I wrote this several weeks ago and left it sitting in my drafts folder on accident…
There are moments in life when we experience something that strikes a chord in the depths of who we are. Moments when we know, like Eric Liddell of “Chariots of Fire” fame, that we have found something we were created for. It’s like when I’m doing some work in the garage and trying all different tools that sort of, kind of, just barely get the job done (but are incredibly frustrating) and then I find that tool that was made for what I need. It’s like when you step out in faith to do something that at first terrifies you but as you do it you know that somehow, some way, God has wired you to do that very thing.
So often we look at spending eternity with God as getting everything we want, but what we want is way too small. Eternity getting what we want (especially getting what we want this side of heaven!) would be extremely limiting, boring, and disappointing. I am thankful for eternity because it will not be the ongoing experience of getting what I want, it will be the ongoing, ever-expanding experience of finding the purposes for which God has created me.
Every moment of eternity will be a new discovery of God’s grace in how he has created us, how he sustains us, who he is and who he has made us to be. We serve an eternal and infinite God and we will have the extreme joy of spending eternity experiencing the depths of his love, grace, and wisdom. We will know the fulfillment of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-19 that we would know “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”.
This side of heaven these moments are gifts that give us a scaled down glimpse of eternity. But every day with God in eternity will be a new experience of joy, a new discovery of who we are and who God is. Every moment will be an “aha!” experience that makes us want to jump up and call out to anyone who might hear, “Have you ever seen something this amazing?!”
In eternity we will find something we long for in this life – something people too often despair of and so seek selfish pleasures instead. We will find and experience in ever increasing measure the purpose for which we are made – to see, experience, and live for the glory of God. It is the reason we are created, the reason Christ died and rose again, and it is the promise that is summed up in Revelation 21:3: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God.”
I went looking for a friend the other day. Many said he was missing or that he had somehow failed in his duties. I decided to go looking where I knew I had seen him so many times before.
I looked in a manger surrounded by animals and meager shepherds, and I found a baby. This baby is Emmanuel - God with us. Here I found Jesus, the Son of God, who left the glories of heaven and the perfection of the Father’s presence and was born weak and frail to live among us. He had the power to speak the world into existence but chose to become dependent on a young girl and her husband for food, clothing, and shelter. He is so righteous and holy that sinners cannot stand in his presence yet he chose to be born and live among us sinners so that we could know Him. He experienced our pain, our ridicule, and our rejection. Yes, I found my friend where he always is: right here with us as Emmanuel, God with us.
I looked at a hideous cross which was used to brutally torture and kill criminals. I saw a crowd shouting insults at one whose brow was dripping with blood from a crown of thorns that had mockingly been placed on his head. I saw his flesh being torn by the cruel nails that held his body to this instrument of disgrace. As I looked I noticed this was the same person I had seen in the manger. This was Emmanuel, God with us. He did not deserve to be on that cross. He had done nothing wrong! But he hung there in our place. He was there because of every sin ever committed so that every sinner who cries out for hope can find it. He took that pain, that disgrace, that punishment so we don’t have to. Yes, I found my friend where he always is: saving us from our sins.
I looked in a borrowed tomb. Here my friend had been placed after his executioners were done with their deadly work. But my friend was not there, dead in the tomb, he was outside of it, alive! He has risen from the dead conquering sin and death and offering eternal life to all who believe! Yes, I found my friend where he always is: alive and victorious over my sin and the sins of everyone who will accept His offer of salvation.
I looked ahead through the long distance of time and saw what we all hope for. I saw an end to evil and suffering. I saw my friend making all things right and removing all wrong. I saw my friend coming as a conquering king and justly punishing those who think they are able to do whatever they want no matter what the consequences to others. I saw every tear wiped away and death was banished from existence. I saw children who could live in peace with no fear of harm and parents who would never receive a call that no one should ever have to get. I saw His kingdom living in peace for ever and ever. Yes, I found my friend where he always is: coming to judge the evil in the world, to set all things right, and to reign in perfect peace and justice for all eternity.
And then I looked around me and I saw confusion, despair, doubt, and death. I realized these things were not just in the world around me, they were in me as well. I saw that I was desperately lost and suddenly I realized that I didn’t actually find my friend at all for he was never missing! I was…and he found me. And now he is sending me and all who have been found to find others and bring to them the news of who he is and what he has done so they can be found too. And as we do this, he who has all authority in heaven and earth promises “I am with you always, even to the very end of the earth.”
