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Friday, August 29, 2014

The Romans Run

You take it on the run, baby!

The words to an old REO Speedwagon song came to mind as I began to think about this message.  
You take it on the run baby
If that's the way you want it baby
Then I don't want you around
I don't believe it,
Not for a minute
You're under the gun so you take it on the run
Lyrics by Gary Richrath, REO Speedwagon, 1980

Paul's Letter to the Romans is a piece of work that is unlike any other message attributed to him. A mixture of history and theological understanding, Paul crafts a message together to those Hellenistic Jews living in Roman/Greek lands that need to understand their own historical, Jewish background in order to appreciate what their new found faith in Christ is truly all about. Paul, formerly known as Saul, was one who had persecuted the church by killing Christians. It was as if he, himself, did not fully understand his own history. Now, with Christ at the center of his life, the light comes on and all of it lines up and makes sense. Paul writes to other Jews and believers in Christ in his other places in the New Testament, but nothing compares to the thoughtfulness he puts into this letter. 
 
We are going to take Paul's letter to the Romans on the run today. That phrase will work itself into our message as we go along. This morning’s message is different in that we are going to cover almost an entire book of the bible in one sitting. Almost all of it. (I encourage you to take the time to read Romans and let God speak to you as I don't have the space or time to cover it all verse for verse.) Chapters 1-12 to be precise. Chapters 13-16 can be viewed as an explanation of Chap 12. There is some explanation of Christian living, Paul’s plans for the future, a few word to select parties and final salutations. The opening chapters provides much history from the Old Testament world, an explanation of the law and it’s purpose, a realization of sin and what it is. The “meat” of the letter is Chaps 5 – 8. This is where we will place much of our focus and there will be scripture on the PowerPoint. We’ll see some more history in chaps 9-10 and wrap it up with Paul’s strongest statement to the Christian life in Chap 12. 
Lets start off with a statement that many a Lutheran, if they were worshipping with us today, could stand up and salute...

Romans 1:16-17

New International Version (NIV)
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[a] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”[b]

Paul realized that, in the midst of world gone wrong, faith was the ultimate prize to hang on to in this life. In this opening chapter Paul will state many things he sees going on in the culture around him in Rome. We could most likely draw some correlation between the world of Rome and the country we live in today. The old adage, “When in Rome...do as the Romans do”, has been a part of our lexicon for some time now. In a culture that worshipped many gods, even placing it’s own emperor up in a godly sight for all the nations to see, it is no wonder that such lawlessness reigned. Which brings Paul about to the subject of the law as we enter chap 2.

Paul spends a paragraph speaking about God as the righteous judge. God and the law go together. It was God who gave the law to Moses and the people. Paul, right away, gets his Jewish audience in touch with their own history. History can be a great teacher if we are willing to listen and learn.

Romans 2:12-16

New International Version (NIV)
12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

Sin is at the heart of what Paul presents in Romans. He starts off talking about how horrible things are in the culture of the Roman world. He goes into a short expose on God and the law to show that the law is simply here to point out sin to us. We do need the law. We need something to be a guide for us as to what righteous living should look like. Right in the middle of Chap 3 Paul brings it home for everybody, just in case there was anyone who thought they might be excluded from the subject...  23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
  However, unless we think that sin is the bulk of the subject matter here, lets take a look at the larger context around v 23...

Romans 3:21-26

New International Version (NIV)

Righteousness Through Faith

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in[a] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[b] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Paul balances his talk about sin throughout Romans with the matters of faith and righteousness. If all the law was made to do was to point out what sin is for us humans beings, then something else needs to point out the grace and righteousness of God. All through the scriptures of the Old Testament there are signs pointing to a work that God wants to do. The sign is the coming of a Messiah. The work is making his people live the way they should live. What would come would not be like the giving of the law. What was to come had to do with grace and faith. And, one Old Testament figure would be the example to follow as they would wait.

Romans 4:1-3

New International Version (NIV)

Abraham Justified by Faith

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”[a]

The work belongs to God, not us. Paul has it out with his Jewish audience about how exactly we are justified. That is to say, how we are made right in our relationship with God. We are redeemed in the work that Jesus Christ did on our behalf. In order to enter into the redemption, to partake in it, we have to believe. God made a promise to Abraham all those centuries ago. Abraham believed in the message. Because Christ was not yet here, this faith was ‘credited’ to him as righteousness. Isn’t it nice to charge something and not have to pay on it till later? In this case, Abraham faith was credited to him. As if he returned something to the store and got a credit it on that item. He could spend it on his next trip to the store. When Christ gets here this believer can pull out the receipt and claim his righteousness. Abraham did this and hung on to his faith. And, so can we.

Ok, that’s a simple opening to Romans. God. Sin. Law. Faith. Redemption.
Now we turn the corner into the heart of the letter. Chapters 5 thru 8 is some very deep reading with much to be expounded upon. One could read through Romans’ first four chapters and come away with a sense of heaviness. Sin can be an overwhelming subject. Paul doesn’t mince words. Sin is lawlessness. The law is needed to point out our sin to us. But, it all feels as if we are on the run from something. Is sin this hopeless subject that we lost in forever. Many folks will say that they believe in Christ. They believe he is coming. But, what about the subject of sin? How are we to deal with sin in our everyday lives? Are we simply resigned to sitting here stuck in mud up to our hips, in a theological sense, until we die? As the old song goes, "I don't believe it, not for minute. You're under the gun, so you take it on the run." If we believe in Christ we can find redemption, but through Chap 4, the message is that Christ is off on the distance. Believing in Christ is used as credit for a future prize. If the book closed here, I would feel heavy. “OK, I guess we just wait it out...” That is, until we turn the page.

Romans 5

New International Version (NIV)

Peace and Hope

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Whenever I hear the word, I instantaneously think of the movie "The Shawshank Redemption". Filmed in my the area I grew up, the fictional movie showcases the story of a man who has had everything taken away from him. Sent to Shawshank prison in the summer of 1942, Andy Dufrane is told that hope is most dangerous thing inside the walls of prison system. There are two words that should stick with a person after viewing this film. Hope is our point for the moment. The other is what Morgan Freeman's character "Red" called a person on the inside. Institutionalized. I would correlate that point to our lives being lived in sin. We need redemption. Most of us realize that. What happens to many a good person in this world is a sense of feeling as if there is no way out. We are stuck in this system of sin in this world paying the price with a prison sentence that offers no parole. And, that's where hope comes in. There's has to be something better. There's has be a way out of the hopelessness this world inflicts upon it's people. There has to be an answer.

