How can we see God's love through the giving of the Holy Spirit and the expectation to live a holy life?

One of my favorite hymns is based on this passage. Hear how a faithful God gives us confidence.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

 

I Thessalonians 5:13-24

II Thessalonians 2:13-17

 

Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

I grew up in the church of the Nazarene. I spent my whole life hearing words like entire sanctification and holiness and salvation. I probably knew what sin was before I knew my colors and I learned scripture and I knew all the Jesus stories and the Old Testament stories better than I knew any pop culture reference.

So I was really shocked and surprised as I grew up when other people: my husband and his friends, my school mates, my work colleagues were either unfamiliar with these things or understood them in a way that was completely different.

In fact, that is often the case with ideas and concepts that we are familiar with because we know them well: we expect everyone else to understand them exactly the way we do, because we know them and understand them as a second part of us.

A married couple I know tell the story of their initial dating this way: Bob (not his real name) met Carrie (not her real name) in college. They started dating and Bob’s Christian faith – the faith he’d had since childhood – became an issue because Carrie wasn’t a Christian at all. So one day, he took his girlfriend to a place where everyone in their college “parked” and he told her with great sorrow and conviction that he was not allowed to be unequally yoked with her.

He broke up with her, using Jesus as the excuse – or at least that’s what he thought.

She left their conversation completely perplexed as to why he broke up with her over eggs!

Eventually, she became a Christian after they parted ways and they met again some years later and now they’ve been married for over 20 years, solidly Christian people with a heart for service.

The wonder of that story is that two people had a long conversation about their future together and one of them had absolutely no idea what the other was even talking about!

The reason I say all of this when I talk about these letters Paul wrote to the Thessalonians is because there are a lot of things that could be very confusing in this letter, things that we often think we understand, but which we are often thinking about eggs while we should be thinking about Jesus.

The church in Thessalonica was one Paul started after he left Philippi, where he had been beaten and thrown into prison. Paul is in Thessalonica with Silas, and here the Jews who are jealous of their success call out the non-Jews who were hosting them as housing rebellious insurrectionists. Paul and Silas and Timothy escape in the middle of the night to the next town. The Thessalonian Jews followed them to that town after some time and finally, Paul moved to Athens and left his co-workers behind, eventually heading off to Corinth. Timothy circled back to Thessalonia, and then caught up with Paul in Corinth – telling him of some of the things that the Thessalonians are doing and prompting Paul to write these letters. The first one gets sent and in pretty short order, Paul hears that the issues are continuing and that there are some Paul impersonators hanging around Thessalonia, so he writes the second letter for continued clarification.

The two main points he has are about what happens to Christ followers while they live and what happens to Christ followers after they die. Paul talks about Jesus coming back and he really wants to encourage the Thessalonians that even if they die before Jesus comes back, they are still redeemed and that Jesus has NOT returned yet, despite things they have been told to the contrary. And in all of this, Paul emphasizes what it means to be a Jesus follower, what it means to live for Jesus. He uses words that can have very complicated meanings for us today, such as sanctification and holy living. Not only do they have complex associations for us, but they weren’t exactly understood in the time of Paul – especially as the non-jews or gentiles and the jews who converted to Christianity – had learned of these things in different ways and in different terms all their lives.

Paul wants to give everyone a common language: be joyful, pray all the time, give thanks: this is God’s will for you and this will lead to holiness.

Until I began to follow Jesus, I understood holiness to be a list of rules; don’t do this and that things that would keep me from disobeying God’s law. But the reality is and Paul says it here again: holiness comes from turning our hearts away from our own circumstances, our own limits, our own understandings and turning to God’s: joyful, praying, thankfully turning our hearts and minds to God and knowing that these things along with loving our neighbor (hear Paul’s instructions in verses 12-15 of chapter 5 in the first letter) He also reminds us not to sit around waiting for Jesus to come back without being actively involved in the world around us, to work for what we need when we are able and to keep doing what is right: the things Paul instructed in the first letter. And in all of this, Paul says, God will sanctify you. God will do the work of changing you from the inside out.

A few weeks ago, before church I was talking to someone who said “I have this desire to be hurtful or to say hurtful things, but I know it is wrong, how can that be Christlike?” and it was wonderful to say, but it is Christlike because Christ told you it was wrong – whereas before in your life, you might not have known! Over time, Jesus will help you keep growing to the point where your first response is a loving one, and that again, is how you know that God is at work.

Jesus has redeemed us. Jesus has offered us a new way, a better way, and Paul tells us that the promise of this is not in the ways we control ourselves for ourselves, but in the ways we control ourselves for everyone else.

Jesus commanded us to love God and love our neighbor. This is holiness: living out that love by controlling what we do that would hurt someone else.

This is what God teaches us, this is how the Holy Spirit works through us, this is how Jesus is seen in us:

2 Thessalonians 2:16 & 17

When I was a girl the hellfire and brimstone preachers would tell us that if we weren’t saved and sanctified, our eternal destination was damnation.

But Jesus told us to live fruitful lives and love our neighbors and stop being fearful. Jesus gave us the power to do that through the Holy Spirit.

Paul reminds us that while we definitely will be with Jesus after our death, that the actual goal of Christian faith and life is to show others a life of joy and thanksgiving – to live for others so completely that our sanctification is actually predicated much more on how we demonstrate that love for neighbor and not at all on whether or not we want to avoid hell.

All of scripture reminds us over and over that our job is to love as God loves and that we cannot do it on our own. The love letter that we have read from God doesn’t just give us some special insight into God’s love for us, but the love letter is for us to put into practice loving others exactly the same way.

