Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Church - The Temple


Ephesians 2:13-2213 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”

Introduction:

One of the temptations we often fall into in the Church is to think of the Church as a building. In the New Testament the Church is never a building. It is always a group of people gathered to worship God and to build each other up as the Body of Christ. Most of the churches of New Testament times met in houses or rented rooms, though some met outside. For several centuries the Church did not have legal status. Illegal organizations do not build buildings and put their names on those buildings. The New Testament uses a variety of images to describe the Church: the people of God, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the believers, the saints, the elect, and the field of God to name a few. The New Testament also speaks of the Church as the Temple of God. It uses the metaphor of a building to describe the Church, but it is not the building as building that describes the Church. It is the purpose and function of that building—the Temple of God—that describes the purpose and function of the Church.

Temples were noteworthy for several reasons in the biblical world. They were thought to be the dwelling place of the deity. They were sacred spaces where sacrifices were offered and worship was given. Temples brought people together for a common cause greater than local or even national interests. Often temples were the largest and most beautiful buildings in the city. They were monuments to the great devotion given to the god worshipped there. These characteristics of ancient temples suggest reasons the apostle Paul described the Church as the Temple of God even though he knew very well that the Church was a people, not a building.

The Church is a dwelling place for God (verse 22)

Paul declares in Ephesians 2:22 that in Christ “you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” The root idea of the word “dwelling” is house or home. The Church is to be a place where God is at home. This implies several truths. First, if the Church is God’s home, then God must be present in the Church. This means that Church is not primarily a place to talk about God or to do things for God. Church is a place where we are with God. And since Church is not a building, it is a group of people among whom God is present. If we gather for Church but God is not present, the fundamental reality of the Church as Temple has not happened. In 1 Corinthians 14:25 Paul describes what should happen when an unbeliever or someone who does not understand meets with the Church. That person “will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” When neither church members nor visitors recognize the presence of God, then Church as the Temple of God has not happened among us.

A second implication of God being at home in the Church is that God must be host rather than visitor. Because Church—the gathered people, not the building—is God’s home, He is in control of the activities and sets the agenda. One might think we are confused about whose home it is because we often treat God as the guest and act as if the Church belonged to us. If God is the homeowner, then His values will be those that are lived out in the Church. If God is the homeowner, the Church will become a reflection of His character and interests, not ours.

A third implication of God being at home in the Church is that the Church must be a place where God is comfortable. We do not have to prove ourselves at home. We are accepted for who we are. If God is at home in the Church, we will not ask Him to prove himself. We will accept Him for who the Scriptures reveal Him to be.

The Church Is Built With People (verse 20)

Ephesians 2:20 declares that the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” The chief cornerstone was the first stone put in place in an ancient building. Its length and width edges had to be straight and perpendicular because the walls were laid out by sighting along the edge of the cornerstone. Its vertical edge had to be straight and perpendicular because the walls were aligned to that edge. If the cornerstone was not perfect, the walls of the building would not be straight and might collapse. Paul’s point is the Church always looks back to Jesus for our bearings. If we align ourselves with Him, the Church will be straight and will last. If we become out of alignment with Jesus, the Church will become misshapen and liable to collapse.

1 Peter 2:5 further describes the Church as built of “living stones.” This describes the individual believers that become part of the Church. This means the Church must be highly personal and relational. We exist as people in a relational structure, not as occupants of a building.

We are not free to determine the shape of the Church. Its dimensions and shape were laid out in alignment with Jesus by the apostles and prophets of the first Christian century. Each successive generation consists of more people placed as living stones in the building called the Church. Inanimate stones fit quietly beside each other in a physical building. Being living stones set together in the Church can be more challenging. Sometimes we are put in the wall beside other stones we would prefer not being with. It is not our task to change them or to seek another place on the wall. Our task is to align ourselves with Jesus and to live in grace and peace with the other stones seeking to be together the dwelling place that pleases God.

