Monday, October 3, 2011

Oct 2, 2011 - This One Thing I Do

October 2, 2011
This One Thing I Do
Fr. Philip Eberhart


This week I saw a new motivational poster. Jesus and a young man on a park bench engaged in conversation and the letters “L.O.L” under the picture. LOL is the text shorthand for “laughing out loud.” It is sometimes just appended at the end of each phrase that some send in a text message or comment that they make on a Facebook post. The effect is that it is a kind of visual “nervous laughter.”

On the picture, under the Title; L.O. L. was the caption. “No, I’m not talking about Twitter. I literally want you to follow me!” (Jesus). With our electronic communication media we have managed to almost completely isolate or insulate ourselves from real face to face interaction with individuals. Instead we opt for a barrage of “tweets” or posts on Facebook, to the extent that our communications are even less than an inch deep and probably two or three miles wide.

One of the things we must continue to battle in our age today is the tendency toward superficiality. And this carries over into our relationship with the Lord Jesus. We have all seen the stereotype father portrayed in movies who is too busy for his son, so he gives him things instead, substituting the stuff for the relationship itself. And that is what we do with Jesus, giving our time or talent or treasure, instead of our heart, when he wants our heart first. “I literally want you to follow me!”

Matt 4:19 is where Jesus gives the first fishermen that invitation… “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus wasn’t promising them great wealth or reward in the exercise of their faith, he was promising them that He would make them into people like Him! Jesus wants you to spend enough time around Him that you start looking like him. That was Jesus’ discipleship program! The bible says that Jesus both did and taught. His method was to bring the disciples along and do the stuff and let them watch. Then he let them do the stuff while He watched (see Luke 10).
And finally, Jesus left them to do the stuff, all on their own. That’s what the goal of our discipleship is – to be so familiar with Jesus and the way He did life and work and ministry and teaching – everything He said and did – that we do life and work and ministry and teaching just like Him!

And the process is just what Paul is talking about through the bulk of his letters. We’ve had opportunity to reflect on some of his thoughts over the past weeks, and now today, again we are given a key passage from his Philippian letter: (listen to it again from The Message)

You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God's law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God's law Book.
7-9 The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I'm tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn't want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God's righteousness.
10-11 I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.
Focused on the Goal
12-14 I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.

This One Thing I Do

Paul often speaks in metaphors that are taken from the races at the Olympics. We are urged to follow him in his own pursuit of Jesus. A relentless pursuit that is focused on a single goal: To know Christ, in the power of his resurrection through sharing in the fellowship of His suffering. We see familiar words in these passages: The POWER (DUNAMIS) of His resurrection as Paul prayed in the first chapter of his letter to Ephesus; The FELLOWSHIP (KOINONIA) of His sufferings – we share on both of these levels, we are conformed in our deepest heart and being, into His likeness. What I found interesting in this investigation was that Paul uses a different word for being conformed here than he uses in Romans 12, where he tells us not to be conformed to the image of the world (not to be Pressed Into the world’s mold). That conformation is an outward one, so that we look like the world, we act and do what the world does, we “dress” like the world, so to speak. But the conformation that Paul is speaking of here is a deep, inner conformation to the character of Christ, through the modality of suffering – actually sharing in the same kind of suffering that Jesus went through. And we are first conformed to His death, so that we may also share in His Life.

This theme plagues us everywhere in the New Testament writings. I say “plagues us” because we so avoid it. In our American religion we see comfort and blessing materially as the ultimate signs of God’s love and favor, and thus of “knowing Him.” But Paul and Jesus, I might add, had a very different take on this concept than most of us do here in the West. For Paul it was the embracing of this suffering WITH Jesus, that brings one to the fullness of the inner conformation that is the goal of our faith. We also tend to see the things we DO FOR GOD as ways in which we get to know Him or we get to see Him work. While Paul comes to know Jesus through His Power – it is the Power of the Resurrection, not the power of his mighty works. When we speak of power, even using the forms of words that we derive from this word DUNAMIS we see different forms of power, DYNAMITE (explosive, destructive, sudden) and DYNAMO (constant, steady, useable and useful). The power that Paul commends here is the constant, inner, driving power of a New Life in Christ.

Unlike us who avoid the suffering of the Gospel – who avoid anything that will make us uncomfortable as we live our life and share with others – avoid anything that may bring a smart remark or a snide retort about our faith – and certainly avoid any kind of confrontation like Jesus had with people about their lifestyles and sin; unlike us, Paul chooses to make this his singular focus, as a means of coming to KNOW JESUS more fully.