Salvation and sanctification and eternal life are not about selfish motives or self-centered behavior that makes me somehow better than others. Instead it is always about how what we do and say changes others. We are not transformed for our own sakes: we are transformed into the living breathing epitome of hope that Jesus has for us so that we can give that hope away, every single day by living lives that are above reproach by the power of the Holy Spirit, not so we can feel better about who we are, but so that others might be able to recognize the need for Jesus in themselves.

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

 

Philippians 4

 

Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

 

Maybe you’ve seen it. The black eye tape with an inscription as the athlete, usually a big burly football player, runs through their opponent in the latest competition: “Philippians 4:13”.

Perhaps you’ve heard it. The actress stands on stage with a quivering lip, holding the coveted trophy she’s just won, and bravely says that she can do all things through him who gives her strength, right after she thanks her producer, fellow actors, and her parents.

Sometimes I breathe it as a prayer. “Lord, I have so much to do, but I can do all things through you, right? Please give me your strength”

A facebook post, a wall hanging, a magnet, maybe.

And yet, Paul isn’t saying that he can do ALL THINGS through Christ – instead, listen carefully:

 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

 

Paul is SPECIFICALLY describing how Jesus gives him the strength, through the Holy Spirit, to learn to be content whatever the circumstances…

In other words – God doesn’t promise that you can do whatever you want or whatever you’ve committed yourself to: instead God promises through Paul’s words that no matter what circumstance you find yourself in, you can learn to be content.

I’m not saying that God won’t give you strength to do the things you must do. And I’m not saying that God won’t help you in your darkest moments. But I AM saying that if we are cross stitching this scripture on a piece of muslin to hang in our house, we would do well to remember that Paul isn’t talking about achievement or success: he’s talking about joy.

Philippians is a letter, after all, to a church that is experiencing a significant amount of persecution and suffering. Most Christians under Nero were, including Paul: he is after all, writing this letter from a Roman prison, while anticipating his own death sentence to be handed down any minute.

Paul and Silas founded this church in Philippi about 10 years earlier. Philippi is a place that was about half Greek and half Roman citizens by the time Paul arrived. The Roman citizens were primarily retired military and their families, who had been granted a parcel of land in the community after a military victory. The Greek citizens were those who had been there first, who now were primarily poorer and servants to the retired military group. The Christians faced opposition from the Roman citizens who felt a deep gratitude to the Roman empire for what they had and who were incredibly loyal to the Emperor, and they felt that any of the veterans and their families who converted were betraying their heritage and biting the hand that fed them.

Part of the reason for this is that Roman worship was pretty open about many gods – but the civil religion, the one that all Roman citizens were expected to be about – said that Ceasar (the emperor) was also a god. And thus, when the people said “hail Ceasar” it was more than an affirmation of respect, it was worship.

So Christians didn’t do that. Christians believe that Jesus is LORD of everything they do and say. Christians do not bend a knee to any other. Christians live their allegiance out to the God they’ve met and become a follower of – not swayed by political movements or currents of the day. As we have recently said – the law the Christian commits to obey is this: love your neighbor as yourself, no matter who your neighbor is. The Christian has no enemy.

Paul says some of this earlier in this letter too, to encourage the church in Philippi to keep going: Philippians 2 has a beautiful hymn to the Lordship of Jesus and the humility that brought him to us:

Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

These are words that Paul is writing to people familiar with the military, people who know how to obey and how to command, and Paul is telling them to think of the other first and to remember that their worship and allegiance are only to Jesus Christ, the Lord who has been exalted after dying for us.

But what does all of this have to do with joy, you might ask?

Well, the reality is that this letter mentions joy or rejoice no fewer than 16 times! This from a man who is in prison, writing to people who are experiencing persecution! Joy, Paul writes, is mandatory behavior that is made possible through the power of the Lord.

I can do all this through him who gives me strength, Paul says, and he’s talking about being content even though he’s poor. Or rich. Or failing. Or successful.

But the thing that caught my eye as I studied this week was not just the idea of being content, but this:

I have LEARNED to be content…Paul says. It didn’t happen overnight, it is learned behavior. And not only that but this is part of what Christ gives him strength to do: not just the being content part, but the learning part as well. Paul says I can trust God to teach me and give me the ability to learn how to be content whatever happens. And when I am content no matter what my circumstances, I am able to say Rejoice in the Lord Always, again I say Rejoice, even while I am in a Roman prison waiting for the Roman government to execute me.

I want to make sure we clearly see that Paul is not delusional, he is not happy go lucky, singing fa la la while pretending that he is not actually in prison or that his circumstances aren’t dire: Paul knows exactly where he is, what awaits him, and how serious it really is. He can likely hear the roar of the crowd from the coliseum as lions tear apart his brothers and sisters in Christ, or hear the screams of his oil-soaked compatriots as they are set alight in Nero’s gardens. He doesn’t deny this is happening, he doesn’t wish it away, he recognizes it is bad and negative and terrible.

But he also knows there is more. And he also knows that God is teaching him to be ok in the moment he is in, celebrating who God is even as he waits. He lives in prison, but preaches the Gospel by being content and by telling others of the good news of Jesus, the redeemer who sets people free from their bondage and sorrow and teaches them to be content, too.

