Monday, August 31, 2009

This Week's Schedule 8/30/09

Tuesday September 1st-
Women's Bible Study meets to discuss new study material 7:00pm

Wednesday September 2nd- Worship Planning Meeting 7:00 pm

Sunday September 6th- Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship in the Birchwood Room 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Iglesia Evangelica Amigos 3:00 pm

Remember to pray this week for those who are ill and those who mourn.

This week's sermon: Breaking Down and Building Up

Ephesians 2:11-3:13.
In this section of text, Paul addresses the very sensitive issue of racial division. Paul is talking about the division between the Jews and Gentiles. At that time, and still in some places today, there werer very sharp divisions between those who belonged to the Jewish heritage and those who were outside of it.

In the Jewish life in general, there were degrees of holiness based on geographical location relative to the temple. For example Jerusalem, where the temple was located was more holy than towns a couple of days journey out, and those towns were more holy than those like Nazareth where Mary and Joseph were from, about 70 miles from Jerusalem. In the Temple the same concept applied to the areas of worship in relation to the Holy of Holies. There were courts located through the temple, those closest to the Holy of Holies were for the priests only, then the next set were open to Jewish male worshipers. The next courts were open to both Jewish men and women. Finally, the courts furthest away from the Holy of Holies were open to the gentiles. They had no access at all to the place of sacrifice in the men-only court, or the temple donation area, which was in the Court of Women. If you look at schematics of the temple, the only place gentiles are allowed is really outside the temple itself. Any gentile trying to gain access to the temple took his life in his own hands, because the penalty for entering was death. In essence Jewish temple worship sent the message, if you are not Jewish you can hang around outside, but you can never have access to God’s presence.

Paul is writing to a gentile audience in the book of Ephesians. Some of them probably knew what it was like to stand outside the temple with no hope of ever really being a part of God’s plan. Paul is again reminding them of where they were, so that they could rejoice in what Christ had done: so that they would appreciate their currant ability to have a one on one relationship with God. In speaking of that former situation, Paul uses words like uncircumcised, separate, excluded, foreigners, without hope, without God, and far away. And in his typical style, Paul goes on to give good contrasts for those “where you were” statements and says they have been brought near, made one, reconciled, have access to the Father by his Spirit. And as if it was not enough to do it once, Paul reiterates their “used to be” position and how it has changed. He says now you are no longer foreigners, but fellow citizens, members of God’s household, built together to be God’s dwelling! What an exciting contrast!

Christ's specific role and purpose in the crucifixion was to reconcile man to God and man-to-man, he is our peace. I love the way Paul says that. He doesn’t say Jesus gave us peace, or that he supplies our peace. He is our peace. Eerdman’s Bible Commentary says this peace is “not just an absence of hostility, like an armed truce, it connotes well-being and security at every level.” To me it implies that since Jesus is our peace no matter what your earthly circumstances are, if you are in relationship with Christ, you have peace, because you have him.

I want to look at the construction phrases in this passage. Any of you that have built things, pay close attention to what Paul says about Jesus carpentry work in the lives of people. Paul says Jesus has made the two one. He has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. In abolishing the law, Jesus took away any concrete excuse to stay separated. It is as though Jesus came in and knocked out the wall separating the living room from the dining room so that there would be space for everyone to eat together at his table. By taking out the wall he made the two rooms one. Paul says Christ’s purpose was to create one new man out of the two- the Jews and Gentiles, and also to reconcile both to God. And He did this in his flesh, through his body being crucified, buried, and raised back to life.

Paul says that Jesus was not the only one on the cross. He says Jesus crucified, put to death, their hostility on the cross. You know the saying, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.” Well, it is true, and Jesus himself is the one who made it that way. He not only broke down the formal external reasons for separation, he killed that hostility which seems to take on a life of its own. He took it with him to the cross. And Jesus did not stop at reconciling man to man.