Here is Paul’s prescription: This one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what lies ahead, I press on toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ.

Today we are faced with myriads of challenges all around us. Economic troubles, political troubles, trouble believing, trouble hearing God in the maze of voices today. But God is calling us to do this ONE THING: TO FOLLOW HIM.

TO LITERALLY FOLLOW HIM. Paul calls it THE MARK OR GOAL FOR THE PRIZE OF THE HIGH CALLING OF GOD IN JESUS CHRIST!

Jesus is calling us – calling YOU to follow Him in the particularities of your life, day-to-day. To live your life in reference to Him FIRST. To run your particular race with Him as the goal line.

What has gone before this moment, doesn’t matter any more. He is able to take it and transform it and use it to CONFORM you more fully to His inner character. That is His will for you. That is the force of Paul’s prayer and his continuing argument across his letters.

Make this commitment this morning as you come forward, down the aisle, to our Anglican Altar Call – Communion! Every time you come to this table it is a new start – what is behind you is behind you, good or bad. Look at Jesus and all that He intends for you, and live your life from that reference point.

“No I’m not talking about Twitter. I LITERALLY want you to follow Me!”

Amen.

Sept 18, 2011 - Live a Life Worthy

Sept 18, 2011
Live a Life Worthy
Fr. Philip Eberhart

This week I’ve been reading some of the new research from the Barna Group on the spirituality of America in our post 9/11 culture. He has a new book coming out in Feb of next year and the research is being hinted at in articles now prior to his book release.

Our scriptures this morning give us a challenge: Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi urges his hearers to “live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” I think I would like to spend a few minutes reflecting with you what that meant to Paul and what it might mean to us today in our lives.

Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi was a letter to a church he loved. Its frowned upon for grandparents to say “so and so is my favorite grandchild.” But I think it is fairly clear that Philippi and the church there held a special place in the heart of the Apostle. They were a church that struggled mightily, as did most first-century churches, against the forces of the day – pagan worship, persecution from both Jewish and Roman quarters, and the every day lure of non-religious pursuits, that we all struggle with.

Paul here is urging his hearers to live their lives “as citizens of heaven”. That is the heading for this section in the NLT and it’s a phrase that Paul uses later in the letter, in his famous section on losing your self to gain Christ in Chapter 3. And I think that it’s a worthy subject for us to look at in more depth. We live in a time and place that is “depth challenged!” One of the articles I read this week from Geo. Barna, was entitled “Self-Described Christians Dominate America but Wrestle with Four Aspects of Spiritual Depth.” It doesn’t take a lot of research in fact, for us to know that we as American Christians struggle in the area of making our faith REAL in our day-to-day lives.

Paul has some thoughts on this in our passage this morning. He indicates that there are four metrics by which he will know that they are living a life worthy of the Gospel. Look at the second half of our reading with me: In fact let’s read that paragraph together:

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God's doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well-- since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

SO THAT I WILL KNOW…
1. That you are standing firm in one spirit,
2. That you are striving side-by-side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and
3. That you are not intimidated by your opponents.
        And Paul adds, almost as an afterthought, as a P.S.:
4. That He has granted you the privilege not only of believing, but of suffering for Him as well.

So the four from Paul are…
Standing as One; Striving Side-by-Side, Without Intimidation, in Suffering for Christ.

How do these things manifest themselves in our lives?
“Standing Firm in One Spirit:” “Real spiritual unity,” one of our early AMiA bishops said, “is a weapon of mass destruction for the kingdom of Satan.” I believe that Oneness, what Christ prays for in John 17, his final great prayer over his disciples, “that they might be one, Father, as you and I are one!” -- Oneness is a gift of the Spirit of God to the Body of Christ. It is something we have by virtue of our position EN CHRISTO - IN CHRIST. But we have to access that gift and live into it with intentionality; thus Paul’s admonition to his hearers in Philippi to “stand firm in One Spirit.” We must choose to stand together or we will surely “fall… apart!”

In a letter to the church in Ephesus later Paul refers to our partnership in “maintaining the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace.” Our spiritual unity (the gift of Christ) is held in the vessel of our human relationships in the Body of Christ, person to person and life on life.
Choosing “peace” is the clear weapon of choice in the war with have with our own flesh and with the devil’s warfare against our unity in the Body of Christ.

