Tuesday, November 27, 2012

You've been elected to bless your neighbors: A Sermon

You can hear this sermon online by clicking here.

Please open your bibles to our text for today which is Acts 16:6-10. This is the third sermon in a series we’ve entitled “Visualize,  looking through a frame using your hands as in the picture to the left. The first week we “Visualized”, what it would look like to see our lives as influential lives, the second week, we visualized what it would mean to use our households as outposts for the kingdom of God, and this week we examine and visualize our impact on our neighbors. As we examine scripture and our lives, it becomes clear that we’ve been blessed. We are a blessed people to have a God like our God. We are blessed, not only to delight in what God has given us, but we are blessed to be a blessing to others. So this morning, we look at God’s call on us to preach the gospel in the most fullest sense, to have a specific focus as we are guided and directed by His Spirit, and how God calls us not only to visualize how wonderful it would be to bless our neighbors, but when we hear the call, to not delay, and immediately go as we have been sent!

Again, our text today is Acts 16:6-10, but before we read our passage let me lay a little groundwork here. Paul is on his secondary missionary journey and he’s going from place to place, preaching the gospel. This is, by the way, the primary function, the primary mission, of the Church. We, collectively speaking, are called to share the gospel, the “good news”, with the world.  God calls us to preach the gospel. 15 Chapters earlier in Acts, chapter 1 verse 8, we read that Jesus  tells the early Church this:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Paul, and the early Church, took this call very seriously. The entire book of Acts, the history of the early Church, is about this: being witnesses, sharing the good news of what they had seen and experienced with the rest of the world. So when we read here in Acts 16:6-10, we see that this is exactly what Paul has dedicated his entire life to.

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. (Ephesus is the capital of the Roman province of Asia) 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia (This is the region to the North East), but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas (You can see Troas here on the map, it was an important seaport that was about 10 miles south of the ancient site of Troy which we’re familiar with from Homer’s The Iliad). 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia (Macedonia is basically this area to the west which is part of modern Greece) standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
God had called us to preach the gospel to them. We, as a community, as the body of Christ, as the Church, are called to preach the gospel. Now maybe when you hear that, you’re like me, you kind of get in your mind the idea of the street corner preacher, standing on a soapbox, proclaiming something with the bible his hand, but the gospel, the good news is much more encompassing than that simple image. In fact we preach the gospel, together as a community, as the Church, in essentially three ways, because everything great comes in threes.

The first is that we preach the gospel through Gospel Living. In fact, most of the New Testament, the letters that are written to the various gatherings of Christians throughout the Roman Empire, if we read those the dominant theme is not Paul instructing people how to share the gospel verbally with others. You would think if it’s just a verbal proclamation then that’s what Paul would be telling people. This is how you share the faith we others. #1. Point out that they are sinners #2 Point out that they need a savior. #3 etc… Now to be sure, Jesus tells the Church as a whole through His disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations” and in Acts 1:8 to be “witnesses to the ends of the earth” and again the books Acts, the book that recounts the history of the early Church is all about this, however, the letters in the New Testament over abundantly emphasize gospel living. What I mean by that, is that the first Christians are told, and I’ve said this before, live your life in a way that demands a gospel explanation. Ephesians 4:1-4 says:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 4 There is one body and one Spirit”…and it goes on.

We are elected, called, and chosen by God and if we really believe that. If we really believe the good news in our lives then in response our lives will look different. We live the gospel, we live the good news, we live as those who have been called out and blessed to be sons and daughters of God. We are humble and gentle, patient, and we bear with one another in love. The gospel communities that we form should be a witness to the power of the gospel in our lives.  We are not called alone  but as a community, as one body with many parts, as the Church. Gospel living is a physical embodiment of preaching the good news. This is, by the way, the reason that we so whole heartedly believe in life groups here at Trinity. It is not possible to live together in community the way described in the New Testament, without gathering in these smaller spiritual families, that we call life groups. It is not possible to bear with another and love each other as deeply and relationally as we’re called to in God’s word if we aren’t in spiritual households with one another. If you are here today to just worship with us and then go home, I’m glad you are here, but if we as the Church are to live the gospel in ways that the world notices, as the Roman empire noticed the early Church communities, then we have to be faithful to the call to live together the gospel. If you’re not in a life group or a close spiritual family of some kind just write “life group” on your communication card and Nina will get in touch with you.

Now, we could stop here and say this is the sum of the gospel. Gospel living. And some do stop here. They become some good at loving each other at being blessed through community and communion with God, that they forget that we’ve been blessed in order to be a blessing to others. We could focus so much on the fact that we’ve been elected by God, chosen by Him, that we simply bask in that alone.
Obviously we just had elections, and the winners of those elections, of course made victory speeches. Could you imagine if every speech given during their terms following was a victory speech?  “I want to thank you for electing me. It’s so wonderful to have been elected. Thank you for going to the polls and choosing me. I won’t let you down.” Then two weeks later, the same “I want to thank you for electing me. It’s so wonderful to have been elected. Thank you for going to the polls and choosing me. I won’t let you down.” A year later, the same, and so on and so forth throughout their entire term. How ridiculous would that be? Well, unfortunately sometimes that’s what we sound like to God. “God thank you so much for electing me, for choosing me, for saving me. It’s so wonderful.” And we never move past this to actually blessing others, blessing our neighbors, in response to having been blessed. So yes gospel living a key part of preaching the gospel, but we have 2 more perspectives.

The second is Gospel Proclamation. We, together as a community, must proclaim, we must speak and tell people about the gospel. Despite fear and anxiety, we are called to tell others, with words, what we have witnessed in our lives and know to be true about our Lord our Savior Jesus Christ. Now you as an individual might not be called to be an evangelist, or as a teacher who can explain things well, but that’s why your in a life group, or a spiritual family of significant relationship, so that each member of the body can work together to accomplish the mission of the Church. We are, as the Church, called to preach the kingdom of God. Luke 9:1-2 describes the instructions that Jesus gave when sending His disciples out:

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

You see bolded there, to preach the kingdom of God. They didn’t go town to town and never say anything. They didn’t gather in Jerusalem and love each other and never invite others in or go out and tell people with sincerity and conviction about the good news that we have in Jesus Christ who rose from the dead and offers peace with God.