Do you remember the account in Mark (15:38) when Jesus was crucified, that the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom. That curtain was the separation between the priestly most holy place, and the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was the only direct access that man had with God up until Christ. Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and that only once a year, and only after a series of cleansing rituals, and even then, there was fear of death should God find him unclean in any way. When Jesus died on that cross, the curtain was torn in two, symbolizing that there was now free access to God’s presence without fear. That is how the gentiles were joined with the Jews to make the New Testament church.

Paul continues in Chapter three to talk about his own personal mission to spread the good news of reconciliation among the Gentiles. God called and appointed him to carry this message of peace. To make sure that the message was communicated clearly, God took one of his staunchest Jewish law enforcers and turned him into an ambassador to those he would never have embraced before Christ’s Holy Intervention on the road to Damascus. Paul is the Gentiles’ own messenger bearing the good news of the redemption of Christ to both Jew and Gentile alike. Which Paul says was God’s secret mission all along. The mystery made known now, but hidden through the ages, that God wanted to reach out to everyone regardless of their nationality. It is because of this revelation that Paul says the church showcases the wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. This double reconciliation God to man and man to man, glorifies God in the highest places.

Today, in the church we don’t typically have the same issue of Jew versus Gentile when it comes to being in right relationship to God. In this church, you would be hard pressed to find anyone with significant Jewish heritage who would consider himself closer to God than those of us with no Jewish background. But the truth remains that if Christ hadn’t come we, being gentiles, would still be on the outside looking in. So this scripture applies to us in that sense of personally no longer being excluded as non-Jews in the worship of the True and Living God. We can approach him in boldness and confidence because of our faith in Christ. This reconciliation applies to us in another way as well. We have other dividing walls of hostility.

In our world, there are dividing walls of hostility between nations, between political parties, between denominations, and between individuals. Jesus did not just come to break down the barrier between Jews and Gentiles. He came to break down that dividing wall of hostility for all who would believe in him. As Christians we have no cause for allowing a wall of hostility to continue to exist in our lives while we claim that Christ is our peace. Jesus came on a mission of reconciliation. He came make us no longer objects of wrath to God, but recipients of his blessing. He came to reconcile man to his fellow man, to restore broken relationships, to end the separateness we inherited with the sinful nature.

Think back with me to the story of the fall. Two things were immediately broken when mankind sinned: the relationship between God and Man, and the relationship between Man and Woman. Then the very next story we read in Genesis is of Cain and Able. From there on we read story after story about Man’s broken relationship with God and his broken relationship with his fellow man. Jesus came in part to destroy that separateness we have from one another.

There is a greater purpose in our reconciliation than just personal satisfaction. God is building the Church together to be his dwelling place. Here and elsewhere in scripture we are told that we are building materials that God is using to build his temple. As building materials, we have to be joined together in order for us to fulfill our purpose. If a mason has stones that refuse to fit together, he knocks off the rough edges to make a smoother fit. God is the master mason building his temple out of our lives. He may have to knock off some rough edges in order for us to fit together, but in the end it is worth that loss so that we can be a part of his plan, part of his family, part of his holy temple.

What dividing walls of hostility are you holding up? Are there rough edges you are holding onto? Probably all of us still have some area of our lives that needs the touch of that master craftsman to make join us together. There may be people in your life that you are holding up walls of hostility against. I want to challenge you now to take a step in allowing that wall to be broken in you. I invite you to do it today. If you find that you can’t, I urge you to pray and ask God to work in you to bring you to that place. If there is someone you need to reconcile with don’t delay in doing your part in seeking reconciliation. Remember, Jesus is our peace, and there may be some in our lives who refuse to reconcile with us. We are not responsible for their actions, only our own in offering that reconciliation and praying for the person we are at odds with.

You can only get so close to God keeping others at arms length, because by holding them away from ourselves we refuse to let God do his reconciliation work in us. And He cannot build a temple with stones that refuse to reconcile. If you hear his voice, if you feel his prompting, do not harden your hearts. Be obedient to respond to his calling.

