DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Christ is Enough (Philippians 3:1-16)

Every year this time, we begin thinking about the coming year. And every year, despite resolving that we won't do it anymore, we make New Year's Resolutions. The popular website 43Things.com has been tracking resolutions and how they change from year to year. Here are the most common:

  • The #1 resolution every year except for 2009 is to lose weight
  • The other top resolutions from last year were to be happy, fall in love, get a job, and travel. But if you get a job it may be hard to travel. I haven't figured that out yet.
  • Other top resolutions include quitting smoking, saving money, getting organized, going to bed earlier.
  • One resolution that showed up in 2007 but has disappeared since then is "Get a tattoo." I'm guessing that everyone who resolved to do this looked after it this year, and one tattoo is probably enough for most of us.

I don't want to do the predictable New Year's sermon on resolutions, but I feel compelled this morning to encourage you to make a New Year's resolution that you won't find on 43Things.com. In fact, I'm going to encourage you to make this your only New Year's Resolution. You can lose weight and fall in love if you'd like, but this one resolution is actually going to be enough.

And here it is: Let us resolve in the coming year to know Christ. That's it.

The reason is that Christ is enough. In one year if we look back and evaluate 2011, I believe that all of us would say that it was a worthwhile year no matter what else happened if we can say that we know Christ better, if we can say what the apostle Paul said in the passage we just read:

I want to know Christ--yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

And so this morning, because it's the day after Christmas, I want to make this as simple and clear as possible. This morning I want to tell you what we don't need to resolve in the coming year. And then I want to tell you the one thing that we can and should resolve for 2011.

What Not to Resolve

So here's what not to resolve. Paul in chapter 3 is addressing the Philippian church, particularly one group that focuses on keeping God's law, revealed by Moses, as the basis of a relationship with him. I love reading this passage this time of year, because it speaks to an issue that all of us face in our hearts, especially this time of year. The issue is our tendency toward human religious effort to make ourselves right with God. This is something I struggle with all the time, and you probably do as well.

Here's how it works. We think in terms like this with God: "God, you accept me because..." I want you to think about that for a minute and fill in the blank. It could be any number of things. God accepts us, we think, because:

  • we go to church
  • we live a moral life
  • we made a commitment to Christ
  • the good things we do outweigh the bad things
  • we're church members
  • we read the Bible and pray regularly

I want you to think about this for a minute. What is it that you look to in your life that you believe makes you right with God? If you were to complete the sentence, "God, you accept me because..." what would you say?

In the passage we have before us, Paul goes at this tendency that all of us have to try to do something as a way of earning God's approval. Paul speaks of those who believed that God accepted them because they kept the Jewish rite of circumcision when he says in verses 3-4: "For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh--though I myself have reasons for such confidence."

What does he mean by the flesh? The reformer John Calvin said that the flesh is "everything that is outside of Christ." "He thus reproves, and in no slight manner, the perverse zealots the law, because, not satisfied with Christ, they have recourse to grounds of glorying apart from him."

What Paul is saying is that we can't put confidence in anything other than Jesus Christ for our right standing with God. We cannot get right with God through our own religious works. There is no room for rule-based religious rituals. They look impressive, but they do nothing to bring you into a true relationship with God.

Paul should know, because Paul lists his own religious credentials in verses 4-6. He had everything going for him: the right pedigree, and impeccable moral and religious performance. But then he says in verses 7-9:

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law...

This is one of those times that the translators have softened what Paul actually says. Paul considers everything that he could claim as a means of measuring up as rubbish, as liabilities. He actually gets a bit graphic here by using the rather crude illustration of dung. He says that all the flesh can produce is, in essence, human waste. None of it matters. We can't measure up on our own.

I love how George Whitefield put it:

I do not know what you may think, but I can say that I can not pray but I sin--I can not preach to you or to any others but I sin--I can do nothing without sin; as one expresseth it, my repentance wants to be repented of, and my tears to be washed in the precious blood of my dear Redeemer.

