Sunday, February 01, 2015

Asleep In The Light: Living Between The Now And The Not Yet

Romans 13 
11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe your selves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

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Every morning when I get up, I look at the iPhone and wonder: “What time is it?” and I know the drill, the routine: 7 a.m. Wake up, 7.15 Clean up (take a bath), 7.30 Dress up and get ready for work.

One of the features of modern life is that we are slaves of time. We wear watches, set alarms on our phones, schedule meeting through Microsoft Outlook calendars. We keep careful track of the passing time. It tells us when we need to do something and how to prioritize our activities. But it is far more important to know God’s timing, the kairos moment, the moment of opportunity or moment of decision presented to us today.

Let’s see what we have covered so far in Romans. The apostle Paul shows us how the gospel changes our relationships for the last two chapters: You should owe no one anything but the debt of love. Chapter 12:9, Let love be genuine. Love one another with brotherly affection. Verse 14, Bless those who persecute you. Repay no one evil for evil. Verse 20, If your enemy is hungry, feed him. Chapter 13 Give to the government what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Owe no one anything, except to love each other.” And now today in verse 11, he says, And this—do all this, love like this—because you know the time.  

Because you understand the present time in which you are living in.

Friends, do you know what time is it?

The Bible divides human history into ‘this age’ (represented by darkness, violence, sin, pain and death) and ‘the age to come’ (represented by light, righteousness, peace, love and life). But there’s more that: The age to come or the kingdom of God has already broken into our world through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of King Jesus. The Holy Spirit is poured out on God’s people from every nation and tribe called out by the proclamation of His good news. So at present these two ages overlap.

Even as we celebrated Christmas last December, our joy is not complete because we remember that our world is still broken by terrorism, natural disasters and poverty. We are looking forward with hope for the return of our King Jesus, when the old age will finally disappear, and the new age of God’s reign will be fully realized. That’s why there is always a tension living in this interim period between night and breaking dawn, in the already and not yet kingdom of God.

The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. That’s the time in which we live.

And Paul says: It is now time to get up, sleepy heads.
Why? Because Verse 11: our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Wait a minute. I thought we are already saved when we first believed the gospel. Why did he say our salvation is nearer now than before? That seems to imply that we are not yet saved.

Actually, ‘salvation’ is a broad, comprehensive word that covers God’s act of rescuing us in the past, present and future. Salvation means that we have been rescued from the guilt of sin (justification) and we are being rescued from the power of sin (sanctification) and we will be rescued from the presence of sin in our future (glorification). What this means is that our future and final salvation when Christ will return to resurrect our bodies and bring us home is much nearer now. Every passing day brings it closer and closer.

In some Christian circles, a lot of energy and attention is spent on figuring out when Jesus will come back. They may not be able to tell you the exact hour and day. But based on charts of earth quake frequency, natural disasters, eroding moral values in society, the rise of microchips/nanotechnology and escalating violence in the Middle East, we are told: “See all these signs? Jesus will come back very soon (give or take 10 – 50 years). We are living in the last days.”

We are living in the last days, alright. But so did the early Christians. When God’s kingdom came, the new age had already come. This whole period since Jesus’ death, resurrection, exaltation and gift of the Spirit until the present time is called “the last days”, God had nothing else on his calendar before Christ’s return. It would be the next big thing in redemptive history. And it is in this sense that Christ is coming ‘soon’. So be watchful and alert, because we do not know the time.

How then shall we live? It is not enough to understand the time; we have to live and act accordingly. Three things: Wake up, clean up and dress up.

Verse 11: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber.

There is a provocative, no-nonsense song sung by Keith Green a Jewish Christian called “Asleep in the Light”. The lyrics are especially relevant for us who live in an urban culture of affluence and comfort where it is so easy to just sit back and be spiritually passive towards people in need.

Apathy is our constant danger. Here the song goes like this:

Do you see? Do you see?
All the people sinking down?
Don't you care? Don't you care?
Are you gonna let them drown?
How can you be so numb?!
Not to care if they come
You close your eyes,
And pretend the job is done

"Oh, bless me, lord!
Bless me, lord!"
You know, it's all I ever hear!
No one aches,
No one hurts,
No one even sheds one tear,
But, he cries,
He weeps,
He bleeds,
And he cares for your needs
But you just lay back,
And keep soaking it in

Oh, can't you see such sin?
The world is sleeping in the dark, 
That the church just can't fight,
'cause it's asleep in the light!
How can you be so dead?!
When you've been so well fed
Oh, Jesus rose from the dead!
Come on, get out of your bed!

Come away! come away!
Come away with me, my love!
Come away from this mess,
Come away with me, my love!

Don’t sleep walk in the dream world of more comfort, more entertainment, more fluff and more glitz of this age. Don’t spend your life busy chasing shadows. There are exciting, new purposeful activities that await us with a brand new day. Jesus is calling us to live in a way that points forward to the age to come.

