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Faith as Warfare
February 03, 2019 - Phil Schaefer
1 Timothy 6:11-12
When you become a Christian everything goes well. All your problems are solved. All your questions are answered. All your troubles are over. Nothing disturbs you anymore. And, if anything goes wrong, it is a sign that something is wrong with your relationship with God. Is that what you believe? If it is, I have some incredibly good news for you. You are wrong.Salvation is not a diploma that qualifies us for eternity – a diploma we hang on our wall. It is a battle that has been won. Jesus tells us we will have life abundant AND trials and testings. Jesus does not take us out of the fight he pulls us into it. Life is a battle on all levels.Paul says to Timothy: ‘But you O man of God’ – Paul is reminding Timothy who he is, what is his identity – But you O woman of God. But you O man of God…fight the good fight of faith.Jesus is always on the offensive – always.Jesus launched his ministry on the offensive – Luke 4:17-19. Jesus is on the attack. He comes at the forces of evil. Jesus plunders (Luke 11:21-22)There is nothing for us to fear in the fight of faith. Danger is in not fighting. The safest place to be is on the battlefield, for it is there that Christ is acting.The Apostle Paul knew this: He understood that Jesus on the cross – disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public spectacle of them triumphing over them thru his death on the cross. – Colossians 2:15Paul makes these assertions throughout his writings:If God is for us who can be against us. For He must reign till he puts all enemies under his feet. Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. You, therefore, my son be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus…endure hardship as a good soldierWarfare is a choice between faith and flesh.Many believers have a crisis of faith every few days. Do I believe any of this? Is this worth it? I’m so disappointed. I’m too discouraged. I’m too offended. In all of these, you have a decision to make – act on your hurt or act out of faith.I’m going to get my way or I’m going to serve. I’m going to vent my anger or answer kindly. I’m going to withhold my money to show my disapproval or I’m going to give. I’m going to show I don’t know what to believe by just standing there in indifference or I’m going to worship exuberantly believing God will meet me in my praise and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.It is not hypocrisy when in the place of doubt and confusion to say ‘I believe. Help my unbelief.’Warfare is the art of bouncing back. Warfare is not to daily rehearse what’s wrong with me, or how I’m feeling. It is to recognize where I am and then to turn my heart to God - Psalm 42:11.Faith as warfare gets us to bring God into the scene.God is in this. He is doing something. Faith as warfare gets us to speak faith into our souls. Anyone can see what’s wrong with things. It takes no faith to see what’s wrong.Standing still is the fight of faith. Exodus 14:13 You have only to be still – the Lord will fight for you. Be still and know that I am God. That’s the fight of faith.We don’t fight by having a better argument, or by dominating and getting our way, or by having to be right. Ours is a cross-bearing fight. We bear the burdens of others. We bear their sin. We bear other’s weakness. We fight differently.It’s not our job to fight the devil. Theresa of Avilla said: ‘I don’t understand this focus on the devil – the devil this and the devil that. A fig for all the devils. I pay no attention to them than to flies. Why pay attention to the devil when we can say, God! God! and the devil trembles.’And when you stumble - and you will stumble - bounce back and call upon God. The enemy of your soul hates when we do that.Perhaps you are here, and you don’t know Jesus in a real way. You say, "What does this have to do with me and my life?"The devil – whether you believe in him or not – already has the upper hand on you – the Bible says he is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. You are a prisoner to your sin and Jesus has come to fight for you. Jesus has come to deliver you from your bondage to your sin. We are all sinners. None of us can free ourselves on our own. But God has come to stand for us. He has delivered us. He has taken up the fight for us.God is not opposed to you. The devil is opposed to you. God is for you, after you, defending you, he died for you. Jesus came to deliver you from death into life eternal.Jesus is calling you to come to him and receive a new life.