Joy isn’t laughing as though your heart isn’t breaking when real sorrows and hurts come along. It is grieving those losses and still recognizing that the grief isn’t forever, that the grief is ok, but the feeling and the state of existence are two different things: being satisfied that the Christ who is Lord of all, the Christ who walked through suffering himself and who promises to walk through it with us, that is a joy that doesn’t succumb to the whims of circumstance, but it is a joy that is stronger than job loss, bad health, financial windfalls, and incredible success. It is a joy that stands separate from the feelings we have, but tempers every moment with a reverberating chorus of I will live in this moment with Jesus and it will not break me or wreck me or make me or magnify me. That is a joy worth having, a joy that brings with it peace that passes understanding.

If you don’t have that joy and peace, but you are following Jesus, remember that it is a learning experience. You can have it, but it is not something that just happens. Like any education process, it requires time and persistence and the work of God in your life. Let God work.

And the next time you see that verse on a bumper sticker, the one that says “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” remind yourself that it is not a promise of being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but something much more thrilling and fulfilling and powerful: it is a promise of joy.

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

 

Ephesians 2:1-10 NLT

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins.You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

 

Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

 

I have a lot of favorite passages in scripture. There are several in Ephesians, but this one is one that reminds us that our good works and efforts are not the catalyst for salvation, rather they are the output that comes from the input of God’s grace.

What we do is because God’s grace by the power of the Holy Spirit has transformed us from what we were, from the ways in which we lived selfishly to something new, a masterpiece that reflects all of who God is in us: each of us individually.

I read about the word “Masterpiece” this week. In the NIV, the translators used the word handiwork, and that is a more literal translation of the Greek, but I think the New Living Translation editors wanted to underscore the idea that everything God crafts intentionally becomes a masterpiece.

As one of the world's premier art museums and home to such famed cultural icons as "Mona Lisa," the Louvre in Paris ought to have nailed the answer to the simple question, "What is a masterpiece?"

But no. When the museum posed that query to a bunch of its curators a few years ago, they were stymied. It wasn't that they had no answer, but that they had too many. Superlative craftsmanship, extraordinary design, great antiquity, rich materials, purity of form, artistic genius, originality, influence on other artists. All those qualities, and more, bubbled into the discussion…

The term "masterpiece" originated in the Middle Ages, when apprentice artisans had to prove their skills by submitting exemplary work for approval by the guild that governed their trade -- carving, metalwork, enameling. If the piece demonstrated mastery of the craft, the apprentice would be promoted to master and authorized to train others.

Later the meaning evolved under the influence of connoisseurs, who might judge art on the distinctiveness of its design, or scholars who often concern themselves with the history and authenticity of a piece…

Long-recognized masterpieces by established talents are the bulk of the show, but even their reputations have had their ups and downs. Johannes Vermeer, the 17th-century Dutch painter whose light-filled portraits of daily life have inspired 20th-century novels and films ("Girl With the Pearl Earring"), was pretty much ignored until 1866, when a French scholar touted the works' profound humanism in an influential essay. Only about 35 Vermeer paintings survive, of which the Louvre has lent "The Astronomer" to the Minneapolis show.

"What I like about that picture is that it not only has the intimacy of Vermeer, but also embodies the scientific curiosity of the 17th century," said Michael Conforti, president of the Association of Art Museum Directors and director of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass. He added that it was "amazing" that the Louvre would lend the painting, which is "universally considered to be a great masterpiece. In my opinion, one doesn't have to be educated into an appreciation of that object; it has universal appeal."

…And the general public sometimes embraces certain works as "masterpieces" based mostly on their celebrity and fame. As every Louvre visitor knows, Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" is the museum's primo masterpiece, a status the 1503 painting didn't acquire until after it was spectacularly stolen a century ago. Mona's well-armored case will prevent any such caper now, but it also keeps most people from seeing anything but the flash of their cameras against the glass…

"To me, a masterpiece is something that stands the test of time and is viewed as a masterpiece from generation to generation," Reedy said. "Secondly, it must influence generations of artists and change the way that people look at the medium -- be it painting, sculpture, decorative art or whatever. It must be so original that once you've seen it, you're indelibly influenced by its power, and any artist who goes in that direction is accused of studying under or being in the shadow of the original."

…The power of the masters inspires only admiration in Michael Kareken, a professor of painting and drawing at Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

"I'm really interested in traditional painting and art, so to me certain Vermeers or Rembrandts or Gericaults sum up what a masterpiece is," Kareken said. "They crystallize a whole set of artistic and cultural values and are technically brilliant above reproach…I believe in the transformative power of art; I do believe that. And those paintings that move you so much words fail you -- those are the masterpieces."

From the Star Tribune: http://www.startribune.com/what-makes-a-masterpiece/63790887/

God makes us masterpieces by transforming us. And God isn’t interested in making all of us into the same thing, but instead…God builds in us transformation that makes us stand out as beautifully unique and powerfully attractive to those around us: when you are able to move someone around you to the point that they are speechless – that is the wonder of being a masterpiece of God’s design.

 

