Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hiatus

We have decided to take an indefinite hiatus from our Sunday evening worship services.  We've been meeting for 2 1/2 years without any interruption, but now seems to be a good time for a break.  Thank you to all who have been supportive and have worshipped with us.  We are going to take some time to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate things.  There may be something new in the future that takes a different shape, but for now we are going to bring our Sunday meeting to an end.

We will still have our 7:00pm Wednesday night Bible study and discussion group.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Meeting Times

I think I'm going to take a break from my regular sermon notes posting.  Going to have a lot on my plate getting ready to teach at Sinclair this winter so blogging is not a real high priority.  Our regular meetings are not going to be affected, but I just won't be blogging on a weekly basis anymore.  Here are our current meeting times for anyone who comes across this blog and would like to join us:


Sunday Evening Worship Service @ 5:30pm (meal afterwards)


Wednesday Evening Bible Study @ 7:00pm

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Warning from the Prophet Micah

Melting earth
This past week I ended up reading the book of Micah.  I'm not really sure why I was in Micah.  I was just flipping around and decided to read it.  As I went through the book, a couple things stood out to me that I want to briefly share.

In Micah 1:1-6, God sends a warning to the people.  Their rebellion is going to bring about the judgment of God.  However, the image of judgment is not one of God hurling lightning bolts from the sky or raining down brimstone.  Instead, Micah says that God is actually going to set foot on this planet.  When God does this, the mountains will melt underneath God's feet (this is what I've tried to depict in my elementary Sketchbook diagram).  See, the Scriptures teach that God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29).  This is a metaphorical way of saying that God is dangerously holy.  So the day of fire described by Micah is really the day when the whole earth is consumed by the holiness and justice of God.  This is good news for the righteous and bad news for the unrighteous.  The righteous will be able to dwell in the presence of God's holiness because they are themselves a consuming fire.  For the unrighteous, the day of the Lord will be a day for weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This is what Micah explains in Micah 2:1-5.  In this passage Micah proclaims woe against the powerful, the oppressors, and the unjust.  These are people who lay in bed at night dreaming about how they can cheat and extort people.  In the morning, they rise and go about their unjust ways.  On the day of the Lord, God will repay these people according to their deeds and right the wrongs they have committed.  My natural reaction to a passage like this is, "Yeah, Lord, you get those evil people out there!  You show them!"  However, if we go on and read Micah 7:1-6, we should have a much more sober attitude about ourselves.  In this passage, Micah reveals the depth of evil and wickedness that dwells in the heart of each human being.  The same evil is in my heart as is in the thief or the murderer.  Maybe I don't act on those evil desires, but they are there nonetheless.  In this case, we all need to throw ourselves at the mercy of God.  None of us are holy in and of ourselves, yet one day we are going to stand in the presence of a holy God.  Our prayer should be that God would forgive us, deliver us, and transform us into holy beings who can stand in the presence of God's consuming fire on that day.  Amen. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hebrews 12: A Father's Discipline

As the father of an active and curious toddler, I am quickly learning about the art of a father's discipline.  For example, this past week my wife gave our son her set of keys to play with.  Don't ask me why, but the boy loves playing with keys.  Unfortunately, he was playing with these keys at a friend's house that is not "baby-proof."  Looking over my shoulder, I caught a glimpse of our son attempting to stick a car key in an electrical outlet.  Immediately, I intervened and made it very clear to him that doing something like that was wrong.  Naturally, he was upset and thought I was ruining his fun.  On his end, he could not see that my discipline was definitely for his good.  In this case, my discipline was a matter of life and death.  If I don't correct this particular behavior, one day my son could pay the ultimate price.

In Hebrews chapter 12, we find that the discipline of an earthly father provides a window into the discipline of God.  Our earthly parents apply discipline, education, and guidance so that we will eventually grow to become mature adults.  In the same way, God applies discipline to his children so that they will share in God's holiness, so that they will have the character of God.  In short, God wants children that bear a kind of family resemblance-- the image and likeness of God.  If a person does not receive discipline from God, they are not legitimate members of God's family.  They don't bear the family traits so they are not a part of the family.  Since the defining family trait is holiness, this means that no one can see God who is not holy or has not been sanctified (Heb. 12:14).

This teaching, that you must be holy to see God, is all throughout the book of Hebrews.  In fact, the overarching message of Hebrews is that there is no final salvation without holiness.  Drawing on the Exodus story, Hebrews tells us that you can be saved out of Egypt but not enter into the final salvation of the Promised Land if you reject the discipline of the Lord.  As Christians, we are warned against making the same mistake as the Israelites-- being saved but coming up short of the grace of God (Heb. 12:15).  Going back to my initial example with my son, God applies discipline to us so that we do not pay the ultimate price-- eternal death.  To reject God's discipline is to be in a dangerous place.