God is not lost. He is where he always is: reigning over heaven and earth but also here with us, seeking and saving those who are lost and offering the hope and rescue that only He can give. A lost world will sometimes get glimpses of just how lost it is, but in these moments let us cling to the one who finds.
The church I attend (I’ll never feel comfortable saying “my church” as if it belonged to me) and serve as pastor is pretty amazing and I’m incredibly grateful, but the #4 Big Thing I’m thankful for is not the local church I’m privileged to be a part of, but THE CHURCH that spans around the globe and throughout history.
I am thankful for the Church because I am a part of something greater than myself. I am part of the multitude of people who have trusted in Christ. This multitude encompasses generations long past whose testimony stands as a great example for me today. This multitude includes people whose skin, language, and worship styles are all very different than mine which teaches me that I am not the center of the universe and I do not know everything.
The Church for which I’m thankful has nothing to do with buildings, logos or programs. The Church is found gathered on lawn chairs under tin roofs, in basements with closed windows, and in building specifically designed for worship. The setting is not what makes the Church special. No, it is the Savior that makes the Church special.
We are a rag tag group of misfits that believe in something that the world says is foolish. We are a bunch of sinners trying to point people to a holy God. We are flawed and sometimes foolish. We sometimes loose our way and get distracted. But our core identity is not about who we are or what we can do, it is about what God is doing. God is at work in the world drawing imperfect people, saving them through his son’s work on the cross, and then holding us up as a display for the rest of the world to see what he can do. I am thankful for the Church because we are all in this together and those things that divide us are nothing compared to what joins us together.
Recently among Christians it has become popular to ignore the Church. Some think they can draw close to Christ without the Church, but they are very, very mistaken. Those who follow Christ are necessarily joined together by an intentional bond planned by God himself. This plan was for us together to show his grace, his mercy, his justice to this world. We need to be more thankful for the Church together because it is God’s work through us, the Church, that is the hope of the world.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8
This week I’m writing about the top 5 things I’m thankful for and we’ve come to number 3 – Salvation. I worked as a life guard one summer at a camp. During that summer I had several rescues. Some rescues were quite easy. I simply called out to the child and said “STAND UP.” Once the child realized they could stand on their own with their head above water they were fine. There were a few, however, that were not as easy where the child was really drowning and powerless to help himself or herself. There was no other way to save them except to jump in the water, grab them, and pull them to safety – to do for them what they could never do for themselves.
I wonder if we really understand which sort of salvation the bible says is necessary for us. Do we just need to learn a little more, try a little harder, and have God help us a little bit so that we can then go on our way or are we desperately hopeless, drowning and powerless to save ourselves?
As a pastor I want to help people. I want to encourage them and keep them involved in church. It becomes easy to want to change the message of the bible to simply a message of encouragement - like saying “STAND UP” – so that people will feel good about themselves and go on their way enjoying life. But yelling “stand up” to a child who is in over their head in water and completely without any hope of helping themselves would be disastrous. Sure we could give tips and encouragement and the child might look better as they drowned, but they would still drown.
The salvation I am thankful for is not just guidance in my life to help me “STAND UP”. It is not just encouragement to make me feel a bit better about myself. No, it is the understanding that I was desperately lost and hopeless. In my sin I had made myself an enemy of God and rebelled against his authority. I was choosing death over life and I was drowning.
And God, as the best guard of life ever, did not merely shout tips or life hints to me. He did not just give me a list of things to do better and hope that I would get it sorted out. He sent his son, Jesus, to take all of my sin, my rebellion, my death on himself. Then Jesus rose from the dead and offered me eternal life. This is salvation for which I can take no credit. I cannot boast about my ability to get myself out of the tough situation for I could not. I cannot brag about my ability to better myself because that would never have been enough. No, all boasting or bragging is worthless. The only thing I can do is accept and give thanks.
photo by flickr user heather
“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – Jesus (John 10:9-10).
We were created for life. We need this reminder in a world where we are surrounded by death. We have accepted death as natural, but it is not – it is an intruder. So often we pursue a “good life” and settle for a “simple life” but Jesus promises full life, great life, abundant life. Is it possible that we need to redefine life because we have accepted a warped definition?
Life is more than simply the action of our cells or the sum total of our day to day occurrences. Life is the experience of being what we were made to be. We were created to be in a loving relationship with our Creator. We are made to live in God’s presence and experience and enjoy his glory. We were made for this and Jesus came to save us for this very purpose – real life, true life, full life.
