Sermons

Spiritual Discomfort

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SPIRITUAL - PART 4

Spiritual Discomfort
Sunday, May 19, 2019
Acts 11:1-18

I heard a voice say, “Get up, Peter! Kill and eat!’” I responded, “Absolutely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.”

Acts 11:7-8

We all want to live good, moral, and righteous lives, yet in truth, Paul reminds us that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Yet somehow in our “righteous minds,” we have created our own hierarchy of sins. If someone calls us out when we disobey God’s law, we quickly respond as though our infraction is relatively insignificant on the larger scale. “I’m only human,” we say. “Nobody is perfect.”

Yet when someone else commits a sin that we could never imagine committing ourselves, that sin becomes so repugnant to us that we are quick to condemn. As Jesus says, we rarely notice the “logs in our own eyes” (Matthew 7:3-5).

“Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.” 

“If you really want to change someone’s mind on a moral or political matter, you’ll need to see things from that person’s angle as well as your own. And if you do truly see it the other person’s way—deeply and intuitively—you might even find your own mind opening in response. Empathy is an antidote to righteousness, although it’s very difficult to empathize across a moral divide.” 

― Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

This description of the endless moral, ethical, ideological and political battles in our culture and our world sounds a lot like Peter’s dilemma when he was called to the home of a Gentile, and not just to his home, but to dine with him at a table full of unclean foods.

“Absolutely not, Lord,” he responds.

Notice the irony and the confusion present in Peter’s response.

On one hand, he is saying “Absolutely not” to something which he considers to be a horrible sin, that is, eating unclean foods that go against the Jewish dietary laws.” This is admirable and proves Peter’s desire to remain pure and righteous.

But in the same response, he says, “Lord”. The very Lord and King he is seeking to honor by not eating with the Gentiles is the same Lord and King he is defying by refusing to do so. How can this be? Would God call us to sin?

Of course not.

But as Jonathan Haidt says, morality binds us together but also blinds us to the stories and experiences of others who do not share our moral values.

Consider these words from the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth.

Everything is permitted, but everything isn’t beneficial. Everything is permitted, but everything doesn’t build others up. No one should look out for their own advantage, but they should look out for each other. Eat everything that is sold in the marketplace, without asking questions about it because of your conscience.  The earth and all that is in it belong to the Lord.  If an unbeliever invites you to eat with them and you want to go, eat whatever is served, without asking questions because of your conscience.  But if someone says to you, “This meat was sacrificed in a temple,” then don’t eat it for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience.  Now when I say “conscience” I don’t mean yours but the other person’s. Why should my freedom be judged by someone else’s conscience?  If I participate with gratitude, why should I be blamed for food I thank God for?  So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, you should do it all for God’s glory.  Don’t offend either Jews or Greeks, or God’s church.

1 Corinthians 10:23-32

Everyone has a conscience, and that conscience or moral code is determined in life by a number of factors including upbringing, culture, education, religion, etc. And because everyone’s experience is different, everyone’s conscience is slightly different. For one person a single glass of wine may be as bad a sin as drunk-driving. For another, a fully stocked wine cellar in their home tells a different story. Has either one sinned? Not necessarily.

God wasn’t calling Peter to sin, but God always puts relationships first. Our conscience should never prevent us from “building others up”. Our conscience should never allow us to “put someone else down”. God isn’t interested in our personal moral values. God is interested in how we treat those whom he loves, regardless of how their conscience may or may not differ from our own.

If we view someone else as morally repugnant and keep our distance, we may just be keeping our distance from Christ. Jesus says, “Whatever you do (or do not do) for the least of these, you have done (or not done) it for me” (Matthew 25:45).

Spiritual Authority

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SPIRITUAL - PART 3

Spiritual Authority
Sunday, May 12, 2019
Acts 9:36-43

Peter sent everyone out of the room, then knelt and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up!” She opened her eyes, saw Peter, and sat up. 

Acts 9:40

Have you ever been in the room with someone in a coma? Sometimes the family is there and we may offer a few words of comfort or a prayer, but there are times as a pastor I have visited hospital rooms where nobody is present and the patient is completely unresponsive. In some cases they are completely brain-dead and will never recover. I cannot imagine walking into a room like this, standing over the hospital bed and saying, “Jim, get up!” or “Ann, get up!”.