Our best duties are as so many splendid sins. Before you can speak peace to your heart you must not only be sick of your original and actual sin, but you must be made sick of your righteousness, of all your duties and performances. There must be a deep conviction before you can be brought out of your self-righteousness; it is the last idol taken out of our heart. The pride of our heart will not let us submit to the righteousness of Jesus Christ. But if you never felt that you had no righteousness of your own, if you never felt the deficiency of your own righteousness, you can not come to Jesus Christ.

That's why this morning I'm asking you to make no other resolutions other than to know Christ. You can lose weight if you want, or stop biting your nails. But we need to realize that all of our efforts to measure up apart from Christ are futile and dangerous. God doesn't accept us on the basis of anything other than Christ. So stop trying to measure up! Don't even get comfortable with others who are trying to earn God's acceptance through any human effort or accomplishment. Refuse to resolve to do anything that will take your focus away from Christ in the coming year.

So what's the alternative?

Resolve to Know Christ

Read with me again verses 8-14:

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ--yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Paul says he wants one thing: to know Christ. Because, he says, if you know Christ, it's enough.

Our human efforts will never be enough. Instead, we can simply resolve to know Christ. In Scripture knowing means more than an intellectual assent; it means grasping and acknowledging what Christ has done through Christ, and submitting to the Lordship of Christ. That's what he means: knowing Christ, and knowing what he did for us at the cross. It's all about personal acquaintance, about having insight into the central act of all history: what Jesus Christ did for us at the cross.

And then Paul lists two results in this passage. First, in verse 8, he says he wants to "gain Christ" who is of surpassing worth. Jesus really is worth more than anything or anyone else. Jesus is not the path to the prize; he is the prize itself. He is worth more than any of our moral accomplishments. He is the treasure of surpassing value. He is worth more than anything.

There's a second result. In verses 10-11 he says that as we gain Christ, our lives will increasingly take the shape of Christ's death and resurrection. This means that we will suffer like Christ, but our sufferings will be worth it. And we will not only experience suffering that's worth it, but we'll also experience resurrection life. How do we change? By knowing Christ. As we know Christ more and more, it will shape the rest of our lives.

For this, we can count everything else but loss. We can resolve to know Christ, because Christ is enough. If we have him, we have everything that we need. So, Paul says, resolve to know Christ better, because Christ is enough.

So resolve to know Christ better in the coming year. Accept no substitutes. Don't settle for the sugar that gives you a buzz but doesn't fill the deep hunger of your soul. Pursue the feast that your soul truly craves.

I want to close with a quote from the book Good News for Anxious Christians:

What the gospel of Christ does is give us Christ, and that is enough. We can let everything else be what it is - hard work, worthwhile work, works of love, and the heartaches that come with all of that. And we can let our feelings be what they are, whatever that may be. What matters is Jesus Christ, and all is well on that score: that we are our Beloved's and he is ours...The gospel gives us Christ the way a wedding vow gives you a bridegroom. From now on you know who he is, that he is yours, that he has promised to love you, and because he keeps his promise, everything else will be alright....

It is our job to give our lives for others, and that is nothing but death unless Christ has given his life to us first. We need this good news, this daily bread, this cheerful word about our Beloved who is ours. God means it for our good, for he means us to have Christ, his own beloved Son. And that is enough to live on for eternity.

So Father, may we know Christ. May he be our treasure, the one who means more to us than anything else. May he be our consuming passion in the coming year. In Jesus' name, Amen.

In Whom Do You Trust? (Isaiah 7-9)

If you were to ask me what qualities I appreciate in others, near the top of the list I would have to put one that always impresses me: self-reliance. I love stories of people who dig down deep and persist against the odds and prevail. I'm a sucker for movies like this, and I'm impressed if you're a person who's dependable and self-reliant.