Celebrating All Along the Way
January 27, 2019 - Phil Schaefer
1 Chronicles 28:20 - 29:16
Today, we are celebrating wrapping-up our ‘Increasing Our Capacity’ initiative that has to do with building into our future.I think for many Christians we don’t celebrate enough. I think for many of us we don’t recognize that God is a celebrating God. I think for many of us we don’t realize that God commands us to celebrate often and around all kinds of times.Celebrating is an act of redemption. It means you understand the redeemed life is not a burden but is a celebration of life all along the way.Richard Foster in his classic book – Celebration of Discipline says:A celebration is a spiritual discipline. A celebration is the heart of Christ. It brings joy into life and joy makes us strong. Celebration delivers us from taking ourselves too seriously. It is a corporate discipline. We are supposed to enter into singing, dancing, shouting, clapping, laughter, and creativity all as part of celebrating. Celebration can cure us of the common weightiness in life. A celebration is meant to be done at the beginning of a thing, in the middle of a thing, and at the end of a thing.At the start of 2015, we launched into Increasing Our Capacity and said that we believed that God was leading us into expanding our future as a church. This is a word not just to a few individuals but to us as a people.So today we want to celebrate that over these 4 yrs. we were able to:Eliminate a $1M debt for past renovations and additions, We raised $2.4M toward our new building plan, We had over 300 families participate in giving, We had people from outside our church give, We hired architects, developed plans and those plans are being reviewed by the city for permitting, and our next step will be to get construction bids on the plans. We added a third service made up of our African members, added 2 pastors – Nene and Jean Claude, and have about 100 people attending that service on Sunday afternoon Sent missionaries into regions of the world where the people have very little knowledge of Jesus.And we also want to celebrate how we closed out 2018. All throughout last year, we were behind financially. In September we talked about what it would look like if we became a tithing church. If we became that, we would cover all our needs and as God said: He would pour out a blessing that we would not be able to contain it.And so, we were behind last year by hundreds of thousands of dollars. But we want to celebrate today.We were able to replenish nearly all the shortfall. We have $65,000 in our benevolence fund – that’s about $20,000 more than usual. And we added to our building initiative.I want us to take a moment to celebrate. Let’s stand, and I want us to shout, clap, give thanks to God.1 Chronicles 28:20 - 29:16 - You should read this as though you are David.David celebrates because he knows God is with them. David celebrates because he knows this is for the Lord. David celebrates because God has captured the whole of him. David celebrates because of the willingness of the people.BUT NOTICE: David is celebrating and yet they hadn’t built anything - hadn’t even gotten started. David is speaking in a truly prophetic tone: God I thank-you for all you are going to do. He is saying, I may not be here to see it, but it is in my heart, in my thinking, in my spirit. David, if you will, was called into secular work – the marketplace. He was a warrior, a king, a ruler, and yet his affection was for the things of God. David stood as a representative of the people of God. These verses are for you: For you who go off to your career in medicine, or law, or construction, or service work, whose incomes are small and whose incomes are large. You rejoice because the people around you offered willingly as unto the Lord.So, we want to thank everyone who had a willing heart; thank all of you who took steps of faith, and sacrifice, and generosity; who see your life as being caught up in something more than our comforts.And we are beginning now to turn our attention to the next move and the next prophetic word that we believe God is giving to us. Those who are a part of our church should be getting an invitation to come to someone’s home where we will talk about our posture for our future.