In the second half of this chapter Paul would go on to explain that sin came into the world through the actions of one man, the first Adam. This nature of sin was then transferred, spiritually, to all of Adam's offspring, i.e. the human race. Our hope, our redemption is then bought for us through the action of one who is just like the first Adam. Another one comes along who was made without sin, Jesus Christ. Through the giving of his life and his death and resurrection, we now have our hopes realized. There is redemption. There is salvation. It is not somehting off in the distance, but something to be experienced here and now. Many a scripture make sense to us now. He stands at the door. He knocks. He wants to enter. And, he can. Because our hopes have not been trod underfoot. They have been made real through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The next word from those opening chapters that needs to be brought front and center is righteousness. Paul would have explained back in Chapter 4 that we are made righteous through our faith. That maeans we now live in a right relationship with God. Sins have been forgiven. Believing in Jesus Christ makes this new life in God possible. Now we want to live in such as way that our new standing with God makes sense. We don't say that we believe in Jesus and then go do whatever we want to do, however we want to do it. Chap 6 opens the door to how we should now live our lives.

Romans 6:15-18

New International Version (NIV)

Slaves to Righteousness

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

Paul would open this sixth chap saying that we are now dead to sin. It should not own us. It should not control us. Christ is died to sin, physically and spiritually. We can gather as we read the scriptures that Jesus lived his life without sin. We also understand in various places that Christ became sin for us. The very spectacle of his hanging on a cross shows the viciousness and severity of the punishments of sin. It should have been us. We should have to pay with our own lives. We should have to make up for our own wrongs. But, we can't. It is one of those situations where the debts is too high and the punishment to strong for us to handle. So, Jesus does it for us. He does it for us on the cross and by the example he set for us to live. As a patient teacher with her children, Jesus marks the way of righteousness with his actions and words. The Teacher wants us to follow his instructions. He wants us to follow his way of life. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul would say that he follows Christ example in this way. "I die daily". He dies to sin in that sense of ownership. The life he lives now he lives unto God in Jesus Christ.

Paul realizes that what he has now is because of God's grace to him. God has freely extended mercy, compassion, forgiveness and freedom to him. Now that he has all of this, should he go on living a life that is layered in slavery and sinfulness? Nope.
17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. That phrase "obey from your heart" suggest that believing is central to seeing this happen in your life. Where do we say we believe? In our hearts. Where do we invite Jesus into? Our hearts. Jesus takes over the control center to lead us and guide us along life's journey. We die to ourselves. We step away from the controls. Instead of being a slave to sin through our own actions we allow someone else to show us the way. Jesus Christ. The commander of the ship now has to ability to show us how to live. But, there is much more that still needs to be realized.

As we enter Chap 7 we see to subjects being addressed. Ownership and Reality. Paul starts off by illustrating his point further about sin's ownership over our lives. The first part of this chapter shows us the picture what marriage looks like. While two people are married to each other, they belong to one another. Nobody else can have them. If one party dies and the other is now alone, that person is then free to marry another. It works the same way in speaking of the subject of sin in our lives. Christ's death on the cross not only provides forgiveness for our sin, but wipes the subject of sin out. It's not here any more. My grandfather did this for my mom. My biological father is a story I could write a whole book about. He was bad news and needed to go from our lives My grandfather basically made him get out. He saved us from that way of life. I can only imagine, and maybe I don't want to, about how life would have been if we had grown up in that picture. God does the same for us in Jesus Christ. In this picture, sin is dead. It has been put to death through what Jesus does for us. Like disease we have been looking for a cure from. Like an antidote to a poison. The cure is here. All we need to do is realize it, believe it.
Realizing what God has done for us it is the issue. The latter part of Chap 7 is a darker part of the Christian experience. It is a place where many a good meaning church folks and even well thought of theologians get hung up. 

Romans 7:14-20

New International Version (NIV)
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

Paul pulls back the veil and shows us, for a moment, the ugly details of his own life. The Mighty Apostle has had a hard time working out the understanding of freedom from sin in his own life. For all the explanation he gives us up to this point he shows us that he also has had a problem living in the reality that we are free from sin. God is spiritual. All of this is spiritual. Using the subject of slavery craftily here, Paul says that we can be thought of as slaves. We were sold to sin. We were born into this slavery and we don't know anything else. Now, we are haring about this freedom that we have and it all sounds good. We sure would like to live that way. But, as we begin to walk away from all of this we find that there are shackles still around our hands and feet. We would like to live free but we find that something is still holding us down. We have this desire in our hearts to do what is right, but sin is close by to twist and turn that desire around. 

It would be real easy to get lost in this line of thought. It would be real easy to simply close the book right here at this place and say that this is just how it is.  There are entire theological lines of thought built around this very idea. The idea is that we cannot be free from sin. At the end of this chapter Paul cries out, "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" Thanks be to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ." And to many people act as if they have closed the book right there, lay it down, and carry on like that's the end of the story. Only it's not. Paul is still writing.

Romans 8

New International Version (NIV)

Life Through the Spirit

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death.

The song I have been eluding to during this message is about two people who are in love. The stories the singer of the song is hearing about the one he loves are disturbing. The story he is hearing is that the one he loves is caught in shame and guilt over something they have done. But, it is as if her can't believe his ears and refuses to believe what he is being told. If the story is true then his love needs to go and not be in the house. But, his words of confidence are clear. "I don't believe it. Not for a minute. You're under the gun so you take it on the run." We have a tendency to run, in our spiritual lives, like we're under the gun. We think that other people are looking down on us. We think we are worthless. We think we can't be free. It feels like we are running. Constantly. Paul has a word for that in this 8th chapter. It's called fear. "You have not been given a spirit of fear that you should fall back into slavery." I think this is what keeps people trapped in the "Chapter 7 of their lives". Fear. It's so easy to be fearful. It's a trap that sneaks up on you and takes away your hope. "You have been given a spirit of sonship by which we cry, "Abba, Father". We have hope! We have freedom! 
Do you know what it's like to live without condemnation? Do you actually know what it is?
a statement or expression of very strong and definite criticism or disapproval

Wow. That we would be thought of in terms of "disapproval" or criticized to the point of censure. Do you know what it means to be condemned? Like a building that people say cannot be restored, so it gets torn down. Put the word "-nation" on the end and what does it make you think. A whole nation of people just condemned you.  Sin has a way of not just legally condemning us in God's sight, but makes us feel as if we are worthless and unable to approach the throne because of guilt and shame. But, paul does not quit writing at the end Chap 7. He goes on... There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Have you asked Him to come into your life? Can you say that Jesus is your Lord and Savior? Then you have no reason to fear. No reason to hide your face. No reason to shrink back and not approach God. Freedom is yours.

