Sunday, February 17, 2013

Growing in Love

As we grow in the Spirit, we will grow in love towards God and towards our neighbor. At this table, we see both aspects of love amply displayed before us. God so loved us that He sent His only Son to die for us. Thus, we respond to Him in love, a love that expresses our thankful hearts and a desire to do His will.
         We also have the blessing of seeing all those that the Lord has forgiven gathered together to praise His name. Each one of us is filled with praise and thanksgiving and as a body we raise our hearts and voices to the Lord as the redeemed people of God.
As we look around, we see people at every stage of life; some older in the faith, some merely babies. Just as we desire the mature believers to be patient with us as we grow up in Christ, we look at the babies with love and patience as we wait for them to grow into the full love and glory of Jesus. And we are humbled to know that these babies always get to teach us what a beautiful and simple faith looks like. Thus, our love for God and one another is revealed and grows right here at this wonderful Table of Thanksgiving.

Love is Patient

The Lord calls us to love Him and love our neighbor as ourselves. If we just leave it at that, it seems like something we can do. Well, we feel loving towards God and most of our neighbors. But as soon as we try to do love, we find we have a problem. The passage from 1Corinthians 13 today heightens our problem with love immediately for it starts out with a high demand.
Love is patient. If love is patient, then how is your love? Are you patient with your wife? Do you listen to her tell you about her day at the end of your long day? Are you patient with your husband? Even when he does not get the honey-do list done on your time schedule? Are you patient with your five year old when he acts like a five year old? Children, are you patient with your younger brothers and sisters? Or, do you make demands of them to act grown up like you? Are you patient with your parents when they are teaching you? Admonishing you? Disciplining you?
If you love, you must be patient. And to the extent that you are not patient with people, you are not loving them, nor walking in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. So, let us confess our impatience together and ask God to fill us with His long-suffering Spirit.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Son for Glory

Just finished Toby Sumpter's commentary on Job entitled Job, A Son for Glory. I hope to have more to say about it anon. For now, let me say that if you have suffered, which means most of you, you need to read this book. If you are a pastor, you definitely need to spend some time in Job and some time in Sumpter.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Holy Spirit Filled Obedience

           God is the initiator of the relationship of love. We can only respond to Him in love because He first fixed upon us as an object of His desire. He loved us and sent His Son to die for our sins so that we would respond to Him in love.
1John 4:7   Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.  8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.  9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.  10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 
           We must keep the commands of Jesus but we do not do this without His Spirit. He commands us to do His Word and in order to do His Word, He sends us His Spirit. Listen to what Jesus says in John 14.
            John 14:15   If ye love me, keep my commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; 17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. 18   I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. 

          Ask the Father, in the name of His Son to grant you His Spirit that you might have life and walk in His light. 

Love and Obey

As we make our way through the fruit of the Spirit, our first virtue is love. This should not surprise us.
Deut. 6:4   Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:  5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
1Cor. 13:13 But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
1John 4:16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

We are told in these famous verses that the most important thing is to love God with our whole heart. We are told that of faith, hope and love, love is the greatest and we are also told that God is love.
            We tend to think that we immediately know what love is. We often talk about love. We tell our spouses that we love them. We say that we are loved by God and that we love God. We express love to our children. We even talk about loving certain things, food, works of art, a great film. We use the word often and we have such an inherent sense of what the word means that we mostly use it properly. But when we are asked to say what love is, our mouths go dry and it is really difficult to answer the question.
            Is love a feeling? I have strong emotions towards an object of desire. I love my wife means that I adore her, she brings about warm feelings in me, that I want her near me, that I desire to be close to her. Most of us would agree that this is all accurate and true.
            I love my children has a similar meaning but altered somewhat. I have warm feelings towards them but those feelings are expressed in an entirely different way. Instead of desiring to personally possess the object of my emotion (that is desire), instead, I protect, keep, train, admonish, and even serve them. I sacrifice for my children. That is love, too. But it is at least one step removed from the sort of love, the sort of feeling that one has for his spouse. But we do not doubt that it is love and that we know exactly what we mean when we say it.     
            Furthermore, when we love things, food, films, friends, in all of these we can express a sense of emotion and feeling that leads to a certain kind of behavior. For foods, a desire to eat them again and again. No doubt, one can do this in a sinful manner, gluttony or drunkenness, but partaking in an object of desire is a right usage of the word love and we do not have a big problem in sorting out the differences. We sometimes scold and say, "we love people, we use things" but we really do love ice cream, don’t we? Yes, we do and our waistlines prove it!
            So, what is love, then? An emotion? A desire? A commitment or promise?

