Sunday, September 28, 2014

Just a Little Faith

It might take more than a little bit.

It is Friday night. Just a couple of clicks before midnight.
I'm just now starting to form some thoughts to the blog page for this sermon.
Maybe it's because I'm still stewing on what exactly to write about this subject.
I have allowed this subject to simmer on the back burner of my mind all week.
In the same light as that first question I asked my now wife of 12 years waaaaay back when we first met in 1999, "SO, what do you think about Jesus?" She stopped eating her turkey and cheese sandwich as we sat over looking the pond at Muskingum College and responded, "That's a pretty deep subject." Yes, it is. Faith is also a pretty deep subject. Sometimes it requires a lot of stewing and simmering to get it where it needs to be.

The 11th chapter of Hebrews jumps head long into the subject of faith.
It covers nearly everyone you could think of in biblical OT history that was touched by the subject of faith. All the big players are there. Noah. Abraham. Moses. And, many smaller players in the biblical account. The pool is big and the subject is deep and vast. However, the spring board is verse 1 and it gives us reason to stop and think before simply jumping in.

Hebrews 11:1

New International Version (NIV)

Faith in Action

11 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

What do you hope for? In our graph, that represents our lives, how many squares could be filled with things we hope for? Thinking about that allows me to open the door to this important note. Sometimes this sanctification thing isn't about just covering one square or one thing or one subject at a time. Sometimes there are many things tied together or held together by one area. And, if that one are goes kaput it could affect many different areas. Faith is just such an area. We need faith and we need it everywhere.

I have shared this subject of sanctification with many folks over the years since that summer school of 1999 when Dr Stephen Green opened the door to this wily subject. I was part of a cluster group that met in Lithopolis with a mixture of male and female clergy. One of those female clergy was quick to point out to me that this graph is very male in nature. It looks like an eggo waffle, doesn't it? She was at a conference where the speaker was covering the subject in much the same fashion as I was explaining sanctification. The speaker shared that the eggo-likeness explained how men tend to handle things. One square at a time. One subject or area at a time. Women are different. Women might have a dozen things on their mind all at once. He took a wad of cooked spaghetti and put it on his waffle. His point was to show how intertwined it all was. Many of the subjects and issues in our lives can be like this - intertwined. Maybe women need to slow down and handle things one square at a time. Maybe men need to kick it in gear and handle more than one thing at a time. It's a very stereotypical suggestion, I know. Men and women are complex creatures. That's why faith is needed all the more. Lets take a look at some of the men and women suggested by the writer of Hebrews to be people we should consider as people of "faith".

If Merriam-Webster calls faith a "strong belief in something for which there is no proof", then who on this list is living that way? Many men are mentioned. Some of them we could undoubtedly place in the category of "righteous & holy". Abel seemed to live without any reason to blame him. He did what was right and offered what he needed to give to the Lord. This guy named Enoch just lived on faith and actually walked up into heaven. How much faith does that take? After the first two are mentioned a list begins that leaves you wondering. Some of their stories we know more about. We know a bit about their personal integrity. We know their short comings. We know where they have failed in the course of their story and lives. Yet, there is an unshakeable notion about what they clung to and believed in. 

He might have gotten drunk at one point, but Noah hung on to the vision of building an ark and saving his family and all the animals. Abraham might have put the family promise in jeopardy, not once, but twice. Yet, he did what God asked of him and hung on to the belief that God would make his descendants "as many as the stars in the sky". His grandchildren Jacob & Esau, come along and argue and fight over the promise of who will carry it on. Maybe they don't truly understand what God wants to do here. Maybe it's that earthly desire to be "daddy's little boy" and be first in line for his blessings. Later, they seem to understand what God wants for their lives. Even their mother, Sarah, laughs at the idea that God would bless her with a son. Isaac would come just as God promised. 

Moses is an odd story. Born a Hebrew. Given away and raised as an Egyptian. Kills a man to protect his own. His own don't particularly act like they want him, so he flees. After 40 years, comes back and is the rescuer of his own people. Burning bush moments don't happen everyday. What a moment seared into the heart and a mind of a person. He hangs on to that faith all the way to the edge of the promise land. God took a man who thought he had nothing and used him for something. 

There's only two women mentioned in this passage. We touched on Sarah. To be a women in advanced years and told she was going to have a child. Can you imagine? Sure, it's everything she ever wanted, but who could blame her for laughing? The mere thought would sound ridiculous. Who knows their body better than a woman? She knows she is well along in years. She knows the time for that kind of blessing is well past her. Yet, God is able to do this miracle. The spiritual outranks the physical. God is able to do abundantly more than we could ever ask or think.

