Rediscovering Faithfulness

KEY QUESTION
Why is it important to be loyal and committed to God and others?

KEY IDEA
I have established a good name with God and others based on my loyalty to those relationships.

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Proverbs 3:3-4


Have you ever thought about this? God is far less interested in your results than the person you are becoming. Many people in our life have tried to substitute results for what they lacked: joy, relationship, character. (citation: Dallas Willard – Cutting Edge magazine, Summer 1999. A publication of Vineyard USA – Becoming The Kinds of Leaders Who Can Do The Job)

This fall has been a journey about Christian character – another way to say that is to ask: “Are we displaying virtues of a soul that is captured by Jesus?”

Today we are considering the quality of faithfulness

When I think of faithfulness certain images come to mind. The first is DOGS. They have this incredible trait of loyalty. At the beginning of the service you heard about Bobby the Skye Terrier from Scotland.

Another one is the the famous Japanese Akita dog known as Hachiko, or Hachi. Hachiko would see his owner off to work in the morning at the Shibuya Train Station, in central Tokyo and went to pick him up at the station in the afternoon when he returned from work.

Less than 2 years in doing this routine on May 21, 1925, Hachiko was as usually sitting by the exit at the train station waiting for his dear owner. But his owner never showed up…..he had suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage and died.  

Hachiko moved in with a former gardener of the Ueno family, but throughout the rest of his life he kept going to the Shibuya Train Station every morning and afternoon precisely when the train was due to enter the station, waiting in vain for the return of his beloved owner which sadly never came back.

This is an actual photo of him waiting to meet his master. He did this for the ten years!

A major Japanese newspaper reporter picked up the story of Hachiko in 1932 and published it, which led to Hachiko becoming a celebrity all over Japan.

People started calling him “Chuken-Hachiko”, which means “Hachiko – the faithful dog”.

Another image of faithfulness is from one of my favorite movies LOTR and the hero of the story – Samwise Gamgee. He was Frodo’s friend who made a promise that he would help him deliver the ring into the fires of Mordor. At one point early on on the trip Frodo tried to leave Sam because he began to realize how the depth of danger. In the novel there is this captivating moment

Frodo: Go back, Sam! I’m going to Mordor alone.
Sam: Of course you are, and I’m coming with you!

Sam’s demonstrated his faithfulness by sticking to his promise.  

Stories about dogs  and mythical creatures present faithfulness as a inspiring ideal

But let’s bring faithfulness into the real human world –

I think of SEARS – a 60 plus old company that has shut its doors, shut down its pension for its employees – all 12,000 of them. Many of them were loyal and look at their reward. Perhaps many them are wishing they had jumped ship sooner.

Another image is MARRIAGE – statistics tell us in Canada that despite vows of faithfulness – 41% of marriages today will end in divorce by 2035!

The Folly of Faithfulness – An inspiring ideal but a fool’s errand

Faithfulness I would suggest often gets bad press. We might be tempted to think – an inspiring ideal but a fool’s errand. Valuable employees move quickly from one job to another. Staying through to the end is often seen as optional. Being faithful others who are not your close family is not really considered wise.

Today’s wisdom tells us to be faithful to ourselves. In fact we often don’t value faithfulness because we see that often it is not rewarded. We fail to see how faithfulness has an intrinsic worth regardless of how others respond to this virtue.

We have to be careful not become friendly to the world’s thinking at a moment like this – we have to let go of the notion that a character trait is only good as long as we get something out of it! That is being “conformed to the pattern of this world” instead of being “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (cf. Romans 12:2, NIV)

Transition: Our challenge is to understand “faithfulness” neither as an inspiring idea for dogs/hobbits nor as a foolish idea for people, but instead, to think of this as Jesus did and let it transform our thinking…

The Faithfulness of God
I do what I say
I’m not going anywhere

Faithfulness matters because we see it in the nature of God. God is faithful.

Preacher Chip Ingram in his blog “Living on the Edge” describes God’s faithfulness like this – Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we all believe in someone or something to “hold us up” inside. When that person or thing comes through for us, then life is good! But when that person or thing doesn’t come through for us, then we experience a sense of anxiety, dissatisfaction, and ultimately despair. But the truth is, there isn’t anyone or anything that will come through for us 24/7 – except for God Himself.

Grasping God’s faithfulness is expressed in two simple ways. God’s faithfulness means God is saying to us…

 

  • I do what I say
  • I am not going anywhere

 

God does what He says He will do!

God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)

  • God promised to Abraham a nation and from his family came tribes from those tribes the nation Israel was birthed.  
  • God promised a Saviour and we celebrate Christmas with the birth of Jesus.
  • God promised One who would take away our sin and while we were still sinners we see Christ dying for us on the cross.
  • Jesus promised he would rise again and now there is an empty tomb.
  • Jesus promised the Holy Spirit and now we see lives transformed when people are filled by faith with God’s divine presence in their lives.

I do what I say…

But God also says, “I am not going anywhere”

God’s faithful presence is heard throughout scripture where he will not leave us or forsake us. (Joshua 1:5) King David said, ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. (Acts 2:25) Jesus said

Here is something worth thinking about – The times we  experience God’s presence most vividly is when we are doubting, weak, tempted or when we sin.

In all those times if we listen we can hear God saying, “I am not going where.”

    • Are you stretched thin with doubts? See how creation reveals the presence of God. The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalm 19:1

 

  • Are you feeling weak, discouraged , overwhelmed.? When the apostle Paul was weak the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” In response, Paul said: Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Corinthians 12:9) We default to the belief God isn’t with us when we’re struggling and weak. But just the opposite is true.
  • Are you tempted? No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Co. 10:13)

 

  • Have you sinned? God again shows us his faithful presence. Our natural reaction is to run and hide. We feel so bad and ashamed. But God promises that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) – Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Praise God for His compassionate, merciful faithfulness...I do what I say and I am not going anywhere is how God shows us faithfulness time and time again.

Now here is where we are going – if faithfulness is a big deal for God it should be a big deal for me. It should be a quality that in my walk with God is becoming more evident. Faithfulness is a trait of intrinsic worth. When I seek to demonstrate it in my life I am following God’s example.

Faithfulness in me

I do what I say
I’m not going anywhere

So how does faithfulness live out in me? Do you see the overlap?

I do what I saywhen I make a promise I keep it. When I tell someone I will follow through I will. My words and action go hand in hand.

Living out my faith is a recognition that faith demands effort. Dallas Willard make an important distinction when it comes to faith and works. His slogan is “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude; effort is an action.”

When Jesus calls us to live in the Kingdom of God I have to start becoming a person where I do what I say….it will require effort to walk the second mile, serve others with a cup of cold water, showing up in each others lives to love one another.

I am not going anywhere…have you ever wondered when people need your presence the most? It is when they are stretched thin with doubts, feeling weak-discouraged -overwhelmed, tempted to sin and when they sin.

That is when God is calling us to follow his example as his dearly loved children. Think about your friendships, your marriage, your family, your family of faith, your circles of people where every soul you meet is looking for those people who are not going to check out…faithfulness means I am not going anywhere

Just like English, the Greek word for faithfulness is build on the foundation of “faith” or “belief”.  The standard Greek dictionary for the New Testament says that faithfulness is “the passive aspect of πιστεύω [to believe]” In other words, faithful is that virtue of being found worthy of trust.  If I am faithful, you can depend on me. You can believe in me.  What a great idea!  

So important is this character trait for the follower of Jesus Christ that Jesus himself lauds it as being at the top of list in terms of what separates the follower of Jesus from others.

Jesus told lots of stories about what the kingdom of God is like – there is that one about the master with 3 servants – before he went on a journey – one was given 5 bags of gold, one was given 2 bags of gold and one was given 1 bag of gold.

When the master returned two of them had done something with the gold – Master’s response – ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:21

To the servant who did not do anything with gold – he was called wicked and lazy – and was cast out.

Jesus story tells us so much but one is this – faithfulness opens us up to opportunities where God wants us to serve.

To Jesus, faithfulness is a critical distinction between world and the church. May it be so with us.

Prayer: God you are faithful – You have shown us in your Word and through our lives that you do what you say and you are not going anywhere. 

 

Seek the Good (Brent Hudson)

KEY QUESTION
What does it mean to do the right thing? How do I know?

KEY IDEA
I choose to be kind and good in my relationships with others.

KEY VERSE
Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good (lit. “the good”)  for each other and for everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 5:15, NIV)


Introduction

Today we are looking at two virtues of the Christian life – goodness & kindness.  These are often seen as a bit bland and perhaps they are so obviously part of the Christian life that one could think they hardly warrant a message.  On the surface, I agree.  To use an idea from Paul, among the virtues these seem like “elementary teachings” or “milk, not solid food” — but I think the deeper we delve into these ideas, the more we see that simple ideas can sometimes be easy to ignore.

When you look up the word “goodness” or “good” in the standard theological dictionary of Greek words (NIDNTT) you notice right away that there are three words grouped together under the general idea of “good”.

  • The first refers to what is “good and moral”
  • the second to what is “good and pleasing” and
  • the third refers to what is “good and kind”

I’m simplifying, of course, human language is rarely consistent and often used ironically or in some symbolic manner.  But it is important for us to see that it is a big idea and that the concepts of what is good and what is kind are connected.

Sometimes in a translation, you find that an original saying is explained more than translated because the two languages don’t line up very well.  I find the text of 1Thess 5:15 is like that.  Literally the text reads: “pursue the good for each other and for all”.  Most translators will say the phrase “the good” is awkward and change it to “what is good” and then they add a verb “to do” to make it more clear “seek or strive to do what is good” even though the Greek text is actually more powerful when it says: “pursue the good”.  I want to leave the idea of “the good” alone and not make it “what is good” or “things that are good” — I want to leave it as it stands “the good” because I think it helps us look at our actions from 20000ft up above the ground. The view is clear in a broad way and I think it helps us understand the big picture. I am a firm believer that understanding the big picture of what God wants is the best help available in getting the details right in our lives.

And from our passage what is clear right away is. . .

“The good” exists…

It’s a strange thing to say really, but I think sometimes we forget it.  There is a moral category called the “the good” and it does exist and we need to be aware of its existence as we make life-choices.  As we look to the text Paul doesn’t hesitate in declaring we need to look for it. It’s there in every circumstance.  Sometimes it is hard to see.  Other times we may wonder if it is worth the effort to find, but we must never deceive ourselves into thinking it doesn’t exist.  In every circumstance and on every occasion, there is “the good” and we are told to look for it.

The very first line of Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life says: “it’s not about you”.  While that may seem ho-hum in a christian context, in a world that defines “#1” as “self” — it’s an important reminder.  And we need to be reminded regularly that life is not primarily about us and achieving all the things we set out to do.  Primarily, life is about God and bringing God glory. We do that primarily by believing in his Son, Jesus Christ and in an on-going focus on looking for what God is doing or wants us to do.  The thing that God would have us do we would call “the good”.  The good exists because God exists and “The Good” is primarily about God and his purposes, not about what I want.  Paul makes this clear in the passage when he says that for the Christian, it is the good of others and everyone that we are to be concerned.  We are part of that “everyone else” he refers to, but we are not at the center.

