’s solution?

“So it comes down to this: since you have been raised with Christ, set your mind on the realities of the Kingdom of Heaven, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand.  Stay focused on what’s above, not on earthly things, because your old life is dead and gone. Your new life is now hidden in and enmeshed with Christ, who is in God.”  (Colossians 3:1-3)

But we will talk more about that next week...

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* Some examples of the types and shadows in the OT that point toward Christ:

Feast of Unleavened Bread – holiness: "Purge out therefore the 'old leaven' that ye may be a 'new lump,' as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the Feast, not with 'old leaven,' neither with the 'leaven of malice and wickedness.' but with the 'unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.'" 1 Cor. 5:7,8.

The Law: “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” (Hebrews 10:1)

The Temple: “The priests serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.” (Hebrews 8:5)

Offerings: “In the first covenant, every day every officiating priest stands at his post serving, offering over and over those same sacrifices that can never take away sin. 12 But after He stepped up to offer His single sacrifice for sins for all time, He sat down in the position of honor at the right hand of God.”  (Hebrews 10:11-12)

[1] Read up on the New Apostolic Reformation. The book God's Super Apostles: Encountering The Worldwide Apostles And Prophets Movement is a good place to start.  Tim Challies offers a good review/overview of the book. 

[i] An unusual word that appears to reference athletes who won the Games, then had their rightful reward taken away.

[ii] “It might seem strange that on the rigid monotheism of Judaism this incongruous creature-worship should have been engrafted. But here also the link is easily supplied. The worship of the angels of which the Essenic system bore traces, was excused on the ground that the Law had been given through the “ministration of angels” (see Acts 7:53Galatians 3:19), and that the tutelary guardianship of angels had been revealed in the later prophecy. (See Daniel 10:10-21.) For this reason it was held that angels might be worshipped, probably with the same subtle distinctions between this and that kind of worship with which we are familiar in the ordinary pleas for the veneration of saints. It has been noticed that in the Council of Laodicea, held in the fourth century, several canons were passed against Judaising, and that in close connection with these it was forbidden “to leave the Church of God and go away to invoke angels”; and we are told by Theodoret (in the next century) that “oratories to St. Michael (the ‘prince’ of the Jewish people) were still to be seen.” The “angels” in this half-Jewish system held the same intermediate position between the Divine and the human which in the ordinary Gnostic theories was held by the less personal Æons, or supposed emanations from the Godhead.”  - Elliiot’s Commentary

 

Taking Off Grave Clothes (John 11)

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany. [Mary and Martha, his sisters] sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go into Judea again… Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.”

 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him...”

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."

And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The Teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you…”   Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.[1]

 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."

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The physical revival of Lazarus was yet another of the seven miracles that John included in his gospel[2] to fulfill his stated goal: so we would believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be. Jesus himself says this happened “so the Son of Man will be glorified…so that you may believe…you will see the glory of God…for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe you sent me.” In this miracle, we see Jesus establishing that he has has the power to raise the dead. This is important, because the Bible teaches us two key principles that follow from this fact.

First, death cannot stop God from raising us into eternal life. One chapter earlier, John quotes Jesus as saying: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28) Martha affirms this. She believes it will happen on the last day. Jesus basically says, “Yes, because of me.”

Second, God can raise us from spiritual death to life in this life. Paul wrote in Romans 8:

“If Christ lives within you, even though the body is as good as dead because of the effects of sin, the Spirit is infusing you with life now that you are right with God. If the Spirit of the One who resurrected Jesus from the dead lives inside of you, then you can be sure that He who raised Him will cast the light of life into your mortal bodies through the life-giving power of the Spirit residing in you.” (Romans 8:10-11)

Jesus infuses us with new spiritual life through His Holy Spirit even before he raises us up to the ultimate glory of eternal life in bodies that are incorruptible and free of the ravages of sin and death.

Matthew records that Jesus healed a lame man so people would know he had the power to forgive sins (Matthew 9). In other words, he did something miraculous they could see in order to prove he could to miraculous things they couldn’t see. Here again, Martha believed in an unseen world of resurrection; Jesus raises Lazarus in the seen world so that people would believe the entirety of his claims. 

But there’s another portion of this story that lingers with me, an odd and even gross detail that was important enough to include. In this midst of this celebration is a sobering reality: even though Lazarus had been raised into new life, he had spent some time in the corrupting power of death, and he stank. And now those who loved him were going to need to hold their noses and get their hands dirty as they unwrapped him.[3]

I realize that this is not the main point of the story. That fact that Jesus has the power to bring the dead to life is the main point of the story. Next week, I am going to focus on the implications that has for our lives. But today I want to focus on a small detail I believe offers something for our spiritual instruction. Remember: Jesus used a physical miracle to prove a spiritual reality. In this case, I think we see a physical analogy that acknowledges an important part of the spiritual reality of what it will look like when we are raised into a new spiritual life in Christ.

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When we move from death to life, it’s glorious but it’s not always pretty.  Let’s start with the glorious part. Our resurrection with Christ saves us from spiritual death. It frees us from the legacy of our sin eating away at us and corrupting us. This is fantastic news.

“You laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.” (Colossians 3:9-10)

“Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

So it’s glorious. If you have a testimony that includes freedom from bondage to sin, you know this. When Jeff shared his story a couple weeks ago, the glorious power of God at work in his life was made clear. Our new life is glorious. It’s just not always pretty. Zombie stories give us a decent analogy for what sin does to us. It kills us and we don’t know it. We stumble around, falling apart, consuming others, wasting away in ways that are both heart breaking and terrifying.

And Jesus heals us from that.

I was watching a special on the History Channel about Halloween, and in their segment on the history of the zombie in world literature they noted that Jesus was the only ‘zombie’ (person who was dead and came back to life) that came back to give life to others rather than take it away.  The History Channel was not promoting the divinity of Christ, but even they recognized that there is something different and important about Jesus.

But even though we have been brought to life, we spent time dead in sin experiencing spiritual corruption, and there is a legacy that lingers. It’s going to be a process. There’s some cleaning up to do. Can we just be honest about that? Here’s Lazarus celebrating – “Woo hoo! No way! I’m alive!” and his friends are like, “You need to take a bath.”

In heaven, the corruptible will put on the incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15:54). We are not there yet. New life on this side of heaven is glorious but it does not yet equal perfection. We are freed from the controlling power and the eternal penalty of our sin because of Christ, but God made a world in which we reap a temporal penalty for what we have sown (Galatians 6:7).

This is why, if you were dead in greed, or gossip, or sexual sin, you likely won’t walk away from a new commitment to Jesus suddenly freed of the habits and patterns you have formed over the years. We are “being renewed” (2 Corinthians 4:16) and “being transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2) Those are progressive verbs. We still have to “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:24).

This is not one momentous moment where you announce “Old self out!” drop the mic and walk away with no connection whatsoever to anything you have done before. We walk away from who we were, but when we first start out we are still pretty close to where we started. Distance takes time. Addicts will long for their addiction even as they conquer their old habits. Criminals might spend time in jail even if those they wronged forgive them. Gossips have wounded friendships that need time to heal. 

I often hear people say, “I’ve changed. Why can’t we just move on and forget about who I was?” Well, because you have grave clothes on. They will come off, but it will take some time, and you still stink. You’ve trained yourself to think about people and situations in a land of corruption. You have spent years building a whole system on how you gauge your value and worth in a land of corruption.  

God promises to transform you if you surrender your life to Him, but it’s a process (what we call sanctification).[4] Be patient. You need some unwrapping, and right now you don’t smell new yet.

We must be honest. The church is full of forgiven people who have been given new life in Christ and who stink. I know I do. I might clean up good on a Sunday morning and look fine (theoretically), and I have been raised from death to life by the power of Jesus Christ, but if you know we me at all, you know that there are still some clothes from my time spent in the grave that still need some unwinding.

Back to Romans 8. After Paul talks about new life in Christ, he writes that all of creation groans in anticipation of God’s New Creation in the world to come but has not yet arrived – and that includes those who are children of God:

“Though we have already tasted the firstfruits of the Spirit, we are longing for the total redemption of our bodies that comes when our adoption as children of God is complete—  for we have been saved in this hope and for this future. But hope does not involve what we already have or see. For who goes around hoping for what he already has? But if we wait expectantly for things we have never seen, then we hope with true perseverance and eager anticipation.” (23-25)

We celebrate new life, we take great hope in the total future redemption we can experience because of Jesus – and we recognize that the reason we are full of expectation and hope is that Heaven has not yet arrived. We live in a church community full of people who have walked out of their spiritual graves (yay!) and are trailing grave clothes behind them (yikes). I hope this gives us a realistic expectation of church community.

  • It’s why we celebrate together - and then struggle with each other.
  • It’s why we praise God for redemption – and then beg him to help us be better at forgiving the redeemed around us who wound us.  
  • It’s why we can feel torn between loving Jesus and loving the people who claim to love Jesus.
  • It’s why we can’t hide from others in our walk with Christ. We need others to help us move into the life God has given us.

It’s beautiful and messy on this side of heaven. And it’s in these times that the community of the Church has an opportunity to shine.

God expects the church to move stones and unwrap grave clothes.

Jesus could have enlisted angels or moved the stone himself; Jesus could have knocked those grave clothes off with a word. He didn’t; he let Lazarus’ friends and family do it. This physical reality points toward an important spiritual one:

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

“Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another. In the end, you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

For whatever reasons, Jesus enlists us in His service.