How about Rahab? It's funny that a foreigner would get mentioned. But, then again, she gave all she had for those Israelites. In turn, she becomes one of them. She believes that the promise they are seeking is better than what she had in Jericho. She becomes a sojourner with them. They are seeking a promised land. They are looking for the promise that God has set before them. Rahab leaves all that she knows and has lived behind her and take on their belief. There is better ahead, down the road. Does she have family? Children? We don't know. Maybe she has nothing in her current predicament. People who feel as if they have nothing can lay it aside and move along. The promise of the blessing is better than hanging on with nothing to hold. 

Then I stumbled on to v39 in this chapter...
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised,

 What? None of them received what had been promised?
I'm a bit taken back. What do you mean they didn't get what they were promised? Going back over the stories I wondered about their outcomes. Abel was killed. He had been promised a great blessing, but Cain kind of messed that up. Enoch might be the only one who got the real blessing, walking right up into heaven. Noah got the human race a brand new fresh start, but the problem of sin still permeated the human nature. Abraham was promised his descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore. But, he never got to actually see it. Moses was chosen to lead his people to the promised land, but never got to actually go in there himself.

I have to stop and think for a moment. What was actually promised to them?
Read vv 39 & 40 together.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Have you ever been promised something and didn't get it?
If we revert in to our childlike selves and think back I'm sure things will come to mind.
A trip to the park. An overnight at grandma's house. A dollar someone owed us.
Did mom or dad ever say they were going to do something and then didn't follow through?
Was our heart ever broken at the promise not fulfilled? Many things come our way. Many things in life don't work out the way they should. Maybe we sit and have a pity party for ourselves. Or, maybe we realize there is something better to wait upon than the blessing we were promised.

God has planned something better for us. Do you want to know what's ahead?
Is there something you can put your faith in to and wait upon? That's what we do as human beings. We are full of faith. We put our faith in things everyday. We believe our car will start. If it doesn't, we believe there will someone who can fix it. If that doesn't work out, we believe we will find another. If that doesn't work out, someone, somewhere, will help us make it to work. If we end up loosing our job because we cannot make it, because out car broke down, there will be another job, closer to home, maybe. We believe in the best working out for us. We believe that God loves us and is working for our best in the everyday of our lives. We not see every promise fulfilled. Nevertheless, we press on. And, we believe for what we cannot see.

Maybe it takes more than just a little bit of faith.
How ever much it takes, may God bless us with enough to hang on.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

What Do You Believe About The Bible?

God would like to have a word with you.

Sanctification is a complex subject that covers many areas of our lives.
There are lots and lots of issues, people, topics and what not that we need to seriously take the time to consider whether Jesus has control of us in that square or whether we are the ones calling the shots.

Today's topic might seem like a no-brainer. The Bible. It's is our authority in the church. On the heels of last week's message about authority it seems logical to go toward this topic next. The Bible is a much maligned, yet absolutely necessary piece of the church history that still speaks to us today. It is a historical document that shows up the ups and downs, the rights and wrongs, the inner workings of a people seeking and trying and mostly failing to live up to the standards set before them by this Almighty God.

Our scripture today comes from a familiar place.  Paul is speaking to his student and "son" in the faith, Timothy. Through much of his writing Paul is simply reminding Timothy of all the he has taught the young man to believe and try and keep his spirits up as this new preacher of the message takes the work into the mission field. As we enter the 2nd chapter, we see Paul reminding Timothy what he has taught him about doctrine and scripture. This is drawing near the end of Paul's 2nd letter to Timothy.

2 Timothy 3:10-17

New International Version (NIV)

A Final Charge to Timothy

10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

I'd like to share some differing views on what scripture is, how it came to be our authority in the church, and what it has in store for us today. Some of it may very well speak to you. It may bust up your cemented thoughts on the subject. It may further reinforce where you already stand. Most of all, by the time we have finished talking about this rather important subject, I hope that you can write Jesus over the square in your graph. Jesus is at the heart and center of this very book. 

God-breathed or inspired?
When I got to Thornville in 2012, in the course of those first few months I shared a message on Inspiration. The differing views here stem from feelings about whether or not God, in robotic fashion, commanded these Hebrew people to write exactly these words - or - whether it was a matter of the people feeling inspired by what they had seem and witnessed and been taught to believe that caused them to write such words. Verse 16 is quoted differently based upon the translators' feelings on the subject.  The NIV would say "
All Scripture is God-breathed", while the NRSV would state that "All scripture is inspired by God". There's actually only two versions, the NIV and the English Standard Version that go the route of saying that scripture is indeed "God-breathed". The NIV, being so widely read, has been quoted definitively as a solid viewpoint. 