Even so, I know that we often struggle with figuring out “the good” in real-time.  The fact is that

“The good” can get complicated

  • It is often hard

The decision making is difficult in the best of times.  Usually there are many factors involved.  When you add the idea of the “the good” and then compound that with “for each other and everyone” — our thinking slows down.  Now we have to think about how our decisions affect others outside our immediate group — our spouse, our kids. Now we look at our extended family, our church, our friends & neighbours. The reach grows immediately from something simple to something hard.

But you know as well as I do that what is most difficult is actually doing this. Sometimes it is obvious what “the good” is but doing it will require something from us that is difficult.

  • Others may disagree

Another reason pursuing the good is complicated is that it conflicts with our desire to promote ourselves. Sometimes doing “the good” will get us criticized.  Sometimes people will misunderstand and sometimes people will just simply disagree with our understanding of what “the good” is.  These are the risks we run when we break free of a self-focused existence.

I know that the bible teaches to give a portion of my income to the church.  Traditionally, that is 10% – a tithe.  The NT teaches that all my possessions belong to God, but we like to give the first 10% of our income to our local congregation to support our common spiritual life.  If you come from a non-christian family, the first thing people will say if they find out is that you are crazy.  Maybe brain-washed.  I mean, who does that right.  Particularly if you are trying to get yourself out of debt or save for retirement or pay off a mortgage.  In a world acclimatized to “the easy” or “the self” — pursuing “the good” is a strange and often disagreeable thing.

  • We must decide

Finally, pursuing “the good” gets complicated by the simple fact that we need to make a decision and act on it.  It goes beyond a mental exercise. There may be 10 possible choices, be we must discern which one represents “the good”.  It may be that half of our options ‘good’ and so we need to look for what is best — the most good of our good options.  In either case, being frozen in indecision is not the same as pursuing “the good”.

We are called to actively pursue “the good”

To say that we are ‘called’ to actively pursue the good is a bit of a euphemism. Yes, it is true that we are called, but more accurately the Bible tells us to do this.  It is not a suggestion, or some ‘big over-arching’ idea about meaningful living — it is a command.  The command ultimately is rooted in another command — Love one another.  We cannot love one another and not seek the good for each other.  We cannot love one another and only choose what is good for me.  More importantly, Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians that “the good” stands as the opposite of evil.  Do not repay evil for evil but pursue the good for each other.  You see when you read the whole thing, it becomes clear that the “one another” part is not just people who are treating you well.  In this case, it is someone who may be treating your in an evil manner.  Someone who you may be tempted to get revenge on or at a minimum totally ignore.  But Paul says we must seek the good for each other — even if the ‘other’ is doing something hurtful to us.  This is ultimately the way of Christ.

Richard Hays wrote a massive book a decade ago and it is now consider a standard among scholars who teach NT ethics at the university level.  I’ve used it for courses I’ve taught at Crandall, but even more significantly, I use it as a pastor navigating the many life issues that come our way.

Hays doesn’t give all the answers, but what he does do is give three lenses to look through as we try to figure out what “the good” is in any circumstance.  I want to share those three ideas because — obviously — being able to know what is good is essential if we are to live for Christ in this world.  The first lens is the cross.  The cross has great significance to the Christian faith — it is the place where sin was beaten and our collective debt to God was paid in full.  As an example though. . .

  • The Cross teaches us to sacrifice

We need to be reminded again and again that personal sacrifice is the norm for the Christian life.  If we are to seek the good for each other, that means that we all sacrifice and we all benefit from each other’s sacrifice.  We are actually strengthened by that sacrifice rather than weakened by it.  And I’m not just talking spiritually — though that also is true — I’m referring to strength of character.  It is as we learn to put others before ourselves that we learn what real strength is. Anybody can be a bully or self-centered person. It’s actually really easy to just focus on self — what is hard is putting that aside.  The cross teaches us that this is God’s way.  It’s not something for us to boast about. It’s not something that makes us better than others.  Sacrifice is the way of God. It’s what the Father did when he sent his Son; it’s what Jesus did when he gave his life, it’s what the Holy Spirit within us is doing as we grieve and quench His holy presence in us because of sinful choices. God sacrifices.  If we are to pursue the good, we must be ready to sacrifice.  It’s not always necessary, but we must always be ready.

The second lens Hays gives us the church — but not the building or institution — the community of people who profess faith in Jesus Christ and have experienced spiritual rebirth in Christ.

  • God’s community discerns and expresses the good together.

It is in spiritual community that we understand what “the good” is.  We discern it together.  We pray for understanding and we discuss God’s word together.  We declare “the good” as it is clearly stated in Scripture and we learn from each other how to apply God’s truth with humility and grace in our modern world.

In John 17, Jesus makes it very clear that it is in the community of his followers that the world will see hope.  It is Christians unified in Christ, worshipping him and living for him — following his ways in all things — that will show the world that Jesus is God’s son.  That’s an amazing privilege and responsibility.

At the human level, our first connection must with others who seek to follow Jesus.  People who can help us and correct us. People who see things we don’t see and who may not see what we see.  There is a mutuality to it and in this mutual love and friendship we find the good together. None of us lives in a vacuum.  We need each other, not just for emotional health but to truly understand the ways of God.

Finally, Hays’ third lens to help us find “the good” is to accept and cooperate with His Spirit in us.

  • God gives us power to demonstrate goodness and kindness

Even though we are prone to make selfish choices.  We are prone to deceive ourselves about what “the good” actually is.  God has placed his Spirit in us to give us the power to change and to live for him — to pursue “the good” for each other and everyone else.

In Galatians 5, we see that goodness and kindness are among the qualities that are produced by the Spirit living inside of those who believe in Jesus Christ.  God is doing that inside of us.  The seeds are planted and power to grow is in us.  We have no excuses when we are angry and hurtful to each other.  Choosing “the good” is always an option.

Sometimes pursuing what is good for others will mean hardship for ourselves.  People may criticize us.  People may find fault in us.  Yet at the end of the day, we are a people called to follow Christ and to seek the good for others and everyone else.

That is the way of the cross.

That is the way of spiritual community.

That is the way of the Spirit of God, at work in us, giving us the power to Seek the Good.

Seek the Good

Seek the Good

KEY QUESTION
What does it mean to do the right thing? How do I know?

KEY IDEA
I choose to be kind and good in my relationships with others.

KEY VERSE
Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good (lit. “the good”)  for each other and for everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 5:15, NIV)


The journey we are on this fall in our community of faith is too look at the list of virtues or inner qualities of the heart that has been captured by Jesus. Today we are going to pay specific attention to qualities of kindness and goodness.

They are part of the visible gifts of God’s Holy Spirit indwelling us. (Make a note of this passage) Galatians 5:22-23 – But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control…

This call upon our lives to demonstrate kindness and goodness becomes our canvas today as we draw out the implications of a simple verse in the bible.

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good (lit. “the good”)  for each other and for everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 5:15, NIV)

If we are to be known for our kindness and goodness we are going to be people who will always strive to do what is “the good”. We will seek the good.

When the bible speaks about the good we are proclaiming a profound truth. We are saying if we that to find meaning, significance and purpose in our lives we are called to be people who seek the good. This is a moral imperative for God’s people.

 

Brent reminded me the text of our key verse literally translates this part of the 1 thessalonoians 5:15 – “pursue the good for each other and for all”

Let me read this observation by Brent, (That means)There is a moral category called the “the good” and it does exist and we need to be aware of its existence as we make life-choices.  As we look to the text Paul doesn’t hesitate in declaring we need to look for it. It’s there in every circumstance.  Sometimes it is hard to see.  Other times we may wonder if it is worth the effort to find, but we must never deceive ourselves into thinking it doesn’t exist.  In every circumstance and on every occasion, there is “the good” and we are told to look for it.

In fact when we are considering what job we are called to do, how we are to live among others within our families, neighbours and within God’s family and how wil make a difference in this world – seeking the good for others is an anchor point for our lives.

And the good that exists is not based on me. Often a wide gulf exists between each other when the good becomes, what is good for me”. That phrase masks the motives that lie beneath the surface. It is code for – my wants and my desires. Good for me comes to mean what I find comfortable and convenient.

 Rather the good exists because God exists. The very character of God includes goodness.

I think of Jesus words when ask by the rich young ruler. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. (cf.Mark 10:17-18)

In the OT songbook of the Psalms we hear –

How kind the Lord is! How good he is! So merciful, this God of ours! Psalm 116:5

One of my earliest choruses I learned was “God is so good, God is so good. God is so good. He’s so good to me”

Consider how the bible shows us God is good.

  • God created a world that was good. Paul reminds us of this when he tells Timothy – Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks. 1 Timothy 4:4
  • God works good in the midst of evil. In the story of Joseph and his family Joseph  declares –  You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people
  • God has planned long ago for us to do good things. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10

The Good exists because God exists. “The Good” is primarily about God and his purposes, not about what I want. We need to remind ourselves of that on a regular basis. Jesus Christ is at the center of God’s purposes – and the highest good is that Christ is center of all we do.

The good can get complicated

As we get along on life it seems that seeking the good can get complicated.    

 

  • It is often hard

 

The decision making is difficult in the best of times.  Usually there are many factors involved.  When you add the idea of the “the good” and then compound that with “for each other and everyone” — our thinking slows down.  Now we have to think about how our decisions affect others outside our immediate group — our spouse, our kids. Now we look at our extended family, our church, our friends & neighbours. Now we have to think about the difference of what is nice, versus what is best which may look worse up front but good in the long run.

Seeking the good grows immediately from something simple to something hard.

Example of fire drill – yelling fire is more dangerous than pulling the fire alarm –   

But you know as well as I do that what is most difficult is actually doing this. Sometimes it is obvious what “the good” is but doing it will require something from us that is difficult.  

 

  • Others may disagree

 

Another reason pursuing the good is complicated is that it conflicts with our desire to promote ourselves. Sometimes doing “the good” will get us criticized.  Sometimes people will misunderstand and sometimes people will just simply disagree with our understanding of what “the good” is.  These are the risks we run when we break free of a self-focused existence.

I know that the bible teaches to give a portion of my income to the church.  Traditionally, that is 10% – a tithe.  The NT teaches that all my possessions belong to God, but we like to give the first 10% of our income to our local congregation to support our common spiritual life.  

If you come from a non-christian family, the first thing people will say if they find out is that you are crazy.  Maybe brain-washed.  I mean, who does that right?  Particularly if you are trying to get yourself out of debt or save for retirement or pay off a mortgage.  In a world acclimatized to “the easy” or “the self” — pursuing “the good” is a strange and often disagreeable thing.  

 

  • We must decide

 

Finally, pursuing “the good” gets complicated by the simple fact that we need to make a decision and act on it.  It goes beyond a mental exercise. There may be 10 possible choices, be we must discern which one represents “the good”.  It may be that half of our options ‘good’ and so we need to look for what is best — the most good of our good options.  In either case, being frozen in indecision is not the same as pursuing “the good”.  

We are called to actively pursue “the good”

A rationale often given to not chose the good is stated – “well we really didn’t have a choice.” Choosing the good is always an option.

