Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Different Kind of Prayer Meeting...

If you've ever been to a "prayer meeting" in the middle of the week, you may have noticed that there seems to be an awful lot of meeting and not a whole lot of prayer going on.  As Christians we have sadly found ourselves in the position of doing a great deal of talking about prayer while neglecting to actually pray.

In an effort to push back against the tendency to put off prayer, we're starting a different kind of prayer meeting (more prayer, less meeting).  Every Wednesday night from 5:30 to 7pm Edgewood is opening its doors to the surrounding community as a place to leave the distractions outside and spend some quiet time in prayer.

If you want someone to pray with you or for you, there will be a pastor available, but if you just need a quiet place to sit alone and pour your heart out to God--there's a spot for you too.  Join us in taking a break from the world and getting a few moments of sanity back from reconnecting with God.  Come and stay for as long as you need, or pop in and take off and soon as you need to.

See you there.  

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Most Important Thing

So, this whole Easter thing happened again.  It seems to happen every year at some point in the Spring.  Typically this day is marked by boisterous music, small girls clad in fancy dresses, and colorful eggs hidden in grass.  While these hallmarks of the holiday are enjoyable and make for happy memories, they are not at the core of what defines Easter at Edgewood.
     Pastor Matt was back this week and he brought us a timely reminder of the significance of the truth we were there to celebrate.  The discussion began with a question - "What is the most important thing?"  The obvious churchy answer is something along the lines of "Jesus" or "the Gospel," but we were going deeper than that.  We all know what we're supposed to say, but that's not usually where most of us live on a daily basis.
     There are plenty of priorities that require our attention, but only one thing is the most important.  We can spend our time focusing on getting just the right programs organized or minimizing inconveniences in our lives, but ultimately none of it will ever be enough.
     So what is it?  What is so important that we can root our entire existence in its reality?  According to Paul in I Corinthians 15, the truth is this--Jesus died.  He was buried, and he rose again on the third day just as the Scriptures had said.  Without this reality, everything we as Christians claim to believe in is pointless.  Without this reality, we are the most pitiful creatures on the earth.  What is it that differentiates us from the rest of mankind?  We know that it's real.  Behind all the window dressing of special music, fellowship potlucks, and revival services--Jesus died.  He was buried, and he rose again.
     As a child who discovers the impending egg hunt and rushes to find his playmate to give him the good news, so should we be basing our entire existence on the Truth.  As a child who whispers excitedly, "There's candy! In eggs! Outside!  All we have to do is go pick it up!"  So are we with this reality that defies logic and reason in one pass.  Jesus died.  He was completely dead.  Then they buried his body, and three days later he came back to life.  This is so much better than candy hidden in eggs.
     So, as you walk away from this holiday please keep in mind the fact that the most important thing is not what we do.  The most important thing has been done for us.  

Jesus died.  He was buried, and he rose again.  This, and this alone, is the most important thing.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Accepting Jesus on His Terms

Our message this past Sunday was appropriately about Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem on what we've come to call "Palm Sunday."  With Pastor Matt and Charity away, we had Andrew Hager filling the pulpit.  He and his family have been with us before a month or so ago when his wife Bethany came to present the Women's Care Clinic ministry to us.

 While most of us have probably heard of Palm Sunday before, we may not have known many of the cultural facts surrounding it that make it much more than a spontaneous worship service along the road.  These are some of the details that Andrew drew our attention to, and it's amazing how dramatically they affect the way you read this account.

So, Jesus is coming down the Mount of Olives on a colt.  This is important, because it signifies that He is claiming to be royalty, and it also speaks to His coming in peace rather than war.  Had He chosen a beautiful stallion, the meaning would have come across much differently.  He purposely chooses an animal that is draped in clothing in such a way to declare His royalty.  This is important, because He is completely aware of how this will communicate to the people who see Him.