Although this teaching is plain in Hebrews and elsewhere in the Scriptures, we've done a good job of making holiness optional or even irrelevant in a good many of our churches today.  This is actually a scary thing when we consider the sobering message of Hebrews 12.  This means there are Christians, who like the Israelites before them, are openly rejecting God's discipline.  As for me, I don't want to be that kind of person.  I want to go along with the Lord and allow him to shape me and change me.  My hope is that other Christians might come to this same revelation and desire for holiness.  Amen. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

The American Dream and Christ

When we think of the "American Dream" what comes to mind?

  • Upward mobility and success in your career
  • Comfort and security
  • At least modest wealth
  • Home ownership in safe neighborhoods with good schools
  • College degree from a good school
  • Golden years of retirement
  • Healthy and successful children (2-3 of them)
  • Time for leisure, hobbies, and vacation
  • Honor and positions of influence in your local community
  • "Toys"-- automobiles, boats, motorcycles, gadgets, big screen televisions, etc.
As I reflected on the American Dream as described above, I ended up asking myself a question, "What if I had to make a choice between the American Dream and Christ?  Which one would I choose?"  See, in the past it has been possible to have both Christ and the American Dream.  Historically speaking, America has been a place where Christianity has enjoyed widespread esteem and acceptance.  Therefore, following Christ in America has not cost a person social standing or the ability to live the good life.  What if this were to change, though?  What if being a Christian cost something?  What if it cost a person the ability to go after the American Dream?  Would anyone still want to follow Christ then?

In the time of the New Testament Church, following Christ did cost a person.  Christianity was an illegal cult, and Christians lived under the authority of a foreign occupying power, Rome.  Participating in Christianity would almost certainly have cost a person socially if not in other ways as well.  For many, being a Christian did not just cost them worldly success or wealth; it cost their lives.  The Apostle Paul was a person who was willing to accept the cost of following Jesus.  In Philippians 3:4-11, Paul says he considers his old life complete rubbish.  Now keep in mind Paul was from a good family and had great religious zeal.  In his society, he could have been somebody.  He could have been the top Pharisee at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  Instead, he threw it all away on a harebrained scheme-- following Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit.  He gave up a life of power, wealth, success, and honor for a life of radical obedience to God.  

Paul was able to make this decision because he knew something very important: You can be a loser and not lose.  You can be a winner and not win.  See, Paul understood the teaching of Jesus in Luke 9:23-25 and Luke 12:33-34.  As Jesus tells us, we can suffer great loss in this life and not come out behind.  We can sell our possessions and give away the proceeds and not lack.  On the other hand, we can gain everything and hoard wealth to ourselves and come out empty handed.  Why is this the case?  The answer is simple.  Christ gives to the poor and humble.  The person who is empty handed can receive from God, but the person who is full already has received their blessing.  

So, we can see that rejecting the American Dream is not such a bad idea.  Sure, our friends and family might think we are a little nuts.  I have a feeling people thought the same thing about Paul.  But, by giving up the American Dream, we place ourselves in a position where we can totally depend on God and be beneficiaries of God's grace and kindness.  

Monday, August 8, 2011

Universalism

Usually I don't like addressing theological topics with my Sunday evening messages.  Instead I like to share a reflection on a passage of Scripture and a practical application.  However, this week I deviated from my typical approach because I felt like it was important to address a mindset rapidly gaining in popularity: universalism.  Of course this perspective has been around for a long time, but it is gaining more widespread acceptance among Christians today, especially those educated in the multicultural and postmodern milieu of the American university.  Amongst intelligent young people, it is less and less fashionable to say that only certain types of people will go to heaven and the rest will go to hell.  To say this is to be closed-minded, bigoted, and hateful.  For this reason, more and more people are subscribing to the viewpoint, "When we die we'll all go to heaven where we'll be with our family and friends for all eternity."

Although this mindset sounds nice-- I'm mean, who wouldn't want to believe that we all go to heaven?-- it ignores or rationalizes away a good bit of Scripture.  It is also rather naive and short-sighted.  Let me try to explain the inadequacy of this viewpoint.  See, to begin with we need to realize that heaven is God's house.  This is how Jesus describes heaven in John 14:1-3.  He compares it to a mansion with many rooms.  So "going to heaven" really means going to live in God's house.  Heaven is not a mystical gathering place where we see all our deceased loved ones.  Heaven is not the great golf course in the sky.  These typical mindsets about heaven are incredibly self-centered and completely ignore the fact that heaven is God's house.  Heaven is not the place where we can do whatever we want, when we want, and as often as we want.  With this in mind, I ask just one question, "If we've spent a lifetime alienating ourselves from God and rebelling against God, how can we just move back into the house on the day we die?"  When we think about it this way, the idea of universalism is nonsensical.  For many people it would be a terrible thing to spend eternity living in God's house.  Why, you might ask?  Living in God's house means obeying God, loving as God loves, and having the same character as God.  When we say that all people go to heaven, we are assuming that people will magically change their ideas, attitudes, and behaviors when they die.  We are also assuming that people will want to go to heaven and live with God.  On the contrary, I think there will be those who will prefer hell to the eternal torment of living in the purifying love of God.

