Is it time for a new Ark? You may remember in In the story of Noah; “The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created!”. And God worked on with Noah and created the Ark with its cargo and the consequent FLOOD as a means of purifying the world..
This ancient story underlines for me the escalating wickedness and horror of today – we live in daily expectation of suicide bombers, terror actions, school yard or other hostage atrocities, and the list just goes on and on to the point where horror is the normal nightly news diet. It seems rare that there is an evening where there is no report of sexual depravity, political chicanery, or simple neighborly violence to nourish the insatiable appetites of the news machine .
God’s Love Outworking
We need to focus on the positives of God’s love outworking in our community and in our interactions. It is very easy to get depressed about the negatives and react accordingly, instead of seeing the positives of love in action. We greet a “telephone scammer” with hostility instead of forbearance; we offer a rude gesture to a traffic violator instead of a blessing; and irritation, rather than friendly calm, to the overworked sales person in the shop. It is really easy to become part of the “violence” problem instead of offering positive reactions to reinforce our God given and freely imparted LOVE. Today’s sermon focused on the “Two Great Commandments**“; and SO should we!
** Mark 12:30-31 NIV : Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Jeremiah was a gloomy prophet who lived between 600 and 500BC. We are very indebted to him for telling about the advent and work of the Holy Spirit that would take place when Jesus was raised from the dead. He said; “This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” This New Covenant is generally understood to govern the change that happens to a person when they take Jesus into their lives, their sins are forgiven, and they are born again. Instead of staggering under the law of the ten commandments, plus the hundreds of other Mosaic laws that governed the Jews, they would be ruled by the Holy Spirit, working in their lives from within.
Taken in conjunction with the “New Commandment” (that we love one another ); this becomes a major change in the way we perceive God – instead of quaking in condemnation under the weight of all those social and moral laws, we instead live in love and obedience, under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit. When the religious leaders questioned Jesus about the law, He replied; “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and the most important commandment. 39 The second most important commandment is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ 40 The whole Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:37-40)
Ten Commandments Redundant
The consequences of this change are immense. We no longer spend our lives trying to be good and living under law; but instead live a positive life of doing good. Note the difference, not trying to BE GOOD, but DOING GOOD! If you really love your neighbour, you don’t need commandments to “not covet his ass”, or to “not rob” him. The old commandments become redundant in the light of the new commandment to Love your neighbour. It is very significant to me that this paradigm shift in how we perceive God’s Kingdom is actually a complete change from slavish reactive obedience to the law; to the proactive life of reaching out in love to all we meet. As we take that new commandment literally, we are too busy loving and being loved to get into trouble with the ten commandments. We do not need commandments when we are inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, and the fruit of the spirit** grows within us.
**Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
The NIV of the Bible declares “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions“ . We are made alive; reborn; or born again when we take Christ into our lives. He is the spark that enables us to live a victorious life in Him. We transcend the life of sin that seems to be the “norm” for us; and instead start to live in Love, Joy, Peace, and so on.
Born Again Baptism.
In baptism we learn that we are to die to our old life of sin when we symbolically submerge in the water, and are born again to a new life in Christ when we emerge again. The text we are studying here states that we are “dead” (in sin), then “made alive” (with Christ).
Living under Law.
In his writing to the “Romans” the Apostle Paul explains that it is implicit that because we live in sin, we also live under law. The two go together like night and day and black and white. A lot of the old testament is about sin, breaking the law, and punishment, but the “New” testament is all about living in love with Christ, under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is not about laws and punishment, but about doing good and loving one another. (Romans 6 – NIV “Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ”
Living in Love.
If you read the new testament of the Bible you will find that love is the recurrent theme; that it is mentioned all the time and that it is the perfect motivation for all human interaction. Jesus said; (John 13:34-35-NIV; “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Consider these “fruits of the Spirit” that grow in us after we are “Born Again” – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – these all grow as we react together in love.
So we go from Living in sin (transgression) to living in love with Christ. From dead in sin to alive in Christ and living a life of love; alive in Christ. We go from being dead in transgressions to being alive with Christ.
