Hungering for Righteousness…

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In his 1969 devotional, Think on These Things, Norval Pease provides a compelling thought about righteousness.  It is a reflect on  the beatitude in which Jesus said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6):

Certain attitudes and practices ruin the appetite for goodness… Just as children aren’t hungry at mealtime when they have eaten too much candy between meals, so preoccupation with the follies and pleasures of the world may ruin our appetite for the things God has for us.  Sensational fiction may cause us to reject the Bible.  The theater may dampen our desire for the church.  Excessive concern with sports may make serious Christian service unappetizing.  Only when we keep our appetites healthy will we desire the things we need most.

For what are we hungering and thirsting?”

These words, penned so many years ago, seem as if they could have been recorded today.  What is the object of our hunger and thirst?  How do we fill our insatiable appetite, and how do we try to fill up on things of this world?

Although I am one for a good movie, a moving piece of fiction, and a Braves baseball game, at what point does our preoccupation with entertainment become an idol and act of “corporate worship”?

Jesus promised that his presence is sufficient, and that his Spirit will fill us.  We need not look elsewhere–Jesus is all we need.  Drink deeply, and meditate on his character, his person, and his presence.  Thirst for the things of God: justice, peace, love, faith.  Desire God’s will, and “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all these shall be added unto you.”

Being a People of Vision (part 1/4)

“Being a People of Vision” are sermons from the “People of Vision” series currently going on at Trinity Baptist Church, Conyers, GA.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. . . Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.”  (1 Peter 1:3-5, 8-9)

“Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all you hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.  Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance.  Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves to all your conduct.”  (1 Peter 1:13-15)

I.

This past Christmas my daughter received a certain Star Wars puzzle as a gift.  Like her other puzzles, this one seemed simple enough.  The pieces–only 100 count–were large.  She asked for my help, as is custom with every new puzzle.

As we began to work, we noticed that this puzzle was quite different than her others.  This one had two pictures on it depending on how you looked at it.  If you looked at it from the right it showed one picture; if you looked from the left it showed another picture.  If you moved side-to-side, the pictures combined a little unfolding drama that worked like one of those old nickelodeon machines.

I suggested that we put the borders together first, so we started hard at work.  Ten minutes into the puzzle, we realized that the border did not fit as expected.  It didn’t take long before we learned that we had to follow one perspective or the other to put the puzzle together.  If we looked at it from different angles, the pieces just wouldn’t fit properly.  That puzzle took us nearly an hour to put together.

There are so many times in our life when we feel like we are wrestling with a puzzle that just doesn’t seem to fit together.  Consider the many pieces in our life: family, career, finances, faith, and recreation, to name a few.

Sometimes we have a perfect fit–we connect!  Other times, we seem to lack a coherent picture of what this puzzle is supposed to look like, so we can’t figure out how to make the pieces work together.

Let me ask you:  Do you know that God has a purpose for your life?  Do you know that God gives us meaning and fulfillment when you are connecting with that purpose?  That God has a vision for you to use as a template to put those scattered pieces together?

The next few weeks, we are discussing vision.  Today, we are talking specifically about the vision that God has for your personal life.

II.

Let’s define vision:  A vision is a picture or an image of the future.  It’s not “what is;” rather, it is “what could be.”   It’s an image–it gives an impression with definite details, a coherent picture.

Consider these various visions:

God’s vision for Israel: We get a picture of Israel’s future in Genesis and Exodus: “I will bring you to a land flowing with milk and honey…”  God gives Abraham and Moses specific details–an image–of what life will be like in the Promised Land.

The book of Revelation: Paints a vivid portrait of what Christians can expect in the End Times, as John envision and describes a “new heaven and a new earth.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision: MLK envisioned a society–“I have a dream where all men are created equal.”  He went on to paint a picture of what that might look like: “I dream of a day where little black boys and black girls will hold hands with little white boys and white girls.”  That’s a vivid image of Luther’s vision for the future.

III.

God has a vision for each church, but it’s hard to have a vision in community if it is made up of people who don’t have personal vision for their own lives.  If you can’t imagine where God will have you in one, five, or ten years, then this church will have a hard time figuring out the vision for that future as well.

Today I ask you to build a personal vision for you and your family.

When we paint a vision, I recommend that we start with a few elements from 1 Peter for our palate:

V. 3-4:  Our first element is that we must include a vision in which we are born again and confident in our place as children of God and heirs of a “living hope.”

When we envision the future, it must include a hope that is to come–hope of sharing in Christ’s resurrection–but also hope in a road set before us in this earthly life.  A life in which Christ’s Spirit is present, rich with blessing, and filled with joy and peace–1 Peter 1:8 describes an “indescribable and glorious joy.”

Let me give an example of how hope can help us in our vision:

When I envision my future, my wife is a part of that picture.  I tell my wife all the time that I can’t live without her.  So my hope is that in the future we will be together.  If that’s the case, then divorce or separation is not a part of God’s vision for my life.

Even in our fiercest conflicts, divorce is not an option.  We have a living hope in our future that shapes the decisions and actions of our present.  Hope starts to connect those puzzle pieces into a coherent picture of our marriage.