Monday, August 24, 2009

This week's sermon: Alive for a Purpose

Ephesians 2:1-10.
Paul wants to make absolutely sure we know the facts about our salvation. He begins by reminding the Ephesians and us that before Christ, we were dead. And he gives us some details about why we were dead. We were living in sin, following the ways of the world and the spirit of disobedience, we were gratifying the cravings and thoughts of the sinful nature. And he caps it all off by saying that we were by nature objects of wrath. That is not a very promising picture. We were dead wrong in our way of thinking and living. Dead.

What sets dead men apart from live ones? Well, for one thing, they aren’t expected to accomplish much. Not many dead men with to do lists, or five year plans. Why? Because dead men can not DO anything. Houdini, a famous magician, he did all sorts of magic tricks and illusions, and he was famous for his escapes. But what you may not know about Houdini was that he was a major antagonist of spiritists of his day. They claimed to have the ability to contact the dead, and Houdini thought that was preposterous! So he promised his wife that if it were at all possible he would return after he was dead and contact her with a specific message from the other side. He did this to prove it was impossible. This year will be the eighty-third anniversary of Houdini's death, and in spite of the fact that his followers have held séances every year, it has yet to happen. Why? Because dead men can’t do anything. To be dead is to be powerless, and by Paul’s description, our lives before Christ were ineffective, rotten and powerless. That is why we are saved by grace, because in our deadness, we could not do anything about our condition, we had no way to save ourselves.

In verse 4, it says, “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved”(NRSV). Paul says that in our rotten, sinful, ineffective lives God, who should have been wrathful towards us, instead had so much love for us that he made us alive in Christ. He loved us even when we were in sin. He saved us by his grace. He raised us up and seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms. Instead of objects of wrath, God made us recipients of his kindness in Christ, so that he could demonstrate the incomparable riches of his grace. Wow, that is amazing, that God would choose, not because he was obligated, but because he loved us with such a great love, to breath life back into these dead men and turn them from incapable, smelly, worthless corpses into living, glorified, beings fit to be seated with his son in the heavenly realms.

Everything that was said earlier about being dead is now true in the opposite extreme. Before we were dead, now we are alive. Before we were powerless, now the very power of God that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us. Before we were following the ways of the world, now we follow Christ. Before we were objects of wrath, now we are beloved children of God and co-heirs with Christ.

In this passage are some familiar verses. Paul closes this section of thought with this summary, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—not of yourselves it is a gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast”(NIV). But wait, there’s more. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”(NIV). In three neat little verses, two sentences, Paul sums up our salvation and continued life in Christ.

It is these three verses that I want to focus our thoughts on this morning. These two areas are the most highly picked at areas of our faith: our salvation and our continued life in Christ. There are two extreme camps called “Grace” and “Works.” One side would emphasize verses 8-9 and skip 10. The other would do the opposite. So just to clarify what the Bible says on the issue, let’s read those verses again. Our salvation comes by grace through faith. It is free, not earned; but life in Christ requires action! Dead men can do nothing! Don’t expect them to! Anyone who makes a to-do list for a dead man is a fool. The same is true for us when we tell our unsaved friends what they ought to do to get themselves out of their bad circumstances and fix their own lives. Once we are alive, however, we must live! Life is required for action, and action is required to sustain life. When scientists were seeking to define life, one thing they decided was that in order for something to be alive there had to be movement, growth, some kind of action, even if it is microscopic. No movement, no growth, no life. It is the same with the Christian life. If there is no movement, no growth, no action taking place it can only be concluded that there is no life. That is why James says, “Show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith in what I do”(Jas2:18NIV), and “Faith without works is dead”(Jas2:17NIV).

God did not make us alive, in order for us to die because we succumb to the effects of spiritual stagnation. We are not to be spiritual couch potatoes! He made us alive for a purpose. And verse 10 says this plainly. We are God’s workmanship; he created us to do good works. What good works? The ones we think up? The ones other people tell us to do? No, the ones God also prepared in advance for us to do. Some of those things are standard. God gives basic instructions on what to do with this new life in his word. Primarily we are responsible to walk with the Lord, to grow in a personal relationship with Him. And we are all responsible for living as his witnesses to those who do not believe. But more specifically, God has a reason for breathing life into each one of us.

