Way back in the day, long before the Beatles, if people wanted a bowl, they would either make one or go to the local potter’s house to buy one. The potter would provide people with what was needed. Like any business, the needs of the consumer dictated what the potter would make. Sometimes someone would put in a special order for something more ornate or ceremonial, increasing the value. The potter wasn’t only making things his community needed, but they were an artisan. They would take a lump of clay and mold it into whatever they desired based off of what was needed. They would see an image in their mind and shape the clay accordingly. This required great skill. The clay would never object because with the life of clay comes a natural desire to be molded by the will of the potter. The clay is pleased to be mastered by the skillful and intentional hands of the potter. The goal of clay is to be molded and remolded if necessary. Whatever the potter wants, that’s what the clay wants. Being a disciple of Jesus changes us from being a rigid, defined object to being a willful lump of clay in the hands of the Potter.
If you’ve ever taken a class on spiritual gifts or did a study on them, you’ve probably taken one of those assessments where they ask you about 500 questions, you do a tally, and at the end of it your gifts are revealed. You feel kind of special too. You compare your gifts to others, you think about how special you are, then you go home and there it ends. God made you special, but you really don’t know what to do with this new information. For starters, although the assessment is helpful, this isn’t a treasure hunt to find those things that make you different. Spiritual gifts are given for a reason. They’re not there for you to feel special. And, there’s an easier, more Biblical way of seeing your gifts manifest. It’s not about finding out what they are, it’s what you do that adds to the totality of the Kingdom. During this series, we’re going to explore what spiritual gifts are, how you get them, how you find yours out, and what you with that information.
Throughout our life, we learn things about how the world and our faith works. When we learn these things, we learn them at a specific time and place in world history, causing us to define those experiences through the lens of our known world. We’ll use those experiences from that time and place to define all other experiences from that day moving forward. We’ll refer to our experiences as “the good ‘ole days,” as though the present world doesn’t compare. The problem with that is it prevents us from seeing people and situations around us as they truly are. We want to judge the people and situations in reference to our understanding. In the end, they’re lazy and dumb. “When I was a kid…” The world is changing. Rapidly. We must learn how to observe, listen, pray, and respond in light of God’s will. His will has and never will change: that none should perish. For us to take up the call of God’s will, it’s not everyone who needs to change, it starts with us. We need to learn new skills as the terrain is changing as we go off the map we’ve come to know and love.
When kids in elementary school get word problems, the first thing they have to look at is what they know. What in the question is a known factor? That’s where they start. From there, they begin to fill in the blanks, unlocking new details that bring them finally to the conclusion. As we become flustered with situations at home or at work, we get confused over what to do and how to do it. With our journey of faith, this is also true. Many of us already know quite a bit about God and His attributes, but we forget about them. When we go so address a problem in life, we get confused over what to do and how to do it. In this series, we’re going to start with what we know. Who is God? What is His desire for humanity? What are His attributes? Once we start with what we know, we can begin to address the gaps with the proper information instead of guessing our way through with bad information. In fact, much of the time we already know the answer, we just don’t know we know.
We all have faith in pretty much everything. We have faith that when we flip the light switch, the light will come on. If I were to take a cup and pour water in it, do I have faith in the cup or in the cup’s ability to hold water? My faith is not in the cup, but in the properties of the cup. I am objectifying the cup to serve a purpose. We can treat God like this. We have faith in Him, but we can turn Him into this object where if we do the right things and keep our noses clean, He’ll come through for us. When we objectify God, we forget that He is a very personal God. Can we possibly love the idea of God more than God Himself? It sounds crazy when I say it or type it: God. Like that’s His name or something. This objectification has allowed us to name Eternal Creator and Presence, distancing ourselves from Him or treating Him like an object designed to fix all our broken stuff, just as long as play nicely. God loves us, and He wants us to learn and live that. It’s easier to live in love rather than concept.