Intentional Community
January 20, 2019 - Phil Schaefer
Acts 2: 41-46
Gen.1:1 – Everything that exists is in relationship to God. In the beginning, God created… Creation exists in relationship. Men and women are in relationship. Husband and wife, family, people groups, common languages, geography are all in relationship. Christianity shapes and defines our understanding of relationship. It speaks of those who follow Jesus – We are in relationship to Jesus and to one another.The Mission of the church: To be and make disciples of Jesus Christ in authentic community for the good of the world.’ Christianity brings us into community. That’s what it does. That’s what it looks like when you get saved, come to Christ, are born-again, come to faith – whatever term you use - it results in us coming into community with others.It is not good for a man to be alone. I will make your descendants as the sand of the sea. Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together. When you pray, say, Our Father. Love your neighbor. Bear one another’s burdens.Community is not a generic word. It has intention. People can be in proximity and not be in community. Community carries with it a sense of exchange. I share my life and you share your life. Community is doing life together and it is sharing life together. When Jesus says go and make disciples, he did not mean go and get people saved. He meant for us to go and draw people into the life of community that I will have with them and they will have with one another. Bring them in.Simon and Garfunkle – I am a rock – about being hurt by love I’ve built walls / a fortress deep and mighty / that none may penetrate / I have no need for friendship, friendship causes pain / It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain / I am a rock / I am an island.I have my books / and my poetry to protect me / I am shielded in my armor / hiding in my room / safe within my womb / I touch no one and no one touches me / I am a rock / I am an island / And a rock feels no pain / and an island never cries.Do you know what that describes? It describes hell. Hell is isolation. Hell is no relationship. Hell is separation from God and his creation. We are not made for hell. We are made for life, saved for life, created to learn how to live in community – in relationship – in sharing life. Sin isolates us; fragments us; separates us; puts us in solitary confinement. Sin wants to break down our faith, hope, love.The Gospel restores us; it unites us; it sets us into community. The Gospel is never for individuals but always for a people.This is what we see in Acts 2 at the launching of the work of the Holy Spirit – People are drawn into community. Acts 2:41-46 This is the foundation of being the church. Notice the various pieces:It is identifiable – v.44 – Now all who believed were together - Who is my group? Who are my people? It moves us from I to we; from your to our. It is intentional – We have set times for when we meet. It is not just a random catching up. It is being together – in the temple and from house to house – I am not performing some obligation. The Holy Spirit brings us together. It is about sharing – it crosses over from small talk into substance. It moves into your personal life, sharing fears, burdens, struggles, needs – there is a honesty and a freedom. It is about heart relationship – I am for these people and they are for me. Their heart is for me and mine for them. It is about exploring the life of God – What am I learning? How am I being influenced?We need affirmation. We need correction. We need motivation. This is what happens in an intentional community. We cannot get through the wilderness, the dry time, the dark night without the affirmation and motivation of others. This is the long haul of faith.Spiritual health – vitality - comes from doing life together.A local church is both a large community and a small community. The church is not meant to be a small group, but neither is it meant to be only a large group. Acts 2 says that they met in the temple (large community) and from house to house (small community).Different ways to connect:GROW CORE CLASSES Men’s and women’s groups and studies. Ongoing short term groups Kenny Boyce – our philosopher/theologian in residence. Healing Prayer, Living Waters Monthly and weekly life groups Bridge groups Book groups One on OneLet me put it simply: I need others to help me grow and stay healthy. Healthy things grow. I need other’s perspective, other’s faith. We need to speak – to verbalize – what God is doing in our lives. Who is your group? We need others because that is how God designed salvation. We need others to speak God’s word to us. We need them again and again.And they continued steadfastly in the fellowship, being together, sharing life.
Fear, Hope, and Love
January 06, 2019 - Michael Acock
Deuteronomy 31:6-8, Psalm 23, Psalm 46, Timothy 1:7, Isaiah 40:1, Romans 5:5
As we start 2019, Pastor Michael Acock teaches on Fear, Hope and Courage in this Epiphany sermon.What are you afraid of this year? Do you have New Year resolutions? Are your resolutions grounded in fear?"Those who leave everything in God's hands will eventually see God's hands in everything."FEARWhat are you afraid of?Fear tells us God is not with us. Fear tells us God is not with us.Deuteronomy 31: 6-8 "Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you...Be strong and courageous...It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed."Psalm 23 "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff they comfort me."Psalm 46: 1-11 "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. There we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling."Oppression is a state of the heart. The more you fear, the more you are worried about what might happen or not, the more you come under oppression.2 Timothy 1:7 "God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (sound mind)."Beth Moore says that the fear causes us to trade for an overwhelming, pervasive feeling of powerlessness.There are four fearful assumptions:Uncertainty is unsafe. I can't handle losing what I cherish. It's a dangerous world. I am all alone.Here are four courage-cultivating truths:Uncertainty is the gateway to possibility. Loss is natural and can lead to growth. It's a purposeful universe. We are all ONE.HOPEBiblical hope is a confident expectation of what God has promised and its strength is in HIS Faithfulness.Isaiah 40: 31 "Yet those who wait for [hope in] the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint."Romans 5:5 "...and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."COURAGEJoshua 1: 6-18 "Be strong and courageous...Only be strong and very courageous...Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go...Only be strong and courageous.""Courage is not about being fearless; it's about letting fear transform you so you come into right relationship with uncertainty, make peace with impermanence, and wake up to who you really are." - Lissa Rankin, MDWhen we listen to fear, we become hopeless, courage falls and love is restricted. When we challenge fear, we embrace hope, courage rises and love is released.