It should be noted here, as I have heard some suggest, that none of this is written in some future tense. Everything here is written in the present tense. Paul does not shift tone when the chapters change. He does not go into some future tense to suggest that someday we will be free. No, right now we are free. All that Jesus Christ did for us is able to be experienced in the here and now. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. Imagine if you will that I approach you and we lock hands, left hand to left hand. Lets imagine for a moment, as we speak of sin ensnaring us, that this is what it looks like. Sin has a hold of you and won't let go. Now, we lock right hand to right hand. Death also has a hold on us. We should die in our sins. We are dead spiritually. We have no fellowship with God. Go ahead and try to pull away. Kind of hard with your arms crossed and your hands and wrists locked up. "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death." I let you go. The strangle hold has been severed. We are set free from the condemnation that sin places on us because we are free from sin's control over us. 

Paul makes some grand statements in Chap 8. Here is where there is a hint of future tense in what he says. Our present sufferings are worth comparing with our future glory. We press on. We are not afraid to ask for help. And, we know what the future holds for us. There one other motivator. God's love for us. And, nothing can separate us from it. We should/could tie this back to Chap 6 for a moment. What's the only thing missing from this list of stuff that cannot separate us from the love of God? There is no mention of the subject of sin here. The very nature of sin is to divide. It separates us from our relationship with God. It drives a wedge. That's what sin does. Paul has gone to great lengths to explain to us that sin is no longer a part of our lives. It should be here. That's how he can exclude it from the list. A life that make no excuse for sin does have to worry about sin dividing or excluding. Just because God loves us, does that mean I can just do what ever I can do whatever I want to do, however I want to do it? Just because God loves me? What did Paul ask back in Chap 6? "Should I keep on sinning so that grace may abound?" Um...no. That doesn't make sense. We walk away from it. Fear no longer controls us. Sin no longer owns us. We are free. Live that way. 

Chaps 9, 10 & 11 are a history lesson. Much in the same manner as Paul opened with history on Israel and Abraham, so he pulls from the history of his ancestors to show how they did not follow God, they did not listen to God's words, and they paid harshly for it. He wants his people to know that they can do this differently. They don't need to walk down the same path as their ancestors did. They don't need to repeat the same mistakes and fall into the same snares and traps. he is pleading with his audience to find some body who will go and preach this message to his people, Israel, now dispersed throughout the regions of Asia and into Romans territories.

Romans 10:14-15

New International Version (NIV)
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Please! Somebody join me in the work of sharing this message with those who need to hear it. And, what a work it is. How many do you know who need to hear the message of forgiveness and peace offered in Christ Jesus? 
Which brings this message to it's final part.
After all that Paul has shared he asks his audience one last request.

Romans 12

New International Version (NIV)

A Living Sacrifice

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Knowing what you know now, hearing what you have heard today, what kind of response would you give to God? We need our minds renewed, so we don't live in fear. We are not here to conform to the pattern of this world. We are not here to live as the world lives. We have new life in Jesus Christ. We give ourselves to Christ, to God, and we let him do whatever he wants to do with us. A living sacrifice. No thought of living any other way. This is how we worship. We come here each week because Jesus is the number one thing in our lives. Christ is what is most important. Do you want to know what God wants for your life? Do you want to know what God's will is for you? Turn your life over to God and find out. Or, keep doing it your way and find fear and doubt and struggle.

God has extended all of this in his mercy, in his grace. It's free. All you're asked to do is believe.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Whole Shoot and Kabang

It's a long story.

On the heels of last week's unveiling of this biblical idea of sanctification, I want to tell you a three fold story.

It involves some of my past.
It involves sharing a bit of the differences between denominations.
It also will bring us closer to the scripture before us this morning.

The scripture is where we will start. It's always good to start there.
In my time in a holiness church a scripture like this was before our eyes to help keep us focused.
Being filled with God's Spirit is our theme this month. Sanctification is still on our plates.
Lets take in Paul's words to the Thessalonians.

1 Thessalonians 5:23

New International Version (NIV)
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I was raised in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). It's a smaller, lesser known denomination which roots itself in a movement which could be known as the late 1700's version of the non-denominational movement. As this country we call America, with all it's blessed freedoms, began to grow so did the tensions between many of the immigrants that came to here from Europe. What happened in the 15 & 1600's in England and throughout Europe caused a great awakening among people seeking God and faith. It also caused many divisions and lines to be drawn in the sand.

The Church of England sought to be separate from the Church in Rome way back in the 1600's. During this time period, many different groups sprung up all over England, Germany and the European landscape with their own outlook on a certain piece of doctrine. Each group had a different way of explaining what it meant to be Christian or how one became a Christian. Some emphasized grace more. Some emphasized faith more. Some wanted a stronger viewpoint on church government. Some wanted less government and more scripture. All of this came with the people who migrated to the "New World". The freedom this new government in America provided allowed the true colors of those given the freedom to express their views to shine through. Living in this time could not have been easy. A fragile new country making it's start and along with it many new faiths and churches springing up along the hillside. People brought their faith with them from the "old world" and new groups were being formed in this country. Fights would break out over religious practice. Arguments would ensue over how exactly one became a Christian. Mostly the disagreements centered around who had the authority. And, everybody thought they had God on their side.

The turn into the 1800's saw a resurgence in thinking about the bible as the central motivator of thought and practice.
In 1801, the Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky planted the seed for a movement in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley to disassociate from denominationalism. Out of that time period came a new church movement that would later be known as the "Christian" church. Instead of calling oneself by their denominational heading, the focus was put back on to what the bible itself taught. Less attention was given to what doctrines and man made creeds taught people to believe. This is the kind of church I grew up in. A church without creeds and doctrines being taught. There were church leaders who wrote 'statements' about things. But, the central idea was that the bible was all we needed. This sounds good on the surface. It sounds as if there shouldn't be any disagreements if we remove the central piece of argumentative nature. Creeds were viewed as man-made and devise. The problem this brings is that people are free to believe whatever they want. There are no guides along the way to help interpret scripture. There are no "speed limit" or "stop" signs to caution one against the possibility of harm to our faith.

People learn differently. Some people don't seem to need those guide markers along the way. If your mind is open to what God wants to teach, more power to you. I have always said that I didn't learn anything back their in my Disciple days. That's really not true. As I went forward into my days ahead there were items of learning that came to the surface on many different occasions. I tend to think it was more about the presentation. There was my moment of baptism that will stick with me forever. Shaking the pastor's hand. Answering the big question. "Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God?" I answered "Yes" even though I was unsure of what it all exactly meant. It would be a few years later that my moment would come when the matter would solidify in my heart.

