In Romans 9.30-10.4, we see how the apostle Paul explained to the mostly Gentile church in Rome in the first century how the people of Israel had missed the point of their pursuit of God. It’s as if they were running a race (following the Law of the Old Testament) but had missed the finish line by going around it (missing out on the fulfillment of the Law in Jesus). And sometimes, church people who call themselves Christians do the same thing. What does that look like? We’ll learn in this message how that can happen, and how we can avoid it. The entire worship gathering is below, and just the message below that.
Whoops! Forgot to post this on Friday!
You want to have a big party, but you can’t right now because it’s not safe to do so.
You’d like to cross the US border and do some shopping, but the border’s closed.
You have had it up to here with electronic meetings and online school.
Your patience is running thin, six months into the pandemic.
Well, join the club!
As a society, we have been so used to having the freedom to do certain things that when that freedom is (temporarily, we hope) removed, our patience is tested.
As followers of Jesus, people who have the Holy Spirit living in us, we are called to bear the fruit of the Spirit. But there are two of them that are wildly unpopular and often in short supply, even among the people of God. One of them is patience.
Even though there are many circumstances working against us right now, we need patience and we need to ask the Lord to give us more patience. Often, though, we forget to ask!
The Bible is replete with stories of people who had patience in the midst of trying circumstances:
Abraham and Sarah were promised a child, and they were in their eighties before Isaac came along.
Joseph was tormented by his brothers, sold into slavery, and had to rise up in the ranks of Egyptian officials before he could help to redeem his people.
Job lost everything he had, but never cursed God.
If those stories aren’t enough to make us want to ask God for patience, we can remember how patient God has been with his people over the course of time – even you and me!
So ask God for more patience. The good news is that he is willing to give and give and give if we are willing to ask for it. Say something like, “Lord, I need you to help me be more patient with my family, my coworkers, even the people driving near me on the streets and highways. Give me more patience, so that I can witness to your patience with humanity, and shine your light in the world.”
“The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love” (Psalm 103.8, NLT).
September startup has looked different for most everyone this year, but it holds one thing in common with all its predecessors: it’s been a little crazy. It may have been crazy for different reasons, but it’s still been crazy.
Whether it’s trying to figure out if your kids are going to school or going online, or understanding what programs will and won’t resume in the church, or trying to do some of the traditional September shopping, it’s been nuts.
We could all use a little peace.
Back in the 1960s, ‘peace’ was all the rage: “Give peace a chance,” trumpeted perhaps the most famous song on the subject from that era. In the midst of the cold war, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam conflict, and all else that was going on, people were crying out for peace. And, over time, they got it…in one definition.
The Bible’s definition of peace is quite different from the mere absence of war.
When it first shows up in the Old Testament, the word “peace” is an English translation of the Hebrew word shalom – still a common greeting among Middle Eastern people today – and it doesn’t just mean, “I hope you don’t have any war today.” It’s a wish for groundedness, particularly in your faith in God.
True peace – the kind that is the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 – is a sense of comfort in your relationship with the Lord, an ability to give thanks in all circumstances (as Paul would tell the Thessalonians). It’s something that other people can spot in you at a distance.
If you want true peace amid all that’s going on this fall – this year! – place your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and experience what Paul wished for the Christians in Philippi: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.6-7, NLT).
Joy: it seems so elusive to many people. Why is that?
Sometimes, I think it’s because it easily gets confused with happiness. In fact, sometimes even Bible translations confuse us on this matter, using “happy” when they mean “joyful”. It may seem like angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin semantics, but in everyday language, I think we do well to keep the two terms distinct.
Think about it in terms of cultural sayings popular in the west:
Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy [your favourite thing], and that’s the same.
Happiness depends on ourselves.
Learn to value yourself, which means: fight for your happiness.
That last one comes from Ayn Rand, a Russian-American philosopher of the twentieth century.
We are a people who strive for happiness, and we often find it lacking something once we think we’ve achieved it.
There’s nothing wrong with being happy, but it can’t possibly compare with joy. While, etymologically, the terms are connected, for followers of Jesus, there is a depth that comes with joy with which “the pursuit of happiness” just can’t compare.