“In the commands for the bystanders to roll away the stone and unwrap Lazarus we learn that although only God can raise the dead, He still uses men to do the things they are capable of doing. That's how the Lord always operates. He does what He does, but we do what we can do. There's no greater joy in the world than … taking off grave clothes for the Lord! We play a part in what He does.”  – John McArthur

I don’t think “joy” is a word that comes to mind, frankly, when I think of helping others get rid of the lingering reminders of their spiritual corruption. I’d like everyone around me cleaned up, thank you very much. I don’t want the hassle of high-maintenance friends or needy family members or other people in church who offend me or make me angry because their words, attitudes or actions still stink. But that’s a crucial reason we do life together. There are 59 “One Another Verses” in the Bible.[5] Why are there so many? Because it’s hard to do life together, but it’s crucial.

I have two tips to offer today on this aspect of ‘life together’: be humble and be wise.

1. Be humble. Get over yourself. For every person you help become free from their grave clothes, someone else is helping you. You might think the lingering effects of someone else’s sin is overwhelming…but I’m telling you, somebody close to you has is rubbing Vicks under their nose when they help you out. There is never room for arrogance or meanness in the church.

2. Be wise.

  • Seek God’s wisdom and truth. Sin is subtle. You can enable someone rather than help them if you aren’t careful. You can shame those you are trying to help if you aren’t careful. You can get pulled into the very sin you are trying to help others be free from. We are to be people of grace and truth, and that balance can be tricky. You will need to pray and read Scripture. You may need to read books on a particular subject or listen to sermons/podcasts. If you can do this without betraying someone’s confidence, you may need to ask an expert you know. Seek wisdom beyond your own feelings and thoughts.
  • Know your boundaries. Do you have a relationship with this person? Will you be meddling or helping? Do you have good reason to believe they will value what you have to say? Are there others around them already doing the unwrapping? Maybe you can help, but maybe you will be in the way. This is part of the things for which you should be praying, and, if appropriate, seeking counsel.
  • If you are helping someone and it feels messy, use your words. Here are four examples for different situations.
  1. “I feel like I need to be honest about you, but I don’t know if what comes out of my mouth will reflect what’s in my heart.”
  2. “I am not your enemy; I am your friend, and because I am your friend we’ve got to talk about this thing in your life.”
  3. “I’m glad you have confided in me, but I don’t know what to do or say right now. Can we just hang out?”
  4. “I think I offended you. I’m sorry.”

So be humble, and be wise.

Jesus does what only he can do: bring the dead to life.

We do what he asks us to do: welcome those who were dead back into the community of the living. And in the process of God raising and we, the church, unwrapping, the glory of God will be revealed so that the world might believe.

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[1] Why did Jesus weep when he knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead? The Bible is not clear, but I suspect it had to do with a) Jesus’ grief over the calamitous reality of the devastating consequence of what sin does in the world. See “Why Jesus Wept,” http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-jesus-wept

[2]  This passage occurs in a broader context. The gospel of John is famous for Jesus’ Seven Miracles. They progress in interesting ways:

  • Water to wine – Jesus shows the power to change elements, and he only reveals this to his mother and servants, two classes of people looked down upon in Jewish culture.
  • Healing the official’s son – Jesus shows power over temporary sickness as well as distance (he doesn’t have to go to the man’s house). This miracle was shown to a Gentile from Herod’s court, one of the oppressors of God’s people.
  • Healing the paralytic – Jesus shows power over long-term sickness as well as his power over the Law. This third miracle is done once again for one of the culturally marginalized.
  • Feeding the 5,000 – Jesus shows power not only to multiply elements rather than just change them , perhaps linking him to God’s provision during the Exodus. This is his first very public miracle, shown to thousands.
  • Walking on water – Jesus shows his power over elements once again, perhaps as another purposeful connection with God as revealed in the Old Testament. The Spirit of God moved over the water in Genesis 1; now John, who made a clear connection to Genesis in the beginning of his book, records the Word of God moving over the water. 
  • Healing the man born blind – Jesus shows he has the power of creation; he doesn’t just heal eyes that had once been good and then gone bad, he creates working eyes where there had been none.
  • Raising Lazarus – Jesus shows his power over physical death, which establishes his power over spiritual death .

[3] Whenever the Bible takes the time to point out that something stinks, this is never a good thing. In Genesis 19, the angels said of Sodom and Gomorrah that “the stench of the place has reached the Lord…”  “And I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD” (Amos 4:10). Isaiah 65 talks about God gagging on the stench of rebelliousness and pride and hypocrisy.

[4] See Theopedia’s definition: http://www.theopedia.com/sanctification

[5]http://storage.cloversites.com/wakarusamissionarychurch/documents/59one_another_scriptures.pdf

Dying To Live (John 12)

You may have heard of an autobiographical book (and eventually a  movie) called Eat Pray Love written by Liz Gilbert in 2006. Here’s a brief synopsis thanks to Google:

“Liz Gilbert thought she had everything she wanted in life: a home, a husband and a successful career. Now newly divorced and facing a turning point, she finds that she is confused about what is important to her. Daring to step out of her comfort zone, Liz embarks on a quest of self-discovery that takes her to Italy, India and Bali.”

A quest for self-discovery. Sounds fantastic!  But this was not the first time Gilbert had discovered something about herself. In 2015, Gilbert wrote an article in the New York Times in entitled “Confessions Of A Seduction Addict.”[1] In it she describes what she found out about herself in the years before the events Eat Pray Love.

"It started with a boy I met at summer camp and ended with the man for whom I left my first husband. In between, I careened from one intimate entanglement to the next — dozens of them — without so much as a day off between romances. You might have called me a serial monogamist, except that I was never exactly monogamous. Relationships overlapped, and those overlaps were always marked by exhausting theatricality: sobbing arguments, shaming confrontations, broken hearts. Still, I kept doing it. I couldn’t not do it.… If the man was already involved in a committed relationship, I knew that I didn’t need to be prettier or better than his existing girlfriend; I just needed to be different…

Soon enough, and sure enough, I might begin to see that man’s gaze toward me change from indifference, to friendship, to open desire. That’s what I was after: the telekinesis-like sensation of steadily dragging somebody’s fullest attention toward me and only me. My guilt about the other woman was no match for the intoxicating knowledge that — somewhere on the other side of town — somebody couldn’t sleep that night because he was thinking about me. If he needed to sneak out of his house after midnight in order to call, better still. That was power, but it was also affirmation. I was someone’s irresistible treasure. I loved that sensation, and I needed it, not sometimes, not even often, but always…

In my mid-20s, I married, but not even matrimony slowed me down. Predictably, I grew restless and lonely. Soon enough I seduced someone new; the marriage collapsed. But it was worse than just that. Before my divorce agreement was even signed, I was already breaking up with the guy I had broken up my marriage for… If you asked me what I was up to, I might have claimed that I was a helpless romantic — and how can you judge that? If really cornered, I might have argued that I was a revolutionary feminist, taking brazen agency over my own sexuality…

For the first time, I forced myself to admit that I had a problem — indeed, that I was a problem. Tinkering with other people’s most vulnerable emotions didn’t make me a romantic; it just made me a swindler. Lying and cheating didn’t make me brazen; it just made me a needy coward. Stealing other women’s boyfriends didn’t make me a revolutionary feminist; it just made me a menace. I hated that it took me almost 20 years to realize this. There are 16-year-old kids who know better than to behave this way. It felt shameful. But once I got it, I really got it: There is no way to stop a destructive behavior, except to stop…"

She then tells a story about meeting a man to whom she was really attracted but whom she resisted. She stopped her pattern of destructive behavior. As far as one can tell when the article ends, all is well. It’s heart-breaking to read, but there’s an apparently happy ending. Then she traveled on her quest for self-discovery as chronicled in Eat Pray Love, which culminated in her marrying someone new. Then, one year after her perhaps too hasty article about her move into maturity, this appeared in the New York Times[2]:

"Ms. Gilbert, speaking directly to her readers in a Facebook post, said that after 12 years she was separating from José Nunes, the Brazilian importer whom she met during her travels and later married, and who was a central character in the book… In April, Ms. Gilbert said that she missed travel: “I’ve never been to Japan, Iceland, South Africa and other places that it would be a pity to come to this earth and miss.”

So there was no happy ending. In her journey of self-discovery she discovered things about herself, but to what end? To what purpose? The act of discovery is not enough. One needs to discover not just things but true and good things – and then allow those things to transform you.

Mrs. Gilbert’s self-discovery didn’t solve an apparently returning restlessness, what some would call an existential void that she has had all her life. It might manifest in different ways at different times, but what she was seeking at the deepest level simply won’t be found - and can’t be found - with the things she is pursuing. They offer her moments and times that are strong and even feel overwhelmingly good in the moment – but they don’t last. They can’t. They are only glimpse of what she’s looking for, like seeing a snapshot of the Grand Canyon and thinking it’s the same thing as being there.

Sadly, her story has a lot of fans who are apparently convinced that her approach is the way to a good life. The Daily Mail wrote just this week:

“Eat Pray Love had struck a chord with an entire generation of women who, Gilbert feels, didn’t ‘get the memo that they are in charge of their own lives.’”[3]

Frankly, as much as she used the language of choice, self-empowerment and self-discovery, I didn’t get the impression that she has been in charge of her life.

