Q&A – June 3, 2012

Last Sunday three questions were submitted in response to the message.

The one we addressed during the service was:

“How do we determine the difference between ministry for the Lord within the church (which can make us very busy) and work that is required to further the kingdom of God here on earth? This busyness can alienate us from our families that may not understand, and therefore our “Christian” example is not accomplishing anything to the people closest to us.”

Quick summary – we noted the importance of community helping us to discern the Spirit’s leading in collective wisdom. We can each be blind to ruts into which we fall, and so NEED input from each other to avoid distraction and keep on task for Jesus. One of the important parts of that is providing the affirmation and grace space and permission to say a holy “No” sometimes when good opportunities to serve come along – if we discern that this is NOT the particular task that the Lord would have us be engaged in at this particular point in time.

 

 

Two more questions:

A/ Referencing an earlier reading about the temptation of Jesus, Mark 1:9-13, Could Mark be saying that the wilds beasts and angels both ministered to Jesus? The beasts are a part of creation, put under the dominion of man, after all (see Ps 8:6-7).

Great question – and I had to do a bit of reading before answering here. Mark is the only gospel that mentions the wild animals. Most commentators see reference here to threats and danger, similar to the “wild” nations that threatened the people of Israel during their 40 years in the desert. Seen that way, it heightens the stark struggle Jesus faced in his temptation. As well as highlighting God’s sovereign care, similar to how He protected Daniel from the wild beasts in the lion den. But, and here’s where the question comes at it from a very interesting way, what if God used those animals to provide? We’re reading a bit between the lines – but, hey, there IS Old Testament precident for such an interpretation… 1 Kings 17 describes Elijah in the desert, and God commands the wild ravens to bring food to him. There, too, the Sovereign God provides.

So, in the end, no matter which way you interpret the verse, it is an encouragement to us – as we are in times of temptation, the Sovereign Lord holds the last word over our lives and does NOT allow us to be swallowed up by evil – but may actually, in fact, turn what Satan means for evil into something for our good.

 

 

B/ Thinking about the great commandment, “Love the Lord your God… and love your neighbor as yourself” – What does it mean to “love oneself” – the argument being that if we don’t love ourselves we can’t love others well?

Thanks for asking. It is very true, as the questioner points out, that there is a good and proper place for healthy “self-love.” And it is hard to be a loving presence in the lives of others if we are constantly down on and beating up on ourselves. So, yes, we DO need to be encouraging each other in healthy self-love. There are some wonderful scriptures that one could go to for that, such as Psalm 139. Thanks for the reminder about that.

However, I’m not so sure that the Great Commandment is, at its heart, a commandment towards self-love. Rather, it assumes self-love to be in place, and wants us to be sure to give AT LEAST AS MUCH love towards others as we do to ourselves. And for most of us, most of the time, this is the bigger problem. One of, if not THE, root sins has traditionally been understood to be….. pride. Google it sometime, and see how much comes up. Pride = love of self.

Assuming the traditional collective wisdom of believers to be correct in this regard, then the Great Commandment is a challenge to keep love of self in check, on a leash. Make sure we give others their due, and don’t suck up all the energy, time and resources on ourselves.

 

Great questions, brothers and sisters!! I look forward to hearing from you again after this Sunday’s message.

Remember, the question form is at the bottom of the study guide.

Fill it out, drop it in the offering plate, and I’ll be sure to offer a response, either during the service, or here in PKN.

Sermon Q/A’s – May 27, 2012 about the Spirit

Last Sunday a couple of questions were submitted in response to the message.
The one we addressed was:
Yes, Jesus experienced temptation & trial BUT he is still Jesus… perfect… we are not. The chances of us succumbing to temptation are much higher and then we are distant from God… how can we ever hope to experience the power of the Holy Spirit when we continue to sin?