We must not be tempted to think that this means we will get everything we want because the truth is what we want is too little. Our appetites are too small and we fill them with trivial things. No, the life promised by Jesus is far greater than mere fulfillment of our temporary pleasures. When Jesus promises life, he is promising a return to the very purpose for which we were created.
Real life is the absolute joy of knowing we are loved and accepted by the perfect God who has given his son to die in our place and declares us righteous because of that sacrifice. It is the overflowing and unending joy of knowing that the greatest need we will ever have has been met and that all other needs pale in comparison. It is the confidence that comes from knowing our life does not depend on this changing world, on fickle people, or even our own abilities, but is anchored in the unchanging love of God.
Life exists because God has created life, provided salvation for life through Jesus, and calls us to life that “whoever believes in him (Jesus) might not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Yes, this Thanksgiving I am thankful for real, full life.
image from flickr user HAMED MASOUMI
It is the season for giving thanks and while we shouldn’t need a season for such a thing, it is a good reminder to think about all the things in our lives for which we should be thankful. So this week I’m going to post 5 things for which I am thankful. I am certainly thankful for my family, my job, my home, my friends, etc., but the 5 I want to focus on this week are even bigger than these incredible things.
First, I’m thankful for Creation. I certainly love nature – the mountains, trees, oceans, and animals – but I’m not talking about creation in general. I mean that I’m thankful for my creation. It is an amazing miracle that I was created at all and that any of us were created. I thank God that he created us because the cost to him was so great.
I believe God knows all things – past, present and future. This means that when God created humanity he knew exactly what would happen. We would not only turn away from him, but actively rebel against him. Through our disobedience we would be saying to God, “We know better than you and will do what we want.” God saw this rebellion and, in love, created us anyway.
But the wonder of our creation doesn’t stop there. Not only did God see our rebellion, he also knew his plan. His plan from the beginning was to create people to be with him forever in a loving, glorious, perfect relationship. Since God is all-powerful, that plan would not fail, but the cost of its success would be God’s own son. The moment God created me, created us, he condemned his son to die on the cross for our sins. He made a choice that creating us was somehow worth the cost of Christ’s death and resurrection.
I do not understand how God could love us like that – how he could love me like that. But thankfulness does not require understanding, just recognition of what has been done and giving of thanks. So God, thank you for creating us – creating me – though I do not deserve the grace of being created by you at the cost of your son. I may not understand the choice to create me at the great price of Christ’s death on the cross, but I can certainly thank you for doing this in your plan, your wisdom, your grace, and your love. So this Thanksgiving I am thankful for creation.
Picture is of my daughter as a baby.
We didn’t get a recording of this past Sunday’s sermon so here is a recreation of that sermon in text form from my notes. Other recordings from the series can be found on the Orchard Community Church website.
“Dealing with Disagreements” – Romans Chapter 14.
We have a problem with disagreeing in our culture. The problem is not necessarily that we have disagreements – those are inevitable – the problem is that we don’t know how to disagree. All you have to do is see a few political commercials, debates or speeches to know that art of respectful disagreement in our culture has been completely lost and we have somehow slid into the depths of thinking that disagreeing involves making the other person look as bad as possible. I found two quotes, related to disagreements (though not necessarily to politics), that are: “It’s ok if you disagree with me, I can’t force you to be right” and “I’d agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong.” While funny, these aren’t very helpful when it comes to engaging in a proper disagreement! We can’t just start from the position that we are right and everyone else is wrong.
Look around at the people of Orchard Community Church (or most churches for that matter). Just a week or so ago we had a New Membership Class with about 20 people there. The youngest was around 10 years old and the oldest was just over 80. Our church is diverse in ages, backgrounds, and prior church experiences. This diverse group of people is brought together by the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this unity, though, there will still be disagreements. I’m not talking about things that are right and wrong, sinful or righteous. Anything that is specifically called sin by Scripture is sin – I’m not talking about disagreements on things such as this. But there are things that are not specifically taught in Scripture and that we may have no clear guidance one way or the other from God. They may be things from our traditions or our backgrounds or maybe matters of personal preference. When we come together as the church, these things can threaten to undermine the unity that is so essential for our mission of living and spreading the gospel in this world.
Romans 14 is about dealing with disagreements in the church. Take a moment to read Romans 14 for yourself. Paul is specifically writing about disagreements between Christians about spiritual things, but I think there are principles here which apply to other disagreements as well.