Could you imagine the response if the nurses overheard you, or worse yet, a family member. Everyone would think you were crazy.

When I read today’s passage, however, I wonder if I, and we, might be underestimating our spiritual authority.

Peter walked into the room of a person not only in a coma, but a woman who had already died, and he simply had the audacity to tell her to get up, as if she were a child struggling to get out of bed for school in the morning. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t offer a prayer. He didn’t whisper words of encouragement to her family. He walked in with the certainty that Tabitha would get up and walk out of that room with him.

When I was doing my CPE (clinical pastoral education) at the hospital, I loved talking to one of the ICU volunteers. She sat with families in the waiting room and offered them whatever comfort and care she could as they waited and worried about their loved ones. She told me about the time she was in a deep coma for several months. Nobody expected her to live. It was a spiritually dark place for her. She has vivid memories from that time of seeing visions and hearing voices. She describes darkness in her visions, like black smoke and even dragons reaching out to claw at her mind. But she also remembers the voices. I know she was not hallucinating because when she miraculously awoke, she recounted specific things certain people said when they were alone in the room with her. No one else could have known what was said.

Much of her darkness, however, came from what she heard the voices saying. Her own family members would stand over her hospital bed talking about funeral arrangements as if she wasn’t in the room. As the weeks passed, they moved from worry and grief to frustration and hopelessness. There was no way she would ever wake up, the doctors said, and so they treated her like she was already dead. She could not see them, but she heard every word. She tried to reach back with her own voice. “I’m right here!” she shouted over and over again through her tears, but on the outside there were no tears and no sound came from her mouth.

Somewhere deep within her, God’s Spirit breathed new life into her darkness, but part of her darkness always remained because she heard so many heartless things people said about her in their grief and anger and she could never see her loved ones the same again. That’s why she volunteers at the hospital. She wants people to know that even at the brink of death, their loved ones can still hear them and respond, even if we never see or hear a physical response on the outside. She doesn’t want patients to feel alienated by their families in these incomprehensible circumstances.

I don’t know if we will ever see a dead person raised before our eyes, but I imagine the Spirit wants us to speak and live with the kind of authority Christ gave to Peter and his disciples to raise the dead. Whether a person is fighting for their final physical breath or lost in a bottomless pit of emotional or mental death and despair, we have the authority to speak life… not death. We have the authority to encourage them to “Get Up”, no matter how long and painful the process might be. But it is indeed a process. They cannot get up on their own. With our spiritual authority comes the responsibility to walk alongside them for the long haul until they can once again stand and walk on their own.

How are you using your Spiritual Authority to speak life into someone right now?

Spiritual Strength

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SPIRITUAL - PART 2

Spiritual Strength
Sunday, May 5, 2019
Acts 9:1-31

Ananias countered, “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man. People say he has done horrible things to your holy people in Jerusalem. He’s here with authority from the chief priests to arrest everyone who calls on your name.”

The Lord replied, “Go! This man is the agent I have chosen to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites.

Acts 9:13-15

Our culture greatly values strength. We put a lot of stock in power, control, and victory. The weak often find themselves on the margins and if someone finds themselves in a low place, the most common advice people will give is to toughen up or grow a thicker skin.

Spirituality, for many people, is a source of strength. There is something empowering when we tap into sources of power and strength beyond our own understanding. The first few steps of any 12 Step recovery program involve admitting that we are powerless and that we need rely on a higher power for the strength to overcome whatever addiction we may be trying to break through.

Yet in our text today, we find two very strong individuals brought to their knees by an encounter with the Holy Spirit. A genuine “spiritual experience” with God may indeed give us strength, but that spiritual strength comes first through vulnerability and humility.

Saul is a great religious leader feared by anyone who would challenge his authority or teach against his understanding of God. He stood over Stephen with approval as the people stoned him for blasphemy because of his faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. He was on his way to Damascus to destroy the Jesus movement in that community. He was indeed a strong and powerful man.

Ananias was also a strong man. In spite of such great persecution from people like Saul, he continued faithfully proclaiming the Gospel and following the way of Christ. His understanding of the Spirit’s voice indicates a strong prayer life and a strong faith.