I think about all the good choices in the midst of misguided, foolish, wrong and evil reactions we face in our lives. Let us not be simplistic – there are real dilemmas we face in our marriage, parenting, work as employers/employees & play, as a friend, neighbour,  global citizen, and life itself about what seeking the good as a soul who is learning to think, act and be like Jesus.

But choosing the good for a follower is anchored in these realities of the good news of God to us.

    • The Cross teaches us to sacrifice

we are often reminded doing good will require we say no to our self centered desires in order for the good to happen.

    • God’s community discerns and expresses the good together.

Often we may wish for more good to happen n the world around us…we celebrate when it occurs but are not surprised when we self interest reigns. But the one place where we can seek the good consistently is in God’s family the church. We need to encourage one another to seek the good as fellow believers – encourage generosity, service, learning, caring.

The church needs to be the place where we have honest , at times uncomfortable and challenging  discussions as we prayerfully discern about seeking the good.

Doing the good happens together – when you and i come together God leads us to do things that by ourselves is unimaginable.  

 

  • God gives us power to demonstrate goodness and kindness

These qualities are God’s divine work in our our souls. We need to actively depend on all the energy that Christ so powerfully works in you and me. (Colossians 1:29)

 

Conclusion:

Seek the good – do it kindly – these are essential characteristics of love. How will you express goodness and kindness this week Are you becoming a person who is living out such is the love of Christ we are called to express.

 

Choosing “the good” is always an option

 

“Seek the good for each other”

 

What is the good? Criteria for the good.

 

What are the tools/truths do I have at my disposal to discern the good?

 

Everybody has a dilemma of what is the good?

 

Ethical perspective:

 

  • Do the good versus the wrong
  • Do unto others  
  • Prayerfully ask for wisdom
  • We may discern differently
  • Good is different from nice and comfortable
  • Decision made by faith

 

His purpose is to show the meaning of kindness in the life of the man whom Christ has

grasped. Kindness and gentleness belong to the visible gi”s of the Spirit (Gal.

5:22). Love (See art.; → ἀγάπη) shows itself as kindness (1 Cor. 13:4, expressed

here by the vb. chrēsteuetai hē agapē). For kindness is an unmistakable and

essential characteristic of love. Because kindness is one of the chief gi”s of the

Spirit, it becomes the subject of the exhortation of Col. 3:12: “Put on then, as

God’s chosen ones, compassion, kindness.”

 

  • The good get complicated
    • The good is hard
    • Others discern differently
    • We make choices by faith

 

  • We are called to actively pursue it.

 

Patient pain

KEY QUESTION
How does God provide the help I need to deal with stress?

KEY IDEA
I am slow to anger and endure patiently under the unavoidable pressures of life.


A priest, a doctor, and an engineer were waiting one morning for a particularly slow group of golfers.

The engineer asked, “What’s with these guys? We must have been waiting for 15 minutes.” The doctor agreed: “I’ve never seen such slow golfers.” The pastor noted, “Hey, here comes the groundskeeper. Let’s have a word with him.”

The pastor called out to the groundskeeper, “Say, George, what’s with the group ahead of us?” George said, “That’s a group of blind firefighters. They lost their sight saving our clubhouse from a fire last year, so we always let them play for free anytime.”

The group was silent for a moment. The pastor sympathized, “That’s so sad. I think I’ll say a special prayer for them tonight.”

The doctor added, “That’s a good idea. In fact, I’m going to contact my ophthalmologist buddy and see if we can do anything for these guys.”

Then the engineer spoke up: “Well that’s great, but in the meantime, why can’t these guys play at night?”

I grew up in the time of Heinz ketchup glass bottles. The most frustrating part of dressing the hotdogs or hamburgers was patiently waiting for the ketchup to eke out of the bottle. As a child that was my early introduction to learning about patience.

The key verse today introduces us to the big christian virtue of patience.

KEY VERSE
Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly. Proverbs 14:29  

In this verse of Proverbs there is a comparison between the foolishness of short tempered people who will make quick and rash decisions as opposed to the patient or those who take a long time to become angry and by doing so make room for deeper understanding of what is taking place.

Have you lived long enough to see the wisdom of this saying? Can you look back on a situation in your life where instead of enduring and persevering through something you simply reacted often with a measure of anger only to regret that impatient decision?

Parents haven’t you noticed when you are patient with your children they achieve far more than frustrating them with your impatient demands to perform and excel!

Today we come to consider the quality of patience we are called to live out as followers of Christ. In fact scriptures tell us we are to clothe ourselves with with loving qualities that includes patience. (Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Col 3:12) When it comes to “faith fashion” patience is always a timeless look.

We may see the value of patience as a virtue worth practising in our lives but patience is bigger than that. we must see that patience starts with God – it is a divine disposition.

As one commentator describes the patience of God – it is one his attributes that “runs through the OT like a refrain And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…Exodus 34:6

God’s patience with his people is an outstanding example of the virtue. Though Israel turns to idols and wickedness, God pleads with them to repent and call on his name. He tells Solomon…

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron 7:14 RSV).

God waits, sending his prophets for generations, before exiling Israel and Judah to foreign lands. As Nehemiah prays, “For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets” (Neh 9:30 NIV).

This is God revealing Himself and the quality of patience is described in his divine revelation. This means patience goes beyond a common sense virtue to a whole new level. We who are his dear children are called to imitate God in everything we do. (Ephesians 5:1) The patience of God serves as the source and pattern for our human patience. Our patience is rooted in the patience of God. Patience is big in the journey of one who is a disciple or apprentice of Jesus.

Patience is a Pain

  • I want it now – We live in a time of speed. Our technology has made us impatient. We have access to instant information with instant made food. There are so many things we don’t have to wait anymore for.

  • People drive me crazy. People are manipulative, fickled and foolish. We can easily rationalize our impatience. We far too often expect others to act now how we want them to act and if they disappoint us or let us down we are so fragile we walk away giving up far too soon.

  • God is too slow. Behind it all our frustration with life circumstances and people in our lives is rooted in our thinking that God is too slow…We struggle to trust his timetable – we struggle to believe that God is really at work in our lives. When we don’t see God acting our behalf fast enough we take it upon ourselves to make things happen.  

There is nothing new about our impatience with God. When God was delivering the people of Israel from Egypt rather than thanking God for the food they have, their freedom and his visible presence with them in the wilderness, they grumble because they are taking a long route. Here impatience is shown for what it is: selfish, whiny demanding. the self is placed above God’s purposes and demands that its desires be met immediately rather than according to God’s perfect plan.

So let’s take the time remaining and do a deeper dive on how we clothe ourselves with patience

THE TWO SIDES OF PATIENCE: WORK & WAIT

Patience has both an active and passive aspect to it. In fact we discovered that in the New Testament there are 4 Greek words to describe what it means to to be patient, to be steadfast to endure. In those four words we get a deeper sense on how to meet the battles of life. And we see there are two sides of patience. One in which we work and one in which we wait.

The first side of patience is that we work

 

  • Bear it and Keep Going

 

    • Ephesians 4:2 NIV (…bearing with one another in love). The idea of this word means to hold up and stand erect. Do not sit down in the midst adversity. We love others by holding up others in times of struggle. We endure through the hard times with others.
    • “I am going to stand with you” is a powerful and loving way to express an enduring love.
    • (Root word – anechomai)
    • Hebrews 11:27 NLT (… He kept right on going…) The force of this word is do something persistently in the face of opposition. In this passage it refers to Moses not afraid of the Pharaoh’s wrath but kept moving forward in what God wanted Him to do regardless of the resistance. What areas of resistance are you facing right now where you need to patiently keep going?

    • I think of Jesus who who tempted to by Satan in the wilderness to shortcut his mission…but he was willing to work patiently in unfolding God’s plan of salvation. 
    • (Root word – kartereō)

The second side is that we wait by demonstrating…

 

  • Perseverance and Patience

 

    • 2 Thess 1:4 NIV ”…we boast about your perseverance” Paul is describing how early believers stood one’s ground. In the midst of life’s difficulties rather than remove oneself from the adversity one stays put. It speaks of a courage to stay in it rather than run away.
    • (Root word – hypomenō)
    • James 5:10 (NIV) “ …patience in the face of suffering…”

This last word for patience is about being long tempered not short tempered. Jesus demonstrated this with all those he meet. Especially in times of suffering –  he yielded to arrest without resistance (Mt 26:52, 53, Ja 5:6, 7), and He refrained from returning scorn for scorn or threat for threat at His trial.

Jesus demonstrated that at the heart of patience is that instead of hasty action and anger we are willing to trust God especially in the midst of trouble and trials – that God will keep his promises. We are willing to wait in God’s time.

We are willing to show a patience with others because Christ has shown patience – he has a grace filled long temper . Look at Christ’s mercy toward Paul. He displays his unlimited patience and mercy – Paul speaks of this in his words to Timothy, “But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.” 1 Tim 1:16

(Root word – makrothymia)

So in the midst of trying times will we have stay patient and work? Doing what we can do. Standing with others in love. Bearing with them. Will we be willing to keep going – moving ahead?

And in the midst of adversity will we wait.? Will we be willing to persevere by courageously staying our ground? Will we wait on God? Trusting that God is at work when there is nothing we can do but wait? We will not lash out in anger or seek revenge but leave it in God’s hands?

NO PAIN NO GAIN

 

  • I’m trusting that God is at work
  • I will do my part

 

The hard news is that when we speak of learning  patience in God and with others it always involves a measure of pain and frustration.

I’M TRUSTING GOD IS AT WORK

The growth in my spiritual walk with God is measured to a very great extent in my patience. Our temptation is too often think I am the one in control of my life. When we begin to see how we are powerless over so much…The more I know God’s grace and presence – will I stop trying to be the manager but simply a laborer in God’s work where I say “Lord what is that we are about today in the your world and in your kingdom that is coming?”  

I think what it says in Romans where Paul is saying how did so many who were part of the Jewish nation miss out on the Messiah Jesus. They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road. Cf Romans 9 (Message) – so often we miss out that God is at work.

Often in the midst of the pain of impatience/patience we are faced with the choice to trust to let go and believe that God is at work even when so much seems not to be working.

It doesn’t mean we will not feel sorrow or concern nor is it about that we resign ourselves in a passivity that is devoid of feeling and passion. I still believe we can have a passionate patience.

But we will wait upon the Lord. We will renew our strength in Him. Like Abraham of old waiting for the promise of his son scriptures say, –  Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God.(Rom 4:20 RSV)

Indeed often patience is a quiet revelation about our faith in God.

I WILL DO MY PART

As I wait to see how the work and ministry I am doing in my studies, job, my family in my church and greater community what is the “patient work” that I can do?

Patient work, in the midst of the waiting,

  • Speak words of encouragement
  • Learn and studying
  • Listening for God’s voice and others
  • Paying attention to what is in front of me
  • Praying for strength and wisdom
  • Serving in small ways while waiting for the big moment.
  • Stay with others – Stand next to others
  • Worship – Sing praises like Saul and Barnabas when they were imprisoned.

The greatest work of patience is to love…1 Corinthians 13 is what is known as the love chapter. As the late Haddon Robinson observed – Paul demonstrates what love is by showing what love does. For Paul love first of all is patient.