“Striving Side by Side with One Mind for the Faith of the Gospel”:
Paul tells us in the Ephesian letter as well, that we fight not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, and spiritual evil in the high places. Part of our preparation for the warfare we are engaged in the Kingdom of God, is figuring out who the enemy is! Look around you. Is there anyone here that you need to say “I’m not your enemy” too? Maybe we need to take the “Peace” seriously when we pass it as it is the primary weapon in this warfare we have with our flesh and with the Devil. “Striving Side-by-side” means we are facing the same way, together – with one mind: and our focus in on the “faith of the Gospel!!” Our fight is never with one another! It is in the world and FOR the GOSPEL of JESUS CHRIST! Our focus is on the gospel and on taking it forward into the world. It is amazing the clarity that warfare brings.


“And Are In NO WAY INTIMIDATED by your opponents.”
One of our groups is studying the new book from Max Lucado, entitled FEARLESS. I’m hearing good reports and I think I’m gonna pick up a copy myself to read on vacation. Fr. Edward, as a result of his ordeal in the jail in Colorado Springs, describes himself as now having No Fear!

IN NO WAY INTIMIDATED! Where are you on the intimidation scale? When you are faced with an opportunity to speak to someone about faith, what happens in your stomach?

And finally, Paul adds, all this is GOD’S DOING! Because by His Grace He has granted you the glorious privilege to suffer for him.

OH… THANKS LORD!
UM… LORD… WE DON’T DO SUFFERING HERE IN AMERICA!

And that might be our greatest problem! When we suffer we have a tendency to run or at least… to whine. We move naturally away from that which is probably the most powerful tool in Christ’s hands for the shaping of our lives – one that Paul considers to be a supreme sign of God’s grace!! He calls it a “gracious privilege!” One in which all Christians get to take part. And one which most Christians in America avoid, and in so doing, we avoid the maturity that comes with it.

George Barna in his article on his website, lists four obstacles to spiritual maturity in America:

COMMITMENT: While those who self-identify as Christians in America have largely made an initial commitment to Jesus (81%), only 1 in 5 in actively investing in their own spiritual development (18%). Just a few more describe themselves as “completely dependent on God. (22%) We know intuitively that there is more than most of us are experiencing, but few in America seem willing to dig for the treasure!

REPENTANCE: We are well up the scale as well in “asking for forgiveness (64%)” but the second half of repentance is actually turning from the activities of sin, handing control over to Jesus! Only 1 in 8 (12%) have been gripped by the desperation of their sinfulness, and even less (3%) have come to a place where they have surrendered control of their lives to God.

ACTIVITY: We tend to confuse religious activity with spiritual maturity. 4 in 10 participate regularly in “church, prayer & bible reading”, but when we dig deeper we find far less activity: sharing the faith with a non-Christian, fasting, time of spiritual reflection, and even less frequently: solitude, sacrifice, acts of service, silence, scripture meditation and memorization. We tend to be a “mile wide and an inch deep!”

SPIRITUAL COMMUNITY: This may be where American independence has bitten us worst! We don’t seem to take the concept of a community of faith very seriously in America. Only 1 in 5 even believes that there is a connection between our spiritual maturity and being in a community of faith! Only 1 in 3 admit to having talked with another Christian about their own sins. Vulnerability and accountability are not popular in the western church experience.

SO WHAT?
Paul urges us to live our life in a manner worthy of the Gospel and further identifies the markers of that life: Standing firm in One Spirit; Striving Side by Side for the Gospel of Jesus; Not being intimidated by our opponents and Suffering for Jesus! Do these seem to be a bit anti-thetical to what we’ve just heard about our tendencies in America?

I will grant you that we are a little different here at REZ, but we want to be different! We want to be change agents in this culture! God is calling us to be different! And I believe that God expects us, as Paul did in his letter to the Philippians, to live a life worthy of His Gospel: To stand together as ONE by His Spirit; To strive for the Gospel Side-by-Side! To be FEARLESS and to come to the reality of suffering, seeing it as a grace-gift, not as an inconvenient or unwanted.

Let us pray that we can live lives worthy of the Gospel Of Jesus and that we can overcome our American, easy-believism and our aversion to suffering, accountability and vulnerability as we live our lives openly, in front of one another and the world, for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Amen.

