Sunday, October 27, 2013

Who Shall Abide; Psalm 15

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Don't Be a Fool; Psalm 14, Ephesians 3:14-21

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” In the Bible, the word fool refers to someone who ignores realities. Garry Nation says that this is: “The Shameless Fool. It describes someone who has not only rejected wisdom, not only made a commitment to destructive ideas and behaviors. He is also ignoble, irreverent, boorish, rude, and even vile and villainous. There is no more obnoxious person depicted in the Scriptures. This is a nasty, shameless person. The outlook for the Committed Fool is not optimistic. He is in bondage to his own sins: He can look forward to servitude, misfortune, punishment for crimes, and ultimately death. Yet he is likely through all his troubles to refuse to be responsible for his own choices, and even to blame God for his difficulties. The fool’s only hope is the grace of God. This person must be born again! But then, according to the Christian gospel, that is exactly what we all need, isn't it?” “ The psalm says that the result of this foolishness is wicked deeds. Matthew Henry says that there is something of practical atheism at the bottom of all sin. We act as practical atheists when we don’t act as if God is in control, when we don’t trust that God can operate outside of natural law, when we rely on our own powers, when we worry and fall into anxiety. When have you fallen into “practical atheism”? In addition our morality is flawed when our theology is flawed—When we ignore or disbelieve the realities set out for us in God’s word. We forget that there are consequences for our actions. We forget that what we do has spiritual effects. We copy the world’s version of morality instead of God’s standards. I’ve heard theologians like David Wells and Andrew Purves harp on this topic of flawed thinking and acting based on flawed theology. We need to know what we believe so that it is reflected in our behavior. And if we know it, we will show it. Their answer: study, study, study. But it is true. Our values are shown by our actions. And input affects output. Our beliefs come out in our everyday lives—how we interact with people, how we use our money, what we prioritize. It has been said that what we do is our statement of faith. Our church attendance and participation in worship and the faith community is a testimony to our faith. We are making a statement by it. And this is just a small example of how what we do reflects what we really believe. The truth is that we make a statement of faith in everything that we do. What beliefs or statement of faith do you demonstrate to the world through your actions? The psalmist contrasts the wicked from the righteous. The righteous are those to whom God has made Himself known and they in turn have responded to God. The Lord shows Himself to the poor. The Lord makes righteous those who call upon God. The righteous are not called righteous because of their own merit but by the saving grace of God. The fool says in his heart there is no God, but you prove yourselves not to be fools by professing with your lips that Jesus is Lord and that Jesus lives in your hearts, and by living out that faith through actions. You are able to make this wise choice because of God who is and has been at work in you. Psalm 14 says that none of us have done good, that each of us has turned aside from seeking God. If we do good, it is because our good God is working through us. If we seek God, it is because the Lord has given us a hunger for God. We follow a call that God has placed on our lives. God chose you in Christ Jesus long before you knew Him. But at some point, we must step out in faith and respond to God’s call. We each are called to respond to God’s good gifts that we have received: We receive new life from God. We receive righteousness from God. We are empowered with faith by God. We are forgiven of our sins by God. And we begin publicly our journey with God. In contrast, the fool never acknowledges God’s call, God’s power, God’s presence. But the wise not only acknowledge God’s existence, but God’s pursuit of them and God’s ownership and Lordship of them. God gives us our name—our identity, essence, and function. Prayer keeps us from falling into the foolish trap. Prayer reminds us that God is the one on whom we can rely. And so we have Paul’s wonderful prayer for spiritual knowledge and spiritual strength in our New Testament passage--that we would be able to apprehend the depth and breadth, height and length--all the dimensions of God and Christ whose love extends beyond knowledge, and that we would know this with ALL the saints. Frederick Lehman’s described the immensity of God’s love well in our opening hymn, “The Love of God.” It seems beyond comprehension but is worth exploring and knowing. Another part of this prayer request for spiritual knowledge is that we would know that Christ lives in our hearts by faith, and that we would be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul prays that we may be continually filled to all the fullness of God—that we would be absolutely united and filled with Christ. It is a lifelong process for we will not reach perfection prior to our death or the coming of Jesus. But we can live daily by the Holy Spirit’s power and learn to rely more and more on the Holy Spirit and less and less on ourselves. Amena Brown in her poem “You” describes beautifully what it is like to live in full dependence on God. And so I will let her have the last couple of minutes this morning… God strengthens us. And as God strengthens us, God expects us to stand firm, and that the more we know God, the more we will rely on God and obey God. When Christ is at home in our hearts, we cannot be fools. Click here to watch the Amena Brown video "You".

