Sunday, June 27, 2010

Comfort and Counselor

Over the last year I have been preaching through the book of John.  Our journey has led us through the many parables and teachings of Christ, and we now find ourselves in the final days of his life.   As he warned his disciples of the hatred that would come to them and spoke about his departure, I can only wonder about the full extent of their emotions and heartache.  They must have grieved knowing they would never see their Rabbi again... although unable to imagine what would eventually take place on that dreadful day.... persecution, torture and death. 

I have often thought of what life would be like without those I love dearly, and while our mind can only imagine the pain of loss, when the reality of their absence occurs we feel the true loneliness and despair.  Last year I felt that loneliness for the first time in my life after the death of my brother.  The sorrow of saying goodbye to a dear friend, mentor and brother is more than I could bear... or so I thought.   In the gospels the disciples experienced a "goodbye" with a dear friend, mentor and brother that was accompanied by a promise from Jesus that no doubt brought them peace, and is extended to us as well.  Here the comforting words of Jesus when He says...

"But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning." (Jn 15:26-27)  

I love the first five words... "but when the helper comes".   Our Helper. Our Comforter. The Holy Spirit.  You will face many trials and troubles in this present age.  You will know sorrow and grief.  You will suffer for your faith.  BUT... the Helper comes.  

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ then the helper has come to you.  He has been with you since your conversion... not later, as some would suggest, but the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a present reality for all Christians, throughout all time.   He offers you comfort in weakness and counsel as He bears witness to you about the truth of Christ and testimony of His word. 

While most everyone agrees with what I share today, far too many quench the power and presence of the Holy spirit in their life.  They go through their sorrows alone and feel hopeless in the face of fears and troubling circumstances.  Is that you? Do you "phone a friend" before turning to comforter?  Do you seek human wisdom instead of seeking supernatural counsel through prayer?   Receive the promise that was given to the disciples 2000 years ago and tap into the gift of the Holy Spirit.  And remember... for those in Christ the Holy Spirit is our "Edge".   It offers us a source of strength and wisdom that no one else has dwelling within.   Rejoice... the helper has come!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Marriage is more than comfort

"St. Augustine (AD 354-430) suggested that there are three benefits of marriage: offspring (procreation), faith (fidelity), and sacrament" (from Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas).

The word "sacrament" points to the great mystery of how God reconciles Christ to His church. Sacraments are a means of God's grace to the church. (ie: baptism, Lord's Supper) Augustine considered marriage to be a sacrament, in that it reflects the relationship between Jesus Christ and those whom he died, and is a way he extends His grace. Whether or not we continue to view marriage as a sacrament, (Protestants don't) I think we should agree that our marriages are meant to be a picture of the gospel... a picture of reconciliation. The very fact that someone is married, regardless of the quality of the relationship, signifies a spiritual union that is not meant to be seperated because it was ordained by God. It is sacred.

This ought to be a motivator for preserving our marriage and making it thrive in the midst of this fallen world. It ought to make us ask not what "we" can get out of the marriage (what makes us happy) but how our marriage can actually bring glory (happiness) to a Holy God... who instituted marriage in the garden!

Augustine's threefold view of marriage was altered by the Anglican Reformers when the phrase "mutual comfort" appeared in prayer books along with "procreation" and "fidelity". I think Augustine would say today that his view of marriage as a sacrament (a display of the gospel and a means of grace) has been muted by this change. Granted, many of us still hold our marriages to be sacred and a picture of the marriage between Christ and His church (the gospel). However, I believe the shift toward "mutual comfort" greatly effected the view of marriage.

Gary Thomas speaks about the 2 views this way...."In a man-centered view of marriage (mutual comfort), we will maintain our marriage as long as our earthly comforts, desires, and expectations are met. In a God-centered view (sacrament), we preserve our marriage because it brings glory to God and points a sinful world to a reconciling Christ."

Marriage is great when our comfort is great. The test of a marriage is when our comfort has been removed either by our own rebellion or by the rebellion of the one we married. (adultery) It is then that we realize that procreation and comfort are not enough to make up for the loss due to infidelity, which leaves us without hope. I believe Augustine would tell us that our only hope can be found in reconciliation through Christ. We must hope in the fact that our marriage is a sacred bond that represents the reality of the gospel, and although it has been violated God is able to once again reconcile and redeem what has been destroyed. (I can testify to countless couples who have experienced this reconciliation)

However, in light of the magnitude of adultery, God allows for divorce. It is not because He cannot restore, it is perhaps because He knew that the depth of pain that adultery causes is so great that mere mortals may not be able to endure.... till death do us part.