Which is the correct method, sprinkling or immersion? Do You think it is important?
What happens if we get it wrong? Does God care? What is important is that you felt it was needful to be baptized.
Water Has Two Purposes
The role of water in baptism is dual purpose. It signifies a washing away of sin , a metaphorical cleansing of our life as we go forward into a new life in God’s kingdom. As we go down into the water, so too we die to our old sinful life; and as we are lifted out of the water again we are lifted up to a new life in Christ. The phrase “born again” has a strong meaning here, as we enter into a time of new life, a time of great love and joy and peace.
Lack Of Water
In desert places, or in frozen country there may be no practical way to fully immerse a new convert, so the water may be a more symbolic “sprinkle”; rather than a bath. How much water is used is quite immaterial: What matters is the decision of the person to ask forgiveness for their former sinful life, and their intention to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their saviour. They are consciously renouncing a former life, and resolving to begin a new life. It is the mental and spiritual process that is important.
Being Born Again
To be baptised is to begin the process of being born again as a Christian. This may be almost instantaneous, an event where the person emerges from the water fully fledged as a new convert; perhaps even speaking in tongues or manifesting other spiritual behaviour; Or it may simply mark the start of a spiritual growth that will continue over weeks or even years, as the person lowers barriers, and lets God have access to every part of their life.
Properly Baptised Or Not?
If you feel that you were baptised, and if you believe your sins are forgiven, and if you claim Jesus as your Saviour, then you are baptised, regardless of the method used. I was baptised(sprinkled) as a baby, and it didn’t feel right to me when I grew up, so I went through the water of baptism and made my vows to God in an adult baptism.
Love One Another In the book of James in the Bible there is a passage that states: “What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.” (GNT) The writer goes further and states that it is useless to just listen to God’s word, but that we need to put it into practice before it has any real value in our lives. Taking care of widows and orphans is a metaphor for finding and helping the needy of this world. If we aren’t doing that in some fashion, then this passage in James is suggesting that our religion is valueless.
Deeds – Not Words
James says too that we need to control our tongues. We need to be aware of the power and effect of the words we use, especially words of censure, or criticism or reproof. I read yesterday a story of a student who was set the task of reclaiming a bundle of feathers tossed into the wind, and of course he couldn’t get them all back. So it is with the words we “toss into the wind”. It is not possible to take them all back later if we need to so do. James said; “If you do not control your tongue, your religion is worthless and you deceive yourself.
Real Love is Practical!
By this I mean that the “Agape” love we have for our neighbours is truly expressed when we offer deeds of practical kindness and help to whosoever is in need. The prophet John wrote (1 John:3) – “Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” It is not enough to say we love others, for love to have real meaning we must act in love – back to the widows and orphans – we need to offer practical expressions of our love to our neighbours and anyone in need.
Hearing and doing.
James said; “Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice.” We can go to church on Sunday morning and listen to the Word of God, and then go off home to a filling Sunday dinner, and very likely forget all we have heard. I had a friend who said; “If I don’t get something to take to work on Monday and use during the week, then the sermon was worthless!”. The reality of our Christian walk is reflected in what we do during the week with what we heard, (or read in the Bible), on Sunday,
As You Sow, So Shall You Reap.
More from James – “But if you look closely into the perfect law that sets people free, and keep on paying attention to it and do not simply listen and then forget it, but put it into practice—you will be blessed by God in what you do. (James 1:23)” We ought not to do good with the thought of a possible reward, but it is really nice to know that when we are obedient, and we bless others, then we will surely be blessed by God. This is my own experience, that God blesses us mightily when we are obedient. There is this promise in Psalm 1 – That the man who meditates on God’s law both day and night will be like the tree that grows by the still water, and everything he does will flourish! How about that? Wouldn’t you like it if everything you did would flourish?
Thus the question, What is Genuine Religion, is simply obedience to God and putting his love into every part of your life. It is easy to keep from being corrupted by the world if we are flat out loving others. We won’t have time to get into trouble!
