Friday, November 30, 2012

The Mighty Caesar Augustus + His Finite Empire Vs. The Humble King of Kings + His Eternal Kingdom

Grace Church is about to begin a new sermon series entitled, Thy Kingdom Come.  We’ll be spending 5 weeks reflecting on the advent (coming) of our Messiah.  The word Messiah comes from a Hebrew term which means "anointed one." Its Greek counterpart is Christos, from which we get the word Christ.  Christ was not Jesus' last name! It was his title and his calling. The Messiah/Christ was a promised future king who would rule on David's throne, forgive sinners, restore justice and establish a forever kingdom of love, joy, peace, and love (e.g., Isaiah 9:6-7).  Jesus came teaching us to live in light of the coming kingdom (Matthew 4:17).  He taught us to long for and pray this coming kingdom.  And he was born so that he could die in order to bring forth this great kingdom.  This is what Christmas is all about!

I’m getting ready to preach tomorrow about two kingdoms – The Roman Empire vs. The Kingdom of God.  Many present day Christians do not comprehend the political, economical, and sociological context of Jesus’ day.  And for that reason, it’s hard to grasp the full message of the N.T. writers.  The message of Christ and the Gospel of God’s Kingdom (Matthew 4:23) was an incredibly volatile political message.  When you look at it through a historical lens, It is no wonder why the early was so persecuted and it is equally clear why the revolution of Christianity spread like wildfire through an oppressed people under Roman tyranny.

I found the following article by Doug Wilson, very helpful and I wanted to pass it along…
Who was this Caesar Augustus? Why does Luke bring him into the story? Much more is involved that a simple time indicator. Octavius as a young man was the adopted son of Julius, and the heir apparent. By the birth of Jesus he had assumed the throne, and was the emperor. In 40 B.C. a blasphemous coin was struck in Gaul which showed the two-headed god Janus, with Julius on one side and Octavius on the other. The inscription said, "The divine Caesar-and the Son of God." There was an Egyptian inscription which said that Octavius was a marvelous star, "shining with the brilliance of the great heavenly Saviour. Then, in 17 B.C. when a strange star appeared in the heavens, and Augustus commanded a twelve day Advent celebration, a ceremonial embrace of Virgil’s statement: "The turning point of the ages has come!" During the reign of Augustus, the cult of explicit emperor worship took firm root, especially in Asia Minor. This region was to become the center of persecution of Christians-and for this precise reason. Even his taken name indicates the problem. The ruling title Augustus was taken by him, which means "worthy of reverence and worship." He was, in short, homo imperisosus. Caesar Augustus was simply the last in a long line of ancient men who believed in humanistic empire. But God was sending another kind of emperor, and another kind of empire entirely. 
This is what gives force to Luke's juxtaposition. Given what Luke understood about Caesar Augustus, and the identity of the Christ, this story from his gospel has to be seen as a rivalry of kings. The fact that Christ was born in Bethlehem-thus fulfilling the prophecy of God-as the result of a command from Caesar (to tax!) has to be seen as a supreme irony. If the rulers of that age had known what they were doing, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8). And of course, the problem was evident even earlier. Had they known what they were doing, Augustus would not have lifted his finger to tax the world. But he only did this because God lifted His finger-to save the world. 
God sent Christ to bind the strong man. "When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth" (Luke 11:21-23). Luke knows what he doing here. Matthew records that Herod knew of the threat. But Augustus knew nothing of it, and Christ came to conquer the world-his throne is David’s and His kingdom will never end (Luke 1:32-33) This is the accusation against Him later (Luke 23:2). Luke also records the defiance of Peter and John-"Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). They are quoting from a coin which ascribed this same saving authority to Augustus. The early Christians preached another kind of saving king, contrary to counterfeit salvation offered by Caesar (Acts 17:7). And we should note in passing that it is no offense against the magistrate to acknowledge that Christ rules over him (Acts 25:8). 
Christmas therefore reminds us of the fundamental antithesis. And in response, we have three basic options-we can affirm the antithesis (by faith alone), or we can blur or deny the antithesis, or we can misplace the antithesis. When it comes to the celebration of festivals like Christmas, our role is not to blend in with an unbelieving crowd. What does the holiday mean? It means the kingdom of God, not man. 
Where do we start? What are we to do? Begin at the beginning-do not run before you walk. Remember God’s Son, God’s word, God’s day.Remember the contrast of kings-remember the rival saviors. But we have a Savior, which is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). And here is true potency-the power we have is in the name of our king. There is no other name which brings salvation.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Doing Community Together at Grace Church...