A God Oriented Vision
December 30, 2018 - Phil Schaefer
Genesis 15:5 and Genesis 22:17-18
What is our vision? What do we see? What is our future? What does that look like? Can you picture something in your minds eye? Does your vision just center around you? Does it center around you and your family? Your career? Your goal for retirement?What is a God-oriented vision? Who and what does that include? Does that vision end when you hit 65, or is it a vision that will sustain you all your days?To have a God-oriented vision is to include many more than just yourself – or just your kids and their future. A God-oriented vision is beyond you. Vision does not start with us. It comes from God. Abraham, have I got a vision for you!At our pastor’s retreat last fall we asked: What is our vision? We were not trying to do one of those exercises in how to create a vision statement. We were not trying to come up with a unified statement to present to the church and say this is it. We were wanting to get a glimpse of what holds us in place and what moves us forward when we speak of a vision.We were wanting to stir up the pot – like a pot of soup; what’s in there; let’s taste this; let’s let it simmer on the burner; let’s see how all the spices blend; and then let’s eat it.Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but lose his soul. And Jesus said, ‘Follow me.’ Abraham, count the stars…so shall your descendants be.Here are just a few tastings from that time together:I like our church (emphatic); what we do; what we value. Being a spirit-filled church. Having worship as a main event. Valuing the Word of God. Knowing relationship and community is key to our Christian lives. Following the Spirit for our direction. Having grace be the orienting piece in our teaching, in our living, in our message of the Gospel. Being a City on a Hill – whatever we are, we are a witness, our property on Chapel Hill is to be a witness to a city on a hill. Living with a mindset to Acts 2:42 – that is: being family, being one, doing life together, applying the Gospel to life, outdoing one another in love. Bearing the Imago Dei – the image of God – in our diversity.It is not just that every person bears the image of God, but the church as a reflection of the image of God. We went on and spoke of: a place of recovery, a healing center, an expectation that the kingdom of God can be real, a launching pad, a sacred space, a value for the presence of God, a quality of life together, a place of prophetic praying.Last year we celebrated our 40th anniversary as a church. 40 yrs. ago I wasn’t in vocational ministry, wasn’t a leader here. I was a young 20-something yrs. old member of the church. I and many others were captivated by a great affection for Jesus. Not just for Jesus – but also for His people – for His church. I gave up my identity only being in my natural family – so I could be identified with the church - with the people of God. I let go of my career advancements so I could be in the church. And many from those days did likewise saying: "I will make the church my life and will make my career secondary."God has a vision for your life and that vision includes life as part of his church. It is not just what God wants to do on the inside of you – personally, it is also what God wants to do through us as a people.Vision is always about change. God has to grow us into our vision. Andy Stanley said: ‘From what I read in Scriptures, I would guess the time required for God to grow you into his vision will be somewhere between 4 mos. and 40 yrs. And if you feel you are on a 40 yr. track, here’s one other bit of information you might want to chew on. There seems to be a correlation between preparation time and the magnitude of the task to which we are called. Leading God’s people out of 400 yrs. of slavery required more than a 4 yr. degree. It required 40 yrs. of preparation. But then again, we are still talking about it today.’At the end of last year I shared some phrases that I believed were meant to shape us for the future. Do you remember these?Where there is no way He makes a way. God calls those things that do not exist as though they did. No one is beyond hope.God always has the 1st word: What is God saying? Every one of us needs to be stretched by God to live at our best: To see God shaping our heart, our thinking, our character; To see that trials that come our way are God’s means to shape a cross-centered vision that goes beyond what this life calls success; To see that the only life worth living is a life of radical faith and radical generosity, under a radically massive vision given by God to us. God is questioning us: What do we see?