Sept 11, 2011 - 10 years of Remembrance

Remembrance on Sept 11
Fr. Philip D. Eberhart
One Nation, Under God, In Whom We Trust


ONE NATION, UNDER GOD

This morning is the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 attack on New York. We all know that and have already seen some of the footage again, and already spent some time in prayer for the families of those who were lost. We’ve all read commentary or heard the talking heads reflecting on various aspects of our national psyche or the spiritual condition of the nation, 10 years later. All of those things are good for us to reflect on and especially, to pray about.

This morning I want to reflect on the foundation on which we are built, and on the practices that will once again make us a great and Godly nation - One Nation, Under God!

Those who would strike God from the realm of public discourse have made it their personal war in the last decade to do all they can to minimize and threaten the use of the Name of God or of Jesus Christ and the practice of prayer in the public arena. Those who are sensitive to such pressure, the Politically Correct media and politicians, have cooperated in large measure with an attempt to silence the Christian voice of America.

But today, especially as we remember that day 10 years ago, I see a tidal wave of prayer happening around our nation. It begins in every church – every little gathering of two or three who call out to Jesus today; in every visible remembrance of that terrible day, we are reminded of the testimony of sacrifice and of the power of unified prayer.

Prayer is at the heart of what it means for us to live as “One Nation, Under God.” Such an endeavor is quite impossible without the almighty power of God. George Washington, at the first Presidential Inauguration said, “…it would be peculiarly improper to omit in the first official act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being, who rules over the universe; who presides in the council of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States.”

As we say from time to time before we make our offerings: “All we have comes of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own do we offer thee.” All that we have in this great land comes from the Hand of God in response to the prayers of His people, across this land and across time. We are a nation that is rich in prayer. And that is our greatest hope! Prayer changes us and prayer moves the Hand of God!

I’ve made reference before to the calls throughout our history, by President Lincoln, President Truman and others who have called the nation to pray, fast and to times of humiliation and repentance. From the times of the first Prayer in Congress by the Rev. Mr. Duche, the call to prayer has resounded throughout our history, and is resounding today across our land. The current state of our nation spiritually is darker than perhaps I have ever seen it. The forces of godlessness have asserted themselves to such an extent that much of what was unthinkable a decade ago is now common in our land. In the days after the 9-11 attacks, Bryant Gumble on Today asked Anne Graham Lotz the question, “Where was God?” to which she replied, “God was being a gentleman. We have asked him to leave us alone; we have pushed him out of our public discourse, and banished him from our schools. Why now, would we think he would be protecting us?”

Once again it is a time for us to call for prayer – fall on your face prayer – cry out to God for mercy prayer! Our nation has swung in the past decade to a place that was unthinkable on 9-11-01 and now we are here on 9-11-11, a nation who has pushed God even further out of our common consciousness and public discourse, and yet.

On this day, there are prayers. Here among us and in hundreds of thousands of churches just like us across this land. There are special prayer gatherings tonight, joining our voices in prayer: three that I know of on the front range, in Castle Rock, in Denver and in Greeley, that will draw thousands to an evening of remembrance and rededication to prayer and holiness, for the sake of our One Nation – Under God! Tomorrow all day, at the World Prayer Center in Colorado Spring, prayers will be offered as well, for our nation, for our churches and for the witness of Christ across our land.

Friends, we live in extraordinary times. The forces of evil are pressing in on us on every side, but where darkness abounds, the LIGHT becomes all the more visible.

My prayer for us this day, is that we will become a people of prayer again, across this land. That we will look to the heritage of our fathers and mothers in the faith who forged our freedoms in the furnace of affliction and conflict. That we will stand up and do our part, not only in prayer, but in action.

Prayer changes us. It prepares us, just a Isaiah was prepared by being in God’s presence. He was cleansed and purified by the burning coal from the altar of God, and his response to God’s inquiry, “Who will go for us? Whom shall I send?” was “Here am I! Send me.”

In God We Trust!!

How many of you have coins around, perhaps in your pocket or purse? What is the one phrase that is common to all our coinage? There are two actually: E Pluribus Unum (From Many, One!) and “In God We Trust.” Our nation stands on these two realities, friends. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is the root of our freedoms in America. Patrick Henry made it clear when he said, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.” This foundation of faith is written into the fabric of our documents, is it etched on the sacred walls of our halls of power, it is in the painting and statuary in the halls of Congress and on the buildings of our nations capitol. It CANNOT BE REMOVED; not it MUST NOT be removed… IT CANNOT BE REMOVED!!! To remove the symbols of the Christian religion from our capitol alone, would deface the very structures themselves. The doors to the Supreme Court room are 20 foot wood doors with the Ten Commandments written on them! Above the bench of the Chief Justice stands a bust relief of Moses the Law-giver of Israel. These stand forever, as a testimony of our heritage – of the very builders of the buildings as well as the builders of the nation.