He rides majestically down the Mount of Olives and hasn't even reached the city limits of Jerusalem before people are coming out in droves to see Him and cry "Hosanna in the highest!"  They are calling out all kinds of different phrases.  They declare peace in heaven, and they glorify God.  They truly believe He will deliver them, but they are perhaps pretending they see Him riding a horse instead of a colt.  They throw their own clothing down on the ground to show honor to their "King" and eagerly show adoration.

What happens next is incredibly telling though.  When He reaches the outskirts of Jerusalem, He stops.  In the middle of being heralded as Israel's King, He weeps for the rejection of the city.  He knows that even as they praise Him as their King, they reject Him as their Messiah.  He weeps at the future destruction of the temple; He knows what the outcome of their unbelief will be.

So what did this tell us about ourselves?  What did this tell us about God?  We are not the people of Israel, and we have no temple.  We can't see Jesus riding into town on a colt.  How does this change the way we live and think today?  Good question.

Jesus wept over the city, not because they called Him their King.  He was the one orchestrating the imagery in that scene.  He wept because the people of Jerusalem wanted a King on their own terms.  They wanted physical deliverance from Rome, and He was offering spiritual deliverance from their own sin.  While they wanted a warring King ready to swoop in and drive back the Roman Empire, He was offering them the chance to be part of a Kingdom they could not understand.  It was incredibly sad, because He knew that His mission would depend on their rejection.  The salvation of mankind and the "blessing of all other families of the earth" would come through the children of Abraham all right, but it would be through the most horrific sin imaginable--the murder of God's only Son.

We often want the same thing the Israelites did.  We want Jesus, but we want Him on our own terms.  We think it's great that we can believe in the Gospel, and somehow our lives will go exactly the way we want.  We think that somehow we know what deliverance should look like.  Deliverance looks like getting the job we want or having our family be healthy and happy.  Deliverance is a comfortable life that doesn't hurt...right?

Jesus says deliverance is on His terms, and often those terms are painful and difficult.  A family member dies.  A close friend goes through a painful divorce.  Our job is eliminated.  We get cancer or another serious illness.  Whatever He chooses for us doesn't look exactly like we planned.  We have to embrace the fact that the one who knows best what our deliverance needs to look like is Jesus Himself.  He is vigorously working out His plan for our good and His glory in our lives, and that may not be the life we envisioned for ourselves.  His disciples may have felt disappointed when they first saw hints that He was not going to immediately take back the land from Rome.  But the deliverance He offered was and remains to this day--so much better than whatever we have in mind.  Let's just take His word for it, ok?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"Why have I found favor in your sight?"

We are studying Ruth in our adult Sunday School Class at Church. I am using A Sweet and Bitter Providence by John Piper as a guide. As he writes about Ruth 2:10-13, he says the following (which is worth sharing and pondering):
[Ruth] is different from most people today. We have a sense of entitlement. We expect kindness and are astonished and resentful if we don't get our "rights." But Ruth expresses her sense of unworthiness by falling on her face and bowing to the ground. Proud people don't feel amazed at being treated well. They don't feel deep gratefulness. But humble people do. In fact, they are made even more humble by being treated graciously. They are so amazed that grace came to them in their unworthiness that they feel even more lowly. But they receive the gift. Joy increases, not self-importance. Grace is not intended to replace lowliness with pride. It's intended to replace sorrow with joy.
John Piper, A Sweet and Bitter Providence: Sex, Race, and the Sovereignty of God

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Erasing Hell? (a thought between week 2 and week 3)

I am re-reading Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We've Made Up by Francis Chan. This book has been my guide for our current Sunday School Class that I am teaching. This is a sobering topic... in more than one way. First, the realities of what Jesus and others in the Bible actually say about Judgment is simply terrifying. Second, these thoughts of Hell leave me grieving for those that might actually end up there, or are there. Finally, I am finding that I don't know if I am actually ready to speak the same way that the Bible does on this topic.

