Monday, July 28, 2008

Holidays




Greetings. I am on Holidays for a couple weeks, but I just wanted to say, "Thanks!" for stopping by. I will be backposting the sermons from last year as time permits. I started the series "Jesus Words" in 2007, so you will get the whole story...




I tend to post replies on other blogs, rather than doing a lot of rambling on this one. Here is one such post:




One guy’s blog:



A guy walks along a dirt road and happens to fall into a deep hole.
A Catholic happens to be walking by and says, “You’ve fallen into a hole. That’s a shame. You must have done something wrong and God is punishing you.” So he leaves.
A Protestant happens to be walking by and sees the guy in the hole. “Providence put you there so you must be needing to learn something from this.” So he leaves.
An evangelical happens to be walking by and asks, “Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?”
“Yes,” the man responds.
“Great,” the evangelical responds and leaves.
An atheist walks by and sees the guy in the hole. He reaches down and pulls the guy out.
I want to be like the one who pulls the guy out of the hole.




I get the parable of the Good Samaritan, but I get tired of blogs that constantly talk about what the church is doing wrong, how the church has failed a person, how "we've" gotten off the path. That seems to be a shame based approach to me. I look for blogs that talk about what is going right, or alternatives to the traditional church that is working well, the strengths upon which we can build. And just because something is working for someone somewhere, that still doesn't mean it will work for me, whether it is Willow Creek Seeker stuff of yesteryear, or Emergent relational stuff from today. God has called me to a place and time, and that is the context within I work.




So, I added my story:



A guy walks along a dirt road and happens to fall into a deep hole.
A Catholic happens to be walking by and says, “You’ve fallen into a hole. That’s a shame. You must have done something wrong and God is punishing you.” So he pulls the guy out of the hole.
Another guy walks along a dirt road and happens to fall into a deep hole.
An emerging church guy jumps in the hole (with several of his buddies) and says, “Let’s just talk about this and when you’re ready we’ll make a human pyramid and help each other get out.
An evangelical happens to be walking by and asks the guys as he weaves some bark into a rope, “Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?”
“Yes,” they all respond.
“Great,” the evangelical responds and helps them all get out, after some discussion about traditional churches, house churches, and love. He stays as the others leave and thinks he should put up some warning signs. As he is trying to prop one up in front some rowdy teens come by after late night drinking at a prom party and push him in, laughing as they take off.
A spaced out celebrity overdue for rehab and also an atheist walks by and sees the guy in the hole. He says, “Bummer of an evolutionary branch, dude!” He then gets distracted by a pretty bird and wanders off.
Then there’s this guy that is not much different than everyone else. He happens to be an engineer, a follower of Jesus, just trying the best he can in life. He looks in the whole and asks, “Do You want to get out?” After an affirmative reply he asks, “Hey, can you swim?” After getting another affirmative reply he makes a trench from a nearby river that fills the hole with water, allowing the man to float to the top and get out. They go off together and get a coffee and decide to subscribe to each others’ blog.
Then a lady walks along who can’t swim….
I’m just glad I can walk down the road!

The picture at the top is from my twin brother Dan, who is with Wycliffe Translators in Cameroon. They get some big holes...

Hope you are having a wonderful summer.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sermon On The Mount - Good mourning

Matthew 5:4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. "

A man, a father whose son had left home and been gone a long time would often pass by the front of the ranch to purposely look down the road for travelers. There was always the hope that he might see his son returning. He was experiencing a sense of loss. He grieved and mourned in his heart the separation from him of his flesh and blood. And then the day came. He looked again down the dusty road with tired eyes and beheld one who travelled alone. He watched for a minute searching for the familiar gate… and then he saw it. He called to servants and then went rushing out to meet his long lost son, who once was lost but now was found. And he thought of amazing grace.


The Words:


Mourn – death or loss of a loved one or thing. This is a word about separation, and the response we have to that loss. As we read some of the Psalms hear the lament of the author, mourning about loss. We all have experienced loss of things, of people. For some, life seems to be made up mostly of goodbyes, of leavings. But there is another word…
Comforted – A calling to one’s side. This word is about a coming together, about relationship. Ever been stranded by the side of the road when a stranger stopped, maybe a trucker, and helped change your tire, or fixed a clamp on a hose? That person came along side you and helped, even comforted! Remember in John 14:6 where Jesus said He would give us a Comforter, the Holy Spirit who would be with us forever. Here we are living our life, trying to be all we can be. We are trying to do the right things, and it is hard. We are trying to not do the wrong things, and that is also hard. And as we walk along the road of life, the Holy Spirit comes along side and comforts, and helps.


