Monday, May 28, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of May 27

(Read John 16:5-15)

In this passage, Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit will bring conviction with regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.  It intrigues me that the conviction is not the type of conviction we might expect.  When we usually think of conviction we think of feeling bad about bad things we have done, but that is not what Jesus says the Holy Spirit will bring.

Rather the Holy Spirit will bring conviction with regard to sin because people don't believe in Jesus, with regard to righteousness because Jesus is going to the Father, and with regard to judgment because the prince of this world (read Satan) now stands condemned.  Each of these convictions points people to Jesus because He is the good news!

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday.  Pentecost is the day we remember how God sent the Holy Spirit to empower the church for worldwide witness.  In honor of that event and everything that has happened since, I would like to share the story of the mission to Hawaii.

A few weeks ago my wife and I visited Hawaii and while we were there we learned a fascinating story about the beginning of the mission in Hawaii.  Humanly speaking, the story begins with a young man named Henry, but spiritually speaking we know that this story, like all mission stories, begins with God.

In the early 1800's a young man named Henry (probably not his given name) Obookiah was being raised to follow in his grandfather's footsteps as a Kahuna (a tribal priest).  Since the task involved preparing sacrifices (even at times human sacrifices), Henry was not all that thrilled.  So he took the opportunity to board a whaling ship from New England and try his hand out in the world.

Eventually, Henry found himself in New England and after converting to faith in Jesus attended a small Bible college where he began to prepare to be a missionary to his people in Hawaii.  Henry prayed often that God would send His Holy Spirit to convict the people of Hawaii with regard to sin and righteousness and judgment and to lead them into truth.

As Henry prepared he also shared his heart's desire with others.  Soon he had a group committed to join Henry on the mission to Hawaii.

Unfortunately, in 1818, as excitement grew for the trip, Henry contracted typhus fever and died.  This sad turn of events could have ended the plans for the mission to Hawaii.  However because of Henry's prayers many in the group agreed to go forward with the mission.

With Henry's assistance they had already begun to form a dictionary for the Hawaiian language and learn how to speak in the language of the island's natives.  The preparations had been made and the mission left in 1819 and arrived in Hawaii in 1820 (almost one year after their departure).

But like I say humanly speaking this seems like a story about a man named Henry, but spiritually speaking we know it is a story about God.

In answer to Henry's prayers, God had already begun to work among the people in Hawaii.  In the time between Henry's departure from Hawaii and the arrival of the missionaries, the people had turned their backs on their traditional religion.  In addition, as they turned their backs on traditional religion they also began to seek truth and a reliable source of truth.  Moreover, they had received a prophecy that said a ship would land in their harbor with people who held a black box which would reveal to them the truth they sought.

So when the missionaries arrived in 1820, they not only spoke the native language, but they also found a people who had been prepared to hear and believe the truth about Jesus!

The church that was founded by the original missionaries still stands today and still holds weekly worship as well as houses a vibrant local congregation.  Also, Youth With A Mission (YWAM) has its training headquarters in that same town (Kailua Kona, Hawaii) where missionaries from all over the world are trained in evangelism and prayer and then sent out all over the world to witness to the truth about Jesus!

This story is amazing to me because it reveals once again that salvation is God's work, and that the mission on which we have been sent is not primarily our mission; it is and always has been God's mission.

May the Holy Spirit bring you comfort and peace even as He sends us out to share comfort and peace with others.  In Jesus' name.  Amen.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of May 20

The relationship between the church (as God's people through true faith in Jesus Christ) and the world (those who are without hope and without God because they do not place true faith in Jesus) is something about which we should all think deeply.

Recently this has come to the fore with the debate over same sex couples, civil unions, and marriage.  So once again we need to go back to God's word and think more deeply because faithfulness to God and His mission in this world requires it.

(Read I Corinthians 5:1-13)

Paul offers harsh words for the immoral man INSIDE the church, but reserves judgment on those OUTSIDE.  He makes clear that judging those outside the church is not his business, rather Paul trusts that God will judge those "outside". (see verse 13)  So what does this passage have to say to us about the relationship between the church and the world, and what it means to be faithful to God and His mission in this world?

Well first of all when God judges those outside what is His criteria of judgment?

(Read John 3:16-21)

God's criteria for judgment is simple.  "Whoever believes in him (God's Son) is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son (i.e. Jesus)"  God's criteria is based on true faith in Jesus.  Whoever believes is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already.

So how should the church relate to the world then by being faithful to God and His mission?

In my very humble opinion, according to the word of God, I submit to you that our concern should no longer focus on behavior, but ultimately on belief.  Our goal should be to trust God, place faith in Jesus, and help others do the same.

But how does this relate to the situation of the immoral church member in I Corinthians 5?

I think one thing of which we should take particular note is the word "proud".  "A man has his father's wife.  And you are proud!"  The issue of pride is significant because it relates to faith.  In order for a person to maintain true faith in Jesus, pride must be put to death.

Recall what Jesus said in John 3:20-21 "Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light ..."

So again, in my very humble opinion, the issue is pride getting in the way of faith.  The person who belongs to God through true faith in Christ will regularly open him or herself up to God's light, and let God expose the evil that remains in them.

Therefore, the church's role in judgment is to drive people back to God through humble faith in Jesus.
So in discipleship we cannot make a list of "do's" and "don't's" as the criteria for when to apply formal discipline, but we must handle each situation and each person with wisdom concerning not only their behavior, but also the attitude of their hearts.

For example, according to Paul, it might be just as fitting for the church to expel an immoral brother for greed as much as for sexual immorality.  (see I Corinthians 5:11)

But in order to do this well we must know one another well enough that we can also discern each other's hearts.  This is the difficult task of discipleship, and it is the realm of the church for the church and cannot be confined to a list of "do's" and "don't's".

So what do you think?  Let's talk about this because faithfulness to God and His mission in this world requires going deeper.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of May 6

Peter was reinstated by Jesus during what seemed like an "ordinary day at the beach", and was recommissioned to be a fisher of men and caretaker of Jesus' sheep (see John 21).  So how did that call shape Peter's life and how did it shape his understanding of salvation?

(Read I Peter 1:1-2:3)

Right away at the beginning of this letter we see Peter's understanding of salvation summarized.  "To God's elect ... who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by His blood."

These are profound statements indeed!  Notice that the emphasis for salvation is completely on God.  This is God's work.  He chose, He sanctifies for obedience and He sprinkles with cleansing blood.  Salvation is God's work from beginning to end!  And we see that continued in the rest of the passage.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth ... an inheritance ... kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power ..." 

The emphasis is definitely on God and His work in bringing us salvation received by faith!  So the call to obedience is the response to God's work in Jesus.  This was what Peter came to understand during that "day at the beach" and it shaped his work as a caretaker of Jesus' sheep.

What about you?  What do you learn from this passage about our call to be not only fishers of men, but also caretakers of Jesus' sheep?  Let's discuss.