II Corinthians 5:17 says that if we are in Christ we are a new creation, the old has gone the new has come. As he recreated us, God built in us the things we need in order to do the tasks he wants us to complete. And conversely he has prepared those things for us to do with each one of us in mind. God has created you for a purpose and has prepared a job for you to do! That means it is a perfect fit. God does not call all of us to do everything all of the time. Sometimes God calls us to a certain task or to a certain ministry for a season. Then he moves us on to the next task, the next season. Just because you were called to do something back there does not mean that it is still your responsibility—now it does not mean that it isn’t. But that is why we can’t just get our marching orders once, and consider it good. I know some people who only talk about what God did in their lives way back when, what he called them to thirty years ago. What is he doing now?

Ask a soldier how important it is to be in contact with their superiors. Sometimes orders for position, action, and waiting change daily, hourly, or even on a minute-by-minute basis. We can’t afford to take it for granted in our Christian walk that God’s orders for us individually are the same today as yesterday, let alone last week, last year, or ten years ago. We know the basic code of conduct, and we may even know the mission we are on, but that alone cannot tell us our specific role in today’s operations. We have got to be connected to headquarters, and we have to be open to change.

I believe that all of us today have unique God-designed potential that will enable each one of us to carry out the work God has prepared for us to do. Following the message is a short life inventory and prayer. I encourage you to pray over and answer the questions, and commit today to walk in the good works God has prepared in advance for you to do.

Life Inventory:
Ephesians 2:10 “For we are what He has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” NRSV

1. What has God created YOU to do?
What are your specific talents, abilities, gifts, interests, vision, resources? What do you love to do?

2. What has God created FOR you to do?
Look at your current ministry to your family, neighbors, co-workers, in the church. What can you lay down? What do you need to pick up? What specific opportunities for ministry is God making available to you that match with your resources in question one?

God, "I am grateful for all you have done for me in Creation and in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and I offer back all of the gifts you've given me for the use in your service. Amen
Prayer by Richard Nelson Bolles from LEADERSHIP/90
Used by Permission

Monday, August 17, 2009

Coming up in August

Tuesday August 18th- 9:30 am Coffee at Amanda's

Sunday August 23rd- 9:30 am Sunday School
10:30 am Fellowship Time
10:45 am Morning Worship
Ephesians 2:10 Created for a Purpose

August 25th- 9:30 am Friends Women

August 29th- 2:00 pm Ladies Tea

August 30th- 9:30 am Sunday School
10:30 am Fellowship Time
10:45 am Morning Worship
Children Recognition Sunday

This week's sermon: Ephesians 1:15-23

**This week's sermon notes are not the usual manuscript, but more of an outline. I hope that you can follow the breadcrumbs and find a treasure that moves you forward in faith and obedience, confident in God's power at work in you for the praise of his glory.

Paul writes to the Ephesians, first about how they are to praise God because he has blessed them by giving them every spiritual blessing wrapped up in Christ. In verses 15-23 of chapter one, he tells them that he is rejoicing on their behalf because of God working in them, their faith in Jesus and love for all the other believers. Paul not only rejoices, but he prays for them, that God would continue his work in them.

Paul planted this church, now he wants them to go deeper. He wants them to continue getting to know God, and in that process to discover three things. He wants them to know the Hope God has called them to. He wants them to realize that they are a part of God’s inheritance. He wants them to understand that God’s power is at work in them. For Paul all of this is so important, he says he continually asks the Father to give understanding, wisdom and knowledge to the Ephesian church to better understand God's promise to them, their place in his kingdom, and his power at work within them.

Our Inheritance is the eternal Kingdom of God. God also has an inheritance in his investment in the Saints, we are his possession, and he is waiting to redeem us. In a sense he is our inheritance and we are his.

Mt 25:34 - "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

1Pe 1:4 - an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you

The inheritance God has for the saints is eternity in his presence. But God is also awaiting a return on his investment.

