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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Order in the Church (Titus 1:5-16)

I went in to the Chik-Fil-A at University Mall a couple of weeks ago.  It was noon and it was packed.  Every seat was filled.  There was a line of people waiting to order, and another line patiently waiting for their names to be called which would indicate that their orders were filled and their food was ready.  There was no riot.  No one rushed counter demanding their nuggets, now!  No clerks behind the counter ran screaming from the restaurant, “I can’t take it anymore.”
          They stayed busy getting our food ready.  It was definitely hard work and the stress showed on the faces of the employees, but they really functioned as a team.  You know who else was needed for the whole operation to be successful?  The customers.  I was pleased by the restraint and the calm demeanor.  As I said, no one was pushy or aggressive.  It was like we were all operating by some unspoken but known mantra: “If we just work together, we can all get through this.” 
          As innocuous as it sounds, a simple fast food lunch, it really does all come together when all participants gladly fill their roles.  Imagine if the employees showed up, but didn’t cook any chicken or work the cash register.  Imagine if the employees showed up, but there was no manager, no instruction.  The crew was ready to work, but they didn’t know who was supposed to cook, to fill orders, and to take orders.   Or, what if the crew was there, the manager was there, and everyone did their job correctly, but the customers didn’t know what to do.  They gathered and sat in booths or climbed on the counter or lay die in the aisles.  But no one placed orders.  Or, if orders were placed, no paid.  How quickly would the chaos come?  It wouldn’t have to be violent.  It could be a maddening milling around of people, like sheep without a shepherd.
          Now, imagine a church which was completely disordered.  No musicians prepared to lead songs.  No bulletins.  No sermon written.  The grass around the building would be knee-high because no one cut it or called a lawn maintenance company to do that work.  The building would be dark because no one paid the electric bill.  It would be hot for the same reason; no electricity, no AC.  No one would know each other because no one had taken the initiative to introduce people or welcome new individuals and new families. 
          How long would you stay at that church?  Worse, what kind of witness would the church be?  Who in the community would believe the Kingdom of God was any good if that church were the one representing the Kingdom and showing what it is like?
The Apostle Paul sent his protégé Titus to island of Crete with these instructions: “put in order what remained to be done … appoint an elder in every town” (v.5).  In addition to the term ‘elders, in verse 7, he uses the term ‘bishop.’  In other letters both from Paul and other New Testament authors, we see terms like ‘minister,’ ‘pastor,’ ‘disciple,’ ‘teacher,’ and ‘evangelist.’  My own sense is it is impossible to draw a straight line from these roles in the ancient church to way roles with the same titles function in churches today.  A deacon at HillSong Church does not do the exact things or ever operate in an identical way a deacon functioned in the Jerusalem Church in 35 AD.  We can though look at the ancient church and glean this.  The members had roles and the earliest Christians believed that when everyone in the church body functioned with their roles, it empowered the church’s witness in the larger surrounding community.  The church would be a more effective witness when everyone in the church played their part.
Church leaders were to be God’s agents, maintaining order and focus in God’s church.  The coming of Christ is God’s effort to set in order a world run amuck.  When God began creating in the very beginning, Genesis tells us the world was chaos, a roaring, pitch-black ocean that would not be quieted.  The spirit of God hovered over the face of the raging waters.  God created something out of nothing, but more than that, God created order out of chaos. 
          When God made us, human beings, he made us special.  Formed in God’s image, we have free will.  We can choose to live within God’s organization of the world.  Or, we can rebel and disobey God.  With that choice, the chaos that God subdued rears its ugly head.  When Adam and Eve exercised their free will, they chose this option.  So did God’s chosen people, the Israelites.  They had the opportunity to be special and at times they were.  But, repeatedly, they violated their covenant with God and in the end experienced suffering, pain, and at times anarchy. 
          Once again, God restored order to the world, this time in a way no one saw coming.  Instead of creating another garden or choosing another nation to be His people, or giving 10 more commandments, God did something new and different.  He became one of us in order to show us how it is done.  Jesus came to be the perfect model of humanity and to die in place of anyone who could not live up to the standard he set.  The birth of Jesus is the sign that once more, God had restored order. 
However, even after Jesus showed the way, died on the cross, and rose again and in doing gave us another chance as living in God’s order, still rebellion continued.  It does to this day.  People reject God’s ways.  Even in church – the body of Christ – there is temptation.  Even here, among believers, evil lurks.  Thus, an intentional, spoken commitment to God’s way of doing things is essential.
Paul, a Christian-persecuting Pharisee became a Christ-follower.  He started more churches than anyone.  He traveled throughout the Mediterranean world spreading the story of Jesus.  People from all backgrounds – Egyptian, Ethiopian, Roman, Greek, and Jewish – came to faith as they met Jesus in Paul’s preaching.  Churches were formed.  This was the great work of God in the decades that followed the resurrection.  However, for all the good that they did, the people who made up those first congregations also gave into temptation.  They committed the same sins as Adam and Eve, the same sins as those who crucified Jesus, and the same sins we commit today.  The first Christians sinned and disorder came into God’s church. 
