Sunday, December 21, 2014

Season of Comfort - 2 Peter 3.8-15, Isaiah 40.1-5

Sometimes, it’s difficult to remember that it’s now the Christmas Season. Sure there are reminders that it is, with all the sales ads that we can see on TV or read in our email boxes. And the decorations help, too. Yet if it weren’t for these, would we know that it is this season?

A few blocks over from Madison Square Gardens, during the lighting of the tree, there was an officer involved shooting and a teen is dead. Of course, we can’t forget what has happened in St. Louis. That has been in the headlines too often. Not to mention all of the other unrest there seems to be. Amazingly, I didn’t see any trampling at a “Black Friday” sales event this year. But those are the economic woes, a lackluster year by some counts and others are still counting to see if it can be spun differently.

And God’s children wonder, “how long, O Lord, before our rest, before your return?”  But times, they really aren’t any different from when the prophet spoke. A nation of God’s children were also having their woes. Isaiah was a prophet at the end of Israel and Judah as nations. Their leaders lead the people further away from God’s will, including the desecration of the Temple to appease the king of Assyria.

The God, the Almighty, our Heavenly Father gave him the words to record that we now know as the book of Isaiah. In it, the good news is revealed that God will send His Messiah to deliver all nations from the hopelessness of the times. He was to be one to remove our sins and our bent to sinning. He is our comfort, our salvation, and we know him as Jesus.

The world does, too, know him. Yet especially now, they only see a baby in a manger. Oh as a parent how I wish I could freeze time with my children as they continue to grow. Yet they are growing. As of Wednesday past, I officially became the parent of two preteens. Wednesday coming, my preschooler turns 5. They are ever growing. And so did Jesus.

Jesus came as a gift for us, to clothe us in righteousness so that we could approach the Creator of the Universe and call Him, Daddy. To be that gift, he grew. He lived and died and rose from the dead having sacrificed himself. Then he left his message, the good news, in the hands of a few. From there, we are now here today, nearly 2,000 years later, asking once again, “How long, O Lord?”

This is where Peter’s words of encouragement come. Let’s read our passage.

One of the problems that we have today is that we’ve forgotten our encounter. We’ve forgotten the grace of our salvation that the world so needs to hear. Instead of Jesus being someone we strive to follow, going to church has become the weekly activity. And society continues to worsen.

The promise he gave to his disciples was that he was going to go away for a spell, to prepare a place for them, and for us. Then after a while, he would return. Yet when is that while? For how long? God’s timetable is unfathomable. For Him, a 1000 years is nothing.

Mind you, this isn’t dealing with the creation recorded in Genesis. This is dealing with Christ and His return for us. And that return can happen at any moment. Be it now or in another 1,000 years.

Christmas then becomes a time that has a sense of urgency to it. The time is a short one. Come January 1, we stop thinking about the person of Jesus and instead ridicule the neighbor who’s lights are still up and going.  So I see a double meaning for this time. We are closer to salvation

This is the time of opportunity. To share the Gospel.

“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of forced labor is over, her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be leveled; the uneven ground will become smooth and the rough places, a plain. And the glory of the Lord will appear, and all humanity together will see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Lesson from David 2 Samuel 7.1-11

A Lesson from David
A Christmas Quiz
1. It was a cold winter's night that Jesus was born. 
2. Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem. 
3. Jesus was born in a barn. 
4. The angels sang the announcement of Jesus to the shepherds. 
5. The magi were present at the birth. 
6. There were 3 magi.
7. There were cattle, sheep, and camels at the birth of Jesus. 

The answers to these true/false statements are all false. The truth of the matter is that we don't know most of the details. I appreciate that perhaps at the time of Mary's labor, she was resting in a tent that they toted. I suspect that perhaps they had a wagon since as a carpenter, he'd need to transport his finished works or supplies to the job sites. But then even these, I speculate.

As for the magi, by the time of their arrival, Jesus is found in a house. By Herod's order, we can speculate that Jesus was easily a baby or early toddler for all boys two and under were forfeit.

Just as we tend to mix our tradition about Christmas with the Bible, so our theology, what we think we know about our Heavenly Father can be easily confused by our traditions and preconceptions.

This morning, we will look at an event where David learns that he doesn't fully know or understand God. We will be reminded about a few key characteristics about our Heavenly Father.

Let's read 2 Samuel 7.1-11

Here we find that David is now established on the throne and his palace is complete.  He's comfortable and then realizes that his God is living in a tent. You see, back in the time of Moses, Good commissioned the ark and the tent that would house the ark. When these were done, the Lord settled His presence to be with His chosen people.

Now hundreds of years later, the Nation of Israel is settled. David has been placed on the throne, fully trusting God's timing. The nation is at peace. I can imagine that David is looking around his fine palace and wanted to make a sacrifice of thanksgiving by building a temple, a fixed  structure for the Lord's presence to reside. He even sought the advice of the Lord's prophet, Nathan, who gave a hearty thumbs up.