We all serve something to which we give our allegiance. To use biblical language, we will all be servants or slaves to something. We all give our lives to something that we believe will ultimately satisfy our deepest longings, and that thing we first intrigues us, then it molds us, then leads us, and then defines us. You don’t have to be a Christian to see this. I am fascinated with the insight by a novelist named David Foster Wallace. He was not a Christian by any stretch, but he noted the following:

“There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.”

He finished his 2005 speech[4] by saying,

 “It is about making it to thirty, or maybe fifty, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head.”

David Foster Wallace did not make it to 50. Four years after he gave this speech, he committed suicide. I am reminded of what the always quotable C.S. Lewis had to say:

"Thomas More said... 'If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.' Will it really make no difference if it was women [or men] or patriotism, cocaine or art, whiskey or a seat in the Cabinet, money or science? Well, surely no difference that matters. We shall have all missed the end for which we are formed and rejected the only thing that satisfies. Does it matter to a man dying in the desert, by which choice of route he missed the only well?"

Everybody worships. And we will either worship something that always leaves us unsatisfied – “wells that run dry or leave us thirsty,” (Isaiah 58) and leads us to disillusionment, unhappiness or despair, or we will draw our refreshment from a well that will never run dry and will lead to hope and satisfaction as we worship a God who meets us in the deepest and most profound levels of our longing (John 4).

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Jesus’ final public teaching is recorded in John 12. It is an exhortation, and appeal to the people to respond to a God of life. He had just raised Lazarus, and he had quite a crowd following him. In this teaching he makes the turn from physical resurrection to spiritual resurrection. I told you last week we will talk about how to experience the fullness of life in Christ on this side of heaven, so here we go with a quick review: It will be glorious but messy.

It won’t yet be perfection – even God’s people wait in anticipation for the final renewal of all things. But there is a fullness that God offers through Christ in this life in anticipation of the life to come.  Jesus comes back to a theme again and again.  If we pursue Christ, he will mold us an eventually define us. In the process, the glory of Jesus will be seen by us and in us.I’m condensing all of the teaching in this chapter to one paragraph that focuses on what I believe is the main topic.

 I tell you the truth: unless a grain of wheat is planted in the ground and dies, it remains a solitary seed. But when it is planted, it produces in death a great harvest. The one who loves this life will lose it, and the one who despises it in this world will have life forevermore. Anyone who serves Me must follow My path; anyone who serves Me will want to be where I am, and he will be honored by the Father… (v.23-26)

How do we experience the fullness of this beautiful, messy life on this side of heaven?

  • We must love Christ more than ourselves.
  • We must love the Kingdom of Heaven more than the Kingdoms of Earth.
  • We must ‘die’ to self and follow the teaching and the path of Jesus.  

This ‘call to die” sounds unusual, but the reality is that everybody dies to something so they can live for something else.  Everybody eventually enslaves themselves to something that they believe will bring them the greatest freedom.  The radical part of this call is not the call to die: the radical part is the call to die to self and for someone else – in this case, Jesus.

But this dying to self is not simply the way to bring life to ourselves.  It’s how we bring life to everyone around us. Everybody worships , right? And whenever we worship, somebody dies, and it will be either us or others.

  • If I worship my comfort, I will sacrifice my wife and kids. They will pay the cost of my comfort. “Stop bothering me. We will talk when I’m good and ready. No, you adjust your hopes and dreams and priorities because they don’t match mine.”  I will sacrifice my friends. “You upset or hurt me. Clearly you are the problem. I need a better class of friends.” I remain dead in my selfishness and sin, and I drag down those close to me.
  • If I worship my reputation, I will sacrifice any of you who don’t make me look good. “You think I’m wrong? You’re an idiot. You don’t like how I pastor? You clearly have a heart issue. You are winning an argument with me? I will lash out and try to humiliate you or keep beating this argument to death because I can’t be wrong.”  And I will remain dead in myself selfishness and sin and drag down those around me.
  • If I worship money, I will choose work time over relationship time and I will choose profit over people.  If I worship my health, I will make everyone else take second place to my diet and workout schedule. If I worship sex, all that will matter is my fulfillment and my happiness, and I will sacrifice the dignity and autonomy of people around me as I manipulate and pressure and use… And I will remain dead in my selfishness and sin and drag down those around me.

You want to know what you worship? Ask yourself whom you sacrifice; then ask yourself why.

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So what do we do if we are caught in this trap? To use language from last week, how do we turn from being dead to being fully alive? What does it mean to present our bodies as living sacrifices, wholly acceptable unto God? (Romans 12:1)This is going to take several weeks, and John conveniently gives us more insight in the next several chapters in which Jesus is teaching his disciples about life in the Kingdome. But we are going to stay focused today on the first crucial step: dying to self.

 In the same way you gave your bodily members away as slaves to corrupt and lawless living and found yourselves deeper in your unruly lives, now devote your members as slaves to right and reconciled lives so you will find yourselves deeper in holy living. In the days when you lived as slaves to sin, you had no obligation to do the right thing. In that regard, you were free. But what do you have to show from your former lives besides shame? The outcome of that life is death, guaranteed. But now that you have been emancipated from the death grip of sin and are God’s slave, you have a different sort of life, a growing holiness. The outcome of that life is eternal life. The payoff for a life of sin is death, but God is offering us a free gift—eternal life through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King. (Romans 6: 19-23)

It begins with a commitment to Jesus. Acknowledge the reality of who Jesus is; surrender your life to Him; commit to following his path.  This is the biblical idea of ‘dying’ so that we can be raised to life. We must commit to learning what it means to love Jesus and others more than ourselves, to valuing the kingdom of God over the Kingdom of the earth. And part of that re-ordering of our loves and priorities is learning where to place our focus: specifically, how to sacrifice ourselves. We turn to C.S. Lewis again for a great summary:

“The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ's and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him…

The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours.

Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

I remember thinking as a young man that I wanted to make a difference in the Kingdom of God. I really wanted my life to count. I saw some older folks who were godly and whose presence had really impacted my life. I knew it was because of Jesus at work in them, and I wanted that! It took me years to realize I couldn't just want that. I had to be willing to die. If I wanted to live, I had to be crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). If I wanted the power of the resurrection, I needed to participate in the fellowship of His suffering (Philippians 3:10).

  • If I wanted to become wise, I had to die prioritize certain things in my life that would lead to wisdom.
  • If I wanted to self-controlled, I had to practice self-control.
  • If I wanted to overcome anger, I had to address my anger and the issues fueling my anger.
  • If I wanted to move from lustful thoughts to pure thoughts, I had to change my habits and my focus and bring in something new. 

There was no amount of wishful thinking that was going to change me in those areas.  There was prayer, and study of the Bible, and seeking Christian counsel both casual and professional that would help to guide me in the path of righteousness.  There was accountability to others. There was reading and studying, then putting into practice what I learned.  

Lest I sound like I am suggesting I have arrived, I am not saying that at all. Ask anyone around me.  The need for new life is ongoing. The problem with a ‘living sacrifice’ is that it can crawl off the altar and put somebody else up there instead. Every day, we surrender our pride, our time, our desires for comfort and fun.

But what we find on the other side of death is resurrection, and when we finally get up on that altar so that we die instead of others and the life of Jesus begins to work in us and through us – then we begin to truly see how the Kingdom of God is meant for our good and God’s glory.

This is the pattern. This is how God accomplishes his work of bringing us to life, then growing us in a new life. Our lives become characterized by self-sacrifice rather than self-indulgence. That sacrifice is not just a vague practice of denial: it’s a purposeful commitment to living for Jesus by living like Jesus. And in that process, that seed of our life that ‘dies’ comes to life and bears a crop in which the goodness of God is multiplied for the good of others and the glory of God.

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[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/magazine/confessions-of-a-seduction-addict.html?src=recg&_r=0

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/02/style/elizabeth-gilbert-separation-eat-pray-love.html?_r=0

[3] Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3683437/What-happens-romance-inspired-thousands-happy-comes-bubble-popping-end.html#ixzz4ECYoi98w

[4] “This Is Water.” http://bulletin.kenyon.edu/x4280.html

Our Life With Others: Unity within Diversity (Ephesians 4:4-16)

Church life can often be difficult because of at the remarkable diversity of people involved. There can be a lot of frustration and tension: Why don’t other people experience God or read the Bible the way I do? Am I the only one that thinks music/sermons/prayer/small groups/ outreach/Israel/spiritual gifts/Bible study/discipleship/theology is important?  This tension is nothing new. There’s a reason Paul basically wrote an entire book focused on the unity that Christ brings transforms relationships within the church. In Ephesians 4:4-16, Paul talks about the importance of embracing a diversity of gifts or roles in the church, and why it is important in building unity. 

As a prisoner of the Lord, I urge you: Live a life that is worthy of the calling He has graciously extended to you. Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Tolerate one another in an atmosphere thick with love. Make every effort to preserve the unity the Spirit has already created, with peace binding you together. 

 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were all called to pursue one hope. There is one Lord Jesus, one living faith, one ceremonial washing through baptism, and one God—the Father over all who is above all, through all, and in all. This God has given to each of us grace in full measure according to Christ’s gift as the Scripture says, ‘When He ascended to the heights,
He put captivity in chains;
And in His triumph, He gave gifts to the people…’ 

It was Christ who handed down to us such gifted leaders—some apostles ,some prophets, some evangelists, some pastor and teachers —  so that God’s people would be thoroughly equipped to minister and build up the body of Christ. These ministries will continue until we are unified in faith and filled with the knowledge of the Son of God, until we stand mature in His teachings and fully formed in the likeness of Jesus, our Liberating King. 