That's why I love the story of the English Victorian poet William Ernest Henley. He fell victim to tuberculosis of the bone at the age of 12. A few years later, the disease progressed to his foot, and physicians announced that the only way to save his life was to amputate directly below the knee. It was amputated when he was 25. In 1875, he wrote the "Invictus" poem from a hospital bed. You've heard this poem:

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

I love stories like this. Who doesn't like to have that kind of self-reliance and determination to make it on their own terms? The problem is, according to the Bible, that self-reliance could destroy you. And surprisingly it takes a baby born on Christmas morning to teach us that it's fatal to rely on ourselves. Our only hope is to rely on, of all things, a baby sent by God.

Relying On Ourselves

Let me back up a little. This evening I want to give you an overview of a message from God given to someone who was facing this very issue.

The date is 735 B.C. King Ahaz has just begun his reign in Judah. He's young and faced with the threats of Syria and Northern Israel. The question is: how is he going to respond to these threats? Will he trust in God for deliverance, or will he put his faith in other nations?

Listen to what happened. Isaiah 7:2 says:

Now the house of David was told, "Aram has allied itself with Ephraim"; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.

When Ahaz - the house of David - heard about the alliance of Aram and Ephraim (Syria and the northern kingdom), he panicked. He didn't have to. In fact, in verse 4 God says:

Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood--because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah.

But that didn't stop Ahaz. He did panic. Tragically, Ahaz chose to put his trust in Assyria, his worst enemy. Essentially he lay aside trust in God and compromised his nation's unique identity. Instead of being distinct and becoming a blessing to the nations, Judah loses its identity and becomes enslaved.

In chapters 7, 8, and 9, God, through the prophet Isaiah, keeps coming after Ahaz: Will you trust in God, or will you put your trust in something else? And hear this: Isaiah says that if we trust in God we will be saved. But whatever we trust in place of God will eventually turn on us and destroy us. Let me say that again: whatever we trust in place of God will eventually turn on us and destroy us.

You get to the end of chapter 8, and it's a pretty dark picture. People are consulting mediums and spiritists instead of God. They end up distressed and hungry, cursing king and God. "Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness" (Isaiah 8:22).

Do you see what God is saying through Isaiah? Self-reliance, and reliance on others, is deadly. It will lead you to put your trust in the very thing that will kill you. It's like taking medicine that actually turns out to be poison. Self-reliance - making it on our own terms - is deadly, Isaiah is telling us, and it will destroy us.

Listen to me this evening. You're not Ahaz, but tonight we all face the same question: In whom do you trust? I've found it easy to put my trust in the opinion and help of others, or in certain relationships we have - our spouses, our kids, our networks. I know some who feel secure when their bank account reaches a certain level. Others - and it's clear this isn't me - are putting trust in maintaining our looks. It's a losing battle against time. Others of us are putting our trust in our resume. Isaiah is asking us to confront this question, and he's warning us: whatever we trust in place of God will eventually turn on us and destroy us.

Relying on a Baby

If this is true, how do we come to trust in God? Twice in these chapters, Isaiah gives us a surprising alternative to trusting in anyone but God. But it's not what you'd expect. In chapter 7, Isaiah challenges Ahaz and Judah to put God to the test to prove that he's reliable, that he will destroy the two kings that are threatening him. Ahaz refuses, probably because his mind is made up. But despite his refusal, God offers him a sign:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

What is Isaiah saying here? The failure of the earthly king to rely on God means that God will send a baby born to a young woman of marriageable age. Before that son is old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, the opposing kings will be destroyed, but they will be replaced by an even worse invader: Assyria.

Who is this child? There are lots of options. One of the best options is the son that Isaiah had in the very next chapter (Isaiah 8:3). Isaiah names the child "sign-child" which is a pretty good hint that this is a fulfillment of the prophecy! This child being born is a sign that we can trust in God instead of relying on ourselves.

But that's not the only time that the birth of a son comes up. In chapter 9, Isaiah once talks about a baby being born. Isaiah describes the birth of a wonderful child:

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace

there will be no end.