Then God spoke.
1. He's infinite, timeless. 
Here God is telling David that all of these years, He’s been content with how He set things up. If He had wanted a temple, He’d have asked. Instead, we can look and see that when Israel set up the camps, there, in the midst, in the center, is the Tabernacle, or Tent. 

Often that is how we can treat God. We perceive a problem and then we find a solution rather than consulting God, to see if the Word already has already addressed the situation. I am not able to think of something that the Early Church didn’t deal with that Paul and the other writers addressed.

Yet God is gracious to David. He wasn’t insulted. Instead He honored David by allowing Solomon to build the Temple. We know from Solomon’s commission of the Temple that the reason is that David, though through acts of righteousness, had too much blood on his hands to build the Temple. Was this fair? David seemed to think so because in verses 18 and following, David sings a song, praising God for His love and mercy. He sings because he was given a glimpse into something better that was coming, something that was for all the world. 

2. He's unchanging. 
Because of His infiniteness, He is ever unchanging. People often think that Judaism was one religion and Christianity is an offshoot, or at least a different. Yet that is not the case. Though the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, we know from John’s Gospel and Revelation that Jesus was from before time began. We see that God speaks of Himself in the plurality in the Genesis Creation account. 

He spoke most everything into being, but mankind. Of man, He fashioned. He then walked in the cool of the day with Adam. Yet sin separated us. Even then, God has always allowed an essence of His presence to remain with those He loves, and those who love Him in turn. Back in David’s time, it was the Tabernacle set in the center of life. Today, it’s the Holy Spirit living within each of us who are clothed in Christ. 

This is why we have the celebration of the advent. Our Heavenly Father still desires the creation He formed by His hand. And this, according to verse 19, is for all mankind, not just one people. This is why we sing, “God Rest You Merry”. 

3. He's forward focus.
Now our passage also has elements of His forward focus, or prophesy. Though we see in 19 that the revelation, our passage, is for all mankind, we see this in the passage itself. Look again at verse 10. David is told that God will establish for His people a place for them where they shall be undisturbed. If our Father wasn’t intending Christ, intending eternity from the beginning, then verse 10 flies in face of where David was. Israel was established. This was the promised land that Moses led the people to. So with David’s palace in Jerusalem, in the Promised Land, God still says that there is a place that is better, where the children of God will truly be at peace.

Today we can see that Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism and the prophesy of something better. Recall some of the final words of Jesus to his disciples, “I am going away to prepare a place for you. And since I am going away, you know that I will return for you. Don’t let your hearts be troubled.”  Now we have the advent where we remember Christ coming into this world. It should now serve to remind us that just as He came once to begin the plan of salvation, He will return once more for those who call upon His name.

What is our take home today? Consider all that you know about our Heavenly Father and then take it to the Word. See the truths about He who loves us that He gave us the greatest gift we’ll ever know. Then allow the Word to enrich you, opening your eyes to the opportunities of greatness. As David said, “This is why you are great, Oh Lord. There is none like You. You alone are God.”  

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Shaping Your Worldview - Philippians 3.1-11

If you believe in some cosmic karma, you might need a new worldview. Meaning that there is a cosmic force that will repay, be it good or bad, what one does. “Pay It Forward” is one such ideology from this camp.

If you believe that God helps those who help themselves, you might need a new worldview. People who live this way believe that by our own strength, we do what we can and then God comes along and picks up the slack.

This next one is pretty self-explanatory. If you believe that God wants you to be happy, healthy and or wealthy, then you might need a new worldview.

Finally, if you believe that God is the Big Guy Upstairs, you might need a new worldview. The Big Guy Upstairs is an euphemism for our Heavenly Father. Yet I’ve enjoyed introducing myself to people I meet in the basement because I am challenging and claiming that title as my own. The BGU is akin to corporate bosses or CEOs who have the big picture in mind for the company and how it works maybe to include day to day operations, but to know all who work for him? Naw, that is not happening. He’s doing good to know how many work for his company. Yet our Heavenly Father does know how many there are in His creation, and He knows each of us by name, including those who don’t know Christ.

Now all of these worldviews I shared this morning are real views that I have heard Christians claim. Shaping our worldview is something that we need to be actively concerned. There is always something attempting to reshape it into something else. It is when our worldview is off base, that is when we tend to stumble or worse. We can become jaded, hurtful, or even isolated from our spiritual family.  So how do we properly shape our worldview? Let’s read our text.