They also, however, didn’t go with words alone. The third part of the gospel on your notes page is Gospel Demonstration. Wherever they went, what did they preach? They preached the kingdom of God. They spoke about a new reign, a new kingdom, a new reality and they demonstrated that through their actions, not just amongst themselves in gospel living, but among those who might believe. Here’s the same verse again:

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority [to do what?] to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to [to do what?] heal the sick.

The gospel has an outward component to it. Namely we seek to see God’s kingdom come. We seek to see the sick healed, the poor uplifted, the homeless housed, the oppressed set free, and the values of humility, service, and love being implemented in our communities beyond these walls as we not only pray Thy Kingdom Come, but act to be used and empowered by God in answer to our own prayers.

We as a church have been called, chosen, elected and we are blessed in our gospel community, our gospel living but we are blessed to be a blessing to others as we proclaim and demonstrate the gospel to be a blessing to our neighbors.

Now in case I lost you, that was all my first point from verse 10 in our Acts passage. Paul is called to preach the gospel, we, together, are called to preach the Gospel, and we do so through Gospel living, Gospel proclamation, and Gospel demonstration. I love triangles so I've put one here to illustrate that first point.

The second point is that God calls us to a specific focus.  Where is Paul, in our passage, called to go? He’s called specifically to Macedonia. Our text says that the Holy Spirit prevents Paul from heading west towards the province of Asia and Ephesus, and then again that the Spirit of Jesus (same guy, different title) prevents Paul from heading North/Northeast into Bithynia. He’s called specifically to Macedonia. We too, whether in your individual life, in your close spiritual family, your life group, or in Trinity as a whole are called to a specific focus.

You might be wondering what this picture to the right is all about. I emailed out the entire Trinity staff and asked if anyone had a bed of nails. Guess what the response was? No one had one. If one of you seriously has one, write “bed of nails” on your communication card and we’ll get together. I was going to walk across a bed of nails for you, but no one had one, or wanted to admit that they had one. I did, however, have a picture of me in the past walking on a bed of nails so you could see me doing it, so there it is, those are my feet. No, obviously those aren’t my feet, but the former science teacher in me couldn’t pass this up as an example of focus, really more technically of pressure. They actually have bed of nails demonstrations in a number of science centers because they illustrate perfectly what happens if you spread pressure out over a large area. You see, the more nails there are, the more area that your foot comes in contact, the less impact or pressure each individual nail can have. The less number of nails there are, the less area your foot has to rest upon, the more focus, the more pressure, the more impact that individual nail can have. The same is true for us, in our missional efforts, in our efforts to impact the world and our communities with the kingdom of God. Paul is a nail that God uses at a precise moment, in a precise place, and calls him directly to Macedonia. God uses Paul as a nail to pierce through the darkness and break the strongholds that oppose seeing God’s kingdom come. We can be a single focused nail that has an amazing impact or we can spread ourselves so thin that you ultimately have we have no impact whatsoever.

Where or who might God be calling you to focus your missional efforts? What is your specific focus? What is your life group’s specific focus? What is Trinity’s specific focus? Maybe you are really into music and so perhaps a community of musicians is what God is calling you to. Maybe you are a veteran, whom we so proudly honor tomorrow on Veteran’s day, could it be that God is calling you to focus on the military in our area? Maybe it literally is your next door neighbor. Wherever, whatever it may be, find a specific focus to maximize your impact for the kingdom of God and make that focus a priority in your life as you seek to demonstrate and proclaim the gospel.

This brings up a crucial question, which is how do you determine your specific focus? The answer is that God calls and directs us by His Spirit in four ways. I know I said everything great comes in threes, but this one comes in fours. God speaks by His Spirit, or as our text says the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of Jesus.

The first is He speaks through current circumstances. God is God. He is the creator of the universe. He controls all things so it’s not beyond Him to be able to speak to you through circumstances. In our text it’s clear that something prevents Paul from going to Asia and something prevents him from going to Bithynia. We don’t know what it was. It could have been a feeling that he had. It could have been an illness. Some commentators make note that in verse 10 the language changes for they to us, indicating that Luke, the author of Acts joined them, who by profession was a doctor. So some commentators say perhaps Paul was driven the way he went to seek medical help from Luke, who was from Macedonia. Scripture doesn’t spell this out for us, but it’s clear that for one reason or another Paul is driven to not go to certain areas. Are there specific circumstances in your life right now, closed doors, that God might be using to drive you to a specific call He has for you? Are there specific gifts and abilities, circumstances, that your life group has that would seem to open a door for a specific missional focus?

The next is that the Spirit of God calls us through times of prayer. It’s usually in these quiet moments of spiritual intimacy with God, that we hear Him loudest. Yes, God can speak to us through visions, as he does Paul, but clearly in Scripture God promises to hear and respond to prayer. By the way, I encourage you that when you pray for guidance, that you allow moments of silence to listen. Sometimes we pray and say everything we need, dust off our pants and are on our way, but wait. Give God some space to speak to you through His Spirit which dwells within you.

The third is that God speaks to us by His Spirit through His Church . Just one more reason to be in a life group: God uses His people to speak to His people. Even in Paul’s vision, Paul doesn’t have a vision of God directly, or even of an angel, he has a vision of a man pleading for help. Maybe you have something coming to mind right now as I’m speaking to you. Write it down!  It amazes me but God uses even me, sinner though I am, to speak to others. And He uses others to speak to me. He uses His Church, His People, to speak to one another. It’s entirely possible that God is speaking through His Church to you right now and through His Word.

That’s the last one. God calls and directs us by His spirit through His Word. Sometimes I’ll hear people say, why doesn’t God ever speak to me? There is a reason that we call the bible God’s Word. This is one of the primary ways in which God speaks words to us. This is the reason we open God’ Word together every Sunday when we gather, but we as God’s people hear His word not only together right now, but also in our own times alone with Him, if we’re reading, if we’re listening, so to speak. God’s Word also serves as a guide by which we can evaluate what others are saying in the Church, what we are hearing in our Spirit in times of prayer, and witnessing in our current circumstances.

God never contradicts himself, so the more agreement you have between these four the more certain we can be of hearing God’s call and the more disagreement the more cautious we should be. How do we determine our specific focus? Look at your current circumstances, take times of prayer, listen to others who have God’s Spirit within them, go to Scripture and go at once!

The final point is that God call us to go at once!  Paul has a vision at night of a man urging him “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” The text says “And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia.”