Life feels like an endless cycle of day-to-day minutia, and we often get lost in the sea of busyness. It’s a good idea at times to look at your past and see what there is to learn from. You can look at human history, culture, industry, religion, and politics and find repeating aspects that teach us that when X and Y happen, Z is right on their heels. As much as we would like to think that change is constantly happening, it really isn’t. What we experience today has been experienced a thousand times before, and we can in fact predict when it’s going to happen again. In understanding what type of lifestyle we should be living as followers of Christ and children of God, there are a few things we need to look at first. One, we need to look at the past. We need to see how God does what He does. God is constant, so we can see how He worked through women and men of faith. By doing so, we will see that He has a way of doing things. Second, we need to look to the future. God has promised us that if we are faithful to Him, He will be faithful to us. Looking at God’s promises for our future hope will show us that the story is far from over. By looking back at the past, and looking ahead to the future, we will learn how to live our lives in the present with an increasing faith.
It’s that time of year again when we shop ‘til we drop, buying things we can’t afford and don’t need just to satisfy this cultural norm. But I digress. Every year it seems that we need reminded of what all this really means, and why the bumper sticker is actually right that, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” But it’s bigger than that. It’s bigger than a decal stating some borderline argumentative sentiment. Christmas originated from the birth of Christ (note that Christmas starts with the word Christ, which means ‘Messiah’), and has become an industry in-and-of-itself. We still can be convinced that bigger is better, that more is more, and that big shiny things mean something. When Jesus was born, God broke through onto the human scene in a very simple way using simple tools and simple means. This was long before polyester existed! The point: when God breaks through, it is usually going to be in ways that we wouldn’t have assumed. Lives get changed by an all-loving transcendent and perfectly holy God through the subtle sounds of simplicity and in the last place you would think to look. ‘Tis the season.
Life can beat us down, convincing us that what we experience in any given day is just about the most we’ll ever see. We feel average, maybe slightly above if you perform your tasks with greater efficiency than others. Regardless, we don’t see ourselves accomplishing more than what we already have. What is our potential? What could we accomplish if we just had the chance? When God brought us into His family, He ascribed to us a new identity. The old one was OK, but mostly filled with bad information. This new identity is that of a stone. Not just any old stone, but one that is alive, that is a part of a greater story this is about becoming something rather than being something. Peter tells us that we are living stones being used to build us into a holy priesthood. The life of a stone is a big one, but how we step beyond the misinformation that we are barely average requires some God inspired, Holy Spirit infused work. We pray, we practice compassion, we live in relationships, and we serve the “least of these.”
Jesus spoke a lot about the Kingdom of God. Many of us think about God’s Kingdom being the place where we will sit on a rocking chair, eating chocolates surrounded by fluffy cats for a billion years (heaven, to some). Jesus did made this peculiar statement as recorded in Luke 17, “…the kingdom of God is within you.” The word ‘within’ also means ‘in the midst of.’ So Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God is within and in midst of us. That means it is a present tense thing and not a futuristic thing. If we choose to follow Christ, God’s Kingdom is at work in us and around us in the moment. We’re going to break this down and look at what it actually means to be a part of the Kingdom of God, how we operate day-to-day, what Jesus said about God’s Kingdom, and what it all means for us today.
The last series covered the Year of Jubilee as expressed in Leviticus 25. What we saw in that was God's design for humanity: a social environment where poverty ceased to exist, the lifestyle of responsible and ethical leadership, mutual concern for others instead of the consumption of more stuff. But this speaks deeper to how we operate and view others in the day-to-day. Equality, justice, advocacy, all aspects of that mutual concern. When Jesus introduced his ministry, he used the phrase, "the year of the Lord's favor." Jesus' ministry, both what was spoken and lived, brought the Jubilee lifestyle into reality. We're going to explore Jesus' teachings and journeys to see how he continued God's design for humanity. BTW, it's not just to know more stuff but how to live daily the lifestyle of a disciple of Jesus.
Jesus said a lot of stuff. When he spoke of the Kingdom in parables, when he said things like, "Love your enemy," or, "Pray for those who persecute you," where did that language come from? Was he making things up as he went along? Jesus is the fulfillment of all of God's history through the Torah, the wisdom literature, the prophets, the covenants, and any movement or action with humanity. Jesus was and is the continuation of God's story of redemption. As he stood in front of his hometown and disclosed to them that the Kingdom of God had come, that "this is the year of the Lord's favor," that was very specific. We're going to explore where Jesus's language came from and how it deeply impacts us today.