Hear the Bells Toll - Death Is Dying
December 24, 2018 - Clay Spencer
1 John 3:8, Genesis 3:17-19, Genesis 3:16, Genesis 3:14-15, John 1:29-31, 1 Corinthians 13:12, Romans 6:23
Watch our Christmas Eve sermon from Pastor Clay!
Advent People Are People of Hope
December 23, 2018 - Phil Schaefer
Luke 1: 10-20, Hebrews 1, Revelation 1, Philippians 2:5, 1 Corinthians 15: 22-28
In a good story – a great book – I don’t want it to end. I want the tale to go on. Even when I have finished a book, I am both satisfied and wanting more. I want to pick up another book, or even start the book over again. I don’t say to that great story – ‘Entertain me.’ I say to it – ‘Pull me in.' Grip my heart, my imagination, my conscience, my emotions, and my deepest yearnings. The Bible story does all that.In Luke 1:10-20, I am reading the birth of Jesus accounts which are found in Matthew and in Luke. But I am also reading Revelation alongside those accounts of Jesus’ coming. I am not doing this to get more knowledge of the birth of Jesus story – I know the story – I am doing it to revive my imagination to bring me into the Divine Imagination of God as He reveals Himself through His only begotten Son.The God of the Bible is an interactive God. He sends, brings, speaks, provokes, and awakens not just our conscience but also our imagination. People are being pulled into God’s revelation of Himself. That’s how the Bible demands to be read.In other words, the Bible wants to be read as a story. If you are engrossed in a 'whopping' good story, you aren’t stopping to ask every minute, "What does this mean? Did this really happen? Why did this happen?" Or even: "Do I believe this?" You are meant to be swept along in the direction that the storyteller carries you. And the storyteller is God Himself.For this reason, Bible reading should begin very early in life, and classic children’s literature should be read along with it.If you’re reading a classic fairy tale to a child, you don’t stop every few paragraphs to say, "This is what this means," or, "This is what you are supposed to learn," or, "This is what you are supposed to do now." Stories have a power of their own, and the Bible which is one expansive story – the greatest story ever told – has a power uniquely its own.Luke 1:20 - "my words which will be fulfilled in their own time." The Advent word for today is Hope. But hope in what? For Christians, it is a hope in a promise. Hope and promise are future words. Hope and promise are not words that linger in the past.Advent means ‘coming’. Advent is not just about the 1st coming of Jesus; it is also about His second coming. Advent is the season between the times – the waiting and longing coming of the Lord. At Advent, we look both backward and forward.He is saving us into His future. He is saving us into our future. It is more than saving us from our past. God is bringing us onto the side of His future. God is on the move. He is acting on our behalf.God is out ahead of us. He is moving toward us even if we are not moving toward Him. His promise to us is not empty.Christmas is not a break in our routine. It is a break in the universe. If we don’t see this, we will just sentimentalize and neutralize Christmas. In that baby lies the only hope for mankind – the only hope for me. Romans 10:11 – For the Scripture says,"Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame."He brings a promise – a word of hope for us. This is not a human promise that may or may not be kept. This is not a human wish.This is God saying as part of the Biblical – the God – story, "I am coming now. Here, at this point in time, in this manner, into the story of this world and into the story that I am writing, and you will behold and marvel at my ways."This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil. Hebrews 6:19For all the promises of God are Yes, and Amen in Christ Jesus to the glory of God through us.