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

Galatians 6:11-18

Let us pray:
Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

This morning, I am going to speak to you from the letter Paul wrote to the Galatians. The letter was written after some of the elders Paul appointed in the churches established in Galatia wrote to tell him of a troubling issue – some had come through after Paul (Judaizers) and started to agitate the churches, by claiming that they weren’t really Christian converts, because they hadn’t been circumcised. They asserted that true religion required a code of conduct – the law of Moses, specifically. Without the boundaries of the law, no one could really be saved. In fact, they were teaching that Paul was an unreliable preacher, since he hadn’t told them the whole story. Paul learned everything second hand, but he didn’t really know what he was doing.
Paul writes an impassioned letter to refute that teaching. He is angry that the legalists have started to make the Galatian churches desert their faith – and worse, that they are doing it for a very human reason, one that isn’t consistent with the gospel at all.
Throughout this letter Paul has defended what he taught, and in the final verses, he takes the pen from the scribe and begins a final warning that summarizes all he has said before:
11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!
12 Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which[a] the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.
17 Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
I can just see this scene, Paul pacing back and forth, saying what needs to be said, pausing now and again, looking over the scribe’s shoulder to see what has been written, making sure that not only are his words accurate, but true in the larger sense. Finally, as the letter draws to a close, Paul is so excited about the whole thing that he asks the scribe to move aside, and he sits down and writes in his large handwriting, the last of the letter. Aside from the content then being clearly Paul’s throughout, verified by his own hand, there were some big ideas Paul wanted to really hit home in this last passage.
Up to this point, he’s been reminding the Galatians that their own experiences are not consistent with the message the Judaizers have brought – and that the burden the Judaizers are trying to put on them is a slavish one, one that they will never be able to live up to. He doesn’t give them carte blanche in the letter to live without moral balance, though, indeed the thrust of the message in the proceeding sections describe a morality that surpasses the law of Moses, because it is the work of the Holy Spirit embedded in the believer that creates the restraint on sin.
Now, as Paul charges forward, he lays out, very directly what the true purpose of the Judaizers is: to claim Christianity, but demonstrate complicity with the law, in order to be accepted by the local Jewish leaders, and thus escape persecution. They were likely Jewish Christians, who are trying to show local Jewish leaders that they are devoted to the law by demonstrating that the Gentile Christians are required to follow the law, too. Even worse than their insincerity about forcing Mosaic law on these Gentiles, is the fact that they were likely unsuccessful in these attempts to demonstrate complicity with the Jews.
Why does this specific conclusion come to us, 2000 years later? I don’t have to worry about someone asking me to live under the law, to be circumcised, as it were, once I become a Christian. Is this here only to point out why? Or is there another point we can take from this? Actually, I would submit to you that there are several cuts to this passage that are applicable to us today, that can help us be stronger Christians, can build our relationship with Christ.
So lets talk about two contrasting ways of addressing the Cross and how they impact our lives. Paul gives us very clear instruction about the two ways of living that the Galatians are faced with – one, avoiding the cross and two, boasting in the cross. Let’s take a look at how the problem confronted them, and then how it matters to us.
First, avoiding the cross, which Paul accuses the Judaizers of doing in a very direct way. They are doing everything in their power to live as though the cross was no big deal, as though it has had no direct impact on their own lives. They are trying to live two lives – one in the world, where they dodge persecution, and one in Christ, where they dodge sin. In both cases, they are missing the point – the cross wasn’t a marker that reflects some greater reason to legalize our lives – it was the game changer, the point at which the law became fulfilled. The Mosaic law was the pointer to Christ, it was the direction that led people to try righteousness only to see how they failed – Christ gave the way for righteousness to be actually possible, not by using the right dishes, but by living out the love and grace that were the underlying purpose of the law in the first place.
How do we avoid the cross? That’s a challenging question in our current age, because I think most of would say that the cross is even more offensive, more stigmatized, more blatantly divisive today than it was in Paul’s day – to the point that avoiding the cross is sometimes described as the best way to advance its message! The problem is that without the cross, we don’t have a resolution to the problem of sin. From the beginning, it was evident that humans were incapable of being righteous. In Romans, Paul outlines this very clearly: There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit [Romans 8:1-4]. And in Galatians 2:15-21: 15 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
17 “If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. 19 For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”[a]
When we avoid the cross, we are living in sin. Period. Without the cross we have nothing. We cannot live in Christ without the cross. The solution to sin is the cross, and when we ignore it’s power, when we pretend it is not important, we leave behind Christianity. Without the cross there is no resurrection, without the resurrection, there is no hope, and without our hope, what’s the point? If we aren’t willing to embrace the cross and all it stands for, we cannot be Christians. There is no other way. The Judaizers weren’t really interested in boasting in anything other than their own success. Even though their emphasis was “godly living” what they really wanted was to be safe. They wanted to turn the Gentiles into a prize that they could win, not followers of Jesus. They focused on the externals, the things that others could see, rather than the things that truly mattered. That is a real danger for us, too. What are the external things that we focus on, the things that distract us from being focused on Jesus? Do we care too much about how others perceive us? Do we want to keep our lives compartmentalized – our faith in this box, our family in this box, our work in this box – and in so doing, be “good” people, “nice” folks, who don’t rock the boat? Do we want to align ourselves with those in power who claim they are Christ followers but show no fruit in that? Do we want to condemn those in power and align ourselves with those who see nothing as sin? We can be Republicans or Democrats before we are Christians in this day and age, and if so, do we really have faith if it just makes us behave, or vote the “right” way and doesn’t boast in the cross of Christ? Paul says that just being good or having right ideas isn’t sufficient. It happens, because we are living in the Spirit, but it happens without our intentions or abilities. The Holy Spirit guides us to a life that is fruitful, because that’s what happens when we live out our faith. We don’t live good lives to earn salvation, we turn our hearts into repositories for God’s grace and holiness springs from that deposit.
So how do we boast in the cross? Paul gives us some very clear direction in this area. First, we must be crucified to the world and the world must be crucified to us. Then, we must live according to the inward manifestation of our faith as a new creation, and finally, we must be willing to bear the persecution that comes from insisting on Christ as the only way to righteousness.
First, we must be crucified to the world and the world must be crucified to us. Many have taken that verse to the extreme – monks and nuns, for example, are living a very separatist existence. The Amish, too, live a very different looking life. I used to think it would be much easier to be a Christian in an Amish or cloistered community, after all, the things that we have to avoid living in the world must be much less available. I wonder though, how much those lifestyles are really boasting in the cross? If the externals are so important that they are so strictly proscribed, then perhaps, what looks like a devoted life isn’t just escapism. So then, how do we live so that we are crucified to the world and the world to us? Paul gives us this instruction earlier in Galatians, too. In 6:22-24, he tells us exactly what it means: 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. I always thought that when Paul says that there is no law prohibiting the fruit of the Spirit he was saying that we could be assured that men’s laws wouldn’t ever stop us from living them out. But in the greater context of the letter, what he’s really saying here is that the Law of Moses doesn’t prohibit these things – the Law of Christ expects them, and the means for getting to the Law of Christ is being crucified to the sinful nature that drives us to act in contradiction to the fruit of the spirit. Paul didn’t live segregated from the world around him – he lived in it, pointing to the cross at every opportunity, and the expectation he levels here is that every Christian should do the same – pointing to the gospel of Christ at every chance, even as we live among sinners and nonbelievers.
That brings us to the second point, which is that we must live as new creations. Paul expands on this in Ephesians, too. In 4:22-23 he says: You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Our new self is in the likeness of God in righteousness and holiness. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul again says: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come. In Philippians 3:7-14 7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Here, Paul talks about how he is a work in progress, and how he continues to become more like Christ as he matures in his faith. How is this work contrasted with the points he makes about being justified by faith? In the Holy Spirit, we are being transformed at HIS effort, through HIS work – not because we are trying to be something other than what He has called us, remade us to be. We can’t be new creations without the Holy Spirit. His work is what changes our desires. We wouldn’t even want to be righteous if it weren’t for God’s work on our behalf.
That brings me to the last point about boasting in the cross: when the rubber meets the road, we will encounter resistance. Paul says he “bears on his body the marks of Jesus” which is to say that by continuing to preach the cross, he has been persecuted. He has been beaten and left for dead, stoned, chased, imprisoned, and narrowly escaped – and this was only one missionary journey! Paul knows what boasting about the cross costs, because he has borne some of that misery. The Galatians, too, have suffered – Paul mentions it in 3:4 – have you suffered so much for nothing? There is no point at which Paul assumes that Christianity comes without cost. Before Jesus was crucified, he himself indicated that the path behind him would be treacherous, in Luke 9:23-26: Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. When Paul talks about “bearing the mark of Jesus” it’s really a two-fold proclamation – he bears the scars from his persecution, but he also declares himself a slave of Christ. The Romans commonly branded their slaves, and sometimes their soldiers, as a means of keeping track of them – you could identify a slave or soldier and who they belonged to, by the distinctive brand they wore on their forehead. Paul is a known Christian. He wants to be known that way, and whether by bodily scars or other means, he intends to boast only in Christ.
Are we so different from Paul? Was he somehow better than us at this? I don’t think so. Christians all carry the requirement to be Christlike, to boast in the cross. As we move through our week, whether returning to school, or going to work, or whatever we do, our responsibilities are no different than Pauls. We are not called to be external Christians who avoid the cross. We are called to boast only in the cross, and to live as though that it is the only thing that matters.