The Church is a holy temple (verse 21)

1 Corinthians 3:17 declares, “God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” It is hard to be clearer than this. The Church must be holy because it is the Temple of a holy God. A holy God cannot be at home in an unholy temple. A holy God who builds His Church with living stones demands that those stones be holy. Because the Church is God’s and not ours, the Church’s holiness must be God’s holiness.

As the Temple the Church is designed to display God to the world. A church that is not holy provides false advertising about God. We might despair of ever accurately portraying God to the world except for the fact that we have a living example of what such a life would look like. It would look like Christ. Thus the holiness required of the Church means submitting to the discipline of allowing the Spirit to form more and more Christ in us, Christ among us, and Christ through us. The ultimate purpose of the Church as God’s Temple is to bring glory to Him.

Take it home

Don’t hinder God’s presence, in your life or in this community. How do we hinder? Unconfessed sins, stubbornness/hardheartedness, grieving the Spirit.


Focus on relationships, both with God and people. How do we do this? Dialogue/communicate (prayer), Find a way to work together, Look for needs you can meet, Get out of your comfort zone.


Practice love, both to God and your neighbour. The great Commandment. How do we do this? Live out grace (includes initiative, forgiveness), Live in Hope

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Church - The Body


1 Corinthians 12:12-26
“12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot says, "Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, "Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, 24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words. When 1 Corinthians was written, the analogy of society compared to the body was common. It was used to argue for the classes of society. It is easy to see how one could be labelled an armpit and so be relegated to rise no higher than what was deemed worthy of that position. In places around the world to day we can see societies with distinct classes and prejudices. Even in our enlightened and multicultural Canadian mosaic, people have biases and senses of place based on ethnic origins. Paul takes this analogy, this wall that so often divided, and used it to unite. The theme of our 100th denominational anniversary is “Out of many, one; out of one, many!” Let’s look at this analogy as found in 1 Corinthians 12.

Many Members (verses 14-17):
Diversity is not about comparison (15)
–One of the biggest mistakes we make in life is to live by comparison. The phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” has been around for a long time. We tend to base our success or failure by comparing ourselves with someone else we have picked arbitrarily. How many times have you heard someone say, “It’s not fair!” or even said it yourself. What is fair? Is it fair that our neighbour or friend has a better job than us? Is it fair that we live in Canada and untold millions live in subsistence in Africa and Asia, or even in the downtown core of our cities? We like to focus on looking at the people around us or the ones on magazine covers? What we should be doing is looking to God. God made you unique. You have had stuff happen in life, good or bad, that makes you who you are today. The question is not whether it is fair where you are at; the question is what you are going to do with it. Many people rise up of their own will and volition and struggle and strive until they get to a better place. How much better would it be to understand God is doing something in and through you and to strive and struggle with His strength at your disposal? Maybe we need to understand it is not about getting more or being different or somehow more of something, but that it is about pursuing for the things God has called us for; to find His purpose for who we are. Don’t compare yourself with anyone but God, and then recognize His grace in your life.
Diversity is about finding your worth in something bigger than yourself (16) – Another big mistake in life is thinking that success in life is about us, about what we do, about where we go. We are the center of our existence. If that is how you approach life, understand you have a small, small grasp of the world around you. There are many things you can plug into that are good and great. Don’t under estimate the power of a small community of believers who are following God with all their heart, soul and mind. The church community is what Jesus established to accomplish His purposes after He left earth for heaven. He has something unique for you to do as part of this group. Maybe it is helping here on a Sunday. Maybe it is connected to a small group. Maybe it is about encourage a specific person or two in their ministry. Maybe it is to reach your neighbours with the support and prayers of this group. God is doing more than just trying to make you happy. He is using you to build His kingdom. What a privilege, considering he could use anybody or even an animal like Balaam’s donkey. He chooses you.
Diversity is necessary for greater function (17) – The best way to understand this is to think about a rope. A single strand is easy to break. 2 strands get a bit harder, and 3 are quite hard to break. This is because the sum of the group is exponentially greater than the sum of each individual part. We can do more together as a group than as individuals, and it is because we are all unique. The differences between us can cause us to fight and separate, or they can be used to work together. We need your differences. Out of Many…

