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Photo caption: Jeanine Hurst and Danielle Bergquist were part of SUMC's group attending the Boomtown Fireworks demo night June 15th in Seabeck.
Find excuses to talk to people. People generally love that you are interested in their lives, and it presents an opportunity for them to hear about your life...and Jesus. Luke tells us about Philip, one of the defacto apostles who probably didn't know he was going to be a church planter, but ended up doing it anyway in Samaria. Philip started out working in the New Church Jerusalem's food bank. But when persecution arose, he and a lot of other Christians got out of town. After Philip plants a church in the most hated district of the region, God takes him out to a highway. A financial officer from Ethiopia comes riding along in a large chariot:
Acts 8:29-30 29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, "Go over and walk along beside the carriage." 30 Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah; so he asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?"
Do you see what Philip does? He is obedient to the Holy Spirit and quickly finds an excuse to start talking with the Ethiopian. Philip leverages his knowledge of the scriptures to start talking with the man and tell him about Jesus. Philip is then invited to travel with the man, and before the day is over, the Ethiopian becomes a Christian and is baptized.
Next week, we are providing plenty of excuses for you to talk with people. Come help us sell fireworks June 28 through July 4th. Contact Rick Lee (360-509-9195) or Gloria Lee (360-509-9105) to get signed up for your shift. Each hour you work will provide not only funding for missions here in Silverdale and abroad, but you will have brief windows of time to connect with community members and even talk about Jesus.
My Sophomore year of college, I was in my dorm room one night, headphones on, writing in my journal. It was fall. And suddenly, I wanted M&Ms. I got out of chair, grabbed my wallet, left my room, walked downstairs and made a beeline across campus, and then off campus to the Rose Street Safeway store where I bought a pound of Peanut M&Ms, walked back, put my headphones back on, and then proceeded to open the bag. I threw one into my mouth, then set the bag aside. Five minutes passed. I took another. Three minutes passed. And another. Over the next two hours, over half the bag was gone. I knew that even M&Ms with peanuts in them weren't good for me in large quantities. I didn't finish the bag that night, but it took everything in me to make the bag last the week. I felt out of control.
The Holy Spirit comes into our lives and helps us give control to God. I say “give,” because God never fully runs us around like a remote control car. There is always an element of cooperation when we are behaving the way God desires (even for resisting one of the greatest candies ever invented), but for people to act truly good, we need God's power to do it. Christians for centuries have given this the name “sanctification.” The idea is this: something that is made holy—set apart for God's use—is becoming sanctified, just like a room set part for God's use is called a “sanctuary.” But God is far less concerned about how a room is respected than he is how we as his people behave. Godly people, not buildings, are what God truly desires. And he does that by giving us the Holy Spirit.
In his sermon, “Justification by Faith,” John Wesley, starts with a statement by Paul early on in Romans:
Romans 4:5 5 But people are declared righteous because of their faith, not because of their work.
All people are intrinsically flawed and estranged from God, requiring each of us to receive forgiveness through the cross of Jesus. New Living Translation says “declared righteous,” but the King James Version reads “justified.” This is all about God forgiving our sins and no longer holding them against us, or “justification.” But God does much more than simply forgiving us: he moves in. We are not forgiven, and then told to stand in the corner so we don't mess up the world with the rest of our lives or heaven in the one to come; we are made part of God's family. We become his children. And this transformation happens through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
In one of the most fascinating and memorable stories in the gospels, John tells us that Jesus is visited one evening by a religious scholar and politician named Nicodemus. Nicodemus is one of the highest ranking and most influential Jews of his time. He is both a Pharisee, a sect known for their devotion to the scriptures and to holiness traditions of the Jewish people, and a member of the Sanhedrin, the highest governing body over the Jewish people, second only to Rome and its representatives. Nicodemus is cautious and curious. Jesus tells him:
John 3:6-7 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven. 7 So don't be surprised at my statement that you must be born again.
John Wesley talks about this in his sermon entitled, “The New Birth.” The gist of it is this: God doesn't simply forgive us for being bad people; he gives us the Holy Spirit and makes us into good people. And the reason we become good is because the Holy Spirit STAYS with us, inside us, continually working, continually linking us to God. Wesley uses the metaphor of breathing, that God is breathing into us, enabling us to breathe back into God.