He will reign on David's throne

and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it

with justice and righteousness

from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the LORD Almighty

will accomplish this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7)

God says we can trust him because of a baby born to a young woman, and now God says he can trust him because of a child who will take the world stage, who will be the king to end all kings. He will be "God with us" not only to deal with the Syrians, but he will be a King who delivers us from all threats, and who begins an endless rule of justice, righteousness, and peace. God himself will accomplish this. We don't need to do it ourselves or rely on ourselves; God will do this for us.

Who is this baby? It turns out, actually, to be the same baby as the one Isaiah talks about in chapter 7. You see, chapter 7 probably does refer to Isaiah's son, but it also turns out to refer to an even greater Son who was born. In Matthew 1:22-23 we read:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us").

Jesus is the son who is a sign to us that we don't have to rely on ourselves or to prop ourselves up with things that will destroy us. We can rely on God because his power is enough. And just so we're sure, he sends us the sign of a baby born to a young woman of marriageable age. His name is Jesus.

And the child of Isaiah 9? In Luke 1:32-33 the angel says to Mary:

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.

Jesus is that child who is born who will deliver us. He's the one who is sent by God and will save us, since we can't save or rely on ourselves.

Isn't it strange that in contrast to armies and kings, Ahaz is asked to look at a baby? Maybe not. Because we're asked to do the same thing. Christmas is all about the message that it's fatal to rely upon ourselves. Our only hope is to rely on, of all things, a baby sent by God.

Let's pray.

We admire self-reliance. But the Bible teaches us that self-reliance is deadly. It will destroy us. Ahaz relied on kings and armies. We rely on our own strength, our money, our accomplishments, our relationships. whatever we trust in place of God will eventually turn on us and destroy us.

God sent us a sign so that we would know we don't have to rely on ourselves. That sign is Jesus. He is the King who is like no other, and his reign will never end.

Father, may we see Jesus tonight. May we rely not on ourselves but on him. May we put our hope not on human strength or power but in God-in-the-flesh, in the King who came to live and die and be raised again so that we could be saved. It's that King we worship at Christmas, the King who now sits on the throne. In his name we pray. Amen.

At the End of Hope (Micah 5)

One of the best books I've read this year is Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. It's the true story of Louie Zamperini, a rebel child who became an Olympic runner, and who later became a prisoner in one of Japan's most brutal POW camps.

Near the end of the book, Louie has survived the war. He's married and he has a young daughter. But his life is a mess. Every night he's haunted by dreams that he can't escape. He wakes up one night from a dream and finds that he's choking his wife. He's emotionally broken and an alcoholic. "He was drinking heavily, slipping in and out of flashbacks, screaming and clawing through nightmares, lashing out in fury at random moments." Eventually his life became completely unbearable. His wife, after doing all that she could to persist, left him. Louie had survived a war, but he couldn't survive the aftermath. He's completely broken.

The reason I bring that up is because I know a lot of people who have the same story. The details are different, but the stories are the same. Having survived and suffered much, they get to the end of their resources and find there is no hope. We're not talking temporary setback here. We're talking a complete and utter collapse of one's life; the complete loss of hope; complete and utter despair.

Complete Collapse of Hope

The passage we read this morning begins with this very situation. Micah 5:1 says this:

Marshal your troops now, city of troops,
for a siege is laid against us.
They will strike Israel's ruler
on the cheek with a rod.

Let me set the scene for you. Israel had gone from being a great nation to the edge of ruin. As Micah prophesies, the heyday of King Uzziah's reign is over. Assyria has become a new world power. The old world of relative security is over, and a new world of uncertainty is here, and Assyria is a major threat. The people were relatively wealthy and comfortable, but it all looked like it could come to a sudden end.

So what's the message? You can endure bad news with a little bit of hope. It doesn't even take much hope. God has shown himself more than equal to the challenges that Israel has faced. No matter how bad things may seem, there's always hope when God comes through.