The idea of scripture being "inspired by God" leaves the door open to humankind's involvement in the scripture writing process. People wrote what they wrote because they were so moved by God's workings and dealings with humankind they felt the need to record it for future use. Was God behind all of that? Absolutely. Did God inspire them to do so? That's what God does. God inspires. Look at the word.

Full Definition of INSPIRE

transitive verb
1 a :  to influence, move, or guide by divine or supernatural inspiration
   b :  to exert an animating, enlivening, or exalting influence on <was particularly inspired by the Romanticists>
   c :  to spur on :  impel, motivate <threats don't necessarily inspire people to work>
   d :  affect <seeing the old room again inspired him with nostalgia>
2 a archaic :  to breathe or blow into or upon
   b archaic :  to infuse (as life) by breathing
3 a :  to communicate to an agent supernaturally
   b :  to draw forth or bring out <thoughts inspired by a visit to the cathedral>
4:  inhale 1
5 a :  bring about, occasion <the book was inspired by his travels in the Far East>
   b :  incite
6:  to spread (rumor) by indirect means or through the agency of another
intransitive verb
:  inhale

Can you see God in that? Do you see God at work in your own life in these ways? Animating? Exhalting? Enliving? God influences. God moves us. God guides us along. It's not that God told these people to write these exact words down for us to read. It's a matter of inspiration. God moved in their hearts in such a way that they would want to record their history and share it with everyone. These Hebrews have been spurred on their whole lives. Imagine growing up in an environment where the impossible is made possible. Where seas were parted and blind men regained their sight. Would you feel the need to share that with everyone? When we see something incredible and wonderful or sad and depressing, we feel the need to tell someone else what we saw and experienced. We are moved that other people must know our story and share our feelings, sad or happy. That's how human beings are. Interjecting some divine movement into the process and you have inspiration. God, taking the human expression and elevating it, for the purpose of telling the world this story - God loves you.

The Bible becomes the authority in the church.
The Bible is a canon, that is, a list of books regarded as inspired by God and authoritative for faith and life. This is not a list that came to be over night or in one meeting between respected leaders from church history. Many letters and books were written. As time went on, many people were finding teachers from different parts of the country or world quoting and teaching from letters that had been widely circulated and found to be credible. About 200 BC we see the Hebrews bringing together their writings and thinking about what is authoritative to their faith. The prophets. The wisdom and historical literature. The first five books of the bible, referred to as the "Torah" - that is "The Law" were most likely restored and brought back to the public forefront during the rebuilding of the walls by Ezra & Nehemiah.

The New Testament takes a bit more definitive framework. The OT really has no clear beginning and ending dates as to in canonization. The NT is formed in much the same way but we can see the time-frame and thoughts of church leaders from their time period a bit clearer. In the first two centuries following the Ascension of Christ, we see many, many letters being written and sent about. As time goes on, church leaders and teachers and leaders begin to quote and use letters that seem to retain what is seen as "inspiration" and prophetic words about the message of Christ. Those letters that do not hold that inspiration are discarded. By the year 367 AD, the church father Athanasius is seen referring to the 66 books we have in front us as authoritative, Old Testament and New.
The Old Testament is made up of 39 books and form the bible of Judaism. Those who do not believe that the Messiah has come yet will stick to those Old Testament books. Those who do believe that the Messiah has come will include into their faith the 27 books of the New Testament. Those Jews who believe that the Messiah has come are referred to as "messianic". The prophetic nature of scripture is clear and relevant to the believer. God is speaking and the believer is listening. Do you know what it is to be in a state expectation about something? The reader of scripture who is looking to the Almighty for inspiration knows that God wants to speak. These 66 books seem to have that air inspiration about them. In the Old Testament we see God working with specific people and an entire nation. The work consists of God wanting to speak and share. Sometimes the listen intently. Sometimes their listening ears are not in place and they wind up in trouble. Which brings us to this final section...

Reading the Bible for all it's worth
I'm going to throw a couple of words out there. You might be familiar with the one. The other one will sound like German or something foreign to you. Do you read the Bible devotionally or exegetically? I can see the bend in your eyebrow. Most of us read the bible on a devotional basis. We have a schedule we follow. Maybe you have a daily guide you have found on the internet or in the back of the bible itself. Are you a morning reader or an evening reader? It usually the same time of day, every day. There is a habit and a ritual to be kept. You make sure the book is read every day. It's a good habit to have and a great way to start or end you day.