If the 1800's began with the desire to disassociate from the denominational life, it closed with a focus on starting ones own group to surround a certain way of thought or doctrine that the group deemed important to living the Christian life. The "Methodist" church in that day was known as the Methodist Episcopal Church. Many will note the M.E. blocks on the corners of church buildings still to this day. Methodist minded people have always seemed to be on the forefront of social needs and issues. The Methodist Episcopal church of the 1800 found itself fighting issues involving prohibition and slavery. A line of thought arose that a certain emphasis was being lost in this Methodist way of thought. A line of thinking that was central to the teaching of it's founder, one John Wesley of England. "Christian Perfection", focusing on the work of sanctification through the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer was less a central preaching subject. This lack of focus upon this essential work of God caused some to feel that a need to leave and start a new church was imperative.

In the 1894, a Methodist Episcopal minister by the name of Phineas Bresee would leave the appointive ministry of the church in order to serve as pastor to the Peniel Mission, an independent ministry to the homeless of Los Angeles. His intention was not to start a new denomination, but that is what happened. Bresee's focus was upon preaching the work of God in the believer's heart through sanctification. "Holiness Unto The Lord" was the motto and theme song of the movement. Across America several small groups had begun to form with the same emphasis upon holiness. New England. Southern states surrounding the Texas area. Out west in California and up the coast. The mid West and the Georgia-Florida area were places not as ingrained in the idea. Baptist folks occupied the southeastern US and the aforementioned Disciple movement and Presbyterianism had taken the Kentucky-Ohio Valley. Methodism still prevailed heavily across the nation and so, these were the lines drawn during this historical time period. Christian revival flourished heavily under the theme of surrendering one's life to God and allowing the Spirit to fill the soul with gladness.

It was into the late sunset of such a movement that I found myself in late 1992. I still had ties to the Disciples congregation I grew up in, but I was searching for something more. Something of my Disciple upbringing seemed to have helped me to be cautious of what was being presented. I "church shopped" and found many different perspectives. Because we had no doctrinal or credal system in which to follow back in the Disciple organization, I really no idea there were other churches out there and other perspectives in which to engage. My best friend from high school had grown up in the Nazarene church on the other side of town. I followed him out there and soon found myself engulfed in a multi-layered outlook on God and life. Where my Disciple upbringing lacked depth and explanation the Nazarenes made up for in critique and study. The went out of their way to explain what everybody else believed. They also compared it to their own beliefs and made it clear that their teaching was what was right. Everyone else had it wrong. Since I had not had any real training in doctrine or understanding of other facets of Christianity, I ate it up. I soaked up everything I could get my hands and heart on.

The one thing that stuck out to me and that I have hung on to till this day is the teaching of sanctification. It is absolutely essential to understand the work of the Lord in this facet of the Christian life. As was presented last week, so I reiterate today - "This is the will of God, your sanctification..." (1 Thess. 4.3) The idea that God wants to consecrate us and make us of use in his Kingdom is something I had never heard before. I was familiar with the name of Jesus. Earlier, in June of '92, I became acquainted with the premise that God wanted to forgive us. Once a person has been introduced to the notion they are a sinner, it's not a big stretch to grasp the concept that forgiveness is needed. But, this idea of consecration, of purifying the heart and soul, that was completely foreign to me. I had heard a few sermons preached since I had been visiting with the Nazarenes on Sunday morning and evening. I had heard about this need to be filled with the Spirit. I was sensing I needed to do something and that I needed something. It was after having read the story in Acts chapter 4 about the Spirit coming on the disciples John & Peter in the temple that I became convinced that this work of the Spirit was what I needed.

I went to church on a Sunday night in September of '92. I recall the pastor asking if anybody needed prayer or wanted to be prayed over. I stood and approached the altar. On my knees, I revealed what I had read in Acts 4 and what I wanted prayer for; that I wanted to be filled with the Spirit like John & Peter were in the temple. What I said must have gone in one ear and out the other for them. Another lovely trait of our Nazarene friends, at least in that time frame, was that if you were going to the altar for the first time in their church, you must be going for the purpose of salvation. You were asking Jesus into your heart. That had happened several months earlier in June, in my apartment, in front of my sofa. This was completely different. After leaving that service on this Sunday night, I felt full. I felt as if something had happened on that altar. And, just like my baptism experience back in the Disciples congregation at 14, I could not have explained to you what was going on. I did believe. I did ask and receive. I just didn't have the vocabulary or the understanding to explain what had happened. In time the words would come. I would be able to share with more study and learning on what it is God wants to do in the soul and heart of a believer.

Over time, I began to understand what it was that my now distant Nazarene family was promoting. The more I heard sanctification preached and presented I grasped more of this "entire" work they said the Lord wanted to do. I wholeheartedly accepted that teaching. I had no previous exposure to the subject, so I bought was being sold to me. When I went to the altar and prayed I was looking for a working of the Lord that would take care of all of my heart centered issues, all at once, right there in the moment. When I arose from the altar after praying I felt as if it all had been taken care of and I had nothing left that needed to be worked on. Then, Monday or Tuesday would roll in and I would find myself doing or saying something that I should not and I would be back to the old guilty feelings again. This roller coaster ride of emotions went on for months and years. By 1997 I was into my very first church as pastor, my one and only Nazarene congregation. I still did not have a handle on this subject in my heart and soul. I believed God wanted to sanctify us. I just had a bad focus, you might say, on how it happened or worked itself out. I couldn't get this "all at once" notion to work out in my life. I was frustrated with myself and with God. By 1999, I was ready to give up, on the ministry, on this Christian life. I would have been happy to just sit in the back pew, unnoticed and uninvolved.

And then, God moved like only he can do.
It was summer school of 1999. I was in the Nazarene course of study up the road in Mt Vernon @ MVNU. Our summer course was a preaching class taught by Dr Steven Green from Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma. He had been invited to teach our class and he did what you might expect. He used sanctification as his launching pad for teaching about how we preach. Since sanctification is 90% of what we Nazarene preachers would preach and teach about, this seemed like an appropriate subject to present. But, what he did turned all of our worlds upside down. The graph you saw last week was all from his class. He laid it out very much like what I did for you all to see. He had us thinking about what makes up our lives and filling in the squares. He had us focused upon inviting Jesus into our lives. Then he began to discuss how exactly Jesus moved all over the graph to become active in every facet of our lives. How exactly does that happen? A female clergy person from West Virginia spoke up down front. "Well, we've always been told that it happens in one felled swoop." Exactly. That is what we had all been told to believe. But, Dr Green showed us what we had missed and where the COTN had missed the boat. What I share from here forward is a mixture of what I learned from Dr Green's class and what I have shared and learned from UM clergy and professors over the last 14 years. My eyes have truly been opened to the vast differences in thought between two denominational ways of thinking.

