What Are We On About?

God’s word leads us down a different path.

O.T. LESSON:   Isaiah  56:1-8
N.T. LESSON:   II Cor 5:14-21

The Lighthouse

There’s a lighthouse on the hillside
that overlooks life’s sea ,
When I’m tossed it sends out a light
that I might see.
And the light that shines in darkness now
will safely lead us o’er
If it wasn’t for the lighthouse
my ship would be no more.

And I thank God for the lighthouse
I owe my life to him,
For Jesus is the lighthouse
and from the rocks of sin
He has shone a light around me
that I might clearly see
If it wasn’t for the lighthouse
where would this ship be.

Everybody that lives around us
says, “tear that old lighthouse down,
The big ships don’t sail this way anymore
there’s no use of it standing ’round”
Then my mind goes back to that stormy  night
when just in time I saw the light
The light from that old lighthouse
that stands up there on the hill 7

In our ‘post-modernist’ society, principles and objective truth have taken a backseat to a ‘make me feel good’ and ‘as long as it works’ approach to life. If religion works for you that’s great, but it really doesn’t affect me.

However God’s word leads us down a different path. Society wants an ‘at-a-boy!’ but followers of the Way (as the apostle Paul calls them) are called to ‘sing a different tune’.  As Paul stood before Felix in Ceasarea, he presented the Gospel (the Good News) and “he discoursed on righteousness, self-control, and the judgement to come” [Acts 24:25].  In contrast to the world wanting to be comfortable and accepted, we as believers are called to be countercultural, and to expect rejection and persecution [see I Peter 1:6,7].  And notice Felix’s response in verses 25,26: he “was afraid.. ‘when it is convenient I will send for you’… he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe“.

What God has called us to be in this world is to be a community of believers practicing the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. You see Jesus told his followers “as you are going [that’s what the sense is of the word ‘Go’] into all the world preach the good news to all creation making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father,Son, Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” [Mark 16:15; Matt 28:19,20].

The early church had a hard time with the going: it took major persecution to get them to scatter throughout the area [Acts 8:1]. And then as Paul was commissioned, the gospel became a phenomenon throughout the ‘then known world’.  History says it went from Spain to China.  And a missionary to South America found evidence of the Gospels’ message high in the Andes where white men had never gone. 6

God also called us to the Great Commandment: “Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” [John 13:34,35 NLT].  And what does that love look like?

“Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude.  Love does not demand its own way.  It is not irritable or touchy.  It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong.  It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out.  It you love someone you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost.  You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him. .. love goes on forever.” [I Cor 13:4-8a Living Bible]

And God has given us a framework in which to develop this: it’s called ‘the church’, the body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, a building expertly built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets with Christ as the chief cornerstone [Ephesians 2:20].  And in this church “he…gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets.. evangelists…pastor/teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ will be built up.. and become mature… and build itself up in love as each part does it’s work.” [Ephesians 4:11-16].

Eugene Peterson in his book The Unnecessary Pastor says that sometimes pastors or leaders will think that nothing happens without them.  Then he goes on to say “We (pastors) have important work to do, but if we don’t do it God can always find someone else, and probably not a pastor”. You see a pastor isn’t someone you hire “who is an expert to keep you ahead of the competition– or someone to follow so you don’t have to follow Jesus anymore” 1 , but rather someone who leads by example; challenging, cajoling, comforting, and lighting the fire of the compassion of Christ under you, equipping and together with you discipling, training and welcoming into the church those who are being saved. [Acts 2:47].

The activity of the Christian / “follower of ‘The Way'” then is to do the work of helping people come to know Jesus and helping those who know him (whom to know is life eternal — see John 17:3) to grow and develop in their expression of the character of Jesus Christ [Romans 8:29].  “Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God 2 for it is God who inspires you with the will (the ‘itch’ 3) to do the good things which you desire to do 4, and also the power to achieve His purpose 5[Philippians 2:13] .. For I’m convinced that “No temptation [this word can also be ‘testing’] has seized you except what is common to man(kind 3).  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. [I Cor 10:13]”

Will you trust Him — that is, abandon yourself to his mercy and accept his gracious forgiveness and thorough cleansing and on that basis love with God’s unconditional AGAPE love — love your family, your church family, all those who are the blood-washed ones — loving in such a way that those who are outside of the kingdom will be forced to say  “look at how they love each other, at how they care for each other”.

Then God will get the glory and those who are prepared will be added to the body of the believers (the followers of “The Way”) – and the angels will be rejoicing.

1  Peterson, Eugene. The Unnecessary Pastor, Grand Rapids, Eardmans,  2000. [return to message]
2  Peterson, Eugene. The Message.  NavPress Publishing Group, 1995. [return to message]
3 D. H. Friesen [return to message]
4 Lamsa New Testament (translated from the Peshitta), Philedelphia, A.J. Holman Company, 1968. [return to message]
5  Phillips, J.B. N.T. in Modern English, London, Geoffrey Bless, 1960. [return to message]
6 Olsen, Bruce. Bruchko, Orlando, Creation House, 1993. [return to message]
7 Words and music by Ronny Hinson, Journey Music Co., 1971. [return to message]

The Church in the Apostles’ Creed

4 characteristics that are basic and foundational to understanding what the Church is all about.

O.T. Lesson   Isaiah 56:6-8
N.T. Lesson  I John 1:5-2:6

I believe … in the Holy Christian Church
The communion of Saints
The forgiveness of sins.