Monday, October 7, 2013

God's Big Family; Genesis 15, Ephesians 2:12-19

Today we celebrate World Communion Sunday. We celebrate God’s big family, recognizing that we have brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world. You often hear that all people are God’s children, but this is only true in that every person on the planet is created in the image of God. This should cause us to respect and give dignity to all human life, but not all people are truly part of God’s family. In fact Galatians 6:10 tells us that we are to do good to all people, but especially to those who are of the household of faith. You see being created in the image and likeness of God is that every person is designed to contain God, just like a glove is designed to contain a hand. Every person has the potential to be a member of God’s family. As the children quoted last week, “For God so loved the WORLD that He gave His one and only Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Yes, the Spirit of God has been poured out on all flesh. Yes, Jesus is the gift given to the world, but there are those who refuse to open the gift. And we can only open the gift because the Spirit moves in our hearts to do so. Scripture’s definition of what it means to be a child of God is one who believes in and receives Jesus. John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, that is Jesus, to them He gave the power (or the right) to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name.” Most translations say “the power to become the children of God”. See, we are not all automatically children of God. It is the right or power given by Jesus to those who receive Jesus. In fact, earlier in this very chapter it says that Jesus came to His own people, the Jews, and they did not receive Him. Those who receive Jesus are born, as the passage continues by saying, “not of blood or of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” God decides who His children are. Those who receive Jesus receive the full inheritance of the Father. If we are in Christ, we have the full blessings, benefits, and privileges that go with being a true child of God. We have been adopted into God’s family. This is the difference one has when one is a part of the household of faith. Last week we talked about a covenant between us and God. We saw through history that it was and still is impossible for us to keep that covenant, but God has always kept the covenant with us. Our Old Testament passage this morning shows that from the beginning, God promised to keep the covenant so that God would always have a family. God promised Abraham that not only was God going to give Abraham a family, but God was going to make a family for Godself through Abraham and that this family would include people from every nation, tribe, and tongue of the earth. All peoples would be blessed through Abraham. God originally made this promise to Abraham back in chapter 12, but by the time we get to Genesis 15, over 20 years have passed and Abraham has seen nothing happening. So God comes to Abraham again, and the promise becomes a covenant. A covenant is a binding legal agreement so strong that if one were to break it, the penalty would be death. Covenants were made between nations, and when a nation conquered another nation, a covenant would be made to state what each nation would provide for the other. Covenants were made between families. Marriages were often part of covenants or covenants themselves—“’til death do us part”. We have several examples of different covenants made throughout the ancient Near East. The word covenant is the word “to cut”. The cutting of animals and walking between the pieces of the dead animals was the symbol for agreeing to the covenant. Walking between the animals was the sign that you were saying to the other party, “may it be so with me as with these animals if I break the covenant.” The written covenant followed a particular pattern. It was always initiated by the party that had more power, status, wealth, etc. It opened with a prologue in which the higher party introduces themselves and states the relationship to the other party or parties. This was followed by stipulations, laws, and blessings and curses—the things that would happen to the other party should they keep or break the covenant. Witnesses were named, and the covenant ended with a call for review or remembrance. God makes a covenant with Abraham. God opens the prologue by saying, “I am Yahweh who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to inherit it.” God then tells Abraham to prepare the animals. The stipulations that God gives is that Abraham will have an heir from his own body, his descendants will be as difficult to count as it is to count all the stars in the sky, and that his descendants will receive land “from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates.” God lets Abraham know his descendants will be enslaved for 400 years, but that Abraham will not experience this and will die in peace at a “good old age”. God also lets Abraham know that when his descendants are freed, they will come out with a great possession. Everything God promised in Genesis 12, God reiterates here. But as this covenant is made, some interesting things happen. After Abraham has prepared the animals, vultures come in to eat the carcasses and Abraham has to drive them away. These birds would have made the sacrifices unfit. Jewish scholars have written about the symbolism of these birds—things in our lives that make the sacrifices unfit. They could be thoughts that cause us to doubt the meaning and power of the covenant. Thoughts like, “God’s promise isn’t good enough. I’m unable to receive God’s promises. There must be more than to do.” We have to drive such thoughts away. Next Abraham falls into a deep sleep and experiences a horror of great darkness. This is more than a nightmare. Many scholars and I believe that Abraham experienced the depths of darkness within his own soul, the evil of which he was capable, and how horrible life would be without the grace of God. Abraham may or may not still have been asleep, but after Abraham’s terror has passed that God speaks. And as God speaks, God seals the covenant by appearing as a smoking oven and burning torch, which pass between the animals. As God does this, God finishes speaking the covenant. Notice that Abraham does not pass through the animal pieces. God alone takes on the full responsibility for keeping the covenant. God knew that neither Abraham nor his descendants could keep the covenant, except for One descendant. That One exception was Jesus Christ, who kept the covenant completely, yet also took the full punishment for the covenant which we broke time and time again and still break upon Himself. Jesus received the death penalty, but rose in triumph so that God promises would be made complete. We will remember and celebrate the New Covenant we have in Jesus in just a few minutes in the Lord’s Supper. God did keep God’s promises, and all nations of the earth have been blessed through Abraham’s seed, Jesus Christ. In Revelation we see that there is a great multitude too hard to number comprised of people from every ethnic group, language group, and family group. We are made sons of God and brothers and sisters with all those who believe. As our New Testament Scripture says, “We who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” We are members of one household, the household of God. We become members of the household of faith by the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Through the faith we have been given, we simply thank God for keeping the covenant with us. Open the wonderful gift that you have been given, and know that you are a member of God’s big family.