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:
What does it mean to say God loves?
God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.
God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.
God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.
God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption
God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing
God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.
God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.
God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.
God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.
God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.
God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.
God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.
For God so loved the world…
God loves you.
God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.
God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.
God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.
So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.
God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

 

II Corinthians 12:6-10

 

Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

Imagine you started a restaurant here in Momence.

It gets successful enough that you franchise it to someone local and you head off to Indianapolis to start another one.

A few months or even years go by and you hear that there are problems at the restaurant. You send an email to the managers and let them know that they need to focus on the customer.

They sort of listen, but there are still issues.

You pay them a visit. The employees mostly listen, but there are still a few who are annoyed by your presence. They like the celebrity chefs who have come to town and who are telling them to do things that focus on them, not the customers.

They send you an email and ask that the next time you come to visit and start telling people what to do, you bring some letters of recommendation and proof that you know enough to tell them anything, that you are equal to their famous chefs.

This at the restaurant you started.

This is what is happening with Paul and the church at Corinth.

The church he founded in the town has become so enamored with celebrity preachers and the excitement they bring and the amazing preaching and the radical movements they generate, that they ask Paul to send along a letter of recommendation to prove he is as good as these others.

Even though these preachers are looking for money and trying to separate and preaching a different gospel: one that says when you follow Jesus you have all the things you want and you are never poor or persecuted because blessings.

And Paul writes them this letter.

He tells them that THEY are his letter of recommendation.

He’s hurt and a little angry and if you read the entire letter he talks about the fact that following Jesus means you might experience poverty and persecution and that the promise you have is that you never go through anything like that alone: Jesus is with you.

These verses in II Corinthians are Paul saying look, I could tell you all my credentials, but God has asked that instead I reflect Jesus. In fact, since God has been so faithful in showing me Jesus, I have an affliction that plagues me constantly. This “thorn in my flesh” Paul says, is something he has asked for deliverance from: and God has said no, my grace is sufficient for you, in your weakness you see my strength. My power is made perfect, in fact Jesus says, in your weakness.

IN other words: when you are experiencing some infirmity, some weakness (and by the way there is a LOT of speculation as to what Paul’s weakness was – show slide)

This is one idea. Scholars think it may have been residual blindness or weak vision from Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, or Paul references other illnesses along the way, too. It could be any number of things, but the reality is we don’t need to know what it is: we could probably plug in any of our stuff and still find the promise that God made to Paul is true for us, too:

When we are weakest, when we experience the hardest things, when we struggle, when we encounter hardship: God’s power is evident in the presence of Jesus and the grace that carries us through.

