Go

Jericho Ridge Community Church (Archived)

Life in the Context of the Kingdom of God

October 25th, 2015

Jericho Ridge Community Church

Preached by: Tyler Harper

Toil and Treasure: the Transformed life

 

 

Of all the Charlie Brown's I know, you're the Charlie Browniest

 

Charlie Brown, you're the most Charlie Browniest person I know.

 

People deal with trial and hardships in different ways. At extreme you have the pushers, people who push their frustrations and pain further and further under the surface so that they don't have to deal with the issues and can focus on being "happy" and "content", leaving these issues fester - unresolved and continuing to consume the person's energy, personality and soul. At the other extreme there are the Charlie Brown's of the world, people who seem to have so many problems and hold them so close to the surface that if you bump into them you are likely pick up some of that pain and sorrow-- not unlike leaning up against a freshly painted wall. One extreme denies the real presence of pain and sin in the world, removing any possibility of redemption and healing while the other allows that pain and sin to fester, gaining an even greater foothold in the world.

 

I admittedly lean more towards the latter. I often times find myself being more of a Charlie Brown, wearing my struggles to close to my heart and allowing them, all too often, to colour my decisions and personal interactions.

 

An example of this is the summer before I moved from to Langley for seminary in 2009. As I had for a couple summers before I had found a job driving for a trucking company in order to pay school and living expenses. Except this year it had been harder to find a job, as the North American economy was quickly grinding to a halt.

However, I ended up getting set up with a company well suited for what I was looking for that took me all throughout the eastern half of the continent and though it was more demanding than similar jobs I had had in the past, was fairly lucrative and interesting. I felt God was blessing me and making it possible for me make a significant step in faith by following His call to study.

My first trip everything went well. By bending some of the rules surrounding hours of service I was able to make it to the Eastern seaboard and make all of my deliveries in pretty good time, I impressed my dispatcher my first time out. Everything was going great, I got to see interesting parts of the world I hadn't yet experienced such as the Campus of Notre Dame University as one of my deliveries on my way out. I was already counting the books I was going to buy with my first cheque of the summer.

However, as I backed into a parking spot for the night at a truckstop just outside New York City, I bumped into the truck beside me, leaving a small mark. Apparently this trivial situation was all that I needed to become Charlie Brown, suddenly everything was going wrong. I knew the Psalms well enough to know what lament looked like and I ran with it. So that evening I sat in my sleeper, doubting pretty much everything, including my desire and my call to attend seminary. I was a pretty big Charlie Brown. Maybe you're like me, maybe you're tempted when the other team scores to take your ball and go home.

 

While I may have turned into a Charlie Brown in 3.2 seconds, as we sawa last week in Brad's sermon and will explore this week, Paul is no Charlie Brown, but he is also no stoic, removed from pain and sorrow. Within the first 16 verses of Chapter 2 Paul celebrates the great things God has done in and through him and his beloved church in Thessalonica while also addressing the persecution that they faced from their country men as well as the danger that he faced from his own countrymen to the point of death.

As early as verse six of the last chapter Paul has highlighted the suffering of the Thessalonian Christians as an integral part of his thanksgiving. The Thessalonians received the gospel in spite of the sever suffering that was part of the package deal. Paul will not let the Thessalonians doubt, this struggle is part of their faith and their faith will not suspend this suffering. There was no sitting around wondering if they were part of the true Church simply because of these struggles. In fact these struggles are a sign of their faith. As Gene Green point outs in his Commentary on this book "Paul drives the Thessalonians to see their situation from a larger perspective and to strengthen their sense of being part of a larger movement. They are not alone in their difficulties, and their experience is not unique." They can't be a Charlie Brown, because all those who are in Christ, including Paul who is writing this letter full of thanksgiving from a Corinthian Prison cell.

How is it possible that Paul is able to live a life full of such suffering and still remain so thankful? Between the suffering that Paul hints at in the first two chapters of this book and the gruesome list of 2nd Corinthians 11, how can he realistically remain thankful? How can we realistically be thankful in a world that is marked by sin and sorrow? How is it possible to be thankful like Paul in the midst of the less than pleasant experiences that occurred in Thessalonica and throughout Paul's ministry without being nävie or willfully blind? What must we do to be truly thankful in our lives without ignoring the realities of life around us?

Paul points to the source of his and the Thessalonians ability to be realistically thankful in the end of verse 13 of Chapter 2. The New living translation describes it like this "You didn't think of our words as mere human ideas You accepted what we said as the very word of God--which of course it is."