One of the things that motivated Paul as he nurtured these young congregations was order and harmony.  We’re right back to God’s motivation in the original creation.  God is a god of order, so God’s people must be ordered, competent, and together.  Paul wanted to get Christians who made a mess of things back on track.  This was the case on the Island of Crete where Paul had stationed one of his most trusted associates, Titus.  The letter to Titus is Paul’s instruction to Titus about strengthening the Cretan churches.  Paul, quoting an ancient philosopher/poet from Crete, wrote that all Cretans are “liars, evil brutes, and lazy gluttons.”  Today we refer to obnoxious, overbearing oafs as Cretans.  Titus’ assignment to organize churches on the island of Crete was a difficult work indeed.    
Paul’s intent was that on Crete, under Titus’ leadership, the churches would be communities of harmony, love, and faith.  Titus went to Crete as Jesus’ messenger to remind the Cretan Christians of why Jesus came and to reassert the importance of each church representing Christ well before the communities.
Titus had to assign leaders for each congregation, people who would be blameless, who lived lives of faith, did not commit the same sins over and over.  Leaders had to be always growing in the relationship with God and willing to give and receive forgiveness.  Additionally, they had to have orderly homes, solid family relationships, and a sober minded approach to life.  Those prone to rage filled outbursts, and those who were dishonest were not qualified to be church leaders.  Elders and deacons were people of integrity. 
Leaders were also spiritually strong people, strong enough to defend the church against the invasion of false religion.  Lurking around every church in every town on the island of Crete were deceivers who spread lies about Jesus.  These hucksters tried to convince Christians that they had to keep certain laws or customs in order to be assured of their salvation.  Church leaders protected congregations from a false gospel and preserved the truth that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ – Christ crucified and resurrected.  Those appointed in the churches were set apart and functioned as servant leaders and spiritual guardians.
One of the strengths of our church today is seen in the quality of our elders and deacons.  These are not the professional pastors, but rather people with secular jobs who have been set apart for the special calling of serving our church as leaders.  The deacons have the responsibility of stewardship.  They care for our resources and our building.  The elders are the spiritual leaders in the church who attend to prayer and pastoral care.  Both groups are called by God to serve Him and to serve you, the church family. 
Today, we recognize Chris Driggers, Faye Hilger, Laura Shrewsbury, and Tabitha Storm who just begun service on the elder board.  They have served as elders or deacons in the past, so each have been ordained.  Also today, we will lay hands on Debra Eatmen.  She began serving as deacon in December, but has never been ordained.  So we say the prayer over her today. 
Debra is a devoted servant of God, dedicated to His word and to the work of caring for the people of the church.  She will gladly tell you she is a “behind the scenes” disciple.  I want to tell you that I personal have been tremendously blessed by the many different ways she serves behind the scenes.  Our church has too.  Furthermore, with five months of deacons meetings under her belt, she knows what she’s in for.  And she is serving with joy.  So, it is with great joy that we as a congregation recognize that God has set Debra apart for ordained lay ministry as a deacon.
For Debra, God has a specific call to a particular ministry.  That’s what ordination in an evangelical church is.  We lay our hands on these her, we pray God’s blessing on her, and we state before the community of faith our belief that she has been set a part by God, speaking through us. 
All our deacons, elders and pastors work in cooperation with one another and with our music leaders, our small group leaders, our administrator and treasurer, and with our members and guests.  We all come together to make the church a welcoming place where it is safe to seek God and ask questions – any questions.  It is safe to doubt, to disagree, and to grow.  In the midst of our cooperation, God works, transforming individuals and our community.  We are made new and in the name of Jesus sent into the world as witnesses to the goodness of His Kingdom.  We go and answer the call of God because we know the community supporting us is there for us.
The order God puts in the church through the appointment and ordination of leaders makes it possible for us to do all the things He calls us to do.   


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Orlando Shootings, LGBT, Islamaphobia, Gun Control

          Omar Mateen carried an assault rifle and a pistol into the Pulse club, a gay night club in Orlando Florida.  He killed 49 people.  It was Sunday morning, June 12, 2AM.  I woke for church on Sunday around 6:30.  My son was watching the news around 8AM.  The weather was on.  After the weather, we turned off the TV and began getting ready for church.  I had no knowledge of the shooting. 
          At church, no one mentioned it to me and I did not look at any news outlets.  So, as the service began and then throughout the service, I had no knowledge that the worst mass shooting in U.S. history had happened a few short hours earlier.  During our prayer time, I did not know.  No one mentioned it to me.