I remember a pastor once telling me a story about demon school, so I’ve stolen it for you. I think it was from a course called the Alpha course. There were once three demons in demon school learning about how to be demons and bother people. They had their final exam and they had to come up with a way in which to discourage or prevent people from coming to know God and have a relationship with Him. The first said, let’s whisper to people that there is no God. The other two said, that’ll never work: People can just look around at the beauty and the intricacy of creation and know that there’s a creator. The second one said, let’s try and convince people that there’s no such thing as evil, they won’t have a need for a savior or for God. The other two say, that’ll never work: People can just pick up the morning news and see the pain and suffering, the evil that exists in the world. The third one said, I’ve got it, we’ll tell them  put off believing and trusting God just one more day and that’s the one they felt had the most traction.

I can’t tell you how many times, my wife probably can, I’ve said tomorrow I’m going to start working out. Tomorrow I’m going to start waking up early in the morning. Tomorrow, just one more day, we can go. Monday, I’ll go and begin living the gospel and fulfilling the call to proclaim and demonstrate it. On Monday, I’ll spend time finding out where God is calling me to a specific focus. On Monday… Tomorrow…Friends, today is the Lord’s day. Let us rejoice and be glad in it, and let us go at once and preach the Gospel, in the fullest of senses, to our Macedonias where God is calling us today and visualize our blessed neighbors.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Love Never Fails - A Sermon

Audio version of this sermon is available here.

With this sermon we finish our 7 week series “Great Relationships”, which has been based on Paul’s “love chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13. We’ve focused in on verses 4-7 thus far and we finish today with verse 8 which says “Love never fails.” This final phrase, “Love never fails”, doesn’t stand alone and really is the part that reconnects this section, verses 4-7 with the entirety of chapter 13. While in the past 6 sermons we’ve gone really specific, focusing on a couple of words for each sermon like Love is Kind, this final sermon requires us to take a bird’s eye view of the entire chapter. Paul begins building in the first section with the last verse of chapter 12 and the first three verses in chapter 13 teaching us that everything we think is important is nothing without divine love, this is bookended in the final verses 8-13 which teaches us again that everything we think is important has an end but divine love is eternal, it transcends the temporary. The central section, verses 4-7 which we’ve been teaching on in this series on Great Relationships, is the peak of the chapter that describes how this divine love expresses itself. All of these sections work together as whole to teach us about a love that transcends everything else.

And now I will show you the most excellent way. 1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

So let’s begin with the first section, verses 1-3 which basically begins like this: Everything we think is important is nothing without divine love. Paul starts this passage in an effort to counteract the excessive emphasis the Corinthians were evidently placing on various gifts and abilities that individuals were demonstrating. Paul gives us 3 categories and each category has both a natural action, something earthly, and a supernatural action, something heavenly, but regardless of whether it’s a natural ability or a supernatural ability, all of it is nothing without divine love. Paul’s overriding theme here is the primacy and importance of this divine love.

The first category has to do with speech. Paul writes “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  The word tongues here is the word for languages. Whether it is natural speaking or supernatural speaking, whether it is the languages of men, or the heavenly language of angels, the essential element of importance is divine love. You could be the most gifted speaker in all the world, you could move people to tears with your words, yet if these abilities and gifts, even if they have good consequences, don’t come from a foundation of divine love within you then you might as well be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. The ability to speak is an incredible power, the book of James (chapter 3) describes the tongue as a “fire”. I’m sure you can think of inspirational speeches and words that have changed your life, that have changed the course of history even. There are some examples from the movies below.

Now even if you combine all of these inspirational speeches and yet you don’t have the divine love that Paul is teaching about here, abiding and residing within you, then all of it might as well sound like the teacher from Charlie Brown.

The second category has to do with knowledge. Paul writes about natural knowledge and also about supernatural knowledge. Think about the amazing things that we as a people have been able to accomplish through our accumulation and application of natural knowledge, knowledge available to us as we study and learn from the world. Our community here on the space coast has seen on numerous occasions the amazing feats of technology, especially through the shuttle launches. I’m still amazed to this day, that our daughter received a heart transplant at 8 mo. old and the progress in knowledge and technology that has been achieved to be able to do such things. Think about the power of the nuclear bomb which was created by extremely knowledgeable men. Paul says if you have all knowledge, imagine coming to a place where you knew everything, I know some people that think they know everything, but even if you actually knew everything, if that omniscient knowledge isn’t grounded and used according to divine love you are nothing. You could have every degree on the wall and it would mean nothing. The same is true for supernatural knowledge as well, if you have prophetic powers, the ability to pierce all mysteries, to have an answer for every theological question, yet you have not this divine love, you are nothing.

The final category has to do with actions, again whether they are natural actions or supernatural actions, without divine love you gain nothing. You could, as Paul writes, give away every single material possession you own. You could be so committed to a cause that you give up yourself to be burned as a martyr. You could even have a faith that allows you to perform miracles, instantaneously healing someone, and yet if at the core, at the center of our being if there doesn’t abide and reside this divine love then you gain nothing. Let me say it again, you could donate everything you own to the church, you could go to another country and be burned for proclaiming Jesus, you could even go town to town performing miracles in the name of God, and still gain nothing.

It’s not about what you say, even if you spoke with in the language of the angels. It’s not about what you know intellectually, even if you’re a prophet who understands the very depths of the mystery of God. It’s  not about what you do, even if you die for the gospel, it’s about this divine love, that’s been given to us freely, by grace, that is taken in and becomes a part of you. I keep saying the word divine love rather than just love, because this is a love that comes from God, from the divine and when you experience it, when you open yourself up to receive it through repentance, turning away from whatever you think the end all be all is, and through faith, turning towards the one true source of all goodness and all divine love, you experience a love that transcends romantic love, that transcends the love of family, that transcend the love of friendship, that transcends all the boxes we have to describe love. The word used in the New Testament is agape. It was a Greek word that wasn’t in common use before the New Testament, and the Christians took it up and made it their characteristic word for this divine love. It is a new word for a new idea. When this new love, this divine love, agape, is received, it begins as a spark within you that grows into a flame and it is the bond between us and God, and between us and each other as fellow believers  

Agape is the foundation, the essential element of the secret sauce for Great Relationships. This agape, can’t help but be expressed, and if you look at verses 4-7, you see how this divine love expresses itself through being patient, being kind, by not envying or being boastful, and so on. If agape, divine love, is the tree, then verses 4-7 are the fruit. We won’t go into those verses today, you can go back online and listen to the last 6 sermons as we fleshed out each of these manifestations of this divine love, and how they contribute to Great Relationships.