What does it mean to read in an exegetical manner? Exegesis is something that maybe you have done and you never realized that's what you were doing. What a pastor puts together a message, when a teacher prepares a lesson, when a bible study group sits down to talk through some scripture there is lots of exegesis going on. This is the process by where we break down the scripture to see what is going on. We want to know what the scripture has to say to us. We want to understand the language and the intentions of the writer. What is it they are trying to say? What thoughts or meanings are they trying to convey? Is there something not spoken about or is there something the scripture is eluding too? The process of exegesis is sometimes easy and sometimes takes us deeper into a more meaningful access of the mind of God. And, there's the big point. It's about God. It's not about us.

Too often when we read devotionally we end up reading because it's habit. We read because we feel some obligation to read. We are Christians. We are supposed to read the Bible. When we read it in this manner we end up making it all about us. And, the Bible is not about us. It's about God. Humankind may have had some part or piece in creating the book, but the inspiration came from God. The central character in the Almighty. In the process of breaking down the scriptures we should see who this drama and historical theater is all about. It's about God. In the beginning there was God, creating the entire cosmos. In the beginning was the Word. God spoke creation into existence. The Word was God. God watched as his creation fell into sin. God so loved the world that the only Begotten of the Father would come and gives his life so that all of creation could be redeemed.

When you read the scriptures do you hear God speaking to you? Do you read the scriptures in order to understand what God wants for your life? Do you read the Bible to get to know and comprehend who God is and what God is all about? God wants to know you. God wants to speak with you. God would like to have your ear. Can you give the Lord a moment of your time? Is this all some ritual that simply needs to get done and checked off your list for the week? Or, is there something deeper going on that requires us to actually feel and listen?

Jesus is the Word. The Word still speaks to us today. There is inspiration to gather for our lives.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Moment on Authority

You got a problem with it?

I have no problem opening a can of worms.
Sometimes it is the only way to work something out. Open it up. Pour it out. Watch it wiggle, see it jiggle. We will find that some subjects within the graph of our lives will be messy. And, as Paul suggests to his Philippian audience, " out your salvation..." Here comes a messy subject that will force us to work it out in the everyday of our lives.

Authority is something that many of us struggle with as we live our lives on this earth.
The word brings to mind people or a company or a boss that we really wish we did not have to listen to. The struggle with authority stems from the notion that we know more than the person who is actually the penman on the subject. Hey, we've all be there for the moments when someone who is given authority has abused their power. The title given to a person can go to their head and the word they need to do becomes more about the title in front of their name than the actual work that needs to get done. The abuse of such power can cause us to not think much of a certain position or person.

What we will aim to understand in this message is the nature of true authority.
And, I think the answers will be a relief and a game changer for many.

Lets look at some scripture and then a definition to grasp the context we are covering.
A couple weeks ago we took a run through the book of Romans. We covered the first twelve chapters. The 13th chapter is where today's scripture comes from. It is part of Paul's closing remarks to those whom he has given instructions about living this Christian life. If we are truly living this life the way we are supposed to then we give our lives over to not just God (remember Paul calling for them to be a "living sacrifice" in Chap 12) but to also follow the authority of those governing over them.

Romans 13:1-7

New International Version (NIV)

Submission to Governing Authorities

13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

What truly is authority?  Does the subject entail someone to tell everyone else what to do? Is it really that complex? There is a base word that can be seen in the make-up of the word. Author. Does that have anything to do with understanding what the word means? Lets take a closer look.

Full Definition of AUTHOR

1 a :  one that originates or creates :  source <software authors> <film authors> <the author of this crime>
  b capitalized :  god 1
2:  the writer of a literary work (as a book)

Seems pretty simple. If you are the one who "wrote the book" on a subject, as the phrase interjects, then you become the authority on that subject. Nobody knows more about said subject than you. Many of us have heard the old phrase, "Jack of all Trades, Master of None". There are plenty of folks who have the ability to do a plethora of things, but don't want to be considered the authority on anything. What is it about authority that makes our skin crawl? Look at this...

