Friday, November 17, 2017

Power of One


A funeral is one of those times when you think about life and legacy. Today as Christ Church celebrates the life of one of its own, we take time to personally reflect: What story is my life telling? What story will my death tell? In seeking answers to these questions, my thoughts turn to Samson, a man whose death told the story of his life.

We meet young Samson in a variety of compromising positions. He is a man who follows his lusts. Like the Philippians his God is his belly (Phil 3:19), his appetites lead him. (cf. Jdgs 13-15 ) These appetites ultimately lead him to deny his Nazarite vow (Jdg. 16). Granted, he has played fast and loose with this vow over the course of his life, dead bodies, alcohol … but in the cutting of his hair, he completely turns his back on his identity and the Spirit of God leaves him for a time. He is captured, blinded and bound. Truly Samson is a picture of Israel, blinded to grace and bound to sin. Truly Samson is a warning tale for each of us.

But one thing about Samson, he is a fighter! And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life. Judges 16:30

Throughout the story of the judges God has been working with less and less people. Finally the nation is down to one man who will fight even to the point of his death. While much of the story of Samson tells the story of Israel, here, in Samson’s death, the story is told of one true Israelite. Jesus Christ, is the one true Israelite, and like Samson, would not stop fighting even to his death. And like Samson, Jesus killed more in his death than by his life, and as the second Adam, accomplished the redemption of the human race.

I have been thinking about Samson because it illustrates the truth that our comfort is ultimately not in our own obedience, but rather the perseverance of God to hang on to us until the bitter end. Because of Christ’s victory, God will even use our weakness and lives filled with bad choices to bring glory to him. In the end Samson was left with these truths and it was enough; enough for him and enough to strike a blow for the Kingdom. My prayer is that these “reflecting moments” in life help us to see clearly the great hope of our salvation!

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Mark of a Christian

Reading through 1 John it is hard to overstate the importance of actively loving others. Again this week in chapter 4 John reiterates what we have called the “social test” of Gospel reality. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God…. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. ...If anyone says, “I love God”, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:7,11,12,20–21)

John learned from his master well. Jesus said in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Notice Jesus calls this a new command, not a new suggestion. So what do you think when you read this? Does your heart condemn you? As we discussed last week, of course our heart condemns us because we all fail. But, as we also noted, reception of the Gospel promises is not dependent on our obedience. The gospel does not equal moralism. But that does not mean our obedience is not crucial.

Many years ago theologian and apologist Francis Schaeffer (who incidentally was hugely instrumental for the early pioneers of Christ Church) called the tangible manifestations of love the “final apologetic” for a watching world. He goes on to state that while our failure to love others may not be a reason for us to doubt our salvation, it is legitimate for a watching world to doubt our Christianity. Here are his words:

Jesus is not here saying that our failure to love all Christians proves that we are not Christians. What Jesus is saying, however, is that, if I do not have the love I should have toward all other Christians, the world has the right to make the judgment that I am not a Christian. This distinction is a vital one. If we fail in our love toward all Christians, we must not tear our heart out as though it were proof that we are lost. No one except Christ Himself has ever lived and not failed. If success in love toward our brothers in Christ were to be the standard of whether or not a man is a Christian, then there would be no Christians, because all men have failed. But Jesus gives the world a piece of litmus paper, a reasonable thermometer. There is a mark which, if the world does not see, allows them to conclude, “This person is not a Christian.” (Francis Schaeffer, The Mark of a Christian)

Praise God for his Spirit that abides in us and is the power source for such love. May it shine forth in our midst - that the world may know!

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Journey Is Not Always Easy

Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem. Acts 13:13 

Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. Acts 15:37-38

I have often wondered about the curious case of John called Mark. Tradition has it that this is the same guy who fled naked from the garden of Gethsemane during Jesus’ arrest. It was quite possible that his family owned the home with the upper room that Jesus and his disciples borrowed. Later tradition has him spending time with Peter from whom he got most of his material for writing what would be his Gospel. But in Acts 13, he is accompanying Paul and Barnabas on their first foray in “pure” gentile territory.

It is not clear why Paul and Barnabas brought him along, 13:5 says he was there “to assist” them. Exactly what the nature of that assistance was we don’t know. Some have suggested he was brought along to add credibility to the message that they were preaching, as Mark was an actual eyewitness of the events. In any case he is there … and in any case he leaves them.

Yes, you heard me correct, he left; right in the middle of the journey, just as things were starting to get interesting. No one knows exactly why he left. The text doesn’t say specifically, though we are told in Acts 15 that Paul wasn’t happy about it. Some have suggested he was unhappy with Paul seemingly taking the lead in the mission as language here shifts from Barnabas and Saul (v. 2) to Paul and his companions (v.13). Others have suggested that he wasn’t too keen on crossing the Taurus mountain range that needed to be crossed to get from Perga to Antioch and was reputedly infested with brigands. Still others have suggested he, as a member of the conservative Jewish church at Jerusalem, wasn’t wild about the Roman Proconsul, Sergius Paulus, being welcomed into the family of God on their last stop. Some have even suggested that perhaps it was Mark who stirred things up for Paul on his return to Jerusalem (ch. 15). It could be one of these; it could be something completely other. We simply don’t know. Whatever it was though, it was so overwhelming that continuing on the mission of God did not seem possible to Mark.

I highlight this because I suspect that most of us, at some point or another, are much like Mark. Specifically in that going forward does not always seem possible, especially as we come to challenges. And the truth is we do face challenges, both in our everyday lives, as well as in the church. This past Wednesday we prayed about church planting and the challenges that we face there. It can be work to keep pushing through, both for those planting and for those praying. We also prayed about the changes that come with growth. We have been welcoming new and different people into our family. This takes work. Old familiar patterns need to be adapted to incorporate new people. There are challenges before us as we look to establish new outposts of ministry. Can we cross the mountains necessary to get established in North GR? Sometimes I feel a little bit like Mark, ready to step off the boat and head back to Jerusalem.

So where do we go from here? First, if you are feeling this way, relax, you are in good company. When I talk to folks it can seem like these “want to quit” feelings have surprised them in such a way that the only thing they can do is submit to them. Let me say again, relax, it is normal to feel this way. The worst thing that you could do is to do something rash that you may regret later. Remember, later on Mark asked to be reinstated as a member of the team (ch. 15). It didn’t go exactly smoothly. There were consequences to his actions.

Second, if you do take yourself out of the game for a time, get back in! Again, we are not told exactly all that transpired, but Mark did ask to be reinstated. It seems that whatever changes or challenges caused him to pull out originally receded as he thought about the overall adventure that God invited him to be a part of. And so he was ready to go back to Cyprus, go to Antioch, Lystra, and Derbe.

Third, in the end Mark enjoys full restoration. As I said earlier, this is the same guy who witnessed Jesus’ death and resurrection and wrote the Gospel. Now he reconciles with Paul, who at the end of his life in 2 Timothy 4 says, “bring Mark because he is useful to me”. Friends this is the gospel at work; restoring broken things. God’s Spirit reinvigorating people who step back because the work is hard. This is good news for people with damaged relationships. And for all of us a great reminder that God meets us in our weakness and uses us for his glory. In the end this is why I love the Scriptures, because even as they expose my own faltering weaknesses, they show God’s restoring grace even more clearly.