Eph 1:14 - who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory.

The hope that we have been called to is more than heaven. It goes beyond just escaping hell. Our hope is that our bodies, our lives will be redeemed and reclaimed. We hope that we will be like Christ, that our lives will be for his glory, we hope to share in bringing glory and honor to God through Christ. We also hope that the world will find redemption in Him. And our hope is not without cause—it gives us boldness. And our hope is not without reward—we carry with us the Holy Spirit who constantly fills our hearts with God's love.

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 8:23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

2Co 3:12 - Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.

The boldness and courage we have for stepping out in faith and obedience comes from the hope we have that God will use our lives for his glory.

1John 3:2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

Our inheritance is God and his kingdom. Our hope is to glorify him by having our lives redeemed—in a word our hope is holiness. We also need to know and understand God's power at work within us, because it is his power in us that produces holiness. Because of the Holy Spirit in us, we have what we need for life and godliness.

Ac 1:8 - But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

The power at work in us is not for our own use, it is to make us Christ-like to empower us to be his witnesses throughout the earth, and bring him glory. The power is not our own, it comes from God and he is the one who works in us and through us.

2Co 4:7 - But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

2Pe 1:3 - His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

It is because of his power in us that we can hope for a redeemed life that results in our receiving the inheritance God has prepared for us, and our bearing fruit as God's investment. Greater and deeper knowledge of these things can only produce in us a more tenacious faith, a bolder obedience, and a more thorough surrender to God's work in us to purify us and make us his own.

Monday, August 10, 2009

This week's sermon: God at Work in Us, Through Christ

Ephesians 1:1-14.
There are some interesting patterns of speech in this passage, some key words and phrases that Paul repeats here. Nearly all of the action in the passage is given to God. He gets all of the verbs. And all of that action takes place in Christ Jesus, or through Christ Jesus. Any time Paul talks about himself, his readers, or us today, he uses passive language. Mankind is pictured in the passage as receiving God's action, with only one exception, responding to what God has done in and for us.

Let's look at God's actions in this passage:
Paul tells us that God: blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places; chose us to be holy and blameless; destined us for adoption; bestowed on us grace; lavished on us grace; made known to us his will; set forth his good pleasure; will gather up all things; accomplishes all things. All of this he does in Christ, and through Christ. All of it he does according to the good pleasure of his will, the riches of his grace, his good pleasure, his purpose, his counsel and will. And all of it to the praise of his glory.

Paul says that God blessed us "with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." Let’s think about what that statement means, to have been blessed with every spiritual blessing that exists in the heavenly places. Wow. And how did God give us this blessing? Did he dole out his spiritual blessings out of heaven one by one? No, he wrapped them all up and gave them to us in one big, all-encompassing blessing--Christ.

Growing up in the church, I always thought that blessings were something God gave out over time, if you got to a certain spiritual level, then you received a new blessing. But Paul here is saying that all of the spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms have already been given to us when He gave us his son. Those spiritual blessings are already ours, and they are given to us, we don't have to earn them. Verse four goes on to explain how it is that God gave us every spiritual blessing. "God chose us in Him, before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless." Before he created the world, God planned to make us holy, and not only that--verse five says he planned to adopt us through Jesus Christ to be his children.

This verse has been used through time to say that God sat down in eternity past and check heaven or hell by each name on his list. No doubt God knew and still does know the hearts of men and women, and which of those will accept and reject his truth. But Jesus himself said in Matthew 18:14 that the Lord does not desire that any should be lost, and in Luke 19:10 that the son of man came to seek and to save the lost, not the elect. God planned in eternity past to adopt everyone who would hear his truth and accept it, and to make those new children of God holy and blameless in His sight. And he did this for His own pleasure.

It made Him happy to plan for our adoption because of His grace. God planned before the foundation of the world to make us holy, to adopt us as his children because of who He is; because of His glorious grace; because He is the gracious God. And God has given us His grace freely in the one He loves, in His son. Because of that Grace, we have redemption through the blood of Jesus. Our sins have been forgiven, again because of God's grace. Paul says God lavished His grace on us. Lavished is such a great word! It carries a picture of like overflowing abundance, poured out, given fully, welling up. God did not give us His grace in little trickling streams. He poured it out on us, He gave us grace overflowing in His son.