Up until about 1940, if you asked a Methodist or a Nazarene to explain what sanctification meant, you most likely would get a similar answer or train of thought. It's a process. It's about growing in grace. John Wesley would have explained it that way with an extreme focus on discipline and devout practice to keep one on track following the Lord. Wesley's "Holy Club" was a system of accountability for the ministers serving within Methodism to help us keep our focus on the Lord and his will for our lives. We try to keep that intention alive even today through our ministerial clusters. When the divide happened in the late 1800's and some Methodist Episcopals went their way, a rift began. A difference over the focus on social justice and social issues & the focus on personal and inner holiness is the dividing line. It doesn't seem like a great divide. A minor difference of opinion as to the importance of certain doctrine. By the time we get to the 1940's & 50's though, society is going to begin to make a major shift in social etiquette. In an attempt to be relevant and keep it's youth involved in the life of its congregations, many Methodist churches now become the places of dance halls and rock music. Many in the holiness camps are not enthused by such practices. And, so, another step is taken apart in the divide. In the midst of these social practices a tightening and a  loosening of the reigns happens in explaining Christian doctrine. You might see Methodist people a bit more accepting of certain social practices. Nazarenes and people in holiness circles begin to explain sanctification in more definitive terms, making the process more legal and binding.

Now comes 1968. The Methodist Church of the day has just merged with the Evangelical United Brethren church, or the old E.U.B., as it is affectionately referred to by her former people. Four years later in 1972, we see the first reference made to homosexuality on the floor of a General Conference in this newly formed "UMC". People want to make a statement about the practice of such a lifestyle and have it be acceptable in the Church. On the other side of the fence, Nazarenes, in their similarly named book, The Manual of the Church of the Nazarene, has resoluted to living in such a legal manner as to explain exactly how a person should live. No movies. No rock n roll. Nothing that would lead someone to live in a precarious manner and divert off the road of righteousness and holiness. I even heard people speak about the need not to stand in front of one's own picture window at home drinking a can of pop, because someone might drive by and think it was a can of beer and assume you were an alcoholic. The growing divide between these two lines of Wesleyan thinking was increasing.

By the time I came into the Church of the Nazarene in 1992, I was worshiping with the children and grandchildren of that 70's crowd. I was hearing about this thing called sanctification. The feeling I was getting was that it was on me to make myself holy. I need to live in such a way as to keep myself holy. Some of this was very true and in retrospect I wonder if I was simply hearing things presented to me out of sequence. Holiness does not begin with us. It begins with God. "I am holy, therefore you be holy" Holiness was presented in such a way as to make it feel as if it was my "responsibility" to bring myself to God. As if I should know I was supposed to do this. (Truly, we do have a responsibility to do this. Romans 12.1-2) However, presented out of sequence or in the wrong light a person will not understand that the God of all Peace will sanctify the believer. We heard that verse. Believe me, I lived in Thessalonians as a Nazarene. 1 Thess 4.3 & 5.23 were memorized, scorched into the brain. The legalistic approach to these verses were what kept me in a prison to myself. A guilty conscience can be the most detrimental of all devices against our spiritual growth. Beating ourselves over the head because we cannot live up to some set of measures that we, ourselves, are pushing down our own throats is what keeps a person from being what God wants us to be. Along with all the stipulations and decrees that get made by an organization about how someone should live, said Christian life, can be a weight no person should be made to live.

No movies? I knew plenty of Nazarenes who went to the movies. No rock n roll? Our youth group went to plenty of rock n roll shows. Christian rock was at it's highest point in the 1990's and I was blessed to be alive during it. We can't make up the rules for ourselves and then forces them on everybody else and then alienate ourselves from everybody else in Christendom if they don't explain everything the way we do. After Dr Green's class in 1999, I knew there would be a time come when I would leave the COTN. In 2000, I met a nice United Methodist girl and one thing led to another. From 2000 to 2003 I spent much time in a UM congregation and I came to understand the polity and practice of a United Methodist life. I saw what Dr Green had presented in the class back in 1999. This sanctified life is one that needs time to grow and needs to work itself out. "Work out your salvation, with fear and trembling" Can we possibly work it out all at once? If we can then I would not have the life experiences I have. I would not have all that I now possess in my heart. The memories. The wisdom. The people and the places. Remember the graph from last week. When we say "entire" sanctification, what are we saying? Look at all of that between birth and death. We are saying ALL of it. ALL at once. We have nothing else to work out. As Dr Green would have said back in that 1999 class... "If you have it all worked out already, then you might as well be glorified. Go on to heaven. You have nothing left to work out here." We know that can't be the way.

Are things perfect now just because I'm in the UMC and closer to the origins of Wesleyanism? No. There is no perfect denomination. United Methodism is facing a serious threat of schism at the moment. We are arguing amongst ourselves about the very issues that have driven a wedge between Nazarene and Methodists over the years. There is a real case here that this denomination might split in a couple years. People might go their separate ways over issues they feel very strongly about. I know how it goes. I've been there twice. I left Disciples because I didn't like not having any creeds or doctrine to follow. I needed something to help guide the way. So, I went where I could find those things. I left from the Nazarenes to find a place where the guidance system was not so strict and rigid. The doctrine I appreciated the most I found out to not be so much of a man made doctrine, but an actual, biblical thing that God himself wanted to do. The place where I currently am in my Christian journey has a much more relaxed view on holiness that does seem to beat one over the head. And, yet I know it's not about the denomination I am in. It is about the God whom I serve.

What my experiences have shown me I now bring to a verse like this out of Thessalonians.
May the God, the God of all Peace - it's not about me. It's about God. And, I don't need a bunch of man made doctrines to tell me that or explain that. God is God. The Great I Am. The God who goes before us. May our God sanctify us, "through and through" the scripture says. May he set us apart for His purposes. May he make us holy and purified. May he cleanse us of all sin. And, we pray he is patient and merciful to us as we fight and struggle with whether to let go of what we seem to cling to. He wants to sanctify us through and through. Like a roasting pan at a Saturday Community Dinner, he needs to dunk us into the water over and over again, with the suds and scrubber, and go to town on our souls and hearts. He wants to keep us holy, blameless. No one will be able to point the finger at us. No one will find sin in us for He has taken it away. The Lord Jesus is coming again. We want to be ready. We are waiting.

And, that's the whole shoot and kabang. As far as I can tell.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sanctification

The will of the Lord, for you.

As we cover the matter of "Being Filled with God's Spirit" in this month of August it is absolutely essential that we cover this subject. Sanctification. It is God's will for our lives. Scripture says so.

1 Thessalonians 4:3

New American Standard Bible (NASB)
For this is the will of God, your sanctification...