Paul knew this in his pastoral ministry to others within the church family.

  • (1 Thess 5:14; Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone
  • 2 Tim 4:2 Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.

I know I am going off the rails when I become impatient, unforgiving, angry and demanding with others – love is leaking – I lost sight of God’s grace and patience with me.

Patience is listed among the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It comes when one is strengthened with the power of God (Col. 1:11). But that gift, that empowerment, is also an obligation. We are to clothe ourselves with patience.

Lk 8:15, And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest

Conclusion

Joseph Story in Genesis is a story where he learned patience in God and with others. Joseph is an example of what it means to wait patiently trusting God…

 

Just Say ‘No!’

This Believe Series message (self-control) was delivered by Brent Hudson at River of Life Church on October 15, 2017. 


For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:11-13, NIV)

Acknowledging the problem:
“I want what I want when I want it”

In 2008, Dallas Willard published an article in the Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, which is a publication of Baylor, a baptist university in Texas.  In that article Willard writes a compelling argument that our society is moving into a time where people do not differentiate between their identity as persons and the desires that they have.  He basically said we are the impulse of “I want what I want when I want it” was winning the day.  In fact, people are feeling that they cannot be complete persons without fulfilling the things they desire.

This may be distressing at an intellectual level for philosophers like Willard, but this has been the human challenge from the very beginning.  It was in the very first book of the Bible where that problem first surfaced.  A person looks at something and thinks: that looks awesome, I want to have that!” Enter stage right, the serpent, saying, go ahead, you want it take it. It does look awesome.  The only reason you were told not to eat it is because that person is afraid you’ll become just like them and they won’t have any power over you.  Be your own boss!  Eat the fruit of the tree of good and evil. No more convincing was required. And individuals have been eating from that tree ever since believing, to borrow from William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”

No greater lie has ever been spoken and no lie has ever been believed by more people in every subsequent generation. While the greatest commandments may be love God and love neighbour, they fall behind the idea that there is a God — a supreme one.  The true master of all history and the true captain of my soul.  The entire story of the Old Testament could be summed up in the command “I am the Lord your God…  you will have no other gods before me”.

Before we can love God, we need to believe that God exists and know what kind of God he is. If the original humans had reflected on that second part — what kind of God he is — the lie of the serpent would have been obvious. But it wasn’t obvious — and it still is not obvious — because people are still opting for personal desire over God’s plan again and again.  In fact, one could say that human beings have such a difficult time knowing  “what kind of God he is” God actually chose to enflesh himself in human form, spend some time with us so we could witness the Divine making human choices.  As Jesus said to Philip:

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:8–9 NRSV)

This is our problem. We do not understand who God is and so we make stuff up.  We even bend his message to better suit our needs rather than change how we think and how we behave. Instead, as Willard says: “We want what we want when we want it!”

Because this is a problem, one of the things the Holy Spirit does in the lives of believers — people who put their faith in Jesus Christ — is self-control and that is what I want to address today.

Sometimes Pastors get to stand up front and talk about joy and the promises of God and other times, Pastors have to stand up and call out behaviour that ultimately required Jesus to suffer and die on a Roman cross.  I say it this way so there is no confusion as to the seriousness of the problem and the great need for self-control in our lives.

There are actually two words that are used throughout the NT for self-control.  When Paul speaks about the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23, he uses a word that was most often used regarding powerful sexual urges and desires.  It is used 3 times in the NT as a noun but the verb form of this word is used in 1Corinthians to encourage unmarried and those widowed to marry if they are not “practicing self-control” (1Cor 7:9). The word is also used in many non-biblical text with this sense (cf., ἐγκρατεύομαι).

The other term (*σωφρόν-) is the one found in our text today – it is actually used three times in this chapter.  The NIV translates the same Greek root as:  ‘temperate’ in 2:2; “self-controlled” in 2:5; and again with “self-controlled” in 2:11.  The word is used for a person who shows restraint with their words and actions.  A person is controls their desires and is well balanced in their relationships and life.

While self-control is an effort for everyone, the problems present themselves as a kaleidoscope of human sin.   One person struggles with food and another with drugs or alcohol. Others may struggle with pornography or other sexual sins. Still another has anger issues, or is unleashes a wildfire of destruction with gossip or slanderous stories.

Learning that God’s Spirit at work in us is producing “self-control” challenges us to address our urges.  One area where most modern people struggle is distraction. We have become accustomed to checking our devices multiple times every hour.  There is nothing “temperate” or “self-controlled” about a person who can’t stop themselves from checking their devices when they know it is inappropriate to do so.  I’ve seen people checking their phones during wedding ceremonies and during funerals and usually doing it on the discretely  — which only underscores of problem.  They just can’t wait. What did they learn by covertly checking their device —  99.9% of the time: absolutely nothing. But people can’t stop themselves, it is habituated behaviour.  We absolutely can’t stand the prospect of being bored — even for a couple of minutes.  Many people value non-boredom more than they value self-control.  This is not a biblical point of view.

Just as Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit in us is producing the capacity for self-control in Galatians, he tells us that the gospel message itself promotes self-control as a value. Grace is presented to us as a transforming gift — grace teaches us to to say ‘no’.  When we embrace the gospel of grace, we are confronted with the fact that grace means change.

The Transforming Gift: Grace means change

Most people love the idea of transformation; mostly, I think, because we think about a force outside of ourselves transforming us from A to B.  We think of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly — it is a natural process. . .it just happens.  We have grand hopes that our Christian transformation is the same.

The trouble is the same as most false hopes, there is just enough truth in it to make it believable.   But it will leave people ultimately unchanged.  Just thinking about it for a few minutes will make this clear.  When Paul or Jesus tell us to stop doing behaviour A and instead do behaviour B, the implication is that no one is going to do that for us.  We are not magically  going to stop desiring too much food, or using pornography, or spreading gossip.  The fact that these are still desires in a person is why Paul doesn’t just pray for them only — knowing that God will do all the work.  But that is not how it works.  Eve had to not eat from the tree and we need to avoid the behaviours that are destructive to us.

One of the great truths of Scripture is that we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved.  All of these are true of our salvation.  The same is true about our becoming like Christ — what the bible calls ‘holiness.’  We have been made holy, we are becoming holy, and we will be made holy.  The thread that runs for all of this is the gospel of grace. (cf. 1Co 1:2 where they “have been made holy” and simultaneously are “called to be holy” and v.8 where they will be blameless on the last day).

After Peter denied Jesus, he was dejected and had given up thinking about himself as a leader among the disciples.  Jesus had different thoughts about Peter.  Jesus simply asked him: “Peter, do you love me more than these” (Jn 21:15)  Jesus knew that Peter’s failure was not his defining feature and he put a stop to that kind of thinking before it derailed Peter completely.

Grace defines our relationship with God.  It is why Peter was the leader of the disciples even after his fear caused him to deny his Lord, the son of the living God ( Matt 16:16). But as the pastor-theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out when he risked his life opposing the Nazi Party in wartime Germany, the grace that stands at the heart of our faith is costly…it’s not cheap grace.  It is grace that cost Jesus his life and it is grace that will cost us too.  Graces teaches us…”teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:12).

The word that is used for ‘teach’ in this passage is translated elsewhere as ‘to train’ or ‘to discipline’ and yes, it has that dual sense in Greek as well.  When Pilate found no fault in Jesus the NIV translates his words as: “I will punish him and then release him” . . . the word ‘punish’ is literally ‘discipline’ and it is the same word used here. This is no different than when we hear someone say “we’re going to teach them a lesson”.  We all know what is meant by “teach” in that context, but we would say that is a godly form of teaching.  Grace teaches us the way God teaches his children. In 2 Timothy 2:25, Paul tells his apprentice pastor to “correct opponents with gentleness” — again, the word ‘correct’ is the same word used here in Titus.  Grace teaches us to say no.  It teaches us gently, but forcefully.  We cannot understand God’s grace toward us without seeing our need to change.

If we fall, he picks us up.  We are told to forgive 70×7 times to the one who seeks our forgiveness and this simply modelling our lives after God. God forgives us whenever we sincerely seek him.  Grace defines our faith. But it is not cheap grace.  It is a transforming gift.  Grace means change. Grace teaches us to say ‘no’.

All that is left is for us to learn what Grace is teaching.  We need to capture our will — to take it back — we need to learn to say ‘no’.

Capturing the Will: Learning to say “no”

Phillippa Lally, a psychology researcher at University College London, followed ninety-six persons who each chose a new behavior to adopt as a habit. How long would it take each person to form a habit? In her research, the shortest time it took was 18 days; the longest was 254 days. The average was 66 days. (see the article here).

Her research was clear on one thing, no habits are formed overnight, and some of us need to work harder and longer to form a habit.

Making good habits is important but so is breaking bad ones.  Dallas Willard tells the story of a man who confessed that he could not stop yelling at his son. Willard told the man, who happened to be wealthy, that every time he expressed ungodly anger at his son, he needed to give $5,000 to his wife’s favorite charity and increase that by $5,000 for each subsequent infraction (i.e., $10,000 for the second time he yelled at his son, $15,000 for the third time, and so on). (This story was recounted in: Merkle, Benjamin L., et al. Greek for Life: Strategies for Learning, Retaining, and Reviving New Testament Greek. Baker Academic, 2017).

The cost of losing thousands of dollars with each outburst of anger was great enough that the man found renewed self-control.  He understood money and cost. He also knew that it was costing him spiritually to yell at his son — the self-imposed fine just brought those two realities together.

Of course, only God can change an angry heart into a loving one — but to think there is nothing we can do in the meantime — or that our habits do not affect heart change is just not listening to the Bible.

When people asked Jesus about this kind of thing, he was pretty radical.

Matthew 5:29–30 NIV
If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Obviously Jesus is speaking in hyperbole.  He is going to an extreme to make a point.  Both of these actions were against the Law of Moses — but everyone there would have understood his point.  Just as we do when we say: “I told you a million times”.  Or “give your head a shake”.  We use hyperbole and idiom all the time to make our points vivid and memorable.  But as we look at this hyperbole, we can’t miss the point.  Jesus is saying that extreme measures need to be taken in our lives to break free from sin.

For the rich man who spoke with Dallas Willard, an every-increasing fine of $5000 did the trick.  Telling himself to stop being a jerk didn’t help him.  It won’t help us either.  We need to learn what will push back the sin that we struggle against. Maybe you need the embarrassment of telling a trusted friend when your internet view habits are not pure. Or maybe you need to put up a few roadblocks in your life — something that would really bum you out if you had to pay up.

One professor who was writing a book told his three daughters that they were to ask him when he got home from work each day if he had wasted time on the internet and if he did, he would pay them $5 each.  One day he got an notification that one of his students had updated his Facebook page and he went to look at it.  He spent maybe two minutes there — but it was writing his book and was clearly a ‘waste’.  His youngest girl asked him dutifully when he got home whether he wasted any time and he said he had.  He paid her $5. Needless to say, blood was in the water and it didn’t take long for the others to ask him the same question.  Just like that, 3 minutes wasting time online cost him $15.  Not a lot.  But certainly more than reading that Facebook post was worth. (Robert Plummer in Greek for Life: Strategies for Learning, Retaining, and Reviving New Testament Greek. Baker Academic, 2017.)