Today, we press on to the final section, verses 8-13, which comes back to describing agape, the divine love directly. Just as verses 1-3 taught us that everything we think is important is nothing without divine love, so verses 8-13 bookend the chapter by teaching again that everything we think is important ends, but divine love is different, is eternal. Verse 8 says that love never fails. More literally, it translates that divine love will never fall, or collapse, or suffer ruin and when we look at the following verses we clearly see in contrast that the point here is that divine love is eternal, it never ends. Paul writes that these other things, like prophecies, tongues, and knowledge, will cease and pass away.

Now, whenever we try to grasp the divine, the infinite, it’s difficult to say the least, so Paul gives us two metaphors to help us grasp what he’s talking about. The first metaphor is that of maturity and childhood. He points out there is clearly a difference between the way in which children speak, think and behave and the way in which adults speak, think and behave. This may not make sense to some of you who haven’t had kids yet, but I can clearly attest that children reason differently than adults. In fact when I was a high school teacher, I was quiet fond of telling the teenage students that scientifically their brains hadn’t even finished completely developing so whatever conclusions they came to too actually couldn’t be trusted because how can you trust a brain that’s not finished yet?  Anyway, I learned this lesson about little children, before I we had Sophia, when I was riding in the car with a 3 year old named Reid. We had just gone to a church service with this family and they had two cars. Reid’s dad took the first car and went ahead of us to go home. Reid’s mom took the second car with my wife Benita and I and Reid. About halfway to the house, which this was like a 5 min drive by the way, Reid starts screaming his head off that he wants to ride with his dad. I tried reasoning with him. I thought, I’ll fix this. “Reid, what can we do? Do you want us to pull over and wait for your dad? He left before us so he’ll get home before us. The fastest way to get to your dad is to keep going home!” How do you think he responded? He wanted us to pull over and wait for his dad, even though his dad had left before us! His unreasonableness stumped me and I let Benita and Reid’s mom take over. When we as humans think about this divine love, and really whenever we try to grasp God, we have to recognize that we are currently in a time of childishness. We haven’t reached perfection yet, and so all our abilities, speech, knowledge and actions, which may seem great at this time, are nothing compared to this divine love, this love of a completely different order. You might be the best block stacker in pre-school, but you can’t ride that train your whole life. The expression and receiving of divine love, however, lasts through every age and into eternity.

The second metaphor that Paul uses is that of a mirror. The city of Corinth was actually famous for its mirrors, but two things to note. One, during this time the mirrors were polished metal mirrors, with not the same quality of reflection that you and I enjoy today. Second, few Christians would be able to afford even a good quality metal mirror. So when you look into a poor quality, polished copper mirror, how good is the image quality? You can see somewhat dimly what you look like, but it’s nothing compared to seeing someone face to face. For fun, we’ve put in the lobby a camera and television that distorts your face a little to help emphasize this metaphor. We live right now in a time that our vision is not perfect. Again, many of the things we value, like speeches, knowledge, and actions, are only temporary when compared to the High Definition reality of divine love.
These are the metaphors that Paul uses, but one that’s become more popular recently is that of multiple dimensions. In our study of quantum physics and the states of particles like electrons, scientists have begun to dabble with the idea of the existence of different dimensions, different realities, outside our own reality. I ran across an article this week about a neurosurgeon, Dr. Eben Alexander , who believes that he had a near death experience in which he got a glimpse of this other dimension. Previously to this experience he thought, like many materialist, that all there was is this world, this reality, this time so to speak. This is what he said:

“There is no scientific explanation for the fact that while my body lay in coma, my mind—my conscious, inner self—was alive and well. While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the bacteria that had attacked them, my brain-free consciousness journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe: a dimension I’d never dreamed existed and which the old, pre-coma me would have been more than happy to explain was a simple impossibility”

“It was very clear that love was a huge part of the constituent of that whole multiverse.” And that a being “looked at me … It was not a romantic look. It was not a look of friendship. It was a look that was somehow beyond all these, beyond all the different compartments of love we have down here on earth. It was something higher, holding all those other kinds of love within itself while at the same time being much bigger than all of them.”

Paul ends this chapter by writing “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” This divine love is everything, is eternal, is a taste of another reality that awaits us. Everything in this time that we think is important is nothing without divine love. Everything we think is important will come to an end but divine love is eternal.  This divine love is the greatest even of hope and faith because love unites us personally in relationship to God and through God’s love we are enabled to love one another in great relationships, other worldly relationships. This divine love is divine, it’s not easily grasped, so we conclude reading another section of scripture that helps spell it out for us. 1 John 4:7-16 says:

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Missional Community

Recently in the history of our nation, we've seen a dramatic shift in how the culture relates to the Christian faith. In the past, the culture of the United States was dominantly a Christian culture. As a result, almost everyone went to some kind of church and churches were the centers of activity and communities. Today, the cultural climate is constantly changing and it is no longer the case that the church is the center of community. Instead various subcultures or groups of people have developed community in other ways, sometimes around particular geographic areas, like a neighborhood, but also around shared interests and activities, like surfing for example. We are increasingly living in a nation that resembles the wide range and mix of philosophies, beliefs, and lifestyles that Paul encountered in the Roman Empire in the book of Acts. This transition in culture is resulting in a need for us, as the Church, to transition our strategies for fulfilling the Mission of the Church to seek and save the lost and in seeing the kingdom of God come to every people group.

We are increasingly finding that larger and larger portions of the population see the institutional church as just one more subculture or community of people.  The same way missionaries wouldn't expect a group of people in India to sing in English, and follow the format of American churches, so also our hope, in this rapidly changing climate, is to adopt a model that is missionary in nature, that takes the gospel to different cultures and groups of people finding a diversity and variety of gospel expression rather than trying to force these different communities into a particular expression of "church".

Rather than sending individuals out on their own to try and accomplish this kingdom growth, we believe that we are called as a body, as Missional Communities, to work together each with their own gift, to reach a particular group of people that God has placed on our hearts. The basic structure of a Missional Community, should look similar to how the church functions, because these groups are the church, the body of Christ, in the world.

These missional communities are Families of God, Learners of our Lord Jesus, and Servants in the world. They each in and of themselves are an expression of God's Church on mission to seek and save the lost, they are families of servant learners.

They are families that love one another because Jesus said "By this everyone will know that your are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35) The Missional Communities are family and practice eating together, fellowship, loving, and caring for one another.