It is a good question to ask – How to be Wise? We are very prone to seeking wisdom from church leaders, from charismatic speakers and from noted authors; but there is a major fallacy in that because the wisdom that we need is specific, not general. We need wisdom that pertains to our present needs and to our present questions, and the proper way to get that is from the “true source”, that is, directly from God.
Is It Right For You?
What others discovered is right for them, but not necessarily right for you. You can pick a “hero” and model your behavior on them, but you will NOT succeed as they did, because your circumstances and your needs and your abilities are different. It would be too simple to succeed in life if all we had to do was choose some successful person, and copy what they did!
Success From Hard Work
We look at others and think; “Wow, I want to be like that, and I can do that too,” but the truth is that what looks like success, actually includes a lot of struggle and stress and striving that had to happen before the success came! The published record of other peoples deeds and adventures skips over the difficulties, and usually tells only the high points. We read all about the exciting bits, but the unexciting daily grind of the average weekday is not mentioned.
God’s Plan For You
You may not have realized this, but God has an individual and unique plan just for you, and for every one of his children; and the only way that plan can happen is if you seek his will, are obedient, and go forward in faith. We need to open our minds and our hearts every morning when we awake, and say; “O.K. God, what are we going to do today?” To be wise in God’s kingdom, we need to be led by the Holy Spirit of God, and to be obedient to that leading. If we do that we will be using real wisdom in our lives, we will be operating in obedience, and because obedience is always blessed, we will succeed and others will see the wisdom at work.
Alice wrote this comment recently, and it struck me as being a sermon in a sentence; “In Genesis God gave man dominion over earth. His intention was to not bring man to Heaven per se, but to bring the culture of heaven to earth. The Kingdom of Heaven, God as the King. He was intending to colonize earth with man and man to dominate using heavens culture. Adam messed that up and allowed sin to enter , but God never goes back on his word once spoken and man was still sent to dominate the earth. He still had a mission of living and acting in a Heavenly manner. Man was to influence man to live a righteous life. To seek the Kingdom here on earth.”
I see the punch line as the red type; “He still had a mission of living and acting in a Heavenly manner“. Is this not the key to bringing the Kingdom of Heaven right here on earth? If we do that, we become what the apostle Paul called in 2 Corinthians, 3:3, “Living Letters from Christ”. We don’t have to sermonize the rest of the world into the Kingdom, we just act out the Kingdom in our daily lives.
God’s Game Plan
As Alice wrote, “man was [still] sent to dominate the earth”. – and this is exactly how it is to happen – we are to influence others by “living and acting in a Heavenly manner“. Dead simple really, just like most of what God wants from us. I.E., KEYWORDS = Simple Obedience. The answer to the question; “How to be Christ in the World?” is contained in Alice’s comment above, live and act in a heavenly manner. We do these two very simple things; we practice what we preach, and we “Shine our Light [the light of God’s love]”.
Blame the Snake!
Adam and Eve blew it, they said it was the snake’s fault, and the snake didn’t have a leg to stand on, but whatever happened to prevent God’s harmonic plan of man in dominion over all the earth, the only way to restore that direction and let the plan happen, is if we do what Alice says, and honestly take up the mission of living and acting in a Heavenly manner. Read the first Paragraph again and discover the Sermon in a Sentence!
What does that mean, to Worship in Spirit and in Truth? What’s the difference? Does it Matter? We can get a clue for this from when Jesus was discussing theology with the smart Alecs in the temple, and they asked him which the greatest commandment was. Jesus Replied; “You shall worship with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind……” Again there are shades of meaning here that are not immediately obvious.
Obey The Great Commandment.
When we worship with all our heart, it is a physical thing. We are into praise mode, so we sing, or clap, or dance with an excess of enthusiasm. The mode of worship where we show our love from within our spirit is pure worship. Our souls are moved with passion and we pray or even sing our prayers in a much quieter and more reverent way. To love God with our minds, is to love from pure conviction, from our intellect; which tells us that God is real, that He loves us and answers our prayers. We show our love in worshiping with our minds when we engage in preaching, or testifying, or listening to such things. A common type of church service consists in praise, followed by worship, followed by a sermon or discussion – the three elements in the greatest commandment. [I.E., to love God with our hearts, our souls, and our minds]; so when we meet to worship in this way we are obedient to that commandment.