What are Grace Church Community Groups? 
Getting connected at Grace Church involves participation in both the Sunday morning Gatherings and a Community Group.  Sunday Gatherings are a time for worshipful celebration together, hearing the preaching of the Word, imparting the vision of Grace Church, and sharing in Communion.   Whereas, Community Groups are the primary way we, disciple one another, connect with one another, and live out the mission of Grace Church.  Community Groups are an essential expression of our church’s mission

Each Community Group will find their own rhythm - meeting regularly (either weekly or bi-weekly) to eat together, learn together, pray together, encourage one another, and be on mission together, living out the Gospel in real and tangible expressions.  Being a community-driven people means walking through life together, helping one another become fully-devoted followers of Jesus.

Why Community Groups? 
At the heart of the Community Groups ministry is the desire to see a community of believers who worship Jesus, love one another, and embody the mission & vision of Grace Church to make disciples.  Community Groups will be the place where the seeds of the preached Word (from the Sunday Gathering sermon) take root and become real as we consider how we may "spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Heb. 10:24).  In other words, our Community Groups will be a place where we encourage and challenge one another to live missional lives and to know Jesus deeper and in more personal ways.

The Practice of Living Missionally: 
Our Community Groups will aim at connected our members to call of God to “live sent” – commissioned by Christ to follow his Great Commission for the church (Matt. 28:16-20). 

The church is a community of God’s people gathered for his mission; and community, centered and driven by the Gospel, is the vehicle through which God’s mission is carried out.   As Gordon Fee points out in Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, “God is not just saving individuals and preparing them for heaven; rather, He is creating a people among whom He can live and who in their life together will (tangibly) reproduce God’s life and character.”  We are to be on mission (i.e., missional) together!  It is the mission of the Gospel that is to shape our Christian community and activities. 

So our Community Groups will be encouraged to come up with outreach ideas for their group.  Here’s a list of some examples - 100 Ways for Community Groups and Individuals to Engage your Neighborhoods.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Love + Marriage + Singleness

Currently, at Grace Church, we are in a series on the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis called, GENESIS: The Promise.

In Genesis chapter 2, we are introduced to the human need for relationship as God says - "it is not good for man to be alone.”  There's a communal quality to humanity in which we only function properly and rightly when connected to others.  We are introduced to the need for relationship through a description of the pinnacle of human relationship - a marriage between a man and a woman.  In the beginning, relationship and human community was wonderful, safe, and full of love.  Genesis 2 concludes with man and woman living in God's paradise, Eden, and being comfortably naked and warmly secure within each other's presence. Everything was as it was supposed to be.

It would be wonderful if that's the kind of world we live in.  But Genesis 3 describes the account of how everything went wrong, how Eden was lost, and how God's good creation came undone.  Sin came in and immediately brought a disconnected and self-centered shame between the man and woman.  They covered themselves from one another, they hid from God, they blamed one another, and they longed for autonomy.  Along with this great fall came everything we hate – fear, embarrassment, shame, disconnectedness, and other types of relational pain.

Essentially, though we still long for healthy connectedness, human relationships became harmful and toxic.  And, as demonstrated with Cain + Abel, we have a tendency to hurt those ones who are closest to us.

We need God's healing and help. 

We need a Gospel pronouncement of hope and correction.

We long for healthy connectedness and only God can give it.

So, this Sunday, November 4th, Steve Lee will be addressing the pinnacle of human connectedness - marriage. Whether you are married or single, this Sunday's topic is an essential one; and all of us, no matter the season of life we may find ourselves, need the guidance of God's right way in interacting with others.

If you are married, you already well know the joys and pains of marriage; and you also know the help we need from God's word and our church community in order to have a thriving marital relationship.  This Sunday, and next week's Community Group discussions, will be a great assistance to you.

If you are single, this Sunday's message, and next week's Community Group discussions, can help you prepare for what's next in your life, equip you to come along side your married friends (offering prayerful and practical help), and enlarge your understanding of God's correct way of living in every category of life – including love, relationships, sex, and marriage.

It’s been a while since I posted anything on marriage or relationships, so…

Here are some recent, and very helpful, resources on Love + Marriage + Singleness:

You May Never Marry Right Person – How Our Culture Misunderstands Compatibility
Timothy Keller explains why the quest for compatibility seems to be so impossible.

7 Ways to Destroy a Marriage
Perry Noble shares 7 sure ways to bring great harm to your marriage.

The Truth about Marital Compatibility – For Singles and Married Couples
Phil Smidt shares 5 questions for singles and marrieds about compatibility.

The Meaning of Marriage – Introduction
The Introduction to Timothy Keller’s new book on marriage.

Lastly, here’s a wonderful interview with Tim and Kathy Keller about singleness, relationships, marriage, and sex…