Most of us have no plans to commit such a heinous violation against our spouse and few ever set out to commit infidelity when they got married. Our charge is to live out our marriage in such a way that we care not so much for the "mutual comforts" that marriage brings (and it does!), but that our driving motivation for love is the happiness and glorification of God. It is then that we will see the passion and intent of Augustine's claim that marriage is not only for procreation and fidelity, but more importantly for the display of the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and fallen world.

Peace out...

Radical Religion

Christianity is radical. It stands in opposition to the world and to every other religion. It calls us to sacrifice our own desires at the throne of a Holy, trancsendent God and take on His ways and His thoughts. To submit to him in alll things and serve His will.

The promise of Christianity is the greatest promise of all time... Eternal immortality. We never die... Forever. Its like Buzz Lightyear says; "To infinity and beyond!"

Eternal life is the gift that has been sought by every culture and desired by every religion since time began. To live beyond this brief, mortal life has driven mankind to believe in the most outrageous promises. Promises of returning as another creature, of living with dozens of virgins, owning our own planet and more! And none of these promises have paid off.

The hope people have placed in idols, false prohets and imaginery gods has proved futile for millions. While our society boasts of many paths to etenal life and is willing to recognize mutiple truths... even though the truths contradict each other...there is one great truth that will not fail, will not perish, and will not be corrupted by the lies of the world.

Christianity stands as the only great hope and promise of mankind. It is not a religion of works, but a religion of surrender. In opposition to other relgions Christianity calls mankind to surrender our own will to the will of the One, Holy God and to trust in the sacrifice of His Son. In doing so, our sacrifice is the sacrifice of pride and the sacrifice of our desires. We die to our lusts, dreams, and goals and through submission and obedience take on the goals of our heavenly Father.

Some have referred to Christianity as the "Great Exchange". We exchange our sinful lives for the rigthteousness of Jesus Christ. Think about this. Like the Prodigal Son who returned to His father covered in filth and dirt we come to Jesus with our filthy lives of sin. And Like the father in the parable, God places on us a new robe to cover our sin. The boys robe represented his fathers love and established his identity as a child of his father. Our robe is not made of silk or cotton, but it is the robe of the righteousness of Christ. With this spiritual robe or sins are covered and we inherit a new identity.

We become a child of God, a royal priest, a servant of the King, an inheritor of eternal life, a saint in His Kingdom, a sheep to be cared for, and a partaker of the abundant life He promises.

Christianity is radical. Its radical love for people who don't deserve it. It's a radical sacrifice of an innocent man. It's a radical promise of eternal life. And it calls us to live with radical committment and love for a Holy God.

Live for Him today and then live with Him forever... and beyond!     Peace, Jay

Because I said so!

I wonder if Jesus ever had to say that to the disciples?  Spending three years with those rough, and sometimes unruly, disciples must have made Jesus want to say what every mother in the world has said... "do it because I said so"  In John 14 and 15 Jesus did say quite clearly that there is a new commandment and it was to love each other the way He loved us.  No doubt there were many occasions before and after the resurrection that Jesus would have been able to say... "Do it Peter.  Do it John.  Just love one another"   (Okay, maybe not John, but certainly Peter).

Is he saying that to you today?  If he polled your church body, your famiy, or your co-workers would your "Friends" be able to say you were loving them like Jesus loved His disciples?  Ouch. 

In God's economy, love is the litmus test of obedience to Him.  Faith is good.  Hope is good.  But that greatest of these is love.  The outgrowth of genuine, Christ-based love is three fold.

#1.  You demonstrate obedience to Jesus and therefore glorify God.  (We really only need this to motivate us, but there's more)

#2.  You produce godly fruit in the life of the relationship.  John 15:16 tells us that when we love each other we bear fruit and the fruit abides.   That means you literally transform yourself and others and produce "good" works/fruit.  Not just for the moment, but fruit that lasts - meaning it has eternal, everlasting qualities to it.  The fruit of the Spirit is nine wonderful fruits that result from truly loving each other in the body of Christ.  They are... love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Are you seeing that kind of fruit burst forth in your life and in the life of those around you.   If you are truly loving others... you will.

#3.  You joy becomes full!   John 15:11 is a promise from Jesus that when we obey His commands (like loving others) our joy will be full.  Think about that.   How full is your joy right now?  Is it kinda full?  Is it overflowing full?  I want a FULL JOY!  I want to experience the greatest, most everlasting joy possible and I can.  It starts with loving the Lord God with all your heart, sould and mind.   And it reaches it's full potential when our love for God overflows in love to one another... they way He loved us! 

Love this week with patience, humility, charity, forgiveness, kind words, gentle words, and a tongue that is self-controlled.  Peace out... Jay