Revive: Living God’s Abundant Life

indexI hope the start of 2018 has been good for you!  I’m excited to see what this new year brings. This is my time of year.  I like to plan, dream, and be hopeful about the open days in front of me.  I like to think that life can be full of hope and promise.

So help me out.  How would you finish this sentence?  Life is ___________?  Forrest Gump would say, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”  Some might say that life is a rat race; a bowl of cherries, a series of choices, a paycheck, a party.  We have a habit of trying to reduce the size of our life.

And I’d like to help us think about life differently at the beginning of 2018.  So today and for the next 5 Sundays I want to teach us how to live God’s abundant life.  Does that sound good?  Would you like to know how to live an abundant life? One that is full of hope and dreams and anticipation.  An abundant life instead of a mediocre life; a full life instead of a life robbed of hope and meaning?

Late last fall I spent a lot of time praying about God’s direction for this year and where he wants to take us as a church.  The word that I kept hearing and seeing is a word that oozes life.  It’s the word revive.  I like that word.  Do you know what revive means?  Revive means to restore to life; give new energy or strength!  To revive is all about giving life.  That’s what Jesus does.  He gives life.

Our primary Scripture for the next 5 weeks is from John 10:10.  READ.  There are two things happening in this sentence. There’s a thief who steals, kills, and destroys.  Then there’s Jesus who says that he comes to give you life.  And not just life – the kind where we just live and muddle through the day.  He brings life that is full or abundant.

Here’s my hope for this teaching and for 2018.  If you are the kind of person who feels like you’ve got the short end of the stick on life; or if you’re just getting through – life dealt you a bad hand and things are happening that you’ve never asked for – I want you to hear this word and live into something new.  If you’re just caught up in the routine – I want you to let Jesus bring you a full and abundant purpose this year.  If you’re comfortable and you’re thinking – life’s pretty good – no worries, no challenges, no surprises – I hope God shakes you up a little bit and pushes you to a place where you’re hungry for more purpose and deeper significance.

Now because we want God’s word to inform and transform us, we need to understand the context here of what Jesus means when he says the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that you may have life; and have it the full.

Just prior to all of this, Jesus heals a blind man. The man was taken to the Pharisees, who investigated the healing but refused to acknowledge Jesus as the healer; in fact, they mocked the healed man for trusting Jesus. When Jesus heard what happened, He went to the previously blind man, revealed Himself as savior, and accepted the man’s worship of Him.

Then Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (John 9:39). Some Pharisees overheard this and, taking offense, asked, “What? Are we blind too?” (John 9:40). Jesus replied, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep” (John 9:41—10:2).

Jesus continued talking about the gatekeeper and how the shepherd calls out his sheep and how the sheep will only follow the shepherd whom they know (John 10:3–5). Jesus then interpreted His words: “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They 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” (John 10:7–10). With these words, Jesus declares that He is the only way to salvation and the fullness of life. But who is the thief? And what does it mean that the thief “comes only to steal and kill and destroy”?

The Greek word for “thief” used in John 10:10 means “one who steals.”  Anyone who claimed a way of salvation other than Jesus was “robbing” the people of truth.

Let’s think about the patterns and habits right now which in a very real way, rob you of a full life with Jesus.  These are the habits and experiences that work real hard to replace Jesus.

Pleasure.  If I just find the things that make me feel good or be comfortable – I’ll have a full life.  If I could just take a cruise, retire in luxury, or have my fantasies fulfilled – that’s life.  Problem is that those are moving targets.  We move from thing to thing believing that the next one will make me happy.  The next car, the next marriage, the next house, the next drink.  Each time takes a bigger thrill, or bigger event to bring another high.  But it never lasts.

Performance.  I need to confess that this the one that steals full life from me the most.  Always trying to do more to make someone else happier.  Have you lived there?  If I just do more, they’ll love me.  If I’m a better husband, wife, parent, child, employee – I’ll feel full, loved and satisfied.  And we live in the myth that success produces life.

Possessions.  If I just get one more thing I’ll feel like I have a full life.  Abundance is not what we think.  So before we get tricked into thinking that more is better, we need to think about what Jesus says about abundant life.  Wealth, position, power are not God’s priorities for us.  If this were the case, Jesus would be the wealthiest person, ever.  But the opposite is true, Jesus said this about himself, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)

Pursuits.  The delusion that if we just stay busy enough and if the pace of life remains at an intense level we will discover life.

These thieves masquerade as givers of life, but actually all they end of bringing is pain, frustration, heart-ache, and death, spiritually and physically.  Rather than being agents of revival these habits and patterns steal the fullness of life.

I’m convinced that we want more than this.  That we want more than mere life.  Because mere life isn’t working.  We want our lives to count for something.  As a follower of Jesus, your inheritance is a full, abundant life. And the source of abundant life is Jesus. Jesus says time and again that he is the giver of life, the author of life.  READ John 11; 14.  But the most powerful statement Jesus made was “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.”  Full life happens through Jesus.

Now some people may say, “Wait a minute, don’t I already have life? Aren’t I breathing? Isn’t my heart pumping blood?”

I would answer, “Yes, but . . . not the life Jesus is referring to.” The life that Jesus gives is infinitely and eternally different than the life one possesses now. Maybe a little lesson in Greek vocabulary would be helpful in discerning what the significance of this life he offers is. As with most of the Greek language, it employed several different words to communicate concepts and thoughts that in English only one word is available. Such is true with this concept of life. They had six different words to clarify its meaning. But two words are important for us.

The first word is bios, in which the English word biology is derived.  It refers to the duration of life – one’s life span, the time between one’s birth date and one’s death date; or it refers to the necessities of life – one’s food, shelter, and clothing.