One Body (verses 21-25):
Unity is about working together (21)
– in order to accomplish something bigger than ourselves, we have to focus on what we are doing, our task. In order to read a book, we need our arms and hands and fingers to pick up and hold the book at the right distance from our eyes. Our back and frame has to support the body in order for this to happen. Our eyes have to focus, and using nerves and muscles the image goes to the brain where it is turned into thought and understood. There are some 212,000 people in this city to reach with the love of Jesus. I can’t do it alone. Our church cannot do it alone. We have to work together both in this body and in this community of churches to get the job done.
Unity is about encouragement (22-23) – Team is not about focus on self. Remember the Canadian who came in second in the triathlon at Beijing? Remember the Canadian who came last? The triathlon was a team event for these guys. The guy who came last had the job of keeping the first guy near the front for the first 2 legs of the event. He expended all his energy to take the brunt of the wind on the bike, and to encourage during the swim. When the running part was on, he was spent, but because of his encouragement and coming alongside, he allowed his compatriot to get a silver medal. Unity is about encouragement.
Unity is about others (24-25) – God made the body like this so that we all are working together. As we look out for others, others are looking out for us. We can all do great things knowing someone has our back, is watching out for us. If you are feeling out of the loop, it could be because you have opted out of the race early. You have opted out to pursue other things. It is never too late to join and get involved, and understand what fellowship is truly about.

Take it with you:
Know yourself
– Not just your favourite colours or choice of music. What are your strengths? What buttons do you have that can get pushed? Knowing yourself is foundational to being part of the Body, of something bigger than yourself. Pat of this is to be honest with yourself. So, who are you?
Make the choice to include – Include others outside of your normal routine. Allow yourself to be included as well.
Seek the bigger picture—God’s perspective. Understand that there is more to this church thing than this building, than meeting every Sunday morning. God is moving in this province and this city. Do you want to be part of that? Find a way, your way, to tap in to the kingdom of God. It is a wonderful thing. That is the Body of Christ. “Out of many, one; out of one, many!”

Friday, September 19, 2008

On pride and ignorance

http://heroesheretics.wordpress.com/2008/09/11/on-pride-and-ignorance/

Do we truly believe in the power of God to transform lives? I comment on blogs, trying to articulate my beliefs to those who's belief systems are different. I am not trying to save them, or anybody. It is God who does that. I believe that, and so I pray, and continue to say truly and concisely what I believe.

Do we have pride? More than I realize. How do you know something you don't know? It's like the category on Jeapordy - I'll take things nobody knows for 500... In responding to this blog I realized my pride, that I did think I was better than him because I believed what is truth. That doesn't make me better. Not even smarter, really. I believe I am an object of grace, that it is all God's doing that I am here where I am. I have just accepted grace where he has not. I pray he will see God's offer.

Are we ignorant? To often we are. What I do know is that to receive God's grace one has to confront the sin issue in their life. One has to confront the question, "What is life all about?" which leads to "Crap! I can't do it!" Paul used the word "Dung", but the essense is the same. I am not strong enough, smart enough, good enough - I need help, because I am so tired of striving and struggling. Cry this to God, and you will find Him waiting with His arms open wide for you, with an offer you can't refuse.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Authenticity

I left a comment here:

http://blog.christianitytoday.com/outofur/archives/2008/09/stiff_necks.html#more

The question is about being authentic and what that looks like. It is not treating everyone the same - mainly because everybody is different! Being authentic has more to do with living out my faith in life, not prescibing my actions as the same for everyone. You could use "love", but love looks different to different people. The point is to be true to yourself, having the understanding that you are above all honest with yourself. Truth without honesty breeds fanaticism - not good. Truth with honesty breeds humility as we see our fallen condition and need for God.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Church - Foundations


Psalm 111 “1 Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart, in the company of the upright and in the assembly. 2 Great are the works of the LORD; they are studied by all who delight in them. 3 Splendid and majestic is His work, and His righteousness endures forever. 4 He has made His wonders to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and compassionate. 5 He has given food to those who fear Him; He will remember His covenant forever. 6 He has made known to His people the power of His works, in giving them the heritage of the nations. 7 The works of His hands are truth and justice; all His precepts are sure. 8 They are upheld forever and ever; they are performed in truth and uprightness. 9 He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; holy and awesome is His name. 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever.