Great question.
Quick reminder of what we said: While we celebrate Jesus’ divinity, we must remember he WAS fully, fully human, with all the challenges that it brings. Temptation for him was real, deep and painful. Hebrews 2:18 says “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted he is able to help those who are being tempted.” He suffered in temptation – it was very real. We do well to learn from the life of Jesus about how he kept in step with the Spirit of his heavenly Father – the Spirit from whom he drew strength to fight temptation. He prayed regularly (more on that this coming Sunday), he worshipped, he had a few close friends to support him, he was fluent with the written Word of God. These sorts of things, among others, are called “spiritual disciplines” – training activities to keep our souls and hearts and mind strong and athletic for the Lord (check out 1 Cor 9:24-27 on Christian athletics). These are the sorts of things that keep us nourished from God’s power, and alive spiritually (please read Jeremiah 17:7-8).

Second question, which we didn’t have time to get to, was this:
“Can the Spirit work through those who aren’t believers?”
Thanks for asking this!
First, I think the questioner is probably thinking about passages such as “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30) or “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). It IS possible for our thinking and action to get in the way of the Spirit’s work in our hearts. Which may be part of what the first question was wondering about, too. When we remain stubborn in our unbelief; when we persist in flirting with sinful patterns of thinking or behaviour that we KNOW displease our Lord` our hearts grow calloused to the tender touch and whisper of the Spirit. So, when believers live and think and speak as unbelievers – yes, the Spirit is “tripped up.”

Second, yes – the Spirit can work through and in whomever He desires. I was chatting with a group of people just before coming to KCRC. Question was raised about how effective I could be in serving a smaller, more rural community after having been in the big city for almost 2 decades. And one wag, with a nod and wink said, “Don’t worry. The Lord’s used Balaam’s donkey to do his work (see Numbers 22). He can use you, too.” (See? I’ve got great, supportive friends!). The Spirit worked amid the chaos of the pre-universe (see Genesis 1:2) and created a gorgeous, intricate Cosmos. In fact, if we take 1 Corinthians 12:3 at face value, NOBODY becomes a Christ-follower without the Holy Spirit working in them before they are believers, creating and growing faith in their hearts toward the point where they can believe and say, “Jesus is Lord.”

Third, there is within Christian teaching something known as “Common Grace.” It says that God’s goodness and care flows, to some degree at least, onto all humanity. God cares for creation. God restrains the full effect of sin. God awakens human conscience in indiviuals and societies. And all that work happens through the Holy Spirit.
Meaning, then, we can pray for the Holy Spirit to be at work in our town, in our province and in our nation.
And we can pray for the Spirit to be at work in our not-yet-believing loved ones, neighbors and co-workers, drawing them towards a saving relationship with Jesus.

Q&A – May 20, 2012: What about when there is no change?

Someone raised a great question after Sunday’s message from Mark 1:21-28…. “What about when we have called on the authority of Jesus over the world, the flesh, or the devil…. and we see NO change?  We’d been talking about the authority of Jesus over all forces of darkness, and how NOTHING can overcome him.  His word is final. His ascended authority is complete.  We, so the reasoning went, follow in his footsteps, trusting that the authority of Jesus is complete over us, too.   So…. what about when you see NO change after calling out in faith?
A HUGE question – and lots of great (and some not so great) material by way wiser believers than me has been printed on it.
That said, here are a few thoughts –
First off, some will suggest that it’s obvious…. Your faith is insufficient.  If you believe strong enough, claim it, and it’ll be yours…. so this line of reasoning goes.  Meaning, of course, that if your loved one doesn’t get better, for example, it’s their fault or yours.   Sigh.
Dr. Charles Farah has written one of the best rebuttals to this misguided, guilt-inducing thinking that I’ve read – “From The Pinnacle Of The Temple.”   Grab a copy if you can.
While God does stretch us in order to grow faith, he doesn’t drop us into the ditch and leave us there when our faith struggles.  Grace is far more generous than that, responding to the cry, “I believe, Lord help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24).