When we consider the phrase: The Word of God, we automatically think of the Bible. But didn't that phrase exist before the Bible was written? When the "Word of God" was spoken of in the scriptures, it is referring to Jesus, the incarnate Word of God. In other words, Jesus is the embodiment of God's spoken words. Let that sink in for a moment. What a powerful truth we have living inside us! Jesus said that he was the way, the truth, the life...not the Bible, not the Law, but he alone. His essence is God's intentions. My brain hurts.
If we want to improve our lives in any way, we first have to take an inventory to see what is keeping us down. By addressing what is keeping us from growing, we will need to give up certain things. What we give up is usually old, broken habits that we kept around that no longer serve a purpose and have proven to hold us back. By giving up those old habits, we make room for God to work with us in reestablishing new habits. During this series we will be focusing on The Power of Surrender. All throughout scripture we are reminded that to be in the fullness of God we must surrender those things that get in the way of that relationship. Surrender: giving up what we "love" so we can get closer to the cross.
Communication is a very critical piece of humanity. We can find ourselves locked in a very confusing conversation simply as the result of someone speaking but not being properly received. We also are in a society that loves to talk: political pundits, social media, leadership conferences, awesome pastors, and so on. The biggest challenge is being able to listen. What happens when God speaks? Is what He saying being properly received, or are we adding our own perspectives to His words so it doesn't sting as much? When God speaks, worlds are created and lives are impacted. Over the next several weeks we will be looking further into this and seeing the voice and volume of God.
Advent is defined as "coming." When we take a quick picture of our world today, we see atrocities at every turn, human life being defiled, and rampant corruption and abuse. We cry out to God to make it all stop, to make all the pain go away. And we are reminded of history that existed in similar circumstances. Our cry today has been echoed throughout the ages, and as they cried out for release from oppression, we cry for universal redemption. However, the story is far from over. We have a Savior, one who has come to set us free from the oppression of this world only to go back into it to take His story with us. We have hope. We have love. We have joy. We have peace. We have Jesus.
What is it like to be uprooted from your place of stability, your home, and be replanted in a foreign land with a strange language and odd cultural practices? Being stripped away for your home is bad enough, but now you can't hardly buy groceries because of the differences in money and foods, let alone getting integrated into this new civilization. We're going to look at the exile of Israel and what got them there, but mostly how some maintained their Jewish heritage and identity in the midst of the constant social pressures of giving up who they were to become someone they weren't.
God has called us to be holy, as He is holy. But what does that actually mean? How do you even define what 'holy' is? Are humans, people like you and me, called to be equal with God? During this series, we're going to start at the beginning, looking at our state of existence before we said yes to Jesus. From there we're going to take it a step at a time to understand and embrace this call to be holy, as God Himself is holy. Quick hint: all of it, 100% of it, is only made possible by the grace of God found in Christ. We are the beneficiaries of His love.
There are times when we must slow life down, refocus our thoughts and energies, and renew our passion for Christ. Life can present obstacles that keeps us from seeing Christ in the midst of the daily routines. During this series, we're going to look to God, renew our commitments, and allow Him to define our passions. We're going to look at God's version of beauty and success, and we're going to draw back into Him.
We can exist within 30 feet of one another and never truly know each other. We have become accustomed to being surrounded by people yet remain alone. We're going to take the next several weeks and get to know each other a little bit more, plus we're going to look at our role in the faith community and in the world in which we live.
Often, ministry is defined by what a church is "doing." This "doing" can be anything from parties to cleaning to changing dirty diapers. Usually this "doing" has been predetermined: outreach, worship, Sunday school, etc. In some cases, this is fine. However, this type of ministry development has positions that need filled, positions that have already been prescribed by church history or "that's just what we do." There is no longer an expression of one's passions, only what routine and monotony of all the programming. What's really interesting is that most churches pretty much do the same thing. What if you could define what the church does in ministry? What if you were given the freedom to explore, define, and move on something that you find significant? What are you passionate about? What social injustice makes you angry, and you wish you could do something about it? Well, that's what we're doing now. You define the ministry. You help determine what happens. In this series, we're going to explore what this means, and how we know if it fits in with God's Kingdom.