They are learners that teach each other, disciple each other, in order that we are prepared as missionaries to "give a reason for the hope within us" (1 Peter 3:15). The Missional Communites, as learners, listen to their people group, and discover a way of telling the story of God as a gospel proclamation in a way that particular group of people can understand.

They are servants to their chosen groups of people because our Lord Jesus "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). The Missional Communities listen, alter their lifestyle patterns, and find ways to serve their particular groups of people as a demonstration of the gospel.

The first step in forming a Missional Community, is much like that in sending a long term mission team. A body of believers, a core group, must understand the vision and devote some time and effort to this endeavor. On Saturday, October 20th, from 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM (You didn't miss it! The video of this teaching is available here!), I will host a 2 hour seminar to dive deeper into what a Missional Community is, answer questions, and hopefully gather together those whom God has called to go, who want to respond to Jesus when he says "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you" (John 20:21). If you have any questions, email me at sweems@trinitypres.net, write Missional Community on your Communication Card at one of our services, or comment below.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Kind of Kindness that Changes People: A Sermon - 1 Corinthians 13:4

The audio version of this sermon is available here.

Many years ago, back in 1992, I was a student at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Jackson, Mississippi. I was in 6th grade and we, like many schools, had a break in between the first classes of the morning. During the break I usually went to the cafeteria area where there were vending machines and I would usually buy a 3 Musketeers. That’s my favorite candy bar, by the way, for those of you who are taking notes on today’s sermon about kindness. Anyway, I was in line to get my 3-musketeer bar and there was girl in front of me who was having difficulty to deciding what she wanted. So what do you think this younger version of pastor Samuel did when confronted with this inconvenient moment? Well apparently, I said “Hurry the *beep* up!” The girl was so frazzled that she ended up not buying anything, left the line, and I, completely oblivious to the effect I had on her, happily stepped up and bought my 3 Musketeers bar. (I’m probably not going to get anyone to ever give me one of those after that story.) 

The embarrassment of my middle school career doesn't stop there my friends, oh no. You see, I don’t even remember this incident at all. I don’t remember saying those words to that girl or the events of that day, but the reason I know this story is because that girl remembered and 6 years later she told me about it on the night before graduation. She told me how I was so cruel and unkind to her, how that was her first day at school, and how after she left the line she went and cried. She remembered that moment for 6 years and carried it with her. It was a moment of unkindness and cruelty which I sorely regret and is unimaginable to me that I would behave that way regardless of age and circumstances. I was completely unkind, focused on myself and my 3 Musketeers bar.

Today we continue our series on relationships, great relationships. Relationships and our capacity for them are perhaps the most important attributes that we share with God as His children created in His image. Relationship is an essential element of who we believe God to be. God is a triune God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We, created in His image, are created to be in relationship with each other, with God, and love through the power of the Holy Spirit, is the tie that binds all these relationships into solid bonds. We, created in the image of God, as God’s representatives on earth, have a tremendous power and responsibility in relationship. We have the ability to affect others deeply and we can do so to great harm or to great benefit. By a mere 4 words, my 6th grade self, impacted that girl so much that she was affected in a significant enough way to remember that event for at least 6 years. The reverse is also true, and today we talk about the call we have on our lives as followers of one who demonstrated an unimaginable kindness and compassion, who saved our lives, and who calls us to walk in light of that with love and kindness in our relationships. 

Last week pastor Michael talked about patience, that 1 Corinthians 13:4 begins with “Love is patient.” In the King James Version, the passage says “Charity” or “[Love] suffereth long.” Last week we began with the passive, the receiving aspect of love. Love suffers and endures and this week we look at the other side of the coin, so to speak, in the next half of that verse which says that Love is Kind. Today, we look at the active side, the side of love that propels itself outwards to see positive change in our relationships with others so that we don’t merely have meager relationships, but great relationships.
Now the word “kind” appears throughout the Bible in many ways, in many fashions and in many uses. It comes from the Greek word, Chrestos, not to be confused with Christos which is Greek for Christ. The word can translate as kind, loving, merciful, upright, easy to bear. It can mean good, in a moral sense, like that’s a good man, that’s a kind man, who takes care of the homeless, but it can also mean good in a quality sense, like that’s a good wave, that’s a kind wave that behaves as waves ought to behave. We’ll be examining a variety of Scripture this morning as we listen to what it means to be kind and the kind of kindness that comes out of us to others to build them up towards being the people they were meant to be, the people God intends for them to be, people that are a part of his kingdom, a kingdom of love and kindness.

So first, we’ll examine the use of this word, kind, as a verb as it is used in 1 Corinthians 13. I know when we read the English here it looks like nouns. Love is patient, love is kind, but in the Greek, in the original language, the author Paul actually is using 15 different verbs to describe love. That should convey something to us about love. Love, the binding force in relationships, in this context is not primarily a feeling, but an action. Love is kind, love is being kind. You’ve heard the phrase “kill them with kindness before” right? Well we’re going to take a little different slant and instead, as we explore the verb, the active part of kindness, we’re going say kill yourself with kindness for others. I know that’s strong language, but God is a strong God and He has strong things to say about kindness. The kind of kindness described in the bible is one that requires us to pour ourselves out completely for others until there’s nothing left. The kind of kindness that actually changes people, that produces great relationships, has to be something different than what the world offers. The kindness that the bible talks about is radical kindness, it’s self-sacrificial kindness, it’s a kindness that when people receive it, it doesn’t make it sense them. It’s the kind of kindness in which people experience a taste of the divine, of something not of this world and we, as instruments of God, give up our lives to Him to accomplish such things for the sake of others. I say it again, the acts of kindness that we’re called to by our God, are not simple things like letting someone in front of you in bad traffic, or a smile to someone as they walk down the street. These are nice things, but they aren’t the kind of kindness that we’ve received from our God in our own lives and that we’re called to actively to seek out and to do unto others. Follow along in the bulletin or on the screen in Luke chapter 6 with me, verses 27-36 as I read the words of our Lord and master. Jesus says:

27 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

These are the words of our Lord and master for those who follow Jesus. We love others, we love our enemies, in a way that is beyond what the world does, beyond what “sinners” do for each other. We live, as Christ followers, as God lovers, in ways that are beyond normal experience. In ways that people say, what was that? What just happened? What did I just experience? And we stand ready to say “You just had a taste, the smallest glimpse, of the kind of kindness and love that I have received through Jesus restoring my relationship to God.” Live your life in a way that demands a gospel explanation.