I will offer a definition.
Biblical Love is a strong desire towards an object that leads to the proper response.
Let us test this out. If you love a woman in a biblical fashion, then you will desire to be with her, in every sense of the word. In order to be with her, you have to fulfill your desire in the right way. This means purity, yes, but it also means following all the other spiritual virtues, kindness, patience, gentleness, etc., until they lead to a marriage covenant where the object of desire can be lawfully enjoyed. Because you love her, you will act towards her in a way that is consistent with that love.
To the extent that you are not acting properly, you do not love her. Biblical Love always manifests itself in proper behavior. It is not right to say, for instance, that a man commits a crime of passion out of love. If a man truly loves the object of his desire, then he will not sin in order to obtain that object. And, he will not sin if he is unable to obtain his object.
Love always acts according to the best interests of the object of desire, the beloved. If your actions are not in the best interest of the beloved, then it is not love. I grant that we are finite creatures and sometimes do not know what is in the best interest of the beloved. We thought we were doing the right thing by the beloved but it turns out that we were not. That does not mean that you did not love them, at all, but it does mean that in that particular action, you were not manifesting love.
This gets to the second part of our definition of love. I would grant that what we often call love is mostly a feeling, an emotion. But if it is biblical love, it does not stand alone. You cannot be acting out love by feeling a certain way. Love always acts properly. This is to say that love acts. Love causes certain kinds of behaviors. It cannot stand alone as an emotion or feeling.
Even as we quoted the big three above, faith, hope and love, we know that these do not stand alone. Faith Works. Hope Walks. Love Acts.
 We see this clearly in Deuteronomy 30
Deut. 30:  5 And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.  6 And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.  7 And the LORD thy God will put all these curses upon thine enemies, and on them that hate thee, which persecuted thee.  8 And thou shalt return and obey the voice of the LORD, and do all his commandments which I command thee this day.
Look at the Lord’s definition of love. When you return to the Lord and circumcise your heart, that is, be forgiven and purified, made righteous from the inside, then you shall love the Lord your God with all thy heart and all thy soul (v. 6). And the result of this love is that you shall do all His commandments. (v.8)

Also in 1John 5:1
1John 5:1   Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.  2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.  3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
Again, can you see the emphasis? He says that if you love God, you will keep His commandments.

Mark 12:28   And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?  29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
Jesus is picking up the passage from Deuteronomy 6, The Ten Commandment passage, and telling us that this applies in His day. We are to love God and our neighbor and we are to do so in the way that God has always proclaimed that we love Him, by obeying His commands.

Covenantal Marriage Vows

Exodus 20:1-11- Marriage Vows

The first table of the Law of the Ten Commandments, the section we refer to as the Love God commands, are essentially marriage vows. God has vowed to take on His bride and He asks her to commit to Him by taking these vows.
Marriage Vows
Ex. 20:1   And God spake all these words, saying,  2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 
Me only. No others. Our relationship is now exclusive. Do you understand what I am saying to you? No other lovers. Got it? Do you take only me?
I do.

4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:  5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;  6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. 
Do not make any images of me. I am that I am and that should be enough for you. Do not construct an image of me in your mind or one that is fashioned after wood, gold or brass. If you do this, then you are not loving me but some image that will always be less than me. And do not worship me through some image. Then you will also always be limiting me to some image in your mind.
I am a jealous husband. I will not allow you to go around with other husbands and I will not allow you to imagine that I am something other than what I really am. Do you understand this?
I do.