Sometimes our context in the sermon is a passage of scripture, even an entire chapter, or an entire book. Sometimes the context is the subject matter. Our subject matter today is one that can be found throughout the concourse of scripture. From the beginning to the very end we see God working in the matter of sanctification. If you've been paying attention through the last two messages, you should have picked up that when God fills us with the Holy Spirit other things get driven out. Last week we referenced the word fear. Paul would say in the book of Romans in Chap 8 that we have not been given a spirit of fear to fall again into slavery to sin, but we now have a spirit of adoption so that we can cry "Abba, Father".

Sanctification. What does it mean? What's it about?

I was shocked several years ago when in our home church (New Zion UMC outside Baltimore, OH) as I covered an adult Sunday School class for one of the ladies who was out that Sunday that no one in this adult class had heard of this word and this subject. I do recall one person said they had heard it before, but didn't know what it was. It's a bit unsettling to find out how many people called "Methodist" have no idea about this word, especially when our the founder of said "Methodism" when the man to bring it to the forefront. Now, coming out of a holiness church with the Nazarenes, this was my bread and butter. I've been around this subject for years. It's biblical. It's scriptural. It's God's will for our lives. In the service this morning we have heard different scriptures used in our liturgy pertaining to the subject. We should also take a look at the definition of the word.

Full Definition of SANCTIFY

 transitive verb
1:  to set apart to a sacred purpose or to religious use :  consecrate
2:  to free from sin :  purify
3 a :  to impart or impute sacredness, inviolability, or respect to
   b :  to give moral or social sanction to
4:  to make productive of holiness or piety <observe the day of the sabbath, to sanctify it — Deuteronomy 5:12(Douay Version)>

Two things we will say about this matter of sanctification based upon the definition:
God wants to consecrate us, or set us apart from certain things. 
God wants to purify, or make us holy, freeing us from sin.
Take this scripture from 1 Peter in as we consider more about what sanctification means.

1 Peter 1:2

New International Version (NIV)
who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Let me say a little something about why so many Methodist have no idea or understanding of this subject by giving you a little background on the history of our extended family over in the Nazarene camp. In the late 1800's a Methodist Episcopal preacher by the name of Phineas Bresee leaves the denomination and heads out to Los Angeles, CA to start a new church. He and many Methodists of the day feel as if the church has lost it's focus on the personal work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer. The Methodist church has long been entrenched in the ideas of social justice and matters pertaining to the social issues of the day. This word sanctification has been lost in the lexicon on the Methodist and a band of people has trekked out to start something new where the word can be revived again. It is here that the "Church of the Nazarene" gets it's beginning. And, so there is a new branch in the Wesleyan historical tree. I could say a lot more here about the differences between the two denominations, but the matter at hand dictates that we stay focused on this subject.

What is sanctification?

 From our earliest recorded biblical history we see God setting things apart for himself. God creates all of this world. God's world. God creates everything in it. God's creation. It belongs to God. God creates human beings in the likeness. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Three in one. Body, soul & spirit. Man's likeness to their creator is in all ways similar. God is a person, just as we are. All that we are and have belongs to God. God created it. It is God's.

Then the unthinkable happens. In a moment, in a sneaky, camouflaged instant the devil swoops in and guides the creation off course. The creation begins to think that it can be "just like God", in every way. Not just a mere "image" of God, but God in all actuality. God made his rules plain and clear. Mankind is twisted and turned to follow different path. The nasty word known as sin enters the fray. There is now distance between mankind and God. The relationship is not as it once was. Something has created a gulf between the two parties and now the fellowship between God and man is broken.

Something needs to happen to fix this situation. It can be eluded to that the idea of sacrifice and blood was laid out here as the humans are told to leave the garden. God slays a young animal and the skin for that animal is used to cover their bodies. Our adult audience understands why. God is now in need of saving his creation. From what? From sin. Sin has corrupted and changed the creation. Instead of being focused on what God will's is for their lives the idea has filled their heads that it's ok to consider what I need for myself. Instead of allowing God to cover our needs, we now have a changed center in our hearts that focuses on us meeting our own needs. And, a child really doesn't know how to meet their own needs. Any parent present has gone through the painstaking ordeal of raising a child and trying to help the child understand that all they need to do is come to you and ask for help is they need it. Do not take this moment lightly. This is a lesson to all of us that God is trying to teach us something. For once in life, before we raised our own children, we were the children. And, we did the same thing to our own parents. A fixed reminder of our relationship concerning God is given to us in our earthly relationship with those entrusted to us to raise.

Salvation is the overall goal. Sanctification is a part of that salvation. God wants to set us apart for his own purposes. The way God does that is by setting us free from the things holding us back from service unto God. Namely, sin. Sin has a way of changing our hearts and mind to state of inward focus. We become the center of the universe. Our needs are what matter the most. Getting what we want tops the list. Thinking about ourselves becomes what is most important. We do all this because we are fearful. We fear our needs won't be met, so we take matters into our own hands. We fear other people either don't care or won't care, so we don't ask for help, from God or other people. We fear judgment, so we either say God doesn't exist or we make up silly pieces of doctrine to try and avoid the subject all together. Selfishly, we want some way that we can do whatever we want to do and still enjoy the blessings of God's wonderful world. Yes, sin has a twisted way of making us think that me, myself and I are what matters the most. This is what God seeks to set us apart from. This is what God wants to set us free from.

How does it happen? Where would we begin explaining such a perplexing idea?
I've been told to start at the beginning. Lets start with the expanse of our lives.





Our lives have a beginning and an ending. Birth and Death. We are finite beings. Our lives on this earth only last so long and then they are over. Lets the words of Solomon ring in your ears.

Ecclesiastes 12:7

New International Version (NIV)
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
    and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

During our lives on this earth, we seem to struggle with the idea of what we are here for. The prophet Jeremiah is one small example. As a young boy he is challenged with the notion that God wants to use him for some purpose. Maybe as a voice or a speaker for God Almighty. "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born I consecrated you." The bible versions here vary on the specific word used, but they are agree and mean the same. Consecrated. Set you apart. Sanctified.


In order to jump into this subject a bit deeper, lets expand our area in which to work.
 What if we turned this line on it's side and saw more of a graph before us?

The expanse of our lives is filled with any number of things between birth and death.
What are some things that make up your life on this earth? Start by filling in the blank squares on this graph with things that make up YOU. Family. Job. Spouse. Just to get started with a few. Money. Car. You boss. We see the graph beginning to fill up. How about "driving"? If you have to do that everyday then it's a part of your life. "Neighbors" could be another one. I hope you're as blessed as I am to have good ones. "Church" should be in a square here. The name of the town you live in might be an important square to fill in. What do you do for recreation? "Fishing" would have to be in my graph. Do you have family or friends you provide or care for? "Care-giving" might need to be up there somewhere on the graph.