          After the worship service, our family ate lunch at home, with no media on.  Then, my middle son and I got in the car for the 3-hour drive to my parents’ place in Roanoke.  We listened to a Hardy Boys mystery on CD the entire way.  Upon arrival, we hung out with my parents, played games, shot baskets on their backyard hoop, and ate.  Finally, around 8:30PM, I was flipping channels and stopped at CNN.  Over 16 hours after the shooting, I finally found out.  If I had known Sunday morning, we would have had a time of prayer in our worship service.
          For what would we pray?  Of course, we’d pray for the family members and friends of the victims. We would ask God to provide solace and comfort.  We would pray for the more than 50 people who were injured but not killed.  We would pray that God would heal their wounds and soothe their shattered psyches.  And we’d pray for the survivors.  They may be alive and uninjured, but they are not unscathed.  We would pray for them as they carry the burden of survivor’s guilt and the horrors of watching their friends die.  The images they see when they close their eyes to sleep will haunt them in their dreams for a long time. 
Yes, there is much to pray for and we carry all of it to God on behalf of these wounded people.  What else?
We must pray for the family of the shooter, Omar Mateen.  They will be ostracized.  American society as a whole feels the shock and the anger of such an event.  Unstable persons could escalate the violence if in a misguided attempt at justice they were to lash out at Mateen’s relatives.  These people will carry shame and will need God’s help to be free. 
What else?  What do else do we say when we pray?  An interesting thing about this story is the convergence of many different political hot potatoes.  There is homophobia, the hatred of the LGBT community.  There is Islamophobia, the hatred of all things Muslim.  That fact that the killer was Muslim and self-identified as an ISIS supporter arms Islamophobs with all they need to demonize the entire religion and all who practice it. 
Then, there is the issue of gun control.  Those who abhor the accessibility of military style assault weapons will have a field day attacking, ideologically, those who defend their 2nd amendment right to “keep and bear” arms. 
This story has created strange bed fellows.  I read and posted an opinion from a conservative Christian who wants to damn all Muslims and to liken the religion to the circumstances in 1920’s Germany that set the table of the rise of fascism and Nazism.  The Orlando shootings show that if we don’t stop ISIS now, it will become another Hitler-led Nazi type of power that wreaks havoc and propagates genocide. Many of my Facebook friends pointed out several leaps of logic that in the article.  What I found fascinating in it is that the author, a conservative, linked arms with high profile atheists Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, and Ayn Hirsi Ali in order to brand Islam as violent and evil.  And he did this in defense of the victims, gay people.  Recall the last time you remember conservative Christians aligning with Atheists to defend gays from Muslims.  I bet you cannot think of time.  I can’t. 
The enemy of my enemy is my friend?
For the record, I know all Muslims are not violent because I spend a week in a community that is 70% Muslim.  While I am there, I talk about Jesus and try to convince people to follow him.  The Muslims react in violent ways. They sell me bread and fruit.  They welcome me into their homes and heap hospitality on me.  And at the hotel bar, they sell me beer and soda.  Smiling the entire time.  I have never felt safer anywhere.
For the record, I do not keep weapons in my home.  Yet, I am good friends with card-carrying NRA members.  I don’t think the issue is as simple as some of my dogmatic anti-gun friends.  But, I do believe it would be helpful to significantly reduce the number of assault weapons and automatic, high volume, rapid fire guns.  Nobody needs those.  You don’t need an arsenal that Rambo would envy to protect your home.  And having a gun doesn’t make you safer.  The guard at the Pulse night club was armed, but 50 people still died.
For the record, I love gay and lesbian people.  Not all of them.  I don’t know all of them.  But, I love the ones I know.  My neighbors.  Old friends who now take care of my nephews and nieces.  Dear friends who are still “in the closet.”  Based on my reading of Matthew 19:1-12 and Romans 1:18-32, I do not believe same sex marriage is God-honoring or sanctified by God.  I believe homosexuality is outside God’s plan for human sexuality.  But I want you to pay attention to something.  I wrote my theology after identifying how many gay and lesbian people I love. 
And please notice this.  I don’t count homosexual sex as an unforgivable sin.  Some Christians don’t think it is a sin at all.  If they and I are to discuss the divergence in our theology, I’d like to do it in an atmosphere of friendship and love.  And I do believe that someone can hold the opinion that same sex marriage is OK in God’s eyes and at the same time that person can be a disciple.  To put it simply, in theological terms, I oppose same sex marriage.  But I don’t think someone is disqualified from the title ‘Christian’ just because they disagree with me on this point. 
