Monday, December 23, 2013

Rejoice with sober-mindedness.

In the words of Solomon, during this season, I commend joy. I don't care if the 25th December is not exactly the date of Jesus' birth,  if Christmas has been hi-jacked by commercialism or if Santa is a myth. The truth is that we have a solid month in which people are more willing than normal to hear of the extraordinary miracle of the incarnation, and to announce this good news of great joy. The question is how to be incarnational at Christmas? How do we engage our culture thoughtfully and fruitfully as Jesus would have, at this time? Let's enjoy a season of family, rest and gift giving, but lets make the most of this season for the sake of the Gospel. Our Christmas services have so far been a wonderful part of that.

Against this backdrop of joy, I want also, to commend sober-mindedness. Peter concludes his first epistle with these instructions. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God that he might lift you up in due time, casting all your cares upon Him because He cares for you. Be sober minded and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood around the world.1 Peter 5: 6-9

This past week I had a dream that reminded me of this passage, and which has galvanized us as elders to pray earnestly for the people of Southlands to be humble, sober-minded and alert. It is strange in some ways, because really, we have had a great year of growth, life and unity as a church. I ma not conscious of any one situation that is serious enough to make a corporate call for watchfulness. However, I have felt a warning for us all to be aware that we have an enemy who would love to rob from us what God has done among us, this past year.

Sober mindedness is actually very appropriate at a time of celebration. It is often in celebration after a season of progress, that we can lose a sense of sobriety. After the flood was over and he had begun to be fruitful as God had promised, Noah drank of the fruit of his vineyard, got drunk, exposed himself to his sons, and brought judgment on his family. It's all too common at this time to let our guard down, over-indulge either in food, alcohol or spending,  and over-expose ourselves. The devil does not rest because we are resting. He still prowls around looking for someone to devour.  So in our resting and rejoicing lets be self-controlled. Let's guard unity in our marriages and families, in our friendships and community. Lets maintain intimacy with Jesus, who has disarmed every dark power at the cross, triumphing over the devil by his blood.

Finally, I want to commend this message, Maintaining Unity by Nick Saltas as a help to us in this regard. I believe it is a key message for both Brea and Fullerton communities, for maintaining unity, sobriety, and positioning us for a year of great Gospel fruit together in 2014.

Monday, December 2, 2013

"It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit."

One more word on maturity. A mark of maturity is how a person discerns God's will.
You know those Russian wooden dolls that fit inside one another? For me, discerning God's will for my life is a little bit like starting with the biggest Russian doll first, and then fitting the smaller ones into that. Henry Blackaby said it like this; "Don't start by asking what God's will is for you. Just ask what God's will is and begin with that." That's maturity.

There is enough in God's revealed will to keep us busy for the rest of our lives. Begin with God's overarching will, which I would suggest is to reconcile all things to Himself through His Son and to restore His rule upon earth. Ask Him to help you to order your life according to His will rather than try and get His blessing for your will for your life.

Within that overarching will, there are also some clear and  practical instructions on how to live in a way that pleases God. We don' t have to ask God about them because He's revealed His will in His Word. For instance, we know that it's God's will for us to worship Him, to love our neighbor, to serve our church,  to give generously, to work diligently, to forgive, to pray, to witness and many more. The wrestle is not in finding His will. It's in being willing to do His will. It's the doll within the doll.

There are times though, that within God's clearly revealed will, we need to discern God's specific will for us. Romans 12 talks about knowing the 'good, pleasing and perfect' will of God. We may be within His good and pleasing will, but we are needing to know His perfect, or specific will. We all want to know God's will for our lives.  For instance, the Bible tells us how to live, but not where to live. It tells us how to be married, but not whom to marry. This requires that we discern God's will by the Spirit's wisdom. Paul said that those who are children of God are led by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit. So how did this work out in Paul's life? To be honest, it often seemed quite messy.