Foundations – this word means different things to different people. For the builder it is about the bottom of the building, the bottom of the structure. I took a course in high school that I thoroughly enjoyed about building construction. We learned about frost lines, and piles and caissons. The French immersion school just past Market Mall put on a big addition this past year. One of the things I saw was the pile of what looked like telephone poles piled up. A few days later all you saw were these poles in the ground with about 3 feet sticking up. They go deep to provide a solid foundation for the building. We saw them last year as they built the Clarence Street Bridge over Circle Drive. They had the pile driver there pounding in the lone steel beams to provide the foundation of the bridge. For others it is more ethereal – like the foundations of this church that was built in 1930. Over the years many people have put time, money, sweat and other efforts into its existence. It is a foundation no less important than they use in construction.
Today we want to take a step back and look at the foundations of church – the church as a body of believers, as a covenant community. We could come just when we feel like it, when we have nothing better to do. God and Jesus have called us to something bigger, something beyond ourselves. Let’s look at this covenant community a bit closer.


The truths:
1. The Old Testament covenant community of Israel was based on the Exodus, God’s gracious act of delivery from slavery. Deuteronomy 5:2-3, 6 “2 The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. 3 The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today… He said, 6 'I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.’” Now, the covenant itself was something expressed in the years before this, to Adam, to Abraham, and would be expressed after, to David. But here, with the official start of the nation of Israel, its coming of age party, the foundation was based on God’s grace, on His deliverance. Do you know the story? Joseph sold into slavery, ending up in Egypt, the nation thrives there; the nation becomes subject to slavery, they cry out to God, and He delivers them to freedom. The very foundation of the people of God was based on His power to deliver them. They didn’t serve a weak God, a powerless God. They served a God greater than any nation or idol or power of darkness. And they were set free.
· The New Testament Covenant community of the Church is based on the gracious acts of the atoning death of Jesus and His resurrection. In the same way, the church today, in the New Covenant, is based on the same grace of God, the same powerful God. We weren’t delivered from human bondage, though, but from spiritual bondage. And we were set free.

2. The Ten Commandments and the Old Testament were the expectations God had for the Old Testament covenant community. Deuteronomy 5:7-21 As foundations are built, there are building codes we use to insure the integrity of the structure. When you look at what happened with the earth quake in China in the spring where thousands of buildings collapsed, it came out that companies cheaped out on the concrete ingredients, using a substandard mix to maximize their profits. In so doing, though, they undermined the buildings with poor foundations. When the time came for testing and the earth shook, the buildings fell down. So too, the nation of Israel was given the Ten Commandments to guide and steer the people, to provide a strong foundation for the society, for the people of God. But they turned to idols and pursued money, and the nation crumbled when the testing came. And God has expectations of the church.
· The Great Commandments, the Great Commission, and the call to Christ-likeness are the expectations for life in the new covenant community. We have talked about these often. These are the norms for the disciple of Jesus. The one who calls themselves a Christian is on a pilgrimage, a journey. Whether you sit down there, or stand up here, we are all on the same journey. I hesitate to even stand here because I am no better than you. I am on the same journey of Christ-likeness. A part of me wants to speak to you from your level because the things God has for you are for me as well. The challenges I read and strive to keep in my life are your obligations as well.


3. The Old Testament had consequences for obeying and failing to obey the covenant obligations. Deuteronomy 5:32-33 The Law had penalties for disobedience that ranged from an offering to an “eye for an eye” to stoning and capital punishment. For the community it led to the destruction of the temple and exile.
· The New Testament covenant community of the Church has consequences for obeying and failing to obey the expectations Christ has for the Church. Sickness and death are sometimes a result of sin, but not always. The biggest thing we can lose is God’s presence in our life. We can grieve the Holy Spirit so the voice of Jesus, of God, is shut out in our life. Talk about lonely. Listen to Hebrews 6:1-8 1 Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do, if God permits. 4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. 7 For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; 8 but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.