The church begins with the appointment of ‘the Twelve‘ [Mark 3:13-19] whom he trained to preach and do wonders (which authenticated them to the people).  The climax of the beginning portion of the establishment of the church comes in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit comes and fills them!   Now, with ‘God in them’, they start to preach with power and confidence. “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” [Acts 2:41]

Though there is controversy  about what the Church really is, Alister McGrath [1. McGrath, Alister, I Believe, Illinois, Inter Varsity Press 1997] notes 4 characteristics that are basic and foundational to understanding what the Church is all about.  [I’m using his outline for this portion].

  1. There is one Church. With Jesus  as the head [Col. 1:18], they have in common “One Lord, One faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.” [Eph 4:5,6]  While we can agree to disagree on peripheral issues, we need to focus on celebrating those things we have in common.
  2. It is a HOLY Church. The word for church in Greek is ecclesia and it means “an assembly”.  The word “saint” has the idea of being set apart – holy is another word that is used in the same connotation.  So it is a group of people who are set apart as the object of God’s favour on the basis of His grace in an assembly.
  3. I have substituted the word “Christian” for “catholic” to avoid confusion with the Roman Catholic Church.  The word “catholic”  means ‘universal’, with the connotation of ‘available to all’.  It is relevant to every culture, every age, every situation [Isaiah 56:7].  [Notice the Alternative Introduction to Communion that I use.]
  4. The Church is Apostolic –– Notice Acts 2:42.  “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” and “You are… members of God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, [this phrase ties together the Old and New Testaments] with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.“[Eph 2:19,20].  The New Testament church was preoccupied with rehearsing what Jesus had said and done and those who were qualified to share this information were the ‘Apostles’.  Jesus had said [Matt 28] that as they were going they should make disciples and instruct them in what he had told them, and in John 14:26 He ‘will remind you of everything I have said to you“.

The church is the communion of saints. We read in I John 1:7,9;2:1,2:  “If we walk in the light … we have fellowship… If we confess our sins … he will forgive…  We have One  who speaks to the Father in our defense– Jesus Christ, the righteous one…  He is the atoning sacrifice … for the sins of the whole world.”  The Apostle Paul illustrates the church as a building with Christ as the Chief Cornerstone.  He also describes it as a body made up of many parts, each indispensable to the effective working of the whole.  If there is not a working harmony, it will soon deteriorate — and that is where the next phrase comes in: the forgiveness of sins

God is in the “Forgiving” business.Reconciling the world to himself… God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” [II Corintians5:19,21].  He has no intention of losing us, unless we refuse to accept His way for us to come into a right-standing with Him.  Note John 3:16-18.  [Hebrews 10: 12-31 develops this very well].

This is the background to the statement in the Lords’ Prayer:  “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors“. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” [Matt 6.12,14,15].

The key illustration Jesus gives is in Matt 18:21-35 MSG

Are we experiencing the fellowship, the communion of the saints — have we let go of the hurts and the alienation of relationships from disagreements, and embraced The Body of Jesus Christ so that we can function in wholeness?    Jesus said,  “This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples — when they see the love you have for each other.“[John 13:35 MSG]

THE APOSTLES’ CREED

I BELIEVE IN GOD, THE FATHER ALMIGHTY, CREATOR OF HEAVEN AND EARTH. I BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST, HIS ONLY SON, OUR LORD. HE WAS CONCEIVED BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AND BORN OF THE VIRGIN MARY. HE SUFFERED UNDER PONTIUS PILATE, WAS CRUCIFIED, DIED AND WAS BURIED. HE DECENDED TO THE DEAD. ON THE THIRD DAY HE ROSE AGAIN. HE ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN  AND IS SEATED AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE FATHER. HE WILL COME AGAIN TO JUDGE THE LIVING AND THE DEAD.

I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT, THE HOLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH,  THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS,  THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS,  THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY,  AND THE LIFE EVER LASTING. AMEN

Other resources used:

  1. Alister McGrath, I Believe — Exploring the Apostles’ Creed, Illinois, InterVarsity Press, 1997. (Buy this book from Amazon.com)
  2. D. Bruce Lockerbie, The Apostles’ Creed: Do You Really Believe It?  Wheaton, SP Publications Inc., 1977. (Buy this book from Amazon.com)
  3. Holy Bible, New International Version. International Bible Society, 1984. (Buy this book from Amazon.com)
  4. Eugene Peterson. The Message, Colorado, Navpress, 1993.  (Buy this book from Amazon.com)
  5. Gilbert Staford. Theology for Disciples, Anderson, Warner Press, 1996.  (Buy this book from Amazon.com)

©2000 D H Friesen

A Story about Forgiveness

From the Message: Last Part of Matthew 18

“The Kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants.  As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars.  He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.

“The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’  Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

“The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars.  He seized him by the throat and demanded, “Pay up!  Now!’

“The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’  But he wouldn’t do it.  He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid.  When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

“The king summoned the man and said, “You evil servant!  I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy.  Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’  The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt.  And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”

Alternate Invitation to Communion by D.H.Friesen, 1998

” We invite all who have put their faith and trust in Christ to participate in this supper of memorial. Black, White, Yellow, Brown — all are welcome. Every race whether Asian, African, European, Indian, North or South American are welcome. The Bible says that there is no difference — Male or female, slave or free, rich or poor, employer of employee, millionaire or person on income assistance — all are welcome. Those who are healthy as well as those who are sick, the advantaged and the disadvantaged, the intelligent and studied as well as those who are disadvantaged both intellectually and scholastically.

“As human beings redeemed by the blood of the Lamb we stand on the same ground at the foot of the cross — Thanking God for his mercy and grace and participating together in the celebration and remembrance of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ which was for our sins and the sins of the whole world.” [return to the sermon]