I want to share a quote that will convey my feelings on this, and will also show that I am not alone in these thoughts. Consider these following words from Francis Chan:

I said earlier that Paul never wrote about the details of hell. However, there is one passage where he comes pretty close -- a passage blistering with passion and urgency about Christ's second coming and the wrath that follows: 
God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9) 
There are several things to note in this passage. First, the wrath of Jesus here is retributive and not corrective. In other words, the wrath isn't intended to correct behavior of those opposing Christ to make them fit for salvation. Rather, the wrath is an act of -- dare I say -- vengeance. In fact, this is the exact word that Paul uses. Christ will "inflict vengeance on those who do not know God" and don't "obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus." Second, in light of this last phrase, Paul doesn't have a select group of people in view. Those who don't know god or obey the gospel include everyone not following Jesus. No matter how innocent some people may seem, Paul says that if they don't know God or obey the gospel, they will face God's vengeful wrath when Jesus returns. 
Now, notice what Francis Chan says next...
As I read those verses, I am struck by how allergic I am to repeating the very words that Paul wrote. Affliction, vengeance, punishment, destruction -- for all who don't follow Jesus. I'm not sure if I have ever used the term vengeance in describing the fate of unbelievers. In my desire to distance myself from sadistic Christians who revel in the idea of wrath and punishment, I may have crossed a line. Refusing to teach a passage of Scripture is just as wrong as abusing it. 
Allow me to repeat that last line... "Refusing to teach a passage of Scripture is just as wrong as abusing it." I know this... I know this is true... and yet, I can totally recognize my own allergic reaction to certain passages of scripture.

He ends this portion of the book with this statement:
I really believe it's time for some of us to stop apologizing for God and start apologizing to Him for being embarrassed by the ways He has chosen to reveal Himself. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I John - Love One Another - Week 05

This past week in I John we discussed John's "new commandment, but an old commandment."  Echoing back to Jesus' words in the Gospel of John, we saw a strong connection between keeping the commandments and knowing that you know Jesus.  John quotes Jesus as telling his disciples that the key distinguishing feature by which the world would know they were followers of Christ would be their love for one another. 

We had to stop for a moment and examine what kind of love is being referred to.  Our class discussed love and forgiveness of both other believers and unbelievers. In the context of the passage, we determined that the love discussed was the love of a family of believers for each other.  A definitive mark of being a part of the family is in loving the rest of the family.  Once we had established that Christ's followers should "walk as he walked" and "love one another" we had a difficult question to ask ourselves.  Is the church today known and marked by the world for the love it shows for its various members?  

That question left us silent for a few moments.  It would be hard to argue that the world  looks at the church today and sees love.  Sure the world sees "charity" and "donations" as the work of the church, but is genuine love actually viewed as a mark of its very identity?

Many of us were left sadly shaking our heads "no."  Few, if any, of us could honestly say that culture outside of Christ sees that as the case.  However, rather than sit and bemoan the current state of the church at large and her many failings, we were not finished with our introspection.  The next logical question that both Pastor Jon and the epistle of John seemed to be driving us back towards was more internal -- is this love a mark of my identity as a follower of Christ?  Am I characterized by this love?  To be honest, this was a difficult passage to delve into.  The more you consider and think about what John is saying, the deeper and deeper these questions pierce into your actions and motivations throughout each day.  We are no longer able to claim Christ as our LORD while simultaneously trying to cut the throats of our brothers around us.  This passage requires that we take a long, hard look at our lives and this truth and be driven once again back into the arms of Jesus by our immense failures.  We are not loving the brothers like we should, and in our own strength we never will.  But, as we have said many times in this class so far--the mark of a believer, is one who, when faced with his own overwhelming failure and hopelessness, is driven on his knees back to Jesus, rather than the desperation of simply "trying harder."

We will never be able to try hard enough to love the Body.  We will never have the strength to live out Jesus in our walk by ourselves.  Without a constant active dependence on Christ, we are completely hopeless and may as well give up now.  Thankfully, we are not hopeless.  We are simply given countless opportunities to come face-to-face with our own failure and sin.  We are granted the privilege to walk in the light as He is in the light, to keep His commandments, and of course--to love one another.