We need to set up rails along our path so we don’t lose our way.  It’s easy to be distracted and attracted to something along the way.  But Grace teaches us to say “no”.

I find it fascinating that the greatest human struggle — with controlling our urge to sin — can be beaten by saying ‘no’.  ‘No’ is an easy word to say.  But we need to be instructed to say it because in the moment of desire — whatever that desire — ‘no’ is not usually high on our minds unless we learn to put it there.

As Christians we know that we are more than just a physical body. We are living soul and that soul has given us a will.  It is not just instinct for us.  We can step back.  We can think.  We can learn to say ‘no’.  Maybe some of you need to just say it out loud.  When the urge is upon you and you feel your focus shifting, maybe you just need to yell out “no”.  Sure, the people around you may wonder if you’re a bit crazy, but in the end that’s not a bad deal.

You have hope.  God is at work in you producing the ability, the power to say ‘no’ to the things that drag you down.  Will you always get it right?  Probably not.  Did Peter always get it right?  Not at all.  Did God still use him — yes He did!  Because Peter was willing to get back on the horse and trust God’s Spirit to change him and his grace to restore him.   God wants to use you too but   lack of self-control will get in the way every time. There is a reason it is mentioned three times in this paragraph of Titus alone. It’s important.  It is important for each one of us to learn what God’s grace teaches — to say ‘no’ to ungodliness and worldly passions.  It teaches us to be radical in our approach, if necessary.

God loves his children so much that if he were to come back at this moment, every single person who has placed their faith in him would be embraced and taken to an eternal home. But until that moment arrives, God is not finished with us.  He wants more for us and from us.  We love to hear about the Spirit producing peace in us.  We love to hear about the Spirit producing joy in us.  But self-control… that is a tough one. But it is also a word of hope to everyone who is struggling.  God is on your side in this battle against sin. He is producing in you the ability to “say no”. The ability to stand against what’s dragging your down. But you need to say it. You need to get on board.  We all need to learn what grace is teaching us — to Just Say ‘no!’

 

Pursuing Peace

This Believe Series message was developed by Dave Morehouse and Brent Hudson. This post is the message delivered by Brent Hudson at River of Life Church. You can view Dave Morehouse’ version from the TJC YouTube channel here


God pursues peace with us

Ephesians 2:13–14 NIV
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,

Last week we doubled up in our Believe series looking at love and joy. We saw the connection between experiencing the full joy of Christ with a close relationship with him and active engagement in loving one another — obeying his commands. As we continue to survey the Christian virtues given by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23 we come to the complex theme of peace.

Just like Paul, we want to start looking at this from point of view of God making peace with us through Jesus Christ. This is the ultimate starting point. Understanding the value of peace to God must start with God’s seeking peace with you and me.

Ephesians 2:17 NRSV
So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near;

Clearly, the idea of peace is important to us because it is important to God. Just paying off our debts was not God’s plan. He did that in Christ, but that was not his goal. That was a means to another end. That ‘end’ is reconciliation which itself is technical and really just means making a friendship out of a broken relationship. This is at the heart of God’s pursuit of peace with us. It is why multiple times in the Bible, God is called “The God of peace”

Romans 15:33 NRSV – The God of peace be with all of you. Amen.

Romans 16:20 NRSV – The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Philippians 4:9 NRSV – Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

1 Thessalonians 5:23 NRSV – May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 13:20 NRSV – Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant

Judges 6:24 (NIV) – So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace….

And we like the idea of Peace with God.  We sing about it. We give thanks because of it. And it is good that we do — peace with God is at the heart of our experience of Salvation.

In fact, it is because of we are at peace with God that can experience inner peace.  We experience turmoil and anxiety in a variety of ways.  Life brings its stresses to us in various ways.  Being aware that greatest enemies of humanity have been defeated in Christ — namely Satan and death — gives comfort to all of us. (cf., Hebrews 2:14)

Hebrews 2:14 NIV
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil…

No wonder Paul writes that God is the God of all comfort (cf., 2Cor 1:3-4).  There is a pattern though and we would be wise to see it.  Let’s look at that verse in 2 Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 1:3–4 NIV
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

What we experience from God, we are called to share with others. This is an important principle that we must understand.  Often our inclination — because of our highly individualistic culture — is to just focus on the inner quality of God’s comfort. We celebrate our feeling comforted and all too often just leave it at that.  But that is only the first part of what God intends.  God gives us this comfort so we can bring comfort to people around us. This same principle is at work when we look at the idea of peace that we receive from God through the Holy Spirit.  It is for our benefit – there is no doubt about that – but not for our benefit alone.

It is because we have peace with God that…

We pursue peace with others

This can sometimes make us uncomfortable because the idea of Peace with God is powerful and triumphant.  God accomplished this through Christ.  But when we start asking how this has affected our relationships — how the inner peace have moved outward into our relationships all we can think about is our conflicts.  We all can think of people very easily who we need to have conversations with.  Who we have had rough patches that have been smoothed over by the eroding forces of time more than have experienced the peace of God at work in our relationships.

Dave Morehouse mentioned a story he once read about a Christian Speaker who asked his audience to close their eyes and imagine peace. After a few seconds the audience was invited to share their mental pictures of peace. One person described a field with flowers and beautiful trees. Another person spoke of snow-capped mountains and an incredible alpine landscape. Still another described the scene of a beautiful, still lake.

After everyone described their mental picture of peace there was one thing common in them all—there were no people in them. Ramsden commented, “Isn’t it interesting, when asked to imagine peace the first thing we do is to eliminate everyone else.”

I think we can identify with this.

We think Pursuing Peace is hard because…

It doesn’t make sense

Maybe it was a bad bad experience and you feel that addressing that particular conflict is just going to unearth a lot of misery.  It just doesn’t make sense to jump into that again.

It’s not my fault

Maybe you found yourself in a conflict because of demands others have placed on you and you feel you are not to blame.  The other person is at fault, so they are the ones that need to initiate any conciliation process.

And sometimes we actually just give up on reconciliation because addressing conflict makes us feel bad and…

I don’t need the stress

At the outset we need to hold on to the words of Paul when he said that we don’t control the outcomes ultimately.  Sometimes we seek reconciliation and the other party is not willing.  Maybe they are angry. Maybe their belief system opposes the idea of reconciliation — there are a thousand reasons why people will walk away from peace-building.  Which is why Paul said

Romans 12:18 NIV
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Notice how much uncertainty is in this.  Is it possible?  Is the ball in your court in terms of communication?  Paul is saying don’t be the reason for lack of peace in relationships.  Be the one who humble enough to engage a conversation.  Have we even tried? If we have, sometimes we need to accept the brokenness of the situation.  But we must never close the door on the possibility.  We must not grow cold and hardened toward making peace. We are reminded of this by Jesus himself:

Matthew 5:23–24 NIV
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Jesus is saying that it is not really about whether your conscience is clear. It is about a broken relationship.  I know I have broken relationships in my life where I have a clear conscience. I know I have not sinned. But I also know I need to keep the door open to conversations . . . and for me that is harder.  I have a desire to shut the door, lock it, reinforce it with iron girders. What Jesus is saying is that we need to be the one to bring the olive branch.  To ask if there is a need to have a conversation.  To allow forgiveness and reconciliation a chance.

Often we don’t allow for this because we forget

The Challenge of peace is forgetting…

the Gospel that saves us is the Gospel of peace

Ephesians 6:15 NIV
and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

When we think about the gospel, we often think about believing in Jesus so our sins will be forgiven.  We think of receiving the promise of eternal life.  We think about Jesus, the cross and the resurrection, heaven and so forth.   I have talked about the idea of Shalom before — the Hebrew word for peace and the idea of well-being associated with it.  This Shalom is when people live in harmony and relationships thrive. People pay a fair price for work and workers get paid a fair price for working.  It is integrally connected to societal justice and also mercy and covenant love.  This is the framework that Jesus talks about peace and following him, the disciples and the NT writers.  when we read ‘peace’ we need to think Shalom.  It is a simple word infused with great depth of meaning.

Our gospel is a gospel of peace. Paul calls it that when writing about the armour of God in Eph 6:15.  It is more than me being at peace with God, it is the Peace of God, the Shalom of God blanketing my entire life.  My spiritual life, my relational life, my financial life, my thought life, my entire being and everything that my life touches is under the dominion of God’s Shalom at work in me through the gospel.

We cannot simply turn a blind eye to unresolved conflict or having angry relationships with other, particularly brothers and sisters in Christ.  We believe a gospel of peace.  It is a Gospel that bring peace with God and a gospel that touches our entire lives.

Getting back to the idea of the Fruit of the Spirit, which this section of our Believe series is ultimately rooted, we see that this Shalom of God is something that the Holy Spirit works in us and extends outward into the world.  We see that…

the Spirit within us is the Spirit of peace

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

I suppose would think about “unity of the Spirit” as being purely functional. Just do the task at hand. But it seems that Paul means more than that because it is rooted in the bond of peace.  The ‘bond’ is not some spiritual word about “bonding” or anything like that.  In Greek it can also be translated as “fetter” or “chains”. Here the use is probably epexegetical, meaning “the bond which is peace”.

Peace is that agent that keeps us in unity.  We can’t just do whatever we want.  And when we feel anxious about that, we can go to our theme verse in Philippians 4:6-7 and understand that the context here is Paul telling his ministry partner to help two women in the church — Euodia and Syntyche —  to get along.  To actually become “one mindset”.  That’s a difficult undertaking and one that can cause significant distress and anxiety.

What Paul does there is genius really. He connects the building of peace between these two women with the peace that passes all understanding given by God, which will help that worker in his or her anxiety about working with these two — no doubt outspoken — women in the church.  Peace is not an option.  It is what God is working in us through his Spirit.  It is at the heart of his message to us, the gospel.  It is at the core who God is.  He is the God of Peace.  He gives us peace with himself.  He gives us internal peace that passes understanding.  But he does this so that we can pursue Shalom — peace — in all our relationships — if it is possible and as much as it depends on you.

When Jesus sent out the 72, he told them to stay in the homes of “people of peace”.  People of Peace.

Are you a person of peace? Better yet,  Who are you becoming?

Are you becoming a person of peace?


The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6 NIV)


 

Joy: Lost and Found

Dave Morehouse delivered this message at TJC on October. These are his preaching notes. You can also experience this message in video format on the TJC YouTube channel here.


 

How do you define joy? Is it not a quality that often is easier to feel and watch then to put into words?

Here is a clip that I think describes a genuine moment of joy.

(Video Clip) ELLEN SHOW REUNION of wife and soldier husband.

Joy is a quality of our interior life. Let me attempt to use words to get a handle on this…

It is about contentment…not about grasping for more and being thankful for all of God’s good gifts

Living with purpose and living a full life

Deeper still joy is about desire – a stabbing pang where what we long for is something deeper and greater than we could ever imagine…

Joy is a byproduct of the things that matter most – reunion of friends, a helping hand, an act of generosity, rescue in the midst of despair.

Joy also has that element of hope – like you are lost in woods and then you come upon a signpost that leads you out to the road and on to your destination…joy is experienced in knowing that you are finding the way out.