The second word is zoe.  It refers to life as God has it. The life that belongs to God that becomes ours when we cross the doorway of Jesus and enter into a relationship with God. It is not a possession but rather an infilling – God once again breathing his life into us.

When we were born we were given bios life, when we are born again we are given zoe life. Until we cross the doorway of Jesus and enter into a relationship with God through Jesus we may be physically alive but spiritually we are dead.

To be a follower of Jesus, to know who he is and what he means, is to have a superabundance of life. There is a new vitality, a new meaning, a new energy, a new purpose, a new significance, a new outlook, a new hope, a new joy, a new life.

Our family would travel a lot. And sometimes we would need  to rent a car.  This is always stressful for me. I don’t like to spend money on those kinds of things. When we were younger, Melissa and I would travel to Florida often.  So when we got there I’d have reserved the cheapest care possible – like a Fort escort.  It gets good gas mileage.  It runs fine.  It gets you to where you need to go.  And it’s cheap.  So once we have one of those kinds of cars held at the rental company. When we arrive, they’ve got bad news.  They’re all out of Ford Escorts.  I don’t know why, we had it reserved.  It should be there!  So the attendant behind the counter asks if I’d mind an upgrade.  Would I mind?  I’d love an upgrade – at the same price as the Escort.  The only car they had available was a convertible Chrysler Sebring.  This the perfect Florida car.

We were driving in style.  Does this car get you to your destination any faster?  No, but you get there in more comfort. You feel better about yourself.  When you get out at the hotel – you’re not embarrassed to let the valet take over.

Now I’m having fun with this – to teach us this – What was God up too when he sent his son, Jesus?  God is about upgrading life.  Through Jesus, we are offered a life that is not just okay; not just muddled through; but full – full of vitality and meaning; of purpose and significance.

That’s what this year and every year going forward can be about.  And we can choose to endure where we are, or we can say, Jesus, I want a life that full and meaningful and purposeful.  A life that does more than exist.

We tend to think of the word, salvation, as the forgiveness of sins or the escape from punishment.  But it actually has a deeper meaning. The simple and best word for salvation is “life.”  I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly.

“Thrive” is a word for life.  Thriving is what life was intended to do, like a flower stubbornly pushing up through a crack in the sidewalk.  Thriving is what God saw when he made life and saw that it was good.

Ironically, the only way to have this kind of life – one that thrives and is abundant – is by surrendering.  Saying, Jesus, I need the abundant life, because the one I’ve got isn’t working out real well.

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ONE Culture (Part 3)

I think many of us have had one of those moments in life when we asked the question, “now what?” You lost a business or a job and the question on your mind is “now what?” How do I provide? Or you lost a spouse and you’re wondering now what? How do I move forward? You get a diagnosis that will change your life and your future – now what? But the other side of the question is just a challenging. I just met the man or woman of my dreams – now what? I just got the best promotion I could ever hope for – now what?

oneFor a lot of us we asked now what when your kids were born. Right? I remember this like yesterday even though it was almost seventeen years ago. Our son was about to be born. Melissa says “it’s time.” We rush to the hospital. The hospital takes such good care of you; they make you so comfortable; it’s so easy – especially for the guys! Caleb was born and they take great care of him. He’s bathed, fed, kept in the room with mom. There’s great instruction about caring for him. The staff is there to teach us. Finally the day comes to go home. I pull the car around to the hospital entrance. The nurse brings Melissa and Caleb down to the entrance. Melissa gets in the car and the nurse hands me Caleb. And I look at her; like what do you expect me to do with him? You’ve taken care of him. Can you help me put him in the car? Why are you handing him to me I don’t know what I’m doing? And she says this is as far as I go; it’s up to you now. And I’m left with this sense of now what?

Have you been there? What do we do next? Now what? I think this is also a very fair question to ask when it comes to following Jesus. Now what? What do I do now? I’ve said yes to following Jesus; I’m going to church – but now what? What comes next? Is it just about showing up and sitting in a row or putting some money in the offering plate? Is it just about religion and ritual? What’s next? What should I do? Important questions.

When we start to read the NT we very quickly see that God has an answer the question, what now? The NT’s answer is a word called “maturity.” Read Ephesians 4:11-13.

Maturity is about growing in an intimate and passionate relationship with Jesus. Growth is a part of life. Things that are healthy will always grow. I don’t need to make my kids grow in size – I have no control over that – if they are healthy they will grow. And we watch kids grow through stages right? Newborn – sit up or crawl or eat solid foods – potty trained – walking – riding the bike – puberty – boyfriends and girlfriends – driving – leaving for college, marriage. We watch growth happen in front of our eyes every day. Healthy things will grow.

Just after Thanksgiving I joined the gym and hired a trainer. I was growing but in all the wrong places! I’ve joined gyms before – but always quit. I’ve never hired a trainer – and she won’t let me quit. She pushes me to grow. So I tell you what, most days of the week I hurt; I’m sore. But what’s happening? My muscles are growing; my endurance is growing – I’m becoming healthier and growing.

Growth (maturity) is a natural part of life. Even in our relationship with Jesus. But here’s something we don’t often think about –to become mature requires engaging in an intentional process of discipleship. A mature, healthy relationship will not happen by accident. Growth in relationship will happen when we’re intentional about it. My marriage will be stronger when Melissa and I are intentional about doing the things that make it stronger. The same is true is our relationship with Jesus.

Let me give you a definition of what maturity looks like. Hold onto this definition – it’s what we will use to see if growth is happening or not. A disciple is a follower of Jesus whose life is centering on loving God and loving others.

A spiritually mature person is someone who lives as if God is who he says he is and will do all he has promised to do.