When you are struggling to make ends meet, small gifts from others or finding resources you need become the presence of Jesus to you

When you are experiencing illness and a friend visits or a medicine helps, you can see God’s power at work in that moment

When you are hurting and struggling and wondering what to do next:

God shows up and walks alongside you. God’s grace is found in the little things and the big things and when you are at the end of what you can do – God’s power is obviously the only way it is possible.

I think about our situation with this church. In so many moments we have thought we weren’t going to keep going, that we couldn’t possibly, that we were not going to have the resources or the work was beyond us – and then God.

We sold a building and properties that should have taken years in a matter of days.

We found a space that fit our needs for the moment and works for the ministry we need to do

We found a way to feed kids this summer and teach them about God’s love

We found a way to share our resources with those who need them

We have reached out to people in our community, we have continued the work of building the kingdom of God in Momence by stretching out our hands and offering to show grace and hope in places that need to see that somehow

And all of that is not us, is not me, is not the district, is not the denomination: it is the power of God pouring out in places and times and moments when we are weakest, showing up and showing out

And I don’t believe God is done.

I don’t believe we have seen the last of God being God in this place.

Because we still have limits and weaknesses and things we need and we still have Jesus and his grace is enough. His grace is our strength, his presence is our promise, and his power is beautifully evident when we simply cannot do more.

God is here. God is at work. Let’s cooperate.

I’m reminded of a quote by one of my favorite authors, Rachel Held Evans:

“The Holy Trinity does not need our permission to carry on their endlessly  resourceful work of making all things new. That we are invited to catch even a glimpse of the splendor [of them at work] is grace. All of it, every breath and every second is grace”

We get to be a part of something bigger than us because we are limited and because God’s power makes it possible. That is a beautiful and wonderful and scary and priceless gift.

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

 

I Corinthians 9:19-27

 

Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

There are people who are always positive. They always see the full glass, they always look for the rainbow in the clouds, they always find the upside to whatever situation they are in – these are people we have a cliché for – they look at the world through rose colored glasses: everything they see has a tinge of beauty to it and they can’t help but believe that the best things are the things worth noticing. The lenses they “wear” color everything in a certain way and no matter what is going on, they see everything with that overlay of something better.

In I Corinthians, Paul is advising a different sort of lens. He advises the church in Corinth on some specific issues he has heard they have: divisions in the church, sexual immorality, legalism, chaos in worship, and doubt about the resurrection. In Acts chapter 18, Luke tells us that Paul founded the church in Corinth and then after several years, moved on to Ephesus. Other preachers and teachers have come to Corinth since, and some have reported back to Paul that the church is having problems.

So he writes them this letter.

In it he addresses each of the problems, one at a time and he offers the same solution, but in a different way: Live out the gospel. Look at the life you live through a gospel lens and live it in these circumstances.

Divisions in the church at Corinth are because fan clubs are forming around the various teachers that have been in Corinth: Paul, Apollos, and Peter. And these fan clubs have become like a rivalry not unlike the Cubs and White Sox – if you follow one and are a fan, you can’t follow the other and be a fan. Also the people who follow the one you don’t are jerks and/or losers and/or not super smart…

So Paul tells them that it makes no sense for followers of JESUS to become divided this way. He says it is ok to like the way one or another taught, but in all cases two things should happen: Jesus is the center of every community of believers and leaders and teachers have to emulate Jesus by being servants. Paul says look at this in light of the Gospel, the Good News is that we can admire certain personalities of various leaders, but we always return to the Christ who saved us as the One Person whose importance and example are critical to our lives and faith.

Next Paul addresses some very serious sex stuff that’s happening in the church. Using the argument that we are all free in Christ, many are having affairs and sleeping around. The reality, Paul says, is that God has given us rules around sexual integrity because a sexual relationship always carries with it responsibilities and the potential for heart ache and ruin. Having sex with anyone and everyone is not the model God has set out, because God cares about how we feel and live and our relationships with each other. Yes, we are free in Christ, but we are not free to do things that hurt us and other people. What you do with your body matters, not because God has made rules to keep you from having sexual fun, but because sexual fun is designed to be between married people to avoid the many risks of anguish and hurt and sorrow that come from having sex outside of marriage, in whatever form that takes. Jesus died to free you from the broken relationship between you and God, not to encourage broken relationships between you and every one else.

Paul addresses legalism, which in Corinth takes the form of whether or not to eat food sacrificed to idols. Paul says that everything you do has to be about turning people to Jesus, so if it hurts someone else to do something, stop it. If it doesn’t and your conscience is clear, go ahead. In our modern times, one of the ways the Church of the Nazarene things about this is in connection with drinking alcohol. When the Church of the Nazarene was first started it was in the days before prohibition, and there were a lot of people who had serious and significant problems with alcohol. So the Church of the Nazarene took the position that in pointing people to Christ, they could be free from the desire and need to drink, and that in solidarity, even those Christians who didn’t have problems with alcohol could come alongside their brothers and sisters who did and love them better by keeping themselves free of the stuff. To this day, that is the primary reason why the Church of the Nazarene’s members commit to being alcohol free – not because alcoholic beverages are bad in and of themselves, but because the consequences of drinking continue to wreak havoc in people’s lives. That is living your life in light of the Gospel – pointing people to Jesus by not doing what could be a problem to someone else, even though it is not a problem to you.