In verse nine, Paul says something noteworthy, he tells us after God has given us every spiritual blessing, adopted us, lavished us with his grace by redeeming us, God made known to us the mystery of His will. He not only saved us, He let us in on His plan, that from beginning to end He is bringing everything together to make sense, to have unity, in Christ. We can now look back and see how God created the world with His plan in motion to reveal Himself, to draw us to Himself. And we can look ahead to Christ's second coming when at the end of all things He will bring everything together under Christ.

In verse eleven Paul reminds us that we are part of that plan, God's plan that He has been working out and continues to work out. We are part of that plan to bring Him glory. And here is the only time that Paul uses an active verb in reference to us as humans in this passage. He tells us how we become a part of this plan. We simply hear the word of truth and believe. Hear and believe. Not complicated, so simple a child could do it. From there we put our hope on Christ and live for his glory, just like those who were first to believe.

How many times do we struggle with feeling like we have to do a big long list of things to be "in" on God's plan? I know I have struggled with that feeling. But what we have to come to understand is that God is the active force and motivator. Our job is to follow and receive. Paul pounds that message out in this passage of fourteen verses he uses reference after reference to God actively involved in working out his plan, and reference upon reference to us receiving that action. The only active verbs Paul uses in this passage for our responsibility is hearing, and believing, setting our hope on Christ and living; the rest is up to God.

God even took care to give us a guarantee that we are a part of his plan, part of the family. God gave us a seal, a deposit, a down payment to prove that we are part of His family and heirs to the inheritance. God gave us the Holy Spirit, to be with us, guide us into all truth, to produce fruit in our lives. God wanted us to know that we weren't just some red-headed-step-children that He would grudgingly put up with. God loves us, and He wants us to know that we are full heirs to the promise of life eternally with Him.

So what do we need to remember? What is important to take with us? First, we need to remember that God has a plan to bless us by redeeming us, adopting us as His own and making us holy. Second, that plan is carried out in Jesus, his life, ministry, death, and resurrection on our behalf, and is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit at work within us. Finally, we need to understand that our job is simply to hear his word of Truth and believe it, to set our hope on Christ and live for his glory.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

This week's sermon: People as Priority III—Mind the Gap!

Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, oh man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

When we were in London, we had a long layover and decided to take the tubes—the subway—into the city and see London Tower. While we were riding the train, at every stop a voice would come on the PA and say, “Mind the gap!” No matter what the announcement was, no matter what stop, it would always say, “Mind the gap.” And they didn’t have that tacked on just to avoid lawsuits like they would here, getting on and off the train, you really did have to “Mind the gap.”

Sometimes it was a little gap. Sometimes it was a gap you could put your foot into. Sometimes it was big enough to step your whole leg into. Sometimes it didn’t look like there was a gap, but there was instead a step down. It really is mind-boggling to us in the states where everything is built or rebuilt to meet certain codes and standards, but some of those platforms looked like they were as old as the train system itself. Nothing was standardized. So I was glad of the reminders at every stop to “Mind the gap.” Because for us Americans—sleep-deprived and unused to having to watch every step—it could have been a really dangerous thing to step off the train and into the gap.

I think sometimes as Christians we need to hear the same warning. We need to be reminded that although our "Christian life" train-ride has been pretty smooth, when we go to interact with the people of the world, we may encounter a rather frightening gap between their standards and our own. We need to be aware that the gap exists. We need to see it for what it is. And we need to know how to bridge that gap so that we can reach people in the world with the message of Christ.

Two weeks ago, we started talking about this theme of making people a priority. We saw how Jesus chose to respond to people and make them a priority in his life and ministry. We looked last week at the idea of getting outside our comfort zone to interact with people who are different from us culturally. Today we are going to see what scripture has to say about how to reach those who are living by the world’s standards.