What now? The answer to what now as least as far as our relationship with God is – maturity – intentional discipleship- a life that centering on loving God and loving others.

We will be intentional about creating a culture of discipleship; a environment where maturity is expected and can happen in positive ways.

So what does this mean? What will maturity look like? How will we know we’re growing in our relationship with Jesus? Paul has a vision of this. His vision was to birth, cultivate and mobilize disciples. So let’s see what Scripture says about maturity and growth.

So here’s the first fill in the blank when we talk about maturity and being a disciple of Jesus – Bring. That seems strange. What does “bring” have to do with maturity and being a disciple? Well, let’s see what Paul means – Read 4:12.

There’s a couple of things really important about this verse. “To equip his people for the work of ministry…” Maturity is about being equipped for something – this work of ministry. Well what is the “work of ministry?” In what we call the Great Commission Jesus said – here is what the people of God do and nothing else – make disciples. So the work of ministry is to invite people who don’t know Jesus to follow him and become his disciples, too, just like you are. What’s the rest of that sentence? “So that the body of Christ may be built up.”

Building up pictures a building under construction, but Paul uses it here with the body of Christ, where the analogy would be physical growth. This includes both adding new members to the body and seeing all of the members growing spiritually as they come to know God and His Word in deeper ways. We read in the early chapters of READ Acts how “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (2:47).

So when we talk about maturity and about being a disciple – a significant part of being a mature disciple means brining or inviting those who don’t know Jesus yet into an environment where they can begin to follow Jesus, too. It’s about invitation to come and see. Come and see who Jesus is and how Jesus transforms our living.

I wish all of you could have been at the church family meeting last Sunday. I’m very proud and appreciate the leadership of your church council. Your leaders have a pretty clear picture of where we’re going as a church in this community. One of the things that we talked about was our position in the portion of Millcreek Township. Did you know that there are 91,000 people within 5 miles around this building who are disconnected from God? So because we understand that a part of being a mature disciple of Jesus is bringing/inviting people into a relationship with Jesus, where asking ourselves the question, “how is God calling us to reconnect with this community in a new way that helps a portion of 91,000 get to know Jesus and follow him?” How can we bring/invite someone else to follow Jesus?

I love the heart of God. I was 16 years old when someone took the time to invite me to follow Jesus. That moment changed my life. And Jesus welcomed me into a relationship with himself. A 16 year old kid who did not have it figured out; who felt every far from God; who was looking for purpose and life. And Jesus stepped into my life and invited me to follow him. What would have happened if I was never invited to come and see and determine for myself is I should follow Jesus?

Who invited you to follow Jesus? Who invited you to come and see? That person changed your life. When we talk about being a mature disciple – we must include a very real conversation about what it means to be a church that intentionally, systematically and cheerfully creates an atmosphere to bring/invite.

Here’s the second word – Grow. This is word that’s easier for many of you to understand, because you are all about personal growth. And growth is critical for being a mature disciple. When we talk about growing we talk about it in language that connects head and heart. Paul says it this way – read 4:13. Unity of the faith is about doctrine and truth- it has to do with head. Disciples will understand basic Christian doctrine and a Biblical worldview. We’ll be unified on the basics of Christian theology. But then Paul goes deeper – knowledge of Son of God. When the Bible uses this word “knowing” or “knowledge” it’s not head knowledge – it’s heart knowledge – it’s intimacy. Not knowing about Jesus but knowing him personally and intimately.

So growing as a disciple and moving to maturity is certainly about head knowledge – we should be learning deeply and be able to communicate who God is. But growth never ends at head knowledge. Head knowledge must change a disciple’s heart. Read Colossians. The more deeply we know God, the more deeply we are transformed. Our lives line up with God. We become just like Jesus.

So when we talk about discipleship and maturity we’re beginning to see that it includes bringing/inviting people to come and see Jesus and to intellectually engage with Jesus and the Bible in a safe place and allow Jesus to get to our hearts. I believe that the local church has the potential to a seminary – a training place for disciples of Jesus. I believe this so much that we’ve created a school of discipleship for us to participate in and take those next right steps of discipleship/maturity which includes discovering our mission. Spiritual maturity, our ministry and our mission. We’ve added a thorough class called Invitation which equips us to see what God is doing through the Bible.

Here’s the final fill in: Send. Read 4:13. Maturity is not an end to itself. Discipleship/maturity occurs so that a disciple is empowered for mission and ministry in Millcreek township; Erie county; PA and the world. A disciple is empowered/trained to “go and tell.” To change the world for Jesus.

Paul talks about this using the language “the fullness of Christ.” To be growing to allow Jesus to fully live in our lives. The church in the world is Jesus in the world; because the church is the fullness of his incarnate body.

So as disciples we are sent as missionaries of Jesus into our jobs, our neighborhood, our family, our favorite restaurant or circle of influence. Maturing, growing disciples are missionaries. In any place we find ourselves we reflect Jesus and invite someone else to get to know Jesus, too.

So now what? When we talk about having ONE Culture – we have choices. We can have a culture where we come and sit in rows and engage in ritual/religion and feel good together. Or we can have a culture in which as the family of God we’re inviting our community to come and get to know Jesus, grow in a knowledge and intimacy of Jesus and be sent into our community to invite more people to follow Jesus.

So here’s our take away this week. I want you to know that you don’t need to be a Bible scholar, the best person in the world, the best parent in the world; but I can invite someone. I can say, come and see. Something special happens when people who are far from God, get together with people who are following Jesus, something special happens. Some of you get this because you’re here because someone invited you.

Let’s practice this; “You should come to my church this Sunday.” Just invite. You’re over hearing a conversation. – You should come to my church this Sunday.