IN GOD WE TRUST!

Every time you pick up a coin, I challenge you to look at it anew. Turn it in your hand until these words arise in your heart. Make them a declaration over your own life and over the land that we call home. Over your address and every address where you walk.

IN GOD WE TRUST!

Make it your every day prayer for our nation, for its leaders and for its people.

And May God give us what we pray for!

I want to end with a video that I was sent this week. I have visited and stood in Room 219, just off the west side of the rotunda; a small chapel that seats about 20 with an open bible and places to kneel in humility before God. Take a listen to a different side of our lawmakers in Washington that I think you will find refreshing and encouraging. Then we will pray together.

Video Edress: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4BELcshdtg&feature=youtu.be

Sept 4, 2011 - The Law of Love

Sept 4, 2011
The Law of Love
Fr. Philip D. Eberhart



The Law of Love

Last Sunday, this Sunday and next we have glimpses of Paul’s theology of the Kingdom in our readings from his letter to the church in Rome. As I said last week, this is the practical section of a deeply theological work that puts on display the depth and complexity of Paul’s mind; it is his systematic theology.

In these chapters Paul gets down and dirty with the people in the church, working out the practical implications of the theological thought he has put forth in the first two-thirds of this letter.

What we have here in this section in our reading this morning is a kind of jewel that Paul holds up for us. When you put all the theology that has gone before it together in a compact thought, like a diamond Paul holds this short passage up and begins to turn it in his hand, to show off its many facets. The diamond here is The Law of Love.

Tied all the way back to the laws of Moses and the “Great Commandments” of Jesus, Paul brings to the fore for us the simplicity of Jesus Gospel: “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law…[in fact] love is the fulfilling of the law!”

We can hear Jesus, as he instructed his disciples in the upper room on the night before he died: “A new commandment I give to you: Love one another as I have loved you. If you love one another in this way, all the world will know that you are my disciples!”

Great Commandment - Great Commission

There is an order of priority that we can see here, in the way Jesus has spoken to his disciples and in the way He speaks to us: 1) Love one another in the same way I have loved you… and 2) the world will know by experience that you are mine, my devoted followers.

Of course the question that this leaves for us is “How has Jesus Loved Us?” What are we to imitate in order to obey his new commandment?

Our first clue is the word that Jesus actually chose as he gave the commandment!
What would it be?

AGAPE

116 times in the New Testament this word is used to define the kind of love that Jesus had for us and that we are to have for one another. The God-kind of love!

We know the other expressions for love in both Greek and Hebrew; words that describe other dimensions of love: friendship, affection, brotherhood and sisterhood, and intimate physical love of marriage. All these words describe aspects of the emotion of love that we all experience throughout our lives, but none reach the height or purity of the kind of love we experience from God in Jesus Christ!

The word AGAPE is a word that was dusty before the New Testament. It was picked up by John, in his gospel and letters, by Paul in his letters and by Peter and Jude in theirs. AGAPE is a rigorous word! Its root is a verb! An action word; and its as such that we see it in Jesus’ own mouth, over and over.

Another 145 times in the New Testament, and in Jesus own words, 7 times in Matthew and Mark, 9 times in Luke and 28 times in John. Jesus uses the action word to describe God’s own love for the world in sending His only Son, in John 3:16.

So we have an extremely clear picture of what Jesus was saying to his disciples as he got up from the table, after washing their feet and sending his betrayer off to do his duty: A new commandment I am giving to you: Love one another as I have loved you.

In Jesus mouth this word is more often an action word:

…but I say to you, LOVE your enemy!

… looking at him, Jesus LOVED him (of the rich young ruler).

… God so LOVED the world, that He gave His one and only Son!

And of course this love for God is shown most clearly in our obedience to His Word!
Jesus in John 14 hammers this home with his disciples, in the discourse which follows the New Commandment at the end of chapter 13. Over and over again Jesus is crystal clear on the sign of obedience as the proof of this active work of love.