Take it home:
Get right with God at the very foundation of your life. Surrender all of you, your life, your wife, your kids, your job, your bank account… and look at all those things through the eyes of God. Make the thing of God your biggest priority.


Know what God expects of you as a disciple. Where in life can we work and it matters not whether we show up or put any effort in. Does that work in the business world? Does it work in relationships? Does it work with the children in our care and responsibility? Get into the Word and listen to what God speaks to you as you read it. Understand that it is a cohesive thing, that you can’t pull a Scripture out of context and apply it in a way that is contrary to other passages. Know the Great Commission by heart. Know the Great Commandments by heart. Pursue Christ-likeness.


Keep short accounts with God. Don’t let anything come between you and Him. Understand that the focus here is on relationship, not on doing. Some people can only make it out to church twice a month. Great! I am glad we can fellowship with them every couple weeks. But those times they are not here I pray that their pursuit of God and His community is no less.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Big questions - response to a blog

The following is from the July 23 entry of the blog http://heroesheretics.wordpress.com/ . His/her coments are in the italicized quotes and bolded, mine follow.

“None of the commenters explain why the choice of Adam and Eve is inherited. Why couldn’t God let each individual choose? Maybe Abel wouldn’t have screwed up, why is he damned for what dad did? Couldn’t God offer the tree to him as well? God apparently changed human nature because of the act of these two. The closest to an answer to this is that the act somehow cracked the mold of humanity or a spiritual law caused it to happen.”

What if the Garden was a probation? That as long as Adam and Eve obeyed the simple laws given, relationship with God was ensured with no barriers. If they had children at this point I assume they would have been given the same opportunity. How long would it last? I don't know. The barriers came up when the decision to disobey was put into action. Could the world have been a different place if Adam and Eve had decided to obey? I expect the answer would be yes. Is it moral how God set it up? I believe it lines up with who God is, His character, yes. Oh, and I am damned by what I did, as you are by what you have done.

I have come to the point of belief and faith in this God, so my pursuit is to understand His infiniteness in my finiteness. There could be a whole different explanation that makes total sense to you or I but we just haven't thought of it yet. To say with confidence that this is all wrong is to have a certain amount of pride in your (and humanity's) level of intelligence and thought. It is always easy to prove something "wrong" through lack of understanding a reality that is beyond you. This isn't personal, talk to me about quantum physics and I could with confidence say certain things are wrong, simply because that experience is beyond me.

If a characteristic of God as stated in the Bible doesn't seem correct or to make sense to me (or you), it may be my (mis)understanding of how an eternal God exists and thinks, that is at fault, rather than God Himself who is whacked out. As I understand you in your pursuit of knowing God, you are trying to dispel all the things that don't make sense to you, whether it is the traditional God of Bob the Believer or the Allah of Mohammed. Who is God to you now? I see that all this “traditional” stuff doesn’t make sense to you. Do you trust the Bible as an authoritative voice as His revelation? If not, why even bother with this "Christian" God? I find it odd that people will use parts of the Bible to show why God is evil or doesn't make sense as if those passages are inspired, but then try to discredit other passages as if those ones are wrong (using the ones you have picked out as “right”. It gets to be pretty arbitrary. If your role is to discredit the Bible by showing inconsistencies, that is a different argument. Either accept the Bible and use the Bible as your starting point (i.e., what does this passage mean when it says this about God?), or reject it and search for God somewhere else. To argue that something doesn’t make sense to your own moral logic only goes as far as you – you can’t say something doesn’t make sense because the whole universe agrees with me, where’s the logic in that?

“But more importantly, there was really no attempt to explain why killing his son is the way to get rid of original sin. There is talk about having someone perfect to take on the sins. How does Jesus dying help at all?”