We have no idea how important an invitation could be for someone. You have no idea what hangs in the balance. You have the power to change the trajectory of someone’s life. Simply by inviting.

One Vision (Part 2)

Have you ever had someone in your life and you really, really wanted a deeper relationship with them? You wanted to take that relationship a level deeper and they just wouldn’t go there with you? Maybe back in high school or college and there was this person and you were really falling for them and they were not falling for you. You keep trying to get the relationship to go to a deeper place and they just won’t cooperate. They’re polite and kind about it but they’re distant.one

Or maybe you have adult children and you made some mistakes with them in the past and now you’re trying to reconnect with them. And you don’t just want to have Christmas and Easter with them or just send cards occasionally – you want to have this deeper connection where you’re friends and transparent and you’ve got a deep relationship. And no matter how hard you try, they’re just not going to let you in. They’re not going to let the relationship go to where you want it to go. Or perhaps it’s the other way around and you’re trying to connect with your parents. Maybe your parents were divorced and you grew up with mom or dad and now you’re trying to have a deeper relationship with your other parent and they want nothing to do with it. Everybody is kind and everybody is polite but everybody is a little distant.

You want so badly for the relationship to go somewhere else but there’s just nothing you can do to get it there. Maybe it’s your marriage. That’s the toughest one. Things used to be great. Things used to be intimate – you were like best friends hanging out. And over time something happened and you want that kind of relationship with your husband or wife but it’s kind of like they just checked out. They’re polite. They’re kind. But distant. And you get so frustrated and you try everything you know how to do to bring them into that intimacy that you want. But they just won’t go there.

Have you ever been in any kind of relationship where you wanted to go deeper than it actually ever goes? Isn’t it frustrating because there’s nothing you can do to force somebody to go with you to that level of relationship where it is so comfortable and you are so transparent and you relax and you enjoy being with them?

Now this might be hard for you to believe; it might take a long time for this to get to your heart; and as I’ve lived in some of these sorts of relationships; and as I prepared for today, the prayer I have for myself is God, help this get from here to here.

Believe it not, throughout the whole Bible we are presented with God as one who desires with all of his heart to have an intimate relationship with his creation but time and time again creation stiff arms him and is polite and generally and casually respectful but refuses to go the level of relationship that God desires and has paved the way for us to have. God is pictured in the Bible as a father who wants to have relationship with his son and his son says “I’m going to go do my own thing” and it’s the story of the Prodigal Son and the father waits and waits and waits because he loves his son so much and the son says “no I’m going to do my own thing” and the father never gives up.

He’s presented as a shepherd who loves the sheep but the sheep decide they’re just going to go do their own thing and it breaks the shepherd’s heart.

We see him in the Garden of Eden, the creator God whose creation has turned their back on him. And we see a God who wonders around the garden calling out for his creation – the relationships been broken and he longs for it to be the way it used to be.

From cover to cover the Bible shows us that your heavenly father desires a relationship with you that is not casual and is not distant and isn’t just respectful and isn’t based around a holiday or an environment where you just show up and sit in a row. Throughout Scripture your heavenly Father desires a relationship that is characterized with intimacy. And yet, for reasons we’ll talk about in a few minutes, we treat him respectfully but casually not intimately.

If you have your Bibles, or use your message notes; I want to read a few verse with you. They’re found in Revelation. The book of Revelation was written by John. John was one of Jesus’ first disciples – they hung out together. In the beginning of the book of Revelation, John communicates by writing seven short little letters to some churches. And these letters are essentially God’s word to each of these churches as God wants to say some specific things. So these words were written to a specific church/area called Laodicea. They were written to Christian people in a Christian church yet they reflect the fact that you can be very religious and you can be a believer in God yet have developed a perspective that keeps God at arm’s length. You’re going to be respectful, because after all, it’s God. But you’re not going to let him go with you to a level of relationship that he wants. Read Revelation 3:15. Things aren’t as well as you think they are. Read Revelation 3:20. You’ve got some stuff going on – but here I am. I know you’re busy and you’ve got programs and committees and Bible studies but here I am. But I stand outside the door and knock.

But you’d think like he’d huff and puff and blow the house down if you’re God – what are you doing knocking? Just go in and have your way with them. Jesus says, no I’m just going to knock.

All of sudden we’re introduced to a concept – this thing that sets Christianity apart from every other religion, that our God who invites us to call him Father says this: “with all my power and with all my ability, there is one thing that I cannot do. And it is the one thing I desire the most. I can make you obey me. I can make you fear me. But I cannot make you love me.”

I can threaten you. I can take your children. I can take your finances. I can take your health. I can take things from you. I can give things to you. But I cannot make you love me. Throughout Scripture we see God searching for the very thing he paid such a high price for. He’s searching for the relationship that he had at the beginning. It’s a relationship characterized by the word “intimacy.” But because he can’t force you to love him, he’s standing on the outside saying, “I want in.” I don’t want in like talk about me, believe in me. I want in like a relationship that only you can allow me to have with you. Because I can’t force you to love me. So sometimes as Christians, we have opted for something second. Instead of relationship characterized by intimacy we’ve opted for religion.

Religion is a response to God that allows us to treat God respectfully but not intimately. As some of us have learned, religion is a very empty thing but it’s a substitute for what God ultimately wants. And when you’re committed to religion as opposed to the real thing, God becomes a formula. And you all know the formula – go to church (check), read your Bible (check), say your prayers (check), pray at the meal (check) and if you sin you pray “dear lord please forgive me of my sins in Jesus name, amen.” And then God gets out his eraser and erases all the sin and then zaps his memory so that he can’t remember them anymore. And then I go out and sin a whole bunch more and repeat the formula and the angels whisper ssh, God’s forgotten that. Kind of like an old guy who can’t remember anything.

