Saturday, February 28, 2009

"Called into God's Family" - notes for sermon 22/02/09

Continuing our series that delves into our Purpose Statement – "Living life Jesus' way, by His Spirit, on His mission, for His glory" – we’ll now follow the theme of family:

Family has been the basis of humankind since the beginning, and has also been twisted and corrupted since the Fall. The 17m families in UK alone reflect that: every size, type, quality and degree of unity or brokenness we can possibly think of. With divorce and commitment-phobia ever on the increase, the step-family is the largest growing family type in our country. A recent Observer article listed 3 reasons NOT to have a baby (economically costly; inevitable polluters; potentially relationally harmful). Many images are used in the Bible to help explain God's intention for His people (body, temple, army); the primary metaphor used is that of family... God’s family. His alternative society.

Read Romans 8.12-17 & 1 John 2.28 - 3.10

a) How we are a part of His family:

  • There is a reason why we can call God “Father”; it is not just some funky name made up for Him because we’re little and He’s big and lovely, it’s because He really is our heavenly Father.
  • Jesus had every right to call Him Father, for obvious reasons, but when He taught us how to pray: “Our Father in heaven...”
  • Our new birth is of a whole new heritage; a new, eternal heritage that means we may call the God of the universe “Father”.
  • More than that, it’s not a mere title that indicates some tentative bond. Our new birth is final and complete through Christ and the Holy Spirit, so much so that we can call God “Abba” Father.
  • READ Rom 8.15: Abba is the intimate version of “father” in Aramaic, used by children as an equivalent of our “Papa”, which contains intimacy, while retaining the dignity and respect of “Father”.
  • As demonstrated here in Romans 8, but also by Paul elsewhere in Gal 4.6 and by Jesus Himself in Mk 14.36, the terms “Abba” and “Father” are used together – “Abba Father” – therein lies trust, confidence, submissiveness and respect all rolled into one beautiful name.

But how can this be? What gives us the right to call Him so?

Verse 15 again = “Spirit of adoption as sons”!!!

  • ADOPTION = "To take into one's family through legal means and raise as one's own child"
  • It means being CHOSEN, from a situation of unwant, or neglect, or abuse, or the simple inability of their birth-parent(s) to care for the child, into a stable, loving, deliberate environment that nurtures, nourishes and secures a future. It is a LEGAL, binding act.
  • God’s plan was conceived way before creation. Our adoption has been His plan long before we came along; it is not a response to any characteristic about us sinful individuals that he likes (otherwise he wouldn’t have adopted us!), nor is it a knee-jerk reaction to Jesus saving us through His amazing death and resurrection (“Oh, you’ve saved them, have you? Guess I’d better adopt them to complete the package then.”)
  • No, God is never, ever taken off guard. Ephesians 1.4-5 says, “...He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world... In love He predestined us for adoption...”
  • God PLANNED that through His Son Jesus Christ, He would adopt every single selfish one of us that calls him Lord; billions around the world & through the ages.

Some friends of ours recently adopted a little boy after a lengthy, highly-regulated process and the final seal of the deal was when they got to change his surname to theirs. He is now theirs 100%, and they are his, and nothing will change that. He has gained their name, and their family heritage and all that comes with that. Our adoption also means that we too are heirs, as Paul says here in Rom 8.17: but heirs to what?

  • Paul tells the church in Ephesus of their “glorious inheritance” (Eph 1.18b), and Peter (1 Pet 1.4) calls it “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading”. Sounds wonderful, but what are they actually talking about?
  • We will be with God forever, we will live in new incorruptible bodies, living on a brand new earth; no more pain, suffering, death, and all the other, as yet unimaginable, privileges and blessings of heaven will be there waiting for us.
  • Our adoption as fellow heirs with Christ (Rom 8.17) means we are members of the royal family of the universe, one day to finally participate in all He has prepared for us without hindrance, forever! Amazing!
So, we have discovered how we have been literally adopted as His children, and our glorious inheritance as the result, but what about this in-between stage, this bit we call life on earth?

