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 Fellowship of Faith: You are the People of God

God uses ORDINARY PEOPLE to accomplish EXTRAORDINARY tasks.

THE FELLOWSHIP OF FAITH

You are: THE PEOPLE OF GOD (1 Peter 2:9,10)

OT LESSON: Deut. 29:2-15
NT LESSON: 1 Thess 4:14-18;5:6-11

God uses ORDINARY PEOPLE to accomplish EXTRAORDINARY tasks

When Catherine the Great of Russia invited the Mennonites to come to Russia, she wasn’t interested in their faith, she was interested in their vocation. They were farmers by and large, and among them were the Dutch who had reclaimed vast areas of land for farming from the sea. They knew how to build dykes and manage agriculture, and they were not scared to work. [2. Troyat, Henri, translation Joan Pinkham, Catherine the Great, New York, E.P. Dutton, 1977] They had internalized Ephesians 6:7,8 “working as to the Lord and not unto men.”

The early history of the church has those kinds of stories. In Acts 2:42-47 they started by putting the emphasis on caring for the needs of everyone. James describes the response to faith in James 2:14-17 “Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything?… Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?” (MSG [6. Peterson, Eugene, The Message, Colorado Springs, NavPress, 1993])

We are justified – that is put right with God – by faith alone, but it is a faith that is not alone. Genuine faith results in actions that are appropriate expressions of faith. Jesus said that “the work of God is to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29) “whoever believes in him shall have eternal life” (John 3:16) “Go and [and as you go] make disciples… baptizing and teaching…”Matt 28:19,20.

The early church was a society of believers devoted to growing in Christ’s life and he was the standard. They were practical. (see Titus 2:1-3,11, and the book of James). It taught how to live on a practical level. It concerned itself with proper teaching. (for and example see Colossians 1:15-2:23). They had a set of beliefs that were based on the Word of God as revealed by the Holy Spirit. The church described in the New Testament emphasised Spiritual wholeness (see 1 Thess 3:13;5:23; 1 John 4:17,18). It emphasised the freedom that comes from knowing God personally and intimately. [1. Stafford, Dr. Gilbert, Theology for Disciples, Anderson, Warner Press 1996. This is the major source of organization for this material.]

There was also an emphasis on the health of the relationships in the church (see I John 4:19-21)

“When Constantine declared Christianity to be the state religion in 312 AD, it also came out of the fact that a majority of people in the Roman Empire had become Christians. Evangelism had come about, not because of big evangelistic crusades but because of the very strong Christian families and bodies of believers that modelled Christianity. Their neighbours and acquaintances wanted to have what they had.” [7. Richards, Lawrance O., Church Leadership, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1980]

But the Bible also tells of the ‘warts’ of the early church. (see 1 Cor 3; 5:1-8; 11:17-13:13) Paul talks about immorality, people doing personality cult stuff; they were having parties where some went home hungry and others got drunk at the same time. The church in the first century wasn’t perfect, but it was a people in the process of becoming what God wanted it to become.

The early church attempted to follow the principles Jesus had used. Eddie Askew describes Jesus’ treatment of Matthew this way:

“When Jesus sat down to eat with him and his friends, the critics thought that He was condoning Matthew’s behaviour. Jesus was neither ignoring nor accepting the way Matthew had lived, but was underlining that Matthew’s only way out to something better was with Jesus. He didn’t say, “Matthew, you reform, you change your life and then I’ll think about taking you on.” He offered his help to Matthew, then and there, held out an invitation to him to examine and change his life.

“If Matthew was to be kept on the edge of acceptance until he’d changed, there would have been no change. Change depended on his growing nearer to Jesus. He made no excuses for Matthew’s past life. He didn’t say “Everybody’s doing it, it doesn’t matter.” He answered the critics “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Luke 5:31) [3. Askew, Eddie,Cross Purposes, Leprosy Mission, Middlesex UK, Brentford, 1995]

Max Lucado describes it in the title of his book- “God loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you that way,. He wants you to be-‘JUST LIKE JESUS’ “. [8. Lucado, Max, Just Like Jesus, Nashville, Word Publishing, 1998]

“If the New Testament is permitted to convey its full message to us about the church, we will learn that although the church has a high calling in the economy of God, it is made up of people who have not yet reached eternal glorification. The church is the body of Christ, but it is also in the process of growing up into Christ (Eph 4:15). The church is the new humanity, but also it has to be reminded not to “satisfy the desires of your lower nature” (Gal. 5:16 – Barclay [4. Barclay, William, The New Testament, Louisville, Westminster John Know Press, 1968, 1999]).

The church is the people of God, but it is required also to persevere in order to be saved (Heb. 6:1-8; 10:26-39 see also Luke 9:23)

“The church is a society of people with a new identity given to it by the grace of God, but it is also a band of pilgrims traversing the deserts and rivers of life, climbing mountains, walking through valleys, sometimes falling by the wayside, sometimes failing to follow the signposts, sometimes becoming discouraged and tired and weary, and sometimes forgetting the goal. It is because the church is a band of pilgrims –perhaps we should even say, a ragtag band — that is needs to be schooled well in its new, divine identity given to it in Christ. If it is not so schooled, it will, no doubt, lose heart along the way. In order for the church to keep on keeping on, it needs to hear again and again the message of who it is by grace, namely, the body of Christ, the one new humanity, “God’s ‘chosen generation’, his ‘royal priesthood’, his ‘holy nation’, his ‘peculiar people’ — all the old titles of God’s people now belong to you. It is for you now to demonstrate the goodness of him who has called you out of darkness into his amazing light.” (1 Peter 2:9 JBP[5. Phillips, J.B. The New Testament in Modern English. London, Geoffrey Bless, 1960])

“It is as this new identity is preached and taught patiently, lovingly, and endlessly that the church will be kindled and rekindled in its desire to be continuously re-formed by the Word and re-renewed by the Spirit to be Christ’s new kind of ekklesia. Only then will it be strengthened as the interpersonal network of those whose hearts and minds are captivated by the Lord Jesus. Only then will it take fuller advantage of it’s inheritance as heirs of the ancient promises fulfilled in Christ. Only then will it be in earnest about growing up into the fullness of Christ. Only then will it be the sacramental community of God’s grace and the missionary task force which makes disciples of ;whosoever will’ Only then will the church truly be ready for the coming of the bridegroom.” (Stafford pp 166-167)