So where are we?  I think the way of Christ is the way of compassion.  His encounter with the rich young ruler is an example.  He was working to correct this man’s understanding by helping the man shift his priorities from a dependence on material wealth to a dependence on faith in God.  But, Jesus knew the man would not respond, not the way Jesus preferred.  Still, the Gospel say that when Jesus told him to part with his riches, before Jesus said a word, he looked at him and “loved him” (Mark 10:21).  That’s where we are.  We are to love people.
We – followers of Jesus – are to be peddlers of the Gospel.  When it comes to social issues, we start from the cross and resurrection and base ourselves there.  If we find ourselves in disagreement with someone on any of the issues I have raised, we enter the conversation compassionately seeking to love the other even in disagreement.  Most importantly, we do not settle for the prevailing narrative. We loudly but compassionately proclaim a counter narrative, one in which the love of Jesus rules the day.  That story must be told and lived, and we must be the ones to tell it and live it.
I close with a tweet from Russell Moore:


Christian, your gay or lesbian neighbor is probably really scared right now. Whatever our genuine disagreements, let's love and pray

Monday, June 13, 2016

Knowledge by Inquiry, Knowledge by Faith (1 Corinthians 15:1-5

Sunday, June 12, 2016
(On this Sunday, we baptized J_______).

        As Jeremy went under the water, I pronounced him “dead.”  This is not only about J______.  Recall your baptism.  I or another pastor took you down under the water, dead and buried in sin.  Then you are raised and we say, “Raised to new life in Jesus Christ.”  Sin leads to death, but because of Jesus, his death on the cross and his resurrection, we have new life.  We become new creations. We do not remain buried in the ground to return to ashes.  We are raised.
        For what?  Jeremy has entrusted himself to Jesus.  You and I, if we have put our faith in Christ, also have entrusted ourselves to Him.  We are saved, born again, bound for resurrection.  Our baptism shows this.  What about our lives?  For what are we saved?
        In the 16th century in Europe, a group of Christians called Anabaptists insisted that babies could not be baptized.  Baptism was for people who were able to consciously choose to follow Jesus and when baptism happened it had to be by immersion.  In the reformation, Protestant Christians separated from the Catholic Church.  Anabaptists, the ones denying the acceptability of infant baptism separated from other Protestants like Lutherans and the Reformed Church.
        As a result, over 1000 Anabaptists were arrested and killed by both Catholics and by other Protestants.  Their main crime was they allowed themselves to be re-baptized.  Women were drowned for this, and men burned at the stake for doing what Jeremy did today, undergoing immersion, believer’s baptism. 
        Dirk Willem was one such Christian, an Anabaptist follower of Jesus.  Imprisoned, awaiting execution in his home town of Asperen, Netherlands, he escaped.  He made a rope of cloths tied together, and fled over the wintry countryside as a guard gave chase.  He risked running right across a frozen pond.  The ice held, but when the guard followed, it gave way dooming him to a certain, frozen death. 
        Raised to new life in Christ.  For what?
        Dirk Willem stopped running, turned around, and helped the man who a moment ago had been chasing him.  Dirk had escaped and was in the clear, but he believed what Jesus said when Jesus said to love our enemies.  He pulled that man from the frigid waters and the man was ready to let him go, but this all took long enough for others to catch up.  For living as a part of new creation, as one who is of the Kingdom of God, Dirk Willem was burned at the stake on May 16, 1569.
        Near the end of his letter to the Corinthian Church, the Apostle Paul zeroed on the core Gospel.  Chapter begins, “Now I would remind you brothers and sisters, of the gospel … [on] which you stand” (15:1).  It all comes down to this.  Paul’s final word for them in this letter is the essential Gospel.
        Competing narratives vie for our soul.  Every one of us lives under the covering of a dominant story.  Maybe it is a national story or a social class story or a race story.  Whatever it is, this was true of the Corinthians; it was true for Dirk Willem which is why he was willing to go to his own death to save the man who represented the powers that killed him; and, it is true for you and me.   Competing stories position themselves to be the dominant story of our lives.  Paul wanted the Gospel to be the dominant story for all who would read this letter.
        Verse 2, we are saved if we believe.  Verse 3, Christ died for our sins, was buried, and raised.  Please note that each portion is equally critical in our story.  There is not more weight on the cross.  The cross is essential.  The burial is and so is the resurrection.  The gospel includes all of it.  Later in this chapter, Paul declares that if Jesus was not raised in a bodily resurrection, it’s all for nothing.  Without the resurrection, the cross is just a torture device.  Without the cross, the resurrection never happens. 
        And in beginning in verse 5 and running through verse 11 is another, equally essential element of the Gospel: the appearances of the risen Lord Jesus.  This testimony is here because Paul wants the original readers of this letter and every subsequent generation of readers to know that there were multiple eye-witnesses who attested to a literal, bodily resurrection. 