As we journey through this life, we forget who we are and where we are going. We come to the conclusion that our career defines our existence, and then everything else just falls in after that. We shuffle our feet from one day to the next doing our best to do the Christian thing, and what we're left with is a diminished vision for who we are in Christ. We will be covering how God views us, our uniqueness, our abilities, and so on as a way to discover our place in God's great world.
Theology is the study of the nature of God. We generally think of theology as something for the intellectuals, for the lofty thinkers who post some really profound statements on Facebook that becomes our life's purpose for the day. What if I told you that you have your own theology? Your God-experiences and your faith culture have shaped in you a vision of who you believe God is. This is how you have come to determine what the nature of God is. Does your personal intellectual understanding impact your daily living? How you treat your waiter, the neighbor whose leaves fell in your yard, the snowplow driver that plowed in your driveway right after you got done shoveling, this tells you who you believe God is. We can never stop learning, growing, or experiencing the profound grace of God found in Christ. As we engage the world around us, it doesn't take long to understand that we have a living theology.
As the Christmas season is upon us, we look at what the birth of the Messiah means to each one of us. We feel a sense of uneasiness with the commercialization of the holiday, yet we participate nonetheless. From time to time we attempt to catch a glimpse of what the coming of Christ means in our personal lives. We know we can't take our eyes off the cross, so how can the birth of Jesus impact us and the world in which we live? Maybe the nativity scene in our front yard will tell our neighbors and the cars passing by where we stand, just so long as we don't have to talk to them. We will going through different advent topics to understand that the coming of Christ brought hope, peace, mercy, sacrifice, and love. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, but now our lives become a living Christmas display of those things that have been graciously given to us.
The current culture shows signs of great discontinuity. We have multiple interest groups that are in opposition with one another, yet everyone's right. We see a political narrative being told unlike this country has ever seen before, driving great divides and animosity between these interest groups. In times of such great social instability, the church as we know it keeps doing what it always has with little impact on the landscape of the American civilization. The church once was a safe haven, a place of refuge for the abused and abandoned, a place that had immense social trust, but now, with statistics showing a decline in those involved in church, it has become another interest group. How do we impact our communities when people are suspicious of us? How do we change the course of history while gathering in buildings once a week to participate in a 1700 year old format? Perhaps it is time to think new, dream new, pray new. Maybe it's time to stop "doing" church and start participating in the brokenness around us: that's us "being" the church. We will be making our way through Micah 6:6-8, trying to wrap our minds around our personal and social responsibility in God's great story.
Sometimes it's important to be reminded that things aren't as bad as we're lead to believe. We're not doomed, God hasn't taken a coffee break and forgotten His church, and you may not be as lost as you may think. Staying focused on the prize can be difficult, but God has promised that He will send Jesus back for those who stay true to Him. This series focuses on encouragement: something we all can use from time to time. We will be addressing this topic from various Biblical passages. You have more value than you know, and good to hear it.
What is your purpose in life? Why do you exist? How many times have we asked ourselves that question or looked at our life's production and came to some pretty empty conclusions? What if you were told that there was a way for you to find out what God's will is for your life? Would you be interested? However, the problem with questions is that we kind of want specific answers. You see, we already have in our head a picture of what God's will is supposed to look like: we're always smiling, our kid's aren't socially awkward, we've got a new(er) car, and our finances are in perfect shape. We also buy food through a box and pick it up already prepared from a window. That's fast! When we ask these questions, we demand immediate results. If not, then something other than us must be broken. If you really want to know what God's will is for your life, are you willing to commit to the process so you can find it out?
We generally have a lot of questions about faith, life, the Bible, and so on. The culture we see today has little time to search for answers, so those questions begin like this, "Siri..." We find ourselves communicating with artificial intelligence seeking some of the most provoking questions we have about our own lives. The internet is a very useful tool, but when you ask it a question you are taking the risk of getting a nice answer that has nothing to do with the story of redemption. We seek the wisdom of bloggers and Facebook quotes when attempting to find God's vision for our lives. God has a beautiful story to tell us of his love, his mercy, his desire for humanity, and what he wants you to be doing and becoming. But do we even know how to find answers outside of the digital vacuum?
We're going to open our antiquated Bibles and explore the text to see what God is really wanting you to do and become. If it's God's words, you can trust it. So, let me ask you, what does God want you to do?