So in the formula we can be respectful of God but there’s no intimacy. It’s a relationship of ritual and you know what happens eventually to religious people, God becomes someone who just does stuff for me and I become very self-centered; religious people are very self-centered; it’s not about God it’s really about me. It’s about finding the right combination of how I can get God to do for me what I want God to do for me. How do I throw God a bone every once in a while so I can get God to do my bidding? And I would never say that because that would be disrespectful and I don’t want to be disrespectful but I don’t want this whole thing to get too close.

That’s religion. It’s a formula. It’s a way to get God in on my deal and eventually you become judgmental. You become judgmental because you decide that God likes certain things and doesn’t like certain things and when you see people doing things you’ve decided God doesn’t like, then you don’t like them because they’re ungodly.

Sometimes you want to do the things they’re doing so you just hate them. If you weren’t religious you get to do some of that stuff too. So if I’m religious that just doesn’t work – I’m empty and if I’m not religious then I just have guilt and no place to go with my guilt. What am I to do?

Religion is not about love, religion is about harnessing the power of God for me. It’s trying to get God to do something for me. Here’s what Jesus said about some religious people. Read John 16. Jesus says this is where religion goes. This is why it is so dangerous. They will do such things because they have not known the father or me. Not believed but have not known.

There’s no relationship. There’s all kinds of general belief. All kinds of respect. But you don’t know the father. That means the father is a stranger to you. And over time you become a stranger to his ways. And then when things don’t do the way you think they ought to go if there was a God then you get all upset with God who you never knew anyway. Because if there were really a God the way I think there were a God then everything would’ve gone my way.

And when things fall apart you wonder why wasn’t God there and God’s like – you didn’t know me because if you knew me you wouldn’t have done that – you would have never asked her; if you’d have known me you never would have gone; if you had known me you never would have signed; don’t blame me, you don’t even know me. You’re respectful but you don’t know me.

If you don’t know God you’re a stranger to his ways. And if you stranger to God guess what else you’re a stranger too – you become a stranger to God’s love. And when you’re a stranger to God’s love here’s how you view God – God wants me to perform my way into his good graces. And God’s really excited when I sit in a row and put up with a 40 minute sermon. He’s so excited about that. You become a stranger to God’s love and you think the whole thing is about performing your way into his good graces and perhaps performing your way into heaven and you hope you’re a good person. You know why you think that? You are a stranger to God’s love.

Years ago the priority of Christ church was established that said we want intimacy with God – not religion but intimacy. A passionate connection with God. That’s what we stand for – that’s what we would die for – that’s what we want so desperately to have not just for ourselves but for everyone.

We don’t want to become a religious institution. We want to be men and women not on a religious pursuit but one a passionate pursuit to connect with God at the level he’s invited us to connect with him on – intimacy. You know what that means? Intimacy with God is lot like intimacy with a person.

There are several things that happen: it takes time. Unrushed, unstructured, I’m just hanging out sitting with you, time. Some of you here that was your story – when I got alone with God, when I opened God’s word, when I would pray, it was like a breath of fresh air. God was no stranger. There was intimacy. Then things got busy and now I just go to church. And instead of intimacy, I just serve. And instead of this being personal, it’s gotten kind of corporate. And there’s no intimacy. Because I quit giving God time. You can’t have an intimate relationship with anybody where there is no time.

It will also take transparency. This might be new for you. You see if you and I are going to have a real deep relationship we’ve got to be connected. We can’t talk to each other in formulas. It means we’ll have to stop being so polite with God. Honesty. God already knows. Where’s there’s transparency, there’s intimacy. You get the good, the bad and the ugly. And if you accept that from the other person you’ve got a relationship that enviable. Prayer some R-rated prayers, pour out your heart. Listen, he sent his son to die for you so that you could have intimacy with him. How dishonoring is it to keep him at arm’s length and be respectful but no intimate. That leads to third thing for intimacy to happen and this is why we run away from it and towards religion.

There’s got to be submission. This may be the take away for you. Submission is the most powerful relationship dynamic in the world. Mutual submission. I’m going to harness all of my abilities and talents for your best interest. And you’re going to harness all of your abilities and talents for my best interest. And you put two people together or a person and God and you have intimacy. When both parties are committed to mutual submission you go deep. But the idea of submitting to God scares us to death is because we do not know the Father. And we run to religion to keep him at arm’s length.

Mutual submission makes all the difference. And here’s the thing, God has already made the first step. When Jesus died on the cross for you; before you were born; before you said your first prayer; before you did anything – your savior died for you. And in doing so here’s what God said, “I’m going first and submit myself to you. I’m going to put you ahead of me. I’m going to be more concerned about your sin than my glory. I’m going to be more concerned about your sin, your life and your eternity, than I am about my comfort. I’m going to submit to you as an invitation for you to submit to me.”

When we submit ourselves to that kind of relationship something will happen that will take you far outside of ritual and religion.

What are we so afraid of? I’m with you. I’m learning. If I surrender to God, he’s going to huff and puff…no, no, no. Listen God (knocks) I want you to love me. I don’t want you to just be respectful and polite. I want you to love me. I just don’t want you to show up and sit in a row; or perform your way to me; I want intimacy. We don’t need to fear that because God has already surrendered to us. That’s way different than religion but it is what God desires and he cannot and will not force that. He’ll stand at the door and knock.

You know what I want from my children? I don’t want them to use me. I don’t want to be the bank. I can tell when my kids are playing me. I can tell when they want something. But you what really lights me up? When they say, “dad can I talk to you about something?” or “dad can I have a hug?”