        New Testament writers worked to place the resurrection as an event history, something that literally happened.  In the opening verses of his Gospel, Luke asserts that he is writing history.  He took the same approach in the book of Acts.  In John’s gospel, the author claims to be an eye-witness to all that has been described including the resurrection (John 21:24).  A similar claim is made in Second Peter (1:5) and here in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul names several eyewitness. 
Theologian Paul Fiddes labels this approach to knowledge of Jesus as ‘scientific,’ affixing to the discipline of historical research the same standards of inquiry used in science (see Past Event and Present Salvation, chapter 3).  Fiddes thinks the resurrection cannot be determined by means of scientific inquiry because it is an event that cannot be reproduced within the boundaries of the laws of nature.  It is a supernatural event so the fact that it happened cannot be established by historical research.  Fiddes is not denying a bodily resurrection.  He just denies that we can prove it by the conventions historians use.  Rather, we know the resurrection happened because we know it by faith.  Fiddes believes this approach to knowing is as valid and as important as the knowledge we gain by scientific inquire.  In dealing with salvation, he feels both ways of knowing – by faith and by scientific inquiry - are essential.
While he doesn’t delve into how we know, theologian James McClendon accepts the resurrection as an event in history.  Two theologian-historians, N.T. Wright and Mike Licona, have written lengthy volumes explaining why the best conclusion to be drawn from the available evidence is that Jesus actually did rise from the grave.  Whether that is enough to say that inquiry can establish the historicity of the resurrection, I cannot say.  But all the scholars I mentioned, Fiddes, Wright, Licona, and McClendon along with many others would agree that scientific inquiry cannot establish what the original followers of Jesus thought the cross and resurrection meant.
To understand meaning, we have to live in that other sphere of understanding Fiddes name – knowledge that comes by faith.  Fiddes says, “the living and incomparable Lord cannot be pinned down under the microscope of scientific investigation.  [We] need the eye of faith, and the power of the Holy Spirit to bring matters into focus before we can say [and believe] that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself’” (p.37).  Paul and the other New Testament writers always operated with the eye of faith.  Even when they tried to establish hard, objective facts by way of insisting upon the eye-witness nature of their reports, those reports were packaged persuasively in an attempt to lead the reader to faith.  The apostle was at the same time objective, faith-based, and evangelistic. 
We understand the events of salvation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the appearances of the risen Lord Jesus both by science and by faith.  I have spent a bit time explaining both ways of understanding specifically because we live in a post-enlightenment era.  We are science and technology dependent.  There are individuals who are happy to let science take care of our healing at the hospital and our entertainment with 1000 devices and our banking and our shopping and our military defense.  In all these ways, some individuals trust in technology, but when it comes to heaven, then switch and trust in God.  And never do the science and the faith meet. 
For others, that won’t do.  When everything rides on the next scientific advance, to then rely on something outside of science for the afterlife is just superstition.  Science has to have a say in our faith understanding.  However, science (including historical proof as science) cannot have the final say.  The resurrection is outside the parameters of science.  God is outside the parameters of science.  So is meaning.  Thus when we, as followers of the crucified/risen Lord who come from the scientific age, express our faith we need to do so in a way that is rooted in faith but understood by those rooted in science.  We have to talk about salvation in a way makes that makes sense to people today.
Jesus lived in first century Palestine.  Fact.
He was crucified when Jewish leaders collaborated with Romans leaders.  He was crucified, dead, and buried.  Fact.
He rose from death and appeared to his followers.  Call this fact or belief, but it happened.  Jesus literally rose in a bodily resurrection and first century people saw him. 
What we believe about God and salvation rest on these facts which we declare to be irrefutable. What these things mean has to do with the relationship that comes when the Holy Spirit reaches out to us and we respond.  This is faith knowledge and faith-living.  We declare both, what we know and the life we will commit to live in believer’s baptism by immersion. 
But then, what this all means, is only seen in how we live.  Prior to the resurrection, it was hard.  Jesus repeatedly told his followers that like him, they needed to walk the hard road, persevere through persecution, and endure in godliness and faith.  They just wanted to jump ahead straight to the New Age, bypassing hardship.  McClendon observes that if the disciples had had their way, there would have been no cross.  If Jesus had his way, there would have been 13 crosses (McClendon, p.235).  And we have to take up our cross and follow Him.  When we do that, when we’ve evaluated the evidence and responded to the Holy Spirit and we decide that because of what we’ve found and what we’ve felt we should then walk the footsteps of Jesus, then we have a full-bodied, lived salvation.
So, we study and pray. We think and feel.  We calculate, evaluate, and meditate.  All of it is done in hope and trust, believing that God will make us ready when our moment comes and our pursuer is about to fall through the ice.
Remember the opening story of the Dirk Willem who stop his escape to rescue the guard falling through thin ice.  In that moment, he was not engaged in deep theological analysis.  He was not moved by a deep warmth from God, I don’t think.  He was scared and running for his life.  But he stopped because deep inside himself he could hear the voice of Jesus telling him to love his enemy.  This enemy would drag him to the stake where he would be slow-roasted to death. 
