Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday - When the rubber hits the road

Mark 11:1-11 “As they approached Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples, and said to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' you say, 'The Lord has need of it'; and immediately he will send it back here."
They went away and found a colt tied at the door, outside in the street; and they untied it. Some of the bystanders were saying to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?"
They spoke to them just as Jesus had told them, and they gave them permission. They brought the colt to Jesus and put their coats on it; and He sat on it. And many spread their coats in the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields.
Those who went in front and those who followed were shouting, "Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!"
Jesus entered Jerusalem and came into the temple; and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late.”

Word of mouth is what it takes to sell something these days, it seems. 2,000 years ago that was the only way not just to sell, but to get news. For 3 years Jesus had been walking around teaching and healing and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. He challenged the Pharisees at every turn. Each year He had come up to Jerusalem for the Passover and this year would be no different - or so the word on the street was. During those 3 years his popularity and following grew. Jesus was coming! Would this be the year He would call down the power of God like Elijah and vanquish the foes? Maybe He would part the enemies like the Red Sea was parted so long ago by Mose. People were saying He was the Messiah, that we would finally have peace and prosperity. He would re-establish the temple worship and no more would we be under the control of someone else.

So in He comes, riding on a colt, the crowds gather and shout, “Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Lord.” There is noise, a celebration prompted by the entrance to Zion of the Messiah. It is hard to imagine the hubbub, until you remember back a few weeks to the Gold medal game of men’s hockey at the Olympics.  So there’s dust and noise and celebration, and a run on palm leaves as people throw them on the ground for Jesus’ animal to walk on. Flash forward a few days and you see the same hubbub and noise, except instead of celebration you hear the anger as the crowds cry, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

Why the difference between Palm Sunday and Good Friday? How can you explain the shift in public opinion? For some of it you can blame the religious leaders manoeuvring and back room deals, for inciting blame and even violence;, but that doesn’t account for how much people changed their thinking. This is a valid question for today as we see church attendance on the decline, as we see the emergent church leaving traditional ways and messages and many of them following a modified Gospel message. The truth is, the message never changes from one culture to the next. You and I are loved by the Creator of the universe. He sent Jesus to die for our sins so that we may have relationship with Him as we respond to His gift of grace. So why do people stop following Jesus?

Some people are just in it for what they can get out of it. They jump on any bandwagon that looks successful. These people want their “fire insurance policy” of eternal life but don’t really care for the whole “deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow Jesus” thing. That costs too much, and they are in it for what they can get, not what they can give. Consider Judas. He was probably called just like the others - he just wasn’t coming from a fishing background. Considering he became the group’s treasurer, he probably had experience in dealing with money. He had to leave what he was doing, maybe even a good job, but we also know he helped himself to funds belonging to the followers of Jesus. He was in it for what he could get out of it. When the opportunity came to cut loose of the organization and make a profit, he did. He grabbed his 30 pieces of silver and ran. In the end, he found that all that getting left him empty. He wasn’t happy, and his life ended up being forfeit.

Many in the crowd were like this. They wanted healing or a full stomach, and figured that Jesus was their meal ticket. They followed Jesus and His disciples as they travelled around the countryside.  People use the church like that today. They opt for easy way outs and look for religion to provide. They are more than happy to take, but giving is another matter. When the rubber hits the road, though, they would just as soon as join the crowd shouting, ”Crucify!” and then move on to the next church. The church is community. We are all in this together, as a body. It is about sharing what we have for the benefits of one another, and they do the same for us.

Some people are just in it for the hoopla, the excitement. They crave the adrenaline rush. They are not much different from the first group, but instead of looking for stuff, they are looking for emotion. They want something that makes them feel good. When you look at some of the mega churches out there with wonky theology, you ask yourself, “Why? Why do people go after that stuff?” The short answer is they want something that makes them feel good. They want a religion that says they can have “it” all, and there are no consequences. They want the short cut to health and wealth. They want to believe that they can have it all because they feel they have a right to it all. They get told that they deserve it, that God wants them to have it, and it becomes an emotional high. They get sucked in by the talk and the glitz and if that ever goes, so do they. These people who followed Jesus quickly left His band of followers when the rubber hit the road. They joined the next fashionable crowd, which was anti-Jesus.

