Pastor Godfrey’s Contemplative Corner
Last week, Pastor Frank preached a very heartfelt sermon on Zaccheus from Luke 19 and he presented the gospel.
I have to say that one of my favorite insights from last week was the one when pastor Frank said that Jesus and Zaccheus met because Jesus was looking for Zaccheus, because, that’s grace. Not that we find Jesus because we are looking for him, but rather, it is the other way around. We are found by him who is looking for us. “And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a sinner.” (Luke 19 :7(ESV).
So, how does that make you feel, church? The realization that the grace by which we are saved is all about Christ and what he has done and not one bit about us.
The Beatitudes are Jesus’ description of the blessed or good life and we find them in His famous Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (ESV)
He goes on to say that “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” As Pastor Frank pointed out last week, these Beatitudes ran contrary to the Roman cultural attitudes and expectations of their day. But, more than that, because Jesus is calling lacking and wanting as blessed, he seems to be running contrary to human nature. And, how does that make you feel, church? The realization that the good life that Jesus expects you to live out may be very different than the good life you want.
This week, we are wrapping up our series “Salt & Light” with a look at Acts 15 and what Bible scholars and church historians have called the Jerusalem Council. “And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem.”(Acts15: 2, ESV) And, as pastor Frank shared last week, the family of God isn’t immune to internal disagreements but we just handle them differently than the world does. As the Jerusalem Council teaches us, it is possible to have a disagreement with another believer without breaking the fellowship as long as both sides are committed to the greater body. So, how does that make you feel, church? The realization that the church is meant to be a safe place for disagreements with other believers. And, as Jesus said,”blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God”(Matthew 5:9) So, what’s keeping you from helping to resolve that family dispute?
“The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men.”
(Acts 14: 11b ESV). I just wanted to point out the irony of this cry by the Lyconian crowds. Yes, God had come down in the likeness of men, just not in Paul and Barnabas, like the crowd believed. But, rather in the one of whom they spoke. And, how cool was it that from their misconceptions about God, Paul and Barnabas were able to bridge the gap and tell them about Christ? As Pastor Frank pointed out in his sermon last week, they did this by starting with and using what theologians today call – General Revelation. From there, they moved to talk about Christ. And, how does that make you feel, church? The realization that the doors for talking about Christ with anyone are there. You only need to pay attention to what they already believe, and know how to bridge the gap for them.
Pastor Frank wanted us to read Acts 13 for our time in Salt & Light. And, each time that I read it, I get to verse 3, “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. ”(ESV) But, because of the lack of information regarding the work for which they were being set apart, I get hung up. I mean, the Holy Spirit didn’t disclose what kind of work they would be doing, where they would be doing it, or how long it would take, yet, still, it was enough for Barnabas and Saul, because they still went and, they were still used effectively. But where else in the Bible do we see someone respond to God in such a way? Because you would have to go back to Abraham, to find such a response. And, maybe it’s because they showed Abrahamic faith in God that they were used so effectively by Him. So, how does that make you feel, church? The realization that it is faith in God, and not gifting or intelligence that will be your greatest asset as you seek to be an effective, mission-minded disciple of Christ.
We begin Lent this week, with Ash Wednesday. But, before we write that off as just a Roman Catholic thing, I want us to see it as something more, because entering into a time when we identify with the sufferings of Christ is good for us, because through Christ we see God identifying himself with our sufferings, and for anyone who has ever had a disappointment or a bad day, this is good news. In fact, suffering is not unknown to God; there is a whole book of the Bible dedicated to just that topic, Lamentations. And, it is to that book, I want us to turn our attention today, “For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my spirit.” Lamentations 1:16(ESV).
Isaiah 53:3 prophesied about Jesus, that he would be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”(ESV) This is why I don’t trust any Bible teacher who claims that good Christians are always happy, all of the time. And, so, how does that make you feel, church? – The realization that you can be painfully honest with God even about your worst days but because even Jesus, His son, had a bad day, He expects it from us because we are not any better than Jesus, are we?
This is week 4 of our series Salt & Light. I want to wrap up this word study on “salt”. We have seen that when Jesus calls His disciples the salt of the earth, they associated that with a preservative, a seasoning, and this one last association that I want to talk about, today. But, as I do, I want to point us to John 4:13 & 14.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring welling up to life.”(ESV) The last association that Jesus’ followers made with salt, was that it creates thirst. So, how does that make you feel, church? The realization that, as the salt of the earth, we are to create a longing for Christ in the way that we live. Because he is the living water, he is the only thing that can satisfy their deepest longings.
So, we are now in week 3 of our series, Salt& Light. And, I’ve been thinking, why salt? I mean, what’s the big deal about salt, and when the people first heard Jesus call them the salt of the earth, what associations did they make? For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I talked about how salt was used as a preservative. Today, I want to talk about salt’s most popular usage, and that would be as a seasoning. Now, before there was concern about sodium intake, salt was used somewhat generously. Or, as the apostle Paul puts it,”Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”Colossians 4:16(ESV). And, how does that make you feel, church? The realization that, as the salt of the earth, we are here to improve the taste of things, and make them more palatable.