Monday, October 27, 2014

I John - Advocate with the Father - Weeks 03 & 04

As you may have noticed, there was no post from last week's class period.  Sorry about that, sometimes life happens. :)  As a recap from the past couple weeks, let's do a little review to catch up...

We've been working through I John chapter 1 for several weeks now.   As we've progressed through these early parts of the  the book, we've already noticed an emphasis on the contrast between light and dark.   One thing that keeps coming up in these verses is the idea of our walk.  What does our walk look like?  Chapter one says that if we say we've got this fellowship with God and walk in darkness, then we are lying and not practicing the truth.  Does that mean that if we sin we are not legitimately children of God?  Does that mean that only by what we do can God accept us?  We left this tension in the text up in the air for the week and came back to it, only to realize that John is confronting us with a hard truth, but he is not advocating for a works-based salvation.  Instead, he is pointing us to our need.  When faced with the dilemma that only through a lack of darkness can we have fellowship with God, the average person's response internally is, "I must try harder, because I'm not there yet."  However, a true believer's response as we saw in the text is more to the tune of, "Wow, I need more Jesus in my life.  If it's up to me, it's over already."

The defining difference that we saw was the fact that there is a contrast between walking in light and walking in darkness; however, walking in the light is not doing good things and refraining from sin.  If it were, then I John could easily be advocating for a sinless perfection as a requirement for salvation.  Instead, we see that walking in the light is evidence that Jesus has given us His righteousness and taken our darkness on Himself.  We see that the light in our life is evidence that Jesus has been at work there, not a means of salvation.  On the opposite side, walking in the darkness is not a matter of committing too many sins and being banished from God's presence.  It is evidence of a lack of conversion. It is indication that Jesus has not brought life from death there.   

Therefore, we see that if someone is claiming to be in fellowship with God (i.e. a Christian) yet the Gospel has had no effect in changing his life or showing any growth from who he is in his natural he telling the truth?  Not according to the text we're looking at.   True Gospel conversion will bring true change.  It will not be the same time-frame in each case, but walking in the light and walking in the darkness are two very different things, and ultimately they do lead to two drastically different results.

So, we are left with the cold, hard reality that not everyone who makes a 6-year-old-raised-hand-at-revival-service profession of faith is necessarily a Christian.  To recycle something Pastor Matt said a long time ago, "When you're checking to see if someone is alive at the hospital, the answer that they were alive when they were 6 is not sufficient proof of life..."  Are you alive?  Has your life truly been changed?  Is your life on a different track now that you're on the Jesus train?  Or has He simply been integrated in as the part of your life that makes you feel better about yourself and makes you worry less about dying and going to hell?  These are serious questions we must ask.

But we didn't just stop there, we came back at it this week.  We entered chapter two, and interestingly, after all John's hard sayings and blunt language in chapter one, chapter starts off in a very compassionate tone of voice.  He tells us that the reason he's writing these hard things to us, is that we might not sin  (i.e. we must not see Jesus' hard-fought victory and costly forgiveness as an out to sin).  But he acknowledges that we will sin because we are still human, and he goes into detail of the advocate we have with the Father.  Our advocate is Jesus Christ, the righteous one.  Wow.  How can such a thing be true?  After all the soul-searching that these past few weeks in I John have brought about, how can it really be true that this Righteous One would be not only advocating for us to the Father, but also our very means of forgiveness?!  Praise God, that He has given us much more than we could ever even ask for.   It seems like a very slight thing that we should be walking in the light, it seems only natural considering the family we've been born into and the ancestral heritage we now enjoy the benefits of.  The signs of spiritual life --our spiritual pulse, our breath, should we not be concerned if we are not breathing spiritually?  Or should we shrug it off because it's awkward to talk about and makes us feel bad?  If we say that we are in Jesus, we ought to walk the way Jesus the light.

Tune in again next time, when we'll hopefully cover just one week in a more manageable post. :)

Til then, grace and peace beloved. <3