RE- . . .
A layperson’s review and reflection of our pastor’s remonstrance against resisting the revelation of our redeemer
Have you picked or focused on a “RE” word for your Christian journey this year? It could be an effective way to monitor your spiritual progress throughout the year. Pastor Gill reassured us that discipleship is a process.
Despite wishing it were so, I did not become a perfect disciple the day I confessed my faith in Jesus. Discipleship is the process of becoming more like Jesus for the sake of others. I may have become a new creation, but a lot of the old mess still clings to me like stale tobacco smoke.
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
That is why the spiritual disciplines we develop are so important. I miss the opportunity to be molded and shaped by God if I do not spend time in the Word, in prayer and in worship. This time spent is the engine of transformation, renewing of the mind as Paul wrote to the Romans.
Romans 12:2 (NIV)
2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The pervasive western mindset of rugged individualism, causes many to chafe at the notion of being clay in the Potter’s hands.
Isaiah 64:8 (NIV)
8 Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.
We resist, wanting to chart our own path, our own way. God, I’ll call on You when I need You, thank You very much. Oswald Chambers made this perceptive observation in his classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest. “The great difficulty spiritually is to concentrate of God, and it is His blessings that make it difficult. Troubles nearly always make us look to God; His blessings are apt to make us look elsewhere.” In our self-congratulatory delusion of self-sufficiency we miss the opportunity for transformation. We may be blessed, but without transformation we become as stale as that cracker that fell under the couch at Thanksgiving. Quoting Chambers again, “Being born again from above is a perennial, perpetual and eternal beginning; a freshness all the time in thinking and in talking and in living, the continual surprise of the life of God.” Is not that the ride on which you want to be? Dare to set aside the comfort of the familiar if you perceive it is God’s still, small voice you hear as you read the Word, or pray, or take that nice long walk or wash the dishes saying, I want to do a new thing through you. Yielding to transformation may well point another person to Christ, and is that not what we have been commissioned to do? God can make a new you! You can count on it.
Revelation 21:5 (NIV)
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
This may be as simple as what Pastor Gil calls “being a wise reminder for someone.” Now there are positive and negative ways to be a reminder, of course.
Being a positive Christian reminder is literally living a missional life. Too often the term “missionary” is heard as living a life of danger and deprivation in a strange land to bring the Gospel to the people – sort of like our road sign. In reality, every cup of cold water to the least of these, our brothers and sisters on this tiny orb called earth, if done in Jesus’ name, is missionary work. We stay on mission when we remain in the Word. Without practice, the pianist will never excel. Without time on the golf course, Danny will never dominate his competition. Without exercise, muscle becomes flab. Without the spiritual discipline of being in the Word daily – even just one verse – we become a choice morsel for Satan.
1 Peter 5:8 (NIV)
8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
If God’s Word pervades our hearts and minds, the times of crisis are more tolerable. We have a solid base upon which to make decisions that may have far-reaching effects. Our intimacy with God is our En Hakkore – the fountain of one who prays. Do you remember the Samson story from Judges. An exhausted, battle-weary Samson prayed to God at Lehi . . .
19 Then God opened up the hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived. So the spring was called En Hakkore, and it is still there in Lehi.
We don’t have to go to Lehi for our En Hakkore. The Holy Spirit as our foundational source of power is that special place in a Christian’s life. It is in our time with God we remember who returns our strength and revives us to bear the fruit of the Spirit. Priorities 1-10 should mirror Matthew’s admonition . . .
Matthew 6:33 (NIV)
33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians was very similar.
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Be careful what you ask for. If you strive for God’s kingdom, set your heart on things above, you may well receive a message from God. Then what? Pastor Gil was to the point. He said we must respond. James tells us why . . .
James 3:17 (NIV)
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
It is the wisdom that comes from heaven that makes us a wise reminder, and not a warning to others. We earn the right to be that reminder through right relationship; with God (the vertical) and with others (the horizontal). Pastor Lee call it “the Cross relationship.” Recall Jesus’ answer to the Pharisee who asked Him “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
Mark 12:29-31 (NIV)
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
We examined Daniel as a model for vertical relationship. His spiritual discipline was unwavering, thrice daily prayer, even in the face of persecution wrought by the evil intentions of those who plotted against him.