In this world, the definition of family is becoming increasingly blurred. Let’s now look at the hallmarks of family as per the Bible =

b) Biblical hallmarks of family life:

1) An expression of God's love:

  • Let's wind the clock right back for a moment, way back to when time didn't even exist and our clock wouldn't have meant anything. Back then, God was. Our God, the eternal Godhead, the Trinity as we call it, is made up of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All have eternally existed and all will continue to do so in perfect unity. One or the other hasn't arrived later on, as some crazy beliefs made up, but all are uncreated and are equally God. Love, fellowship and glory existing in infinite measure for all time (John 17.5 = "And now, Father, glorify me in Your own presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed") (Gen 1.1-2 & Col 1.16; Luke 3.21-22; Acts 7.55).
  • The Trinity is a mystery, and one we'll never fully understand - our brains may have a hundred billion nerve cells, and be capable of having more ideas than the number of atoms in the universe (fact!), but they're still way too small to fully understand the Trinity, so don't even try. What it does mean is that God is bigger than us. Hallelujah!
  • St Augustine, who spent 16 years of his life attempting to explain the Trinity, finally saw the light and gave up, saying: "Try to explain the Trinity and you will lose your mind; try to deny it and you will lose your soul." He understood the importance of accepting something that is clearly Scriptural and clearly beyond our grasp. Hallelujah! It is Truth, and a glorious mystery.
  • Now, the reason I'm talking about the Trinity is this: within the Godhead, the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit have expressed love through relationship for all time. And in creating us, God has chosen to express that love to us too.
  • God is wholly independent - He didn't need to create us, but He chose to. But it doesn't stop there, either. In the beginning, God made everything good – see it throughout Genesis chapter 1. But when was the first time declared something as "not good"? It was when He saw Adam was alone. Man was created in God's image, but was unable to demonstrate/participate in loving community as is found in the Trinity. Sure, Adam could commune with God, but God in His goodness knew Adam needed an equal to live beside and commune with, and without one, God's creation was not good. So He created Eve and thus the first human family was born. He instructed them to, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" (I wonder what went through their minds at that thought?).
  • Wind the clock forward a little, and you hear God instructing Noah and his family to, again, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth"; not long after, He informed Abraham that his offspring would match the stars in number. God loves family. In a big way; He loves exponential growth that glorifies Him. He invented family and He intends for us to follow its original intentions.
  • As God’s children, we are called - called from this fallen world to take a fresh hold of that baton He initially had in mind for mankind - to express that same love the Trinity has for each other and for us, made possible through our renewed relationship with Him in Christ and with each other.

2) Family Likeness:

  • the family bears the likeness of the parent, both in DNA and in nurturing/discipline. The household tends to reflect the father: a poor father, a poor household; a rich father, a rich household; an immoral, deceitful father...; a loving, moral father, a loving, moral household. And so on.
  • As sons & daughters of Adam, we are all born into this world with a sinful nature, and nothing WE can do can change that. But in God's amazing redemptive work through His Son, we are called as His children, reborn in the Spirit, reborn with a brand new DNA. The fruit of the Spirit = love, joy, peace, etc.. As His children, we all share the same Father, the same blood, the same DNA. Like Father, like sons/daughters...
3) Protection:

  • Meeting together keeps us in check, keeps us safe; our elders keep a look out for us regarding our health as a church, or for parties that might be out to cause harm; or it could be each of us looking out for each other – “how are you doing? I’ve noticed you’ve been missing the past couple of weeks/things ok?”
  • Discipline is also a factor: as a loving Father, God will ensure we grow up the right way; it’s not nice, and not easy, but we must accept that discipline is a Godly part of growing up. He is never vindictive, but always right.
  • Our corporate meetings together should also give us a prod and help us realise that all we’ve worried about during the week, all our fears, or all our needless striving, is made naked before our sovereign God... it helps us realise what’s important, helps us check our hearts: it was said of William Wilberforce, who battled for decades to finally end slavery in this country, that “he was prone to seasons of preoccupation where things of ambition gripped his soul. But there was a disciplined check and balance to his life – Sunday brought the cure”. Thank God for our Sunday services and our Cell groups! (IF YOU’RE NOT IN ONE – YOU KNOW WHAT I’M GOING TO SAY NEXT...!)
4) Growth and maturity:

  • There's that discipleship theme again... Matt 28 = Disciples, not converts!!!
  • READ Heb 5.12-6.1: How do we grow and mature? By constant practice. How does a concert pianist play so flawlessly on stage? By constant practice. How does David Beckham curl those free kicks in so sweetly to score a goal? Hours and hours of practice. This is not a legalistic thing, but the more we consciously practice our faith – prayer, reading and meditating on the Bible, putting what you’ve learnt INTO PRACTICE, we will mature. And what’s the best way to ensure we achieve this as a family? By:
5) Encouragement:

  • The writer to the Hebrews continues in 10.24 & 25; “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works... encouraging one another...” There is an onus on each one of us to keep an encouraging eye out for one another; as a protection, as we’ve just heard, but also in terms of ensuring we are all growing.
  • We have a responsibility to be concerned about a brother or sister who isn’t growing, or is struggling spiritually. That’s not a patronising thing, but those of us that are doing okay should be looking out for those that aren’t. This is a good thing: I’m hoping that my brothers and sisters are keeping an eye on me too. It’s for my own well-being that my “homies” want to be sure I’m growing, that I’m doing okay...
  • And thank God, as the writer to the Hebrews explains, that it’s not just a case of ensuring our inner knowledge is on the increase; no, this is a missional thing. We should be spurring one another on... TO LOVE AND GOOD WORKS. The fruit of these labours is a Gospel witness, whether works that bless our brothers and sisters, or bless the world around us. Either way, it’s a witness. Stirring one another up IS EVANGELISM. How cool is that? Hallelujah! “One another-ing” is a made-up verb (!) but it is wholly Biblical. It is the core of the new commandment that Christ gave us:
6) Mutual service:

  • John 13.34-35: “love one another... by this all people will know that you are my disciples...”
  • Our family life together, as God’s alternative society, should sing in so many different ways, in so many glorious harmonies, of our love for each other, of our love for our King. So much so, in fact, that people will know we’re His without us having to say a word.
Well, that’s all well and good, but we’re human and we don’t always show that. So, what can we do practically-speaking, to help matters?

c) The implications

One point to make before we look at practical application: Church family life should be about "being", rather than "doing". Let me explain...

Consider these 3 verses:
Rom 8.14: “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God
Rom 8.16: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God
1 Jn 3.9-10: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God...”

  • The fruit of our new birth, is outward evidence of the change inside. This is not to say that people can’t do the right thing without being saved, of course not, our behaviour shouldn’t be the only confirmation of our salvation. We should be certain, for our own souls’ sake, that we’re truly led by the Spirit (8.14), that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit (8.16).
  • Be certain of why we behave the way we do: do we do good works because it’s the morally right or acceptable thing to do? Or because it’s expected of us? Or is it because of the new birth in us that has a hunger to please God, to bless and serve our brothers and sisters, to serve the world and tell them the Good News of Jesus Christ? Check yourself.
  • Thus, Church family life should be about "being", rather than "doing". The doing is simply the fruit of what's at stake in the heart. So we ensure our hearts are right, and the demonstration of that will occur naturally.
1 Tim 5.1-2: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” Paul is not saying “do this” or “do that”, but treat each other as family. Our attitude to each other should be that we are family. Being, rather than doing.

Giftings are a practical aspect of our family life:

  • Of the myriad spiritual gifts listed, the main gift that ensures protecting the value of true family life is that of hospitality. It involves opening our homes, which sends an undeniable message that you are interested in other people, even when you don’t want to! Someone once quipped, “Hospitality is making people feel at home, even though you wish they were”!
  • But it doesn't stop there in our homes either: it also extends to our Sunday meetings, Cell groups, wherever.
  • There's nothing worse than being invited round a friend's house, and the whole family are there doing their thing & ignoring you. You know you're an outsider, & you're made to feel like one. Imagine the difference if they went out of their way to speak to you, take your coat, make you a drink, ask you to stay for dinner, take an interest in you rather than their own private jokes and routines. If we all keep that attitude on a Sunday, for eg, "this is my home and these are my guests" then everything else falls into place.
  • It's for all of us to play a part. Not everyone is an extrovert, but we all have a part to play, even if it’s in some small way. Make people feel at home.
  • Hospitality is not just a gift for bringing the church closer together, it is a fundamental key to our evangelism as God’s family, especially these days where it’s harder for un-churched people to want to go anywhere near a formal meeting.
  • Relationships, energised by great hospitality, feeds the Gospel.
Expression of commitment:

  • Commitment = our Fellowship Meal!; Using the phone directory as a prayer list; Baptism: it doesn't make you a member of God's family, but it does SHOW you are a member...
• Truly saved by and through Jesus Christ? Adopted as God’s child!
• a legal, binding, eternal covenant – there is complete security in that – and it brings a wealth of riches such as we could never dream.
• Our family life as His children should reflect His love, His likeness, offer the security of protection & encouragement, should demonstrate growth and mutual service... For ourselves and for our witness... for His glory...