But that's not the message of Micah. Micah actually says that God is against his people. Micah brings a series of oracles against Jerusalem. And leading up to chapter 5 Micah makes it very clear that war is coming to Jerusalem. Nations will approach in battle. They will lay siege to Jerusalem, and according to verse 1, the Assyrians will defeat Israel's leader with contempt. Not only will they defeat him, but they'll strike his cheek with a rod. Being struck with a rod on the cheek was a sign of great humiliation. The news is not good.

This is not the news that they wanted to hear. What makes it worse is that other prophets - false ones - were bringing messages of hope. Micah is saying, in contrast, that the kingdom of Israel is going to be destroyed. They were going to be ruined. Jerusalem was about to face a siege of terror, death, and destruction. It was not good news for Jerusalem.

Sitting here some 2,500 years later, it's hard to get very worked up about the collapse of Jerusalem. But the collapse of Jerusalem is indicative a problem we do face: coming to the place in which everything is lost. For the people of Jerusalem it meant that their identity and security was going to be lost. Everything they knew was going to be taken away. More than that, their aspirations would never be met. Their hopes as a people, as God's people, were lost as they realized that, in a sense, God had turned against them.

For us, it won't be exactly the same. But some of you have reached the point of losing your identity and security and your aspirations. For some of you the story of Louie Zamperini won't be unfamiliar to you. Again, the details of your story are different, but you know what it's like to reach the end of hope.

Some of you are there this morning. You can relate to the story of Louie Zamperini. You've already reached the end. Some of you have experienced the end of a marriage, the end of a career, the end of health, the end of hope. That's exactly the situation that Micah is describing.

What do you do when you come to the end of hope?

Hope At the End of Hope

It's in that contest that we read these famous words in verses 2-4:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,

though you are small among the clans of Judah,

out of you will come for me

one who will be ruler over Israel,

whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.
Therefore Israel will be abandoned

until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,

and the rest of his brothers return

to join the Israelites.
He will stand and shepherd his flock

in the strength of the LORD,

in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.

And they will live securely, for then his greatness

will reach to the ends of the earth.

One of the most significant words in this passage is the one at the beginning of verse 2: "But." What this means is that the hopeless situation is not the end of the story. We're about to see a reversal from a hopeless situation to hope.

And the hope is a person. Most of us are cynical about new leaders. If you've been around long enough, the new guy seems just like the old guy. We've seen changes in government enough to know that it's hard to pin our hopes on someone new.

But Micah says that this king will be like no other. Micah tells us three things about this king: where he comes from; what his heritage is; and what he's going to do.

First: where he comes from. Micah says that this king will come from Bethlehem Ephrathah, "small along the clans of Judah." Of all the clans of the tribe of Judah, the Ephrathite clan around Bethlehem would hardly supply a respectable army unit at times of tribal levy. It was one of the smallest families. Bethlehem was one of the most unlikely places. It was so small, it hardly made the maps. It's the most unlikely place. Yet it's also the place where King David was born. Micah is saying that this king comes from the most inauspicious place, and yet has the most auspicious origins. He's the king from nowhere, and yet the greatest king in Israel's history was also from the same nowhere.

But then we also learn about his heritage. We already have a hint with him being born in Bethlehem. But then you also have a puzzling phrase: "whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." What does that mean?

There are two schools of thought. One is that it's a reference to his ancient origins. It could be a reference to this coming king's connection to an ancient royal lineage that's traced all the way back to King David.

But other people see it differently. They see this as a sign that this coming ruler existed from ancient times, that he existed before he existed in a sense. He didn't just come into existence when he was born; he existed long before his life on this earth began. In other words, he is more than a mere human.

Which is it? From an ancient royal lineage, or preexistent? Yes. We're going to see in a minute that this promised king is from David's line, and yet he is more. He existed before he was born, before this world was made. He is the once and future king.