Like this quote by C.S.Lewis – who can feel ugly when their hearts feel joy.

Slide: Surprised by Joy

In the gospel of John Jesus surprises us with the promise of joy.

11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Jesus makes a connection that when we have Him we have His joy. Jesus says in fact that our joy is complete. So often our earthly joys leave us with a longing for more. A great meal, a beautiful sunrise, a new purchase, a nice movie, a fun trip…all wonderful but they fade and we yearn for more. Jesus says in me your joy is full and complete.

How do we get ahold of Jesus’ joy? In the 10 verses prior to his joy promise Jesus is telling us says his joy is a byproduct that from a connection to Him. Joy is found where Jesus is!

Let’s read this in Gospel of John 15:1-10

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.

C.S.Lewis makes the observation – We often try to live the Christian faith and the demands of faith like an honest man paying taxes. He pays them alright, but he does hope that there will be enough left over for him to live on and spend and do what he believes will bring him joy as though the way faith is really not where enduring happiness lies. That is the real challenge to the Christian life – we must stop taking the natural self as the starting point and ending point for our joy and life.

Jesus calls us to be deeply embedded into Him. He speaks to our souls ““Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, to make it angry with moralistic demands – no I have come to kill the it. Not tweak off a branch here and there but to bring down the whole tree. Hand over the whole natural self and I will give you a new self. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”

Joy is found where Jesus is! Here is where we will find joy.

Unfortunately for many we don’t want this type of Christianity. The words of Jesus in John 15 we rationalize are for those who want a sort of deluxe model of christianity.

But Jesus’ call that we remain in Him is the basic entry point of faith. This is the call to be a disciple of Jesus- in other words – a student of Jesus. It is when we unite in faith with Christ in an attitude of study , obedience and imitation of Him that we began to discover the fulfillment of the highest human possibilities and to live life on the highest plane. And we find joy.

As long as deep down inside we make personal happiness centered on money, pleasure and success that ultimate standard of joy – we will truly feel that to hand over our whole life to Christ -to be fully connected to Him – to be an impossible thing.

But the real impossible thing is to think that we can live out the the way of Christ while still going our way and think we will find lasting joy. That will only lead to frustration and anger. Shortly we will either give up the call of Jesus and simply content ourselves with temporary pleasures

Jesus says when we remain in Him we will produce fruit that involves love, peace, self control, kindness, humility and joy! The fruit of our lives will grow when when we have the desire and make the decision to be like Jesus. The fruit Jesus wants us to display is the fruit of Him in our lives. This desire and decision comes by faith that only God can give.

Out of that desire and decision one enrolls in Christ’s training – becoming a student of Jesus. Then we will begin to learn to follow Jesus’ commands to

  • to love our enemies,
  • walk the second mile,
  • forgive 70 x 7
  • blessing those who curse us,
  • showing hospitality to strangers.

Christ life starts to spread throughout our system, slowly and surely, with grace, with practice, with faith. And we are surprised by joy!

C.S.Lewis paraphrase – This believe journey is about no more compromise about the call to be in Chrsit to be found where Jesus is – to  live where Jesus is  like Christ. Imagine we are eggs that need to be hatched so that we can become birds that soar. That journey is hard. But harder still. in fact impossible is somehow thinking one can remain an egg and have wings. Let us give up the idea that we are called to simply remain an ordinary egg or the silly notion we can remain eggs and have wings. If we do not hatch we go bad…that is not Jesus’ intent when He says you must remain in me.

JOY LOST

But Joy gets lost at times. I saw a headline on the news yesterday: JOY TURNS TO ANGUISH!

Joy is lost with distractions. There are so many things in life that if we make them our central focus they distract us from Jesus.

Spiritually speaking joy is one of those traits of that have an inside and outside quality to it. It is hard to comprehend how someone can be full of joy on the inside and be consistently mean and miserable on the outside. “If you have no joy there is a leak in your Christianity somewhere.” – Billy Sunday

Joy is a like a spiritual gauge of souls.  A lack of joy in our lives is an indicator that all is not well.

I think of 3 Joy Distractors  

  1. Discouragements – Difficulties – nothing is never easy, People disagree, quit and leave, Roadblocks – always unexpected circumstances. Weariness – We sometimes get caught up in the work of doing well and we find ourselves tired and overwhelmed
  1. Disasters – Death, Crisis, Stress, Troubles, Grief.
  2. DisobedienceIn challenging life circumstances we are tempted to ignore God’s wisdom and to follow our own ways. We may think that these solutions will make the pain stop and bring the joy and contentment we’re looking for. But the promise in Psalm 119: 1-3

 

  • Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord.
  • Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts.
  • They do not compromise with evil,  and they walk only in his paths.

 

JOY FOUND

So how is joy found How is Joy Renewed? The answer of faith – Joy is found where Jesus is!

In Jesus we find an abiding peace.

In Jesus we have a life penetrated by love.

In Jesus we have a faith that sees everything in light of God working everything together for the good.

In Jesus we have a hope that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances.

In Jesus we discover power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil.

In Jesus we have no condemnation, we are justified, reconciled with God.

In Jesus we have the promise of experiencing life in all its fulness as we learn to live His life and way.

In Jesus we have the way to eternal life, a resurrection hope and a home in heaven. And as C.S.Lewis observed, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”

Finally we find  in Jesus we have his promise of his abiding presence.

And we celebrate with joy – in fact we sing and dance with gladness of heart  – Jesus is with us and we are with Him!

I think of the old gospel song  His Eye is On the Sparrow.

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,

Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heav’n and home,

When Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He:

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

 

  • Refrain:
  • I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
  • For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

 

 

Video – Lynda Randle

Key Quotes:

“The enjoyment of [God] is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied…. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends are but shadows, but enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean.”

—Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

What are the sources of your joy? Are they simply the good earthly joys: a new car, a Brooks Brothers suit, a great date, great sex, a raise, or a loss of four inches from your waistline? Or is your joy deeper and wider? Reflection on your election to the Christian community? The joy of saying slowly, “Abba, Father”? The afternoon you stole away for two hours with only the gospel as your companion? A small victory over selfishness? Adapted from Brendan Manning – The Importance of Being Foolish

JOY IS FOUND WHERE JESUS IS

Jesus said a thistle cannot produce figs. If I am a field of grass no matter how short and trim I cut it – I will never produce wheat. If I am to produce wheat the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and resown.

When we talk about the purpose of the church is – we exist to lead people into letting the life of Christ take root in our lives.

When we hear this call of the gospel to love, have joy and peace, kindness and so on, we vaguely grasp that  this is the call for a disciple – a student of Jesus. But we treat discipleship like those desiring the deluxe model of christianity. For example – I like walking and the occasional short run but there is no way I am joining the Running Club for the full marathon!

Jesus is saying to us When  Jesus speaks to us by the Spirit of God and through His Word, the bible, to our souls, we hear this. “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, to make it angry with moralistic demands – no I have come to kill the it. Not tweak off a branch here and there but to bring down the whole tree. Hand over the whole natural self and I will give you a new self. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”

When Jesus said, Go make disciples...He is directing the church that its simple and profound mission is to help people to

That is where this journey of faith takes us. Not to a place where our natural self feels contented and satisfied. Rather we are becoming like Christ. “Little Christs!” to put it boldly and plainly is how we must answer the question, “who are you/we becoming?”

That is why this Believe journey matters. Throughout the fall we are looking at how we become people of love, joy, peace, self control, kindness, hope, humility. And so on.

The fruit of God’s Spirit at work in us will occur – not because we keep trying harder –

Slide: Surprised by Joy

Jesus drew this connection that when we are in Him we have His joy. We have joy that is complete and full.

For may joy is found in experiences,

11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

there is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious. It is too good to waste on jokes. -Lewis

 

We have the same role to play as the community of Christ. Coke is not poison and I can drink it in moderation, the same as I refuse to feel guilty about watching television here and there. But the point is that I can only find comedy on the television. I cannot find joy. And the more I substitute jokes for joy and cynicism for hope, the sicker I will become.

And so I need somebody to call me back to life. I need my brothers and sisters to remind me to drink water. I need them to invite me back to Jesus who says:

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Casey Hobbs

and our walk with God.

Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering, it is the presence of God Sam Storms

Psalm 16:11 and Psalm 30:5

 

Sharing my Faith – Believe#20

KEY QUESTION
How do I share my faith with those who don’t know God?

KEY IDEA
I share my faith with others to fulfill God’s purposes.

KEY VERSE

Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:19-20)

This weekend we conclude section two of our believe series.  This week 20 and ever since week 15 we have been looking at places in our lives that need to come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ – that we need to surrender to God. There are things that our culture says to move in one direction and God says move in a different direction. Those are the most difficult places to live as a follower of Jesus.  Whether it is giving time or money or simply living together as a community that honours God with our actions toward one another — all of it brings joy and all of it requires some sacrifice. It is not easy to move against the flow. Yet as one author has written:

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” (Jiddu Krishnamurti)

I think Jesus would agree with that view.  We all want to fit in but Jesus wants us to stand out — and to stand out for the right reasons.  

I just finished teaching an early church history course at Crandall University and one prominent aspect of the early church is that  Christians were known throughout history as being open to sharing their faith. There were seasons of persecution when saying you were a follower of Jesus meant suspicion and possible death. Of course, that is still the case in some places today — but for most of us our path is much less prone to danger.  It is ironic that even without the threat of death  openly sharing one’s faith is still considered one of the more difficult tasks by those who follow Christ in our Canadian context.  

I understand the cultural pressure and difficulty to share about our faith.  Our culture resists such things but we can be sure of one thing — everyone who has been saved by Jesus Christ– everyone who has put their faith in him and made a decision to follow him has been called to share their faith.  We are all…

Called to Share our Faith

We have stories in the gospels of Jesus sending people out to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom. If you wanted to be a disciple of Jesus — you got sent out. After Jesus rose from the dead, he gave his disciples instructions to go and make disciples.  Just before Jesus returned to his heavenly father his words to all his followers were simple:

…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

We could paraphrase Jesus words as:

“you will talk about me and live according to my teachings at home, with your neighbours — neighbours who are like you and neighbours who are not like you, and all over the world.”

This is something that is inescapable for those who follow Jesus. We are called to share our faith. We must be open about it, not hiding it or shy about it.  If someone says why do you forgive that person — you can say “it’s what Jesus teaches me to do”.  Sometimes people will say “you’re nuts” and other times it will lead to more conversation.  Sometimes the people who call you nuts are just emoting and will come back to you later –sometimes much later — and you can have a conversation.

The key to our call to share is actually loving people enough to tell them. If sharing our faith becomes a duty to dispatch — we do not have the heart of God. When Paul wrote the Corinthians he said “Christ’s love compels us” (2Cor 5:14) and the end of that passage he writes:

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:20, NIV)

When the prodigal son came home, in Jesus story, the Father disgraced himself by running to greet him and then in joy embraced his son and immediately threw a great party to celebrate his homecoming.  That is the father’s heart for every lost child that comes home. But so often we are the elder brother.  We never had enough love in us to searching for the lost son. The shepherd searched for the lost sheep.  The woman searched for the lost coin — but in this third story about lostness — no one searched.  That was the elder brother’s role, but he did not take it.  He did all kinds of things his father appreciated but he never got his heart.  He never appreciated why his father would watch the road every day for the lost son.