  
2: Clean up. You know the day is almost here… verse 12: “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness”. Turn away from the kind of things people do under cover of darkness.

And what are these deeds of darkness? Let’s be specific here. Let’s not hide behind abstractions and generalities.

Verse 13: Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. He’s not talking about people outside the church. Paul is talking about ‘us’. Contrary to decent Christian behavior is lack of self-control in the areas of drink, sex and social relationships.

In the Bible, wine is often associated with abundance, celebration and joy. When Jesus joined a wedding party, he turned water into wine. Drinking in itself is not the problem. But excessive drinking leads to drunkenness and addiction and substance abuse. You are no longer in control. You are now a slave to alcohol. Money that should be used to support a family or children education gets wasted to buy beer. Husbands get drunk, go home and physically abuse their wives. So wives get up and leave for their own safety. And a family is broken and children suffer.

If that’s you this morning, God is calling you to put aside this sin and come back to Him.  

And Christians don’t think of sex as something dirty and shameful. No, sex is God’s idea! He made us male and female, and gave us the good gift of sexuality. It’s a sacred gift to be shared within a marriage covenant, a relationship of exclusive commitment and faithful trust.

That’s why we don’t treat it casually. Not because we see it as dirty, but because it is so precious and sacred.

Right now as we speak, sexual immorality is an epidemic sweeping across and destroying God’s people. It has come to the stage that even in some churches, it’s an open secret that young people (even leaders) are sleeping around with their girl friends and no one says a word. People just politely close one eye and pretend it’s alright. Is it any surprise that in one church, out of a group of 30 youths, only about 2 of them remain as Christians a couple of years after graduation?

That tragedy can happen anywhere if we do not have a culture of repentance, a culture of confessing our sins to each other, speaking the truth in love, a culture of accountability and church discipline. 

Guys, porn is not harmless fun. It is a deadly addiction that changes the way you look at women – it dehumanizes women and makes them into an object to be used and exploited. It changes you – it harms you, it robs you of joy, fills you with guilt and leaves you jaded and lifeless when it comes to pursuing God and his kingdom. But you are not alone.

Check out this xxxchurch.com video 

Sin thrives in secrecy, and it spreads in silence. But it dries up and dies when exposed to light.

If that’s you this morning, don’t be naïve to think that you can overcome it on your own. You need help and you are not alone. You may need to get an accountability software like XXXChurch or Covenant Eyes to filter content and protect your children, and get a brother, small group or your wife to be an accountability partner to walk alongside you to recovery and freedom.

And let us also put aside infighting, dissension, division and jealousy. How can we apply this?

I am struck by two things as I look at the members list of CDPC Puchong – for its diversity (ethnically, culturally) and for the fact many of them are what I’d call “solid Christians”. They are not the ones who say “Aiya, never mind… whatever you say, pastor! Cincai lah”! They are mature and discerning in their faith, serious about God’s word and actively serving others.

You can see that in our worship style, one week it would be Bahasa songs, another week it’s liturgical, and the next week it’s vibrant contemporary, and the next week, you have lots of Getty’s songs. And the range of in-house preachers – some are manuscript preachers, others are strong in exegesis, and yet others are into experiential learning and practical application. Naturally, some styles work for you and others don’t. Even if you don’t like my style, the good news is you only need to endure it once in 2 months!  And I’m very thankful to God for that mix.

It is a real blessing but it can also be a stumbling block if we are not careful. Because when you have gifted and diverse people with different agendas, personalities, hot buttons and interests that are not aligned, that can be an explosive formula in the test tube if we do not keep the main thing as the main thing… if we major in the minor things and minor in the major things… if we lose sight of Christ’s call to make disciples of all nations for the sake of fighting over grey areas, disputable matters. 

In fact, that’s exactly what Paul is going to talk about in the next chapter. How will God’s people love each other when they disagree on disputable matters? Phil will preach on that next week.    

In the crucial, essential things, unity. In the non-essential things, diversity. In all things, charity.

Because the night is almost over, the day is near. If we are not proactively killing sin, sin will be killing us. We need to clean up our act.

Not so that we can earn God’s favor to be loved by Him, and adopted as children of light. Live like this, do all this because you are already loved by Christ, and adopted into God’s family. Be holy like this, because you already belong to the light. He already loves you and died for you to forgive you, pour His Spirit in you and transform you. Now, live in light of that reality.

1 Thessalonians 5: “But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

3rd point: Because of the hour, we must not only get up and clean up, we must dress up as well. Look at verse 12: We must take off our night clothes, the deeds of darkness, and put on instead, the armor of light.

Church, when we come together as a community and a family centered on Jesus, when we covenant to help each other follow Jesus, we are not signing up for a Star Cruise package in Port Klang. I haven’t been on a cruise but it sure sounds like a lot of programs and fun activities, lots of good food and entertainment. And sometimes church can feel like that, doesn’t it?

