Friday, October 27, 2006

Colossians 1:1 – 14
“Real Christianity”

What is a Christian? Is it someone who goes to Church? An American? Someone who has had a “born again” experience?

I. The essentials of Christian life. (Three basics.)

A. FAITH in Christ Jesus (v 4)

1. Ephesians 2:8

a. We cannot work for or earn our salvation.

b. Two things:

1.) God’s grace (kindness) reaches into our lives (God takes the initiative).

2.) We respond. This is called “faith.”

2. Romans 14:23

a. Faith is the “active ingredient” of the Christian.

b. Our response to God transforms our actions.

c. Faith becomes the line between sin and righteousness.

3. Hebrews 11:6

***** Faith, our response to God is where it all begins. *****

B. LOVE for all the saints (v 4).

1. Christ like love.

a. Unconditional

b. Sacrificial

c. Cannot be offended

d. Doesn’t keep score

2. Begins with those closest to you.

a. Home

b. Church

***** Faith and Love compel us to lead a “changed life.” They alter our sense of life, that is called “hope.”

C. HOPE comes from the “gospel.” (v 5)

1. “Gospel” means “good news.”

2. People of hope have good news for the world.

3. Transformation that:

a. Produce fruit

b. Growth

4. By God’s grace... God says that people can be changed.

***** As our lives change we realize: *****

II. The practical Christian life.

A. Intelligent Christians.

1. (v 6) Hear and understand.

2. (v 9) God will fill u s with the knowledge of His will.

a. “filled” (lit.) “to be made complete.”

b. knowledge is according to what God gives us (not a total dumping of everything).

c. “full knowledge” of God’s will.

1.) Spiritual wisdom

2.) Spiritual understanding

B. Responsive Christian.

1. (v 10) “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.”

a. holiness, obedience

b. as Jesus would live

2. (v 10) “please Him in all respects”

3. (v 10) “bearing fruit”

4. (v 10) “increasing in the knowledge of God”

C. Strong Christians

1. (v 11) “strengthened with all power”

a. We often see ourselves as “weak.”

b. This strength comes from God’s strength

2. (v 11) “steadfastness” = endurance

3. (v 11) “patience”

4. (v 11) “joyously giving thanks to the Father.”

***** Faith, Hope, and Love are essentials so we can become: Intelligent (thinking and knowing God’s will), Responsive (living holy lives, doing God’s will), becoming strong Christians. All this gives the impression of the rescued Christian life. *****

III. The rescued Christian life.

A. From the old structures

1. (v 13) “dominion of darkness.” (lit.) “authority of darkness”

a. Darkness means we can see, wander aimlessly, run into things, hurt ourselves.

b. Darkness means we hide or sins instead of dealing with them.

c. Darkness is a general reference to being:

1.) A slave to sin.

2.) Under Satan’s dictatorship.

2. Old structures of thought that control us are broken.

B. “Transformed us into the kingdom of His beloved son.” (v 13)

1. Literally this means “moved” from one kingdom to another.

2. (v 14) “redemption”

3. (v 14) “forgiveness of sins”

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

There will not be a post this week.

I was away last week at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Homiletics Society. It was great to meet many of the people who write the books used to teach homiletics. It was humbling to be in the company of earnest and godly scholars. The papers presented were interesting and on the advanced edge of both education and preaching in the current American culture.

As many of you know, the EHS accepted a paper I proposed. I was an alternate presenter, (in other words, I didn't) but consider it an honor to be published at this event.

I will publish again next week. Thank you for your patience.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Mark 6:1 – 6
Surprising Jesus

Jesus is “amazed at their lack of faith.” So how could something, anything, surprise Jesus? [Theological issue: Jesus was “limited” as part of His experiencing humanity.]

What was it about these people that surprised Jesus?

1. The fact, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor,” is expected. Jesus noted this as if He were saying “everyone knows this...” It is quoted in all four gospels (Mt 13:57, Mk 6:4, Lk 4:24, Jn 4:44). Oddly enough, this seems to be a non-biblical proverb. Kind of like our “familiarity breeds contempt.” Its just something everyone knows. Its community wisdom observed as a truth. So their rejection of him, based on familiarity should not surprise Jesus.

2. They apparently were Jews, worshiping in the local synagogue [v2]. We get the impression that the Jews of that day were looking for a deliverer they called the Messiah. The Messiah was the promised King of Israel, who was in the line of David. These people were privileged by this expectation in many ways. While the rest of the world was ignorant, they had accurate information. Sure, many were discouraged, but there were people who were working to bring back the King. Maybe, for some, that hope was kindled when they recognized the wisdom of Jesus words and the power of His actions [v2]. Yet, privilege does not lead a person to truth. Jesus said that over and over, so it should not surprise Him that they did not recognize the King of Kings.