Often we are that elder brother – we follow Jesus as a duty instead of a profound sense of the Father’s heart.  Please hear me, sometimes life is hard and we put ourselves on auto-pilot, I get that I really do.  All I’m saying is let’s not accept it as the best scenario for our lives. The best scenario is loving like God loves. Everything becomes more natural when it is just we are overflowing God’s love. Eugene Peterson has a warning for us all:

“There is nothing more common than for people who want to talk about God to lose interest in the people they are talking to.”
(Eugene H. Peterson, Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers)

The call to share our faith is clear. The danger will always be doing it for the wrong reasons. Internalizing this call to share our faith must be rooted in prayer because in order to share our faith with love requires that our hearts be changed or as John Wesley said of his own heart that it was “strangely warmed”.  

That doesn’t happen from a sermon. That doesn’t happen by reading a book. That happens when God touches our lives and puts his love in us. The passage from Acts, that I read earlier was actually only half of the verse.  The first part goes like this:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…(Acts 1:8a, NRSV)

Our call to share our faith is rooted in our experience of faith and God at work in us helping us to love as he loves. As we travel down that path

We see our calling to share our faith starts …

With our lives

Most of us want to be authentic people. We want to be real. Not only do we want authenticity in ourselves, we appreciate it when we see it …anywhere.  

Howard Schultz of Starbucks fame wrote a book telling the story Starbucks. He make an insightful comment about authenticity:

“In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.”

Sharing our faith starts practically by being authentic. It means doing acts of kindness for our neighbours — it means being a good neighbour in a time when people rarely know their neighbours.  It means going out 30 minutes earlier with your snow blower to help that crazy guy two doors down or stopping in to the elderly person on your street to see how they are doing. It means being a little weird in your kindness. But because it is rooted in your love for your neighbours it will pass the sniff test — they will be suspicious, but they will sense your sincerity as well.  Because you are not looking for anything in return — you’re just doing what Jesus did.  You’re following the way of the Apostles — the better way – as Paul called it– the way of love.  First we love, then we do loving thinags.  Paul writes:

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.(Galatians 5:6, NIV)

Then there comes that time when people wonder about us and want to hear something.  As much as doing and not talking may be difficult for some extroverts, this next piece is the hard news for introverts. . .eventually you need to say something about the Gospel.  

We are called to Share our faith with our lives and also

With our words

I came across a book just recently and its title made me chuckle a bit when I read it :

Spiritual Conversations: Creating and Sustaining Them Without Being a Jerk

With a title like that, I had to read a few reviews and then a sample of the book on amazon.  It looks like it is actually a great book.  I think I’ll put it on my every lengthening list of books to read.  But what a great title.  How to have a spiritual conversation without being a jerk.  I think I love the title so much because I have heard so many evangelistic conversations where I felt the person was a jerk — and I already believe in Jesus!

I actually believe that if we get that love part right we have a built-in resistance to the jerk-factor. The people who most often come across as pushy, unkind, confrontational and even angry are people who are talking about Jesus for some other reason than authentic love for neighbour.  It’s not Christ’s love that compels them. . .it’s something else.  

When I have conversations about faith, I like to remember two things.

    1. The amount of relational capital I have with this person.  This is a very important first question.  People who you have deep relationship with can have conversations that allow you to risk saying something hard. They know your heart and so you can get down to difficult things and they still know you care about them. When you have no invested in a person and have little relationship capital, you communicate in different ways. I often use questions or personal stories that include faith. The second thing I remember is…
  • Not to over estimate my place in God’s Kingdom.  When I studied at Crandall University — it was Atlantic Baptist College then, there was a professor there named Jim Beverley.  Some of you may know Jim. I had several classes with him and in one of them we called some big names in theology at that time. One of them was Normal Geisler.  I credit this idea to Dr. Geisler. Dr. Beverley said what if I have to convert this person because I’m the only one who can — he said: “I would say you have overestimated your value in the Kingdom of God”.  I will never forget that class or that phrase.  God has many people working for him.  He has many conversations going on. I have had year-long conversations with people only to find out with surprise that they had been conversing with other Christians that I knew along the way — but I was not aware they even knew that person.  God is doing things in people’s lives that we are not aware of. It reminds us once again to pray for the people we do life with – that they would have ears that hear and eyes that see what God is doing all around them and for them.

It is a freeing thing to know that a person’s salvation does not rest solely on your shoulders.  I’m not letting myself or anyone else “off the hook” about sharing Christ — we are called to share Christ with our lives and our words. And we must pray for boldness like Paul did.  All I am saying is that we serve a great and merciful God. He is worth talking about.  What he has done in Christ is worth talking about.  Even when we feel awkward about it. Even when we would rather run away like Jonah or try to ignore the problem like Esther — in the end we all have a responsibility for a piece of what God is doing the in lives of those around us.  Not the whole thing — just a piece.  Our piece is important and only we can make that contribution.  God’s mighty hand will not be stopped because of someone’s lack of love for him or neighbour — but his reputation will not be enhanced — that’s for sure.

We are called to share our faith with our lives and with our words…

To Everyone

As I mentioned already from Acts 1, the words Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to all the world really mean at home, to our neighbours who are like us and who are different from us and out to the whole wide world.

What is interesting for me these days is how we are okay with sharing Christ at home — here in Moncton.  We are okay sharing our faith in Riverview — neighbours who are like us. But our neighbours who are different — who maybe speak a different language and adhere to a different form of Christianity or religion — we have work to do.  Our Samaria, our neighbour who is different than us could easily be Dieppe.  A different culture. A different language, different faith expressions — close to us but also different.  We must work to share faith with our neighbour — both like us and unlike us.  Likewise we must consider the larger world — to do projects which show the love of God in life and support our workers like Bruno and Kathleen who can put voice and passion to this gospel that we are called to share.  

As we look ahead, we are about to begin Alpha. This will be a season where we can invite people we know and have shared life with to begin a conversation about faith. The faith they have seen in you.  The love they have seen in you.  

Your church is working hard to create opportunities to take what you are doing in your own families and with friends and to help you start new conversations about faith — to continue ongoing faith conversations.  We want to love like Jesus and it is the love of Christ that compels us to explore together this faith that was once and for all delivered to God’s people (Jude 3) because we understand that we are

Called to share our faith
          with our lives,
                    with our words,
                              to everyone.

 

Giving my Resources – Believe#19

A preacher paid a visit to a farmer and asked, “If you had 200 dollars, would you give 100 dollars to the Lord?
“Sure would,” said the farmer.
“If you had two cows, would you give one cow to the Lord?”
“Yeah, I would.”
“If you had two pigs, would you give one of them to the Lord?”
The farmer replied, “That’s not fair. You know I have two pigs.”
(Kent Hughes, Preaching Today Message #205)

This week we are looking at Giving our Resources. There are times when this is easy and money flows from our hands and we are filled with joy that we could help.  But there are other times when it is hard but it is all part of a life that is marked by Faith in Jesus.  

And so our Key Question for today is this: How do I best use my resources to serve God and others?

Of course this presupposes that we want to use our resources to fulfill God’s purposes.  My hope is that if you are following Jesus, that is exactly what you want.  Even if it is hard at times…you want to embrace this spiritual call to giving.

Which leads us to the our Key idea: I give my resources to fulfill God’s resources  

That said, I know there may be others who are just tipping their toe in the water of the Christianity thing and since we are very protective of our resources in our Canadian context — this can be a threatening idea.

Brent Hudson our teaching pastor shares how this was, interestingly, a threatening idea to the early non-Jewish church as well.  Here is how Brent explains it!

The Jewish church had a rich culture of generosity.  You gave to the temple, you gave to the priests, you gave to the poor — sharing resources was part and parcel of what it meant to believe in a Creator God who was personal and cared about your life.  

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.” (Psalm 24:1–2)  

How could a person sing that Psalm in the synagogue without a deep sense of all that one had belonged to God.  The Jewish Christians got this — but here’s the thing.  In the first century there was a food shortage in Palestine and so the very Christians who were notably generous were in that moment the ones in need.  

But more than that, the one’s who could help them were people like us — people who were raised to save and invest and work hard but not to give generously.  The non-Jewish Christians — often called Gentiles in the Bible — were brought up in a culture where when it came to resources and money:  what’s yours was yours.  Now Paul was in this place of having to ask the church to help those who were suffering — and did not have the mindset of God’s ownership of all things.  They did not have the mindset of being responsible for each other.  Simply put, they did not have the mindset of generosity.

In 2 Corinthians 8-9 we get a letter from Paul about the great offering that was being collected among the Gentile Churches to help the Jewish church in great need. These two chapters should be read over and over again by non-Jewish Christians.  

We may be 2000 years into the whole Christianity thing, but we are still Gentile Church — in so many many ways we are not unlike the Corinthians of the 1st century.  We know the path God wants us to be on — but everything in our culture makes it hard.  The Christian mindset of generosity simply does not make any sense to anyone who has not been radically saved by Jesus Christ.  And even among the saved — there are struggles.

Let’s look at our main Bible verse today as we develop a mindset that says “I give my resources to fulfill God’s purposes.”

Key Verse:

“But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” (2 Corinthians 8:7)  

Excel in the Grace of Giving

Brent takes us down a path where he helps us dig into the connection between grace and giving.

The word ‘grace’ in the New Testament refers to a very diverse set of ideas.

  • As protestants, we often learn that grace is “undeserved favour” — and it is.  But it is also more than that.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit – those “spiritual gifts” that we looked at a few weeks ago, are literally “grace-gifts” because the Greek word for these is based on the word for grace. In Greek, the word grace is χαρις (charis (ch like Bach not cheese) and grace-gifts is χαρισμα (charisma) – which is “something manifested from grace”.  Sometimes things get lost in translation — like the connection between spiritual gifts and grace — something the readers of the Greek text would have taken for granted.  
  • There are other words built on grace, like εὐχαριστέω which means to give thanks.  The word ‘grace’ can also be used to mean ‘do something generous’.  The New Revised Standard version of the Bible translates ‘grace of giving’ 2Cor 8:7 as “generous undertaking”.  Every time the word grace is used, there are hues of generosity in its meanings.  The grace/generosity connection is not something we make in English — but for the first readers of the Paul’s letters, the connection was in the word itself.

Connecting the dots between grace and generosity can be one of the most powerful things that can happen to us as we think about how we as people who have received grace from God must live in our life together.  Being generous is not confined to financial things — but it certainly must include it.  This was the connection Paul was making to the non giving Gentiles and making to us as we interact with his words about giving.

The Giving Path

Our key verse simply is telling us to excel – to stand out – to become proficient at – to become really good at the grace of giving.

Becoming really good at something implies movement…for example as one works at science, at soccer, or at making speeches one can excel as one moves along a path of proficiency.

So let me suggest we all here in this moment need to consider how we can excel in the grace of giving. Let me further suggest that we need to move through three areas on the path of giving.

We decided we would have some fun by calling each area on the giving a name based on a well known song.