Then we will no longer be like children, tossed around here and there upon ocean waves, picked up by every gust of religious teaching spoken by liars or swindlers or deceivers. Instead, by truth spoken in love, we are to grow in every way into Him—Christ, the head. He joins and holds together the whole body with its ligaments providing the support needed so each part works to its proper design to form a healthy, growing, and mature body that builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:4-16, from The Voice)

Before we discuss this passage more, I need to make several points.

1) Apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher is probably not meant to be an exhaustive list of gifts, as can be seen by the addition of elder and deacon(ess) in other passages. Hebrew literature uses lists of five a lot. It’s like saying, “For example…” These are not the only gifts that God gave to his people.

2) There are aspects of leadership in church life that are clearly represented in each of these categories that are needed in the history of the worldwide church, individual churches now, and in our personal growth in Christ. While they are relevant, I don’t think they are all exactly the same as they were in NT times. For example, there are no apostles today like there were in the Bible (you had to see Jesus in the flesh). In the early church, we already see that ‘prophecy’ moved largely away from talking about the future and became mostly about proclaiming truth boldly. But no matter the differences between now and then, there are aspects of each of these gifts that are important in the ongoing process of building, leading and growing the church today. 

3) It’s not a list of spiritual winners vs. losers. Paul says “some” not “all” were given these gifts. I wouldn’t get consumed by asking, “Where am I in this list?”  Like I noted earlier, it's probably a "for example" kind of list; besides, we are not told to seek these gifts or self-appoint ourselves into the role. There are other gifts of the Spirit that  are no less meaningful, and there are plenty of fruits of the Spirit that are a sign of God’s work in your life. They too build up the church. (See the list at the end of this post for a surprisingly diverse list of spiritual gifts. Just be a faithful follower of Christ.

4) It’s about the timeless principle of servicing and building maturity and unity. There is no record these terms were used as a title like some use them today. The gifts aren’t the point. The person with the gift is not the point. Anytime the pursuit of one of these offices or the elevation of someone in one of these positions becomes the point, we are in trouble. Life together in Christ is the point. We are given different gifts for the sake of the church. We need each other if we want to have a healthy, growing and mature body that builds itself up in love. We are talking about this today because apparently these things are crucial for unity – which leads me to believe that they can be a source of disunity to if we aren’t careful.

When we are done today, I hope we will have accomplished several important goals. First, that we appreciate the diversity of passion, gifts and purposes within the church. Second, I want us to be aware of how it looks when the gifts are exercised poorly and when they are exercised well. Finally, I hope we are moved to encourage others and learn from them as we see them display these gifts.

NOTE: I am pulling from a book called Primal Fire, written by Neil Cole, Dezi Baker, Ed Waken, Phil Helfer, and Paul Kaak. There is also a website for the APEST model on Alan Hirsch’s Website, The Forgotten Ways (http://www.theforgottenways.org/what-is-apest.aspx). You can take a test there to see in which areas you are strong, but as I noted earlier, don’t become consumed by the need to find yourself in a category. Just be faithful; feedback from Christians around you is probably more important than your own self-reflection.

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CHURCH PLANTERS AND MISSIONARIES (the foundation of apostolos)

We get our term missionary from the Latin form of apostolos, “sent one”. Alan Hirsch says those with an apostolic gift are those who “initiate visions and ideas and then step back.” These people are constantly looking for new places and new people. They lay a foundation and then move on. A modern day term would be church planter (or missionary). They have a passion for establishing a solid church (doctrine).

You can spot a true apostle not because they tell you they are one, but because churches arises where there was no church before – not because of them and their positional power, but because of their inspiration. You can see this show up in other ways too: people we would think of as pioneers or innovators. They always have a new idea, a new suggestion for how to more firmly establish the church in a community. They are never content with the status quo, but are certain things can be done better.

The Hurdles

  • They can tend to be loners because they don’t feel understood, or because they are often on the move.
  • They can be very black and white about methods (“My way works!”) and people (“You are a leader or you are nothing.”)
  • They can leave a mess after they start something by leaving – or staying.

The Counterfeit (The “super apostle” in 2 Corinthians 11-12)

  • They point to themselves
  • They insist on financial gain
  • They are not willing to relinquish power or authority

 

TRUTH-TELLERS IN THE CHURCH (the insight of prophetus)

Those with a prophetic gift help God’s people hear the voice of God and obey. It is more about forthtelling than foretelling. They bring edification, exhortation, and consolation (1 Corinthians 14:3-4). They force us to face truth, not just settle for understanding or empathy. They often speak truth however they see fit regardless of the consequences. A single issue can drive them tirelessly.

If apostles are passionate about establishing a solid church foundation, prophets are passionate about holiness. People who encounter prophets feel challenged. You can spot a genuine prophet because they don't think of themselves as a prophet – they just think that Christians should call other Christians to holiness. It’s just life to them.

The hurdles

  • They can think everything that comes to mind should be proclaimed
  • They assume all their insights are 1)corporate and 2) preeminent.
  • They can be lonely. Rejection of their message can feel like a personal offense, and they can become impatient with those who don't ‘get it’ 

The counterfeit 

  • They say they are special – only they know God’s secrets
  • Their proclamations bring glory and power to themselves
  • They are wrong in foretelling (predicting the future) and forthtelling (their insights aren’t correct)

 

TRUTH-TELLERS IN THE CULTURE (the growth from euangelistas)

 Those with an evangelistic gift are “tellers of good news.” If prophets have a passion for holiness, evangelists have a passion for the mission of the church – sharing the gospel and equipping others. A love for Christ and a love for people are inseparable. They are more comfortable with the lost than the found. You are more likely to find them at a bar than a Bible study. They don’t wait for people to come to them – they go get ‘em. Evangelists are the “first impression” of Christianity to the world.

 People who encounter evangelists will feel that an evangelist cares about them even if they disagree with them. Evangelists will tend to ADD people to a church, but not START it (apostle) or REFINE it (prophet).  Evangelists give the church a tender heart for those far from Christ. You can spot a true evangelist when they are surprised at how much you admire their effectiveness. “It’s just what Christians do, right?”

 The hurdles

  • Evangelists are often very charismatic and extroverted, and the message can become about them (cult of personality).
  • Numbers can equal success to them, and they can favor popular thoughts over deep ones in an effort to draw a crowd (numbers = success).
  • They think their method should be everyone’s (tracts, door-to-door, revival meetings, seeker’ services)

The counterfeit

  • The evangelist is judgmental angry and unappealing (not a heart for the lost)
  • The gospel is shame-based rather than grace-based

 

PROTECTOR OF THE COMMUNITY (the unity of poimenas - shepherds)

 Those with a pastoral/shepherding gift show concern for the continuing care of a specific community – protecting, caring, strengthening and maturing in doctrine and relationships. They don’t care about position or title – they are interested in people and relationships. They want to lead their sheep (the congregation) to a place where they can feed themselves. They are team builders. They create an environment where people flourish in their relationship with God and others. They are not inclined to leave a church community because they are invested in the lives of the community.

The hurdles

  • They can be skeptical or critical of the other categories (apostles are too transient; prophets are not nurturing enough; evangelists are too focused on non-Christians).
  • They can be so concerned about relationships they overlook sin (peace keepers vs. makers)
  • They are relationship-oriented more than task-oriented (people get frustrated by the lack of a clear vision or agenda).

The counterfeit

  • Fail to protect and nourish in orthodoxy (belief) and orthopraxy (action)
  • Are not invested in the church community
  • Will follow the money
  • Will not sacrifice on behalf of the church

GATEKEEPERS OF THE WORD (the instruction of didaskalous - teachers)

 Those with a teaching gift find that scriptural truth is both sacred ground and their playground. They absorb truth; then they instruct, correct and train in righteousness (2 Timothy 3; Titus 2). Identifying and correcting errors in doctrine is of primary importance. Church planters establish a church in solid doctrine; teachers are the gatekeepers. Books and podcasts are their best friends; they don’t have to be prompted to study. They are always looking for new topics to learn and teach because they have an insatiable desire to know and understand more. They then equip others to teach others. They are good at teaching others how to learn and modeling how to pass on the teaching. The Bible is clear about approaching this position with fear and trembling (James 3:1) Like all the other positions, they don’t do it for applause or clout; it’s just what they do.

The hurdles

  • The teacher can become the authority rather than the Bible
  • They can confuse knowledge with wisdom (bogged down in details…divisive)
  • Divide over details

The counterfeit

  • Claim to have secret knowledge everybody else has missed
  • Elevate their teaching to near perfection
  • Add to or detract from Scripture

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What’s the point of all this? We are different. God gifted us that way. All these gifts/approaches/emphasis are necessary if we are to be a well-rounded church –and if we want to be a well-rounded person. And we must both do them and accept them with patience and grace.  Look at the difference between the following statements or questions. 