Two strong men with completely opposite beliefs about God and about the nature of Jesus and neither are willing to back down. An unlikely pairing to say the least. The thought of a friendly meeting between Saul and Ananias so soon after the stoning of Stephen might be comparable to Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush sitting down for tea the week after 9/11.

Yet when each encountered the Holy Spirit, they were humbled. Saul was blinded before the Lord and became physically weak and dependent on his servants and even on his Jesus-following enemies. Ananias was challenged in his desire for self-preservation and in his understanding of who could truly be saved by God’s grace. Could there be mercy and forgiveness for one as evil and opposed to Christ as Saul, who even now was on his way to Damascus to kill Ananias and all of the believers?

Both had to admit that they were wrong about Jesus and about God’s will. Both had to admit that they had something to learn from each other and that God’s love was far greater than the hatred and fear that stood as an unbreakable barrier between religious leaders like Saul and the followers of “the Way” of Jesus.

The spiritual strength granted to both Saul and Ananias to humble themselves, set aside their fear and animosity, and sit down at the table together resulted in unprecedented church growth among the Gentiles across the known world along with the writing of nearly half of our New Testament Scriptures. This simple act of spiritual strength, of listening to God and listening to one another’s stories, quite literally changed the history of the world.

Spiritual strength is always about the strength to love… especially the unimaginable strength of loving our enemies. This kind of love demands the strength of humility, vulnerability and risk. At the bottom of this post, you will find a link to one of my favorite books, “Tea with Hezbollah.” While none of the stories in this tale involve the kind of radical conversion that Saul experienced, they do teach us a lot about what it means to sit at the table with our enemies, to humble ourselves and to risk everything just to listen to each other. And out of these humble and vulnerable conversations, the strength of the Holy Spirit shines through.

Click here to listen to entire sermon series - “SPIRITUAL”


A modern day reflection on sitting at the table with our enemies…



Spiritual Direction

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SPIRITUAL - PART 1

Spiritual Direction
Sunday, April 28, 2019
Acts 5:27-41, Luke 12:11-12, James 3:7-12

God has exalted Jesus to his right side as leader and savior so that he could enable Israel to change its heart and life and to find forgiveness for sins. We are witnesses of such things, as is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Acts 5:31-32

“Spiritual but not religious.”

While many Christians balk at such a label, accusing this ever increasing group of abandoning the church and their faith, it is nevertheless a label that speaks volumes about the religious landscape of our nation and much of the Western world. For those who fear the decline of the institutional church as we know it, it is easy to blame such “religious vagabonds” for our plight, but perhaps it would be more prudent to examine their motives, the nature of their faith, and their critiques of what we call “Christianity” in an effort to better understand where we have gone wrong.

On one hand, we might say that “Spiritual but not religious” is an easy way out because it requires no commitment or loyalty to any particular organization, religious practices or even beliefs. On the other hand, the fact that there exists such a deep longing for spirituality in the human heart, even among those outside of organized religion, should tell us a great deal about the power and work of the Holy Spirit in our world.

“Spiritual” simply means “of or relating to the spirit” or “sacred matters”, which could of course refer only to the human spirit or soul. From a Biblical worldview, however, the human spirit is given life through the breath or Spirit of God. Few will question that at some level, we are spiritual beings, yet an entirely natural source cannot give birth to a spiritual being anymore than a freshwater spring can produce a saltwater stream. If there is indeed something supernatural or “spiritual” within us, we must explore what it means to connect with this “Divine Spirit” whom the scriptures say hovered over the waters when everything began.

Spiritual Direction as a discipline involves two or more people listening for the promptings of this Divine or “Holy Spirit” in the context of conversation, meditation, memories, and other reflective practices in an effort to seek wisdom or direction from the Spirit of God. In this way, it is not the spiritual director who actually does the directing, but rather the Holy Spirit’s own whisper. Thus, one of the primary roles of the Holy Spirit is to guide and direct our path.

Throughout the book of Acts, we see this kind of Holy Spirit Direction in almost every chapter. It is the Spirit who directs Peter, John and the other apostles how to preach to the crowds, how to respond to various needs through miraculous interventions, and ultimately directs them in how to respond when they are questioned by the authorities. In Acts 5:27-41 as Peter stands before the religious leaders, the Spirit does exactly what Jesus says the Spirit will do.