Worship in spirit and in truth
So then, praise is equal to worshiping with our hearts, sung or spoken prayer is worshiping with our spirit, and listening or giving a sermon or discussion is worshiping with our minds. To take this understanding and apply it to the expression “Worship in spirit and in truth”; then can mean that we move past simple praise when we worship. WE need to engage our spirits, and the conviction within our minds that recognising God’s truth will bring. Jesus told the woman at the well in Samaria that, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” It is not enough to only attend church and sing the hymns, we need to take an active part in the prayers of worship, and interactively listen to the message.
Does God attend meetings in your church? We quite reasonably expect God’s presence in our worship services, and rightly so. We are actually having dialog with Him at those times, whether it be prayers of thanks or petition, worship, or praise. But the real question here is; “Does God attend your business, planning, and administration meetings? Is He even invited? Do you constitute such meetings with prayer, and invite His guidance and participation in every part of the process?”
Putting God in a Box
I hope you answered YES to all of the above and haven’t been putting God in a box! We have a really bad habit of putting God into various boxes, and keeping Him out of others. It is very easy to percieve God as a component of prayer or praise, but it is very much harder to vizualise Him as a part of a decision about hiring a contracter to keep the grounds clipped and tidy. We do not habitually see Him in the really mundane parts of the process, but HE IS THERE just as much as in any other part of our church life. Think about it – HE OWNS the land and the buildings and the grass that grows on it. In fact He designed the grass and makes it grow!
Involving God in Church Business
It goes against our instincts to put God into the business part of running a Church, but that should be both our expectation and our understanding, to have God involved in every part of our lives. As a new Christian, I thought it was my business to deal with paying the bills and running my business, and I was happy just to thank Him for “Giving Me my Daily Bread”. I soon found out that business went a lot more smoothly when I involved Him in every part of the process. I found that if I genuinely involved God in every part of my day, and sought to just be obedient, then business not only took care of itself; but was more successful than when I personally made the decisions!
A Blue Print for Church Business
There is a blue-print here for conducting church business. It consists in firstly seeking God’s will for ALL activity, and THEN putting that in place. The how, where, and when of it will all fall into place with no fuss or effort. God only asks us to do things that we are already equipped to do, and He will ALWAYS provide the means to do it. If you believe this and do it, then nearly all church ‘planning’, and ‘ways and means’ meetings are redundant. If you ensure that God attends meetings, then the only ‘planning meeting’ needed is the regular prayer meeting!
The Priest Hood of all Believers is a Christian expression which needs explaining to most people. 1 Peter 2 Verse 9 says“But you are the chosen race, the King’s priests, the holy nation, God’s own people, chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God, who called you out of darkness into his own marvelous light”. And verse 5 says; “Come as living stones, and let yourselves be used in building the spiritual temple, where you will serve as holy priests to offer spiritual and acceptable sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ.”
No Seminaries for the Early Church
How can we all be priests if we are not sent to a seminary for training and ordained, and so on? I believe that the common perception of the priesthood where the person so ordained is highly trained in theology and wears an embroidered dress and a pill-box hat is quite flawed. There were no theological colleges in the Holy Land to train priests for the early church; they were ordinary men who were anointed by God to so serve. The present perception of priests is based on man-made law and tradition and has almost nothing to do with God’s anointing. As it says in Hebrews 5; “And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God”.
The scripture above, that goes; “.….let yourselves be used in building the spiritual temple, where you will serve as holy priests”, is the Biblical expression of the paragraph above. We are truly becoming “living stones”, being used to build God’s temple here on earth, when we are obedient to Him and serve our friends and neighbours in Christian service. That Christian service is simply using your God-given talent as He wills. That is how we “offer spiritual and acceptable sacrifices to God”; that is how we are priests; that is the “Priest Hood of All Believers”