Think about the special times in the life of church and family that are celebrated: what’s the common word that’s used, say, at Christmas and Easter? “Rejoice!”
That’s where joy comes from – rejoicing in the goodness of God.
We may think we have the right to be happy, but we have the privilege of joy. Embrace it as a gift from God.
“…the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8.10b, NLT).
In this service of worship, we look at the fact that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is found in Christ Jesus our Lord. It has many implications – watch and learn! It’s based on Romans 8.31-39. The whole service is below, and the message alone is below that.
It’s what makes the world go around, some say.
It’s what will keep us together, according to a song from my youth.
It’s rooted in God, according to the Bible.
So why is it so complicated?
The short answer is we make it complicated. The longer answer is that our predisposition toward sin affects how we love, and how we view love.
But as God loves us unconditionally, so he calls his people to love others unconditionally.
This is especially difficult with people we find hard to love. They may be people with whom we disagree on an important matter, or people whose personal hygiene makes us uncomfortable, or people who have hurt us in some way.
We may think that we can’t love these people on our own. And that’s true. We can’t love them on our own.
But as followers of Jesus – recipients of this love of the Father that sent his Son to the cross for our sins – we have the Holy Spirit living in and through us, and that is why we can love those we find hard to love.
Here’s a challenge for you and for me: think of someone you know whom you consider hard to love. Pray for that person to know the Lord and to serve him. Pray that the Holy Spirit will help you love him or her. And, amid physical distancing requirements, act in some way to show love to that person in the coming week.
Then, focus on another person, and do it again. And again. And again. You get the idea.
“Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us” (1 John 4.11-12, NLT).
Earlier this month, my wife and I did some camping in northern Ontario. On the first evening, we were late arriving because we were detoured away from an accident on Highway 400. (Unlike Highway 11, some of the interchanges on the 400 extension are just for dead-end cottage roads, so we ended up adding about 3 hours to our trip.)
I was setting up the camper van, plugging into the electricity and water, and the chap at the adjoining campsite was inspecting the front of his trailer. Just trying to be a friendly camper, I made a compliment about his trailer, and he started telling me quite a bit of his life story.
I’ll spare you the details, but one part of his story struck me. He was telling me about the business he is going to start when he moves, and said, “I was raised an evangelical Christian…” and proceeded to disparage his upbringing.
My heart ached as I completed that conversation so I could cook supper, not only for him, but because I know there are others who have a similar story to tell.
In some ways, in recent years, it has become trendy to walk away from one’s spiritual roots, but it is especially poignant when those spiritual roots are in the historic, apostolic, biblically-based expressions of Christianity.
The reality is that no church is perfect, and most churches have made assumptions about how well-equipped parents are to raise their children to know and love and serve Jesus. They’ve let down their families. But every church that roots itself in the basics of Christian faith seeks to do its best to see its children grow in Christ. And when that doesn’t happen, the church mourns. It should mourn. And God’s heart breaks.
My fellow camper ideally would have held on to his faith roots, but he didn’t. I don’t know the reasons. But whatever your role in your local church, do all you can to disciple the children in your midst, starting with your own. Equip them, and their parents, to embrace and nurture faith in Jesus in a world that is doing its best to do the opposite. And leave the rest to God.
“[Y]ou must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up” (Deuteronomy 6.6-7, NLT).
I had a good conversation this week with a friend. As happens in so many conversations these days, talk turned to the pandemic. He told me about an acquaintance of his who lives his life in fear of the pandemic because of everything he has read on the Internet.
While there is no doubt that we should be vigilant and careful in these interesting times, I think embracing fear is not part of our mandate. When we live paralyzed by fear, we are not really living.
This is why I encourage you to choose your information sources wisely, and even broadly. It’s a natural human tendency to gravitate toward news sources that affirm what we already believe to be true. In a time like this (pandemic or not), getting a broad spectrum of views helps widen our perspective on the situation, and helps loosen any grip that fear may have on us.
The reality is that even the health experts are flying in the dark without instruments right now, because none of us has ever faced this sort of pandemic before. The fact that a global crisis has been made political in many places does not help. It can be wildly confusing.
But all this is not confusing to God. He has it all figured out; our job is to follow. Don’t let yourself start walking in front of the One who holds all time and space in his hand.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take” (Proverbs 3.5-6, NLT).