WHAT NOT TO SAY

  • “Why are you so focused on people outside the church. Don't we have enough to deal with in here already!”
  • “You are so inward-focused in the church. Don't you have a heart for missions and outreach?”
  • “Wow! You are obsessed with doctrine. Can’t we all just agree to disagree?”
  • “Why don't you spend more time reading and studying and learning about the Bible?”
  • "The  most effective evangelism is d00r-to-door. Why are you wasting your time with Pub Theology?
  • “I wish you didn’t spend so much time empathizing with people in sin. Step up! Tell it like it is!”
  • “Why are you always so blunt? You're just going to offend people over and over again.”
  • “You've  got so many ideas, and you just keep talking about new ways to do ministry, and you hasveno idea how hard that will be.”
  • “Why are you so reluctant to think outside the box and start or try new things?”

Notice how in all these things there is a 'ministry projection' - that is, the assumption that what we are passionate about or gifted in the true sign of Christian maturity. When people are different from us, we can be prone to judgment, criticism, withdrawing ("No one understands me!"), and eventually leaving for another church. Usually two things happen at that point. Either we find a church where everybody is just like us in terms of passions and gifts, or we move from church to church because no place is spiritual enough for us. If the former, we never grow because there is no one there challenge us or expand our understanding of how God works in people's lives. In the latter, we never grow because we never get our spiritual roots down deeply.

Instead, we need to practice 'ministry affirmation.' We should seek to know, understand and grow as we see God at works in those around us who are very different from us. We should applaud when others are successful and looks for opportunities to partner with them (not subvert or criticize them) in the work of the Kingdom. As we do this, we begin to appreciate the breadth of the kingdom of God, and we begin to grow as all of the people around us build up our lives. 

The first list  of questions conveyed judgment, frustration and 'ministry projection.'  This second list approaches others with a request to learn, to understand, to grow and appreciate how God uses all kinds of people to bring his church into maturity and unity.

WHAT TO SAY

  • “You really have a heart for people outside the church. Can you help me learn how to be bold and compelling when I talk about Christ?”
  • “I love how you are passionate about the people in our church. How do you approach people and situations so effectively?”
  • “You clearly value the Word of God tremendously. What’s a good way I can begin to study and learn?”
  • “You seem to connect with God very deeply outside of traditional devotional times. What have you found meaningful and why?”
  • "You have a way of reaching out to people far from Christ that is way out of my comfort zone. How do you do it? What's it like? How do you see God at work?"
  • “You connect really well with people who are struggling. I find that people don’t seek me out. How do you do it? What can I do to connect with others?”
  • “I’m not very good at boldly challenging people. Will you hold me accountable?”
  • “You have a ton of good ideas about how we could do church more effectively here in TC. I’m not good with ideas, but I can implement them. Let’s talk…”
  • “I’ve got some ideas about church. I know you are much better at details than I am, so do you mind if I run some ideas by you? I’d love to hear your feedback.”

 This is how "we are to grow in every way into Him—Christ, the head. He joins and holds together the whole body with its ligaments providing the support needed so each part works to its proper design to form a healthy, growing, and mature body that builds itself up in love.”

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 SPIRITUAL GIFTS MENTIONED IN THE BIBLE 

Prophecy (boldly proclaiming God’s mind and purpose) 1 Corinthians 12, 14; Micah 3:8

Serving (a wide variety of ministries that “make the dust fly”) 1 Peter 4; 1 Corinthians 12:5

Teaching - (explaining God’s truth) Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4

Working - (bringing energy to a project) 1 Corinthians 12:6

Exhortation (motivational skills; encouragement) Romans 12

Giving (joyful, sacrificial generosity) Romans 12

Mercy (compassion) Romans 12

Intercession (prayer) Romans 8:26, 27

Wisdom  (knowledge rightly applied to situations) James 1:5; Numbers 27

Words of Wisdom (giving insightful, practical knowledge)1 Corinthians 12

Words of Knowledge (giving insight into doctrine/spiritual truth) 1 Corinthians 12

Faith (unwavering commitment) 1 Corinthians 12

Healing (miraculous interventions for sickness) 1 Corinthians 12

Discerning spirits (insight into the “spirit” of a situation) 1 Corinthians 12

Tongues (gifted in human or heavenly languages) 1 Corinthians 12, 14

Interpretation of Tongues (translating those languages) 1 Corinthians 12, 14

Apostle (the office is unique to the founding of the church; the gifting is present) 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4

Leadership (church planters and church sustainers) Romans 12

Pastor (“shepherds” who guide and lead) Ephesians 4

Evangelist/Missionary (boldness in sharing the gospel) Acts 1:8; 5:32; 26:22; 1 John 5:6; Ephesians 4

Helps (helping/serving the poor and downtrodden) 1 Corinthians 12; 1 Timothy 3:8-13; Romans 16:1-4; 12

Administration (the ability to give oversight) 1 Corinthians 12; 1 Samuel 11 and 16

Celibacy (refraining from sex) 1 Corinthians 7:7

Marriage (committing to a covenant with integrity) 1 Corinthians 7:7

Hospitality (openness and friendliness) 1 Peter 4:9-10

Craftsmanship (building, construction) Exodus 31:3; 35:30-35

The Arts (music, poetry, prose, painting...)  Exodus 31:2-6;  Exodus 35:25-26; Psalm 150:3-5 Luke 1:1-3

Voluntary Poverty (forgoing wealth without envy or jealousy) 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Business Sense (reward from hard work and investment) Ecclesiastes 3,5

Courage (as seen in Gideon) Judges 6

Strength (as seen in Samson)  Judges 13

Architectural Engineering  (planning; constructing; building) 1 Chronicles 28

Make Incarnation Your Model (Emotionally Healthy Church Part 6)

“The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

 “Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith: Christ was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and announced to the nations. He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16)

We’ve spent five weeks peeling back the layers of the emotional part of our lives, looking at all the things that pour into our lives and shape us. As God offers to enter into our story and make things new, the ongoing life of discipleship  calls us to embrace our emotions while embracing Christ.  We want our heart to reflect God’s heart; we want to feel and think about the world the way God does. We want to enter the world around us in a  way that imitates and honors the way Christ entered the world. So let’s talk about incarnation.

Incarnation requires us to put ourselves into someone else’s world; to give skin to the presence of God in a way that carries on the legacy of Christ’s perfect embodiment. We won’t do it perfectly; we can’t do it without the Holy Spirit empowering us. But it’s our calling. It’s a gift – and a tremendous responsibility. So how do we do this?

GO

 God didn't wait for us to come to Him. He came to us.  You have to go!! We often think of ‘going’ in a cross-cultural context. When we go to Haiti or Costa Rica, we eat the food, learn the language, buy the clothes, celebrate customs and traditions, live in that community in that context. We are there to enter into their world; we don’t force them to be like us or cater to us. We show people we care by engaging in their world as much as we can without compromise.

This happens in cross-cultural settings, but it happens in our homes, our church, our community as well. It’s a universal principle. You want to talk to little kids effectively? Kneel when you speak. You want to show your spouse you care? Plan a date he or she wants. You want to connect with your kids? Play music they like too while you are driving. You have to enter their world.

LISTEN THOROUGHLY

 One of the best ways to enter someone else's world and get to know them is to listen to them – their story, hopes, dreams, fears, opinions.  Listening is a way of saying, “It’s not all about me. I want to know about you. I want to see who you are. You matter.”  This does not always come easily. Pay attention to your conversations this next week. How often do you ask questions? Are you content to walk away from a conversation without ever talking about you?  Did you do your best to enter in to their world? Were you there to know or be known?

 Don’t misunderstand: talking about yourself  -  being known - is obviously not always wrong. Someone might want to enter into your world; maybe you need to establish common ground (“Oh, really? Me too!”) Also, this principle does not require that you have the same kinds of conversations with everybody - we talked several weeks ago about keeping healthy boundaries/limits  in your life.

 But do you speak when you should be listening? If so, do the hard work of self-awareness. Why do we often speak when we should listen? We listen to understand and appreciate the image of God in other people. God loves them. They have worth, dignity, value simply as people.  In listening, we honor by seeking to know and understand.

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” – David Augsburger

SPEAK CAREFULLY

Once we have listened, there are several ways to begin a conversation that continues the spirit in which it was begun.

Reflect: I think I hear you saying…” This is a call to accuracy and clarity.  It stops us from assuming, from reading between the lines, from filtering what someone ways so we hear what we wanted to hear.  We can hear even the hardest things without getting upset if your first goal is to reflect: “I think I hear you saying that…” 

Validate: ‘I can understand why you feel that way...”  This is not the same as approval. It’s simply an acknowledgment that their response makes sense in that circumstance/time/place.  “Considering your experiences, that makes sense." 

Explore: “Tell me more. Help me to understand.”  This is the opportunity to ask follow-up questions. 

Engage:May I offer my perspective/some things for you to consider?” The step must be done with wisdom, or we can become pushy or defensive. But we are people of truth, and at some point truth must be spoken boldly, but with gentleness and grace.

CONNECT GENUINELY

If we have listened fully and responded carefully, we have probably built a relationship. We are getting to know about each other, but knowing about is not quite the same as knowing. Now we enter into their world by connecting experientially, not just conversationally. Is hiking meaningful to your friends? Go hiking with them if you can. Do your friends like country music? Buy them Carrie Underwood CD’s for their birthday. Don’t buy them like your blues, classical or symphonic metal. Do they like Sci-fi? You might want to watch Ender’s Game with them instead of documentaries on fast food diets.

To most effectively represent God and connect God and His word with our neighbor, friend, co-worker, child, or spouse, we need to genuinely connect with their world.