3. Why did they “trip(ped) over what little they knew about (H)im” [The Message]? Well they went through a process described by Gordon Allport in “The Psychology of a Rumor.” In order to handle everything they were experiencing, they condensed Jesus life [v 3]. This is called “leveling.” Its always from our perspective. Notice the details are from their experience with Jesus and leave out important details that would disturb their world view. They “sharpened” the details, in essence reducing Jesus to “just” a carpenter. Then they “assimilated” it all into an idea: Jesus was not the expected King, but Jesus was acting like it. Their response, “And they took offense at him.” [v 3] One of the key things that Jesus kept saying was, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” [Mark 4:23] So, He knew people would not always acquire, process, remember, or speak information correctly. Their faulty ability to process the evidence before them is nothing new, so this did not surprise Jesus.

(Ill.) A man who lived on Long Island was able one day to satisfy a lifelong ambition by purchasing for himself a very fine barometer. When the instrument arrived at his home, he was extremely disappointed to find that the indicating needle appeared to be stuck, pointing to the sector marked "HURRICANE." After shaking the barometer very vigorously several times, its new owner sat down and wrote a scorching letter to the store from which he had purchased the instrument. The following morning on the way to his office in New York, he mailed the letter.

That evening he returned to Long Island to find not only the barometer missing, but his house also. The barometer's needle had been right--there was a hurricane! [E. Schuyler English.]

4. If we sum up these people, it would seem they indulged in three behavioral attitudes.

They were SKEPTICAL. The communal posturing toward Jesus was the He was “just” a carpenter, nothing special.

Maybe they were being SELFISH. They were unwilling to admit that someone from their town was special, which meant that they were not...

In other words, they were STUBBORN, which comes from selfish arrogance. The bottom line is that it seemed, for the most part, they did not want anything special. Because if they admitted, that Jesus was special it would mean they could not comfortably go on with life. They would have to do something about what they knew.

A thousand years before Jesus was surprised, the prophet Samuel said to a stubborn King: “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance (“stubbornness” = other translations) like the evil (“sin” other translations) of idolatry.” [1 Samuel 15:22b - 23a]

5. As a result, “(Jesus) could not do any miracles there...” [v 5]. Now that surprises us! How is that the Creator of the universe could not do any miracles?

Maybe to understand the answer, we need to look at the only other time Jesus was ever surprised. We find the story in Matthew 8:5 – 13.

6. Here is an officer in the Roman army who’s faith “astonished” Jesus. The Romans were an occupying force that the expected King was supposed to defeat. So, you wouldn’t think that this natural enemy would be a likely candidate for having the kind of faith that could surprise Jesus. Yet, the centurion was desperate. Or maybe we should say uncomfortable. The situation of one of his servants was desperate. He must have loved the servant to take such a big chance.

7. Here it is: the centurion’s faith (which surprised Jesus in both cases, one’s lack of and the other’s “abundance” of faith) led him to take a risk which involved humbling himself and appealing to Jesus. For all his authority, he was powerless and sought out one whom he believed had authority to heal. Maybe it was his understanding of authority that allowed him to trust Jesus. The bottom line is that he acted on this trust. One the other hand, what surprised Jesus in the first story was their lack of faith.

“Faith is not merely your holding on to God--it is God holding on to you. He will not let you go!” – E. Stanley Jones.

8. In another place, the Bible put it this way: “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” [James 2:17b] You can say you have faith, or believe, or trust God, until the cows come home (they are not smart enough to do so on their own) but unless you act like it, it does you no good. Your faith is worthless at best and dead at worst. We are like those cows out in the field, looking silly while suffering through life. (Ill. of a bottle of medicine... or car keys...)

a. Are you skeptical or do you take faith-based risk? When was the last time you took a public stand for Jesus and laid your reputation on the line, so that something special would happen, like the centurion?

b. Are you selfish or trusting? The town’s people only cared about what they thought and saw, the centurion acted for someone else’s benefit.

c. Are you stubborn or do you really want God to do something special? If you do, what do you need to do that you cannot do yourself?

“Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man's power ends.” – George Muller.

What is this going to look like? It will mean a public confession of faith. Have you made one or are you still in the closet? It will mean a public trusting for healing, not just asking for prayer. It will mean serious prayer, corporate prayer. Scripture (and history) seems to indicate that God scales His movement in proportion to the church’s corporate prayer life. It will mean that we just might have to get out of the comfortable, safe boat, and walk on water.

Did you notice that in the town, “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” [Mark 6:5] To put this bluntly, I want to be the exception in today’s world/church. How about you?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

1 Corinthians 11:17 – 32
World Communion Day

[Please note all Scripture referred to and given is NIV unless marked otherwise.]

I. Churches are diverted by division.

A. The Corinthians were divided.

1. 1 Corinthians 3:3 – “You are still worldly.” “You are still carnal.” [NKJV]

a. The Message notes that worldly/carnal Christians are “content only when everything’s going your way.”

b. The ROOT CONDITION of worldliness/carnality creates all sorts of problems.

2. 1 Corinthians 3:3 – “jealousy and quarreling.”

a. Rather than acting like Saints, these sinful behaviors indicate carnality.

b. The behavior is infantile.