Why is death the penalty (or payment) of sin? I think the answer has to do with separation. The act of creation was about life, about existence. Physically, death separates the breathing part of us (our soul/spirit) from the physical part of us (and all other things that are physically based - life). Spiritual death is the separation of our spirit from God's presence. Sin produces that separation because it is anything against/outside of God's character. For us as humans, God provided the way to bridge that separation by conquering death, which the Bible seems to indicate wasn't an afterthought of the Garden. The choice wasn't about whether to give man free will or not - that is part of the image of God. God’s choice was creation in the first place. It is free will that necessitated the choice in the Garden, for how can you have free will without choice? And knowing that there was a choice, God also knew that a created being could not live up to the same standard of who He was (deity), and so along with creation the plan of salvation was created at the same time in the Godhead.

“But there is no explanation of why Adam wronging God should affect me. How is a God that creates all of the suffering in the world because of one act at all just or merciful?”

I notice that we are descendents of Adam and Eve, and not created out of dust like them. It is that descendent stuff that causes the sin nature to be inherited. It part of man's creation to have babies and descendents, to be fruitful and multiply. Does a baby die in sin at 2 months? I don't believe that. I believe in an age of accountability (that is different for different people) where a person becomes responsible for their actions not just before men, but before God. The sin issue is universal. God didn’t create the suffering, and it wasn’t just one act. Suffering is the result of actions of people today – the murderer, the greedy power broker, the gossip who kills with words, the rapist, the self-righteous who don’t help others…

“And none of the commenters explain the necessity of sending Jesus. First, I don’t see how that it really changed anything. When we are “saved” by Jesus, we are just as selfish and sinful. Nothing changed in human nature with the coming of Jesus, and believers are no less selfish than others. If sending God was supposed to save us from original sin, why all of this talk about us still being sinful? If believing in Jesus made us less sinful you might have a case, but clearly Christians are just as prone to sin as anyone else.”

The Bible clearly states we have everything at our disposal to live without sinning. It is not will power or strength of character. It is by surrendering our will to the will of God through the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Read Romans 8 for a great discussion on this. This is at the heart of the struggle of free will. It also answers the question, “Why was I created?” The short answer is so that we could become more like Jesus in our attitudes, words, and actions. We don’t become little gods, but our character begins to reflect the character of God. A great verse in 2 Corinthians 3 gives us the analogy of a mirror. When we look in it we should be seeing Jesus looking back at us – we should be reflecting God’s character in our life, primarily through loving our neighbour as our self. Don’t judge God by how people behave, even those who say they follow Him. The Bible is filled with how lousy we are at following God. Maybe some people failed because they were too busy talking about the Law and theology and philosophy that they gave little thought to what they should be doing to help others. Jesus clearly stated that people will know His disciples by their actions (primarily love).

And from Juy 31 about free will and sin:

"The problem of evil is how there can be evil in a world if God is all powerful and all good. One common answer to this is the argument from free will: God allows evil in the world, because only if there is evil can there be free will. We must be free to choose good or bad. This argument assumes that free will is one of the greatest goods, so God allows evil in order to allow the greater good of free will."

The choice (free will) wasn't between good and evil, the choice was to obey God or not. Evil is a result of the choice, not the other way around. Free will didn't come with sin, it came with the creation of man. You still have that choice today. Are you going to shoplift something or pay for it? Are you going to cheat on an exam, or study hard and do your best? Are you going to ignore your neighbour who needs help because you think he stinks, or extend grace to him and see what you can do to help?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

SOTM - Peacemakers


“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”

Luke 2:7-14 “7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."” (NASB)

At the start of Genesis we see a chaotic emptiness. Out of that God creates order and peace. But that peace is shattered with sin. And so from the Garden of Eden on God was at work redeeming His people. He gave them the law, a glimpse of who He was, of His holiness. He gave us prophets so that we might understand Him better and keep the Law. In time, in the fullness of time, He gave us Love. Not the Law, but the Word. And this Word brought about the ability of peace again. No longer would we be hiding from God because we would never be good enough. Love reached down and offered us an eternal gift of peace between us and God, between us and each other. A new Law, the Law of Love was manifested to us.