So, we are in week 2 of our series, Salt & Light. And, as Pastor Frank exhorted us, we don’t have any light of our own, but, rather, in the same way that the moon shines by reflecting the light of the sun, we are to shine by reflecting the light of Christ to a darkened world.” In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”Matthew 5:16(ESV).
Because, you see, in the previous verses, Jesus said that we are the light of the world,and that lights were meant to shine forth.And in our days of electricity and light bulbs, I am not too sure that we quite capture what Jesus is saying here.But, how does that make you feel, church? The realization that, as a follower of Christ, good works are something you were meant for, And it is a way for others to worship your God. So, what good works are you doing, church?
Pastor Frank kicked off our new series, Salt and Light, with the words of Jesus at the Sermon On the Mount from Matthew 5:13.”“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the salt of the earth.” And, one of the things that he didn’t get to mention, is something that gets lost in our world with electric refrigerators, and that would be how in the first century, salt was used as a preservative. It was used to delay the spoiling process. And to keep things from going bad. And,so , when Jesus tells his followers, that they are the salt of the earth, maybe he is telling them that they are to keep things from going badly. How does that make you feel, church? The idea that God has placed you here to keep things from spoiling, and going badly.
Last week, Pastor Danny brought us back to the Gospel, with the helpful reminder that,while the world’s religions say”our devotion earns God’s acceptance, Christianity says,”God’s acceptance of us first changes our hearts to be devoted.”. Or, as Ephesians 2:8-10 puts it, ”For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”(ESV) Now, there are too many things about this verse, to begin discussing in this short space. But, here’s one, How about the idea that, as far as our salvation is concerned, the only one who has done any work is Christ, and, that work was done on us! And, how does that make you feel, church? The idea that good works are the result of and not the recipe to a saving relationship with God.So, it has to be asked. but, what are the good works that mark your walk?
Pastor Frank encouraged us to be like Jesus, and spend some time in prayer.
And, one of the verses he referenced was Mark1:35.”And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and dthere he prayed.”(ESV) One of the cool things about this verse, is how the original Greek text has it rendered to communicate that this was a habit of his. And, when you look at this verse in its context, you get the feeling that, because of all the ministry he was engaged in Jesus saw his time of prayer as a much-needed escape from the noise and hustle that was his life. Yeah, it’s kind of like, how in sports, the coach will call a timeout to emphasize a certain point with his or her players, or after reaching a crucial juncture. How does that make you feel, church? The idea that your “Heavenly Coach”wants to talk things over with you. So, go on, and take that timeout with Him.
Happy New Year, everyone And, because of that, I want to speak to that annual tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. And, what does Scripture have to say about that? Well, maybe not directly, but James4:13 says”Come now, you who say,“Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit.” (ESV) and, in this verse, James reveals our tendency to make plans for ourselves apart from the will of God in our lives. James goes on to point out the problem with that, and that would be our inability to control life, and, just how fragile it is, so, instead he suggests submitting our planning to the Will of God. And, I ‘m suggesting we do the same with our resolutions. How about making this one : Resolved, I will discover and do more of God’s will in my life. What do you say, church ? That instead of dropping those pounds, we drop what James calls arrogance, and submit our plans for 2014 to the will of God.
Pastor Frank preached on a Christmas message that focused on joy. And that got me thinking. What is it about Jesus’ presence that inspires joy in us? ”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind. To set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 (ESV). And that one, about the blind always gets me, because, apparently, no one had ever witnessed the healing of a blind man. but, as Jesus said, that was all about to change, now that he was on the scene. So how does that make you feel, church? The realization that through the presence of Christ in your life God wants to do something completely new and unheard of in and through your life this year.
So, Today, we celebrate the candle of love. And, as we do, I want to turn our attention to 1 John 4:10.”In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”(ESV)And, you see, one of the reasons why I love this verse is the reminder that we don’t get to define what love is for ourselves. God does, or, rather, did that, at Christmas. But, in order for us to fully capture the meaning of this verse, we need to understand what “propitiation” is.
And, as one of my seminary professors put it, “propitiation is an offering that satisfies the wrath of another.”And, how does that make you feel, church? That, because of God’s great love for us, seen in the sending of Christ, that makes Christmastime, more than Valentine’s Day, the celebration of love.
Pastor Frank’s message concerning God’s timing, covered a few topics, and included a short discussion on the third temple. But, many theologians agree that the church is the third temple, and they get this from verses like Ephesians 2:21.
“Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. In whom the whole structure, being joined together grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” Ephesians2:21(ESV).
Since the church is the place where God dwells by His spirit, I can see that. But, I’m just saying that there’s another way of looking at things. Because the believer’s life and the church are the places where God dwells by The Spirit, they are both seen as third temples. And how does that make you feel, church? Because of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, your life is Holy ground to God.
As we enter the Advent season, one of the things I am reminded of are the lyrics to that old Christmas carol,
Joy to the world, “let every heart prepare him room.” So, how do we do that? Well, we can take a lesson from the words of John the Baptist, who said, “Make straight the way of The Lord” (John 1:23.(ESV). And, because of our nicely paved streets, we tend to miss what this verse is actually saying, because one of the ways they made the way straight was to remove any unnecessary clutter that would get in the way. And so, for us this means that we prepare our hearts by uncluttering our lives in preparation for Christmas. I’m suggesting a little purge of our lives from relationships and the issues that cause interference with our relationship to Him.