3. I Corinthians 3:4 – “I follow... I follow.”

a. The symptom of the sins, which is rooted in carnality, is division.

b. What happens is the eyes are off Jesus and put on human teachers.

B. Division has a certain set of problems.

1. Division does more harm than good.

2. Division brings out the worst side of (otherwise good) people.

3. When brought to worship, division profanes the name of God and desecrates God’s church.

C. The image of the offering is important.

1. Between the Old Testament and the New Testament there is an important shift in the role of the offering and who offers it.

a. In the Old Testament the offering/sacrifice was offered as a reminder of sin and an expectation of Jesus work. It was BROUGHT BY PEOPLE TO GOD.

b. In the New Testament the offering/sacrifice was offered for permanently atonement for sin. It was GIVEN BY GOD AND IS TO BE CELEBRATED BY PEOPLE (communion).

c. In both the O. T. and the N. T. The right heart is seen in doing it the right way.

2. Malachi addressed this issue:

a. The offerings being offered were “defiled” [Malachi 1:7] because they were less than the best that could be offered. God saw this has “contemptible.”

b. The priests encouraged it!

1.) God was not the priority.

2.) Worship was second place to convenience, ease, being non-offensive, etc...

II. Churches are delivered through discipline.

A. Sickness and death are a result of sin BUT sometimes it is the result of discipline/judgement.

1. At “the Fall,” when Adam and Eve first sinned, we were plunged into “the Curse.”

a. It means we are separated from God.

b. It means that separation has physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences that are beyond our control.

2. This Curse is a mild form of relief.

a. Imagine the most evil people never dying.

b. Death has a limiting effect on the evil we are capable of achieving.

B. Discipline is a GOOD thing!

1. The Bible says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. . . If you are not disciplined, . . . then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.” [Hebrews 12:7a, 8]

a. Discipline can be painful.

b. Discipline is directional [God is attempting to bring change].

c. Discipline indicates ownership (the father/son relationship) and is driven by love.

2. What are the steps God uses?

a. It starts with weakness, moves to sickness, and may end in death (assuming there is no repentance).

b. God starts with a gentle nudge (weakness), then a painful reminder (sickness), and may have to take extreme measures (death).

***** We can take this to mean the individual (who celebrate communion as individuals) BUT THE CONTEXT IS CORPORATE! In other words, this process HAPPENS TO CHURCHES.

C. How do churches cycle?

1. A church becomes spiritually weakened when God is not the priority.
Jesus told the Ephesian church: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” [Revelation 2:4]

2. A church becomes seriously sick when God is left out.

Jesus pleaded with the Laodicean church: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! . . . Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” [Revelation 3:15, 20]

3. Extreme measures must be eventually taken against an unrepentant church to protect the honor of God and the true church.

Jesus warned: “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I WILL COME TO YOU AND REMOVE YOUR LAMPSTAND FROM ITS PLACE.” [Revelation 2:5] [emphasis mine]

III. Churches will dispute this to their death bed.
A. Isn’t this really about “leadership?” [If we only had the right pastor...]

1. Yes, when spiritual leaders look the other way while churches are being torn apart by jealousy and division.

2. Yes, when spiritual leader settle for less than the best.

3. No, these are individual decisions (made by people) that shape the corporate identity.

B. But, I am right, “they” are wrong!

1. What does it matter? Infant behavior wants its own way, adult behavior refuses to throw a temp tantrum because it was offended or didn’t get their own way.

2. Grumbling against someone else is an attempt to shift responsibility and ownership to others. This causes division because people have to take sides and sit in judgement on hearsay and fragments of information.

“Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” [Titus 3:10 – 11]

IV. What does this have to do with communion?

A. To come to this table, you must come with a right heart. [v 27]

1. “Unworthy manner = guilty of sinning.”

2. Not doing so puts us in the same crowd that mocked Jesus at the cross.

B. To come to this table, you must examine your motives. [v 28]

1. Paul instructed, “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.”

2. A wrong heart will never lead us to the right way.

3. A right heart will move us away from our carnality, the sin it causes, and the symptomatic problems they cause.

C. Honor Jesus. [v 29]

1. Recognizing what is happening restores “holy awe.”

2. Stop chasing the emotional high that comes from the divisive games we play with on another.

D. Accept discipline by repenting (before it is too late). [v 32]

1. God loves us to much to let us get away with destructive behavior patterns.

2. When we engage in destructive behavior patterns, we don’t just hurt each other, we dishonor God and desecrate God’s church.

The Bible says, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? [17] Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” [1 Corinthians 10:16 – 17]

***** You see, in communion, we are united. Divided communion is impossible. Yet, there will be those who come to this table today who are divided. We are divided by denominational lines and theological distinctives; better known as labels. We are divided by personal likes and dislikes. We are divided by personal histories and an unforgiving spirit. Maybe that is why so many of us are weak, sick, and dying. Maybe that is why so many churches are weak, sick, and dying.

You see, in communion, we have opportunity to repent. When we repent, we set wrong thing right.
You see, in communion, we also have the release and joy of forgiveness... both asked for and given. *****