Can you imagine going through life like that? Today people hop from church to church for the silliest reasons, rather than looking for the place where they get spiritual nourishment and a chance to participate in the body. The church and Jesus are about connecting to Truth, not just feelings. Truth is not always popular, but we are lost without it. A pastor just had gall bladder surgery this week. He had pain that came out of the blue. What would happen if he ignored it? If he didn’t feel like getting to the bottom of it because he was afraid of what it might be. Something like that is pretty hard to ignore, because your body reaches the limit of pain or endurance where you have to seek help. The truth is he was sick. He needed a doctor’s care. That little red light comes on your dash, saying something is wrong in your engine. What do you do? You tap it a couple times to see if it goes out. Maybe you turn your car off and on again to see if the light comes back on. You drive with it for a while and see if it stays on, and you feel great relief if it goes off. Then it comes back and you think, “Maybe I should do something.” Then it starts blinking… If that light starts blinking stop right away and get it looked at. While there is an outside chance that a sensor may be wonky, a blinking light means something is seriously wrong. How long can you go avoiding the truth? Don’t go for the hoopla and glitz - go for the Truth that will change your life.

Some people seek, but never commit. There are people who followed Jesus but never committed to what He stood for. They liked his ethics and morality, they liked his teaching, they even liked His worldview. When it came to making choices, though, they couldn’t side with Jesus. He was too radical, too much on the edge that He rocked the boat. They wanted truth, but not the hard truth. There was a hockey player that finally made it to the NHL. He put in his time in the Juniors and the leagues below and finally made the big time and was called up to the Montreal Canadians. After consideration he turned it down. He said the NHL life was not what he wanted. When he was faced with the truth of his pursuit, he decided it was not what he wanted. Wow! It shocked a lot of people, but he had some serious soul-searching to do. Those people who were following Jesus like that had no voice when the rubber hit the road. When the time came to make a decision, they too yelled, “Crucify!” They had the right words, but no power - they were hollow. To make a piñata you make a frame out of a balloon covered in paper and flour and water. When everything is dry and hard, you pop the balloon and you have a hollow shell that looks good on the outside, but empty on the inside. When the crunch comes, there is no strength, and the piñata gives in. Make that commitment that gives you a foundation in life.

Each of Jesus’ disciples abandoned him at one point. They struggled with choices when the rubber hit the road. Maybe they struggled with some of these issues, but they somehow found the ability to stay connected with one another, and with God. They found that deep down they had to understand and so they waited upon God, upon Jesus. Not only did God meet them where they were at, Jesus specifically met some of them to restore them. After Peter denied Jesus 3 times, Jesus asked Him 3 times to continue on.

Easter is about restoration. There is the restoration of Peter, of the church; of you and I in Jesus Christ. The simple Gospel is that Jesus died on our behalf. He died while we were yet sinners, while we were far from Him. He is in that process of bringing us near Him so we may see Him for who He is. In 6 days Jesus went from Triumphal Entry to hanging on a cross. What will you do with Him in the days you have this week? What words will come from your mouth when someone asks if you are a Christian? Spend some time with Him and reaffirm your choice to take up your cross and follow Him.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The 7 Points of Valor: #4 - Purity

Romans 6:6-14 "Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin's every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ's sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That's what Jesus did.
That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don't give it the time of day. Don't even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you've been raised from the dead!—into God's way of doing things. Sin can't tell you how to live. After all, you're not living under that old tyranny any longer. You're living in the freedom of God." (The Message)

PURITY To be clean in heart, mind, speech, and body is to be strong. Psalm 119:9 Our materialistic society is a breeding ground for idols and temptations. All of who we are needs to ring true to the Good News.

Consider food colouring. You have a large pitcher of cool, clear water. What happens when you put a couple drops of food colouring in it? The food colouring spreads out and tints the whole pitcher, not just one little part. How easy is it to get all the colour back out of that jug - quite difficult. Consider the kid playing with white gloves in the mud. Do the gloves get muddy, or does the mud get glovey? Sin is all pervasive. They say a little leaven leavens the whole loaf. As we focus on purity, let us start by looking at what wrecks purity - sin.