In Acts 16:6 he wanted to go to the province of Asia Minor to preach the Gospel but he said that the Holy Spirit forbade him. Paul saw the peace of God as a means of discerning God's will. A 'check' in his heart was reason enough not to go in. In the same chapter, Paul had a dream of a man from Macedonia calling him. He concluded that it was the Lord and left the next day for Macedonia.
So he saw the prophetic as a means of discerning God's will too, but it was by no means an exact science. When he arrived in Macedonia it wasn't a man, but a woman called Lydia who welcomed him. God saved her and she opened up her home to Paul and a church was started. Paul had to be flexible with the prophetic. In Acts 21 a proven prophet called Agabus did a prophetic drama, tying Paul's hands with his belt, and warned him not to go to Jerusalem or he would be imprisoned. Paul did not deny the prophecy, but went to Jerusalem anyway, saying that the Holy Spirit had already warned him that in every city trouble and hardship awaited him. So the prophetic did not bind him on this occasion. He weighed it according to God's overarching will of preaching the Gospel, and decided the 'doll would fit inside the doll.'

In 2 Timothy 2:12, Paul says that he went to Troas to preach the gospel, because the Spirit opened a door for him, but because he did not find Titus there, his spirit could not find rest. For Paul, healthy partnership was important enough that he was willing to walk away from a door that the Spirit had opened. He was certainly no lone ranger. God's will is to work through team, and healthy partnerships are vital to Gospel fruit.  I have seen plenty of great open doors slammed shut because of toxic teams.

Probably my favorite Pauline saying on discerning God's will is, "It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit."Acts 15:28 It says two powerful things. Firstly, it seemed, says that Paul sees himself as fallible in hearing God's voice. It allows for the mystery, the seeing through a glass darkly. Second, it seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit is a statement of prophetic accountability. Paul was not a solo sky pilot.
He valued the perspective of others and he valued consensus even though he wasn't a yes man, as is clear in Acts 11.

Let's aim for this sentiment as we seek to discern God's will. I believe it is one of the most significant marks of Christian maturity.


Earlobe on the Doorpost

Yesterday I preached the last message in our series in Colossians, Paul's magnificent letter about the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ. One of it's primary themes is maturity;  growing up into Christ who is Head over all. In Paul's final greetings he commends Epaphras, the man who planted the church. He describes him as a bond slave who wrestles in prayer for the church that they might stand fully mature. (4:12) Not only is Epaphras working and praying for their maturity.
He's a model of maturity.

His maturity is deeper than his prayer and hard work for the church, or that he travelled 1000 miles from Colossae to Rome out of concern for the saints.  His maturity springs from his identity as a bond slave. A bond slave was a term taken from Exodus, in which a slave who was allowed to go free after  six years of service, willingly covenanted himself to his master forever. "But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever." Exodus 21:6

Paul is playing with the grand redemptive theme of Exodus, and in fact, the whole story of God.
Israel was redeemed, and released from slavery to Egypt by the blood of a lamb smeared on their doorposts. God's intention was for them to respond to His kindness and power by covenanting with Him, and by willingly coming under His government. But Israel resisted God's government for 40 painful years. They were happy to have the blood of redemption smeared on their doorposts. Putting their earlobe on the God's doorpost was another thing altogether. They wanted release not only  from bondage, but release from any leadership at all. So they resisted the covenant of the bond slave, and
in their resistance they circled around the desert in immaturity for 40 years, slaves now to their own freedom.

Epaphras understood that he could not earn his own freedom. It was Jesus' blood on the doorpost of his life that set him free from slavery to sin. Responding in gratitude for Jesus' redemption, he willingly presented himself to God as a bond slave. This is the reason he was willing to work hard for the saints in Colossae, wrestling in prayer for them, traveling 1000 miles out of concern for them.
He understood that he had been bought with a price and was therefore not his own.

All of us wrestle with the sovereignty of self to some degree. We relish the idea of the blood of redemption on the doorposts of our lives. But we wrestle with the thought of putting our earlobes on God's doorpost as willing bond slaves. For our master to bore our ear through with an awl, sounds painful. But it is ultimately the pain of freedom. Being God's bond slave does not means bondage.
In fact, it is the very thing that keeps us free from the stunting tyranny of self.
Let's put our earlobes on God's doorpost.