It is much of what Paul means in our key passage today: as Christians, we do whatever we must to draw people to Jesus – we live differently, we forget about what matters to us and worry about what matters to Christ, because we want others to live and love and exist in the freedom, joy, peace and love that we have. If we have an abundant life because of the power of the Gospel, we should want to share that with others and show them what it means. And if, to do that, we need to come alongside them in the places where they are, then Paul says that is what we have to do.

Paul’s whole point in this letter is to point out to the Corinthian church that they need to build one another up and seek to draw others to the Jesus they know and love. They need to love and encourage and strengthen one another. All in all, Paul says, it comes down to the command that Jesus reiterated over and over: love God, love your neighbor.

It is in the Luke passage we read today, the story of the Good Samaritan, that Jesus tells of someone who put aside every difference they had with someone who was not like them and cared for what they were and what they needed. This, Paul says, everywhere in this letter to the Corinthians, is how every Christ-follower must live and in doing so, the church and the Gospel will be victorious over the sin and death that are ever present in every situation in the world around us. This, Paul reminds the Corinthians and each of us, is why Christ died – so that we might be different, so that we might love bigger and better, so that we might shine the light of the Gospel, the GOOD NEWS about who Christ is and what it looks like to follow him to those who are stuck in division, in sexual immorality, in legalistic sorrow: Jesus died but he was resurrected so we would have victory. And when we live life through that lens, everything is different and better and beautiful.

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

 

Romans 8:18-39

 

Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

I think it is safe to say that without this letter to the Church in Rome, we would not be here. The two most influential men in our branch of Church history (outside of Jesus and the Holy Spirit themselves!) were very heavily influenced by this book. We would likely still be Christ-followers, but we would probably be Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox instead of Protestant or part of the Wesleyan holiness churches called “Nazarene”. Because this book was instrumental in the Reformation, in the understanding Martin Luther had about how people are saved: spoiler alert, it’s not for sale and it’s not based on works – and then because John Wesley, who was struggling in his faith, wrestling with big doubts, trying to figure out what it meant to be saved, how it changed him, one night heard Martin Luther’s writings on Romans and realized that what he knew to be true was from the Holy Spirit. He said his ‘heart felt strangely warmed’ and from there, he started the Methodist movement in England and we were spawned, as the Church of the Nazarene, from that place a couple hundred years later.

What is it about Romans that captures the hearts of the reader to the extent that it changed the entire course of church history?

More than I can unpack in one sermon, I promise.

These 16 chapters give us an understanding of the Gospel, an understanding of how the Gospel ties to the Old Testament, and an understanding of what the life of a believer looks like. It tells us that our righteousness can never be enough, that the faith we have comes from God, and that everything we know about sins being forgiven and repentance stems from God’s grace.

Many of the verses in this book are used and misused for many things.

For example, we read today that All things work together for good…and lots of people use that to say that God’s plan always means that things work out perfectly for the believer. But the context matters here: Paul says that the suffering and heartache and weakness that are part of the waiting for the redemption, the recreation of the whole earth – and when that happens, we will know the goodness that stems from all of the wrongness of sin. God will turn everything upside down and make all things new – and that will be the final wonder of God making all things good. It’s an echo of the Genesis birth story: God declares all things good there, and it is in the redemption of all of us and all of creation that will ultimately be that all things will be good again.

This is an echo of what Joseph says in Genesis 50, when Joseph tells his brothers that the little thing they did that was bad and horrible and meant suffering for Joseph meant good for the whole family, because God changed the ending.

Paul’s letter to the Romans is a reminder too, that God’s mercy and grace are an extension of God’s love for us. God is on our side, because God loves us. God has given us the power of the Holy Spirit to build in us the ability to live like Christ – to love like God loves. That is no small thing: because how does God love? God loves us enough to make us conquerors of sin and death by the death of Jesus. This connection to the rest of scripture reminds us that the whole book – from Genesis to Revelation – is a reminder, over and over, that God loves us and not only that – but God’s love doesn’t ever send us away. God’s love isn’t something we can shake free of – God never stops telling us about that love, never stops pursuing us so we can enjoy the freedom of that love, God promises us that it is the very core of who God is and not only that, but that we can rest in that love, we can trust it for every good and perfect gift, we can live that promise to everyone around us.

We are more than conquerors, not because we fight battles with the people around us but because we overcome sin and death through Jesus, by loving people who are most unlovable. By giving ourselves away. Listen to how Paul puts it later in this letter: Therefore, I urge you brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice…for by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought…honor one another above yourselves…do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good

We have so much mercy that has been given to us. It is our responsibility, in turn to offer mercy to those around us. We cannot triumph with the same weapons that are used against us: hate, deceit, violence. Instead, we stand peacefully where there is violence. We offer generosity and kindness where there is hate. We speak the Truth of the Gospel where there is deceit and we wait, along with the whole of creation for the resurrection that will make all things new, that will complete the transformation not only of us individually, but of the entire creation that holds its breath longing for the good that God has promised will be re-born. It starts with each of us who surrender to Christ and begin the work of redemption as God transforms us and then through us the small spaces of the world where we live and move and breathe and work.

Paul’s words in this letter tie together all of scripture. In Romans 13:8-10, he reminds us that all of scripture is a love letter, all of scripture is a reminder to love our neighbor, all of scripture is the Gospel, the good news, if we remember the deepest meaning of the law:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

This is why we are here. This is why we live our lives for others. Not because by doing so we can earn our way to Jesus, but because Jesus has shown us the way and given us the love we need to do it. We cannot live this without Jesus. We cannot live this without the power of the Holy Spirit, but if we are not living this we can be changed so that it becomes the very core of who we are.