If I can tell when my kids are playing me, do you not think that your heavenly father knows when you are playing him? But he wants you to love him and he cannot force that but he has done everything in the world to pave the way for that kind of relationship.

Listen to how John finishes this little letter to these folks in Laodicea. Read Revelation 3:20. (beat the living daylights out of you for making me stand out here so long!) That’s what we fear. It’s not because he can’t get in. It’s because he wants something more than to be in. He wants you to invite him in.

So Jesus says, “Here I am.” Your move! Here I am. Not religion. Your move. I want intimacy with you. It’ll change your life.

ONE Church (Part 1)

I thought we’d start off this new year on a good foundation – the foundation of what it means to be the church. To be part of a covenant community. When we talk about church, invariably what happens is that everyone has opinions about church. Those opinions are usually based on what a church does or doesn’t do. I like this/I don’t like that. Or, can you believe what that preacher did! I want to suggest to you that those are not appropriate conversations about church. Those conversations start from “me” instead of from Jesus. So what we’re going to do is build a strong ecclesiology. Ecclesiology is the study of the church. Who is the church and why does the church exist? We’re going to start deep this year. We’re not playing the shallow end. We’re jumping off the diving board into the deep end.

Contextone

In Ephesians 1-3 the Apostle Paul has described what God has done in bringing believing Jews and Gentile into one body in Jesus Christ, he says in 2:14 – that Jesus has made two groups of people one; and that in chapters 4-6 he’s now going to tell us how we ought to live in that one body – that oneness; so that the first three chapters of Ephesians are about what God has done and who we in fact are in Jesus Christ and the second three chapters, chapters 4-6, are about what we ought to do because we are God’s people in Jesus Christ.

Now, in Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul gets radical and says that we are to preserve the unity that the Spirit has given us, so that the Apostle is calling on us in the life of the church to preserve and to cultivate a unity, a communion with one another, that the Spirit has already given us.  And it’s an amazing statement. He says you have a unity that has been given you by the Spirit. If you’re a follower of Jesus, you have been given a spiritual unity with every other follower of Jesus, and that spiritual unity is especially expressed in the local body of believers, in the local church.  Do you know what God’s favorite word is? God’s favorite word is: ONE. Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear O, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  This is foundational to what we believe. There is one God and only one God. Almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing, holy and ever present. There is none like Him. God is set apart.

Before Jesus ascended back into heaven he gave his disciples a statement commonly called the Great Commission: Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. God does not live in isolation. Because God exists as three in one. He lives in perfect unity. As something that is commonly called “The Trinity.”

Now Paul has all of this going on in his head when he writes 4:1. Live worthy of my calling.

Specifically, to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit. We live unworthily when we disregard unity. God is one and the calling of God’s people is to be one – in purpose, in fellowship, in thought.

Alexander the Great, one of the greatest military generals who ever lived, conquered almost the entire known world with his vast army. One night during a campaign, he couldn’t sleep and left his tent to walk around the campgrounds.

As he was walking he came across a soldier asleep on guard duty – serious offense. The penalty for falling asleep on guard duty was, in some cases, instant death; the commanding officer sometimes poured kerosene on the sleeping soldier and lit it.

The soldier began to wake up as Alexander the Great approached him. Recognizing who was standing in front of him, the young man fear for his life. “Do you know what the penalty is for falling asleep on guard duty?” Alexander the Great asked the soldier.

“Yes, sir,” the soldier responded in a quivering voice.

“Soldier, what’s your name?” demanded the general.

“Alexander, sir.”

Alexander the Great repeated the question: “What is your name?”

“My name is Alexander, sir” the soldier repeated.

A third time and more loudly Alexander the Great asked, “What is your name?”

A third time the soldier meekly said, “My name is Alexander, sir.”

Alexander the Great then looked the young soldier straight in the eye. “Soldier,” he said with intensity, “either change your name or change your conduct.”

The phrase “live a life worthy” has the idea of living a life in such a way that it measures up to something. Think about a set of scales. If I have ten pounds on one side of the scale, I need ten pounds to put on the other side so it will balance. If I put 10.5 on the other side, it would be out of balance. If I put 11, it would be out of balance. I need ten on one side and I need ten on the other.

The word “worthy” takes us even a second step. The word for “worthy” is the word axios. It refers to the intrinsic value of something. So there is value in oneness. Being one defines the church. We are called to be one because God is one. When we are aligned with God we are aligned with each other; and when we are aligned with each other, we are aligned with God.

Tradition claims that Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built over the cave where Christ was buried. Several years back in 2002, the church became the scene of ugly fighting between the monks who run it. It turns out that Ethiopian and Coptic monks have been arguing over the rooftop of the church for centuries. In 1752 the Ottoman Sultan issued an edict declaring which parts of the church belong to each of six different Christian groups.

The rooftop had been controlled by the Ethiopians, but they lost control to the Coptic monks when they were hit by a disease epidemic in the 1800’s. Then in the 1970’s the Ethiopians regained control when the Coptic monks were absent for a short period. The Ethiopians have been squatting there ever since with at least one monk always remaining on the roof to assert their rights. But in response to this, a Coptic monk has also been living on the roof to maintain the Coptic claim to the church’s roof.

In July 2002, when the Coptic monk on the roof moved his chair into the shade where the Ethiopian monk was sitting, harsh words led to pushing and shoving and then to an all-out brawl. Eleven monks were injured, including one who was taken to the hospital unconscious. Amazingly, all this took place in a church that is supposedly built on the same location of Jesus’ tomb.

When the church is divided it produces some very tragic results. On the other hand, when the church is one it unleashes a power that can hardly be stopped. ONE – being in the same mind, purpose, desire.