When we are attacked verbally or relationally or maybe physically, when we are hit, do we hear Jesus telling us to love our enemies and do we obey?
When it gets really hard, do we run as fast as we can to safer ground, or do we stand and point to the crucified, risen Lord and declare, I am standing with Him and trusting in Him, no matter what?
When being a Christ-follower is costly, do we backtrack and settle for a watered down faith indistinguishable from any other worldview, or do we pay the cost, carry our cross, and follow Him?
The gospel is salvation: through the cross and the resurrection, Jesus saves us from sin and death and saves us to life eternal in His kingdom.  We know this salvation that we have through measured, reasoned study of the facts.  We know this salvation that we have through our deeply personal, emotional response to the Holy Spirit who whispers to our hearts that we are forgiven and beloved.  And our salvation is known when the watching world sees our lives and sees Jesus.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Lived Salvation (Titus 3:3-7)

Sunday, June 2, 2016

          Sunday evening.  A mother tucks her 9-year-old son into bed.  Some nights he talks to her about Star Wars or soccer.  But not tonight.  Some nights he tries a dozen different tactics to convince her to let him stay up just 15 minutes more.  But not tonight.  Tonight, he says, “My Sunday school teacher said something in church this morning, something about Jesus and the cross and me.”  His shocked mother had not known he had even been listening in Sunday school.  He never mentions it.  So, she encourages him to say more.  She forgets all about her favorite TV show, which starts in 10 minutes.  She and her son talk and before she realizes what is happening, they are kneeling beside his bed as he prays to receive Jesus.
          Sunday morning, two AM.  Two college freshmen sit and drink and cry.  One discovered her boyfriend with another young woman.  The other consoles her heartbroken friend. The young woman who has been cheated upon really does not know much about Christianity.  She’s been to church maybe five times in her life.  Here suitemate tries to comfort her with hugs and sips from the bottle.  She appreciates the care, but it feels so empty.  There has to be something more.  There other roommate, the goody-two shoes girl, never gets drunk and when she has boy-troubles she has a perspective the two party girls seem to lack.
In frustration, she shouts, “Why don’t you ever fall to pieces like this?”
She doesn’t expect an answer, so is surprised to hear her friend say, “Jesus.”
“What?”  She snaps back.
Her friend proceeds to explain how faith in Jesus helps her through disappointments.  At first she’s disgusted.  Of course goody-two shoes girl says, ‘Jesus.’  But she doesn’t say that.  For a few minutes, she doesn’t say much.  Then, even in her drunken haze, she finds herself feeling curious.  She asks one question, then another, and another.  They talk for another few hours.  She doesn’t go to church later that morning.  But the next week she does.  And before the semester ends, she has turned her life in another direction and become a Jesus-follower.
Cancer has wrecked the 75-year-old’s body, and whatever survived the disease has been damaged by the treatments.  Radiation and chemo.  His doctors think he might die within the month.  He wishes it would be within the hour.  He’s not afraid.  He trusted in Jesus as a child and has done a lot of praying over the last year.  He’s pretty sure the stuff his church teaches about going to Heaven is true.  So, it’s not the afterward that scares him.  He’s just suffering in this dying process and desperately wants it to end.  It doesn’t.  Defying the odds, he improves and within a month is actually back on his feet.  As he walks out of the hospital, he reflects on all those prayers.  What exactly did he ask God to do?  He can’t put a finger on it, but he knows that in prayer, he felt God’s reassuring touch.  He kind of assumed it meant God was walking him to the finish line.  Now, he feels God walking him out of the hospital.  What’s next?
In his letter to Titus, Paul writes, “We ourselves were … slaves to various passions … passing our days in malice; but when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us” (Titus 3:3-4).  It happened, from Paul’s perspective, in the past.  His salvation is something that occurred at two distinct points.  First, there was Jesus’ death on the cross, where he took on himself the weight, the guilt, and the consequences of Paul’s sins.  Second, there was the day the risen Christ confronted Paul as Paul traveled to Damascus to arrest Christians for the crime of being Christians.  In the crucifixion and in the moment of meeting Jesus, Paul sees himself as one who was saved.  By the time he or one of his followers in his name writes this letter to Titus, both events had happened a couple of decades ago.  Salvation came in the past. 
Then in Titus 3:7 Paul writes, “Having been justified by grace, we become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”  This is theme developed more in Romans 8 where Paul calls those are saved sons and daughters of God.  We are adopted and our inheritance is eternal in God’s presence with the status of royalty.  We are sons and daughters of the king.  He makes the same point about adoption in Galatians 4.