We've seen where he's from, and we've seen his heritage. Micah also tells us what he'll do. He'll rule over Israel, verse 2 says. He'll reunify the divided kingdom, verse 3 says. At that time Israel was divided into the northern and southern kingdom. Not only will he unify them, he will shepherd them, and they will live securely. And, we read in verse 4, his greatness will reach the ends of the earth. He rid Israel of its enemies, and purge Israel of its idolatry. He is a king like no other.

In other words, at the end of hope, when there is no hope, God will send an unlikely king. And not only will this king save Israel, he'll ultimately be the Savior of the entire world.

Who is this king? In Matthew 2 we read that Magi came from the east in search of a king who had been born king of the Jews. They assembled all the biblical scholars to try to figure out where such a king would be born. The biblical scholars said:

"In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:

'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for out of you will come a ruler

who will shepherd my people Israel.'"
(Matthew 2:5-6)

Do you know what Matthew is saying as he recounts the search of the Magi and the testimony of the biblical scholars? Jesus is that king.

He is from Bethlehem. God in his sovereignty used a census so that Mary and Joseph, who lived 110 kilometers away on foot, would fulfill the prophecy.

He was from David's line. Do you ever wonder what all the genealogies are about? If you read the genealogy in Matthew 1, you'll see that Matthew traces Jesus' lineage all the way back to David. Jesus is born of Bethlehem, where David was born, and he comes from the royal lineage of David.

Not only that, but he is the king who existed and ruled before he was born. His origins were of old, from ancient days. All throughout the Bible, we're told about Jesus who existed before the world began. When God identified himself to Moses, he said that his name was "I AM." In John 8:58, Jesus told religious leaders, "Before Abraham was born, I am!" In his high priestly prayer in John 17, he prayed, "And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began" (John 17:5). The Gospel of John begins:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)

And he is the King of Kings. He is seated today at the right hand of God. In Revelation 11:15 the angels proclaim:

The kingdom of the world has become

the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,

and he will reign for ever and ever.

What do we do with such a King? Years ago in England, Charles Simeon said we should do two things as we read Micah 5. First, adore him for his condescension and love. Adore him for coming to earth and humbling himself to become one of us, God in the flesh. But secondly:

Let us submit to his government-- Do we look for salvation through our adorable Emmanuel? Let us not forget that he came to be "a Prince as well as a Savior," a "Ruler" as well as an Instructor. Let us willingly receive him in this character, and cheerfully dedicate ourselves to his service. Let us be his subjects, not in name, but in truth; not by an external profession only, but an internal surrender of our souls to him: let us do this, not by constraint, but willingly; not partially, but wholly, and without reserve. This is our first duty; this is our truest happiness; this is the way in which he expects us to requite him for all his condescension and love; and it is the only way wherein we can manifest our sense of the obligations he has conferred upon us.

When there's no hope, God sends an unlikely King as Savior of the world.

Remember that Louie Zamperini was hopeless. He was suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress. He had slid into alcoholism. He had pretty much lost his family.

But one day his wife was in town. She was staying until she could arrange a divorce. They heard about this new evangelist called Billy Graham. Graham was virtually unknown in those days. Graham preached, and Louie got mad. The next day his wife tried to get him to go hear Graham again. Louie refused, but his wife wore him down. As he was bolting out of that meeting, something happened. God got ahold of him. In a circus tent in downtown Los Angeles, Louie came to know this King, and it changed him forever. The flashbacks stopped. He threw out all his liquor and girlie magazines. The next morning he woke feeling cleansed.

Resting in the shade and the stillness, Louie felt a profound peace. When he thought of his history, what resonated with him was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him. He was not the worthless, broken, forsaken man...In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away. That morning, he believed, he was a new creation.

Softly, he wept. (Unbroken)

At the end of hope, Micah tells us, God sends an unlikely King as Savior of the world, and to be your Savior too.