 INCARNATE FULLY

Jesus and the apostles approached people and situations very differently.  They matched their mission to the moment.  Neither Jesus nor the apostles fully engaged with every opportunity.  The moment did not always match their mission – and their mission flows from all the things that have formed them, all the ways God equipped them, all the God-given boundaries of ability, preparation and opportunity. How do we do match our mission to the moment?

 With God’s help, we understand ourselves. An honest look inside shows us that we are more broken than we feared, but God is more powerful than we imagined.  As we understand brokenness and then grace, we know who we are and it illuminates the goodness of God.  Grace, compassion, and truth flow from us as we desire for others to see Christ as we have seen him.

In addition, we more clearly see who we are in the sense that we have been formed into a particular kind of person. We have strengths, gifts, life experiences, personalities, godly priorities…. God is working all those things together for us to use for His purpose.

This helps to clarify our mission... We won’t engage in every possible opportunity; we can’t.  We can accept that our preparation and calling is not boundless – and that’s okay. All relationships are built in a context of experiences and people.  If we have taken the time to know the person, the place, the background, the culture, then as Christ moves us and the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom, we can most effectively match messages to moments.

This helps us more fully model the incarnational love of Christ to our family, our church, our city. Because we know who we are without and with Christ, welisten, understand and show love with empathy and patience. Because Christ entered our world, we enter into the world of others to represent Christ with vulnerability and confidence so the glory of His redemption is clear. 

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**The posts in this series (Look Beneath The SurfaceBreak the Power of the PastLive in BrokennessThe Gift Of Limits, Embrace Grief and Loss) are built from a summary of notes I used when preaching a sermon series based on Peter Scazzero's Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (both the books and the study guides). Most of the main points comes from his work. I note when I quote him directly, but most of what you read are his insights paraphrased or adjusted to fit my audience and venue. Learn more at his website and his blog, and by all means order his books and read them thoroughly.

Tools of Truth

"One of the most frustrating things about being a Christian is that we are not allowed to fight the devil with his own tools. We cannot lie and cheat when we're up against liars and cheaters. We're obliged to give the devil his due, and go about the slow and so often apparently fruitless task of undoing the destruction his vandals have done so quickly and so easily: analyzing, explaining, and placing the truth agains lies in appeals to ears that so often are deaf - ears we at first thought wanted the truth, but in the end do not. No shortcuts, quick fixes, or sleights of hand are allowed here, no rhetorical tricks or playing to the gallery. This work requires patience and is a trial of faith, but it has a great temporal reward in the enjoyment of a conscience clear of the accusation that we have become what we hate."

S.M Hutchens, "Tools of Truth," in Touchstone Magazine

Could We Live Like This?

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He Is Risen!

 

Luke 22:54-62 (ESV)

54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house, and Peter was following at a distance. 55 And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. 56 Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” 59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.

 

Ashamed

 

 

Luke 23:44-47 (ESV)

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,[b] 45 while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus,calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”

 

Mourning

 

 

Matthew 28:5-7 (ESV)

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

John 20:11-16 (ESV)

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her,“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, "Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

 

Rescued

 

John 20:19-21; 26-28 (ESV)

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me,even so I am sending you.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

 

Doubting

 

Luke 24:45-48 (ESV)

45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written,that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and[a]forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

John 20:30-31 (ESV)

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

Despairing

 

Matthew 28: 18-20 (ESV)

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

 

I love the characters in the story of the Resurrection. They are us. The Bible does not surround Jesus with superheroes. Prostitutes, tax collectors, and the demon possessed hung out with him. Before and after he died, his followers scattered in despair. Even after he rose again, people didn’t believe him.

That’s just the way people are. It’s a messy story.

Jesus died and rose to save people who really need saving, people who were dying in some way because of it. 

With the Resurrection of Jesus came an important question: “Can things be different for us too? Do we have to life like that? Or can we live like this – like you?” We don’t want “that,” the way we already know we can live: We can be cowardly, overwhelmed by grief, broken by our sinfulness, doubting, full of despair. Nailed it. But if what you are saying is true, there is a new way to live.

"[Jesus’] purpose in dying for them is that their lives should now be no longer lived for themselves but for him who died and rose again for them.... in Christ [we] become new people altogether—the past is finished and gone, everything has become fresh and new.” (2 Corinthians 5:15-17)

“God has restored our relationship with Him through Christ—not counting our sins against us —and has given us this message of reconciliation. We are now Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were appealing direct through us… We appeal to you, on behalf of Christ, ‘Make your peace with God.’” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

Paul is writing this. Paul, one of the very people who were so full of sin, so broken, so dead inside. Paul is the voice of the Resurrected, through whom God wants to spread the Good News to the World. Jesus is alive, and because the dead can live again through the power of God, no one needs to be “dead in their sins.” All can be brought to life through Christ.

  • The cowards can become unashamed. The disciples who hid in fear became the voice of the Gospel.
  • The used can become worthy. The prostitutes and demon possessed were the first to witness the risen Christ.
  • The broken can be mended. Jesus specifically meets with Peter to let him know that God wanted him in his kingdom.
  • Those dead in their sins can be made alive. That which has brought shame and despair can be transformed into boldness and hope.

This is the power of the Resurrection.

We can all live like this.

Read Through The Bible, April 1-10

APRIL 1 

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress.

My God, in whom I trust.”

For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper,

And from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with His pinions,

And under His wings you may seek refuge;

His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.

Psalm 91:1-4 

            Is God a chicken who has feathers and wings?  No.  Does God, who is spirit, cast a shadow?  No.  This is the writer using figurative language.  The Psalms are poetry and the writers use poetic language to convey lofty ideas.  We are not meant to take poetic language literally.  What is the main idea we are to understand here?  God is someone we can trust, someone whose very nature is to protect and rescue.  Our soul rushes to Him for refuge.

For He will give His angels charge concerning you,

To guard you in all your ways.

They will bear you up in their hands,

Lest you strike your foot against a stone.

You will tread upon the lion and cobra,

The young lion and the serpent you will trample down.

Psalm 91:11-13 

            Satan tried to use this Scripture with Jesus when tempting Him to throw Himself off the top of the temple (Luke 4:9-12).  Jesus replied that we are not to tempt God.  Satan wanted Jesus to take these verses literally, but Jesus knew what was really at stake and refused.  There are places in the United States today where snake-handling is part of their religious worship.  They, too, are taking this and similar verses literally, but I say what they are really doing is tempting God.  We are not to tempt God, but to trust Him.  When we are in dangerous situations, not of our own choosing, God is there to see that no evil harms us.  God has your back, so to speak.  

            “Because he has loved me, therefore I will deliver him.”  Psalm 91:14a.  God’s love is not figurative.  It is literal, and He proved it at the cross.

Daily Reading

Deuteronomy 29, 30                             Psalm 91                                         Romans 11

Abbreviated Reading

Deuteronomy 29:1-15; 30:11-20     Psalm 91:1-4                            Romans 11:25-36

 

APRIL 2

It is good to give thanks to the LORD,

And to sing praises to Thy name, O Most High;

To declare Thy lovingkindness in the morning,

And Thy faithfulness by night.

Psalm 92:1-2

            When I read these words this morning, I thought about the morning and evening e-mails I send to Andrea and Bethany each day.  Since my fall and concussion of December 2007, I have been, at their request, faithfully informing my daughters twice a day that I am still okay.  Sometimes that means just a simple “goodnight” or “good morning.”  However, beginning tomorrow I am going to amplify those thoughts by saying instead:

Here I am, declaring God’s lovingkindness this morning.

Here I am, declaring God’s faithfulness tonight.

            This will give me the perfect lead-in to relate whatever kindness and faithfulness I have experienced during the past twelve or so hours, not just for their benefit, but for mine, as I deliberately focus on the good that God is doing in my life. 

            For this is the kind of person I want to be:

The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree,

He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

Planted in the house of the LORD,

They will flourish in the courts of our God.

They will still yield fruit in old age;

They shall be full of sap and very green,

To declare that the LORD is upright;

He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

Psalm 92:12-15

  

Daily Reading

Deuteronomy 31, 32                              Psalm 92                                        Romans 12

Abbreviated Reading

Deuteronomy 31:1-8; 32:1-4            Psalm 92:1-4                              Romans 12:9-2

 

APRIL 3

     "And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.  The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand.  Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts."  Romans 13:11-14.

            It is the latter part of this passage that was the instrument of Saint Augustine’s conversion.  In his Confessions, Augustine tells it like this as he agonized over his own sinfulness: Why not now?  Why not is there this hour an end to my uncleanness?

 So was I speaking, and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when lo!  I heard from a neighbouring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; Take up and read.”  Instantly, my countenance altered, I began to think most intently, whether children were wont in any kind of play to sing such words: nor could I remember ever to have heard the like.  So checking the torrent of my tears, I arose; interpreting it to be no other than a command from God, to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find. . . . Eagerly then I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I laid the volume of the Apostle, when I arose thence.  I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell:  Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in concupiscence.  No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.

            Augustine went on to become one of the most influential Christian philosophers and theologians of Western Christianity.  He is revered by Catholics as well as Protestants.  His Confessions and The City of God are two of his books that are widely read today.  He lived in North Africa most of his life, was appointed as a bishop early in his Christian life, and died in A.D. 430.  God used Romans 13:14 as a means of ending Augustine’s agony and giving him new life in Christ.