First, we need to know a few things about the church in Rome. As the capital city of the Roman empire, it was extremely diverse and was a true melting pot of cultures and religions. The Christians in Rome would have been very diverse as well. As we study what Paul writes about disagreements, it is important to note that the “weak” people he writes about are not people who would say you have to do certain things to be saved or to be more righteous. Paul had no patience with people who believed this or taught this. It undermined the gospel and the work of Christ on the cross. The book of Galatians speaks strongly against such people. There is also no mention of the “weak” people struggling with sin. The times he mentions eating meat or drinking wine do not mention that these people struggled with some sort of sinful addiction to these things, just that they believed that they should not eat meat or not drink wine in order to bring glory to God. I also don’t believe this was a Jew vs. Gentile disagreement – though we have seen a lot of evidence of that throughout Romans. In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul writes about the problem between Jews and Gentiles regarding meat that had been sacrificed to pagan idols. The difference is that Rome had a large Jewish population and so kosher meat (approved for eating by Jewish people) would have been readily available. All this is to say that we really don’t know specifically what disagreement Paul has in mind, but it appears to be general ideas about what should or should not be a part of the Christian life in order to bring glory to God. These differences came because of their great diversity and threatened to cause problems in the church.
Throughout the passage, Paul uses the terms “weak” and “strong” about the faith of the people on either side of this disagreement. Some had matured and grown stronger in their faith and realized that eating or not eating certain foods had no bearing on their relationship with God. They also realized that they didn’t have to celebrate certain days in order to be holy. Those who were weak in their faith needed these things as a sort of crutch in their relationship with God. It’s like when a child learns to ride a bike and uses training wheels. We don’t mock a four-year-old for riding with training wheels because that is appropriate for where they are at in their bicycle training. If we turned on the Olympics and saw one of the riders using training wheels we might think a little differently!
Romans 14 is remarkable for the fact that Paul is dealing with seemingly insignificant issues that were threatening to divide the church, yet he deals with these things using deep truths about the nature of God and the work of the cross. This is a great example for us when dealing with anything in our lives. We need to reflect on Who God is and what He has done and then live in light of that.
As you study Romans 14, it is tempting to focus on contemporary issues like whether or not drinking alcohol is OK for Christians or whether or not we should go to R rated movies and so forth. It would be foolish of me to give teaching specific to these issues because as soon as I did people would either judge others in agreement with me or judge me… either way, it would actually cause the very problem that Paul is trying to write against in Romans 14.
So, with that lengthy introduction…. Here it is, three rules of disagreeing.
I truly believe that lots of disagreements would be avoided if we all took a deep breath and realized that the job of being “God” is already filled by the most qualified person and that person is not us. In verses 1-4, Paul talks about how the “other person” is accepted by God. In the church when we disagree with someone we need to remember that God has accepted that person based on the finished work of the cross. That person belongs to God and is God’s servant (verse 4). We have no right refusing to welcome or accept someone whom God has accepted. To do so is to put ourselves in God’s place. In these verses, the specific things mentioned are that those who were weaker in their faith ate only vegetables while those who were stronger in their faith also ate meat. Notice that Paul doesn’t get into the argument and play the referee. He simply speaks to both parties and says, in effect, “Who do you think you are? You are not God!”
Then, in verses 5-8 he says that we are all to live for the glory of God. If one person believes that they bring glory to God in their life by not eating meat then praise God! If the other believes they can bring glory to God by eating meat then praise God! The problem comes when each looks at the other and says, “wait a minute, YOU have to do this MY WAY.” The weak judge the strong and say that they are sinning and the strong judge the weak and tell them that they must do things that the weak may not be comfortable with.
Notice verse 5 – “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Part of our problem today is that people have really strong convictions based on very weak effort. All too often we argue about things and when challenged why our way is right the only answer we can come up with is “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “it just makes sense to me.” Paul says that each one should be “fully convinced.” We need to question our convictions. Test them against Scripture. Reason through them and ask why we believe what we do about these things. I believe God is more greatly glorified through two people who lovingly disagree over how to live for God’s glory but have thoroughly examined their convictions than two people who are in complete agreement but have never thought through what they believe about that matter.
In verses 6-8 Paul says that we are to do everything for the glory of God. We may disagree about how we should bring glory to God, but when we keep the focus on God’s glory rather than us and our differences, a lot of these disagreements would be left behind.
Verse 9 says that Jesus Christ is qualified to be the Lord of everyone because He died on the cross and rose from the dead. When in a disagreement, ask yourself, “did I die on the cross for this person and then raise from the dead promising them eternal life if they believe in me?” If the answer is “no” then you are not qualified to judge your brother or sister about these matters. In the end we will all be held accountable for our actions and, though this may come as a shock to some, it will not be us sitting on the judge’s seat.