IV.

Another element is to “prepare our minds for action” (1 Pet. 1:13) now for what is to come.  This is not some “power of positive thinking” jargon, nor is it merely an attitude.  Peter is describing an active, living faith that takes steps now to prepare for our future.

In our Dave Ramsey FPU small group, we get a clear vision for an end result: debt-free living.  When Dave teaches us how to get to that vision, he does not tell us to simply wish it to happen.  Instead, he gives what he calls “baby steps”–clear, definitive action goals that allow us to live into that vision.

When it comes to God’s vision, we take “baby steps” to grow into that vision.  Perhaps we are to take marital counseling; maybe it is to start attending Sunday School or a home Bible study with a friend.  Whatever baby step we choose to take, it usually requires “discipline” and “obedience,” which brings us to our next element–

V.

Our last element for painting a vision is to pursue holiness.  Holiness is such an archaic word, and we have trouble defining what it means.  Literally, holiness means to be “set apart.”  When it comes to vision, however, holiness draws the boundaries for our vision.

Holiness–God’s holiness–defines the boundaries for a vision-oriented Christian life.  It helps us to avoid having a double-image for our vision–conflicting pictures in which we choose between the desires of our flesh and the desires of the Spirit.

When we make holiness our boundary, and we obey God’s word for our life, we start to care about things that God cares about.  We start to spend time with people that God spends time with.

What does God care about?  Who does God spend time with?

I don’t care who you are or what you do for a living, the vision that God has for your life must include God’s deepest concern–those individuals who have yet to know Him.  Your vision should in one way or another include the Great Commission of Matthew 28.  God cares about the lost and marginalized, the poor and oppressed.  God spends time with the lost–Remember who Jesus spent most of his time with?  Sinners and tax collectors.

You see, when we get a vision for our life, and we start to bring all of those scattered puzzle pieces together, the picture that starts to form takes on a certain shape.  For the Christian, the shape of that puzzle–the glue that holds the pieces together–includes your vocation as a minister and missionary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our vision should include a type of lifestyle where we are helping others see God’s love and experience the salvation that God offers in Christ.   Look at 1 Peter 2:9:

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness and into the light.”

So what is your vision?  For you?  For your family?

I hope that over the next few months you and your loved ones will pray about that and make it a priority in your spiritual walk with the Lord.

The constellation that points to God’s Holy Time

In her sermon, “Looking up into Heaven,” Barbara Brown Taylor writes about worship: “It is one of the most peculiar things twentieth-century human beings can do, to come together week after week with no intention of being useful or productive, but only of facing an ornate wall to declare things they cannot prove about a God they cannot see.”

You would think that I, a minister of the Gospel, take worship for granted.  After all, I’m always the one amongst my peers advocating for liturgy and tradition, the lectionary and a devotion to the Christian year.  That is not always so; sometimes I think worship is–as implied in the quote above–odd.

There were two epiphanies I had that got me thinking about just how strange worship is: An epiphany came when I did my second baptism.  My first baptism was a special one–a teenager who recently declared her faith in Christ.  But the second one was of a mother, a few years older than I.  It was my job to literally dunk her head under water in front of a hundred people.  Odd indeed.

The second epiphany came when I read Taylor’s sermon last Sunday.  I preached on the Magnificat that morning, and I was wondering what new angle I could take on this whole Christmas story.  I was not in the best of moods.  I figured that if anyone could make me feel better, it was Taylor, my favorite author.

And there in the sermon was her quirky admission about the oddity of worship.

As the worship wars continue to take casualties in churches across the nation, dividing Christians between those who practice seemingly “contemporary” models and more historical, “traditional” models, it seems fair to say that all of us include the strange brew of song and proclamation in every service.  Whether yours is a church that observes Advent or one that takes random song recommendations from the congregation, we all come to hear the Word of God.  Again and again.

It is precisely in Advent, however, that we are reminded that worship represents something deeper than just a bunch of people getting together to sing familiar songs.  Worship is the catalyst for our experience of God, but it also connects us to holy time.   One hour a week is all we devote to the divine truth that our time on earth is not ours to control or keep.   We order our steps according to God’s purpose for our life, and we realign our needs and desires every week to conform to His destiny.

Advent is the first season in the Christian year.  It is the beginning of the holy calendar, and those of us who incorporate liturgy in our worship know that we can count on God despite how we feel from week to week.  Liturgy, in effect, is like a routine.  We don’t feel anything sometimes–worship sometimes amounts to simply facing an ornate wall–but we go through the routine because we know that it is good for us and will, eventually, produce a bountiful harvest of God’s grace.

What better than to share the oddity with a group of authentic, broken people who long for a broken Christ to offer the broken bread of God’s love?  We are a fragile community, but we place our hope in the truth that death does not have the last say on our life, or on the lives of those whom we love.

Rather than wandering aimlessly through the universe to form our faith by mere pomp and circumstance, we can appreciate how worship, and Advent specifically, is a constellation that points to the deeper truth wrapped up in God’s holy time.  We are not our own, and our time is holy, whether we know it or not.