Paul says it this way in Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

We can do this. Not in our own power. But through the love of God that has been given to us. If you don’t know God’s love for yourself or if you are not sure if you have claimed the Holy Spirit’s power in your life to let you love your neighbor then I ask you to claim or reclaim that today as we celebrate around the table today. Because God’s love is for you. God’s love is for everyone and nothing can ever separate us from that love if we choose to let it fill us and empower us and work in us.

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

 

Acts 8:1

 

Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

Acts is, by far, my favorite book of the whole of the Bible. Luke is telling the story of the Church – how it came to be, how it spread beyond Jerusalem, how it is that we know and love the same Jesus that Peter, James, and John did in Luke’s gospel.

It is compelling and active and it tells of the Holy Spirit’s work in the people of God. It tells of the Holy Spirit moving and filling and gifting. The book of Acts is sometimes called the Acts of the Apostles, but really it should be called the Activity of the Holy Spirit – the work in this book is not the apostle’s work, instead it is the work of the Holy Spirit in people who have encountered the resurrected Christ and come away from that moment radically, completely, utterly different – transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We start with Peter in this book. Peter who at the trial of Jesus was so ashamed and scared and worried that he refused to admit – to the point of cursing – that he had ever followed the one they were about to crucify. Peter was definitely a loud mouth and a leader of sorts in the gospels – he said the things the others were thinking, he both proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah and tried to shush him when Jesus predicted his own death. He cut off someone’s ear in the garden and swore to Jesus that he would die for him – and then he later swore he never knew this Jesus person and would everyone just shut up and stop asking him about him?

But in Acts, we read of a Peter who stands before the court of Jewish leaders and says he won’t shut up, he won’t stop proclaiming Jesus. They beat him, the scold him, they tell him to stop. And when he returns to the church he leads, they pray with him for even more boldness and even more strength to say what needs to be said.

What changed?

Two things – he met the resurrected Christ and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Both of these did not change his personality – he was still a loud mouth with an uncanny ability to speak out about things, but he was no longer a coward about Jesus to others. And the things he spoke about and the reason he proclaimed them, those changes came from a power he had never known, a power he did not know he needed, but a power that Jesus had given to him and all the others who were part of the church that Jesus talked about and the Holy Spirit birthed at Pentecost. The Church that you and I are still members of today. The Church that gave all of itself for others, the Church that was led by a man who once denied he even knew the one for whom he would ultimately die a martyr’s death. Peter was transformed.

The other person that we read about in Acts, who stands out as a main character, is Saul/Paul. Saul is introduced to us on the day that Stephen dies, a martyr who forgave those who stoned him, who preached an amazing sermon that you can read in Acts 7. Saul was a faithful follower of God. He believed wholeheartedly that God was God and that God was being mocked by these Jesus people. And he could not stand by and let that happen, so after Stephen was martyred, Saul began a campaign against the followers of the Way, as it was called, and although scripture never says that Saul directly killed anyone, he was definitely complicit, as we see in his approval of Stephen’s murder.

But then on the road to Damascus, Saul met the resurrected Jesus. And everything changed.

Saul began the long journey that lead to him changing his name, changing his purpose, changing from a persecutor to a missionary. Changing from the one who denounced fanatically to the one who loved fiercely. The power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit didn’t change all the things about Paul that made him Paul – his personality was still a bit prickly, he was still a complete and total fanatic – but it changed HOW he lived that life and WHY he lived that life.

The apostles were a bit nervous around him, but eventually recognized the wonder that the Holy Spirit had wrought.

Someone who once hated them now called them brothers and sisters.

Someone who would have killed them now fought for them

Someone who denounced them now prayed for them

Someone who thought he knew everything now obeyed their direction and submitted to them

Paul had been changed.

The amazing thing about the book of Acts is that the story it tells isn’t done when we reach chapter 28 verse 31 of the book. Instead, as we read the rest of the Bible we see all of the transformative work of the Holy Spirit in Paul’s letters, in Peter’s letters, in James the brother of Jesus, in John the beloved apostle and his Revelation. But the story also doesn’t stop there – the beautiful transformative power of the Holy Spirit is at work in Martin Luther, in John Wesley, in every person – man, woman, and child who follows the Christ and is transformed as a part of the Church. The Holy Spirit is still in the transformation business – your pastor is a testament to that transforming power: an angry and cynical person becomes one who loves beyond her own understanding by the power of grace and mercy and the love that is the Holy Spirit’s trademark.

And it doesn’t stop there – anyone of you can be transformed, can continue to be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit. Although we see the Holy Spirit’s immediate work in Acts, we also see the Holy Spirit working progressively, building transformation in people and places as time goes by. Our transformation is both too – instantly, we recognize the beauty of a world that is loved by Jesus and God and we become attuned to the work of the Holy Spirit in us, but over time, we grow deeper and deeper in love with the one who has changed us, who has loved us enough to give us this love letter that not only covers these pages, but that has reached us through the people who follow, the people who now live for Jesus, the ones who continue the story of the Acts of the Holy Spirit in the here and now.

Today, as we celebrate communion together, as we read through our reminder of God’s love together, I would ask that each and every one of us remember the transformative power of the Holy Spirit that worked in Peter and Paul is still at work. Every Christian, every saved and sanctified believer in the one true Christ has the transformative power of the Holy Spirit at work in them  - including each and every one of us.

Pray that God will show you the transformation in yourself this week or show you where you might need to continue to be transformed and how that might be done. If you ask, God will show you, and the Holy Spirit will work in you.

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgment.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

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