In verses 13-18, Paul gives us one of the most important pieces of relationship advice that we can ever hear. Basically, in verse 13 he says to quit thinking about whether the other person is right or wrong and instead look at what you are doing. Are you trying to help that person or not? Are you doing everything you can to seek peace or not? So often we spend so much time with the excuse of “but the other person did…” and Paul is saying to stop focusing on your perception of their faults (which is flawed anyway) and instead focus on what you are doing to help. Often in a disagreement we allow our own pride to make the situation worse.
In verses 14-15 and then again later in verse 21 Paul gives some pretty strong teaching. It almost appears like he is saying that if a fellow Christian thinks something is wrong for them, then it is wrong for everyone. This would basically make us all slaves to the weakest members in the church. I do not believe this is what Paul is saying and here’s why. First, the language he uses is not of causing someone to struggle or question their faith. In verse 15 he says that the exercise of our freedoms should not “destroy” someone. Then, in verse 21 he mentions that it is better not to do things that cause someone to “fall”. These are strong words and would be out of place when applied to someone seeing someone else doing something that they think is questionable (like drinking wine in public). This is how I hear this passage commonly applied today, but I don’t thing that is what Paul is saying. The language Paul is using is most commonly used by him to talk about someone’s eternal destiny or falling into grievous sin. So what are we to make of this? I believe that Paul is writing to a situation where those who were “strong” in their faith were flaunting their freedom and even trying to force those who were weaker to participate in things that the weaker were unsure about. To pressure someone into doing something they think is sin would be (according to verse 23) to cause them to sin. This is a serious issue and this is what Paul is writing against.
This all falls under the general category of not being judgmental because we didn’t die on the cross and raise from the dead. The weak must not look in judgment on the acts of those that are strong and condemn them and the strong must not look down on the weak and condemn them. We must instead ask ourselves if we are living the sacrificial love that was shown to each of us on the cross.
In verses 19-20, Paul writes that we should focus on something greater and not “destroy the work of God” for unimportant things. I believe Paul is employing a bit of sarcasm here. He is basically saying, “Are you really going to undermine the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the world for the sake of food???” Let it go! Stop it! Don’t get hung up on these things! If what you do is causing someone distress then don’t do it!
Paul ends with specific instructions to the weak and the strong. In verse 22 he addresses the strong and tells them not to flaunt their freedom. He tells them to keep what they think between them and God. In other words, it is not their job to convince their weaker brother that they wrong. Then, in verse 23 he addresses the weak and tells them that if they think something is wrong, they should not do it because if you do something you believe is wrong (even if it isn’t) then you are sinning. The emphasis, though, is on them and their convictions about what they are doing – not on using their conviction to judge others.
If in the church we would focus more on the mission of the gospel and less on our own petty differences, a lot of things would be seen to be not important enough to allow them to undermine the overall mission of the church.
So how do we apply all this to us? First, we cannot ignore Paul’s use of the terms “weak” and “strong.” We need to ask ourselves if we are living a strong faith or a weak faith and if our weakness or strength is causing us to be judgmental toward others. The stronger we are in our faith, the more we will realize that it is not our job to judge what others are doing in their lives as they seek to bring glory to God. Again, I am not speaking about things that are clearly sinful. Scripture tells us that we are to lovingly help a brother or sister in Christ who is in sin, which may involve some difficult confrontation if necessary. This is not what this chapter is about. These are things where we have no right to declare them right or wrong – they are clearly matters of preference.
Second, those who hold strongly to convictions about right and wrong that are not specified in God’s Word must understand that this is evidence of weakness in faith, not strength. It is fine to use some training wheels or a crutch in your relationship with God when necessary. Just don’t use your crutch to beat up other believers.
Third, those who have matured and realize their freedom in Christ should never, ever kick the crutch out from another believer’s hands. This is not they way to teach someone to be strong and only does more damage.
Finally, we should see everything in our lives through this new lens of faith – the lens taught in Romans 1-11. God is God and we are not. Christ is qualified to be the Lord and the judge because He died on the cross and rose from the dead – we didn’t. There is an important mission that God has been carrying out since the beginning and throughout all history to save people from their sins and to bring them to be His people, His kingdom, with Him forever. Let’s keep our sights there and not allow ourselves to be sidetracked by lesser things.
The church is diverse and must be diverse to display the glory of God. The only way to navigate this diversity and deal with the inevitable disagreements along the way is to focus on what is most important – the glory of God and the mission of the gospel.