Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"SUITING UP" for 2012

Last year at this time, we as a fellowship made a bold stance as to the defining of who we are as a church. It wasn’t a change or a reinvention, but rather a clarifying and a verbalizing of our special mission in the kingdom of God. This was necessitated by the fact that some churches have bragged that they “don’t do too much during the week” because their people are “busy.” This obvious surrender to the world is the compelling motivation behind the taking upon ourselves the mantle of “Intentional Christian Community.” Because if you are too busy during the week to find time for Christ…real time, not theory, then you have “other god’s before Him.” That’s so very obvious, but it’s amazing how much of the greater church is willing to let it slide! We must never allow that kind of thinking to be what defines us at JFB. This is not to say that we do not hold the issues of work and family as important! Scripture teaches that both are essential, but always secondary to Christ, kingdom, and service to God, …work and family are to receive the ‘overflow’ of the blessings we come to know in being “attached to the vine.’  ‘Family’ is not ‘first’ at JFB. Jesus is. The honest truth is that work and family are not the issues that keep us from fellowship and service; it is laziness and worldliness. Therefor we as a community sought to clarify where we stood on this matter as well as our priorities and mission. Our ministerial focus is first, leading the lost to salvation. However it does not stop there! We hold an extremely high mandate to disciple the believer to be all that he or she can be in the spirit realm…to ‘grow up’…mature…to encourage and provide for each of us our place in the body of Christ as taught in 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, etc. We clearly understand the cost of making such an issue a priority! For many according to scripture will come to Christ for salvation, but when it comes time to grow up and ‘put away childish things’ they flinch and walk away, either to the world or to another church that will not challenge them on such matters. Jesus certainly found this out in John 6…early in His ministry on earth. After calling out those who believed themselves to be followers…disciples even, unto a spiritual adulthood, verse 66 says that “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” That verse has been fulfilled tens of thousands of times since that day by those who are “fond of Jesus” (John 21:15) but they do not love Him enough to “feed His sheep.” One of the greatest attributes of adulthood…spiritual or chronological, is the realization and the living in the light of the fact that it’s not about you. That has always been and no doubt always will be a ‘hard sell.’ There are certainly ‘easier roads’ we could travel as a church…one that would make us bigger and richer. But that is not who we are. We have always been those swimming with the sharks…while swimming upstream against the current! There are plenty of places to go for those who do not want the ‘front lines’ of ministry. But ‘for me and my house, we shall follow the Lord!’
This ‘community heart’ though, must never stop at the door of the church. We, by design and mandate, must remain and continue to grow missionally. So after a year establishing who we are, it’s time to ‘find our feet’ and ‘take it to the streets.’ So 2012 will mean more time ‘out there’ and less time ‘in here.’ Already we have begun to reach out with the likes of the “One Life” concerts. We will continue to invest in Street Level, jail ministry, radio, TV, etc to missionally minister to our ‘back yard’ and we will continue to hold world missions in the priority it has always held in this church. We have a team leaving in a couple of weeks to India, and we have the largest group ever going to the Philippines in the spring…with 3 back to back teams! And we are inching closer to placing staff ‘full time’ in the field of missions that we oversee. So let us prayerfully “suit-up” for what’s ahead. While God has blessed us in every way and filled our pews, we have not ‘arrived.’ No…we have just begun….