Full Definition of AUTHORITY

1  a (1) :  a citation (as from a book or file) used in defense or support (2) :  the source from which the citation is drawn
   b (1) :  a conclusive statement or set of statements (as an official decision of a court) (2) :  a decision taken as a precedent (3) :  testimony
   c :  an individual cited or appealed to as an expert
2 a :  power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior
   b :  freedom granted by one in authority :  right
3 a :  persons in command; specifically :  government
   b :  a governmental agency or corporation to administer a revenue-producing public enterprise <the transit authority>
4 a :  grounds, warrant <had excellent authority for believing the claim>
   b :  convincing force <lent authority to the performance>
 Hmmm. Well, the author idea holds up to the first line of the definition. And, line c shows us that sometimes the authority is an actual person. It should be noted that authority does not always come from a person. Cited material might have been written by a person, however the material can then speak for itself and be held up as an authority. What about our bible? We shall delve into that area next week. The bible holds up as an authority to govern our lives. God has given inspiration to these scriptures. Long ago, chambers full of believers decreed that this book has what we need to hear. For centuries this book has had the power to guide us and direct us along the pathways of life. There is an unshakeable certainty as to the life giving ability the words in this book has for us. Read it for awhile and see if God speaks to you and shows you what you need to hear.

Line 2 of our definition speaks heavily to the subject matter we discussed in Romans a couple weeks ago. Sin was the authority for our lives. Sin wrote a nice book on how our lives should be lived. It even got together with death and put together a nice eulogy for us. Christ came along and broke the authority that sin had over us. Sin is dead. Christ is alive. We need to believe what Christ has done for us and let that belief be the authority that governs our lives. Recall Paul's words in Romans 8...

"For you have not been given a spirit of fear, that you should fall back into slavery, but you have been given a spirit of sonship, by where we cry, "Abba, Father".
Do you recall what Paul said about the Law? The actual law, as God gave it. The law of sin. The law of death. Then there was the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus. Many different authorities are mentioned through these passages. The law knows all. Law is written so that it can be a know-it-all source. Our govern authorities, such as the police, are called "the authorities" not because they have the power to make us do anything, but because they are the ones who know without a shadow of doubt, what we are supposed to be doing. If they have to make an arrest because someone has broken the law, then that's what they have to do. When we have gone against the authority over us, in the spiritual manner that we speak of, then our God allows us to be punished, with a purpose in mind.

Revelation 3:19

New International Version (NIV)
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
 Hear this verse also...

Hebrews 12:11

New International Version (NIV)
11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

This opens the door to another subject for another Sunday. God is the Authority. The Almighty is the Author and Creator of all. In doing so, God becomes our "father". God gave us life and breath. In the infamous words of Bill Cosby, as Heathcliff Huxtable speaking to his son, Theo, "I brought you in this world, I'll take you out." The Author of our lives has a plan for our lives, also. To be conformed to the image of His Son. What does image mean? We talked about that last week. Being made into the image of God means taking on the likeness. The same characteristics we saw in Jesus, his love, his forgiveness, his mercy, we are to be made into this image. God has the authority to call for this because this is how the Lord wants our lives to be lived. This is what he "wrote the book" about.

Many of us have seen it happen and been in the line of fire when the matter of authority is misused or abused. From our human perspective, authority is something to be used, and even, inflicted on someone whom we want to follow our wishes to the t. Many times us human beings think we know everything about a subject. We think we know it all. We get too wrapped up in ourselves and what we want. We want people to listen to us, to follow us, to respect us, even fear us. But, if asked to write about the subject at hand, we might get out a few measly paragraphs. We don't know what we are talking about. We don't truly have a grip on the subject matter.We end up spouting off out of insecure prejudices and unfounded errors. Little do we realize we could use some time in the presence of an actual Authority. Someone who could lead us, guide us, instruct us. 

I've seen it happen in my field of work. Dude, I've even been the guy who needed a good smack upside the head. It was a couple years into my time with my last church that I realized, "It's not about me." It's not about the title in front of my time. It's not about the church following my every whim and command. I'm here to point the church towards God. I'm here to remind them of what God wants us to do. If I'm an authority on anything it's about who God is and what God wants for our lives. I've been in a steady stream of schooling since 1993. Do I have it all figured out? Good lord, no. Did I write the book on how to live the Christian life? Yikes. That's scary to even think about. The Apostle Paul made one plea to his Corinthians audience. "Follow me as I am following Christ." Paul sought to follow the Authority and encouraged those around him to follow as a way of keeping himself on track and accountable. 