When they bring you before the synagogues, rulers, and authorities, don’t worry about how to defend yourself or what you should say. The Holy Spirit will tell you at that very moment what you must say.
— Luke 12:11-12

Rather than resisting the move in our culture toward spirituality and digging our heals deeper into man-made religious rules and traditions, perhaps it is time we religious people seek to live into our own spiritual natures by connecting with the Spirit of God and learning to become more attentive to Holy Spirit’s Direction in every part of our lives.

Click here to listen to entire sermon series - “SPIRITUAL”

Extended clips from Francis Chan on the Holy Spirit

Seek Life

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THE WAY THAT LEADS TO LIFE - PART 7

Live
Sunday, April 21, 2019
Easter Sunday
Luke 9:35, 24:1-8

The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?

Luke 24:5

Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!

So why do we live as though he is still in the grave?

Before you get too defensive and reaffirm your absolute belief in the Resurrection of Jesus, take a few minutes to stop and think about what that belief means for your life? What impact has it had on any part of your day? How about yesterday or last week?

If we sat down with someone who knows you well and asked them if they had encountered the risen Christ this week, would they mention your name and say that whether they believe in Jesus or not, they encountered his loving presence in you?

Even as a pastor, I must confess with grief and sorrow that I often find Christians to be some of the most depressing people to be around. I am not exempt from this. There are many times that the battles in the church overwhelm me with discouragement, skepticism and despair. There are times I wonder if the Holy Spirit has just moved on from what we call “The body of Christ”

As Casting Crowns so eloquently asks,

If we are the body, why aren't his arms reaching? Why aren't his hands healing? Why aren't his words teaching? And if we are the body, why aren't his feet going? Why is his love not showing them there is a way there is a way?

Mark Hall, “If We Are The Body” (2003).

Many religious leaders of Jesus’ day could not accept that the power of God manifested itself in places beyond their reach. The sick were healed and sinners were forgiven all without their blessing or authority. The active work of God’s living presence outside of their boundaries called their own superficial faith into question. Jesus even went so far as to call them whitewashed tombs, dead and decaying on the inside (Matthew 23:27-28). While they saw themselves as guardians of the Law or the Word of God, the true Word was alive and active in the parts of the world they assumed were broken and dying.

Why are we looking for the living among the dead?

We are not exempt from Jesus’ question. Many churches are filled with the death and decay of hurting souls, but as Christians we have invested so much in whitewash that we have forgotten that our beautiful buildings and services are often little more than facades so that nobody will see the brokenness within.

How many Sunday’s do we walk out of church feeling as miserable and overwhelmed with life as we were when we walked in? How often do we wonder where Jesus is in our everyday struggles or in the monotony of our ordinary lives?

Might the Lord’s messengers be asking us the same question: Why are you looking for the living among the dead?

Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right side. Think about the things above and not things on earth. You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4

The stone has been rolled away. Let us take off our burial clothes of sin and walk out of our self-inflicted tombs into the light of glory through the resurrection of the firstborn from the dead, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Video clips from today’s service:

Source: Bible Gateway

Source: "Ralph Breaks the Internet" - used for commentary purposes only, no copyright infringement intended.

Rise Above It

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THE WAY THAT LEADS TO LIFE - PART 6

Give
Sunday, April 14, 2019
Luke 9:35, 20:19-47

He said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Luke 20:25

In Luke 20 we find the legal experts questioning Jesus on two significant issues of their day, taxes and resurrection. Things haven’t changed much. We still wrestle with these two universal and inescapable realities of life… death and taxes.

Many interpreters have made a big deal about Jesus’ understanding of marriage from this text, but that is not really the issue Jesus is addressing. The Sadducee's were not concerned here with a scriptural understanding of marriage. Rather, they were trying to trap Jesus on the issue of whether or not there would be a resurrection from the dead, for Jews were greatly divided on this subject. Marriage was simply the illustration they used to try to prove their point that the idea of resurrection was absurd.

Likewise, interpreters have made much about the issue of taxes and what actually belongs to Caesar. But in both cases, we seem to be missing the point.