The United Nations (UN) is an international organization whose stated aims are to facilitate cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achieving world peace. The UN was founded in 1945 after World War II to replace the League of Nations, to stop wars between countries and to provide a platform for dialogue.
There are currently 192 member states, including nearly every recognized independent state in the world. From its headquarters on international territory in New York City, the UN and its specialized agencies decide on substantive and administrative issues in regular meetings held throughout the year.

The Words:
Peacemakers – There are 2 things we need to consider with this word. The first is that peace is derived from God, from His reign. Regardless of what worldly government you have, from left wing to right, from socialist to dictator, you will always find corruption and the grasp for power. Mankind has never gone a generation or 2 without issues. Look at how the First nations have been treated in Canada, and the continuing conflict that occurs between English and French. Look at the USA, founded upon personal rights where corruption and lobbying are the ways to get what you want. Money buys votes and power. Then look overseas at dictators and the like. Man is incapable of bringing lasting peace to this world. God, the originator of peace, who brought order and peace out of chaos at creation, can shed a peace in your heart so big and so lasting that it is beyond comprehension. Peace comes from God and our relationship with Him.
The second thing is the modifier. Notice it says “peacemaker”, not peacekeeper. The difference here is one of initiative. The UN sends its soldiers out to keep the peace once a certain level has been established. We are ambassadors of God Himself, taking the peace of God and sharing it with those who have no peace. We are called to love and quietness, focusing on God as the Author and Finisher of our faith. God initiated peace with us through the incarnation. He brought in peace when all the Law could do was condemn and provide conflict. God initiated peace, and we need to follow His example and go out to make peace in the circles of life and influence that God has given us.

Called Sons (of God) – This phrase refers to our actions being a confirmation of our standing. It doesn’t say we will “become” the sons of God, it says we shall be “called” the sons of God. We already are the sons of God. We have a moment by moment relationship with the everlasting God, the Lord God of Creation, as we confess our sins to Him and yield our will to His. But in living out that truth, we become peacemakers and so prove that God is at work in our lives.

The Paradox:
The paradox is this: being a peacemaker is the culmination of the Beatitudes. Notice that this really is the last attitude, and that it is reflected in action. What follows in “Blessed are those who are Persecuted…” is not something we have any control over. We do not go out and be obnoxious with the Gospel of Peace just so someone will persecute us. No! This peacemaking is the summation of all that has been said before. And this beatitude is the one that people of power who are Christians, miss the most. How did the Crusades of a thousand years ago to deliver the Holy Land from Islam live out this verse? How does the turning away of needy and badly dressed people who don’t fit our church culture satisfy this verse?

Take It Home:
Emotional Peace: Fulfillment of the Great Commandment – Matthew 22:36-40 “36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" 37 And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' 38 "This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' 40 "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." Part of our job is to share love with everyone around us. We have a ministry of reconciliation. We have been reconciled to God, and know God is calling us to be used of Him so He can reconcile others to Himself. We live this out in our day to day actions. People all around us are hungry for love. We ourselves need it, and often feel on the edge of community. We have to take the initiative.
Spiritual Peace: Fulfillment of the Great Commission – Matthew 28:19-20 “19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Part of our job is to share Jesus with everyone around us. Sharing Jesus means we are to share Him with those who don’t know Him, as well as encourage those who do to grow up in Him. Look around – we are all part of this church, this community. We all have a sense of responsibility with each other. We dedicate children and commit them to this group, recognizing that the whole community raises the child. It doesn’t stop with the children, though. We need to pursuer deeper relationships with one another, praying fro one another, taking about spiritual things. When was the last time someone asked you, “How are things going, spiritually?” When was the last time you asked someone else that same question. Be a peacemaker, take the initiative.
Personal Peace: It is all about spiritual and personal integrity – Do you have peace with God? Are you and God not just on speaking terms, but on “I surrender all” terms? Do you have peace with family and friends? Are you able to take the initiative and go to a brother or sister and say, “Listen! We need to talk.” For Dr Larry Dahl he will come and say, “I have a stone in my shoe.” He means that something is bothering him and he wants to deal with it. This week, today even, take the initiative and pursue peace. Be a peacemaker.