I had considered having a video clip to illustrate this point from the movie Gran Torino, but after watching I realized that Clint Eastwood said so many curse words in the final scene that our poor audio tech would have been editing it for hours and I don’t know that the little dialogue left would make sense, and then I pictured the kids in 9:00 service crying when they saw it, and decided it’s probably just better to describe it. So in this movie Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood is a grumpy old man, he plays the part really well, and he’s a widower in addition to being a Korean war veteran who is pretty racist, and as fate would have it, his neighborhood has shifted demographics to become predominantly Asian. In the process of the movie he becomes friends with his next door neighbors and ends up trying to help that community escape the influence of a gang that is terrorizing the neighborhood and trying to get his neighbor to give up hope of a future and join the gang. At the end of the movie, Clint goes to the house where all the gang members live. Everyone comes out of their house to see what’s happening, and Clint Eastwood pretends to reach for a gun and the gang members all shoot him down. Since there are so many witnesses they get arrested and Clint’s shocking act of self-sacrifice literally saves the neighborhood and the future of his next door neighbors. On youtube where a clip of the ending is posted someone wrote the following:

“I will never forget the feeling I had in this movie theater..I watched just about every clint eastwood movie with my dad. He always tore apart those bad guys like it was nothing...This ending was so shocking for every single person that saw it. It was incredible.”

It’s this kind of kindness that we, as followers of one who laid his life down for us are called to. It’s this kind of kindness that is incredible, that is shocking for every single person that experiences it.

Now I could end the sermon here, and in doing so I would have done us all a great disservice, by proclaiming this incredibly high standard of kindness, this God standard of kindness, and saying, now you go and do without us understanding the noun version of kindness, the inner being of kindness from which the actions, the doing flows, the source of the power for such radical love, for such amazing kindness. The noun version of this word, kind, appears all over scripture as well and when it does, it’s a state of being. I’m sure you’ve heard this verse (5) from Psalm 100 before:

“For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

The word good there, is the same word in the Greek translation of the Old Testament  for kind: “For the Lord is kind and his love endures forever.” It’s who God is, it’s an attribute of God. God is kind.  It’s a part of His being. Here’s another fun one, in Luke 5:39:

“And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better.'"

In this case the word “better” is actually, again the same word for kind. “And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is kind.’” Again, the nature of the wine is good, it’s kind. Its flavor, its effects on the palate all come from what it essentially is, from its being. The wine is kind, and so its kindness, its goodness, flows out of it. The Lord is kind, is good, and His actions of goodness and kindness flow out of that being. The problem we have in doing acts of kindness, and especially in doing the kind of kindness that we’ve been talking about, the divine kindness that gives people a taste of the kingdom of God, is that deep inside, by our natures, we aren’t divine, and we aren’t kind, and good people. We are all born navel gazers. I think most of you have seen those pictures of babies in the womb, and they are literally curled up on themselves. Well this is a good metaphor for how we’re born spiritually speaking. We’re born spiritually broken, separated from the divine, bent inward and focused on ourselves and on top of that we're born into a fallen and broken world. That’s who we are so that it’s actually contrary to ourselves, our state of being, to turn outward and focus on others. We, and many man made religions, often make the mistake of thinking that the solution to changing our brokenness is to try and do good, to do kindness and in working hard and doing whatever list of rules we’ve adopted that our being will be changed, when quite the opposite is true. We are healed by God, made whole by Him. Our spiritual brokenness is healed by Him through Jesus, by his wounds we are healed, and our very being is changed. We are reshaped from being curled in on ourselves and being selfish to being focused on others and being kind. It is an external source of amazing kindness as we experience God that changes us from the inside out, that recreates us and then from our new being flows acts of true kindness, and not only that, but divine kindness that has the power to change others, because our Spirit has been replaced with a divine Spirit, the Spirit of God.

The same principle applies in our relationships with others. The way that you turn people from being selfish to being kind is not by creating a list of external rules and tell them do these things, to change themselves, and then they will be kind. It’s to be kind and loving to them in such a way that they experience God and in doing so are changed from the inside out by God’s kindness through you. Then, as they are changed to being kind by this external source, they will not be able to help but be kind in their own relationships.

Look with me Titus 3:4-7:

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Yes, we are called to pour ourselves out radically, but the reason we can do this is not through force of will, but because within those of us who have been recreated in Christ Jesus is an ever- and overflowing fountain, the Spirit of God, that constantly refills us, that has been poured out on us generously and overflows into our relationships. Also, we as heirs of God, having the hope of eternal life, fear nothing, not even death because it has no power over those of us who are in the one who conquered death. It’s in Jesus, and through the abundance of His Spirit, that we receive the power to show the kind of kindness that is of God and of His kingdom.

When we read 1 Corinthians 13, it’s clear that love is being personified. Try it out, put a person’s name in there and you’ll see it reads very well. Try out your name. “Samuel is patient, Samuel is kind. Samuel does not envy, Samuel does not boast, Samuel is not proud. Samuel is not rude, Samuel is not self-seeking, Samuel is not easily angered, Samuel keeps no record of wrongs. Samuel does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Samuel always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Samuel never fails.” Now, unless you’re incredibly delusional, you realize that your name isn’t the name that goes here. It’s the name of Jesus, the King of kindness, that does go here: “Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, Jesus does not boast, Jesus is not proud. Jesus is not rude, Jesus is not self-seeking, Jesus is not easily angered, Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.” Something amazing, something divine, something mysterious, happens when we come to our senses and recognize that it’s not in trying to fulfill 1 Corinthians 13 that we are saved, that our relationships become Great Relationships, it’s in giving up and putting Jesus there as our hope and trust that results in us being transformed as we receive His Spirit.

I’m a very different person than I was in 6th grade when I was so unkind to that girl, I’m sure just about everyone in this room (save any actual 6th graders) are very different from who they were in 6th grade. I can tell you, though, in all certainty and clarity, that sometime about 8 years ago, God reached down and pulled me out of a pit. He ripped out my heart, my spirit of selfishness, and put in a new spirit within me that started as a mustard seed of faith, and has continued to grow and express itself in new ways of kindness. Indeed God has done and continues to do a marvelous work in me and in you as His people. The more we surrender to that new Spirit within us, and die to our old selves, killing ourselves with kindness, the more we experience the kinds of relationships, Great Relationships, with God and with others that God intended in creating us in the beginning and restored in recreating us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Find your Rhythm of Real Rest - A Sermon

Real Rest – Ceasing and Resting – Find Your Rhythm of Rest
Hebrews 4:8-11

Listen to this sermon online here.

