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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why Sermons? Reason #3

This Sunday under the Big Top, we started our new series - Colossians: Learning, Loving, Living Christ. At the very beginning and very end of this letter, Paul gives occasion for us to consider why hearing the Word in the context of community is so important. Thus, in this week's sermon I asked: Why sermons? Because while I really love to teach & preach (even slightly more than my people enjoy listening to it...slightly), after 6, 7, even 8 consecutive weeks of it, even I sometimes ask: Why am I doing this? 


Reason #1: Re-introduce hearing & thinking to a generation of seeing & cataloguing. 
Reason #2: Because it's written to grow a church primarily not an individual exclusively. 


I ran out of time to give the 3rd reason that Paul hints at in Colossians 1:1-8, so I'm giving it via blog. 


Reason #3: Because we need someone to tell us more than once.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of truth, the gospel  (Colossians 1:3-5).
When Paul says, this is something you've heard before, the "this" is referring back to: (1) faith in Jesus which leads to (2) love for others as you realize He keeps forgiving you and which helps you put your (3) hope, your identity, your sense of satisfactio in being with Jesus forever. In other words, Paul to church: "I know you've heard this before (ie. the gospel - faith, love, hope) and you may not have noticed, but I just told you again." 


A human being is prone to trust his/her own abilities, (and since they are on their own) love his/her own needs, and shift his hope toward something or someone that seems to more immediately fill those needs. We do this even though it never works & our sick hearts testify to the wisdom of Proverbs 13:12:
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
God our pastor: God has always been preaching this sermon both in word and deed. I was reading in the Book of Joshua, ch. 3 this morning. The Israelite people are just about to cross over the Jordan River into the land promised to their parents. But God, knowing how we as people are prone to self-sastisfaction at an accomplishment (even when it's clear that God is the One really accomplishing it), sends them what I think is a reminder as they cross over: 


And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan River, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down shall stand up in one heap.


So people walking across a body of water, God parts the water, and causes it to stand up as a wall or in "one heap." Sounds familiar...and if it does to us, it certainly was meant to for them also. Just one generation removed from God's radical and gracious deliverance from slavery and promise of a land (which culminated with the parting of the Red Sea), God sends to His people a little mini-reminder of His faithfulness through a mini-parting of great waters. We forget quickly, God is gracious to remind us even though in church, in small groups, amongst friends we are quick to say or think: "I know, I know" or "I've heard this before."


Today's pastors. A good pastor reminds more than innovates. Notice how Peter conceives of his pastoral & apostolic role as he writes to God's people towards the end of his life. He has just communicated to them that it is not their own efforts but God's grace that makes them grow:
Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that they putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things (II Peter 1:12-15).
An old (but effective) story I've heard a couple times goes something like this: A new pastor preaches his first sermon to his new congregation and seems to go well. So he preaches the same sermon the next week. People respond: "That was nice, but interesting that it was the same sermon." The next week, he preaches the same sermon. And after the fourth week of the same sermon, finally a member of his congregation confronts him: "Look, that is a good sermon, but can you move on to another message." To which the pastor responds, "I'll stop preaching it when you start living it."




The Point. When you're in church and are tempted to say/think, "Is he honestly re-using old material?," "Heard him say this a hundred times," "Yes, we know you love the story of the sinful woman of Luke 7," or you are just generally inclined to check out: Recall that God our Pastor thought we needed reminders, Paul thought they were needed in Colossae, and Peter thought likewise. Each seemed to have a pretty good pulse on a common struggle - namely, we are all prone to depend on self and our own resources instead of on the God of this good news - that through Jesus Christ He has given & surely will continue to give us all good things!


That's something I know I need to hear more than once.



News Article about one of Sunrise Missionaries' to Georgetown Primary

As I've mentioned before, I really consider each of these volunteers who work weekly with at-risk students at Georgetown Primary to be missionaries in the purest since (crossing socioeconomic, cultural, even national lines to care for people practically & with the ultimate aim of caring for them with the gospel).


A prime example of that is this article written about one of these SCC missionaries!


Please visit our GT Primary Page if you are interested in finding out more or getting involved.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A 4th century encouragement for a 21st century job

This past Sunday under the Big Top, I taught from 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 on God's Calling. The  sermon in a nutshell was basically: When it comes to questions of "God, where do you want me?", "What do you want me to do?", "With whom do you want me to do it?", the biblical, God-speaking to you default is to remain. Though walking with God daily, prayer/discernment, & good counsel may lead you elsewhere, remaining where you are, what you're doing (vocationally/job-wise), with whom you're already doing it is God's starting line. 