Jn 14:15, 21, 23, 24, 28; 31 Six verses with ten uses of this word LOVE.

Jn 14:15
"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

Jn 14:21
"He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him."

Jn 14:23
Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.

Jn 14:24
"He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me.

Jn 14:28
"You heard that I said to you, 'I go away, and I will come to you.' If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.

Jn 14:31
but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. Get up, let us go from here.

This is the climax of Jesus discourses at the table of the Last Supper, before they “go out”, down through the Kidron Valley and over to the Garden of Gethsemane, for his last night of prayer before the crucifixion. Here Jesus pushes the emphasis on our obedience as a sign of our active love of God and of Himself.

Now let’s look for a moment at the kind of LOVE that this is, this God-kind of LOVE.

First it is SACRIFICIAL. It places the desires of another above its own, every time.
This is why Jesus ties it to obedience and uses his own obedience as its supreme example, in the last verse we read. (v. 31). It is this love that mirrors the love of God that sacrificed His Only Son for the LOVE of the world (3:16). And it is we who are now asked to mirror that love sacrificially, for God and for each other. (Gal 2:20)  “The life which I now live I live by faith in the Son of God, who LOVED me and gave Himself up for me!”

Second it is UNCONDITIONAL. Paul tells us in Romans 5 that it is while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us! This was in fact, the way that God put this kind of LOVE on display!! There were no guarantees and no strings attached, unlike so much of our own love. The LOVE of God; the God-kind of LOVE is given to us freely, BEFORE we make a move toward Him! Remember the stance of the Father in the Prodigal story! Waiting at the window day after day, straining to see his wayward son’s form on the road, walking back home. The story isn’t about a wayward son – its about a loving father!! Loving with God’s kind of LOVE.

Thirdly it is a GIFT TO US. This kind of love is beyond our means! Paul tells us that this kind of love is a gift of the Holy Spirit – “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Ro 5:5) It is something that we seek and keep on seeking for, knock until it is opened to us, ask and ask and ask again, until God gives us his gracious and tender love. And my friends, the gift is most clearly experienced, as we come face to face with the cross of Jesus, our own part in it because of our sin, and hear his words, spoken from the cross, “Father, forgive them…”

Jesus said that the ones who have been forgiven much AGAPE much!! This is primarily how the gift comes to us, through forgiveness of our own sins and it is how the gift is displayed most clearly in us, as we forgive those who sin against us!!

I want to close with a few verses that capture the beauty of this love, where Paul portrays it, among the gifts in 1 Corinthians, as the supreme gift and turns it around in the light, making it sparkle like no other diamond:

I want to read from two versions in sequence, the Amplified and The Message: Just listen and then we will pray together:

4Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily.
5It is not conceited (arrogant and inflated with pride); it is not rude (unmannerly) and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God's love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong].
6It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail.
7Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening].
8Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end].

And from The Message:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies.

Aug 28, 2011 - A Glimpse of the Kingdom

Aug 28, 2011
A Glimpse of the Kingdom
Rom 12

The section of Romans in our readings this morning is one of Paul’s famous passages where he turns from the spiritual side of his letter to the practical side, the out-working of all that has gone before.

He gives us a glimpse of Kingdom life. What it means to live out this faith in the world around us, day-to-day. And its interesting that, unlike most of the lists that we tend to make regarding behavior, its not really a don’t list, it’s more of a To Do List:

From the beginning of the chapter in Romans 12, Paul is clearly giving us a glimpse of Kingdom life:

l-2 Let your life be a living sacrifice, in response to His mercy, which is your reasonable response in worship. Be formed by that response, not by the pressure of the world – be transformed really, letting the way you think be changed by God and His Word, so that you know His will and His ways, what is good, acceptable and perfect.

3-8 Don’t make yourself more important than you are! Don’t forget that you are part of a larger whole – a member of the Body. Each member is important, and plays its role in the work that God intends: Some preach and teach, others serve, others give, yet others encourage or help with details. Each is in ministry by the gift of Jesus and minister to the extent of their faith.