First in the cross and then in the moment or in the process in which we make the conscious decision to confess our sins, turn our lives over to Jesus, and follow him, we see salvation as something that has happened.  Unless you are making this decision to be a Christ-follower right now, as I speak, then your salvation is a past event.  You have been saved. 
If you have not made that decision, I encourage you to consider it.  I believe that in knowing you have been forgiven and knowing you stand before God as one who is completely clean and covered in the righteousness of Christ you will experience freedom and joy you have never known.  If you have never given the Lord your heart, please prayerfully consider doing so today.  If you have been saved, it has already happened even if it was just last night.
Whenever it happened, it holds for us promise.  We were saved.  And we will spend eternity in relationships of love and peace.  We will be resurrected into bodies that cannot be injured and cannot be killed.  Once saved, we have complete assurance and unflinching hope.
This is so in each case I mentioned at the beginning.  That 9-year-old boy who listened to his Sunday school teacher and prayed with his mom and was then baptized in church was saved and has the hope of eternal life with God.  That college student whose life turned around radically went from wild party girl to Christ follower.  The 75-year-old cancer survivor walked out of the hospital as a saved man with an eternity of life in the New Heavens and New Earth ahead of him. 
However, in each case, an extremely important question cannot be avoided.  The 9-year-old boy may have as many as 81 years to live between the moment of salvation, the past, and like in the eternal kingdom, the future.  If the college student lives to be 100, she could have a similar situation, 80 between being saved and entering eternity.  Even the 75-year-old who has baffled his doctors by surviving is himself now wondering.  I am saved and heaven is coming, but what about right now?
Indeed.  What is salvation today?  And what do the past and the future have to say about how I live today?  We’ve looked at hypothetical examples of a child, a college students, and a senior citizen.  What about your life?  Mine?  Maybe I live just one more week.  How does my past – saved at age 11 in 1981 and my future – eternity with Christ in the resurrection frame my life and form my identity for the next week that l live?  Or the next 40 years?  How do past and future shape you?  How do they shape the church?
Gordon fee of Regent College in Vancouver in his commentary on Titus points to verses 5 and 7 where Paul writes that believers undergo rebirth, are renewed by the Holy Spirit, and are justified by God’s grace.[i]  In being born again, the death that sin brings is removed.  Salvation is far more than just a transaction.  Our relationship with God is restored.[ii]
The Holy Spirit brings renewal.  I believe even our initial step toward God where we make a conscious choice to confess our sin, receive forgiveness and acknowledge Jesus as Lord is aided by the Spirit.  Before we turn to God, the Holy Spirit draws us and works in us. Then at the moment of salvation, “the Spirit,” Paul says, “is poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”  Fee says this renewal means a change in our inner being.  God does something that defies precise description. We are not who we were prior to turning to Jesus. 
Third, Paul mentions in Titus 3:7 that in salvation, we are justified.  Our status before God is now the status Jesus has before God.  His righteousness is given to us.  So, if in rebirth, our relationship with God is restored and if in renewal, our inner being experiences transformation, in justification, Jesus gives us his perfection.  We are made right. 
Because we have been saved, in the past, today, we are born again, renewed, and justified.  What does the future aspect of our salvation contribute to our lives today?  Knowing that our future home is the new Heaven and new Earth, we completely reject the current condition of the world as it is mired in sin and death.  Resurrection hope breeds in us a holy discontent.  In Titus, Paul says we are to renounce worldly passions, avoid stupid controversies, and devote ourselves to good works (from 2:12; 3:8, 9).  Dr. Fiddes writes, “Christians will engage in movements of liberation refusing to tolerate any dehumanizing methods of authority in the present world, contrasting them with the Holy Spirit” who restores humanity to the original good condition in which we were formed.[iii]
Spurred on by the Spirit who fills us and is poured out on us, we become voices advocating for God’s kingdom.  My friend Luke is an example of what I mean.[iv] Remember, to be saved in the present is to devote ourselves to good works, to love our neighbor, and to renounce dehumanizing powers and authorities.  Luke and his wife and four children came to the United States with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.  Though their situation appeared desperate, they were grateful to be out of their home country, Sudan, where in the 1990’s, the Muslim government carried out atrocities against Christian and against other Muslims.
Our church visited Luke and his family at their apartment and learned that they had a few mattresses, the rent paid for three months, and an insufficient food allowance.  The present Holy Spirit told us this was atrocious, that we needed to act, and that we had much to learn about God from Luke and his wife Nya. So we went to work acquiring furniture, stocking their shelves with groceries, welcoming the kids into our children’s and youth ministries, and helping Luke with the paper work he needed for employment.  We shared hospitality, which they gratefully needed. 
