Christianity 201

July 5, 2018

Big Renovations

by Clarke Dixon

Are your best days are behind you? You may feel they are. You are not the young energetic person of the past. When we first entered the world we were carried up the stairs. Then we learned to climb them. Then we began running up the stairs, soon proudly doing two at a time. Then we reach the point of just walking up the stairs. Later we do what can best be described as climbing them again. Then we avoid them altogether. If you are in these latter stages you may think your best days are behind you.

Haggai has a message for those who look back at the glory days.

. . . the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Haggai 2:1-3 (NRSV)

God’s people had endured the consequence of their rebellion spending seventy years in Babylon following the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. They had now been allowed to return and even begin work on rebuilding the temple. However with opposition the work ground to a halt. Haggai points out the rundown nature of the house of God and brings a message from the Lord:

Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work . . . Haggai 2:4 (NRSV emphasis added)

The run down house can be renovated! Take courage and work! In the prophet Haggai’s day that meant getting back to work on rebuilding the place of God’s residence, the temple. In our day God’s place of residence may well need some major renovations. But where is it today?

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NRSV)

Since it turns out that the Christ follower is God’s temple, what does “take courage and work” look like for us today? It is the renovation of our hearts. This is God’s work in us. We are only scratching the surface here, but the affect of God upon us has been summarized for us:

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)

Do you feel like your best days are behind you? If you do, you may be thinking of things like physical health and youthful vitality. What if we think instead about the impact God has on us, such as the fruit of the Spirit? The best days of your life may yet be ahead. You can be so deflated of physical heath that you are confined to a hospital bed and yet still be growing in things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If we redefine our “best days” as those where we most powerfully demonstrate God’s impact on our hearts and minds, our best days are ahead! God’s renovating work in us continues!

So “take courage . . . work”. That is, make efforts to keep in step with God. Be open to His work in your life. I am not really a handyman, but I know God has the tools and know-how to fix up whatever needs renovating in my heart.

Do you see your best days as being ahead? If not, perhaps you are too busy looking behind. Don’t look back at your glory days, move forward into God’s glory.


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. (I also got to hear this sermon preached live at Clarke’s church!)

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (30 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

 


June 28, 2018

Empire, or Kingdom?

Will we ever wake up in a world with no violence or conflict? We see it on the news, we hear about it in the lives of people around us, maybe we experience it personally. Yes, there will be a day there will be no more conflict. Christ will return and there will be

a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:1,5 NRSV)

But are we to just wait for that day, putting up with all this conflict until then? The prophet Nahum will help us find our way.

Nahum points us in the right direction by pointing out what happens when we get on the wrong track. Nahum is a prophecy to a people who had been on the wrong track. The Assyrians were on the track to empire. Nahum had the task of telling them that they had reached the end of the line. There are three problems with the track to empire.

First problem with the empire track; empire is temporary. Much of the history of the world is a history of the empire after empire seeking to become the biggest and best. The history of the world teaches us that they all fall in the end. Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, it doesn’t matter, empire is always temporary.

There is a better track; the track that leads to the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is eternal. We may struggle to understand the book of Revelation, but the main message is really quite simple; empires rise and fall, but the Kingdom of God is eternal.

So are we building towards empire, or Kingdom? Are we building for things that are temporary? Are our time, talents, and treasures going toward things that last?

Second problem with the empire track: empire destroys relationships. In empire living, there are only allies or enemies. The peoples within and around an empire are either going to help the empire get bigger, or they are going to get in the way and be a threat.

There is a better track, one that leads to the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God, there are only neighbours. Jesus taught us to “love thy neighbour as thyself and then went on to define our neighbour as anyone and everyone.

When we meet people, do we see them as either allies of enemies? Do we see them as either being useful to us, or in our way, and even a threat? Or do we simply see them as neighbours to be loved?

Third problem with the empire track; empires are built through brute force and brutality. Nahum tells of this, for example:

Ah! City of bloodshed,
utterly deceitful, full of booty—
no end to the plunder!
 The crack of whip and rumble of wheel,
galloping horse and bounding chariot!
 Horsemen charging,
flashing sword and glittering spear,
piles of dead,
heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end—
they stumble over the bodies! Nahum 3:1-3 (NRSV)

Yet she became an exile,
she went into captivity;
even her infants were dashed in pieces
at the head of every street;
lots were cast for her nobles,
all her dignitaries were bound in fetters. Nahum 3:10 (NRSV)

In building empires, countless of people were killed. For those who lived, eyes were often gouged out, tongues cut off, people sold off and removed far from home. So brutal were some empires that even unborn babies were ripped from their mother’s wombs, and orphaned infants dashed to the ground. This is how empires struck fear in their enemies. Better to surrender to the power of a “better” empire, than experience it firsthand. Nahum’s prophecy is about the Assyrian empire experiencing what it dished out to others.