These two questions, about taxes and death, are not really separate questions. They stem from the same root motivation which is to trap Jesus. Will Jesus challenge the law of Rome by rejecting the payment of taxes? Will Jesus deny the law of Moses concerning the responsibility of marrying a brother’s widow by affirming the resurrection of these widows with their many husbands?

Resurrection and taxes may be controversial issues, but in this case, they are merely smokescreens for a larger concern… how can we trap Jesus? We don’t really care if he breaks the law of the land or the law of Moses, so long as he breaks some law that we can use against him.

That is why Jesus answer in 20:46-47 is so significant. He sees right through their traps.

How easy it is for us to act pious and righteous because of our outward obedience the law or our “right” beliefs about the scriptures and how easy it is to use our “right” beliefs and behaviors and the litmus test by which to judge everyone else, including Jesus.

What if giving to God what is God’s is not just about “right” beliefs or “right” behaviors? What if giving our money to the temple is not enough? What if believing in the resurrection or not believing in it, depending on our understanding of scripture, is not enough?

What if all of these beliefs and behaviors have become our idols, the things which make us feel self-righteous because we’ve done or believed what is “right”?

It’s not to say that they are wrong. Though the Pharisees and Sadducee's disagreed on matters of resurrection, both groups were morally upright and blameless according to the laws of Moses and of Caesar. Both groups held fast to their belief in the Scriptures even if they did not always interpret them in the same way. All of this is to their credit, and ours to whatever degree we follow in their footsteps.

We have a problem when all of these issues that make us feel “right” begin to cover up the places in our hearts where we are “not right” in our relationship with God and one another.

As Paul writes,

If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don’t have love, I’m nothing. If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever

1 Corinthians 13:2-3

It’s amazing how we can be so right in our knowledge or understanding or belief and how generous we can be in giving all we have to those in need and yet still be so wrong.

Without unconditional, sacrificial, spirit-filled love, all of our “right” behaviors and “right” beliefs amount to nothing.

Rejoice then not in being “right” or doing what is “right”, but in truly having a pure and righteous heart before God.

Humble Thyself

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THE WAY THAT LEADS TO LIFE - PART 5

Forgive
Sunday, April 7, 2019
Luke 9:35, 18:18-30

Those who heard this said, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible for humans is possible for God.”

Luke 18:26-27

We can read this challenging parable about the rich man forward or backward, but no matter where we start, we come to the same question and the same answer.

Question: “Who can be saved?”

Answer: “What is impossible for humans is possible for God.”

If only we could just leave it there.

Reading the passage forward we begin with a rich man essentially asking this question, “Who can be saved?” or more specifically, “What must I do to be saved, or to obtain eternal life?”

He walks away disappointed when he learns that he must give up all of his worldly possessions. When given a choice between the Kingdom of Heaven or “the treasure buried in the field” (Matthew 13:44) or the treasure he had already obtained, he chose the one he had already earned for himself.

The first point to notice is that Jesus doesn’t soften the deal. He doesn’t try to bargain for less just to get the man to show up for church on Sunday. He doesn’t sugar-coat the cost of discipleship. Instead, Jesus sadly lets the man walk way.

The people of Jesus’ day assumed that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing and to learn that such wealth and blessing did not guarantee this man a first class ticket to eternity came as a great shock. “Who then can be saved” if not someone who has been so richly blessed?

As much as we want to question Jesus for demanding too much or perhaps to judge the rich man for making such a horrible choice, notice we are not told about this man’s eternal destiny. Jesus still gives us hope. “What is impossible for humans is possible for God.”

We don’t know the rest of this man’s story. Jesus may have only planted a seed that came to bear fruit much later in his life, or perhaps death did come like a thief in the night and take every last penny. The truth is we just don’t know.

What we do know is that no matter how wealthy or blessed this man may have been, it was not possible for him to earn his way to heaven.

But now let’s read the story backwards. The disciples are a bit worried about their own reward. “Look Jesus, we left everything to follow you”, they cried. “What about us?”

Jesus assures them that their sacrifice will be rewarded in eternity, but their eternal life does not come because of their sacrifice anymore than the rich man could earn eternal life through his wealth. It’s still impossible for humans… all humans… rich or poor… selfish or sacrificial… sinner or saint…. It’s still impossible…

Only what is impossible for humans is possible for God.