The Gift of a Message
December 16, 2018 - Phil Schaefer
Luke 1: 26-35
Let’s talk about angels for a moment. Angel means messenger – God’s messenger. A being who arrives in our midst directly from the presence of ultimate cosmic authority and undiluted power. That is hard – really, impossible - for us to comprehend.In ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, Clarence is the hapless angel trying to earn his wings. I love the story - Jimmy Stewart - His sacrifices and sense that he is unappreciated. But let’s be crystal clear: Biblical angels are nothing like Clarence.The angel is frightening because he comes from the immediate presence of God to earth. This is how you can know if you have been in the presence of an angel – you are terrified, overwhelmed, undone, feel very small.The angel of God brings news. He is telling Mary that God is breaking into this world order with power and authority from another sphere altogether.Ultimately, everything we believe - our hope, our love, our very existence depends on this. This world cannot save itself. It is hopelessly lost. It cannot be healed. We sit under Powers too strong for us to overcome.But the angelic proclamation is not within this sphere at all. It is an announcement of an in-breaking event from somewhere else. It comes from a kingdom which is without end. All other kingdoms will have their end. This one does not.Mankind is mostly trying to bring Christ down so we can make sense of Him. Even we his followers work hard to get Him to fit our mold. Jesus is not a creature created. He is not man created.This is the mystery of Christmas: Jesus is the Incarnation of the Creator God Himself. It was and still is a profound and unfathomable mystery.In Revelation 1:13 – when John encounters the ascended Christ: His head and His hair were like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and his voice as the sound of many waters; He had in his right hand seven stars, out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and his countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at his feet as dead. This child in the manger is this One. John is trying to describe the indescribable.We will never be fully able to wrap our minds around the God who lives in unapproachable holiness, unapproachable light, unapproachable beauty, goodness, purity, and love.We can only embrace the un-embraceable. We can only grasp this by faith thru grace.And in this season, we have the gift of a message.The message of the angel is that the Course of human History is now being reversed by the only One Who has the Power to reverse it. This is the gift of the message: God has made His Move.And His Throne and His Kingdom will be established forever by the only power in heaven or earth that is able to do such a thing. ‘and of his kingdom, there will be no end’ – the angel declares.He has given the gift of Himself for us. He has stepped into the world of Adam – the source of sin, death, and condemnation. And He is establishing the world of Christ - the source of Righteousness and Eternal Life. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.We need to hear a message from somewhere, someone, someplace beyond the realities of this harsh world - and we have! Not just a message, but a move. God stepped into our world, into our failure, heartbreak, tears, uncertainties, shame, guilt, fears, and death.God has entered our sphere and has planted a kingdom that has no end; where sadness will be turned to joy; sin will be vanquished by righteousness, and death will be overcome by resurrection.But God has not entered our sphere via propositions, or formulas. He has entered via a story. The story gives meaning to everything around us. God is weaving a story that will tie all the pieces together. We are all living in a redemption story.Where are you in this story? Are you one of the redeemed? Do you know this God who has come to deliver you from all your sin and give you eternal life? Do you know that God is on your side?
Love in the Darkness
December 09, 2018 - Phil Schaefer
John 3: 16-17, Luke 10: 25-37, Romans 5: 6-8
The Advent season is when we are invited to live with our deeper, less comfortable selves. To sit uncomfortably with our angry self, our unbelieving self, our unloving self, our self that is not in control. It is meant to get us out of our own personal goals, our life lived on our terms, our life as we want to control it.We love to throw the word love around in our songs and movies and language. I love my car, house, dog, cat, boyfriend. I love my church. But for love to be love, it must cost us something. Love means we are giving ourselves away. Love takes big chunks out of you that you don’t get back. Love costs your life.What God has done for us has cost him everything – his reputation, his authority, his identity. And most personally – it cost the extreme suffering and death of His Son. The baby in the manger was sent on a mission - John 3:17Love - Agape love - is not a feeling; it is being for others. It is not an emotion; it is a costly serving. It is not passive; it is active. It seeks the good of others; it loses sight of itself. It always believes and has hope for the other. You may feel weak, but agape love gives you a strength beyond yourself; for it is a love that comes from another realm.Agape is victorious over all the forces arrayed against it.The parable of the Good Samaritan is about rightly identifying your neighbor. "Who is my neighbor?" the lawyer asks Jesus seeking to justify himself. Luke 10: 25-37Agape love is more than just saying God loves everybody. In fact, God does love everybody, but the everybody for us has to have a name, a face, an encounter attached to it or it lacks any depth of love.Romans 5: 6-8 Paul’s words – ‘Christ died for the ungodly’ has a bite in it. Who are the ungodly? I am, and you are.In verse 8 – ‘But God demonstrates His own love.’ - But God! To understand this agape love of God is to throw yourself on the mercy of God. O God, I cannot love like this, but you can through me. Agape is unattainable by human effort. It is the work of God in us.Someone this week told me: ‘Fear is a principality. It wants to control us, dominate us, disable us.' Then they said – ‘Fear is tempting us to partner with it. But we are not to partner with fear. We are to partner with faith.’ 'Fear will crush us, but faith will deliver us.’ Perfect love casts out all fear.Agape lovers are burden bearers. They are ‘enter-the-fray people’. They may feel weak, but they give strength.Jesus came to lead us into an altogether unknown way of loving. This love comes from another sphere, not of this world. It is the breaking in of God’s love that transforms the human heart.1 Peter 1 – "Grace and peace be multiplied to you…to you who are kept by the power of God for salvation…in this salvation you greatly rejoice though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved (distressed) by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested (purified) by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, who having not seen you love…and believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory."Beloved, we shall come through this time. God is deepening our love. He is purifying our faith. He is creating strength in us out of our weakness. We are not in control, but He is.Let us follow His leading.