There is a section of text in the Bible, specifically 2 Timothy, chapter 3, that makes a statement starting with, "In the last days..." It goes on the explain what the attitudes of people will be like in the last days. This is has unfortunately been taken out of context for a very long time, especially in these days. People generally read that to mean at the time of Christ's return. However, if you put that section into context, the author, the apostle Paul, is referring to those in the church community. That's us! Then he says something that is profound, "...having a form of godliness but denying its power."
Over the next several weeks, we're going to analyze this verse, looking at it from several different angles, really trying to wrap our minds around our relationship with Christ, our relationship with others, the effectiveness of the church community in the world around it, and so on. What happens when form fails to follow function? We're left with empty religion and a fruitless faith.
Too often when we think about the kingdom of God, we think in terms of our worlds and feeding the poor and am I good enough for God's grace and why am I such a terrible sinner? God's kingdom is about you living your day to day as a representative of his kingdom. However, when it comes time for us to talk about the Bible or what God has done for us, we don't talk. We're going to explore the book of Acts in a dialogue based series from Jerusalem outward. We're going to see how God's kingdom took on different forms pertaining to the culture, yet the gospel message remained unchanged. The root question we're going to ask is, "What is God saying?" The reason that question is so important is because it has to do with you and me and what God is up to not just in a world long gone, but in a world that is the same today as it was then. It's about Thy Kingdom Go.
Sometimes we feel as though our story of salvation isn't that impressive. Maybe we never got into that much trouble, were the "good kid," and things haven't been that dramatic. Or maybe we weren't the good kid and we were involved in some pretty intense situations. Since we came to Jesus, though, we've not gone on speaking campaigns sharing out broken history and God's redemption, so we just assume that no one really needs or wants to hear it. The truth of it is that your story is in fact the best story ever told. Wherever you are in life or whatever you are doing you are surrounded by people who are desperately seeking to make sense of life and find purpose to their existence. Your story can provide a path between them and Jesus. Your friendship to them can be a catalyst to a conversation that can have eternal results. Your story is in fact the best story ever told!
Is the church today what God intended? This previous series, we discussed how we view God. If our view of God is small, manageable, something on our scale, then we've created a false God. Whatever our view of God is will make its way into our assembly and will be manifested in our worship, organization, our need for traditional buildings, and everything else we do.
We have accepted that the word "church" means several different things. In truth, it's pretty confusing. The church is the building, it's the people, and it's this abstract thing that does stuff, like when people say, "The church should do x, y, z." What do they mean by that? We're going to start with defining the Greek word loosely used when we think of "church" (the original word that we associate with "church" doesn't mean anything like what we think). We're then going to start at the very beginning of "church" history, and get back to Jesus' definition of "church," what it looked like, how it functioned, what decor was authorized, they type of sound system they had, what style of music they listened to, the brand of fashionable clothing, was it Peter or John who wore skinny jeans first, and the pew arrangement that REALLY reflects God.
What comes to mind when you think of God? Over the years of our lives, we have constructed an idea of who God is, what He's like, how impatient He is, how much He loves pews, and little of this actually comes from scripture. In fact, most of what we know has been passed down to us through images (I really don't think Jesus was a white guy with blue eyes and flowing white hair) or stories or religion. Our religion and worship will always be in relation to how we view God. The Church's witness is always a self-incriminating statement of our view of God. He's boring, borderline lifeless, enjoys only man's version of church, and listens to the Gaither's (there's nothing wrong with them, I just don't think God is overly concerned about that). We are going to start with facing the facts: we probably don't have an accurate image of God in our head and in our lifestyle. The only theological or creedal statement that could get made of God should be filled with daily application. From there we're going to look at the attributes of God, best we can with our human understanding. This could be fun!
Have you ever had a hunger inside of you that no matter what you did it didn't go away? You pray, read your Bible, go to church, basically follow through with the same regiment, but deep down inside something was calling for more. That calling inside of you is the Spirit of God drawing you deeper into himself. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that many people are feeling the same thing, but we just don't know what to do about it. God is calling his Church (that's you and me) to reawaken, to go back to the beginning of our first love and become more committed: giving up sin, deep prayer, confession to one another, being desperate for the lost, and more. During this series we're going to explore revival, what it means, what it looks like, and why we need it.