But the Christian life is not a cruise ship, it is a battle ship. When we follow Jesus, we have signed up for spiritual warfare. If you don’t get that expectation right from the start, you’d be surprised and disappointed when you get on the boat and think: “Why am I sleeping in the bunker instead of a luxury suite? Hello Captain, how come the rations you provide do not include wagyu steak and abalone soup?” What’s more… you’d get very angry when you look outside for some nice fireworks, all you find are bombs exploding, bullets flying by and everyone busy fighting. “What’s going on here? I want to complain to customer service!”

When we follow Jesus, we signed up for spiritual battle against systemic evil in the world, against personal sin in our own heart and against demonic powers in the spiritual realms. As soldiers of the kingdom, put on the armor of light. The faster we realize this, the better because we need a war time mentality… It doesn’t mean you go looking for ways to get killed. But you won’t shy away from situations where you might get shot either. Gospel ministry is not a walk in the park, it is hard work. Even dangerous work… Our Commander has given a task and we obey it even if it’s inconvenient.

When we pray, do not we often say “God, please help this or that to go smoothly!” Instead of smoothness, perhaps we need to pray more for boldness: “Lord, I know that as I make disciples and fight sin in my life and my family, it’s not gonna be smooth sailing but please give me boldness and courage to press on when things get rough and when the gospel is not well received.”

Pray like this, because we can do it only by the sheer grace and protection of Jesus himself.

Look at verse 14: “clothe your selves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” Put Christ himself on as your armor, lay hold of him, cling to him like the shirt or dress that you wear.  How do you clothe yourselves with Christ? You put your faith and trust in Him, love Him and hope in Him. Faith, love and hope… You get connected to Him. Immerse yourself in Him. Cling on to Him.  

When we stumble and fall, when we succumb to sin, THAT sin again, there is a small window of opportunity for us to respond. Response One: Do we run away and hide? Like children who have angered their parents, we stay away from God for some time. We avoid Him for a few days and wait for His anger to simmer down a bit. Response Two: Or do we try to buy Him off? We bargain with Him: “Oh please forgive me God. I promise, I promise I’d do quiet time five times a day for the whole of next week.”.  

No matter what your theology is, both responses show that you don’t really experience the gospel. When you fall down, don’t avoid Him, run to His embrace. Cry out to Him to pick you up and heal you. Don’t run away, run to Him. Christ loves you and gives Himself up for you so that you can be forgiven. Have you ever talked honestly to God about your sin?

“Lord, I’m sorry my temper has exploded again just now! This hectic schedule in office and house moving is really getting on my nerves. Help me by your Spirit to be self controlled, help me to rest in you in the middle of this crazy week. Help me detect early signs of this volcano eruption. I don’t want to blow up in front of the kids.”

And don’t try to bribe God or buy him off. That’s so insulting because nothing we can offer is more valuable, more precious than Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. And it has already been paid. He loves and died for us even while we were enemies. How much more will He embrace you and save you now that you are His child!

This is not easy message today. If you are heavily convicted this morning, if you are so sick of yourself for failing again and again; and you are just waiting, waiting for the day when God will get so fed up, when He will just give up on you, well, then the good news is that day will never come.

Nothing you can do can make Him love you any less. Nothing you can do will make Him love you more. Come and find grace again and again at the cross of Christ. For nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, — absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus has embraced us.

Run to Him this morning.

In the movie Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, there is a great battle called the siege of Helm’s Deep. It was a dark and rainy night. The good guys were surrounded inside a fortress, fighting off wave after wave of horrible Orcs. They suffered heavy casualties and the enemies were about to break through the last line of defense. All seemed lost but instead of going gently into the night, Aragorn and his riders geared up for one final blaze of glory. And just then, just as they charged out against impossible odds, a new dawn has broken. Gandalf and the calvary arrived with the glorious sun behind their back, blinding the enemies and sweeping the forces of darkness away.


Today it seems like we are losing the war on sin, we feel drowsy and our strength almost spent… But the night is nearly gone, and the day is almost here. Don’t go gently into the night. Don’t waste your life sleep walking. Put on the armor of light. Clothe yourself with the beauty and righteousness of Christ. What will motivate you to press on and obey? It comes from knowing and experiencing the grace of Christ day in day out. It comes from being fascinated by and captured by a living relationship with Christ.

When that happens, you will attempt great things for God and expect great things from God. When that happens, you will help others see and savor Christ. It’s not going to be smooth and easy, but a new dawn will soon break forth and it will all be worth it. For we shall then meet Christ face to face.

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PS: Let me close with an old Irish prayer called Saint Patrick’s Breastplate: it is a prayer for spiritual warfare, a prayer for protection, to put on the armor that is Christ…  

Christ be with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ within me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation. 

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