Secondly, it’s not always easy to discern where the difficulty originates.  Is it purely demonic?  Is it of the flesh? Or is it simply part of living in a broken, sin-stained world on this side of the Second Coming?  And the origin matters lots when it comes to what we’ll see by way of response.
If the opposition is pure demonic – surround yourself with fellow believers,  don’t go it alone (actually that’s sound practice no matter what!). Confess the name of Jesus, and keep yourself prayerfully submitted to Him.  There may indeed be a time of warfare – so don’t give up.  Stand firm. And then simply command the demonic entity to leave, as Jesus does in Mark 1.  Do so in Jesus’ name.  Check out Acts 19:11-20 for what happens when you dabble in confrontation with demons apart from Christ’s sovereign protection!
If the challenge comes from the flesh, you may be in for a longer battle.  Like with addictions, for example.  Prayer and declarations of faith are an important part of the mix.  So are spiritual disciplines – fasting, confession, accountability, service, worship, scripture, etc.  Here, too, DON’T tackle the “beast” alone. James 5:13-16 is clear about this.  And be aware that while sometimes the Lord, in gracious mercy, provides instant healing, sometimes challenges that took a LOOOONNNNNNGGGGGG time to grow into a problem take a long time to grow into a blessing.  Perhaps a lifetime.  Remember, fruit doesn’t grow on a tree overnight.  Beautiful fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) may take months/years to mature.  Or, think of it in athletic terms – going from a spiritually flabby belly to a spiritual “six-pack” won’t happen without sweat and timely, diligent, consistent hard work… btw, ever notice how many athletic analogies there are in the New Testament writings of St.Paul (like, for example, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27)?
And what about the struggles that we face from being part of a sin-stained, thorn-infested world (see Gen 3:18)?  Sometimes God provides wonderful, gracious, instant relief – an instant miracle.  Healings, financial provision, a life partner, guidance…..  Like Peter getting let out of jail (Acts 12:3ff).  But sometimes….. well, take James, John’s brother – he was arrested and murdered (Acts 12:2).   Or St.Paul – who faced some sort of trouble that, despite all sorts of prayer, remained his entire life (2 Corinthians 12).  Or Peter – who, even though he was previously freed by angels, ended up being a crucified martyr (upside down, so it is said).    What is going on?    Sometimes, it seems, our suffering and witness through it, inspires faith in others.  Sometimes it is a way through which God tempers our own faith (ever seen how hot steel is made in order to temper it?).  Or prunes and prepares us for future, fruitful service.  Or simply draws us into the experience of the deep dark valleys of life (Psalm 23:4) so that we may be able to walk with others in their valleys.
And sometimes – well, sometimes we simply don’t know.  We don’t know what exactly is causing the trouble in which we find ourselves.  We don’t know why it is being allowed to happen.  We don’t know if/when/how we’ll be freed from it.
Sometimes we just don’t know.
We don’t  – and even the most discerning believers around us don’t.
Sometimes we simply have to carry on through the battle of life in trust and faith that the final outcome will be victory before the Throne of Jesus (Revelation 3:21).
I always look to the book of Job in times like this.  For two reasons:
a.  I don’t want to be like Job’s friends (yes, they really were his friends) who ended up sounding like total fools with their pontificating about the what’s and why’s of Job’s suffering and what the remedy should be.  “Best to be thought an ass and remain silent, than to bray and remove all doubt” someone once told me.  Sure applies here.   Job’s friends were great when they came and sat with him – SEVEN DAYS without a word!!! Wow!!!! (Job 2:13).  They screwed up when they opened their mouths and started offering “solutions.”
b. Did you ever notice that Job NEVER finds out the what’s and why’s of his suffering?  Never!  He is simply called to be faithful, and to not curse God.  As are we.  Jesus never promises a pain-free life.  In fact, he promises suffering (John 16:33).  But he also leaves us with the sure promise that “what you see” is NOT “what you get.”  There’s far more waiting at the end for us!!!

Hey, lot’s more could be said.
And some of you reading this may want to respond.
Great question – thanks for asking, poking and challenging.
Questions/wondering/seeking are, to paraphrase Frederic Buechner, the “ants in the pants” of faith.  Keep us from settling down into complacency.