What is prayer? Why do we need it? Are we doing it right? There is quite possibly a difference between our perception of prayer and what prayer really is. We enter prayer with expectations and demands, and if God doesn't do something immediately, well then, He's just not listening or He's mad at us or I'm doing something wrong in my daily life that is preventing prayers from being answered and so on. We are going to explore what prayer is and what our place is in it individually and corporately.
According to the prayer that Jesus gave his disciples as an outline (The Lord's Prayer), part of it says, "...your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." God has a will, and we have a will. Are they in agreement? Why are we asking something from God that isn't even part of His desires? Ask and you shall receive, right? Where's my exotic supercar? I asked, so I should get it. The first question we as a Church need to ask is, "God, what is your will?" Once He tells us, we pray for that. But get ready, because part of the answer may be asking you to get your hands dirty. When worlds collide, when heaven meets earth and God's will is displayed, it will be immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine.
There are times when we feel like God is calling us into something deeper, something we can't necessarily put our finger on, but we know we're not where He wants us. We can live our lives in this area of safety and control where are unsure or afraid to step outside of the shadows and be put in a place of full dependence on God. God needs you. God needs the Church. Without people who are willing to take God ordered risks, the Church will cease to be.
Looking at the prophet Ezekiel, we're going to explore how he was taken to a place of utter hopelessness, and how God not only restored his hope, but out of the despair God brought a vast army back to life. The key: God gave the instruction, but only moved when someone was obedient.
If you've ever read through the book of Acts, you'll see some amazing things happen, and quite possibly, you could feel like a failure. The reason is because we see the apostles doing some incredible things: healing, speaking publicly, being beaten and imprisoned just to have the shackles fall off in the middle of the night and they walk out, etc. Unfortunately, we use their experiences with the Holy Spirit to determine what we should be doing. Over the course of this series, we're going to see what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit and how that effects us. From there, we will put the acts of the apostles into the light of what Jesus said so we start to develop a healthier perspective on what we do daily, and that its quite possible the Holy Spirit is at work.
You can't be in contact with Jesus very long to understand that you really need help. We are surrounded by a wounded culture that we blindly accept as reality. Jesus said that he came to set us free! But, what are we set free from? Sin? Yes, but there is more. Jesus came to set our minds free from perceiving the world around us as the fullness of what is real and true and good. When we say 'yes' to Jesus, we then enter a world where we allow the Holy Spirit to shape us. Are we giving full access? Are we seeing the world as Jesus does?
Detoxing is a painful process. We take out certain foods and add in other foods with the goal to clean out our body. When we detox our spirit and mind, the same painful process ensues. We take certain things out of our systems and add in others. What should you take out? Facebook? Surfing the net? Candy Crush? And I'll give you a little head start, the one thing you can add in that has incredible effects, is prayer. Effective, authentic prayer. Even if you don't know what to take out, I can assure you that if you add in or increase prayer, you'll soon find out what needs to go.
Culture is defined by the arts and manifestations of the collective human intellect. Within a larger culture there can be small cultures that are either off-shoots of the larger and reflections of that culture, or that are quasi-independent. America has a culture that has been birthed form a myriad of inputs from Native American to British to African to Irish and the list goes on. We like steak. We like patriotism. We support our troops. We believe in the fundamentals of individual rights. We consider politics, the sciences and the arts in their various forms and how they dominate the landscape of conversation. We are influenced since birth by the culture in which we live. Children don't question the education system because it is what it and we assume that it will be what it will be, so we fall in line and do what is expected of us from the state and others around us.
Christianity is its own culture, and at times can be counter-culture. We adopt a way of doing things that have been done before us with little question of legitimacy or logic. We go to church, we go Sunday school, we sing songs, we have a person lecture on Biblical subjects, we give our money, we sometimes meet midweek, we are told to pray and read our Bibles (expectations) and never stop to think how this subculture that we practice is dying. Over the next several weeks we are going to explore the American culture and how it has made its way into the gathering of believers and their practices, we're going to look at the culture of the church in its raw form and begin to question its purpose in light of God's purpose. Quick question: if to share the gospel and make disciples is about building relationships with those who need to hear the gospel, let me quote Dr. Phil, "How's that workin' for ya?"