Luke and Nya shared their stories – stories our church desperately needed to hear.  Our limited faith perspective expanded as they gave first-hand accounts of fleeing persecution in Sudan, meeting Filipino missionaries who led them to Jesus while they were in a refugee camp in Cairo, Egypt, and then made the journey to the U.S.A.  Their stories which broadened our faith, the Filipino missionaries who carried the gospel around the world, and the connection with us were all part of the Holy Spirit’s influence not just over us as a church or over Luke’s family, but over the world that was lost in sin.  The Spirit looked at this family and looked at the refugee crisis and said, “This will not do.”  As a church, we heard the Spirit’s call, did our best to answer, and ended up richer for it as we welcomed Luke and Nya into our family.
Maybe this idea of a church helping a family and that family blessing the church seems a few steps past the simple notion of salvation.  This and 100 other examples should perhaps be discussed on other Sundays, not this morning.  But salvation in the present, lived salvation, is no simple notion.  It is the individual believer and the church born again (born into restored relationship), renewed (having experienced inner transformation) and justified (in right standing before God).  It is the believer and the entire church responsive to the Holy Spirit.  The story of Luke and Nya and the church drawn together, transformed, and drawn deeper into the heart of God is a picture of lived salvation.  The past event and the future hope lead to a present that is Godly and different from anything the world would predict. 
Think of the 9-year-old or the college student or the cancer survivor living between that salvation and the final resurrection.  Think of yourself in that in-between space, from right now until judgment day.  How will we live?  In Christ, we will live as if the Kingdom has already arrived.  It has come in him and will come to completion at his return.  Every day we live toward that end.  Every day, the reality of salvation takes shape in our lives.

[i] G.Fee (1988), New International Bible Commentary: 1&2 Timorthy, Titus, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA), p.204.
[ii] P.Fiddes, Past Event and Present Salvation, p.15.
[iii] Fiddes, p. 31.  See also Guthrie
[iv] A reference to Luciano Karlo and his wife Ny Fasher, who are from Sudan and whom we helped at Greenbrier in 1997.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Messiah in the Old Testament –the book of Job

            Throughout this year I am examining a book called The Messiah in the Old Testament by Walter Kaiser, of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  He attempts to illustrate how OT texts show that the Messiah, God’s anointed savior, has been a part of God’s plan from the start.  In this installment, I share Kaiser’s observations from the book of Job. 
In my own opinion, Job should be treated as a post-exilic work.  I believe Job is a parable and possibly the compilation of different works.  The events of the book may be rooted in a historic person named Job, but the greater message of the work speaks to how readers engage with God during times of immense suffering.  It is a mistake to too quickly say, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  Yes, Job says that (1:21), but then he spends many chapters expressing extreme bitterness. One who claims Job suffered with dignity and never indicted God is one who stopped reading after chapter 2.
Are there hints of Messianic faith in Job?  Here is Kaiser’s evidence: first, he mentions 9:33.  Job complains “there is no umpire between us” (between himself and God).  The word umpire is one who would arbitrate between Job and God.  He suffers unjustly and God lets it happen, but how can he, a mere mortal, bring his case against Almighty God?  An umpire or arbitrator would speak on Job’s behalf.
Second, Kaiser mentions 16:19-21, where Job sounds more hopeful.  “My witness is in heaven and he … vouches for me … on high.  He would maintain the right of a mortal with God as one does for a neighbor.”  In referring to terms witness and neighbor, Kaiser says the text indicates ideas like an intercessor and even a friend (Kaiser, p. 63). 
Kaiser’s third identification of passages in Job that hint at Messianic theology is 19:25-27.  “I know that my redeemer lives and at the last he will stand upon on the earth.”  Kaiser unabashedly asserts that Job anticipates an end-times living person on earth who can and will vindicate him and redeem him from his myriad troubles.  Resurrection theology developed gradually over the course of Israel’s history and is not uniformly presented in the OT.  This is one reason I am hesitant to locate Job (in its final form) in the era of Abraham.  Kaiser does not insist Job lived at that time either, by the way.  However, regardless of when he lived, this passage, Job 19:25-27, clearly asserts hope, a hope rooted in the belief that a savior will speak on Job’s behalf.
The fourth example from Job comes not from Job’s speech but that of Elihu in Job 33:23-28.  Kaiser notes that in these verses “is a call for a messenger who will act as an interpreter” (Kaiser, p.64).  The end result of this interpreter’s work is that the sufferer (in this case Job) will be redeemed from “the Pit” and shall again “see the light.”  Like the redeemer passage (19:25-27), here is a reference to a last-day salvation. 
From these hopeful passages, scattered throughout the dark world of suffering presented in the book of Job, Kaiser sees seeds of Messianic hope.  “The Messiah will be an arbitrator, a mediator, a heavenly advocate and witness, a redeemer, and an interpreter of the enigmas of life” (Kaiser, p.64).  The New Testament, especially the book of Hebrews, presents Christ in all these roles.