This is our hope. This is the hope of the rich man. This is the hope of the world.

So perhaps before we presume upon someone’s eternal destiny, including our own, we would be wise to remember… anything is possible with God. There is always hope for salvation, even for those who seem to have no hope. Thanks be to God!

Forgive

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THE WAY THAT LEADS TO LIFE - PART 4

Forgive
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Luke 9:35, 15:1-32

He answered his father, ‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’ Then his father said, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.’”

(Luke 15:29-32)

I’ve heard and even preached many sermons on this famous parable of the prodigal son, the forgiving father, or whatever else you might want to call it. Often they end with the conclusion that we often find ourselves in the shoes of the older brother and it is our choice whether to forgive and join the party or to stand outside and wallow in self-pity.

Such a conclusion generally comes on the heals of unpacking the entire story, demonstrating the overwhelming selfishness of the younger son and of course the extravagant, undeserved love and mercy lavished upon him by the father, who of course we should all desire to imitate.

This week, however, I want to begin at the end. Let’s start with the conclusion or assumption that we are the older brother. Yes, many hearing this may still be a long way off with the prodigal, wondering if you can ever be forgiven or loved. I don’t want to invalidate that in any way and as the story teaches, please know that you are always welcome in our Father’s House. Regardless of where we primarily find ourselves in the story in this season of life, however, all of us likely have at least some of the older brother hiding in our hearts.

As the older brother, we look upon that “sinner” who hurt us or our family, or perhaps upon those “sinners” we don’t even know, and our blood boils with anger, frustration, resentment, jealousy, righteous indignation, insecurity, and countless other emotions. Rather than simply telling us to “forgive” and join the party, as we might normally do at the end of this story, I’m asking you to pull up a log or a rock and sit outside with me for awhile as the party gets underway.

As we sit and reflect, angered by the sounds of undeserved jubilation inside, what is really bothering us?

Who are we really mad at?

  • Are we truly angry at that brother of ours who seems to get away with everything?

Especially if that “brother” is some abstract “sinner” or “group of sinners”, what have they actually done against us? Does their forgiveness in any way negate our own? Is there somehow not enough mercy or grace leftover for us if they get what may seem like an extra dose?

  • Are we angry with the father?

Of course we would never admit this, especially as “good Christians”. We don’t want to be angry with God. Maybe we feel like we can’t be angry with God. But the question remains… are we angry with the Father? Do we feel like God is being too lenient or unfair. Are we jealous because there is something more we wanted from the Father ourselves?

  • Are we angry with ourselves?

Do we wish we had gotten to enjoy that rebellious season like our brother, just to know what it felt like? Do we regret not having appreciated the love the Father has truly given us all along? Are we mad because we never bothered to tell the father how we felt, like servants in our own house, and allowed him to remind us of our beloved place as sons and daughters?

Before pick up our “good, responsible big brother” mantle again and trudge resentfully into the party, let’s take some time to ask, what is it that really bothers me about this story? What is keeping me from truly offering forgiveness to my brothers and sisters, whether I know them or not? Why must I keep seeing them as “sinners” instead of “siblings”, loved by the same father who loves me?

Bear Fruit

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THE WAY THAT LEADS TO LIFE - PART 3

Bear Fruit
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Luke 9:35, 13:1-9

What about those eighteen people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more guilty of wrongdoing than everyone else who lives in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.”

Luke 13:4-5

How easy it is to fall into the religion of “niceness” or simply “being good.” Like many in our own day, the people of Luke’s time generally believed that those who suffered did so as a punishment for sin and those who found themselves blessed deserved such blessings because of their own good behavior. Jesus describes both a political massacre of people who were killed by Pilate’s order as well as an event we might consider a natural disaster, the collapse of a tower which also killed many people. The point is that regardless of the cause of these tragedies, whether the result of someones sinful violence or an accident beyond anyone’s control, their deaths were undeserved. Victims of such tragedies are not held up as examples of divine justice or punishment.