Today we continue our series on Sabbath…Finding Rest in 24/7-ness and as pastor Michael mentioned last Sunday, today I’ll be focusing on ceasing and resting. I have been really excited about this sermon series. Last Sunday, my wife pastor Benita was worship leader and because it seems like with the start of school there was a lot of sick kid stuff going around, I was able to really focus on Sabbath resting last Sunday, some of which I’ll share with you throughout the sermon. But really, last Sunday wasn’t were the research on rest began, in fact I think I’ve spent a good portion of my life on research for this sermon on ceasing and resting. For your sake, I’ve deeply explored sleeping. There have been times in my life where I’ve slept over 9-10 hours a night during the week and then over 12 hours a night on the weekend. Once in college I did an experiment a couple of weekends in a row to see exactly how long I could possibly sleep and discovered “second sleep”, for those of you novices in rest this is when you should wake up but instead you use the bathroom, put on an eye mask, maybe even quickly eat a breakfast bar, and then return to sleep. I’ve looked for rest in video games, playing until the wee hours of the morning until my eyes were bloodshot. I’ve looked for rest in various recreational substances, for rest in extensive reading, burning through thousand page books in a couple of days. 

I’ve carried this desire of rest over into my Christian life with meditation, quiet times, and I was really excited reading the Marva Dawn book,  Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: ceasing, resting, embracing, feasting,  that pastor Michael mentioned last week when she wrote that early Christians often celebrated both a day of physical rest or Sabbath on Saturday and then had a more worship, Christ centered day on the Lord’s day because I’ve tinkered with that. In fact that’s a good division how today we’ll be focusing on physical aspects of Sabbath and then the deeper more spiritual aspects and so let’s look together at our Scripture for today which is Hebrews 4:8-11.

 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.

Now we’ve jumped right into the middle of it, so if you want to dig deeper, I encourage you to either look back on your notes from the Hebrews class you took with me a year ago, or read the whole section Hebrews 3:7-4:13. This part of Hebrews gives us a key understanding into the reality of Sabbath and the deeper dimensions of the Sabbath that are revealed through Jesus Christ. So real quick to catch everyone up to speed, there are what biblical scholars call shadows in the Old Testament. We saw this verse briefly last Sunday and it’s printed in your bulletin again, Colossians 2:17:

These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
A shadow, as we all know, is the image or the shade that is cast by an object from a light source. The shadow has characteristics like size, shape, contours, and maybe even movement. We can’t go to the beach like normal families because our daughter Sophia is so enamored with her shadow and how it moves like she does, that she’ll run after it down the beach and cries when we walk in a way that she can’t see her shadow. If you see a shadow you can often get a good idea of what the real item is that’s casting the shadow, but clearly the shadow is inferior to the real deal and you only gain the depth and real character of something when you look at it directly. So in the Old Testament, we have shadows, but rather than being in space, like at the beach, they are in time, so that you have events and moments in Old Testament history that are shadows or foretastes of deeper realities. Typically the Old Testament shadows tend to focus on the material and physical, while the New Testament realities are more focused on the spiritual and the unseen coming to light. For example, in the Old Testament during the Exodus, the last plague is the death of the firstborn sons of Egypt, but the houses of the Hebrews are passed over, hence the name Passover, because why? Because the blood of the lamb is put on the door and those houses are passed over. Well this is a shadow of a more full reality, which is that Jesus Christ, the firstborn of God, the lamb of God, dies in our place and by his blood we are forgiven escaping not just a physical death, but receiving eternal life. The Old Testament people pass through the Red Sea and become a new people no longer in physical slavery and this is a shadow of a deeper reality in the New Testament where we pass through the waters of baptism and experience a new life free of slavery to sin. So in our passage today, what the author of Hebrews points out is that, Joshua, who led the people into the promised land, into the land of milk and honey, into a place of physical prosperity and rest, was but a shadow of the real rest, the Sabbath-rest that remains for God’s people. Real rest, isn’t just a physical rest, it’s a spiritual rest. The same way the people followed Joshua, Jeshua, into the physical promised land, we follow Jesus, Jeshua, into a deeper spiritual reality, which is full fellowship with God. Now we don’t experience all of that now, we’ll have full eternal fellowship with God when Jesus comes to take us home, but we do have a foretaste of that now, namely in Sabbath. You see our Sabbath days ultimately are glimpses of heaven. They are moments where we throw away our watches, and practice being rather than doing, and join God in rest, in peace, in Shalom. Now this is clearly the heart of Sabbath and once we understand that our real rest is in experiencing God we have a great aid in how to celebrate the Sabbath. Now there is still a connection between the physical and the spiritual. The physical aspect of rest isn’t annihlitated in the New Testament. We are organic beings of both spirit and body, they are connected. We recognize this all the time especially in the sacraments where we preform physical activities like baptism and the Lord’s supper, that have a deeper spiritual connection. So while there is an emphasis on the spiritual, we have to realize that often times we can’t find a spiritual rest without being rested physically, and we certainly can’t find a physical rest, a real rest,  if we aren’t being rested spiritually and that ultimately we are both physical and spiritual beings. So today, we’ll look at both aspects, ceasing from physical activity and resting more deeply spiritually in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So let’s first focuses on the more physical aspect of Sabbath in the area of ceasing. That’s literally, by the way what the Hebrew word “Shabbat” means, to cease or desist. So there are a lot of the things that we can cease from and we could spend this entire day together going through example of ceasing. There’s no way we’ll cover everything so please email me questions at sweems@trinitypres.net if you can’t come to an answer to your question about the Sabbath after understanding the heart of the Sabbath. I don’t think that holding you in here that long would be a good example of real rest, so I’ve summarized ceasing into three categories. The first is cease physically. We are physically designed, whether you admit or not, to need rest. We, like so much of creation, are designed with rhythms of rest. We’re all aware of the circadian rhythm that much of creation, including us, run in roughly 24 hour cycles, but there is also a deeper, not as apparent physical rhythm based on creation of  6 days of work and 1 day of rest. You might not be as aware of it as the day night cycle, but this pattern of 6 and 1, is ingrained into creation and into our very being and when you hit that rhythm of rest, I can tell you that you will notice it. It’s like when clapping along with the songs. I’m always challenged by this and when I’m not in rhythm with the clapping, I can’t fully engage in worship. Often times I’m even distracting people next to me because my rhythm is off, but on some rare occasions I am nailing the rhythm and I’m in such conjuction with the song that an experience is taking place. We are designed to be in a physical rhythm of rest. When we are out of that rhythm we experience it in physical ways, like stress and anxiety, and when we are in rhythm, things fall into place, we function physically as we were designed to function and there’s great peace and rest in that. Now, I have two asides. First, it has been my experience that many aspects of technology like video games and movies, don’t actually give us rest. That the bombardment of emotions and stimulation actually leaves us more drained than rested. As a second aside, this physical rest might be different for different people. You may be a marathon runner who has a strict work-out regiment that you follow during the week, then Sabbath should be a physical rest from that. You may, however, live, like me, a very sedentary lifestyle where you don’t get to exercise much then for you might find more physical rest in actually getting some exercise, going on a walk, playing some tennis, or taking a swim as long as the heart focus is physical rest, a ceasing or pause from the regular routine and not an effort to gain muscles, status through a competitive spirit, etc..