For my church to be one, I will make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. (Read 4:2-3).  In verse 2 he communicates the character traits that will preserve the unity: humility, gentleness, patience, and love. If you are humble you will be gentle, if you are patient you will be enduring, if you’re gentle and patient you will be a peacemaker.

There is strength in humility that says, “I am not the center, Jesus is the center and I will submit to him and go where he leads. I am not the king, God is the king. Our unity is based on the objective unity outside of ourselves. There is one body and one Spirit.

Notice Paul’s words: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” By our peace with one another, expressed in our relationships in this local congregation, we are preserving a unity that has been given to us by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit brought us together, different as we are, into one family, into one body. But the unity that we experience doesn’t just happen. It takes work, just like a good marriage takes work. A good marriage doesn’t just happen. There are things that have to be done for a good marriage to flourish, and those have to be cultivated for that marriage to be what God intends it to be.

God has given us a unity in the body of Christ, but we must make every effort to preserve that unity which God has given us and to see it expressed in peace.

Let’s go a little further – let’s make this practical. Read 4:4-6.

Now what does all of this have to do with our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? The reason we are one is so that together we can move in one, same direction. For my church to be one, I will be a team player.

Since there is only one God, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism and only one body – there is one purpose. Since there is only one God – this one God has created a way for the whole earth to be reconciled to him (Acts 4:12)

The issue in the church at Ephesus was whether the Gentiles could belong to the body of Christ in the same way the Jews did. The answer was that Jesus reconciled both in one body to God in the cross. Both have access to the Father. Those who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ and made one. So the issue of unity/oneness for Paul is created by the mission of the church to those who were far off – the gentiles, the nations.

In other words, Jesus is the foundation for our mission. If there were many gods and many saviors and many valid faiths and many baptismal entrances – there would be no need for our mission to make disciples of Jesus. But there is only one God and one Lord and one faith and one baptism. And so this truth must be revealed. (Romans 10)

So the truth that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism is the foundation for our existence. This requires a diligence to maintain a oneness of purpose under the lordship of Jesus. We are one in mission, all headed in the same direction together. This is expressed in our vision – that dream of the future.

Football, around here is a pretty big deal. One of the greatest football coaches in history was Bear Bryant – Alabama. Bear Bryant used to say this about his football team: “I’m just a plow hand from Arkansas, but I have learned how to hold a team together. How to lift some men up, how to calm others down, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat, together, a team.” One heartbeat! That’s what Paul is communicating here. A team – a single unit composed of individual components for the purpose of accomplishing a common goal. One body, one Spirit, one Lord, one baptism. We are many, yet we are one. Our team is defined by our relationship to Jesus. We are perfect together! We are healthy together! When we play as a team, we fulfill the God-given vision for his church.

One is critical to being the church. That doesn’t mean that we become mindless robots (or worse, zombies) without identity, personal creativity or beautiful uniqueness. Being one means that we take all of our diversity and giftedness and personality and education and funnel it all in the same direction to glorify God and to invite people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus to begin following him.

How do I study the Bible?

FlourishLogo-copy

themessage
April 21, 2013
Flourish – How Do I Study the Bible?
Rev. Ron Geisler
_____________________________________________

Scripture will change your life. When the power of God’s Word is applied to your life, you will grow and experience an intimacy with God as you trust in His transforming work. Last week we put down a foundation – any strong, long-lasting building needs a proper foundation. As we work to build our life with God, foundation is needed. That foundation is built on the Word. So now we’re going to discover one way of building into your life a commitment to daily Bible reading. If you don’t already have a plan in place and practice daily bible study you may want to begin by using this plan for a couple of months–to see how you like it. As you seek God and expect the Holy Spirit to teach, inspire and direct your steps, keep in mind that this tool is intended to serve you, not to make you feel guilty!

Also, remember that your goal is to worship God by hearing and obeying His voice. Worship the God of the Bible, not the Bible itself. If you miss a day, or even few days, don’t go back and try to “catch up.” Just pick up with the current day’s reading. Feel free to adapt how you use this tool. But, most importantly, use it to develop a healthy habit of spending time with God on a daily basis.

Here are few steps to get you started…

Step 1—Decide How Much to Read

A systematic Bible reading plan will aid you in developing the discipline for daily Bible reading. The Snack/Meal/Feast format gives you a choice of reading levels for each day of the year:

Snack—A brief Bible reading (5 minutes daily)
Meal—A more extensive reading (10-15 minutes daily)
Feast—A daily reading that will take you through the entire Bible in a year, including two times through the New Testament (15-20 minutes daily)

Step 2—Decide On a Time and Place

Develop as many routines as you can relating to your Bible reading. The routines give a sense of comfort to your commitment and help in the formation of a positive habit.

Remember that the goal isn’t to keep up with the plan—the goal is to spend time with God and allow Him to speak and interact with you through His Word every day.

Step 3—Bring These Items to Your Reading Place

Your Bible; your Bible reading plan; a journal/notebook; a pen/pencil/computer for journaling your thoughts; an open heart that desires to hear from God

Step 4—Record What Jesus Speaks to You (SOAP)
When you have chosen your snack, meal or feast, begin your reading time by asking the Holy Spirit to speak to you from His Word. Record the date and prayerfully read the assigned passages. Then, begin journaling by using the SOAP method.

What is the SOAP method?

The SOAP method for Bible study is a simple plan to help you get the most out of Scripture.

Scripture. Come to your moments of study with a Scripture in mind. For the SOAP plan, I’ve provided daily Scripture reading. They are found in the calendar section of the bulletin and will be posted on the Charge’s Facebook page every week. These Scriptures begin with the The Gospel of Mark. I’ve chosen this Gospel to reintroduce us to Jesus and if we are all reading the same passages we’ll be better able to have conversations together. However, this is just one plan. If you are already engaged in a Bible reading plan, keep up with that.