Sadly, we still have preachers today proclaiming God’s wrath every time tragedy strikes. It does seem ironic, however, that when hundreds or even thousands of innocent people are killed by a hurricane, it is interpreted as God’s wrath on the entire city or nation (like New Orleans or Haiti) but when children are shot in a school, no one bears responsibility except that one unsuspected madman who somehow got his hands on a gun he shouldn’t have had.

Jesus warns us not to make such judgments about the wrath of God and reminds us that we might just as easily become innocent victims tragedy. Guilty or not guilty makes no difference when it comes to the timing or circumstances of our death.

But there also seems to be a bigger issue at play when Jesus tells the parable of this innocent fig tree. The tree is still alive, and because it has survived, the assumption is that it has not been subject to God’s judgment. This is like the person whose house is the only one left standing in the neighborhood after a tornado saying, “I guess God was looking out for me.” Was God not looking out for all the other people who were harmed around you? Were you really the only innocent person in the neighborhood worthy to be spared? And then things get even more complicated when we find out that that one person who was spared happens to be the most greedy, mean-spirited neighbor on the block while all the nice people lost everything.

The fig tree may be spared for another year, just like that person whose house was not destroyed by the storm. But we must be careful.

First, we must not assume that our salvation implies judgment or condemnation on those who have suffered or on the trees that have already died. Secondly, we must not assume that just because we were spared that everything is OK and that we are blessed. That’s not how this works.

God may show us mercy for a time so that he can care for us more closely, offering more fertilizer or pruning, but in the end we cannot go on as we have been and expect to just exist forever without bearing fruit. This is true of our individual lives and certainly true of our churches. We must bear fruit or we will die. Let us stop looking at everybody around us thinking we have it so much better and therefore we are “off the hook”. We must focus more on our own growth. We must become trees that bear good fruit, or nothing will save us in the end.

Don’t let God’s mercy be an excuse to stay the way you are. Become the person or the church that God wants you to be, bearing good fruit, for we never know when our last day might come.

Don’t let it escape your notice, dear friends, that with the Lord a single day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a single day. The Lord isn’t slow to keep his promise, as some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives.

2 Peter 3:8-9

Get Real

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THE WAY THAT LEADS TO LIFE - PART 2

Get Real
Sunday, March 17, 2019
Luke 9:35, 11:33-36

Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is full of darkness. Therefore, see to it that the light in you isn’t darkness.

Luke 11:34-35

It seems the better we get as a society of “keeping up appearances,” the more spotlights and zoom lenses are set up to expose the cracks in our makeup. Once we only had to keep up our front yards because nobody would ever look over the fence to see the mess out back. But our front yard has entered the digital age and can be seen from countless perspectives all across the world wide web. Even within the safety and comfort of our own homes, we must now maintain our public persona in a 24/7 world. We spend more time trying to figure out what to post on today’s social media “highlight reel” than we do enjoying all of the other ordinary moments of our lives.

The only thing we seem to love more than looking like we have it altogether, whether in person or through the screen, is trying to prove that someone else really does not have it altogether. There’s nothing like another person’s sin to make us feel less guilty and there’s nothing like another person’s scandalous shame to keep prying eyes from peering too closely into our own skeleton filled closets.

In a world ruled by the court of public opinion, we often settle for being just a little better than the next person. As the joke goes, you don’t have to outrun the bear. You just have to be faster than the slowest person in your group being chased by the bear. We have applied this principle to our moral universe as well. Morality and righteousness is relative, and so long as there is somebody in your circle who will draw more negative attention than you, all is well.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day lived in much the same way. Now don’t get me wrong, they truly did live righteous and morally upstanding lives, obeying every law to the nth degree. There was only one problem. Jesus didn’t evaluate them based on their ability to check all the right boxes on their “How well did I obey the law today” survey. Nor does Jesus evaluate us on our social media feeds or our public persona. (Although, if we are putting others down in the public square and acting like jerks on social media, we best not try to fool ourselves into thinking that our hearts are in the right place.)

Perhaps the cracks in our outward appearance have exposed some deeper concerns in our hearts and souls. The real question is whether or not we are willing to dig up the foundation to get to the root of the problem or if we will just keep plastering over the surface pretending that all is OK inside.

It’s amazing the flaws a few lighting effects can hide on camera, but when all the lights are turned off and nobody else is watching, what does Jesus see inside?