Pastor TIM

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

God With US

Matthew 1:22-23 - Throughout scripture we read those words over and over… “…that it might be fulfilled.” 33 times we read this statement in the Book of Matthew alone. While there is much we do not see or understand that our Creator has and is doing, He repeatedly moved to communicate the direction of His will and His work. Despite “seeing through the glass darkly” as scripture portrays the days in which we walk this earth, we are clearly given the will and direction of our Savior as it plays out upon this earth.
The prophetic record of Christ is flawless…he is operating to the tune of 100%. Listen to some of these “last days of this earth” prophecies…
Dan 12:4 “…. the time of the end, when many will rush here and there, and knowledge will increase.’’
1 Tim 1:4 “…the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons.”
2Ti 3:13  “… evil people and impostors will flourish. They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived.”
2 Tim 3:1-5 You should know this, … in the last days there will be very difficult time. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good.  They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God.  They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.
Amos 8:11-12  “The time is surely coming,’’ says the Sovereign LORD,  “when I will send a famine on the land —  not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of the LORD.  People will stagger from sea to sea  and wander from border to border searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it.
2Ti 4:3  For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.
2Pe 3:3  “… in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires.”
All of these things are told to us so that as they come to pass, we might know that His return is imminent.
I wonder what the scene of His first coming was like. I imagine a stillness and a quiet that would betray the grandeur of the moment. One of my favorite experiences is the great feeling that you have when you stand in a moment of time in some distant and obscure location…knowing that no one in the whole world knows where you are right then…perhaps even I myself do not know. It is the height of freedom and an experience that transcends all of ones life experiences.
I imagine such a moment in that barn that quiet evening. The world was passing outside the door as it had for hundreds of years before and since, and it is doubtful that anyone had any idea of the miracle of the moment…that time had stopped just inside…and therein lay the answer to every question…the beginning and the end…the reason for the breathe in my body and the purpose of my life. God had come to walk with man. God was with us.
The prophet Isaiah spoke of Christ’s coming 1000 years before it occurred, and yet who if anyone was waiting and watching?  And yet I wonder the same today; Who, if anyone, is waiting and watching for His return?
Isaiah 46:9-10 says, "Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please."
It’s so very busy and noisy out there today. The sights and sounds of Christmas meld with all the hub-bub of life. It seems we are forever immersed in the constant barrage of sounds….music, talking, TV, machines…the sounds of life from some 7  billion people…all hurrying through life…all seemingly passing that stable without regard and without awareness of the importance of the quiet event occurring inside. All of which was done “that it might be fulfilled…that which was spoken….” So many missed His coming the first time, because they frankly weren’t looking for Him. So many will miss His physical coming the second time for the same reason…few of us are really looking for Him. 2 Peter 3:4 speaks of it… “They will say, What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.’’ And they will go on…to their next appointment…to their next meeting…to their life plans and dreams…little if any thought given to their death nor His very presence here with us, nor His physical second coming. We would do well to remember and embrace James 4:14 yet again…Your life is like the morning fog — it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.”
Last week the author and atheistic guru Christopher Hitchens died at age 62. He wrote the book “God is not Great: Why religion ruins everything,” which became the mantra for a generation of atheists. He lived for himself and indulged in all that the world had to offer…all its carnality, its pleasures, and its brevity. Death came for Him, despite his living as if it never would. I am reminded in such passings of the words of God in Isaiah… As surely as I live, says the LORD, every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.” Christopher Hitchens awoke to find himself standing before the God that He thought was not so great. Heb 9: 27  “… each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment.” Everyone reading this today will have such a moment, each having that same meeting. God told all of us…God told Christopher Hitchens…so that we might know what was and was to be. So we might know Him. All done so “that it might be fulfilled.”
You see God has set eternity in our hearts. There is a void there. A gap, a hole, and as much as we try to fill it with things, or activity or relationships or whatever, it still remains there – a gnawing, an inner consciousness that something is missing. That something, is really a someone. You see Jesus came not only that he might fulfill prophecy, but that he might fulfill us. He said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (Jn 10:10) and “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” He came to make us complete. To fulfill us.
Our text says that “He shall be called Immanuel…which means ‘God with us.’” Such is not so much a proper name like “Jesus” as much as a description of His being. I wonder if we grasp the magnitude of that simple statement? In the days of Moses, God instructed the people to keep their distance from Him or die. There was smoke, fire, and earthquakes. He was loud, and He was emphatic.
Moses took His shoes off at the burning bush presence of God. Isaiah cried “Woe is me!” Job was flattened as God came in a whirlwind.
And now, in this little corner of the world, in a humble and quiet entry, God came to live with us. If we were to condense all the truths of Christmas down to three words, these would be those words “God with us.” We can get lost today on a picture of a baby in a manger…a child, some wise men and kings…the virgin mother and a confused step-father…all the while missing the more important fact: God with us.
As John Wesley…the founder of the Methodist church…lay upon his deathbed, his final words were “the best of all, is God with us…” It’s the message of Christmas. That God our Creator became a man…Not peace on earth and good will toward men. But that God became human to dwell amongst us.
Immanuel, infinitely rich, became poor. He assumed our nature, entered our sin-polluted world, took our guilt on Himself although He was sinless, bore our griefs, carried our sorrows, was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). All of that is wrapped up in “God with us.”
Yet seldom do we just stop…rarely do we “stand still and know He is God.” The kind of pause that generates worship. The realization that elicits praise.  St. Augustine said "What, then, is the God I worship? ... You are the most hidden from us and yet the most present among us, the most beautiful and yet the most strong, ever enduring; and yet we cannot comprehend you."
Perhaps we might respond to this passage by asking “wasn’t God always with mankind?” The answer would be yes…His Spirit was always with men…guiding and directing them, if they we’re listening. The difference here is that God was indeed with us prior to this event, but did men know it? Oh…perhaps philosophically…but concretely? In truth? In practical life and ways? Suddenly, Jesus walked amongst us. What difference did that make? Scripture says in Philippians 2:8  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Heb 2:18  Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. Heb 4:15 tells us that Christ “…understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” We have a God…a Creator, that understands what it means to be human. He knows what it means to be tempted …to be cold, to be hungry and thirsty, to feel. And yet He didn’t retrack one commandment, nor did He surrender sovereignty, and He cut us no slack. Instead we are told in James 4:8  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” He still called upon us to “be holy as He is holy.”
Today we imagine Jesus to be a republican or a social democrat. We envision Him to be either Don Corleone or a modern-day flower child-guru-prophet. We ‘fancy Him’ in many ways, all because we so often just don’t really know Him. We most often simply conceive Him to be like us. He surely thinks like us, loves what we love and hates the things we hate.
Old Christians often told stories about staggering into church and walking forward during the altar call to say the “sinner’s prayer” during revival services that would often last for several weeks.“People ‘testified’ to holding on to the pew until their knuckles turned white, fighting salvation all the way,” …. You were in the back of the church, and you fought being saved.

