Friday, February 27, 2009

Sermon on the Mount interlude

Since I've been very busy lately and we've had a couple of difficult weeks recently (see last post), I haven't had the chance to post the third part in my "How Are We To Live" series. I'll probably post it within the next couple of weeks and then the final one a couple of weeks after that (Lord willing). And since they've been so spread out, I may group them together in another single post sometime after that. I'm beginning to think I should never set out to do any "series" because I never get them done in a timely fashion (or at all, in some cases!).

Anyway, I wanted to post a link to our church's PDF file of our latest sermon in our Sermon on the Mount series. I've also posted the audio link in the sidebar. This was a tremendous sermon on what it means to "do the will of God". This sermon is on one of the most misunderstood passages in the New Testament: Matthew 7:21-23. So many people use this section to teach the very thing that Jesus is opposing.

As Jesus has stressed throughout the SOTM, it's "Authentic, intimate relationship with Him, not behavior (that) defines doing the will of God and determines who enters the Kingdom of Heaven" (Culver pg. 135). And this "relationship" is born through faith; by coming to Christ and believing in Him we are "born again", estrangement is gone and we now have intimacy with God as His Children. And it's this idea of "relationship" that's been the focus of the SOTM from the beginning, even from the beginning of Matthew's Gospel as he introduced us to Jesus as the fulfillment of the Scripture.

This lack of relationship was Jesus' condemnation on the people. They didn't really know God as their Father and God didn't really know them as His "sons".  The people thought that their heritage, their genealogy as Abraham's seed secured their "sonship"; and "Israel" was certainly called God's son throughout the OT upon His bringing them out of Egypt. God certainly did relate to them as a Father to His Children (and also as a Husband to His wife) even though they continually rejected Him; so they had precedent to believe that they were His "sons". Of course, they failed to realize that their whole existence as the "son of God" as a nation was typological and spoke of Christ, the true Son and then all those who would be Children of God through union with Christ. But still, they had a precedent for believing that they were "sons of God" in Abraham.

The problem, though, is that there was no true relational knowledge between Israel and God. Even though God treated them as "sons" as He continued to paint the portrait of His true Son, they didn't really know God as their Father and God didn't really know them as "sons" because they didn't believe their Scripture; they didn't believe Him! The people thought they were doing the will of God as His "sons" by "obeying" the Law/Scripture--but it was the Scripture that spoke of Christ. So to obey the Law/Scripture, to 0bey God, is to believe God: to believe that Jesus is who He and the Father say that He is--the fulfillment of the Scripture, the Promised One who has, in Himself, fulfilled and accomplished the purpose of God to redeem His Creation and Establish the Kingdom of God.

And we obey God, we do the will of the Father when we believe Him and come to His Son by faith, trusting in Him for our very lives; believing, as John says, that He truly is the Bread of Life. We do the work of God, again as John says, when we believe in Him whom God has sent. We obey God when we "believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another."

To obey is to believe; and by believing, to live the life of faith, which is to say, as we know, the life of love. We live by faith by walking in Christ's righteousness, not our own. God knows us as His Children because He's joined us by His Spirit to His Son. We're "sons" in the Son only by His grace through faith, not by our works..., even those done in His name!

These people are removed from the presence of Christ because He didn't know them! It didn't matter that they did so many "good things" in His name. All the good things that they did in the name of Christ, all the "good works" of so-called obedience in His name are worthless. He even calls them lawless ones! Those who meticulously keep "the Law", are called "lawless ones"! The only thing that matters, the only way into the small gate on the narrow road is if God knows us! The issue is not what we've done in God's Name: prophesying, casting out demons, performing miracles, feeding the hungry, etc. The issue is whether or not God knows us. And God only knows His people (knows them "relationally") as He knows them in Christ.

Matthew 7:21-23 is the capstone of the SOTM. Jesus has been telling the people since the beginning that it is only through Him that anyone enters the Kingdom. He is the fulfillment of all the Scripture and to obey the Scripture (Law), to obey God is to believe Him and come to Christ by faith as the Promised One of the Scripture.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

In Honor of a Beloved Sister

For the past two Sundays, our services have focused on the “life of faith” in the midst of affliction. The first of these, “Faith in Suffering: the Fight for Faith”, was preached on the occasion of the relapse of cancer in a dear friend of SGCC, Jennifer Uwarow. The following Sunday’s sermon (both sermons now on sidebar) was preached on the occasion of her death. Our Pastor went to California to minister to her and the family one week as she lay dying; the following week he went to minister at her funeral….

Jennifer’s story is a tragic one and one that countless Children of God have experienced either in their own person, or in loved ones who are experiencing the ravages of disease. I think immediately of my sister-in law Corinne, a dear Christian woman who has suffered with cancer for more than three years, with five operations already. Through it all she has been the source of strength and encouragement to the family (especially my brother) even as we have sought to comfort and strengthen her in the grace of our Father.