The very word of God.

Because it is God's Word, it is grounded in God and his person. Just as our words take on and reveal our character, so there is a revelation of who God is in his Word, which was most fully revealed to us in Christ. Just as a person's character flavors their words so that someone who is given to lie frequently, their words will generally reack of deceit or someone who is loving and self-giving will speak words that reflect this reality.

It is at this point that we must remember two key theological concepts relating to God. Now these are kind of big words and Brad tojustld me I wasn't allow to throw around big words that represent even bigger ideas, but here we go.

 

These two inter-related concepts are that God is Transcendent and Immanent.

OK?

How's that for 5 dollar words?

Although definitions of these words may not rush to mind, if you have been in the church for a period of time, I hope you are at least familiar with the ideas that stand behind them.

First, Immanent. Or nearness.

The idea behind immananence is that God is present in an individual's life in a real and personal way. To be immanant means that God is uniquely connected to each unique individual. In short, that God is personal. Immanence is something that both our evangelical culture understands very well, think of phrases such as "my life with God" or "me and Jesus". Immanance at its extreme reduces God to being our buddy. Our western culture also understands and embraces immanance through its own secular lens. Think of the emphasis upon "personal views", individual rights, and personal customization.

Even what may be the most symbolic cultural devices of our age-- apple products-- hint at our desire and emphasis on immanance, with names like the Imac, the Ipad, the Iphone, and my favourite the venereal but nearly forgotten Ipod.

Transcendence on the other hand is maybe less popular idea both within our evangelical culture as well as our broader context.

Transcendence represents the idea that God is supreme and stands outside of the limits of space and time. That God is wholly and totally other

Ok. So we got through those two big words and the massive ideas behind them. With all that being said, a wonderful illustration of transcendence and imminence is the wonderfully conflicting theological phrase "God is in all things". Immanence is the concept that God is "In" things in an intimate way. While Transcendence is the concept of God is in all things.

These are both critical ideas for the Christian life and Christian Theology and we cannot have one without the other in balance. If we exchange one of these realities for another we end up with an idol that is far from the God who reveals Himself in the pages of Scripture.

If we over emphasis God's immanence, we end up with God who is the lover of our soul and buddy but unable to overcome the sin of the world or transform history bringing justice. If we over emphasis God's transcendence, we end up with an overlord who rules from afar who is just but cold, and cruel.

When we understand our lives in relation to a God who is both Transcendent and Immanent we are able to contextualize the sorrows and struggles of our lives without diminishing the reality of our experiences. It is only by understanding ourselves first and foremost as being in relationship with a God who is both wholly Transcendent and wholly Immanent that our lives gain the meaning and context which they deserve. Yes, I said deserve, because we have been created to be in communion with this God who is both fully Immanent and transcendent. If we lack this fellowship and understanding, our lives lack the very thing that they were created for and the very meaning we have been created for.

As Brad discussed last week, when we understand ourselves in relation to God, as part of His Kingdom and our lives as part of furthering His kingdom, our eyes are drawn up away from the minutia of our lives, to His grandeur. we are drawn away from the problems which creep into our lives as a result of sin and instead are drawn to the majesty and power of the lover of our soul. As Brad shared, we can look past the troubles of our daily life and look to the stars. Our lives gain meaning not because of our accomplishments, the souls we have saved or the kingdoms we have built for ourselves, but because of the work that God is doing in and through us to build up His kingdom which is infinitely greater than ourselves because it is built upon one who is infinitely greater, the transcendent God.

Because God is transcendent, Paul was able to express true gratitude in the midst of sorrow and hardship. Paul was no Charlie Brown. Being in relation to God who is all-powerful meant that Paul could see beyond the misery of his own life to the amazing work God was doing in his life, through the churches such as that at Thessalonica, and throughout the known world.

Yet God it not simply transcendent, reducing our lives to a meaningless smudge in time, as if we are simply cog in a giant machine of His Kingdom. God is immanent, He personally walked through those trials with Paul and has intimately experienced our struggle, hardship and pain because He dwells with us, individually and collectively.

Without a transcendent God, we fail to be able to move beyond the self. And so without a transcendent God we are unable experience the community of is available in the common experience of the people of God gathered by the Word of God. True Community, can only exist when it is a community grounded in the God who is able to transcend time and space and gather people in Him.

Without God's transcendence we are cut from Truth which can only be found in God. In God we find a Truth that exists because unlike our human experience, God is not limited to the self.