Advent Biblically Understood
December 02, 2018 - Phil Schaefer
Malachi 4: 5-6, Matthew 1:1
Today is the 1st Sunday of Advent. Advent in the liturgical calendar of the church is the season of preparing for the coming of the Lord. But Advent, Biblically understood, is not about Christmas preparations, decorations, or parties. Advent, Biblically understood, is about absence, darkness, and silence. Advent, Biblically understood, is about having a sense of the wrath of God; about facing our sin and our judgment.Isaiah 64:5-7 – You are indeed angry, for we have sinned – in these ways we have continued; and we need to be saved, or -In our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our "righteousnesses" are like filthy rags…for you have hidden Your face from us and have consumed us because of our iniquities. The prophetic cry in Isaiah 64:1 is – ‘O, that you would rend the heavens and come down!Wrath is God’s absence. Wrath is God not intervening in man’s willfulness. Wrath is God leaving humanity on its own. Wrath is a sense of the absence of any goodness, righteousness, justice, love, mercy, compassion, or purpose. Wrath is to look into the heart of darkness of humanity left to itself.At Advent, we do not look away from wrath, we look directly at it.Christmas is diminished, stripped of its substance if we are not willing to take a fearless inventory of the darkness. Thus, Advent, Biblically understood, begins in darkness. For as long as mankind has had a sense of sin there has been a cry - ‘O come, O come, Immanuel!’Now you may say, ‘Phil, it’s Christmas. It’s a time to feel good and escape from reality, of decorations, and festivity.’But as Christians – especially because Christmas is Christian – we have to correctly engage the Biblical story that leads us into the deepest longing of the human heart. We cannot grasp what God has done for us until we have had a personal and honest sense of the hopelessness of our condition.Isaiah 9:2 – ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death upon them a light has shined.’ (death as a shadow always over them)Advent, Biblically understood, re-orders our perspective on this world. By this I mean darkness will always be darkness. Darkness does not get converted. We get converted. We see things differently.John 1:5 – ‘And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it - Could not grasp it - Could not overcome it - but we do. John 1: 7-8It doesn’t mean we spend the next 4 weeks all gloomy. It does mean we step above this world – see it in its pain and futility - understanding this is the reality of a world without hope if there is no savior.It is to be confronted by the ugliness and pain of what took place here yesterday. But these headlines are every day.Advent brings us into a story that says the Bible has the final word – the word that sums up all things in Christ.This story is the story that confronts and overcomes all the stories we get from our news feeds. This world cannot save itself.To make it very practical for us. - I get myself into this setting every Sunday because I need to orient myself to the world of Scripture. - I need to do it so that when an unbelieving person wants to know what orients my life I can say I gather with a people every week and we, together, orient ourselves to the God of the Bible.If someone without a hope asks me what is my hope, I will not only tell them my hope is Jesus Christ, I will tell them my hope is found in this Church – a place of people who know they are sinners but who have found forgiveness, and hope, and joy.Let me remind us, we still have Good News to proclaim. In this present darkness, we have seen a great light.The Bible that we read – this Advent, Christmas, Easter story that we tell – it must be told again and again and again. It must be told before an unbelieving and sin-filled world.Into this world, a Savior has come. It is Christ the Lord. ‘Fall on your knees, O hear the angels voices, O God-ordained night, when Christ comes.’We are called by the Lord to be Advent people preparing the way of the Lord.