The Fact of sin. There is a standard. Whether you believe it or not, it exists. This standard is universal, applies to everyone. A popular children's toy is a plastic ball with 8 or 10 different shapes cut out of the sides of it; a circle, a square, a rectangle, a cross, a star - you get the picture. You also have a separate shape that exactly matches each hole. The one shape will only fit in the corresponding hole and nowhere else. The child learns over time how to match the shapes with the proper holes. This standard that is out there is like this plastic ball with a cross cut out of it. Though we were originally created in the shape of a cross, our shape got marred and no we look more like a square. Try as we might, we can't fit ourselves into that spot.That is sin at work. Sin is falling short of that standard, of not fitting that one spot. It is like the archer aiming for the bulls-eye, the target that is down the field. I spent several summers at camp and graduated through several ranks of the archery program. As you start, you know all the right stuff, how to set the arrow up on the bow, how to hold it so when you pull back the arrow doesn't go flinging off sideways; how to protect the inside of your forearm from the string hurting it.Unfortunately it is easy to miss the target. It takes no practice to miss. Right out of the gate you miss. Add in practice, discipline, time, and a teacher and you can begin to hit the target consistently. The Bible says, "We all have fallen short" of the mark, or the target, but what does that mean? What sometimes happens is we get confused about where this standard comes from. What is the target to which we align ourselves? The target is the character of God, the image of Jesus. The whole Old testament and its Laws is all about revealing to us that character. All the Laws and rules in the Old Testament simply are trying to show us that shape to which we need to conform. Sin, then, is anything that goes against the character of God. At its most simplest definition sin is selfishness. It is doing stuff for our own image. The heart of sin is not the rule that's broken, but the intent behind it. Let me explain this further, but understand that, as the passage we read earlier says, we are not under the rule of sin. In other words you have a choice. It is a God given choice, and is only presented as we follow Jesus. That choice, to say, "No" to sin is what purity is all about. To understand purity, is to understand sin and how it works in our lives.

Consider the Process of sin. James 1:13-15 says "Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death." See where sin starts from? It starts from here in our hearts, and here in our minds. We have these desires and wants that are focused on us. These can be very natural things like the need for love or food. But if we allow these natural desires to become the controlling factor in our lives, they get pulled out of proportion and we no longer look like that standard we just talked about. Salvation and Christianity, then, is not so much about the rules and stopping the bad stuff as it is about pursuing the good stuff; the stuff that relates to that image of Jesus. Did you notice the clothes of the athletes during the Olympics? With the exception of figure skating and snowboarding, it was all about speed; and in their pursuit of speed they dropped all the stuff that held them back because they were pursuing the best way to get to the finish line the fastest. They weren't concerned about making a fashion statement. They weren't concerned about wearing stuff just because it made them look like an athlete or made them look fast. They focused on their race and did their best to avoid all the obstacles that would trip them up and slow them down. At points in following Jesus, you have choices to make. Do you do what is selfish and just for you, or do you live out of love. Do you allow yourself to be tripped up by the obstacles of life and get your eyes off of the race. Do you allow your desires to take you out of the race? Purity is the act of keeping your eyes on the finish line and pursuing that to the end.

The Power of sin. What gives sin such power? Why does it have such control over us? Sometimes we are so caught up in issues of holiness that we give power to sin by pushing the Law; the rules. The power of sin is the selfish intent. There is a thinking that we can do it all ourselves. We can be good enough in following Jesus on our own strength, so we don't even need His help. Unfortunately that is pride, and the downfall of countless people, and of Satan himself. Believe it or not, you have a choice in this. Have you ever ticked someone off? Have you ever apologized but they keep coming after you? They keep blaming you for all their problems and they work hard to make you miserable - and you let them. You give power to them when you let them control your emotions, your life. Guilt and shame are 2 key controllers we use on each other, and that Satan uses on us. You don't have to give in to them. In the power of the Spirit you can find release and peace from those things, because you are no longer slaves to sin. That is what freedom in Jesus is about. When you walk in the love and forgiveness of God you walk in purity.

The End of sin. Listen to Romans 8:1-8 "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God." Do you see the choice here, the decision you have to make? Where is your mind set today? Each day you have to ask yourself that question. There are countless men and women who feel called by God. They start out on the road to be all they can be but they don't finish. The simple reason is that they love the world. If you pursue the things of this world you can’t please God. The things of this world are all about how you feel, what you want. There is no room in that for God. Purity is about walking in step with the Spirit – giving these temporary things away so that you may gain eternal things.

Purity is a result of something else, not something to be pursued on its own. The pursuit of holiness is the pursuit of the Law. We make a list of all the don’ts, and try not to do them. We make a list of all the do’s, and try to do those things. All we are doing is trying to change our behavior on our own strength and as Romans 7 indicates, it doesn’t work. Purity is about what God is doing in us. It is about that process of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding and transforming us. We make the decision to follow Jesus with all we have.  The outworking of that choice, that commitment is holiness, or purity. Consider sin as darkness. A big empty room, but full of darkness. What happens when you bring a light in? Does the darkness overcome the light? Impossible. The Light goes straight to every corner, every space and brings illumination. Stay close to the Light. Stay close to Jesus, and you will be a person of purity.