The paradox:


Those who have lost and mourn for their suffering, will find things they never realized they were missing. They will discover new worlds they never knew existed. Sometimes when you lose something you think nothing can replace that item or that your feelings of loss are now with you forever. But experience and the promises of God speak otherwise. Often with the loss of a loved one, for example, we are able to understand that our reality is changed. It is not about glossing over or getting over the loss. It is about accept what has happened, and moving on into a different reality. This is where grace comes in to our lives. Remember the story of Job? He lost his family, his property, and his health. In the end he got it all back 2-fold. Did it cover his loss? No, but through the loss he came to know God as he never knew Him before. Job discovered a God he did not recognize before his loss. The God Job found was a God of details, a God much bigger and more intimate than Job could ever had imagined.

Application:


Allow your heart to be broken by the things that break God’s heart. It’s not just sin that breaks God’s heart; it is the loss of relationship that occurs as a result of the sin. When we sin, and live with unconfessed sin, it puts a wall up between us and God. Why? Because God is holy. He has called us to be a holy people, a people that reflect His character. It was the mourning over sin that first brought us to Jesus, the recognition that we can’t deal with the sin problem ourselves. Don’t ever lose that sense that you can’t do it. It is only in Jesus that you can.
Allow your pride to be broken. Remember the first Beatitude? Poor in Spirit. It is about letting God be the Lord of your life, about letting God sit on the throne of your life. There are 3 areas of your life that you need to give control of to God. Your thoughts, your words, and your actions. Your actions and words reveal your thoughts, what is in your heart. You can say all the right words, but if your life isn’t characterised by love, you’ve missed the whole point of following Jesus. Remember that story in Matthew 9 of Jairus’ daughter who died? As Jesus drew near the professional mourners were there wailing and making noise. When Jesus said they were premature, that the girl wasn’t dead they laughed openly. Their mourning was just a show, just something put on or show.
Lastly, allow your future to be broken. You have all these plans. A year or two and this will happen and you will be at such and such a place. Even this afternoon, you will do this or be there. Make your plans, but give them to God. Allow Him control and you will see life is about more than stuff and things. God will put people in your path that need to hear your word of encouragement, that need to hear the Good News of the Gospel. Allow God to be in your details, allow Him to step in and revise your appointment book, because He has divine appointments for you.


Do you have a sense at what is happening hear? We all have losses of one kind or another. It may be stuff, it may be a relationship or two, or it may be health. Mourn over these as you need to, but go beyond them. Go beyond the things of this earth, and mourn about the things of heaven, and you will be comforted. God has promised that He will come alongside, and you will be comforted.



“28 Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

Matthew 11:28-30

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sermon On The Mount - Poor in spirit


Matthew 5:3

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”


Isaiah 57:15

“For thus says the high and exalted One

Who lives forever, whose name is Holy,

"I dwell on a high and holy place,

And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit

In order to revive the spirit of the lowly

And to revive the heart of the contrite.”


Isaiah 66:2

“For My hand made all these things,

Thus all these things came into being," declares the LORD

"But to this one I will look,

To him who is humble and contrite of spirit,

and who trembles at My word.”

When you look through the want ads, you read descriptions of jobs available, as well as descriptions of people wanted. When an employer is looking for people, they rarely are just looking for any warm body, though in desperate times that may seem the case. When I worked as a supervisor at a grocery store we often had jobs to fill in our department. There were times we were desperate and we hired just to fill the spot. Inevitably we regretted doing that. Why? Because we needed more than just any person, we needed a person with a good work ethic. We needed someone who was dependable and would shop up for scheduled shifts. We were looking for certain character traits, and as we look at the Beatitudes we find the focus on attitudes and spiritual traits.
Some people have said the Beatitudes show a progression of faith, of spiritual maturity. There may be some truth to that, but I would like to focus on each one as it stands alone.


The Words:


Blessed – the root word in the Greek refers to something being expansive. It seems the best translation may even be “happy” because it is connected to purpose of life, to what we are all about. Jesus is basically giving us a recipe for happiness! Notice also that there is an understood sense of plurality. Jesus is talking to us as a community, as a group of people. In that sense Jesus is saying these should be the characteristics of the church! So, as we read these verses over the next couple of months, understand that there is a call both to you as an individual before God, as well as us as a group, as the church. The church is not this building, but the people who are part of this gathering, whether they are here every Sunday or not.