Being born again is essential. Jesus makes this clear to Nicodemus. But it is something that God does, not us. We can observe it. We can see signs of it. But we can't make it happen. We can't do it. It is all God happening inside each of us. Baptism celebrates it by using physical water applied externally. But only God can make us truly new.
Early Methodists spent a lot of time thinking about talking about this reality. It drove them in their mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ: producing Christians who were doing good deeds out of an overflow of joy and gratitude aimed at God. Sanctification is a process that starts with the first moment of saving faith and ends when we stand before God in heaven, forgiven, judged, and left to stand before One who will embrace each of us and welcome each of us as our Father.
Justification in popular American culture today is almost portrayed as a vice. All of us try to justify our actions, even when we know we are veering off target or even when we are out-right sinning. Have you ever heard politically-motivated leaders say, “The ends justify the means?” Spooky! But for those of us adopted into God's family through the blood of Jesus Christ, the term “justification” has an entirely different sense, and one that is critical for understanding just how it is that we have faith that saves us.
When each of us experiences spiritual “justification,” we are each experiencing the forgiveness of God through faith in his Son who died for us all. John Wesley and the early Methodists understood this to be a core and pivotal doctrine of the Church universal. In his sermon, “Justification by Faith,” Wesley explains the biblical path to this necessary state of grace. His main (but by no means his only) scriptural reference for that message was Romans 4:5 “But people are declared righteous because of their faith, not because of their work.” (New Living Translation) What the NLT translates as “declared righteous” is “justified” in the King James Version which Wesley and most people used in that day. The basic flow is this (some of the wording is more Weston than Wesley):
People Are Messed Up: People are made in the image of God, but ever since Adam & Eve's fall from grace, all of us are “children of wrath,” living in a fallen state requiring God's forgiveness and spiritual repair. The only solution to rescue humanity was for God's Son to die in our place, receiving the penalty of death and thereby satisfying God's perfect, righteous anger, or “wrath.”
Justification Is Pardon; not ignoring or overlooking or choosing not act on what we have done wrong. Nothing has been swept under the rug or deferred to a sub-committee or expired because of a divine statute of limitations. God is the perfect judge and he knows all that each of us has done wrong. And he is legally justified to absolve us of the penalties by the substitution of his Son's death for each of ours.
Justification Is for the Ungodly. But here is the catch: EVERYONE needs to be justified by Christ's sacrificial death. Compared to God's perfection ALL OF US are ungodly. Good deeds before you have faith? Nope. You might as well try to buy the moon. Good deeds after you have faith? They're great (and necessary) but they don't buy you the moon or your entry ticket into heaven—they simply express gratitude and confirm that God is working in your life.
Justification Is by Faith. You can't produce God's forgiveness. You can't earn it (or the moon). You can't deserve it. That drives some people crazy. But it's the only way: heaven is for people who are humble and know they deserve hell, but instead are receiving forever love. You have to believe to be justified—it doesn't automatically accrue because you're sucking wind. No one is entitled to God's forgiveness.
Making sense? Justification is everything to do with God's Grand Scales of Justice tipping heavily out of our favor, and God finding a way to make it right. Justification is about God's forgiveness because of Jesus' death on the cross. The instant a person turns from sin and receives this forgiveness, something wonderful happens: the Holy Spirit comes into their heart and starts house cleaning, as well as adopting that person into God's family. This new process is called “sanctification,” but that is for another time.
Justification is critical for every Christian to understand. It puts everything in perspective, puts each of us in our place, and puts God in the highest place. Without it, heaven would be full of a bunch of seething, spoiled brats who can't get enough of ourselves. But that doesn't describe the residents of heaven, does it? More like hell.
Baptism: sprinkle or immersion?
Bible: King James or any other English translation?
Food: always pray before eating, sometimes pray, or only on special occasions?
Prayer: eyes open or closed?
Music: classical hymns or contemporary choruses?
Worship atmosphere: quiet & contemplative or loud & lively?
Worship day: Saturday or Sunday or any day?
Worship posture: hands raised or hands down?