Keep going to see how many squares you can fill in. All of this is a part of you. If your struggling to find things, maybe opening the UMC website @ umc.org and take a look at the "Social Principles" our denomination talks about. Do any of these make up a part of your life. We have made statements about "Abortion" or "Divorce". Even "Alcoholism" and "Human Rights" might be something important to your life. "Cancer" might have invaded a square in your life. "Animal Life" might be very important to you. Your pets are a part of your family, but going beyond that is the care of animal life and human cruelty. This graph could go on and on. There are any number of issues and events and problems and joys that make up YOU.

Now we come to a very important moment on the graph.
Where is Jesus in this world that makes up US?
Well if you've been paying attention through this year of discipleship, you'll remember that we started the year off by asking him into our hearts. There needs to be a moment when we invite him to come into our lives, into our hearts.

Revelation 3:20

New International Version (NIV)
20 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 that person, and they with me.

Our lives don't begin with Jesus automatically in the graph. We need to invite him into the fray. Jesus wants to enter, but we need to invite him in. Until we do, he remains on the outside. Once we open the door and invite him in we can think of it as Jesus filling in one of those squares. He in here now.
Well, now that Jesus is in here, is he satisfied with simply being THERE in that one square? Any person who is taking this Christian life seriously has to know the answer here. NO, he is not content with simply being in your life. He wants to be all over our lives. What would happen if we let Jesus into our family life? Would it change it? How about our job? What would happen if I thought if my job as something being done for the Lord? What about church? "Come on. Isn't that a given?", you might say. And, I would look at you over the rim of my glasses because you know what church life can be like. Sometimes the people in here are the ones most in need of being reminded that Jesus needs to be the center of it all. What kinds of personal issues are we struggling with? What if we let Jesus into the areas? Now we are in need of revisiting the subject and title for today to re-evaluate what it is where are here to do.

God wants to sanctify us. There's a two fold meaning there we need to grasp.
He wants to consecrate us or set us apart. He wants to purify us or make us holy.
Think about these things that make up YOU. Is there anything the Lord wants to set you apart from? Is there any part of your life that needs purifying or cleansing? Something sinful that should not be the way it is? And, if God wants to do this in my life, how does it happen? How do we get there? How do I get Jesus into all these areas in my life?

Next week we will be taking a walk down the "Romans Road". There is much I could delve into from the writing of the Apostle Paul here, but I'll save all the Romans scripture because it opens the door to much more material than I can cover here today. There is some scripture from Galatians that I will use here that fits in very well. The Apostle Paul spent much time dealing with those who would pervert and twist the Christian faith for their own purposes. His audience in Galatia was no different. There were teachers who would twist the teaching around to try and hang on to some form of Judaism where they could control the people and be in control of their own religion. Paul shows them a different way.  This way involved following the example of Jesus. Living as he lived. Turning one's life over to God and dying to our own personal desires.

Galatians 2:19-21

New International Version (NIV)
19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

All the law could to was point out our sinful nature to us. Paul would explain that to his audience early in the book of Romans. The law itself has no redemptive power. We wonder why all our laws in this country seem to do no good. They means nothing unless there is a power in place enforce them. Spiritually speaking, we need someone or something in these areas of our lives to make things work the way they should. We have Jesus into the ways of our life. Now we want him all over our lives. Maybe we follow the way of Paul here in Galatians. "I die daily." Paul has given up control of his life and has allowed something else to run the show. Namely, the power of Christ. It is no stretch of the imagination to think that Paul would get up daily and turn all he had over to God. One a daily basis, this is how he lived his life. How would our lives looked if we did that? How would the graph look if Jesus were everywhere?
Well, this begins to give us some idea of what it might be like to have Jesus spreading his life to every area of our hearts. Is it a struggle to deal with your family? Turn that over to Jesus and let him lead the way into all of that. Is money and finances something you have trouble with? Die to yourself and turn the money issues over to Jesus. Allow him to be in control of your money. Is the future of well being of Thornville something that keeps you up at night? How about the future and well being of your church? Let Jesus lead the way into all of that and see what happens to your fears and worries. Jesus wants to be all over this graph that makes up YOU.

Lets think about it in terms of a math equation.
AS + ES -------> GF

Our "Absolute Surrender", i.e. we die daily + "Entire Sanctification" leads to our "Glorification".
We need to surrender. Throw up our white flag and say, "I've had enough". I'm tired of being afraid. I'm tired of failing. I'm tired of feeling guilty all the time. I need help. Can you help me Jesus? Can you take all this from me? And, he would be happy to. Take a look at this.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

New International Version (NIV)
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

One big important thing to not is that this does not happen over night.
We do not wipe out the graph of our lives in "one felled swoop". We take it one or a few things at a time. Not all at once. What are we saying when we claim "entire" sanctification. We are saying everything is taken care of, from "birth" till "death", it's all covered. If you can take care of all of that in one felled swoop, well, you're a better person than me. Can God do that? Can he swoop through and take care of all of this, all at once? He could. But, we need to consider the finite beings in which he is working with and how much they can handle all at once. We have a hard enough time handle one or a few things let alone all of this. Paul would urge his Philippian audience on this charge.

Philippians 2:12

New International Version (NIV)

Do Everything Without Grumbling

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,

Notice the section title for this part of Philippians. Maybe "grumbling" should be a square in our graph. If it is, I am surely correct in thinking it might take some time to work all the kinks out of that area before we are living as Jesus wants us to live. Someday we are going to stand in front of Jesus, in front of God Almighty, and we're going answer for how we lived our loves on this earth. The Hebrews makes it clear to us. "It appointed unto men once to die, then the judgment." We one go around on this earth. We get one chance to work all this out. No reincarnation. No coming back again. We will leave this earth and stand in the presence of of the God who gave us life and breath. And, what will say? How will we answer if we failed to turn these areas in our life over to him? God's will for our lives is our sanctification. He wants to cleanse and purify us. He wants to set us apart so he can use us for His purposes. What if we won't allow him to do that? How are we going to explain that to him when we get there? I give a very stern piece of scripture to ponder.

Hebrews 6

New International Version (NIV)
Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death,[a] and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites,[b] the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen[c] away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.
Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. 10 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. 11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

 God loves us. In God's love for us, the Lord has made provision to not just "cover" our sins, but to blot them out. To take of this sin nature within us. That's how much he loves us. Do you believe that God loves you? In order for any of this talk of "sanctification" to work out in our lives it has to begin just like our salvation began. In the beginning, we believed that we needed forgiveness. That we needed to invite Jesus into our hearts and lives. It is no different here. Do you believe that there are areas and issues in your life that God needs to help you with? Maybe he needs to separate you from some things. In doing so he declares that YOU belong to him and that thing or issue or even some person should not be a part of your life any longer. Sometimes he sanctifies YOU. Sometimes he sanctifies the issue or area and uses that thing for his purposes. You job. Your child. Your ability. You give it up to the Lord and say, "I don't call the shots any more Lord. You do whatever you want to do with this."