Why Church? (Ephesians 2:11-22)

This morning we're at the end of a long series on healthy relationships. We've covered a lot of topics over these past few months:

  • why the gospel is the key to peace
  • why unity is important
  • why it's important to get the log out of our own eyes before we focus on the speck in the eye of others
  • why confession is important
  • how to handle criticism
  • the importance of challenging and confronting others
  • what real community looks like
  • how to forgive, and more

We've covered a lot of ground. I've been pleased to see some of the changes that have taken place as we've worked on this. I know that I've had to make some course-corrections in my own life. I've heard from a lot of people - especially those who have been part of the small groups - that this focus on peacemaking has been challenging and stretching.

I was trying to figure out how to close this. I think this morning I want to end with an acknowledgement that what we're talking about is costly. When I was single, I could pretty much come and go as I pleased. Then I got married, and all of a sudden I had to communicate what I was doing. Not only that, but I discovered that my wife had ideas and plans that didn't always matched up. The truth is that it's costly to be in relationships. The deeper you get in, the more it costs, and often, the more pain you experience. So why are relationships so important?

In particular, why should we sign up for costly relationships in church? If we are to live out the peacemaking principles around here, it's going to cost us big time. It's a lot easier to show up and check out without really getting connected. Actually, it's a lot easier to drop out altogether. A recent issue of Christianity Today had an article called "The Leavers: Young Doubters Exit the Church." It says, "Among young adults in the U.S., sociologists are seeing a major shift taking place away from Christianity..." I'm sure there are many reasons why. I'm sure that many people here have wrestled through this issue, especially when the relational cost gets high. I have some friends who are very serious about Jesus but who have given up on the church.

This morning I want to invite you to look at a challenging passage of Scripture. And this morning I want to ask you to commit to entering deeper into relationship within this church for two reasons. The first reason is this:

1. The church demonstrates the reconciling work of God

Throughout almost all of human history there have been divisions between people. When I was in high school we had the jocks and the preps, the geeks and the nerds. Today we have the Wal-Mart crowd and the Holt-Renfrew crowds. We divide by location, race, education, social status, and politics. In Toronto right now people are worried about the growing divide between downtown and the inner suburbs, between the have-communities and the have-not communities. We divide in endless ways.

When Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians, one of the greatest divisions was between Jews and Gentiles. None of today's distinctions are more exclusive or unrelenting than the separation between Jews and Gentiles that existed in that time.

The Jews believed the Gentiles were created to fuel the fires of Hell. It wasn't lawful to aid a Gentile woman in giving birth, for that would bring another heathen into the world. Jews regarded Gentiles as sick and perverted pagans who engaged in idol worship and gross sexual immorality, and who had no regard for the true God.

The Gentiles weren't so crazy about the Jewish people either. They conquered the Jewish nation, so it was easy to feel culturally and politically superior. The Roman Livy confirmed this in his day, saying, "The Greeks wage a truceless war against people of other races, against barbarians."

There were all kinds of divisions: political, cultural, food, religious, and more. And these divisions were not just theoretical. They caused huge problems in the church as Gentiles became Christians and came to embrace the same faith as the Jewish believers who had also become Christians as well.

It's in this context that Paul writes to the Ephesians. He's just described how God has taken people who were dead in trespasses and sins, and made them alive together with Christ by grace through faith. So far, so good. We usually focus on how faith in Christ changes our vertical relationship with God. But then Paul begins to describe the horizontal implications of faith in Christ. Writing specifically to Gentiles, he says:

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (which is done in the body by human hands)-- remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-18)

Do you see what Paul is saying here? He's saying a couple of things.

First: Becoming a Christian doesn't just change our relationship with God. It also brings us into relationship with others. You don't become a Christian simply to get right with God; you also become a Christian to join a community. You become part of the new humanity that God is creating.

Second: When you become a Christian, you become part of that new humanity, and your identity as part of that new humanity supersedes any other identity that you may have had before. That's why Jews and Gentiles could become overcome all the barriers that divided them, because what they had in common in Christ was far more important than their nationality or anything else. In Christ, he has brought us together and made us one.