Daily Reading

Deuteronomy 33, 34                             Psalm 93                                            Romans 13

Abbreviated Reading

Deuteronomy 33:1-3; 34:1-12          Psalm 93:1-2                                 Romans 13:1-14

 

APRIL 4

            Today we begin our reading of the book of Joshua.  Joshua is already a familiar figure for us as we read about him in Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  What have we learned so far?

  • He was from the tribe of Ephraim, which means that one of his ancestors was Joseph
  • From the time of his youth, he attended Moses
  • He was with Moses on Mt. Sinai when God gave the ten commandments
  • He was one of the twelve spies of Numbers 14, one of the two faithful ones
  • The Spirit of God was on him
  • He was filled with a spirit of wisdom
  • He was commissioned by Moses to be his successor
  • Moses was his mentor
  • Moses was told to encourage and strengthen Joshua
  • Joshua was called the servant of Moses

            In addition to all his years of being with Moses and of being taught by him, Joshua had these words from God Himself:

No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life.  Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.  Be strong and courageous, for you shall give the people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.  Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.  This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.  Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous!  Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.  Joshua 1:5-9.

             Finally, after all the years of wandering, Israel was about to realize the great promise of God.  And Joshua was the one who was to lead the charge.  He had need of strength and courage for his daunting task.  But so do we all!  Our own way forward often seems daunting to us.  Yet it is the same God who has said that He will not leave us or forsake us.  Strengthen your own heart today and take courage no matter what your challenge!

Daily Reading

Joshua 1, 2                                             Psalm 94                                        Romans 14

Abbreviated Reading

Joshua 1:1-11; 2:1-7, 22-24             Psalm 94:17-19                           Romans 14:7-9

 

April 5  

Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me,

  • that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea,
  • and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints,
  • so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God
  • and find refreshing rest in your company.  Romans 15:30-32.

            I have taken some liberties in the layout of these verses, but I wanted to emphasize the requests for which Paul was asking prayer.  Paul was on his way to Jerusalem to deliver a contribution from the churches of Macedonia and Greece for the poor Christians in Jerusalem.  He intended to go to Rome from Jerusalem in order to finally meet the Roman Christians, whom he had been wanting to see for some time.  

            The question is:  Were these prayers answered?  Not in the way Paul had anticipated.  Yes, the offering was probably acceptable, but what about deliverance from his enemies in Jerusalem?  Acts 23 tells of Paul’s dramatic escape from death at the hands of some Jews, but he did not escape imprisonment.  In fact, Paul spent at least two years as a prisoner in Caesarea before becoming a prisoner in Rome for at least another two years.  Did Paul go to Rome in joy despite going in chains?  Knowing Paul, he probably did.  There is no doubt this was part of the will of God, however.  And Acts 28:30 tells us that while in Rome he had “his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him.”  This would lead me to say that he did find “refreshing rest” in their company at last, but hardly as he would have imagined when he was writing this letter to the Romans.

            It is good to have plans, as Paul did.  It is good to pray and to ask for prayer, as Paul did.  But God has plans too, and those are not always the same as ours.  When our plans do not work out, and when our prayers are seemingly not answered, it does not mean that God is not at work in our lives.

            Our part is to:

  • Be open to God
  • Allow God the freedom to do as He pleases in our life (without complaining)
  • Exercise a radical trust in God, no matter what 

Daily Reading

Joshua 3, 4                                             Psalm 95                                           Romans 15 

Abbreviated Reading

Joshua 3:7-17; 4:1-11                       Psalm 95:1-6                                   Romans 15:1-7

 

APRIL 6 

Now it came about when all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard how the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan before the sons of Israel until they had crossed, that their hearts melted, and there was no spirit in them any longer, because of the sons of Israel.  Joshua 5:1.

Now Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel; no one went out and no one came in.  Joshua 6:1.

            Imagine the scene.  You are a citizen of Jericho.  The familiar river Jordan has done the unheard of – it has dried up during mid-flood.  The familiar Jordan has allied itself with this horde of strange people, these Israelites as they are called, and allowed them to cross into your territory.  Their camping place is nearby.  They’ve been doing nothing either good or bad for several days.  The gates of Jericho are locked tight, however.  No one is moving in or out of the city.  Then a noise is heard, a noise of a trumpet.  Then comes a long line of marching men.  Marching, marching, but not making a sound.  Only the sound of the trumpet.  Marching around the city and then disappearing.  Not a word from their lips.  The next day it is the same.  For six days.  You were already terrified.  Now the suspense is adding to the terror.  What is happening?  What will happen to me? 

            We know the rest of the story.  On the seventh day, Jericho and everything in it was destroyed, except for Rahab and her family.

            As Hebrews 10:31 tells us, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  And yet, most of our contemporary America has no sense of the fear of God.  We go about our lives as if there were no God, or at least not a vengeful God.  That is not the testimony of Scripture.  The bible makes it clear that Yahweh is coming to judge the earth.  It will be a joyful time for some:

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;

Let the sea roar, and all it contains;

Let the field exult, and all that is in it.

Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy

Before the LORD, for He is coming;

For He is coming to judge the earth.

He will judge the world in righteousness,

And the peoples in His faithfulness.

Psalm 96:11-13 

            Those who are clothed in the righteousness of Christ will rejoice in that day.  Those who reject Him have every reason to tremble and be afraid, like the people of Jericho.

 Daily Reading

Joshua 5, 6                                              Psalm 96                                               Romans 16 

Abbreviated Reading

Joshua 5:1, 13-15; 6:1-5, 15-21           Psalm 96:1-6                                  Romans 16:25-27

 

APRIL 7 

            After the spectacular victory over Jericho, it was a bitter blow for the Israelites to be defeated by little Ai.  The reason, however, soon became clear.  Someone had sinned against God’s explicit command, and God was making an example of him.  The man was Achan, and this is what he had to say for himself:

Truly, I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it.  Joshua 7:20-21.

            For our meditation today, I want us to think about the connection between coveting and taking and concealing.

            First of all, coveting is particularly singled out as one of the “Thou shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments.  Deuteronomy 6:21 puts it like this: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  Coveting is something more than the simple desire of wanting something, for many of our wants are genuine needs that we have as human beings.  Coveting, as one of the ten commandments, is particularly wanting something that belongs to someone else, which one may not legitimately buy or otherwise possess.  The type of coveting that is forbidden is the kind that would take against the will of the lawful owner.

            In the case of the items taken by Achan, God was the legitimate owner.  Joshua had specifically told them before the capture of Jericho: “And the city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it belongs to the LORD.”  Joshua 6:17a.  Not only did Achan greatly desire these banned items, but he actually took them from God, the rightful owner!  Coveting is a kind of strong desire that is going to “take,” commandment or not! 

            Secondly, there is the concealment.  Achan knew he had done wrong, and he wanted no one else to know.  Of course, it is foolish to think we can hide anything from God, but when sin takes hold and we do what is forbidden, our instinct is to hide.  If we can’t hide it from God, we can at least hide it from man!  It never works.  All our hidden deeds will eventually come to light.  It is better to confess and forsake our sins today rather than have God expose them when we least expect it.

Daily Reading

Joshua 7, 8                                             Psalm 97                                                Mark 1 

Abbreviated Reading

Joshua 8:1-22, 30-35                        Psalm 97:10-12                                 Mark 1:21-28

 

APRIL 8 

SOME OBSERVATIONS FROM MARK 2 

            “And when He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home.”  Mark 2:1.   Although it is known that Jesus had once said that He had nowhere to lay His head, He was speaking hyperbolically, because the text, here and elsewhere, tells us that He made His home in Capernaum when He left Nazareth.  Perhaps His home was with Peter and his family who lived in Capernaum.  Archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of what they are certain is Peter’s house, and it is a favorite tourist destination, especially for Christians.  The town today is not inhabited.

            “And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men . . . And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’”  Mark 2:2, 5.  It was not the faith of the paralytic but the faith of the four men to which Jesus responded.  Let us not despise the impact we have when we, in faith, touch the lives of others and bring them to Jesus, by our words or deeds or prayers.

            “And hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”  Mark 2:17.  Jesus’ closest companions were the twelve apostles, but He deliberately put Himself in situations where He could minister to those who knew they were sinners.  Those who considered themselves too good for the scum of society did not even realize that they were the neediest of all.  Let us not despise the weak, the lowly, the unlovely; it is often they whose hearts are most susceptible to the love of Christ.

            “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost; and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”  Mark 2:22.  I believe that Jesus was here speaking of the newness of the Gospel.  The old traditions of the law would not be able to contain the new life in the Spirit.  Jesus came to fulfill the law but He also came to bring life, life more abundant; and that life would require new forms and expressions that would be radically different from the old.

            “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”  Mark 2:27b.  Even in the order of creation, man was created before the Sabbath rest of the seventh day.  Moreover, God gave man the responsibility of ruling over and of tending the creation so that it could be used for his benefit.  It is not God’s intent that nature be our master, as some present-day environmentalists would like.

Daily Reading

Joshua 9, 10                                           Psalm 98                                              Mark 2

Abbreviated Reading

Joshua 10:1-15                                  Psalm 98:1-6                                   Mark 2:23-28

 

APRIL 9 

Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.  Mark 3:28-29.