Is the church relevant? To someone who has never opened a Bible or heard of Matt Redman or stepped foot inside a church building except for a wedding they didn't want to go to and hates their ex-spouse, how is the church going to disrupt, influence, or change the course of the American culture? OK, it might be more than a several week series...
When we recognize that 1. we’re human, 2. we are in relationship with a perfectly holy God, 3. there must be some human response to that relationship, that puts certain things into perspective. We wonder how we could ever do or say anything that would ever justify the love of God expressed through the sacrifice of Christ, and there isn’t. The best we can do is to offer ourselves as a sacrifice, a sold-out instrument to Christ’s plan for humanity. We’re going to explore a small section of text in Acts that shows us how we, as humans, respond when a holy God enters the picture.
One amazing thing about the human race that you will find when looking through scripture is that if it they've done it once, it will be done again. Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun. That is so true. Many times, when faced with terrible opposition or an uncertain future we feel like we are unique, that we are in a place that God has never seen before and it's going to be near impossible for Him to reach us. The fact is, there is nothing new under the sun. But it goes beyond life experiences and situations...how about the human mind? No matter era, generation, culture or time-zone, humans will be humans. There will always be doubt and fear and jealousy and crying when babies are born and sleepiness after eating that way too big pasta bowl. There will always be people misunderstanding and misrepresenting the Kingdom of God and asking for money for their dog's medical treatments and using the Bible to justify hatred. Over these next several weeks we're going to look at real-life situations that existed a long, long time ago, and how we're no different. Do you know what truly changes humanity? Take a guess...
When we look across the American church's landscape, we see a lot of great things, but also see some issues. Like any movement, things can become bogged down with regulations and committees and other various "necessary" controls. The problem is that all these "necessities" can overwhelm the purpose of the movement's existence and turn it into a massive organization, losing its identity. Good thing THAT hasn't happened! Either way, when we look at the church, if we imagine it to be a city, maybe with some fortified walls, we might see those walls crumbling, or maybe huge holes in the walls from attacks and disrepair. When we look at the story of Nehemiah, we see a man given a massive task by God to return to his homeland and rebuild the city's walls. The walls of that once mighty city were in terrible shape, making the recently returned inhabitants vulnerable to attack. As God called Nehemiah then to rebuild His city, God calls the church today to stop, take a true inventory of her condition, and start rebuilding where needed.
Have you ever wondered how serious God is? Like, when He says to do something, or not to, do we sometimes think there is a little wiggle room in His command? If you use scripture as your guide and reference Israel's past, you will quickly find out that God was quite serious about how, when, what and why. God set very clear and simple guidelines in place that would produce results that honor Him. At the center of these guidelines is the 'why.' Why would God establish guidelines to follow? Israel turned their backs on God over and over again, and yet He still pursued them. Why? The book of Malachi was written during the time of Nehemiah. In the book of Nehemiah, Israel is rebuilt (although not to her former glory) through the leadership of Nehemiah, enabled by the Spirit of God. After the walls were rebuilt and order was in place Nehemiah ruled as governor. After a 12 year governorship, he returned to his original position in Persia as the king's cupbearer. During this time of Nehemiah's absence, Israel basically turned her back, again, on the guidelines established by God. This is where Malachi comes in. Malachi was a prophet speaking directly to the failings of Israel during the time of Nehemiah's absence. Over the next several weeks we're going to explore Malachi and see just how serious God can get when He gives direction and just how much wiggle room there really is.
What a great statement! What a promise! Throughout history God has been in pursuit for Israel's heart. Over and over she rejected him. In the book of Jeremiah, God tells Israel that the law is going to be put in their minds and written on their hearts. This is going to be established in the new covenant. Guess what? That's us! We are recipients of God's new covenant found through the promised Messiah and ushered in full effect through the coming of the Holy Spirit. To be able to say that the creator of existence and time and space and philosophy and religion and the efforts of man is our God. But what does that really mean in our current culture? In the time this was written polytheism was everywhere. But then God also says that we will be his people. Again, what does that mean? It almost sounds like if we walk and live in the new covenant, we are his. We will be exploring these questions over the next few weeks leading into Christmas.