I love what D.A. Carson says: "Christians are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus' sake." That's exactly right.

And this is the first reason why the effort required to be part of a church is worth it. It's because the church is a demonstration of the reconciling work of God. It is the horizontal evidence of the work of God. You can't be made right with God vertically without it also affecting you horizontally.

Remember that I said that this passage is challenging? This passage challenges us to remember why this is important. God has made us part of a new community. I love hearing how couples met; the bigger the story, the more I enjoy it. There's no greater story for how we came together to be the church. We are part of the biggest story that's ever happened. God has brought us together. When we come to Christ, he doesn't just make us right with God. He also makes us part of a new humanity. You could say he makes us part of a new race.

This changes the equation. If this is optional, then I can opt out when it gets inconvenient or when I just feel like it. But this isn't optional. This is a demonstration of the reconciling work of God. That's why these relationships are important.

But that's not all.

2. The church is actually the dwelling place of God

Paul uses three images of the church in verses 19-22:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Each of these images is packed full of meaning.

First he uses the image of citizenry. I had no idea how much I should value my citizenship until I saw others trying to become Canadian citizens. Having been born a citizen, I took it for granted. I don't anymore. And that's nothing compared to the way that the Ephesians would have seen citizenship. Citizenship was a huge source of human pride. Your city provided your identity. If you traveled and met someone else from your area, there would be instant connection.

Paul here says that we're fellow citizens with God's people. We possess a citizenship far superior to any local citizenship and even the coveted Roman citizenship. We're part of a supreme cosmopolitan community, a third city.

But it gets even more intimate. We're not just fellow citizens; we're actually family. We're "...also members of his household" (Ephesians 3:19). This is an even deeper level of intimacy. Tony Evans says:

You've been called into something staggering. If Bill Gates were to adopt a child, that would be staggering. If the president of the United States were to adopt a child, the implications of that are staggering.

Because we've been adopted into the family of God, the implications are beyond comprehension.

We're fellow citizens; we're family. But it gets even more mind-blowing than this. We're also God's temple:

...built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22)

For a thousand years, the temple in Jerusalem had been the focus of God's presence in the world. But now, Paul says, God is doing a new thing. He's building a new temple, this time located among people - more particularly, in his church. This building isn't God's house; together you and I are parts of God's house, his holy temple. It's a temple with three parts:

  • the foundation of the apostles and prophets - those who brought the Word of God to us
  • the chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ - He's at the center; everything else fits around him
  • building blocks - us! Gentiles used to be excluded from the temple; now we're part of what God is building

This means that God actually inhabits his church. This is the focus of God's presence in this world. If you wanted to go where God's presence dwelt, you used to have to go to the temple. Now, if you want to go to where God's presence dwells, you have to go among his people, his church. We are where God dwells.

You see how this gets more and more intimate. Fellow citizens is sort of close; family is a lot closer; blocks in the temple are connected millimeters apart. You're supported by others, and you also support others. You are part of something much bigger than yourself.

If you want to ask the question, "Why church" you have to come to grips with the fact that God has chosen to create a new people, a new humanity, out of those who were once enemies. He's chosen to dwell among his people.

Living in community in the church is a hassle. It's inconvenient. But I hope you'll see why it's worth it. I hope you'll also see that this is much more intense than you may have imagined. It's about more than attending services. It's becoming radically reoriented in your relationships; deeply committed to what God is doing in his church.

That sounds like a tall order. More than we might think we could possibly accomplish...a people at peace, a people reconciled to one another, a people who are a holy temple, a people who are a dwelling place for God? But Paul has a word for us there, too. Later in Ephesians, after his powerful portrait of the church and all that God calls it to be, he prays for the church, and then in 3:20-21 in the benediction to his prayer he says:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us...

It is a tall order. We can't do it, but He can. He can do immeasurably more abundantly than all that we ask or think - according to His power at work in us. "...to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."