            My definition of blasphemy is this: irreverent or false utterances against God.  Under the Old Testament law, blasphemers were to be stoned, and today in some Muslim countries, those who blaspheme Allah are liable to punishment by the authorities or by the mobs.  But blasphemy against the Holy Spirit has a far greater punishment than physical death; it is eternal damnation because it is unforgiveable.  For this reason, we should have some understanding of its meaning.

            We must, therefore, look at what is the Holy Spirit’s work in the world.  Jesus said this in John 16:8:  “And He [speaking of the Holy Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment.”  The Holy Spirit’s job in the life of unbelievers is to convict people of their need for salvation and show the way of salvation.  If, during the process of conviction, a person says to himself, “This is not God; this is the devil,” that person is blaspheming or making false statements about the work of God in his life.  In other words, the unforgiveable sin is to reject God’s gracious work in our heart that would lead us to salvation.  It is saying “No!  I have no sin.  No!  I have no need of this kind of righteousness.  No!  I will never come into judgment.”

            It is obvious, then, that no Christian can commit the unforgiveable sin because the Christian has already said yes to the Holy Spirit regarding sin and righteousness and judgment.  Instead, to that person, the Holy Spirit comes as a comforter and a helper. 

            But to those who resist the work of the Holy Spirit, it is like taking the side of Satan who is a liar and the father of lies.  It is choosing Satan’s way instead of God’s way.  It is choosing to believe in the lie that says “I am okay just as I am.  I have no need of God.  I can do life on my own.”  That person is actively suppressing the witness of the Holy Spirit to the contrary.  As long as he persists in that self-talk, he has no hope.

            But I am persuaded of better things of you.  Continue to say yes to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.  Open yourself to Him.  Trust Him with all your heart. 

Daily Reading

Joshua 11, 12                             Psalm 99                                                 Mark 3

Abbreviated Reading

Joshua 11:16-23; 12:7-24                Psalm 99:6-9                                          Mark 3:1-6

 

APRIL 10 

Now Joshua was old and advanced in years when the LORD said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and very much of the land remains to be possessed.  This is the land that remains: . . .”  Joshua 13:1 ff. 

            “Very much of the land remains to be possessed.”  This seems almost to contradict what Joshua 11:23 says, “So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses, and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their divisions by their tribes.  Thus the land had rest from war.”  So which is it?  Did Joshua take the whole land or was there much left to be possessed?  My answer to that question is that both are correct.  But we must make a distinction between people who were to be subjugated and land which was to be possessed.  By the end of Joshua’s life the entire area was under the subjugation of the Israelites; the wars had ended, and so it is possible to say that the land was taken.  But all the land was not yet occupied, and that is what remained to be done.  Joshua portioned out the territory for each of the tribes, and it was then up to them to occupy it.  In their subjugation of the land of Canaan, the Israelites had bypassed some enemy strongholds and destroyed others.  Now, as they were getting ready to fully occupy the land, it was up to the individual tribes to complete the destruction of the strongholds that had been bypassed earlier.

            Besides clarifying a possible issue readers might have in the book of Joshua, I think there is an additional insight we can gain here.  That is an analogy to the Christian life and sin. 

            Christ has gained the greater victory over sin for us, but there remain pockets of resistance within us.  It remains for us to root out that which is not pleasing to Christ.  He will help us, and when He does, we will eventually be victorious.  But it takes some active fighting on our part.  We cannot become complacent and think that it does not matter if I am disobedient to Christ in this area of my life.  No.  The longer we tolerate sin in our life, the stronger it becomes and the harder it is to uproot.  We cannot ignore the enemy’s stronghold in our life.  We are meant to destroy it so that we can fully possess the abundant life Christ means for us to have.

Daily Reading

Joshua 13, 14                            Psalm 100                                                 Mark 4

Abbreviated Reading

Joshua 13:1-7; 14:6-15                     Psalm 100:1-5                                   Mark 4:21-34

 

 

The Best Kind of Glory

Pompano_Beach_12-2-04__1_.jpg

Paul makes a remarkable claim in 2 Corinthians 3:18. He writes that we are able to see and reflect the glory of God in such as way that we can increasingly display His splendor throughout our life. Considering what I know about myself - and what I've seen in others - that seems like a very counterintuitive observation.  But if Paul is correct, there is a principle here that can take us from merely what we are to what we can be.

Paul made this claim after talking to the early Christians about the difference between the Old Covenenant (as see in the Old Testament Law) and the New Covenant (as seen in Jesus). 

The administration of the Law which was engraved in stone (and which led in fact to spiritual death) was so magnificent that the Israelites were unable to look unflinchingly at Moses’ face, for it was alight with heavenly splendor. Now if the old administration held such heavenly, even though transitory, splendor, can we not see what a much more glorious thing is the new administration of the Spirit of life... ? The present permanent plan is such a very much more glorious thing than the old.

With this hope in our hearts we are quite frank and open in our ministry. We are not like Moses, who veiled his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing its fading glory... But all of us who are followers of Christ do not have veils on our faces as we see and reflect the glory of the Lord. We are transfigured by the Spirit of the Lord in ever-increasing splendor into his own image. (2 Corinthians 3:7-18)  

     The Law was glorious because it was a teacher, a guide to show us how God wants us to live. Paul wrote elsewhere,

“The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for.” (Galatians 3, as written in commentary by The Message)

 If someone asked the Israelites, “What does God want me to do?” they had an answer – 613 answers, in fact.  When God gave His Law, He gave something of Himself to His people. The will of God could be known. Do this, not that. If you are successful, you will be blessed.

 That’s a “glory” I can wrap my mind around.  I understand cause and effect; I see it all the time.  I can lose weight or build muscle or make money or hit a softball or graduate or expand my vocabulary or play an instrument or get really good at Wii bowling if I know the rules and try hard enough. 

I know how to earn glory.

 But the Law also made it official that we the people (as seen in the Israelites) are never spiritually going to be good enough.  God can tell us exactly what He wants us to do, and on our own we will just not do it. The law unfortunately offers a resounding "no" one of life’s most important questions: Can I be good if I try hard enough? Whatever glory we achieve by trying our hardest will inevitably fade.  

Moses did not want them to see his fading glory. 

If I am generous with Moses, I can see how this was a way for him to make sure the Israelites did not become enamored with a temporary glory. After all, it’s so easy to make a big deal about how we have managed to live well because of our self-control, willpower, external obedience to all the right rules, dedication to every obligation (real or imagined), and sacrifice of time, money, energy, emotion.

 What we have is better than no glory (so that's good, right?), but in spite of all the hard work we have done, we will suddenly find we don’t have a reservoir of patience, or self-control, and emotion, and we can in a moment fail completely and utterly. Maybe part of God’s revelation to Moses included a clear picture of its temporary, frustrating nature of the Law. Maybe.

 If I am not as generous with Moses, I can see how this was a way for him to make sure the Israelites did not see that he was not, in fact, perfect.

 A glory that is so obvious to everybody – and then fades -  is a great way for others to gauge just how well we are doing.  Perhaps Moses was ashamed of his inability to be a good enough leader, no matter how hard he tried.  Ron Ritchie writes,

 For Moses the veil represented a false sense of competence, power, authority, glory, and pride. He used it to cover his fear and inadequacy… he sought in his own strength to compensate for the glory that had faded from his face.”

Pride makes us hide the parts of our life that shame us. This less kind assessment of Moses seems more in line with how Paul describes the Law:

 “The Law’s purpose was to make obvious to everyone that we are, in ourselves, out of right relationship with God, and therefore to show us the futility of devising some religious system for getting by our own efforts what we can only get by waiting in faith for God to complete his promise. For if any kind of rule-keeping had power to create life in us, we would certainly have gotten it by this time.”  (Galatians 3, as written in commentary by The Message)

 Paul would know. He was a "Pharisee of the Pharisees."  His credentials were impeccable. Paul would certainly have created life in himself by that time - if the Law had that kind of power.  It didn't, obviously, but in the next verse Paul explains why it didn't have to:

"By faith in Christ we are in direct relationship with God." (Galatians 3:25)

 Our life with Christ is meant to be an ongoing transformation in which we increasingly behold the person and work of Christ, increasingly become changed deep in the core of who we are, and increasingly become filled in such a way that we display the glory of God by His presence and work in our lives. 

We remove the veil of shame and secrecy because it’s not about us.  It's okay if the glory we earn ebbs and flows. When the true glory of Christ is displayed by our lives, it won’t be because we were awesome. It will be because “we are transfigured by the Spirit of the Lord in ever-increasing splendor into his own image.” 

This glory from Christ does not fade.

If this is the case - this glory will not fade - then this can't be just another way of saying that we will be awesomely impressive. That's painfully obvious; we all have times when what we reflect is not glorious at all. So what is this glory that just keeps on increasing?

I believe it is the glory of the Grace and Forgiveness of Christ’s Salvation. The way in which Jesus intends for the world to see his glory is not through our ability to live perfectly. It is through our willingness to be transformed by Him to become more like him.  That's when the Glory of God is fully seen. 

These are process words. Those are not words of arrival. We don’t have to display the temporary glory of our own ability or hide the times when we are unable to keep it up. 

When we take the message of Christ to others, we don’t need to wait until our testimony is that we are perfect. We aren’t offering ourselves to other people. We are offering a Savior who takes us with all our impurities and continually cleans us up and makes us new. 

We are meant to, without shame over the visible gauge of our (in)ability to be good on full display, let God display what real glory is like.