Observation. As you’re reading the Scripture passage for that particular day, you’ll be doing more that just giving a cursory reading. The next step in this method is to observe what is happening.

Typically, I’m a quick reader. I’ll buzz through an article or book without really reading deeply. I want to get to the main idea. I do that with the Bible, too. But when we slow down to observe what is happening we see so much more. So when we are reading the Bible passage we can apply some simple techniques. For instance we can ask those elementary questions like “who, what, where, when, and how?” These questions help us see the context and the bigger picture. For example, in our Scripture from James, when we slow down to see what’s happening, we observe that the author, James, says, “don’t just listen to the Bible, do what it says.” I observe that there seems to be a connection between hearing/reading the word and actually doing what it says. I can also observe that James says the person who does pay attention to the word and “does” the word is blessed.

When we observe, we let what we read and see ruminate in our spirits. When we slow down we can notice deeper things. And then from observation we can begin to ask, “how did this verse affect me?” I recommended keeping some sort of journal with this, something you can jot notes or ideas in and that will let you remember and reflect.

Then the next step moves us into Application. A lot of times we can have the habit of quickly reading a verse and then jumping and saying, “this is what this means,” without observing. Once we’ve spent moments observing we can then begin to see how a verse or verses actually apply to our life. In application, we’re discovering how the passage applies to your own life.

Let’s go back to this James passage. After I’ve prayerfully observed what is being said, I might come to an application for me that says, “I don’t really apply the Bible to my life.” I hear/read it but rarely do I do what the Bible says. My application might be – I’m going to take the Bible seriously and apply what I learn everyday. And then I’ll jot down some action steps for how I can apply things. One action step for applying what I’m reading might be to ask God to let me be aware of how I might have an open heart to the people around me so that I can be sensitive to their needs.

Action steps are critical. They provide us with a plan to apply what God is showing us in his word. I tend to tell folks that when they sense God speaking to them immediately move to do something about what they’ve heard. Because if you’re like me, you quickly forget.

Finally, Pray. Write down a brief prayer that expresses how you feel about the passage you’ve just read. “God, I’m sorry that I don’t often do what your word says. Help me to take it seriously and not just listen to hear but listen to do and be more faithful. Amen.” Praying keeps you in touch with God’s heart. And a connection with God happens over his word. Prayer allows me to begin the movement of transformation that this passage is directing.

SOAP is a very simple method to help you read and study Scripture for the purpose of letting God, through the Bible, transform you and make you more like Jesus and flourish in everything you do. I invite you to try this plan for the next 30 days and tell me what is happening in your walk with God.

An Advent Response to the Events at Sandy Hook Elementary School

“A voice was heard in Ramah,

weeping and much grieving.

Rachel weeping for her children,

and she did not want to be comforted,

because they were no more.”

Matthew 2:18

Like much of the nation, I spent Friday grieving and being close to my own children.  My heart and prayers go to the families and to the Community of Newtown, Connecticut.  I cannot begin to imagine the pain.  As a father I can only think how unbearable the loss of your child would be in this situation.  When these parents put their children on the morning bus; when the spouses and families said goodbye to the teachers, how could they ever fathom the day would end like it did.  “Why?” is the only appropriate question and response that any of us can utter. We may never fully understand.

While reading many social media posts and listening to television anchors and pundits, I must confess that these are not the days for political statements regarding gun control or whether Americans allow the mention of God in the school system.  This event transcends all arguments and stances.  Echoing the mayor of the small, tight-knit community, “evil came to Newtown.”  Evil is in intention.  Evil is in the human heart.  The issue facing us had everything to do with our souls and the soul of the nation.  Perhaps where we can agree is that our soul is wounded.  Our grief is not only for the children and families of Newtown.  Our grief goes much deeper and pierces the heart and soul of the nation.  Faced with the real consequences of evil we weep together. 

As the Church, we are deep into the season of Advent.  Advent is a period of expectation.  What will God do?  How will we be the manger through which God can enter the world today to do a new thing?  Those are the questions upon which we’ve been meditating.   How can Advent speak to the events of Friday?   My mind went immediately to this poem in Matthew’s gospel.  The poem is connected to the story of Christmas.  After the birth of Jesus, King Herod was angry and afraid.  Fearing that a newborn Messiah would pose a threat to his throne, he had all male children two-years old and younger murdered.  Evil came to Bethlehem. 

Bethlehem was the place God chose to become incarnate.  God entered the world to destroy evil; to bring God’s kingdom and reign.  While we do see undeniable moments where God’s kingdom is here now, it is not yet here in its fullness.  We will see glimpses of God’s kingdom destroying the effects of evil as we see families consoled over the weeks and months ahead.  We will see the kingdom of God coming when the Church and those in our culture who care, do daily things to overcome evil with good.

However, Advent calls us to watch expectantly for the fullness of God’s kingdom. A kingdom where there is no more evil; where there is no more murder; where mothers will have no need to grieve over their children; where fathers will not need to wrestle with revenge; where pain and death is no more; where God is with his people and the earth is fully redeemed.  In the tragedy of Friday’s events we can grasp more deeply the hope that we proclaim during the season of Advent.  Come quickly Lord Jesus.  Amen.      

 

The Third Week of Advent

Rev. Ronald J Geisler, MDiv      

Ron Geisler (@rongeisler) has shared a tweet with you

Parents are the primary disciplers of their children. The church can reinforce, but can’t replace — Mike Glenn (@mikeglenn)