Without God's transcendence we become isolated, unable to form true community with our fellow humanity or with our Creator, we would become like a hermit, detached from society as a whole, speaking rarely, and a little crazy.

 

God's transcendence provides us the ability to form true community through the common experience we share of One who is greater than all of us!

While we know God offers community and truth through His transcendence which is able engage us in an personal and intimate way through His immanence, we so often choose to find our fulfillment ourselves, in our immanence without any connection to God, because really, ourselves are just so comfortable and we think we can control them.

It is easy to become trapped in our own immanence, focusing on our small personal sphere, our problems and our concerns without the context that comes when we understand ourselves inside of God's grand drama of redemption.

I was reminded of this reality this past summer. Our son Alister was a couple of weeks old, Carmen and I decided to go for a walk at Crescent beach to watch the Sunset. About halfway through our walk, Alister had to be fed, which meant we had to find a park bench. Instinctively, I reached for my smart phone to catch up on personal emails, personal social media, and personal news sources. Totally over looking the Technicolor landscape that lay before me. I was perfectly happy to entertain myself with things that were all about me, instead of spending time marveling at God's amazing creation.

It was so easy for me to look past the things that reminded me how vast our God is to the things that are all about me and that I can control. When we focus solely on ourselves, our struggles can consume us. When we look past God's immanence nature, when we forget that He dwells with us, our struggles become meaningless suffering.

Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that what we need to do in the time of struggle in our lives, in our church, in our relationship, or in our work place is simply focus on God and forget the rest. I am not suggesting as the old hymn states that we should simply

 

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
  In the light of His glory and grace

 

NO! When we understand that God is transcendent, that He reaches beyond us back into history, forward into the future, and throughout the created world we gain context for our struggles.

Our struggles cease to be the end of the world, but they do not become meaningless. Because God became incarnate, because God immanently existed and exists as our human experiences gain meaning, having shared them with this great God we serve.

Paul struggles in Prison, being snuck out of Thessoninica, and of being mistreated in Philippi are anything but meaningless pain to be over looked, they gain even greater significance an meaning in that it is suffering to further the Kingdom of God. Paul's troubles had a purpose and Paul was able to see that.

 

When we turn our eyes towards Jesus, the things of this earth, our pain and struggle do not grow dim, they stand in higher relief. But this relief, is not against the backdrop of our human, personal, experience, it is against the truly human life we were created for!

Life, including the sort of trails that the Thessalonian church experienced in as Paul describes in verse 14 through 16, does not mean less but more when it is lived in relation to the one who is remolding our lives into the sort of humanity we see in Jesus as God remolds our broken world into a new Eden.

When we turn our eyes towards Jesus the pain and sorrow do not grow dim, we see them in sharper contrast, in the context of what humanity truly is!

When we stop letting our culture and ourselves define who we are, but allow God to define us, we are able to benefit from the experiencing a life with a transcendent God, we are able to live life in fellowship with a God who in all and through all.

We can live in fellowship with a God who is beyond all measure, of space and time.

Life with the One true God, who is above all, has three significant benefits that I would like to touch on, which I have already touched on in part.

The first is truth. We live in an age which is very aware of the subjectivity of human experience. We are unable to fully perceive realities outside of ourselves. However, when we live in community with a God who is transcendent, we can trust that He is true. God is not limited to the same human finitude, to the same human inability to move beyond our selves, that we experience on a daily basis.

When we live in community with a living God who has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ reveals who God truly is and what humanity true is.

Jesus in His humanity than exists as a portal beyond ourselves into a knowledge and experience of true humanity and true divinity. This means that our lives, our joys and our sufferings are meaningful because they are connected to something and someone who is greater than all of us. God is working amongst us to expand His Kingdom that exists now and will one day be fully realized. Our joy is not meaningless pleasure to be ignored nor is suffering simply needless pain--they are the building blocks of God's eternal Kingdom, which we are a part of, After all this is the reason that both Paul and the church and Thessalonica were able to endure the way they were treated, because, as Paul states at the end for verse 12 "For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory."

He called you to share in His Kingdom and His glory.

 

Think about that!

He called US to share in His glory as the one who is over all and in all.

 

The second is a freedom from moralism. We don't have to worry about whether we act like a Christian. That is a great freedom, but with this freedom comes an even greater responsibility. God will hold us to account not merely for our actions, but for our motivations.

