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.”

Easter Justice and a thirst for righteousness

 

One of last things Jesus said before he died on the cross was, “I thirst.”  It is hard to imagine the very Savior who promised a woman by the well (John 4) everlasting water being thirsty, but he was.  Perhaps there is a deeper meaning to this illusive Easter text.

We live in a desolate and parched time.  The government is gridlocked; ISIS is sweeping across Africa and the Middle East; a precarious presidential election has nearly nose-dived into the gutter.  Black lives matter; gay and lesbian youth are committing suicides at an unprecedented rate due to bullying and discrimination.  Income inequality is at its greatest since the Great Depression.  Businesses and churches are surviving against all odds.

I can’t understand why Jesus thirsted, but I know why I thirst.  I thirst because we still have to live in a world in which Jesus’ Kingdom-vision, one of peace, liberation, redemption, and embrace has yet to be realized.

Easter happened.  Jesus arose from the grave.  He promised eternal life to those who believe; but, we are still living in the times between Good Friday and silent Saturday of our own souls.  We haven’t experienced resurrection with our Savior yet.  We stand, instead, between death and Jesus’ Second Coming.

Until Jesus comes with a final trumpet sound to inaugurate once and for all God’s reign on heaven and earth, I thirst.

I guess that when Jesus said “I thirst,” he was referring to Psalm 69.  At least that’s what the notes in my Study Bible say. But what if Jesus had Psalm 42 in mind instead?

As a deer longs for flowing water, so my souls longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and behold the face of God?  My tears have been my food day and night” (v. 1-3).

What if Jesus said “I thirst” because he wants us to remember his Sermon on the Mount?   While we mourn at the cross, we may recall that Jesus’ Sermon mandated that we still have work to do, even in the midst of our own thirst: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6).

Righteousness is a biblical term that means “to be in right relationship with,” and it is a benchmark of God’s activity on earth.  Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, God’s desire was to reconcile that ruptured relationship, to put things right.

Jesus must have thirsted for righteousness because his death was the next step in this process of reconciliation.

I too thirst for righteousness that includes advocating for justice and mercy and kindness in a world very much in need of repairing.

I thirst for righteousness because I want to fight for what’s right in the world in order to see balanced budgets, terrorism abated, peaceful conclusions to war, and a more equitable tax code and quality of life for all lives.

Before he was crucified, Jesus told parables and healed the sick and ate with tax collectors and sinners.  He said that the reign of God–the very kingdom of God–had come to earth and was in our midst.

This reign was more than a fancy idea or personal wish; the reign drew heaven’s goal and earth’s future closer together so that God’s will would be accomplished “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Although I thirst still, I am thankful that Jesus is indeed the Everlasting Water who gives us a chance to spread God’s righteousness even in the least expected places, like at the local halfway house or in Congress.

I thirst, but it is God who nourishes us with hope that one day even broken legislatures and warring enemies will eventually bow to His lordship.

Being a people of missional vision (part 4/4)

This is the last sermon in a four-part series entitled, “A People of Vision,” at Trinity Baptist Church in January 2011.

“But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?  And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14-15a).

I.

Richard Strearns, CEO of World Vision and author of The Hole in Our Gospel, tells the story of Roth Ourng from Cambodia.  When World Vision first entered Ourng’s Buddhist village to set up a TB medical facility, Ourng was combative about WV’s presence.

Every day, Ourng would harass the workers, “Why are you here?  Who sent you?”  And every time, the workers said, “Because we love God, and God tells us to love our neighbors.  This is how we show our love; it is he who sent us.”

Ourng and the workers became friends.  Before long, Ourng discovered God’s love for him, and he accepted Christ as his personal lord and savior.  Now Ourng pastors a church of over eighty people.

God is a God of mission and redemption.  Scholars call this the missio dei.  It is a mission of compassion and grace, of forgiveness and transformation.

Our text today asks a very hard question–one that Stearns’ story brings to mind:  How do we play a part in that mission?  How do we fit in God’s call of evangelism?  After all, (Paul asks in Romans 10), how will people know about Christ’s love if no one shares it?

II.

It seems that God does not call a church to be on mission so much as God calls missional churches.  There is a difference.  A church that is called on mission is a church that does a lot of other things as well, namely, tend to the flock.  This kind of church is so introspective that it sees “missions” as a separate task or program.

A missional church, on the other hand, lives and breathes missions.  It exists because of its mission and because it is constantly sharing God’s love and bringing people to a decision to believe in Christ.

Trinity Baptist has always been missional, and this idea of a living, organic community that is missional is something that fits into its ongoing vision.

Consider Trinity’s founding: We were founded to reach people that other churches were failing to reach.  Trinity was founded with the idea that there must be at least one place in this county where misfits could worship, participate in ministry, and  discover some sense of God’s call and purpose on their lives.

Trinity was, for all practical purposes, a “seeker” church.  People entered Trinity broken and displaced; they accepted Jesus as their savior, participated in ministry, and reached a point where they felt comfortable to go to other churches that engaged in other ministries.