Poor – This word means what you think it does. It is someone who has nothing, someone destitute, in need. Someone in need of help. Someone in need of another to come alongside and assist. Some people are poor and don’t know it. They go through life doing everything on their own, living life with rarely a thought for another. They may not even know that they don’t know what they are missing. It is not about stuff. It is about relationships, about people. I believe we were created to function in community, playing a role of some kind. I believe each of us is special, and can offer something unique. What that means is we are missing gifts, right now, that belong to people who are not here. They don’t even know that God has created them let alone that God has gifted them to be a part of this community. We are poorer ourselves without their involvement. And they don’t realize what they are missing – not because we are anything special, but because God has made us special.
It is also about the individual. You cannot meet God unless you are poor in spirit. The only way to understand Jesus is to understand you blew it. What are you going to do with your sin – those things you did that somehow you knew and know are wrong. It’s like the spots of blood in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is sleepwalking and trying to wash her hands clean of the blood of the murdered King Duncan in Act 5 Scene 1. She echoes what Macbeth himself said in Act 2, Scene 2: "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?" "No, this my hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incarnadine, / Making the green one red". Without Jesus, what does one do about sin?


Spirit – This is the same word for wind, as well as in the term “Holy Spirit”. We understand that this trait then, is not about being short of money, or stuff, but something related to the breathing part of us, the intangible. What makes you and I unique? What makes up your personality? One writer in describing it to a child called it the “breathing” part in you. There’s the physical body, but then there’s the part that causes the breath, the life force.


Kingdom – The British Commonwealth has a queen. At one time they said the sun never set on the British Empire because they controlled so many colonies around the world. The law was made in Britain, and it applied in all the commonwealth states. Rome, in the time of Jesus, had the same setup. They controlled most of the “known” world, their kingdom. Simply put, the kingdom refers to sovereignty, royal power, and dominion.


Heaven – As I went to look up the words my first thought was that this verse talked about the kingdom of God. It doesn’t; it refers to the kingdom of heaven! As I thought about it, I understand that heaven is a choice opposite earth. Jesus did not say the kingdom of earth. He intimates quite strongly again that the things He refers to as success and things to pursue, and how to evaluate is all done on the spiritual level. Read Ephesians 1 if you want to go further with this.


Take It Home:


Recognize your guilt as a sinner, and that you are dependent upon God. Happy is the poor in spirit. You want to be happy? The first step is to give up. You can’t do it. You can pursue money, sex, and power, and be successful in those pursuits, but they will not get you lasting happiness. John tells us that those are things of this world. They are not related to the spiritual in a positive way.
1 John 2:15-17, 25 “15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 25 This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.”
God is not commanding us all to sell everything we have and give it to the poor – He’s definitely not saying sell everything and give it to the church (anyone who claims that is not of God). God may ask an individual here or there to follow that path, but that is a personal path between you and God. What God is saying is be poor in spirit – recognize that all your attempts to please Him on your own are filthy rags. Don’t try to go to God thinking you are doing Him a favour. For those who were here Thursday at the Puppet Quest, do you remember the story about the phone call? God calls up the lady and says, “I am coming to visit soon!” She gets busy cleaning and baking and getting ready. Some needy guy comes asking for water and food and a shirt, but she was too busy to help. It turns out that guy was God, and she turned Him away because she was trying to please Him on her terms, not God’s.
Look to the south of us for another example. Let your life and will be foreclosed on – give up your mortgage and deed to your life – let go of what your holding onto, because God has something better in store.


The paradox – Giving up your life leads to entry into the greatest kingdom! Want happiness and control of your life? Give it up. Do you understand that pursuing all this stuff of earth is a dead end? Do you understand that all this stuff of earth is empty? The things we are promised never hold out. Even the rich die. Jesus talked about the man who has so much stuff, that he decides to build another warehouse to hold it. He doesn’t know that his appointed time is upon him and he will not see tomorrow. He spent all his life getting stuff, but he will stand before God empty handed.


The promise is that you will be successful in all things spiritual – this includes eternal life. When you are part of the kingdom of heaven, you are finally aware of and understand that we are in a spiritual war. We are not in a war against the kids who put graffiti on our fence. We are not at war with our cranky neighbours, or the family member who ridicules us for our faith. Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”


Look at these verses from Matthew 6 that talk about giving up striving for stuff, and instead strive to know God:


20 "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,

where neither moth nor rust destroys,

and where thieves do not break in or steal;

21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”


25 " For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life,

as to what you will eat or what you will drink;

nor for your body, as to what you will put on.

Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

26 "Look at the birds of the air,

that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns,

and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

Are you not worth much more than they?

27 "And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?

28 "And why are you worried about clothing?

Observe how the lilies of the field grow;

they do not toil nor do they spin,

29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory

clothed himself like one of these.

30 "But if God so clothes the grass of the field,

which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace,

will He not much more clothe you?

You of little faith! 31 "Do not worry then, saying,

'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or

'What will we wear for clothing?'

32 "For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things;

for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,

and all these things will be added to you.”

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sermon On The Mount - Introduction


Let me encourage you to read this passage through several times this summer. Take time to just read it without stopping to analyze. Read it through and listen for common phrases and try to get a broader sense of the themes Jesus is talking about. Do take time to also look at specific verses or words as well.
This sermon starts off with the beatitudes. I remember memorizing these as a kid in Sunday School. They set the standard for following Jesus. They have a sense of “this is what is important!” It is almost as if you have an index in the beatitudes, and then Jesus begins to walk through the rest of the sermon expounding what they mean and refer to. I want to give you some foundational thoughts to consider as we go through the beatitudes and this sermon of Jesus. Look for these themes that we find in Matthew 5:13-20 which follows immediately after the beatitudes.

Theme 1: What is important? Why are the beatitudes key? Matthew 5:13-16
We have two pictures in these verses. The first is salt, the second is light. The beatitudes are key because they describe a life that reflects the character of God. They describe a life that allows people to see the truth of who God is. That is the real question, isn’t it? A Buddhist comes up to you and asks how you know God is the “Christian” God and not the one who revealed himself through Buddha? Or Allah, the god of Islam, or on of the thousands of gods of Hindu. Who is God the Creator of the ends of the earth? The beatitudes tell us, and over the next several weeks we will be looking at each trait listed. And as we study them, as we live them out through the power of God – God will reveal Himself through you to those around you.
Salt is a preserver and a symbol of friendship to which the Arabs still regard it today. If we, the church, the followers of Jesus lose our saltiness, our holiness, what good are we? Are we no different than the one who does not follow Jesus? – That is an impossibility!
Light is meant to be seen. The light of Jesus is to be seen in us. It is to be seen so people will come to see Jesus for who He is. Does the church just keep the light here in a building like this? Is not that similar to hiding it under a bushel? It is to be out there, in the world, where all may see it. The beatitudes are important because they reveal the standard to which we strive.

Theme 2: The Law is fulfilled in the Beatitudes! Matthew 5:17-19
The firefighter runs into a burning building. He grabs the fallen boy, throws him over his shoulder, and carries him out. There is only one way to be saved from that fire, you have to get out of the building. The boy couldn’t save himself because of the smoke and fear, but the firefighter did for the boy what the boy could not do, and saved him. Jesus is saying the Law is valid until the end of time. You have to keep the Law if you want to see God… but read the fine print. Often the fine print puts the limits and boundaries and boxes around all the good stuff, the contract. The fine print here is that Jesus fulfilled the Law, and if we give our lives to Him, we fulfill the Law through Him.

Theme 3: The Beatitudes lead to a righteousness beyond the Law! Matthew 5:20
The Scribes and Pharisees had the job of knowing the Law inside and out. They were like lawyers, though here they were expected to follow the law as completely as they could. Up to this point no one was able to fulfill the law. Romans 3:23 says that everyone was found wanting, for if you blew it even just once, you were guilty of the whole thing. But look at the following phrases:
“You have heard it was said…” vs. 21, 27, 31, 33, 38, and 43
“But I say to you…” vs. 22, 28, 32, 34, 39, and 44
Jesus spells out not just the letter of the Law, but the spirit as well. Jesus is telling us it isn’t just about doing the right thing, it is about being the right person. Following Jesus is about love and mercy and grace. It is like those 3-d images that on the surface is just a bunch of shapes and colours. As you stare at it and go slightly cross-eyed, though a 3-d picture pops out of the background. You have to look through the Law to see the truth of it.

So the challenge is this: What are you doing with and for Jesus Christ today? This sermon of Jesus closes with a parable of two foundations. One man built on a rock, the other on the sand. The only difference is not that one prayed a prayer of confession to God. The difference was not some deep thinking and pious thoughts. It was not based on church attendance, or the condition of the building they met in. It was that one of them acted on Jesus’ words, and the other did nothing. Following Jesus is about walking step in step with His Spirit.