It seems however that contemporary churchgoers, though, no longer have time to take that walk. They fail to know the humility and brokenness that truly understanding the cross elicits. They consider their lives too busy for intense church community participation and kingdom service. Many churches are either jettisoning or streamlining the life of faith…all in an effort to make such easier, more appealing, and less time consuming. “You got soccer, you got PTA, you got family responsibilities - the culture just won’t sustain it as it once did.” (John Blake, CNN)

I wonder how many of us have experienced God…and that has been enough. But there is a vast difference between experiencing God, and being with Him. Knowing Him personally. 

In a couple of weeks I will be in India. Many of you have seen the video presentations…perhaps seen movies of India, know Indian people, and even have eaten Indian food. But I am here to tell you that no matter how much Indian “stuff” you have had contact with, unless you have stood there on a street in India in the midst of the chaos of sounds, smells, and sights…you have not been to India. If you have not touched and been touched by India, you do not know India.  It is the same with God. You can come to church, listen each week to the message, rub shoulders with believers, sing the songs and go through the motions…but that does not mean you know God. That does not mean that you embrace the God that is with you! We must all…each one of us, find how to connect with God. We must decide who He is, if He is, and how to communicate with Him. This journey is the most important of your life. God told all of humanity that He was coming…and He came. He tells us that even today He remains intimately available to know you and walk this life with you.

When Moses came down from that mountain of meeting with God, the contact with Him made him physically glow in radiance. He put a veil over his face because his face was so bright...He carried the very glory of God upon Him. While I don’t know if I have ever seen any one in such a state as Moses, but I can easily identify the man or woman who has been in the presence of Jesus.

You see, we have adopted a powerless version of Christianity in our generation. One that believes that we can be in the presence of Christ and have no real discernible evidence of such. Meaning we think we can be a Christian, without manifesting Christ-likeness. We therefor become fruitless people. Without passion, drive, service to kingdom or love of the brethren. He is relegated to the sole position of redeemer, never realizing the position of Lord of our lives.

Martin Luther…was  a very religious man long before He ever met God. He taught Ephesians at a seminary…he confessed his sins regularly and went through all of the religious motions and was even involved in pulpit ministry. But while he had experienced God, He did not know Him until he finally met Him in scripture… one to one …and he was transformed. He acknowledged all of this, and how when he finally came to know God…God with us…he was truly reborn.

I wonder how you began this day…or any day, really. Do you recognize and acknowledge His presence? Do you know Him…not just intellectually but factually and visibly? John Stott in the book “Basic Christianity” states that anyone who ever had a real meeting with God had one of three reactions: One, they ran away screaming and afraid, Two, they picked up rocks to stone Him in hatred, or three, they fell down and worshipped Him, giving Him their everything. 

But friends…passivity and a lukewarm response simply means you have never met Him, have never known Him, and you do not know Him today. Such a stance means nothing. Not to you and not to Him. God is with us. Do you recognize His presence? He said He was coming…and nearly everyone was too busy and too caught up with their own lives to recognize Him. He says He is physically coming again. Are you ready?