Jennifer’s story is similar to Corinne’s in that there was a time when it looked like her cancer was gone. Hope and prayer gave way to joy and gladness that God had purposed to heal! But then the inexplicable: Corinne’s cancer not only returned, but it spread; Jennifer’s cancer not only returned, but it took her life. How could this be? God had “healed” them…why would He allow this cursed disease to return? Isn’t He most glorified when performing a miracle? Aren’t we most blessed when He removes our suffering and affliction?

Jennifer, in her death, and Corinne, in her life (as long as God extends it) continue to teach us about the Grace, Love and Mercy of our Father. We, even as Christians, live as though affliction is to be cursed and avoided at all reasonable costs. We tend to believe that when we suffer, God cannot be glorified and that we cannot be counted as blessed. We conclude that God cannot be glorified because we falsely believe that His glory is only manifested in our “abundant life” of successful living—in our “work” for the Lord, in our church, in our happy homes, in our jobs, etc. We can’t believe we are blessed in our affliction because we falsely believe that God’s “blessing” is antithetical to suffering. The Apostle Paul would have none of this kind of thinking. He understood that not only do we grow in our faith and in our maturity as Children of God through the things that we suffer, but he also recognized that the power of the Gospel is on display through our affliction as the Life of Christ in us is manifested to the world—the Gospel is “preached” through our affliction! Paul understood that our affliction is the means by which God works for our good and His glory!

The lives of Jennifer and Corinne have spoken a loud “Amen!” with Paul. They teach us in the here-and-now what Paul taught us (and continues to teach us) so long ago: “My grace is sufficient for you, for (My) power is perfected in weakness” (2Cor. 12:9). The Gospel is preached and the Child of God is blessed as she, with Paul, suffers affliction in this life; for with Paul she can say, “I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with mistreatment, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” This was the life of Jennifer; this is the life of Corinne.

Though we would never wish pain and suffering on ourselves or our loved ones, we need to see them as gifts of God, used by Him for our good and His glory. God not only “causes all things to work for the good to those who love Him, for those called according to His purpose…,” He “causes (the) all things (that) work for (our) good…”! We must not simply confirm in our hearts that God allows pain and suffering; we must recognize that God brings affliction to us as a gift. We live our Christian lives (even our “abundant life” as Children of God) in the context of “death” by God’s design! Paul’s life in the context of “death” bears this out (Rom. 8:18-39; 1Cor. 15; 2Cor. 4; Philippians 3; etc.). He suffered greatly throughout his life, yet he considered himself the most blessed because he was not only bearing in his body the suffering (dying) of Christ, but through his suffering the “life of Christ” in him was testifying to the world of the Gospel (2Cor. 4:10)! Paul was experiencing the most intimate relation with his Lord while at the same time proclaiming the Gospel—by or through his suffering!

The abundant life for Paul wasn’t measured by his health, the material “blessings” of this world or even his successful endeavors for the Gospel; for Paul the abundant life was the life of faith in the context of “death”. Corinne’s life in the context of “death” is a testimony to this. Jennifer’s life in the context of “death” testified to this. Does ours? How does our life look in the context of “death”? Do we simply endure the trials of life? Or do we, as Paul (and Corinne and Jennifer), embrace the goodness of God in them?! This is the “Life of Faith” that we’re called to and empowered by the Spirit to live into! Will it be easy? No…but that’s why we must always come back to the Gospel: the “Life of Faith” is the “Life of Believing God”! Do we?

I encourage you to read this post (and others) from Jennifer’s blog. She was an encouragement to all who knew her and to those who knew of her. I hope after reading we can all share in her eternal perspective. Thanks Jennifer….

Monday, February 2, 2009

How Are We To Live? Part-2 (The Fall)

As I stated in Part-1, one aspect of Adam’s being a type of Christ is his humanity. As a type of Christ, Adam’s created “perfection” was his authentic humanity. But then…The Fall.

What really happened in The Fall that would require the coming of the Son of God? What changes occurred in man? in Creation? Many volumes have been written on the subject of The Fall and it’s not my purpose here to go into each and every facet of the consequences of The Fall. One thing we can say in general is that the affect of the curse is cosmic in scope—it affects all of Creation. Where there once was harmony and peace in the world (Shalom), now estrangement and death characterizes God’s “very” good creation. Where there was once intimacy between God and man, there is now separation, distance. The entrance of sin brought a curse that affects (or better, perhaps, infects) every aspect of the created order. (For a more detailed treatment of the effect of The Fall see SGCC Sermon Series “Roman Excurses”) One thing we can say in particular is that because of the entrance of sin, the essential nature of man has been damaged—not destroyed, but damaged. Cornelius Plantinga uses the phrase, “The Vandalism of Shalom” to describe the cosmic effect of sin. This phrase is appropriate for the consequences that have come to man—our essential nature as human beings who bear the image of God has been “vandalized”. We still bear the image of our Creator, but that image is marred because we’ve become less than human—the “perfection” of humanity has been damaged. As with the rest of creation, we as human beings, to borrow again from Plantinga, are “not what we’re supposed to be”.