7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. 
This day you are taking my name on you. You are becoming my one and only wife. I am giving you my name. This changes who you are. You used to be an unfaithful woman. Those days are now over. I am a faithful husband and I expect a faithful wife. Therefore, you may not take my name and then act as if you are not married to me. You know me. You know that I am a faithful and perfect husband. You know that I am holy and righteous. So, you must do all that I say and obey all my commands. If you do not do this, then you are taking my name on you without the intent on following up with the expectations of your new family. Do you understand what I am saying to you?
I do.

8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:  10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:  11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Okay, great now that you have become my wife, I want to issue my first command. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
On Sabbath, we worship in Spirit and Truth. I will speak to you and you will hear my voice and obey. If you have sinned, you will confess it and I will forgive you. You will gather with my people and I will give you rest.  Do you understand what I am saying to you? Will you follow my commands and remember the Sabbath?
           I will.

Comfort in Jesus

In today’s sermon, we will be reminded to Love God and do what He says. We agree with the first part, the love of God in Christ has been bestowed upon us. But we find in ourselves sin lurking at the door. We desire to do right but find that we do wrong. What are we to make of this? Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” And the Apostle John says, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not."
         If we are honest, these words cut us deep, especially as we think about our weak practical devotion to God, our Father, as we think about our fickle fidelity to our wives in thought and word and sight, as we think about the honor and respect that you ladies owe your husbands, and you children owe your parents. Our sins, our lack of love to God, cry out against us.
         But the rest of the verse from the Apostle says, “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” He is our paraklete, our comforter. This is the same word that describes the Holy Spirit, who is our paraklete, our Comforter. So, we do sin, and therefore we apply to Jesus, our Advocate, to forgive us our sins and to comfort us by the renewing work of His Holy Spirit.

Abba, Father Love

We have seen that the Lord calls us to love Him with our whole hearts and that this love is to manifest itself in obedience to His revealed will. No doubt, we have felt the weight of that command as we realize that we miss the mark and fall short, that is, we sin. But we are not without hope because we look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. We apply to Him for grace and we see that because Jesus was faithful to go to the cross, our sins are nailed to the cross and forgiven in the courtroom of God’s justice. We cry, Abba, Father and we trust Him to grant us His Spirit so that the love that He has poured into us through Jesus will also flow out of us back to Him and out to His people. This is what He promises us as we remember the efficacious death of Jesus to save us from our sins and to transform us into the image of God.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Sweet Smelling Savor

It is our desire to grow up into Christ. We desire to be strong so that we can love God and resist sin. In order for this to happen we have to be In Christ. His Spirit must dwell in us so that we are enabled to do that which pleases the Lord. From this perspective, when we please the Lord, we are upright and blameless. If we have become the perfect sacrifice, along with Christ, we know that God, the Father, receives us as a sweet smelling savor.
         This meal points to that great truth. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice and He was broken and presented to the Father and ascended up into Heaven. We have ascended with Him. This meal is Christ giving Himself for and to us. We are in Him and He is in us.  And thus, we become that perfect sacrifice that also pleasingly ascends to the Father. This all happens by God’s grace through faith. We trust in God’s promises and He fulfills them in our lives. Thus, we become the blessed children of God and He grants us His Spirit to carry out His acts in the world. So, let us eat and drink, giving thanks to God for making us one with Him and with one another in Jesus.

Truly Spiritual

The bible tells us that we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. Sometimes, though, we make spirituality to be some vague other worldliness, somehow maybe even becoming less human-like and more angelic. But being spiritual is not really all that complicated and it definitely is not developing a mind-set that makes you impervious to the every day mess of living. Being spiritual is about loving God and men, having patience, not giving in to outbursts of anger, being kind, and such things. These are all very earthy sorts of manifestations of the Spirit in our lives.
         God is patient with us. We do not grow into maturity all at once. We learn and grow slowly and we often learn by our own failures and sins. We struggle against sin, longing to be more spiritual but still find ourselves irritated, lustful, prone to envy, discontent and needing self-control. 
        What is the answer to these things? Walking in the Holy Spirit. And the only way to get there is to confess our failures and sins, receive Christ’s forgiveness and then get up and walk forward in renewal with new found faith and hope.