This is just the beginning of a long list of traditions and rituals that Christians don't agree on. Have you ever had an awkward moment where you were with another Christian and one of you was following a ritual or practice in a moment where the other wasn't? Yesterday I was at a Christian conference and we ate lunch together, and it was a gradual, staggered start for the food line. One of my table mates and I were the first to get back with our food. The rest of our table was out talking, in line, or out of the room. I was going to start eating without prayer, but my table mate said she would pray, so she bowed her head, and prayed, and I put my utensils down, put my head down, joined her in prayer and offered a prayer out loud as well when she finished.
When the church was merely years, not centuries old, there were a lot of traditions of man and commandments of God to sort through and figure what stays and what goes? Jesus had ushered in a new covenant, and some of the Law of Moses continued to be in effect (ethical statutes on matters like sexuality) while others became optional or passe (ceremonial statutes for things like worship format and dietary restrictions). But Jesus didn't spell out each individual rule. The church had to figure it out with the aid of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 15). So there were a lot of awkward moments and also a lot of heated arguments over what things were important and essential and what weren't. The Apostle Paul knew this, and after giving perhaps his greatest and most complete explanation of people, sin, the Holy Spirit, and how salvation works in Romans 1-12, he attends to some housekeeping matters in the last few chapters including this matter:
Romans 14:1-4 Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. 2 For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. 3 Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval.
Before Jesus came, dietary restrictions were a big deal to the pre-Christian Jews. If you didn't keep kosher, you couldn't go to the temple and people might whisper about you behind your back or worse. But Paul says essentially, “Keep your salvation in Christ center stage, and don't waste time bickering about stuff in the store room.” Sometimes it may mean humoring someone and not eating pork when sharing a meal with them. Or it might be the other way around: someone keeps their mouth shut when bacon is on the breakfast menu but they are still keeping kosher. Some Christians call this line of thinking the principle of “the weaker brother,” referring to Christians who may not understand that a particular opinion they hold is not a command of God.
Give other Christians a break, and I'm guessing that over time we will give you a break too.
(I can report that a few minutes after my table mate and I gave thanks for our meal a pastor got on the microphone and offered a blessing for the meal in progress. Phew! Double coverage...!)
Religious divisions can be the hardest and most bitter to overcome. Consider this: when Jesus was ministering in 1st century Palestine in Roman-occupied Jewish territories, where did he experience the most friction? Was it from Roman rulers? Was it from masses of people who were offended by his teachings? Not even close. It was from the religious leaders. The Saducees you could understand why they were against him: with no belief in an afterlife, their hold on the temple was their only shot at serving God and enjoying life (look at Matthew 22:23ff). But the scriptural Pharisees should have known better, right? They went round and round with Jesus (see John 9:39ff for one of many examples in all four gospels). Holding onto control and power? There was some of that. But also there was disagreement over deeply held beliefs. Some of those deeply held beliefs became wedges between them and God. It was just hard. Bad attitudes only compounded the difficulty for the Lord. Ultimately the cross was the only way forward.
This Saturday, May 12th, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. @ Olympia First United Methodist Church, clergy and laity from our denomination will be gathering for a “Table Talk” on human sexuality. We are going to practice respectful, loving conversation and debate about the issues that are flash-points for conflict. I will be attending, and anyone is welcome to come and be part. You can RSVP here. I am expecting at least a couple of our church's leaders will accompany me. Do I relish this opportunity, knowing that I will represent a tiny minority who uphold a traditional approach to sexual ethics that is informed by face-value statements from the Bible in context? No, I don't. But I am happy to live out my calling to be a voice for orthodox, classic expressions of the Christian faith in a region where progressive approaches have dominated for decades.
This is hard to talk about. But it doesn't mean that we shouldn't. If we can't talk about it, there's something even bigger that's going wrong. If you want to come, RSVP with the Conference, and let me know: email@example.com. I'm happy to give a ride to whoever wants to come. You don't even have to agree with me. Everyone has a voice. Part of the Good News is that having the right opinion about every issue is not what gets us into heaven: it's the cross of Jesus.
Let's pray for Saturday.
Proverbs 15:1-4 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger. 2 The wise person makes learning a joy; fools spout only foolishness. 3 The LORD is watching everywhere, keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. 4 Gentle words bring life and health; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.
Titus 3:1-2 Remind your people to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. 2 They must not speak evil of anyone, and they must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.
James 3:17-18 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no partiality and is always sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.
John 13:34-35 34 “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
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