            The Sabbath isn’t a day for personal gain or production. It is a ceasing from producing.  Foundationally, Sabbath is a great reminder that we enter into God’s presence not by producing, or by our works but by resting on the work of our Savior, but physically speaking when we enter into the physical rest rhythm of 6-1, we actually find  that we produce more when we rest.  Marva Dawn, in her book retells a story of a “wagon train on its way from St. Louis to Oregon. Its members were devout Christians, so the whole group observed the habit of stopping for the Sabbath day. Winter was approaching quickly, however, and some among the group began to panic in fear that they wouldn’t reach their destination before the heavy snows. Consequently, several members proposed to the rest of the group that they should quit their practice of stopping for the Sabbath and continue driving onward seven days a week. This proposal triggered a lot of contention in the community, so finally it was suggested that the wagon train should split into two groups—those who wanted to observe the Sabbath and those who preferred to travel on that day. The proposal was accepted, and both groups set out and traveled together until the next Sabbath day, when one group continued while the other remained at rest. Guess which group got to Oregon first. You’re right. The ones who kept the Sabbath reached their destination first. Both the people and the horses were so rested by their Sabbath observance that they could travel much more vigorously and effectively the other six days of the week.” This has been true for me. I’ve found that when I don’t have a Sabbath coming, I try to grab rest wherever I can and end up being lazy, but when I know a full day of Sabbath is on the way, I can work harder knowing that rest is on it’s way!

Finally as we rest physically, as we cease, in order to find real rest we have to cease planning. Have you ever laid down to go to sleep at night, but then found that you cannot get any rest because your mind won’t rest as you go through lists, plans, and all the things you need to get done? Neither can we really have a physical, emotional, and mental rest on our Sabbath, which we desperately need and are designed for, if we don’t cease planning. Now I hope you understand the heart of what’s being conveyed here and don’t garner a legalistic, strict idea of what I’m saying about the Sabbath. Last Sunday I didn’t plan well, and we didn’t have anything for dinner. I went to the grocery store to pick up some dinner, I really like to grill and find refreshment in that, so I picked up something to grill. Now ideally I would have planned this out. But also, we shouldn’t feel so constricted and bound that we can’t make a mistake or not be able to get some food! These points about physical rest are meant to help you find rest, not to provide more worry and unrest. If Sabbath feels like a chore and not a joy of rest, you might need to reexamine how you are Sabbathing. I did run into a few church members, one of whom said “It’s ok to shop right!?” I replied “I guess, it depends on your heart motivation.” Ideally the Sabbath is not a day that we get stuff done for the next week, where we buy all our groceries, where we check things off the list that didn’t fit into our week. It’s not a spillover day. It is a day of rest from that mentality, a ceasing of our planning, our worry, and our anxiety so that physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually we can find rest.
This brings us to the deeper reality of Sabbath. We not only find a physical rest through our ceasing, but we also, more deeply, get a real rest spiritually by finding our rest in God. First we rest with the Father. Our Father in heaven desires that we be in fellowship with him, and this is ultimately what our Sabbath rests are a foretaste of. This is why, the primary activity of Sabbath, is worship. As we spoke about a few weeks ago, worship is a joyful expression, and it is a foretaste of what being in God’s presence is all about. When we experience God, we respond joyfully and with thanks. When we leave worship, we should feel revived and have a deeper spiritual refreshment from being in God’s presence. This is intimately connected with how our Sabbath rest is a foretaste of entering that heavenly rest with God the Father. When you get a moment look at Psalm 92:1-5,a song for the Sabbath day, and notice the connection to joy and worship.

A psalm. A song. For the Sabbath day. It is good to praise the LORD and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night, to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp. For you make me glad by your deeds, O LORD; I sing for joy at the works of your hands. How great are your works, O LORD, how profound your thoughts!

We find real spiritual rest in our heavenly Father’s presence, through prayer, through worship, through reading his Word, through hearing the proclamation of His word in sermons as we are “transformed by the renewing of [our] minds” (Romans 12:2).

Secondly, we find real spiritual rest with the Spirit of God. We find real spiritual refreshment when find we find this connection with the Spirit in times of aloneness, in silent spaces and times of reflection and meditation. By the way, as an aside, connecting with creation, mountains, rivers, the ocean, are traditionally a source of spiritual refreshment, which makes sense due to the close tie between Sabbath and Creation. But we find spiritual rest with the Spirit of God, not only when we are alone, but also when we connect with God’s Spirit in others, not just our blood family, but the family of God. I almost universally always feel exhausted when I need to go to a small group or a life group and rebel against it, but also I universally always feel refreshed after interacting with my brothers and sisters in Christ as the Spirit of God interacts within each of us.

Finally, we find real spiritual rest with the Son of God.  When we serve as he served, when we feed the hungry, when we heal the broken, when we encounter Jesus Christ out in the world, we experience a depth of spiritual rest, that can be found in no other way. Jesus Christ is, after all, the way to true spiritual rest.  He says in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…you will find rest for your souls.”  As our passage for today says “if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.”  We enter that ultimate rest, that final rest, by and through Jesus Christ, thus Christians traditionally celebrate Sabbath today, on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. It is through Him, through Jeshua, that we are brought into the promised land, full rest and fellowship with God. When we Sabbath, we find not only our physical rhythm of rest that we were designed for but also a deeper  foretaste of the spiritual rest that comes only through Jesus Christ our Lord.