When I first entered the ministry, when I approached my first church, I walked into Caledonia, OH into a small Nazarene church and proclaimed, "I'll be here 20 years."  Little did I know what would transpire in the years ahead. Even when I took that leap and made out of personal ad on the internet and met my future wife, I still had it in ind that she would move up my way and we would make a life for ourselves right there in Caledonia. That's not the way it went. When we hunker down and proclaim for ourselves how we want things to be, do we realize that we are making plans for ourselves as if we are the Authority who governs all and oversees all?

Jesus is the Authority. The Word. If there is a "know it all" it would be the One who made the world and caused it to be. The Word spoke causing us to have shape and being. God knows all about us. If anyone has the right to tell us anything then the authority belongs to someone greater than us. For some reason, though, we seem to have a problem with someone knowing more than we do. Was this the problem Jesus faced upon coming to earth? Jesus knows everything about everybody. Scriptures cites that he knew their hearts and minds as he spoke with people. The opening words in John's gospel say that "He came to that which was his own, yet his own did not receive him."  Why not? Was it an authority issue? If it was, then, the leaders in the day, if they were listen to Jesus, would have to admit that they themselves are not the authority. They did not know it all. The people, who had grown accustomed to allowing the religious lead the way, would have to buck the system and say that this man, Jesus, was the authority and not these scribes and Pharisees. Who is the authority within the realm of our lives?

You should recall as we began covering this subject of sanctification that this work of the Lord begins with us laying down the will of our lives. Merely saying that word, will, should bring to mind some idea of authorship. If you have not done so, writing out one's will is a very important step in our human lives. We want to state clearly where everything in our possession is to go should, if, and when we leave this this earth. It is as if we are the ones in control of all of this and we want to make sure everything goes to the proper people within the framework of our lives. Sanctification begins when we turn the will of our lives over to the Lord. We no longer are in control. We have knelt and given control of our lives over to the Lord. The Almighty is now the authority in our lives. One of the great lies that has been played out and is still perverted to this day is that man can be God. man thinks he/she can be the big dog in control of all that we see. Human kind was created to serve, not to rule. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., former associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, a man in charge of great power and responsibility, also known to many as "The Great Dissenter". He wrote extensively and with great authority, sharing opinions that carried great weight in connection with cases being covered in the Great Court. One quote attributed to Holmes, however, say much with few words. "The great act of faith is when a man decides he is not God." 

Jesus has all power and authority. Jesus is God. God in the flesh. 
Yet, Paul states in his letter to the Philippians that...

Philippians 2:5-7

New International Version (NIV)
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature[a] God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
If you have the privilege of being someone with power and responsibility over others in this world, do not think that you are better or more important than others. Follow the example of Jesus Christ. We are to be a "living sacrifice" as Paul would state to the Romans in Chap 12. We give of ourselves. This is how we give. We turn the will of our lives over to the One who knows all and is The Authority over all. The One who knows more than we do. 

Would you have a problem with that? Turning your will over to someone else.
If I opened the altar this morning and invited you to come down and present your lives to God, allowing Jesus Christ to be the Authority over your life, could you do that? Would you do that? Would you follow the example that Jesus set for us, in being a servant, in giving all that you have, so that the world around us might know the love and forgiveness that God wants to extend?

Would you come, today, and approach this altar? Would you lay all you have at the feet of the Almighty? Would you write out the will and give it to God and say "It's all yours. Take it and do what you want to with it." ? This Christian life is not just about finding forgiveness. We need to be forgiven and make things right with God. We also needs to turn our lives over to the Almighty. God alone rules all and oversees all. The creation needs to turn itself back to the Creator. The One who authored and gave life to it. Can you do that today? Can you give you life to God?

God gave us everything. God asks for your life today. The will of all that you are and have belongs to one with all authority. Your decisions awaits.

Friday, September 5, 2014

In The Beginning - a talk about God

It's a big, bad, broad subject.

Lets look at some scripture and then we'll get down to it.

Colossians 1:15-20

New International Version (NIV)

The Supremacy of the Son of God

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Well, you've heard me say it several times. As the wisdom has been shared with me, if you're not sure where to start then start at the beginning. We are about to embark on a journey. This journey has to do with that graph we used a few weeks ago. We will take it a subject at a time, an issue at a time, a matter at a time and keep going with the subject of sanctification and salvation in the backdrop.

Looking at a big, empty graph like what we began with the question is raised as to where we should begin. When we started filling in that graph with subjects and issues and people that make up our lives everyone spoke out some very interesting and important things. We'll get to those subject in the coming weeks. A good place to begin would be at the beginning. If we are starting there then it begs that we contemplate the subject and person of God. Maybe God was in your graph. Maybe not. I'm sure for some that this will be confusing. If we're talking about God, then aren't we referring to Jesus? Jesus is God. Not quite yet. For the Christian it is easy to make that jump. We covered the idea of wanting Jesus all over the graph, in every area of our lives. If you're making the jump from God to Jesus, then feel free to fill in that square in your graph. Jesus owns it. You still have to sit through the message.