But a church is not missional because it says it is missional.  A church is missional because people catch a vision in which evangelism and missions saturate every aspect of faith and of church life.  A church is missional only when those who fill the pews are missional.

Today we will discuss a few ways to be missional.

III.

I am a shy person by nature, so when I hear the word “evangelism,” I must admit that I get a little nervous.  Usually, we associate evangelism with shouting on street corners, preaching the gospel in marketplaces, and handing out tracts.  This notion of evangelism causes some trepidation because it seems too detached from the relationships required to go deeper with others.

Yet, we are all called to be evangelists, so perhaps it will be helpful to change the paradigm–the “picture,” if you will–of what evangelism entails.

The first thing we must realize is that sin–that which separates us from God–is real.  We cannot merely pretend that all of those biblical texts that talk about humanity’s fallen nature are some long-lost theological ideas from yesteryear.

Paul made this clear in Romans 3–We have all fallen short of God’s glory.  We are close because we are made in God’s image, but we just can’t make it all of the way–we fall short.

This disrupts humanity’s relationship with God.  Since the very beginning of time, therefore, God is restoring that covenant relationship little by little in spite of humanity’s lack of reciprocation.  (According to one statistic, there are over 7 million unchurched individuals in the state of Georgia.)

Second, we are made in God’s image, so we have everything we need in order to believe in the saving grace of Jesus.  Each person has the original design or blueprint for right relationship with God.  It’s just a matter of activating the appropriate “spiritual DNA,” so to speak.

This is where evangelism comes in.  We are called to help people find and activate that DNA, to discover that they have fallen short of God’s grace, are made in God’s image, and can ask God to restore that covenant relationship with them.

IV.

It may be helpful to think of ourselves as auto mechanics, or “soul mechanics”.  Think about what mechanics do.  When they get a car that is running, but does not run efficiently or correctly, they diagnose the part that needs replacing or fixing.  They then change or fix the part.  A mechanic realizes that the car has everything it needs to run minus the spare part.

Mechanics are also knowledgeable about how cars work.  They know the car inside and out, and they know the mechanics (no pun intended!) of the engine and the transmission.

I have a feeling that we find evangelism hard because we have failed evangelism 101.  We have failed to learn the mechanics of how this whole salvation thing works.  Perhaps when we know how salvation works in the first place, it will be a little easier to help other people become saved as well.

V.

Let’s talk about the mechanics of salvation, shall we?  All the schematics can be found in Romans 3:21-26, so let’s turn there now.

1.  The first aspect of salvation is the atonement of Christ.  An atonement in the Old Testament was a ritual in which an unblemished animal was sacrificed for the sins of many.  The animal “took on the sins” of the community, as it were.   In dying on the cross, Jesus was the “sacrificial lamb” that took on our sins–atoned for our sins–once and for all.

2.  Confession.  As Romans 10 and 3 make clear, our confession of faith is what empowers us to acknowledge that we have indeed fallen short of God’s glory and that Christ is our atoning lamb who took on our sins.  Our confession also includes the belief in the resurrection because without resurrection, we would still be shackled by death and despair.

3.  When we confess our sins and believe that Jesus atoned for our sins, then we are justified by faith.  Justification is a legal word that results from an acquittal.  When we believe in Christ, the death and resurrection of Christ-the atonement–justifies us (or acquits us); we escape the penalty of eternal separation from God.

4.  We continue to live in God’s grace in a state of righteousness, or “right standing.”  This righteousness, however, is not our own; nor do we earn it.  Rather, our righteousness is imputed–given–to us by Jesus Christ as a gift of grace.  There was only one person who was righteous and sinless, Jesus Christ; our belief in him allows us to take on this righeousness as a testimony of our salvation in him.

Righteousness is also a relational word: It assumes that we are put back in right relationship.  The covenant is restored because of God’s abounding grace and Christ’s mediation between us and God.

VI.

Now that we know the mechanics of salvation, perhaps it will also help us to know the mechanics of a Christian witness:

1.  We are called to pray for the lost in our community.  Prayer allows us to be more sensitive to the needs of the lost; it will also inspire an urgency to share Christ with others.

2.  We are called to reflect on our own experience of God, so that we can give testimony–an account–of what God is doing in our life.  Sharing our experiences of God with others is the single most effective way to help others realize that they can experience God’s love too.

3.  We are called to ask questions that will help us move beyond the small-talk, surface-level conversations that we often have with others.  When we ask deeper questions, it shows others that we care and that we know that God can meet them exactly where they are.

There is an easy question everyone can ask a stranger, neighbor, or friend, and I would like to propose that Trinity folks end all of their conversations with this:  “How may I pray for you and your family this week?”  I have a feeling that it will open doors of opportunities for you to share Christ and God’s love.

4.  Lastly, we are called to share Christ.  There must be a point at which we tell people about why we do what we do and who sent us.  The Bible tells us to be prepared in season and out of season to give an account–a testimony–of our faith.

VII.

As we conclude our message, my encouragement to you is to consider that God wants you to be a soul-mechanic in our community.  He wants you to know him, know what it means to be saved and to live as such, and to tell others about that Gospel.

God’s promises us eternal life; why keep that promise from others?