9-21
Love genuinely, from the heart.
Run from evil – cling to all that is good.
Be kind and affectionate to each other, and let one another take first place!
Be careful not to lose heart in your work – keep the fires stoked and burning.
That fire is the Hope in your heart – even in trials and difficulties it is fanned by prayer.
Give freely as you have the means, not grudging what is given: a meal or a bed for the night.
Don’t let the ones who curse you get you down, bless them instead. Be happy with those who are happy and sad with those who cry.
Live a life of harmony with others – let them be the lead singer, while you sing “back up” - you don’t have to be “up front” to be valuable. Everyone is valuable!
Never strike back. Let God take care of your “rep”. If it depends on you, be at peace! Meet your enemies needs: food, water, whatever. These things turn into burning coals in God’s hands. Never be overwhelmed by evil, but overwhelm evil with good.

Friends,
We are called to live in this way. The way of sacrifice to God on a daily basis.
We joke about the fact that living sacrifices keep crawling off the altar, but God is quite focused and serious about the changed lives that He wants to see. And not only God, but the world too, is interested in seeing Real Christians.

I made a new friend on Friday in the long line to get a new sticker for my tags at the Department of Motor Vehicles. You all know the line! He was trying to convince me that my time was more valuable than to wait in this line – he was behind me!!

In our conversation, it came to light that he had a teenage daughter, just out of high school, who was tired of fake Christians. She was using the “hypocrites” line with him, as I was overhearing their phone conversation. He said to me later, “I have the opportunity to live out what I believe, in front of her.”

And that is the most effective witness we can be!

I’ve seen hundreds come to Jesus in the last 24 hours at Rock the Range, but the decision that was made last night, has to be lived out this morning.

Paul tells us that that decision starts new every morning, as we see God’s mercy, and respond in worship by giving Him our lives anew every day. He changes our thinking as we do what He instructs us to.

We are part of a body as well. All of us are important to the working of the Body.
None of us are indispensible, but each plays an important role as the Body does its work. This is the setting of the Kingdom of God and the way that we live life in it.

This is what people are wanting to see; watching for at every turn. People who are changed, who are real, who love them genuinely, and never give up. Those are the people we are being called to be.

Let me just re-read my paraphrase one more time so it sticks:

Love genuinely, from the heart.
Run from evil – cling to all that is good.
Be kind and affectionate to each other, and let one another take first place!
Be careful not to lose heart in your work – keep the fires stoked and burning.
That fire is the Hope in your heart – even in trials and difficulties it is fanned by prayer.
Give freely as you have the means, not grudging what is given: a meal or a bed for the night.
Don’t let the ones who curse you get you down, bless them instead. Be happy with those who are happy and sad with those who cry.
Live a life of harmony with others – let them be the lead singer, while you sing “back up” - you don’t have to be “up front” to be valuable. Everyone is valuable!
Never strike back. Let God take care of your “rep”. If it depends on you, be at peace! Meet your enemies needs: food, water, whatever. These things turn into burning coals in God’s hands. Never be overwhelmed by evil, but overwhelm evil with good.

Our purpose here is to be a people who are living out the reality of the redeemed people of God in the world. We are the Kingdom; We are the Bride, the Body of Christ!

Let the Spirit of God bring about this reality in your life. That is the goal of our salvation. And God is willing and able to work these things into and out from your life.

For the sake of Kingdom and the Fame of His Name.

Amen.

Aug 14, 2011 - Pressing into the Kingdom

August 14, 2011
Pressing into the Kingdom
Fr. Philip Eberhart


Jesus was a man who lived His life “on purpose.”  In fact, if there ever was a person who was here, “on purpose” it was HIM!  He had an indelible sense of His calling, gifting and of the purpose for which He was sent by God.
Repeatedly we hear Jesus talking about the reasons that God sent Him into the world – “to seek and to save that which is lost”;  to find the “lost sheep – the lost coin – to welcome home the lost son.”  Jesus saw what He was doing as a direct extension of what God was doing in the world.

In our opening prayer this morning we acknowledged Jesus to be the supreme example for our lives as well as the savior of the world.  “you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life”  We prayed that God would give us the grace to “follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life.”

Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God – the Kingdom of Heaven – to earth.  His model prayer caught this reality – “Let your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!”

God is still in the business of bringing His Kingdom to its fullness “on earth, as it is in heaven.”   We are the chosen and the sent now.

In our New Testament lesson from Romans, Paul takes great pains over three chapters in Romans, a book written to his Gentile converts in Rome obviously, making the case that the Jews are going to come into the salvation that God has promised to them.  And our reading today is the culmination of that argument.

“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” – they cannot be repented of!

We cannot turn away from the gifting and the calling that God has placed on our lives – and that is where we see Jesus today in our Gospel reading. 