However, God is a very broad subject in the mind of a human. Some people do believe in God. Some people choose not to. In many cases, the one who says they believe has not confirmed a real, definitive person. It's very wishy washy. It's becomes like something out of a Star Wars movie. "Use the force, Luke" The view for some is that God can be in anything. God can be anything. A tree. An animal. A stone or iron statue. God takes on some very broad ideas left outside of the scope in which Christianity interprets the matter.

We see statistics that indicate that there is a great percentage of people out there who believe in God. It's easy to take that for granted and assume that it means many people believe as we, the Christians, believe. But, God is a big, bad, broad subject outside of the realm of Christianity. Many people believe in "God" or "god" or a feeling, a force, an emotion, something they determine rules all. Even if the term God is not used, there is most assuredly something in the life that we look to for guidance or comfort. Could that be your "God"?

What we will aim to do in this message is clearly define what we mean, what we believe and what we are saying about God. There is so much to cover here on the subject of God. I could spend an untold numbers of Sundays just covering the Person of God. And, yet, the Almighty is in ALL of this. Every subject we will cover in the coming weeks and months involves God. I could say so much about the subject of God outside of Christianity. Outside of the absoluteness we find in our own faith, yes, the subject of God is broad and vast with many different beliefs and view points. However, even inside of our own faith, the matter before us begins with a God who creates and originates everything in the image of Himself and then seemingly pulls away. There is distance and a break down in fellowship with humankind. Centuries of God being afar are suddenly brought to an end in the Person of Jesus Christ. God is now on earth walking around with the creation. Only this time, the Almighty is actually in human flesh. The Incarnation of God. The Only Begotten of the Father.

When we say we believe in God, what exactly are we saying? Do we really grasp what that means? When someone is asked if they believe in God the answers might seems similar with a positive answer, but digging further into what a person says they believe will bring many different perspectives to the surface. There are struggles in how exactly we define God. What do we call God? He? She? In recent years I find myself wanting to avoid the debate all together. My instructor for the Course of Study class "The Church as Transforming Agent" said that he seeks to cut out all gender language completely. If he can get away with using "God" or "the LORD" or "the Almighty" or some formal title found in the scriptures, then that's what he does. Our objective as Christians is to divert the world attention to God without getting caught up in the arguments that derail our chances to share who God truly is. God can loves us like a father and God can nurture us like a mother. The point is not to try and define exactly which one God is. The point is to lift God up and make the Lord the most important person in the room. Not using gender terms proves to be quite a challenge.

Well, I feel like I have rambled for awhile and not truly said much. There's so much to say about God it is easy to get lost in it. So, what does scripture have to say about God that we could grab a hold of for our lives? Lets look at some scripture we used this morning...

Genesis 1

New International Version (NIV)

The Beginning

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

In the beginning...God created...
In who's beginning? Our beginning. God was already there. God has always been. Before there was anything else, there was God. And one special attribute about this person. God creates. What was there before all of this? The earth? The sky? The universe with all it's stars and planets? We don't know for sure. And, maybe we don't have to know. What we believe is that there is a God and that this God created all of this. And, maybe that's enough. We attribute all of this to the Creator. Lets call God that - the Creator. God made everything we see. Everything we enjoy. Everything we dislike. God gave life to all of it. Simply because God wanted to. We aren't given any reasoning behind why God wanted to create all of this. So, we assume it was simply because God desired to do so.

But, we read that even after creating all that had been created there was still something more that was brought into existence. Something called a human being. Our scriptures say that humans were made in the image of God. What exactly is that? Maybe we should look at how we define the word, image. Now it's most popularly used as and thought of as a noun. An image. It's thing. A picture. A photo. something taken. made you have an image of your grandparents on the wall at home. Artist make their living bringing images to life on a canvas. Ah, but that should lead us to another idea. And, as I have done so many time, as I scrolled down the page I found the word used in a much more illustrious sense. It's also used as a verb.

Huh? I can see the question mark go up above some folks heads. You've probably never thought of image as an action word, a verb. Well check this out and see how much better it ties in with the idea of who God is and what God does.