Our corporate church family life is intended to be an example to world; it should convey an earth-shattering message...

(credos to P J Smythe's "Get Connected" booklet from GodFirst Church, Johannesburg for some of the above points...)

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Beacon Touchpaper #8: "Inflow and Outflow"

"...You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also..." (2 Timothy 2.1-2 ESV)

Towards the end of the 1990's, Disney Animation Studios witnessed a steady decline in both the quality of their output at the cinemas, and in the profits these features made. From about the same time, a little-known studio called Pixar began creating some computer-animated features the likes of which had never been seen before: “Toy Story”, “A Bug's Life”, ”Finding Nemo”, “The Incredibles”... The list goes on and on, and many of us have enjoyed their ingenuity, thrills and imagination. But what was the difference? How could such a massive organisation like Disney fail to compete with this far smaller, yet far more creative, company?

Well, Disney managed to buy Pixar in 2006 for a not-insignificant sum and the man so hugely responsible for Pixar's success came to run Disney's own animation fold. When he arrived, John Lasseter gave his new employees some simple wisdom which underlines the whole Pixar ethos in just a few words: "Continue to do your jobs, and also make sure you're continually learning and teaching at the same time (paraphrased)." In order to bring the best to the table, his people needed to be growing and passing it on.

The apostle Paul also understood the importance for growth in each one of us that we might fulfil our roles for God to the utmost: throughout his letters, he tells men and women to follow his example (1 Cor 4.16, 1 Cor 11.1 and Phil 3.17) - which speaks of a life of such remarkable integrity that that level of confidence is not arrogant, merely true - and to also become examples themselves (1 Tim 4.15-16, Titus 2.1-10). For a lake to remain fresh and not become stagnant, it needs two things: a decent inflow, and a decent outflow. There's that learning and teaching thing again...

...Who are you imitating? Who are you coming alongside and learning from? And is your life worthy of imitation? Are you modelling and teaching in your conduct, your speech, your knowledge, your passion? In and out, in and out...
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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Beacon Touchpaper #7: "What on EARTH are you doing?!!"

What are we here for? What is the expectation upon us as Christians here on earth? Why does Beacon have "Living life Jesus' way, by His Spirit, on His mission, for His glory" as a purpose statement?

"Living life Jesus' way...": We as God's people are expected to live life the way Jesus created, modelled and commanded. A life of humility, of holiness, of transformation; a life that is different to the ways of the world. A life that stands out, a life that smells of LIFE, not of death.

" His Spirit...": That's all very well, but how on earth are we supposed be able to do such a thing? That bar's a bit high for me to reach, I have to be honest... Thank God, then, that THAT'S the point, and He has given us His Holy Spirit to be able to live life His way. It is the Holy Spirit's working in me that means I'm not a divorced guy who takes little responsibility for his daughter, who has had multiple partners, likes getting drunk, and is altogether not a nice person to boot. Because that's where I could well have been right now without Christ's salvation and work in me. It is HE Who helps us live the life He has designed for us. He's not an unreasonable God Who gives us a blueprint for something that we'd never be able to achieve and then gets the hump when we don't live up to it. He's a loving Father Who wants the best for His children and provides the means and mutual gifts for that to come to fruition.

"...on His mission...": What's the point? It's all very well living a holy life, but we could do that with Julie Andrews up a mountain (or similar...). The point is, of course, that Jesus has much more than 'just' personal change in mind, He has PURPOSE in mind, He has plans for His church, ones which give us the privilege of being on the very front-line of His military movements. He wants the likes of you and me (yes, even us!) to participate in His kingdom's advancement, to demonstrate that the Word of God is not a dusty book of historical moments and myths written by men with beards, but it's His living revelation; that He is alive and well and seated at the Father's side, interceding for us right now; that His blueprint for how life should be really lived IS applicable to today's society, and is able to transform it too! And He wants you and me to play a part in that! Hallelujah!

"...for His glory.": Why? Everything was created through Him and for Him. And it's gonna stay that way forever. He's the King of the universe, and He deserves every breath we breath and every ounce of our being to honour Him for that very reason. Our King is seated on the throne and it's to Him we live our lives...

"Living life Jesus' way, by His Spirit, on His mission, for His glory": thirteen simple words that can be sung about, written about, talked about and applied to our everyday lives for as long as we want and we'll never get to the bottom of what is really at stake here. But I'm up for the ride... wanna join me?
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