Of course, the place, the people or the job (especially) isn't necessarily what we would choose in the Game of Life (or in the elementary/primary school Game involving those do-dads constructed out of notebook paper where you start by choosing a number, open up a leaf, and eventually find out who you marry, what your job is, and how much money you make - what were those things called?? Please don't say 'do-dads').


Jobs we wouldn't pick. I was reading some older church history and came across this. A prominent fourth century church father, Basil, informed his young brother, Gregory of Nyssa, that he was to become the bishop of Cappadocia (in the middle of nowhere...a.k.a. middle of modern day Turkey).  To which Gregory objected! He didn't want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere away from friends and family ministering with and to a strange people where there is little prospect for distinction & advancement. His older brother replied:


I don't want you to obtain distinction from your church but to confer distinction on it.


Cappodocia is now best known in history for being the center from which the so-called Cappadocian Fathers (Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, & Gregory of Nazianzus) fought the heresy known as Arianism (the rising belief growing in popularity that Jesus was inferior to God the Father and was, in fact, created by the Father...a similar belief to modern-day Jehovah's Witnesses). Indeed, through his service there, Gregory conferred distinction upon the place and the the people.


Jesus conferring distinction like it's going out of style. When the incarnate Christ walked this earth, all he did was confer distinction upon places, people, jobs that otherwise had none. Consider the places. Jesus was raised in the runt among places, Nazareth. One of Jesus' future disciples even confessed when first being told about Jesus: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). He conferred distinction upon the hated territory of Samaria (see Luke 10:33 and 17:16) - where, from the Jewish perspective, a bunch of 'half-breeds' lived whose worship of God was considered a joke (cf. John 8:48). Among the many examples of people upon whom Jesus conferred distinction, perhaps the one who stands out is the woman of ill-repute who interrupts dinner to wash Jesus' hair with oil: "And truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her" (Mark 14:3). Consider the jobs. Jesus chose for his cabinet: Fishermen (a poorly-regarded, blue-collar job), a zealot (someone who was organizing radical, militant religious rallies), and a tax collector (symbolically stood for all things evil & traitorous in the eyes of God's people). But all legitimate positions from which to begin following Jesus. 


You and your job. For those who have trusted their lives to Jesus, Paul states the following: "To [us] God chose to make know how great are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). Christ still exists to confer distinction upon jobs, including the locations and the people who work there. All the riches of glory which are contained in His person is in you, who have believed.


The temptation of course is to think: Which next place, which next people, which next job will bring me distinction, will finally set me apart. You already are set apart, friend, because of Christ in you. Such is the hope of glory! And he wishes, through YOU, to now bring distinction upon whatever you do, wherever you are & whomever you are with.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Free Audiobook for January: Knowing God by J.I. Packer

After a month-long blogging hiatus, I hopped on my laptop today stoked to write something about Church Ministry/Ministry to one another as Commissioned Chaos. I was pretty geeked about it and still may write some more later...but every other blog entry needed to be put aside to showcase a far superior feeding trough. 


The free audiobook of the month at Christianaudio.com is J.I. Packer's Knowing God. 


We have this classic in supply out at our book table in church and I would recommend any and every one give it a serious read or listen. If you are young in your faith, it will challenge you as to the crucial importance of knowing about God in order to know Him better relationally (and do so in a way that's accessible - focusing on the Bible as you would read it - passage-by-passage as opposed to reference-by-reference in parenthesis like this one). If you are relatively mature in your walk with Jesus, Packer's book will help crystallize some of your beliefs, expound upon doctrine about which you've given only a passing thought and draw out the importance of it all for your life. 


My least favorite chapter: Chapter 4 on "The Only True God." Packer clearly has a bone to pick with regard to religious art (specifically images of God) and, in this reader's opinion, goes too far in devaluing depictions of Christ in art through his application of the second commandment. No surprise that in his newer editions there is an "Additional Note (1993)" in which Packer clearly softens his stance. However, the twenty-one other chapters are brilliant. Hardly a word wasted.


Favorite Chapter: Chapter 21 "These Inward Trials." His counsel on God's dealing with & purposes for man through suffering are illuminating and have helped transform both my understanding of what He's doing through suffering and my own response to it (both in my life and in the lives of others).


Plus, it's FREE!! 


We are people who live from the inside out. The core of who we are is what we believe. What we believe (about God especially) radically affects what we value/love and what we value radically affects how we live. We see this even in the most mundane decisions we make each day. Beliefs >> Values >> Behavior. Start with Core-Training in 2012!!!