“Let it Go”: The Logic of Grace

For those who are beginning on the path of giving we are calling this group

Let it Go! We are telling those who are at the beginning of this path of giving to consider the logic of grace

For those struggling to get started on this journey of generosity — you need to understand the logic of grace.  

God has given to you salvation by his grace — it is a generous gift. He wants us to be like him.  Jesus tells this story to those who were following him:

“…be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. … Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-48)

That’s obviously a high standard but you don’t abandon a great idea just because it is hard and you may not get 100%.  It is a vision to look to and guide our lives. Who cares if you are more generous than the person next you when the objective is to be children of our Father in heaven.  To be marked by His generous ways.  

We receive grace from God when he forgives us our sins in Jesus Christ. We receive grace from God when he helps us in our struggles.  We receive grace from God when we live in Canada not a war-torn reality like Syria.  It is a gift. It is a generous flow from God. We are to connect the dots between God showing us generosity and us living a life of generosity — to model our character after God character and change our ways to match his ways.  This is the logic of grace — you have freely received, now freely give.

We’ve only just begun: The Cost of Grace

The second group are those who get the logic of grace and who have started on the giving path.  This is a great thing really. It is powerful when we understand the ways of God and begin on the path of following Jesus.  

Sadly, many people who get on the path don’t travel very far before the realization happens that this could get costly.  

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

I think that is the reason that people don’t give very much in our Canadian context.  StatsCan has a webpage devoted to the charitable trends of Canadians. When I read it, it is a sad reality.  Did you know that in New Brunswick, 585,700 people filed taxes in 2015.  Of those filed, 113,040 made charitable donations for a total of $148,680,000. The median gift — if you took every donor and lined them up from lowest to highest, at the very middle — the median is a $310 dollar donation.  There is a reason why CRA doesn’t give you credit for the first $250 of giving — because most people don’t give that much.  The median gift in Quebec is $130 and for the nation is $300.  

When it comes to giving money — all Christians should be outliers in our culture. We should be so far off the cultural map that CRA is writing us letters asking for receipts to prove it — and they will send that letter.

Grace was costly is so is giving!

  1. Mark Dillon, Giving and Getting in the Kingdom (Moody Publishers, 2012 pg. 29; submitted by Kevin Miller, Wheaton, Illinois –

I once heard Warren Buffet say in an interview (I paraphrase here) about his $26 billion gift to the Gates Foundation: “My gift has not changed my lifestyle one bit. I still go to the movies I want to go to and eat at the restaurants I want to dine at. But what about the person who gives a gift that requires they can’t go to the movies or eat out. They are the true givers—the true heroes [of generosity].”

Now, this may offend someone, so let me apologize in advance, that is not my intent.  But if you have been forgiven a debt that was so large there was no way you could pay it and defaulting on that debt would actually endanger your very life — wouldn’t you want to express your gratitude with something a bit grander than a $250 gift of appreciation be a bit embarrassing? Would that really express gratitude for a life-saving act of generosity?  I think that’s the kind of gift you give if you think you’ll never have have to see that person again but feel obligated to give something.  News flash, you’re going to see that person again and actually have to explain why your new TV cost more than your annual giving.

“I can see clearly now”: The Fullness Grace

The fulness is when we see all the aspects of grace coming together in our lives…When we have this clear vision of what grace is — its central role in our lives.  Grace as the foundation for forgiveness.  Grace as the foundation for judging others.  Grace as the foundation for understanding spirituality, Grace as the foundation for our financial giving.  It can all be summed up in a word —  “generosity”.

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:7-15, NIV)

  • Cuba Offering – $525.00
  • Crandall Power Outage – $645.00
  • Christmas Eve – $9475.00
  • Christmas Offering – $2151.00
  • Irene MacLeod Bequest – $50,000

It is all about living our lives with a full understanding of how the giving path is connected to God’s character, my salvation, my experience of the Holy Spirit and what God has given to me to manage during my lifetime.  

Giving is one area of life that is easily measurable. The 10% rule is something that we can evaluate every year at tax time.  Some people quibble about gross income or net, I think that is a diversion.  Our city could be impacted greatly by our church if every family gave 10% of their net income — and you can measure that.  In that sense, it is simple and objective.

So many things about following Jesus can be complicated because it involves our hearts and our emotions — but this area — giving — it’s straightforward — we can measure it — in fact CRA requires us to every . single . year. It may be hard to do because of our own hearts — but it is easy to measure if we are getting it right.

BTW

As we move along the giving path there are three main steps:

Decide to do it
Do it
Do it cheerfully

There are lots of stories in the bible about people on different parts of the giving path that person.  The story of the rich fool in Luke’s gospel who was rich with respect to money but poor with respect to God. The story of the unforgiving servant who was give huge debt forgiveness but did not extend that to a fellow servant who owed him money.  In both cases the people are considered fools who simply do not understand what is important in the grand scheme of things.  

At the other end we have numerous examples of generous giving.  We have the woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears and hair and then poured perfume on his feet. Jesus said she had show great love because she had experienced great love. We have the story of Zacchaeus who gave generously and Jesus praised him for his behaviour.

It is between these two bookends that most of us find ourselves on this path of generosity.

 

Giving my Time – Believe#18

Message Bumper (Asaf Avidan – One Day)

Tick-Tock

Did you hear the lyrics in that video we just played? It comes from the song entitled, “Reckoning Song”. We played this commercial as our message bumper because the lyrics speak of time.

“One day baby, we’ll be old
Oh baby, we’ll be old
And think of all the stories that we could have told.”

Tick Tock goes the clock and so does our time.

Today we come to the action step of living out my faith by Offering My Time.

KEY QUESTION
How do I best use my time to serve God and others?

KEY IDEA
I offer my time to fulfill God’s purposes.

KEY VERSE
Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17

I want us to look at another important statement of about time found in Ephesians 5:15-17

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

As we contemplate these verses what can we say about time, about us and about faith?

Tick Tock – Time is Passing

There is a sense of urgency in these words of exhortation by Paul. In the Message paraphrase – So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! 17 Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.

When as a child, I laughed and wept,
Time crept;
When as a youth, I dreamed and talked,
Time walked;
When I became a full-grown man,
Time ran;
When older still I daily grew,
Time flew;
Soon I shall find in traveling on,
Time gone.

I sense Paul in light of scripture has a sense of the brevity of life. Scripture repeatedly presents powerful pictures that speak of our brief “season of opportunity” on earth using metaphors such as a breathe, a swift ship, an eagle’s dive, a shadow, a hand breath (thumb to little finger), smoke, vapor, grass, flowers of the field, a weaver’s shuttle!

Casting Crowns has the lyrics that mirror what scripture tells us constantly…

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
A vapor in the wind

TICK -TOCK  – Time is Passing

TICK-TOCK – We are Careless

Paul’s warning about being careful with our time is because of the temptation and the danger of being careless. We often can act unwisely with our time. A teacher and author Chuck Swindoll – suggests five proven ways to be careless with our time.

First, worry a lot. Start worrying early in the morning and intensify your anxiety as the day passes.

Second, make hard-and-fast predictions.

Third, fix your attention on getting rich.

Fourth, compare yourself with others.

Fifth, lengthen your list of enemies. If there’s one thing above all others that will keep your wheels spinning, it’s perfecting your skill at the Blame Game.

Henry Blackaby observes that when we are careless…If you are spiritually prepared when a crisis comes, you will not have to try to develop instantly the quality of relationship with Christ that can sustain you. If you suddenly have an opportunity to share your faith with an unbeliever, you will be equipped to do so. If you enter a time of worship spiritually prepared, you will not miss an encounter with God. If you are spiritually filled when you meet a person in sorrow, you will have much to offer. If you have established safeguards in your life in advance, you will not give in to temptation. Christians lose many opportunities to experience God’s activity because they have not devoted enough time to their relationship with God.

Ortberg writes that we must all ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives.

Why?

Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry can destroy our souls. Hurry can keep us from living well. As Ortberg observes for many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will skim our lives instead of actually living them.

Another reason Ortberg gives to eliminate hurry is that love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible. Love always takes time and time is one thing hurried people don’t have. The dilemma we all face with our hurry is that we often end up not being able to love those most important to us. We come home with sunset fatigue that leads to unkind words, underlying tension and escapist behaviors like tuning into the TV or computer and tuning out your spouse, children or friends.

TICK TOCK  We are Careless.

Tick Tock – Faith is Now

Paul speaks about discerning the Lord’s will – about making the most of every opportunity. The idea of opportunity is to know the season that you are in and do what you can with it.

Henry Blackaby (known for his excellent study Experiencing God) says

Timing our obedience is crucial. Invitations from God come with a limited opportunity to respond. Some opportunities to serve Him, if not accepted immediately, will be lost. Occasions to minister to others may pass us by. When God invites us to intercede for someone, it may be critical that we stop what we are doing and immediately adjust our lives to what God is doing. Missing opportunities to serve the Lord can be tragic. When an invitation comes from God, the time to respond is now.

Let me quote Blackaby: God has tried, at times, to get our attention by revealing where He is at work. We see it, but we do not immediately identify it as God’s work. We say to ourselves, Well, I don’t know if God wants me to get involved here or not. I had better pray about it. By the time we leave that situation and pray, the opportunity to join God may pass us by. A tender and sensitive heart will be ready to respond to God at the slightest prompting. God makes your heart tender and sensitive in the love relationship you are called to seek to have with Him.

As we consider what it means to seize the opportunities let us recognize that often many can be termed – Inconvenient Opportunities

A history professor once visited a fine ancestral home in Virginia. He followed the aged owner, the last of a distinguished colonial family, as she proudly showed him through her home. An ancient rifle above the fireplace intrigued him, so he asked if he might take it down and examine it. She replied, “Oh, I’m very sorry. I just can’t allow it. You see, it just wouldn’t be safe. The rifle is loaded and primed, ready to fire. My great-grandfather kept it there in constant readiness against the moment he might strike a blow for the freedom of the colonies.” The professor said: “Oh, then he died before the American Revolution came?” “No,” came the reply. “Actually he did not. He lived to a ripe old age and died in 1802, but he never had any confidence in George Washington as a general or as a Commander in Chief. You see, he knew him as a boy and didn’t believe he could ever lead an army to victory.”

He missed out a history making moment.

Making the most of our time comes down to this – taking advantage of every opportunity to manifest the reality of one’s faith.

So how do we do that?

  • Every day is time to depend on God in prayer and listen to his word.

    Everyday is a time to show compassion to a stranger.. those in need.

    Everyday is a time to share my hope in Christ.

    Everyday is a time to grace and practice humility.

    Everyday is time to practice gratitude

    Everyday is time to seek first God’s kingdom…

    Everyday is time to use my spiritual gifts

    Every day is time for loving service, holy adoration, and diligent study.

    Every day is  time to know the mind of Christ and by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives live out His love and truth.

Psychologist, William Marston, surveyed 3,000 people. “What have you to live for?” Ninety-four percent said they were just enduring today and living for tomorrow.

Robin Mark:

When it’s all been said and done
There is just one thing that matters
Did I do my best to live for truth?
Did I live my life for You?

When it’s all been said and done
All my treasures will mean nothing
Only what I’ve done for love’s Reward
Will stand the test of time