We also need to take seriously the clear warning of Scripture: not everyone is going to enter into the Kingdom of God (or God's house).  In Matthew 7:21-23, we see Jesus telling people that they cannot enter in.  These people are genuinely surprised.  They think they have done all the right religious deeds-- prophesy, exorcism, miracles-- to gain entrance into heaven.  However, entrance into God's house is not based on our performance of religious deeds.  As Jesus says, the ones who are allowed to enter in are the obedient children, the ones who have done the will of the Father.  Paul gives a different warning in I Corinthians 6:9-11.  He says that there are certain people who cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.  These are people who live in gross rebellion against the will of God.  As we know from the story of the Prodigal Son, God will allow people to come home, but only if they have an attitude of repentance and reconciliation.  However, for the rebellious person with no desire for repentance and reconciliation there can only be one possibility.  By willfully rejecting the grace of God, this person chooses the eternal torment of hell.  They bring judgment upon themselves.  Why would God send people like this to hell though?  The answer is obvious.  God cannot have the rebellious children ruining the experience of heaven for the obedient children.  This is the same reason Satan and his minions were cast out of heaven.  For the sake of the obedient angels, God had to expel Satan.  He could not let Satan's disobedience contaminate the rest.

So we can see from these Scriptures that only obedient children who have been reconciled to the Father can enter into heaven.  Knowing this, I have to ask myself, what is my relationship like with God?  Am I maintaining a good relationship so that I can move back into God's house one day?  Or am I a wishful thinker, hoping to move back in although I know that I am living as a rebellious and unreconciled child?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hebrews 11: On Faith and Righteousness

As people, whenever we look at the world, we are always dividing other people into different categories-- rich and poor, white and black, tall and short, educated and uneducated, cultured and uncultured, and so forth.  We are good at placing people into different groups and showing them different treatment on that basis.  However, when God looks at the world, God does not see these various divisions that we have created.  They mean nothing to God.  But, there is a division that God sees when God looks at people.  The division is not on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, level of intelligence, or anything like that.  As we see from Hebrews 11, the only difference between people is whether or not they have faith.  

For example, Noah was a man of faith.  By this I mean that Noah could see something his neighbors could not see, and Noah acted in accordance with what he saw.  When Noah stood out in front of his home and stared off into the distance, he could see dark and ominous storm clouds forming far away at the very edge of the horizon.  However, the other people in Noah's town could not see this coming storm.  When they looked at the horizon, they could only see clear blue skies as far as the eye could see.  In Noah's case, faith is the ability to see the unseen.  Or to put it differently, Noah had the ability to see what God could see.  Since he saw a storm coming, he built a boat and prepared himself and his family.  When the storm came, Noah and his family entered into the salvation of the ark.  Unfortunately, the ones who had no faith, who could not see the unseen storm coming, were washed away.  The Flood very clearly divided the people into two groups-- those who had faith and those who had no faith.  Reading through the rest of Hebrews chapter 11 reveals that faith divided other people-- Cain and Abel, Abraham and his Canaanite neighbors, Moses and Pharaoh, Rahab and the people of Jericho.  This is the only true division between people.  All other categories are superficial and meaningless.  Except, this is not exactly right.

See faith, which divides people, leads to a second division-- righteous and unrighteous.  Because the saints of Hebrews 11 had faith, they also had righteousness.  Since they could see the things God saw, they began to act the way God acts.  They could see God's perspective and God's priorities and they changed their actions to come into line with this new worldview.  This is righteousness, acting the way God acts and having the character of God.  What I am getting at is that faith and righteousness are intimately linked.  You cannot have one without the other.  Unfortunately, in the Church we've done a good job of separating the two.  We've told people that you can be a person of faith without being made righteous by the transformative power of Christ.  We've made Christian growth and maturity optional.  We've made it an appendix to faith.  This not the message of the Scriptures, though.  To be people of faith is also to allow God to change us.

So I see God drawing a line in the sand through the message of Hebrews 11.  The line is this, "Who will be changed?  Who will be made new?"  Our human nature often tends to resist change and the unfamiliar, but, if we are going to come to Christ by faith, we have to be willing to be changed.  This then is the division between all people-- those who will let God work on them and those who refuse to allow God to change who they are.  Let us be the kind of people who will submit to the transformation that comes from God.