In Romans 7.1 (NLT), the apostle Paul wrote something that might seem very strange on an initial, out-of-context reading: “…don’t you know that the law applies only while a person is living?”
Seems fairly obvious, doesn’t it? I mean, I’m not going to care whether a traffic light is green, amber or red when my funeral procession is winding its way to the cemetery. But all the drivers in that procession should care, because they don’t want to risk injury. The law only applies while a person is living.
But Paul goes on to say that everybody who has faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord has died to the law: they no longer live under its reign.
That changes the picture a bit, right? So Paul is telling us that if we have died with Christ through our faith in him, we have died to sin (see Romans 6), and therefore have also died to the tyranny of the law.
Does that mean we should ignore the law of the land? Well, if we all did that, the number of traffic fatalities would skyrocket (among other things).
Does that means we should ignore the law of God? There’s the rub: when we become followers of Jesus, the Old Testament doesn’t fade away, and the Ten Commandments don’t cease to be applicable to our lives. So what does it mean that we have died to the law?
Just as Paul said in chapter 6 that sin will not be our master, so it is true that the law shall not be our master. Our goal is not perfectly to keep the law; our goal is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us.
How do we glorify God? Well, Jesus tells us in John 14.15 (NLT), “If you love me, obey my commandments.” Since we live under grace and not under law, we have come into relationship with Jesus by his favour alone, and in that relationship, we demonstrate our love by following what he tells us to do. So while we are dead to sin and the law, we are alive to God in Jesus, and in that relationship, we follow the law without fear of being judged for our imperfect ability to keep the law. We are respectful of the law, but not enslaved to it.
There are some great ways to apply this, and I’ll be talking about that this Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton. You (and your face mask) are very welcome to join us at 10:00 a.m., or catch the service from the comfort of your home live, or on demand later. The application may cause you to squirm a little!
Where you live, this may have already been a reality, but where I live, today, a ‘mask rule’ has come into effect. In all indoor public spaces, people are expected to wear some sort of face covering as a means of slowing or preventing the spread of Coronavirus.
My wife has kindly made me a mask that properly covers my fat, hairy face in a way that does the job and feels almost comfortable. (The disposable ones made my face look like…well, never mind about that.) Those who like to sew are getting very creative with patterns and materials, so that all of us, perhaps especially children, can try to have a little fun with what is otherwise not a very fun undertaking.
This got me thinking, though: masks are really nothing new in our society. It’s just that now, we can see them.
You know what I mean: people wear masks that cover up any number of things, even if it isn’t oral germs. Maybe it’s uncanny, heavy makeup to avoid looking too young, or too old, or too vulnerable. Maybe it’s a permanent smile to cover up the pain we feel inside. Maybe it’s a face that betrays nothing, to keep people at a distance. There are all kinds of scenarios that might exist, but make no mistake: most human beings are used to wearing masks.
Interestingly, these same masks are often placed between our true self and the God who made us.
This is a profoundly sad reality, because what we tend to forget is that God sees us as we are, knows us as we are, loves us as we are, and longs for us to be more like him. Yet we tend to put our best ‘face’ forward with God, for any number of reasons.
Sometimes, we think God won’t accept us if we feel a certain way. (Usually, this is because someone else won’t accept us that way, and we universalize the principle.) Sometimes, we think we’re not allowed to ‘be real’ in God’s presence. This tends to be a matter of culture or conditioning.
If we have an image of God as being like Santa Claus, for whom “you’d better not cry”, it gets stuck in our heads that God won’t accept any emotion except happiness, or, at best, ennui. And that’s too bad, because if you take even a cursory glance through the Psalms, you’ll see every emotion known to the human race expressed before God. What’s more, the people of Israel believed all these emotions to be so important, they enshrined these songs in their Scriptures!
In the Psalms, you’ll find joy, sadness, anger, lament, even a desire to see others die. There are no masks in the Psalms.
And we don’t need them, either. Except in cloth form, in indoor public spaces, for a season. The good news is that we can still weep or laugh or gnash our teeth with that kind of mask on.
“Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem” (Psalm 137.1, NLT).