Monday, August 24, 2015

Holy Ambition and the Church’s Mission

Romans 15:14-33                 August 23, 2015                 Link for audio/video/manuscript

Great ambition is the passion of a great character when our character is forged in the furnace of God’s will for our lives that we would live out and share the good news that God sent his only begotten Son into the world to die for the sins of those who receive him as Lord and Savior - so we might be forgiven, rescued, redeemed and restored back into the relationship with God we were all created for at the beginning of creation. Yes, we will face opposition and rejection when we pursue the holy ambition of the church’s mission to love God and love each other and make disciples and be witnesses and glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one unified voice together, but God still miraculously answers prayer, and He will do so when God, rather than ourselves, is the goal. May the God of peace be with us all. Amen!

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Law of Love and the Disunity of Judgment

Romans 14:1-23            Sunday, August 9, 2015           Link for audio/video/manuscript

God our Father is pleased when he sees his children making sacrifices for the sake of each other. God builds His church through the sacrificial decisions of his people, as they love each other. He started his church with the greatest and most loving sacrifice of all— that of his Son. While it is true the church is God’s church and that Jesus is really the only one who builds up the church, it is possible for us to tear down the church when we value personal preferences over agape love. Personal preferences are not worthy to be compared to the value of God’s church, which Jesus purchased with his own blood. Neither old music nor new music nor short services nor long services nor personal preferences fulfills the law. Only love fulfills the law. May the Law of Love eliminate any and every kind of disunity of judgment in our midst!

Community Conquers Culture - David Mathis

True harmony among Christians is as important as it’s ever been.
Long has the church been increasingly marginalized and ignored in modern Western society, but today she is finding herself newly insulted and pressured. And as the numbers grow of those who are actively opposed to many of the truths we hold dear (or at least as the voices get louder), it becomes increasingly important that Christians provide each other the support and true community that we simply will not find anywhere outside the church.
Once upon a time, in a more Christian society, it was easy to distinguish ourselves from other believers by secondary things. Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and Episcopalian were among the dividing lines. But in the days ahead, and already now, we will discover that the most important word in our local names is “church.” And even more important than harmony among churches is harmony within churches.
How we orient toward one another in the same congregation and engage in life together is critical in our effort to stand as lights in the world and not succumb to the darkness.
Stand Firm in One Spirit
When Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, he addressed a community deeply embedded in the pagan world of the first century. As soon as the gospel began to take root in the city, opposition emerged (Acts 16:19). Into this embattled context, the apostle writes about how important the church’s life together is for our witness in society.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. (Philippians 1:27–28)
There’s no dichotomy here between “outreach” and “inreach.” The two are profoundly connected, inseparable even. Our shared mission in the world strengthens our life together in the church, and harmony and depth in the church become powerful forces in our witness to the world.
We’re prone to think of our conduct in the world in largely individualistic terms. Yet here, in charging believers to “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,” Paul doesn’t accent individual behaviors, but focuses on the collective harmony of the community. Gospel conduct means the church “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.”
Note both the defensive and offensive aspects to this harmony and community. Conduct worthy of the gospel holds its ground; the church stands firm together in one spirit. The ramparts remain.
But even here — especially here — there is not just defense, but offense. The unified church not only stands firm in the face of opposition, but advances her Christ-given mission — “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” How does this advance happen?
Show Our Opponents Their Wrong
Paul says that such unity, stability, depth, and fearlessness in the face of the onslaught becomes “a clear sign” to the opponents that they are the ones in the wrong. Not a subtle sign, but a clear sign. Through standing unified against insult, slander, and threat — and continuing undaunted in moving forward in the mission — the church shows herself to be true. The strong bonds between saints demonstrate that they are in the sphere of salvation, which means their opponents are in the sphere of destruction.
For some of the opponents, no doubt, such a revelation will only harden and provoke them more. They are already entrenched and will dig in even deeper. But for others, perhaps many others, this revelation will serve as their wake-up call.
Perhaps they had thought they were doing good by opposing the church, but in seeing the resilient joy of this community in its suffering, they recognize the unmistakable ring of authenticity. No longer can they bring themselves to believe that a community of such love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness could be built on a lie. They have seen the life together that they have longed for, but not found elsewhere. Their insults and opposition have had the effect of separating the real from the pretenders, and the church has shown herself to be authentic.
Such harmony and joy in the midst of suffering make the church shine with a kind of peculiar glory that is oddly attractive, even to the world. It is strangely beautiful how this community truly cares for one another, and loves one another, and genuinely sacrifices for one another. The church’s opponents are awakened to their destruction not by being shouted down or finding that a clever Christian got the best of them in a Twitter fight, but by seeing true love on display in the church’s life together.
“See How They Love”
That is, after all, how Jesus himself said it would be. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Our final apologetic is not persuasive public rhetoric or shrewdly identifying areas of common concern with society; it is our love for one another. Even in the twenty-first century, some opponents will turn, as early-church detractors did according to Tertullian, and say, “See how they love one another.”
And not only will love and harmony in our congregations help win the lost; they will help keep the found. In a day where we are increasingly marginalized and mocked, it is even more important that we find our greatest place of belonging in the church. Mere attendance and association will no longer cut it. Maybe we could get by, when society was on our side, in thin relationships with fellow believers. But as opposition increases, the richness of our life together in the church will matter more than ever.
The social pressure against Christian morality may already seem great. And likely it will become greater. But God made the church to rise to meet that pressure together, to be a counter culture that truly is the community we so desperately long for, better than anything we can find outside.
In the days ahead, we will find that more important than culture-warring is community-creating. Because community conquers culture. It did in the first century, and it will again in the twenty-first.© 2015 Desiring God

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Obeying the Law Through Love

Romans 13:8-14              Sunday, August 2, 2015       Link for audio/video/manuscript

We need to wake up. The night has passed. The new day is dawning—the day of our Lord’s return will be soon. We need to get moving and do the things that need to be done. In these days, obedience to God, more than anything else, means love. When we are obedient to God by loving each other and loving the world, we are then caught up in His eternal purposes for humanity. This is not about getting our act together; its about humbly obeying the Law of God through love. Obedience to God and His Word and His Holy Spirit is a loving response - a loving response of gratitude in who God is and what God has done for us, and a loving response of joy in the law of God, the commandment of God, to agape love others as God agape loves us.