WHO ARE YOU SERVING AND HOW?
Pastor Frank preached on John 13, the portion of the Gospel that retells how Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, saying that a church whose members serve one another is the kind of church he’d like to be a part of. Jesus said to them, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”(John 13: 14, ESV)And because foot-washing was a job typically reserved for the lowest servant on the totem pole, it is used here as representative of all acts of service. But, Jesus continues and tells them why he did what he did, saying to them, “For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done to you.”(John 13:15, ESV). He then concludes this part of the Last Supper, saying to them”, If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”Apparently, serving others is a way to the blessed life. So, church, who are you serving, and how?”, Think of how you felt the last time someone served you or your family. Because freely you have received…
COMMUNITY UNITED IN RESPONSIBILITY
A church that is united around a communal understanding of their responsibility to the Gospel. This is what Pastor Frank is looking for in a church,”You received without paying, give without pay.”(Matthew 10:9, ESV). And most people fail to realize that the context of this verse is one of mission in their local setting. Indeed, this is what the church is: a group of people united and giving all that they have for the sole purpose of changing their city and their world in response to the Good News of the Gospel. Now, what does it take to become a church like that? Well, first of all you’ve got to be praying for it. “Pray earnestly to The Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”(Matthew 10:38, ESV). Second, you’ve got to go where and to whom Jesus sends you. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why He has you where you are.
SOMEONE WITH WHOM I CAN BE MYSELF
So, Pastor Frank has been using the analogy of marriage in describing what we look for in a church, asking “what do you look for in a spouse?” And, from there, launching into his teaching on the church. So, I thought that I would extend that analogy just a little bit. I would like to add “someone with whom I can be myself” to the list of traits. Because we spend most of our lives playing parts and filling roles for others. And we hardly ever let those guards down and just be like Christ the way we know him for ourselves.
“Let love be genuine.”(Romans 12:9)(ESV) And I think that this applies to both the lover and the beloved. Indeed, it is a great challenge to let those guards down and just be like Christ in our own way, but that’s what it takes to be truly loved. And since in this portion of Scripture Paul is giving instructions to the churches, I think that it’s safe to assume that Paul thought that this kind of love should have been happening there. So, church, let’s ask
ourselves how we’re doing in this regard. Do you give people the freedom to be like Christ in their own way or do you try to fit them into a pre-assigned role in your mind?
THE SECRET TO CHRISTIAN UNITY
Last week, Pastor Frank preached on the importance of unity in the church and the way it empowers the community’s witness to the surrounding world. But,”what is the secret to that kind of unity?” Well,that is the exact question that the Apostle Paul is addressing in Philippians 2:2-4, where He writes, “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” He then begins to describe the humility seen in the example of Christ, who, though he was God, served us by becoming a human being and dying the death reserved for the accursed. And, because of his humble life, God exalted him and raised him up above everyone and everything. This is another example of God honoring the lowly and humble. And as the key to Christian unity, can you imagine a community where its members all aim downward and seek to lift each other up? Instead of each one trying to be the one on the top?Well, that’s the kind of place the church should be.
The Church: What was Jesus Thinking? Well, I’d like to submit one thought: The church is what some theologians would call an eschatological or forward-looking community. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Lord’s Supper, through which we proclaim the Lord’s death until He returns. And, again in Revelation 5, with the Song of The Redeemed, where we get a “sneak- peek” glimpse of heaven. That’s what the church is: an appetizer of heaven here on earth.
In the same way that Christ ushers in a new humanity, so, too, the church ushers in a new community. Can you believe that the ways by which we love and care for one another can be like a slice of heaven for some? Especially for those who have gone through a very difficult time. And for others, it can be what they really need to cross that line of faith.
So, “who are you praying for? And who’s praying for you?” is the question that Pastor Frank wants us to ask ourselves. But, before we go any further, I just want to point out how much humility is needed to ask someone to pray for you. Because it involves opening up your life and most likely areas of struggle and weakness to another person. But, isn’t that one of the first steps in establishing real relationships, presenting an authentic version of yourself? I mean, if nobody’s perfect, then shouldn’t we all have at least one prayer request? So, what do we do now? Go ahead and humble yourself, and share that prayer request. Not only do you get more voices to petition the Father, but you also grow in the likeness of the Son.
So, I remember once reading a story of an old English countryside pastor who went to visit a parishioner he hadn’t seen at his church’s half-dozen or so meetings. And, walking in, he sat next to the roaring fire in the fireplace. And without saying a word, he grabbed the tongs and he removed one of the burning embers and placed it on the hearth. And both men just watched the ember slowly burn itself out, flicker and die out. At this point the parishioner said, “I’ll see you at the church”. See, the point the old pastor made was that the Christian life is not meant to be a “Lone Ranger” type of experience. Indeed, God has designed the Christian life so that we need the encouragement of others so our light doesn’t burn out and we are fed by the heat of their service to us.