What are some of the world’s standards? You can answer: whatever works for you; do makes you feel good; look out for yourself; money is king; pleasure is the ultimate good… These are the messages we see broadcast all around us. And while we may be tempted sometimes to try out one of those philosophies, most of us don’t choose to live our lives there. Sometimes that makes it difficult to know what to do when we encounter those people who do.

The main verse I want to use to guide our thoughts this morning is Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, oh man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” This verse shows us three things that God has given mankind throughout history as his basic guidelines: act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God. I believe this verse holds the key to unlocking the door on how to interact with those around us in a way that glorifies God and makes it possible to share the gospel with those in need.

The first thing the verse tells us is that we need to act justly. We need to focus on our own standard of living. We need to make sure that no matter who we are, no matter what our business is, no matter who we deal with, that our actions are just. What does that mean? That means if you are in business, don’t rip people off. If you are shopping and you get out of the store without paying for something, take it back in and pay for it. If you injure someone, or damage someone’s property, do the right thing in sticking around and helping to put things right. It is being a person of integrity. What business do we have going to those who live by the world’s standards and telling them that they are in the wrong, if our lives do not reflect the principles we are advocating.

Jesus addresses this very thing in the parable of the speck and the plank in Matthew 7:1-5 “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, "Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye.” People in the world can spot a fake a mile away. They see your plank in the eye, and they are not fooled when you try to help them with their speck. The first step in interacting with people in the world is to make sure your habits and behaviors match up to your own standards.

The second thing Micah 6:8 tells us to do is to love mercy. What is mercy? It is not receiving the deserved punishment for committing a crime. It is what we all have received from God, instead of death resulting from our sin, we have received a full pardon. To love mercy means to rejoice when someone gets off the hook. What? Yep. To love mercy means to rejoice when the unfaithful spouse is forgiven. To throw a party for the offender who gets a reduced sentence. To gladly choose to not seek to harm the person who has harmed you.

Paul says it this way in Romans 12:17-21, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” For us loving mercy means more than not seeking revenge. It means going beyond the call of duty to shower mercy and grace on those who live in a world where grace and mercy do not exist. These things only come from God. For many people, you are the only chance they have of knowing that God has mercy beyond their sin and grace to give them an abundant life. Practically that means loving those people in your life who are unlovely. It means seeking to build a friendship with those whose lives are a wreck because of their sin. It is embodying the person of Christ as you interact with those who, just like you, could never dig their way out of their own pit.

The final thing Micah 6:8 gives us is a command to walk humbly with our God. This is really the key to the first two things that God requires of us. We can’t act justly without knowing God’s standard for justice and allowing him to grow that in our lives. We can’t love mercy if we haven’t first received mercy from Christ. Walking humbly with God means to recognize who he is, and who we are in relation to him. It is knowing that he is the almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and we are dust, our days like the grass, a fleeting breeze. It means having the proper perspective on who is better equipped to handle the challenges we face, who is better able to plan our lives, who has better wisdom in making judgments in our lives and the lives of others.

If we have this perspective in place, it is easy to trust God to judge those living by other standards; it is easy to then offer mercy to those who are in sin. If we can see ourselves in relation to God’s perfect holiness, it is easy to see how far we fall short and how much we depend on him for our righteousness. When we see God for who he is, and we see ourselves for who we truly are, it is hard to be arrogant. It is hard to be holier-than-thou, because we know that it is not by our own power or goodness that we are in relationship with God. It is only by his grace and mercy that we can approach the throne.

Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13a “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.”

Our job in interacting with people outside of a relationship with Christ who are living like the world is to offer them the mercy and grace of Christ. We are not to judge them or to condemn them, but to be to them what Christ has been to us, an extended hand of love that holds life and peace like they have never experienced. We hold a gift in our hands. We have the gift of salvation. We have the gift of peace with God. We have the gift of life eternal, starting now and going on forever. We can hold onto that gift and sit on the train, or we can “Mind the gap,” and step into the world offering to share that gift with others.