Jesus had a single focus – the Lost sheep of Israel.  His encounter with the Gentile woman in Tyre illustrates this single-mindedness.  In fact what we see is a kind of hardness that we don’t expect in Jesus.  He wants to turn his back and walk away from her situation, but she would have none of it!  He argues with her and the argument is based on this single-minded focus of His.  Her argument is one that picks up his imagery, but points to the mercy she needs.  She is just as single-minded as He is!!  She is not put off – she is determined in her faith that she will receive what she is seeking from Him.  And she does.  Her faith and determination overcame even Jesus’ reluctance here.  Perhaps the only time we see such an attitude in Jesus, but we must understand the context and the exchange.

All that to say that we can learn from both figures in the story.  We can learn of determined faith from the Canaanite woman; faith that pierces through any wall or argument set up against it.  We can learn single-mindedness from Jesus as well in this exchange.  Though He appears harsh in this exchange it was because He was focused on the work He was sent to accomplish.

Both of them were models of single-mindedness.  Jesus about the Kingdom of God and who He was sent to;  the Canaanite woman, about the healing needed for her daughter.

So what have we to be single-minded about?

Jesus said it best, in the Sermon on the Mount, “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…”

The aims and the work of the Kingdom of God and the internal righteousness of the Character of God are to be our focus – that which we seek FIRST.   The Kingdom of God and the Character of God:  an external reality and an internal reality.

THY KINGDOM COME – THY WILL BE DONE

The nature of the Kingdom is captured in the phrases of Jesus prayer:  

            Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

The Kingdom of God is the place where God’s will is done.  Where God’s reign is effective and real, and His will is accomplished 100% of the time, 24/7/365.

Jesus came to bring the Kingdom back to earth, to restore the Kingdom of Heaven, on earth.  This was his single focus!  This was what Jesus ate, drank and slept!  This is what Jesus prayed for day to day, and this is what his actions lead us to throughout His earthly ministry.

THY KINGDOM COME!  162 times in the NT, Jesus mentions the Kingdom.  It was this focus from which His teachings flow;  it was this focus that His healings point to;  it was this focus that his confrontation of evil flowed from. 

The line that Matthew uses to capture and to bookend the work of Jesus is this:
Matthew 4:23-25
23 Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. 24 News about him spread as far as Syria, and people soon began bringing to him all who were sick. And whatever their sickness or disease, or if they were demon possessed or epileptic or paralyzed—he healed them all. 25 Large crowds followed him wherever he went—people from Galilee, the Ten Towns,[h] Jerusalem, from all over Judea, and from east of the Jordan River.

Matthew 9:35-38
35 Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. 38 So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”

In between these verses we have the richest field of treasure in the whole world!  The shape of the Kingdom on earth is laid out by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5, 6 and 7.  Then in chapters 8 and 9 Jesus is traveling and healing the people.  Matthew closes this section by repeating the verse he began with and by telling us to look at the harvest and to pray for the workers.

Then immediately in Chapter 10 Jesus sends the disciples out with their orders.  Marching orders!  And they are US!  We are them – the ones who have been sent into the world with direct orders from Jesus, to bring in the Kingdom of God and to live His Righteous life in the world.
And these last three verses of Matt 9 are very instructive.  They form a bridge between the work of Jesus and the work that He sends us to do in the world around us.

Our motivation is compassion;

“When he saw the crowd, he had compassion on them
because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

            Our goal is the harvest;
            The harvest is great, but the workers are few!”

                        Our means is prayer.
                        Pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; asks Him to send
                        More workers into his fields.”

Friends, nothing we can do in and of ourselves can “bring the Kingdom – on earth as it is in Heaven!”  Our greatest weapon and tool is prayer to the God who is able to do more than we can ask or imagine! 

But once again, let me remind you that, once we’ve prayed, the next word in both Matthew and Luke’s gospels is “GO.” 

Prayer prepares both us and those who we are sent to.  Prayer is the rain that softens the soil that it may be easily broken to accept eternal seed.  And that is what we carry with us – the seed of the eternal Kingdom of God.  Planted in the hearts of those we meet, by kindness, by goodness, by long-suffering patience – by the fruit of the Character of God in our lives – we are enabled by Him to be the bearers of fruit for His Kingdom! 

And so we continue to pray, “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven” and “Here am I, Lord.  Send me.”

Amen.