All who hear the news about you
clap their hands over you.
For who has ever escaped
your endless cruelty? Nahum 3:19 (NRSV)

There is, thankfully, a better track, the track that leads to the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is built with a different kind of force: “not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit” Zechariah. 4:9 (NKJV).

Jesus said “those who draw the sword, will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:62-54 NRSV). Jesus was doing two things when he refused to use violence at his arrest in Gethsemane. He was taking the Kingdom track for our sake, so that we might be forgiven rather than destroyed. But he was also giving us an example to follow, an example of Kingdom thinking, Kingdom living, Kingdom dying. Jesus call us to pick up the cross and follow, which means to trade empire for Kingdom. We are to become Kingdom people, good news people.

We are empire people when we show up with swords and guns and bombs. We are Kingdom people when we show up with the Spirit of God: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22,23 (NRSV). Do we show up to our relationships with swords or the Spirit? Do we show up on Facebook, Twitter and other social media with swords or Spirit? Do we show up ready ready to fight people? Or to fight with people against the evil in their lives? Do we show up as empire people or Kingdom people?

You might perceive a problem with the Kingdom track. It does not seem to take into account your suffering at the hands of another. It is unfair. You deserve vengeance. And perhaps you are right. It is unfair. However, the prophecy of Nahum, though addressed to the Assyrians, was for the encouragement of Israel when they experienced what seemed to be very unfair treatment. Having been on the wrong track for a long time, Assyria has reached the end of the line. However, nowhere in the prophecy of Nahum is there a call for Israel to take up arms. There is no need. We can think of Paul’s word to the Christians in Rome who also knew a thing or two about being treated unfairly:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21 (NRSV)

Every day we wake up to violence and conflict. Every day is an opportunity to live as God’s good news people. Every day is an opportunity for Kingdom rather than empire. While we may not feel we have much influence in conflicts around the globe, the ones close to home are opportunities for Kingdom building.


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (33 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 


This weekend we continue the theme of empire vs. kingdom with two posts from a well-known and often controversial writer! Stay tuned on Friday and Saturday.

September 8, 2011

Hating What God Hates

Today’s post is from Pastor Kevin Behrens who blogs at Church on the Rock where this first appeared under the title Hatred.

Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord,
and abhor those who rise up against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
Ps 139:21-22 (NIV)

As teenager in a Christian school, we all were required to memorize chapters of the Bible.  We would take our turn standing in front of all our peers and try our best to land it “word-perfect.”  Of the four years of memorizing, Psalm 139 is the one that meant the most to me.

This part of the chapter always caught my curiosity.  The New King James says, “I hate them with a perfect hatred…”  Pretty strong language from the guy who had captured God’s heart.  What does that mean though?

In fact, if you will notice, David goes from the wonderful poetic words about how great are God’s thoughts, the number of which are greater than sand, to

Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God!
Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men.
For they speak against You wickedly;
Your enemies take Your name in vain.
Ps 139:19-20 (NKJV)

Today we still have wicked around us.  There are still men and women who are bloodthirsty, some even like to go see movies relating to blood thirst, people still speak about God wickedly, and many still take the Lord’s name in vain.  Hmmm, we are not so different from those in David’s era.  Can’t you hear the desperation of David.  Perhaps he is sitting trying to write his feelings about his God, the anointing is flowing… AND THEN, he gets interrupted with carnality!  We don’t know…

I know that in our lives today as Christians, we can be flowing in the Spirit of God, have the latest worship song echoing in our thoughts, the glow of God’s Presence shining on us… AND THEN, we get interrupted by carnality.  There is no shortage of opportunities for us to lose it!

David is actually PRAYING that God will wipe those people out!  Remember, Jesus says,  “…love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,”  Matt 5:44 (NKJV)  So we are to BLESS with our prayers not pray that God shows up with the sword.

But back to where we started, the emphasis that I want to bring is to vs. 22, David says, “I hate them with a perfect hatred” AND “I count them my enemies!”

So my question for me, all these years and still today is:

Do I hate what God hates?

I have heard many sermon illustrations, probably even used it myself, about how would you feel if Jesus were PHYSICALLY with you everywhere you went.  How would you feel if someone was inappropriate, or cursing, or using the Lord’s name in vain?   Would you or I be more uncomfortable with Jesus PHYSICALLY standing beside us?  Do I hate what God hates?

David ends that scripture with closure,

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Ps 139:23-24 (KJV)

Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Matt 6:10-13 (NASU)

That is my prayer today… “Lord, I want Your kingdom here, now, just like in Heaven, reveal to me any wickedness, temptation and lead me in Your way everlasting!”

~Kevin Behrens