Definition of IMAGE

transitive verb
1:  to call up a mental picture of :  imagine
2:  to describe or portray in language especially in a vivid manner
3 a :  to create a representation of; also :  to form an image of <imaged Jupiter's rings> <image the bone using X-rays>
   b :  to represent symbolically
4 a :  reflect, mirror
   b :  to make appear :  project
Hmmm. That'll make you chew your burrito a little slower. Much to contemplate there.
We are made (note the action word, there) in image of God. If God were to be a human being, this is what God would look like. Is that too much to say? Wow. We are made in the image of God. What does God look like then? Ooooo. Tricky question. The Apostle would state that "no one has ever seen God?" We don't know what God looks like. The statement is rather one sided. Being created in the image of God doesn't allow us to look back at the Creator to see what exactly God looks like. We know what we look like. And, that's all we have to go on. We were created in the image of God. Does God have a mind? Must have. Does God have feelings? If we feel then I would imagine God does also. Can God make decisions? If all of this was created by God then there must have been a choice in doing it. Body. Soul. Spirit. The scriptures state that God would come and walk with his creation in the garden. See the verb-age in that statement. It's not just a theological statement, but a personal affection from the Creator to the creation. God desires to be with that which has been created. 

God does not wish to be distant from the creation. The motivations of the creation has caused the Creator to be distant. God will not be where sin is. And, there is much sin in this realm. We noted from the book of Romans last week, "...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..."  Boy, there's another word that begs us to understand who God is. Glory. If we were created in the image of God, then there must have been something special about that existence. Something beyond our scope of reasoning. What does Paul mean "glory" of God? Well, once again, it's chiefly used as a noun. As it were a specific thing. Maybe you could wrap it up as a present or put it in an envelope and actually give it to some one. "Here you go." And, yes, if it's used in that sense then it's also can be used as a verb. See the action of glory.

Definition of GLORY

intransitive verb
:  to rejoice proudly —used with in
The glory of God. Who is God? Someone above all things. Someone we ascribe great praise to that no one else in all of creation deserves. God made all things. God deserves all praise. God is to be proudly rejoiced in. To be in the image of God means we are like God, but we are not God. Likeness is not something to be attained. We cannot be God. God is above all. We glory in God. God, in all of the glory, came down to be with mankind. God would take on this human existence, being like us. Listen to the scripture speak to us.

John 1

New International Version (NIV)

The Word Became Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
Are we getting deep enough for you all? We've determined that God was there in the beginning. God created everything. Now contemplate for a moment. God needs words. The Word. God speaks and light simple becomes. Plants come into being. Animals have life. And, from the dust of the ground man comes forth. From man a bone is taken and another human being is formed. God uses words to craft all that we see. There is life in the words. God is life. God is light. 

And, yet, all of this may seem vague. There is still a broadness that yearns to be defined and understood. We've used a list of terms to try and define what and who God is. It is the Person of the Incarnation that we find a definitiveness that cannot be shaken. The Person of Jesus Christ. 

God can be a very broad subject until we approach the subject of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, we put a name and face to our God. Our scripture from Colossians we open with the statement "The Son is the image of the invisible God". God may have seemed distant and vague before. Now God has come close. Jesus is the Word. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." The Word is God. Within the Jewish framework of the family comes the idea that the Son is the same as the Father. Both represent the name and the family. Both speak with the authority of the family name. The human being called Jesus is born through the power of the Holy Spirit. The power of God made his birth possible. God became flesh. The man named Jesus is also God, the Son of God. Jesus comes to do the will of the Father. The Son has the same authority on earth that the Father does. Because of that claim and that authority Jesus can state that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus. God makes provision for the sin that separates mankind from God. There is no other way to find salvation. This does not mix with any other religion on the earth. God is no longer this broad, undefined subject. The definition of God is found in Jesus.

We start this matter of covering the graph by approaching the subject of God.
God is at the beginning. Do you believe in God? Many people do. Can you define God? Do you know who God is? Maybe a better question to ask is, "Does God know you?"  You, who are the image of the Almighty God. Does God know you? Have you approached God seeking salvation? There is but one way to find that much needed salvation. The Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is God. So, when you approach God looking for what you need in your soul, you are approaching the one who created it all. God is the one responsible for your life. God wants to give you life, in your mind, your heart, your soul. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Have you been reconciled to God? Brought back to the Creator of all things? Do you have peace in your heart and soul? Peace begins with God. In your graph, can you write the word "Jesus" across that square because you know that God has you and knows you? Do you believe and know that Jesus is your Way, your Truth, your Life? Invite God to come in and make all things new in your heart.

The Creator reconciled to the creation.