Man was created with a certain design for a certain function—we are “image-bearers”, designed to live as “sons”. We are image-sons—this is our “humanity”. As “image-sons”, we enjoyed intimate communion with our Father in the “heaven” of our Garden-Paradise: God dwelt with His people! And through us, the rest of creation also “enjoyed” intimate communion with its Creator as we faithfully carried out our responsibility as “sons of God”; cultivating Creation (Sacred Space—God’s Dwelling Place) and building the City of God on the earth according to our cultural mandate. Shalom reigned as God’s creation “lived” together in harmony; each aspect of creation “living for” the universal flourishing of the whole in intimate communion with God through His intimate communion with “man” (as man faithfully “cared for” creation as its “steward/ruler”).

This shalom, however, this harmonious “wholeness” of existence within the created order has been broken by The Fall. The curse has brought estrangement to all of the relationships within the created order: God and man (and as a result, God and the created order), man and man, man and himself, man and the created order. Shalom has been “vandalized”. The “life” of harmony, the “universal flourishing” that once characterized God’s “very” good creation has been spoiled. The “death” of estrangement now affects (because it infects) every aspect of creation. Sacred Space (see SGCC Sermon Series “God With Us”) has been lost and is now in need of recovery. Creation needs Recovery! Creation needs Redemption!

As human beings, we no longer live according to our created design and function. We see this clearly when we turn on the television, when we read the newspapers, as we simply look around us…at our jobs, at the grocery store, in the malls, in our own homes, etc., and as we look inside ourselves as we struggle to do what we know is right. What Paul says is true of us in Romans 1 we know innately: we’re “not the way we’re supposed to be”! We’re still “image-bearers”; we’re still “image-sons”. We can’t just relinquish the reality of who we are (a concept that we’ll return to later when we look at the “re-creation” of the New Covenant)—it’s not in our power. But even though we’re still “image-bearers” by creation, this is not what characterizes us because we fail to live into that reality anymore. And this is true because our essential nature has been changed—not destroyed, but damaged or “vandalized” by sin. Sin has entered the equation and so the Bible speaks of our needing a new nature: we must be “Born Again”. For us to once again be truly “human” (or, to be more biblically accurate and precise: For man to finally be fully human), Christ had to come as the True Man to take away sin, reverse the curse and restore God’s “very” good creation. Since Adam and the rest of Creation was only typological and spoke of the state of all things as they will be “summed up in Christ”, only in Christ, then, does man become fully human. Only in so far as the TRUE MAN, Jesus Christ, redeems an individual does that individual become what he/she was created to be. To paraphrase Philip Hughes, man only becomes fully and truly man when joined by the Spirit to the True Man, Jesus Christ. The destiny of humanity is found only in Christ.

Much, much more could be said about this, but my goal is not to write an exhaustive Christology or anthropology; that’s already been done masterfully and without equal by Philip E. Hughes (The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ). My goal is simply to give a general overview in order to help us better understand what has happened to us in Christ. I want us to begin to comprehend the transformation that has taken place in us with the coming of Christ so that we live into the freedom that is our inheritance as “sons of God”. If our mentality as Christians is that our “obedience” is something that we must now do in order to be pleasing to God (or as some would have it, in order to stay in relationship with God) rather than something that we must be (which is the work of the Spirit in us), then I’m afraid that we’ve simply renamed and redesigned the same yoke of the Pharisees that Jesus has freed us from.

Why do we insist on putting the yoke of the Pharisees on again? Because we still don’t fully believe the Gospel. Oh, we believe enough of it to be “saved”, but we effectively deny its power when we separate sanctification from the Gospel, when we live as though our sanctification is a work that we must do. Like the Pharisees, we simply refuse to listen to Moses (and the Law, the Prophets and the Writings) and believe! We don’t believe God, so we put the “yoke” of performance back on our shoulders and we trudge around day after day with our never-ending and never-completed checklists hoping against hope that we’ve done enough to please our Father today. Is this how Christ lived His life? Is this the life of Christ in us? Is this the “freedom” that has been granted to us in Christ?

Next time, Lord-willing, we’ll catch a brief glimpse of what really took place with the coming of Christ. Something really did happen to us (to all of creation) in this redemption that has come in Christ. The Gospel is much more than “fire insurance” or a “life insurance policy”. Among other things we could say about it, the Gospel is transformative! Where there once was “death”, there now is “life”—what is more “transforming” than Life out of Death?! Amen?!