Because God is transcendent, He is a judge that will judge fairly, true to His own loving nature He will not be caught up in vindictive emotions but will hold us to a true Standard. We know that we are set free from acting out rites and tasks and invited into a relationship with a God who is truly immanent, who truly knows us, better than we know ourselves and yet loves us in the purest way possible. But there is a flip side, because God is immanent, because God knows everything about us, even our thoughts, while we live in the privilege of freedom--this privilege comes great responsibility. God knows our very thoughts and so it is not our actions that stand to be judged but our motivations. Because God is the judge who can peer into the deepest parts of our life, even our thought life, God will judge us not so much on what we do and say but on why we do what we do and say what we say.

This is the reason why Paul reminds the Thessalonians in verse 12 of chapter 2 that "We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way that God would consider worth. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory."

You see in the Kingdom of a God who is in all and over all, actions are not the end all and be all. The ends don't justify the means and its not where we end up that matters but also the path of faith that we journey on that matters. It not only matters the result of our work, but how we go about seeking those ends. If our methods don't reflect the nature of our goals, than both will be invalid. It is for this reason that Jesus was clear in Matthew Chapter five that it is not the words that we say, our actions, or the nature of our relationships, but the motivation that stand behind these actions. The Christian life is not about morality, it is about humility before our creator and as a result humility in relationship to our fellow creation.

The third Benefit of a truly theological understanding of God is true community. Because God is immanent, we know that we are truly known and truly loved as we actually are. We know that God is with us and that God desires to have community with us. Because God transcends space and time, language and culture, we know that the God who we encounter in His revelation is the same God that the Church fathers encountered in the first, second, and third century. We know that the God who we worship is the very same as Christians from around the globe, from all socio-economic settings, from all language groups, Anabaptists, Charismatics, high Church members, we all have encountered the One True God.

As TWU professor Jens Zimmerman states in his book Incarnational humanism: A philosophy of Culture for the Church in the WorldFor Christians, experiencing transcendence is not a religious relation to God , to a ‘highest, most powerful, most good being—that is not real transcendence—but our relation to God is a new life in ‘being-there-for others,’ through participation in the being of Jesus.”

Our relation to God is a new life in ‘being-there-for others,’ through participation in the being of Jesus.

Our experience of God's supreme nature doesn't mean that we are primarily defined by our good works but by the fact that we are drawn together as the Gathered people of God.

This means that we can speak truth to each other, that we can love each other and be truly honest with each other, not because of our own wisdom, but because we have encountered a truth that stands outside of us in God. This is something that really struck me at the Summit last month. We were able to speak true words, uncomfortable words to each other, without anger and spite, but with truth and grace. As people who are relatively new to JRCC this blew my mind and drew me to worship! This my friends is what we are called to, we are called to community based not on our similar interests or lifestyles, but by the call of a God who knows each of us truly and loves us truly.

Great you say after all this, you have now had to sit through me use big words to describe the God who has called us into relationship, but now what? Now it's your turn.

Seek to know God more! There is so much to be gained. Seek Him in prayer, seek Him scripture, seek Him through the experience brothers and sister who have God before us who God has gifted with great minds (and I would love to give you a few suggestions if you're interested in this). Seeking our heavenly Father is the only way that our earthly life will have any real meaning.

For those of you who are here who are in the midst of struggle, you have two option: you can continue on your own, or you can trust in the God who knows you and the struggle your in, but He is also transcends time and space, who is working to bring about His Kingdom that we are called to share in. Our struggle can be the building blocks to God's glory, glory which Paul tells us God is called us to Share with him! While our daily struggles matter to God, we also must always reminds us that God will be victorious, His Kingdom is coming to fulfillment!

 

 

 

 

It is at this point that I would like to call the band up, as we move into a time of communion.

 

The elements will be available on either side of the stage when you are ready, I am pretty sure there is even gluten-free options available.,

 

Sometimes communion seems like a weird thing, sometimes it feels so individual and isolating, however, the act of communion is not a solitary, individual thing, an experience that can be had in the privacy of our homes, hidden away from the world, but instead, as its very name suggests, is a communal experience, we gather, as the community of faith for a communal--a transcendent-- experience, where we humbly mark ourselves as the community of faith as it has been marked throughout 2000 years and in every corner the globe. We gather around the bread and cup reminding ourselves that we, just like millions of fellow believers before us, we join our fellow believes from around the world who gather in grass huts and in cathedrals, reminding ourselves and each other that we live in fellowship with One God, maker and redeemer of all.

 

Behold the Body and Christ broken for you and Christ's shed blood, to gather us to God and thus each other.

 

The body of Christ broken for us.

 

Behold what you are

 

Become what you receive

 

 

 

Read More