His fate in the lion’s den was the measure of his vertical relationship with God. I think about Daniel when my spiritual discipline wavers. “No time for my reading today. Way too busy.” I stand mute, or worse, laugh along with others at an inappropriate joke. I fail to give thanks for my meal because of what others at the table may think. I feel myself descending the vertical to the worldly abyss, but praise be to God, the Holy Spirit is always there to convict, correct and restore my vertical relationship.
Our horizontal relationships should mirror the vertical. If we love God, God will equip us to love others.
1 Corinthians 2:9-10 (NIV)
“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived, the things God has prepared for those who love him”
My feeble human mind simply cannot conceive loving everyone as God loves me. It is only in returning God’s love that I can even contemplate the task, let alone actually demonstrate God’s love to someone I find decidedly unlovable. What I can tell you is true, however, is that it almost always feels better in retrospect that if I had acted unkindly. In the long run, striving for the mind of God bears far more fruit than being sequestered in my own individualistic cocoon. Maintaining Spirit-led horizontal relationships strengthens our vertical relationship and vice versa. That is why striking a balance is so important.
Finding that balance can be a confusing experience. Last week we explored the conundrum raised by Paul to Galatians . . .
Galatians 1:10 (NIV)
10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Isn’t pleasing people pleasing to God? Is being a people-pleaser mutually exclusive of being a God-pleaser? What gets priority when you face a tension between these two calls of conscience? These are troubling questions to negotiate in our vertical and horizontal balancing act. Making Scriptural teaching the priority and ultimate authority will not always please people. Nevertheless, the choice is before us. Transparency, consistency and genuineness should be marks of the Christian even when out of step with the secular world. Matthew 6:1-2 condemns hypocrisy.
Matthew 6:1-2 (NIV)
1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
Among the most common complaints of young people who have left the church is that it was “full of hypocrites.” How would you respond to such a complaint? It would be very unwise and in fact, disingenuous to deny it. So much of what drives anti-Christian hostility is not anti-Christ. Awful things said and done by misguided or even evil people in the name of Jesus is what destroys a Christian witness. Christians are fallen human beings, the same as non-Christians, and the damage they have inflicted on the body of Christ deeply grieves the Holy Spirit. In the book Unchristian, Kinnaman and Lyons quote a young person as follows. “Christianity has become bloated with blind followers who would rather repeat slogans than actually feel true compassion and care. Christianity has become marketed and streamlined into a juggernaut of fear-mongering that has lost its own heart.” The following slides are a sobering reminder of where the church stands among young people today.
Does this bring to mind what was preached last week about Christians being “an aroma of Christ? Paul wrote to the Corinthians . . .
2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (NIV)
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?
Given how a fragrance, whether pleasant or revolting, can linger, Paul’s image of Christians as the “fragrance of Christ” is richly symbolic. What can we do if the fragrance of Christ is perceived as an aroma of death? Painful as it is, let’s drill down into the hypocrisy issue.
Our hypocrisy issue is one of the drivers for young people’s search for spirituality without Jesus. Pastor Lee made the provocative comment that “Spirituality is not a Christian term anymore.” One commonly hears the statement, “Oh, I’m not religious, but I consider myself very spiritual.” How should we interpret this? Is it a bad thing? What difference does it make to a Christian? Listen, a Christian, as does God, wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. This is where pleasing people and pleasing God may butt heads. John wrote . . .
1 John 4:1 (NIV)
1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
How do you “test the spirits?” It may be easy to identify false teaching outside the church, but do you think there could be false teaching within the church? By what standard(s) do you test the spirits to discern if they are of the Spirit? Is Scripture your standard, or is it every wind of ear-tickling modern doctrine that tells us Scripture is out of step with life today? Are you led by the Spirit of God or the spirit of the age? The balance of your vertical and horizontal relationships depend on the answers to these questions. If you have not chosen, today is the time for choosing.
Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)
13“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Narrow though it may be, our charge is to usher as many toward the gate as the Lord would put in front of us. We cannot push them through and they may even be displeased at our effort. But in doing so we please God, and for some, it will mean eternal life. Amen