 It's an on going process. It doesn't happen over night. That's a lot of ground to cover all at once.
One last picture here should help make it clear what the Lord wants to do in our lives.













The whole process is thought of as salvation. God is saving from something. Namely, sin. It takes time to do that. Part of our salvation is our sanctification. It takes time to clean a dirty pot. Many of our helpers on a Saturday Community Dinner can tell you that. You don't dunk a big roaster pan down into the water and lift it out and, "Viola", it is clean. This new life in Christ begins with our believing. If we believe we are sinners and we believe we need forgiveness, then we come to Christ and we invite him in. We find new life. We find mercy and hope. Sanctification begins the same way. Do you believe that you need to be purified? Do you believe that there are things we need to be set apart from? It begins with believing. Do you believe that God can do this in your life? Sanctify you? 

Would you like a moment to talk things over with the Lord?
Start at the beginning. See where it leads.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Creme Filled Doughnuts

There's just nothing better!

On the heals of last week's message and the inspiration of one Chris Rosati of Durham, NC this week's message is all about the blessing of being filled with God's Spirit.

Now, I have no idea if Chris Rosati is a Christian or not, but you can't miss the inspiration behind his story. Even if he doesn't know Jesus, he knows something about being filled with something other than himself. In that 'food way' of doing things in my blog, I want to compare the blessings of being filled with God's Spirit to the creme filled goodness of a special blessings called a doughnut.

My favorite doughnuts come from a special little place in Lancaster, OH called "Donut World".
This little building at the corner of Broad & Sixth streets is open 24 hours and always has a great selection of doughnuts on hand. My favorite is a their "bigger than my coffee cup" chocolate creme stick or as other might call them, "long-johns". Some folks like custard filling in their doughnuts. Those are OK. Just give me a creme filled stick of goodness.

Every year, sometimes twice a year, my wife gets the detail of covering breakfast for the teachers at the elementary school. SO, a couple times a year, I get the opportunity to drive down to Donut World and get about 4 dozen doughnuts. All kinds of goodness are in the boxes on the drive home and the blessing fills the Jeep with it's aroma. Peanut covered doughnuts. Powdered white, custard filled ones. Chocolate doughnuts and "Bear-claws". And, of course, "long-johns". There are vanilla, and butterscotch, and chocolate covered creme sticks. Jelly filled doughnuts are my second favorites. They should make a jelly filled long-john!!

Bringing a blessing to someone. Kind of follows the idea that lies within our scripture for this Sunday morning. I'll remind you that we are focusing upon "Being Filled with God's Spirit" during this month of August. Our scripture from Acts is on just such a moment. Saul (who would become Paul the Apostle) has just been struck with a major blow. He's blind. Can't see a thing. A vision of the Lord Jesus on the Damascus road has left him without his vision. Imagine how scary that would be. Our vision is something we take for granted. What if it was taken away? How would we react? How would we cope? Who would be there to care for us?

A certain word should pop into the head here. Fear.
I'd be afraid if my eyesight was taken away. How am I going to preach every again? How am I going to take care of my family? How will my family make it without me being able to work? The whole scenario presents a real problem not for our physical well-being, but to our spiritual and mental well-being also. In the midst of the story of what happens to Saul comes this line in verse 17 of Chap 9 that kicks all the fear in the pants and drive all the doubt away.

Acts 9:17

New International Version (NIV)
17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Here we go. Being filled with the Spirit. What exactly does that mean?
This implies that Saul, and by extention, we, were not and are filled with the Spirit.
It is something that needs to happen. And, with nearly everybody involved in the Acts, with a couple of minor exceptions, they find Jesus first and then at a later moment are filled with the Spirit. It is something separate and special the Lord wants to do in the life of a believer. We read several scriptures out of the Gospel of John last week where Jesus was preparing his disciples for what was to come. He told them that the Spirit was coming. The Father wanted to give the Spirit to them. Jesus wanted them to be reminded of all he had taught them. The Spirit would do that. The Spirit would testify about the Father and Jesus and the Kingdom and all Jesus taught. The disciples were told they too would testify. Then Pentecost came. The Holy Spirit was poured out and everything changed. These twelve men, gripped with fear, who couldn't hold it together to stay with Jesus through his death find themselves looking over a courtyard with three thousand some people as they preach a message of what Jesus done for all in his death and resurrection.


Is it a fearful thing to have to speak to other people? Do you enjoy getting up in front of others and having to share? Most people would say no. Hey, I still get the butterflies on Sunday morning. It has gotten a lot easier over the years. I'm much more comfortable than when I started 17 years ago. But, this is a big deal. I'm speaking for the Lord here. It's my job to open this bible and help everybody make sense of it. I'm supposed to give you something to hang on to as you go through your week. That is nothing to shrug off or take lightly. So, yes, I still some butterflies. I wonder what was going through the mind of Ananias as he approaches this house in Damascus. It's Saul. We get so wrapped up in Paul that we can tend to forget about Saul. This is the guy who has been going around killing Christians for a living. That's what he was most likely on his way to do in Damascus before he is blinded by this light. Now, the word on the street is, he can't see. Word come to Ananias. Somebody should probably go over and check this out, make sure it true. Nothing other than boldness describes the words of Ananias in this scripture. He doesn't seem to come afraid. He comes with blessings.

How does this compare to the filling of a creme filled doughnut?
Maybe it doesn't. But, most doughnuts are filled with something. Jelly. Custard. Creme.
Those are the best doughnuts in my mind. That's just my opinion. Maybe you like a simple maple glaze or even a plain doughnut with your coffee. Most will agree, life is sweeter with a doughnut in hand. In a roundabout way, I think this was the point Jesus wanted to get across to his disciples back in Luke 11. Asking can be a tense, fearful moment. Having to knock can create a pit in the stomach because you have no idea what your neighbor might be in the middle of in that moment. Seeking can be a worrisome task that leaves the seeker with more doubt than hope. But, Jesus wants his followers to know that they might feel like the person knocking on the door, but actually they are the children tucked away in bed with their Father. The point is that God will meet our needs. And, we are in need of something we might not know we need.

Seek it. Ask for it. Knock.

Last week we took a look at the story of one Chris Rosati.
This fellow, in the closing moments of his life, looks to be a blessing to others.
He planned to steal a doughnut truck and give all the doughnuts away.
He just wanted to do something to impact peoples lives before he ran out of time to do it.
I have no idea of Chris' spiritual outlook, if he's a Christian or not.
Whatever he has, I want some of it. I don't want to be afraid anymore.

Check out the follow up to Chris Rosati's story here.