1.  We rejoice in the Lord.
Rejoicing in the Lord isn’t just something that we do when times are good. This is what we do when they are bad. Paul has now twice told them to rejoice while he is sitting in prison. Is it easy to rejoice in the middle of the storm, especially if you are the creator of that storm? Not at all. Rejoicing is knowing and being comforted that our Father will work our storm out for our good. It doesn’t mean that we will escape the storm, but that we will weather it. Now if it isn’t a storm, but some injustice, then know that God may balance the scale, he may not.
Rejoicing also helps us to see the good that God is doing. In the previous chapter, Paul tells of their Epaphroditus who was ill, but in the illness, the Lord sustained him. Paul was able to see the good in the midst of his shackles. He is directing us to do likewise.
We rejoice in the Lord not only in the good times, but also in the bad.

2.  We keep on guard.
Staying on guard means that we are watching two fronts. One is the lies from the false teachers. In Paul’s day, most of the false teachers were teaching that good Christians follow the Law of Moses, especially circumcision. At best these teachers are power hungry. What would a Gentile know of the Law of Moses? These teachers would be able to keep their prestige because they knew the Law. They’d have control over others.
Today we might boil that down to the 10 commandments. James would say that the danger of this type of living is that by breaking one law, then we are guilty of breaking all of them. When was the last time any of us were in Jerusalem offering a sacrifice in the Temple? How many have mixed fibers, poly blends? Should I mention tattoos? The Law had the purpose, according to Moses of setting, making God’s chosen people stand apart. Paul says that it also defined sin. We look at the law to see how we’d not be able to obtain a right standing before The Lord Almighty.
But staying on guard isn’t just this teaching. It also comes in the health and wealth Gospel. One preacher in Houston is famous for telling his listeners that God really wants us to be happy, wants us to pursue our best for ourselves. He has the nation’s largest church. People like that message. But our Father didn’t call us for that. He called us to live for Christ.  To live lives worthy of the grace that we’ve received.
Another danger comes not so much from false teachers, but from a lie. Aesop’s Fables is where that one worldview comes from. This is a way that we rely upon our flesh. And yet, when storms come, we also do something else because of this lie. We allow our pride to step in and keep us from sharing our burdens with one another. There is no shame when you let a brother or sister in Christ know that you have a struggle, a hurt, a need.
So in our text, Paul tells us that there is no confidence in the flesh. If there was, then he’d have it in spades. But all that he has is worth nothing.
He would tell the Corinthian church that it is in his weakness that Christ’s strength is made known. Christ doesn’t ask for us to surrender part of ourselves for the Gospel. He wants us to totally surrender all of ourselves. He doesn’t desire just the bad parts, but also our strength, our minds, our heats. Then the Holy Spirit can work in and through us. We need to be on guard.

3.  We realize where our focus should be. This should be our goal, to know Christ more. If we are blessed by a person, aren’t we inclined to know more about him? Here we have a great salvation, a God who wants to know us to the point that He sent his Son for us. All we have to do is surrender to Him. Everything else, all the good we’ve done, all the bad stumbles we’ve made, they are nothing.  This is the attitude Paul had.

When our focus is on knowing Christ, learning how to love others as he’s loved us, when we are on guard by clinging to the Bible, and when we rejoice in the Lord, we will see those in the world as the Father sees them. We will love them as the Father loves us. And they will be receptive to the great news we have. So tell me, what is your worldview?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Achieving the Goal - Philippians 2.1-15

I understand Veterans' Day is this week. Some may have expected a message. It is a noble service that you have done for the country and I thank you for your service. I really do not have a message with regards to your service, or the service of military in general. Yet I have noticed that as 11.11 comes closer, we will be more inclined to focus on the vets who've served. There will even be a few memorials to those who've given their lives to the battlefield. And to those, people will remind them that that event is in May.

It is fascinating how easily people rally around causes. Though all the causes that I can think of are polar.Let's take the World Series, which is old news. Either you routed for the Giants because you have a loyalty to the team, in which case we should talk, or you have a loyalty to the NL West, But I, and a few I know, routed for the Royals because of loyalty to the Diamondbacks. Well another factor helped. My high school, the choir was called the Royalaires. I know someone who routed for them because of color. But that's old news.

I could find a few other rallying cries across the spectrum of daily life where we could unite. Yet an area that has been lacking this has been the church. This week's top church news has been the Seattle area Mars Hill Church. In light of their pastor, Mark Driscoll, stepping down, the elders of the multi-site congregation have decided that each site is now on its own. Each congregation has the option of buying their property from the parent church corporation, or they can fold, if I understood that correctly. 

Unity seems to be allusive. But it isn't unobtainable. This morning as we continue our travel through the church of Philippi I've noticed some steps to take towards unity. It isn't easy, but it is doable.

Let's read the text (Philippians 2.1-15; Holman Christian Standard Bible):

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love,  if any fellowship with the Spirit,  if any affection and mercy,  fulfill my joy by thinking the same way,  having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one  goal. Do nothing out of rivalry  or conceit,  but in humility  consider others as more important  than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests,  but also for the interests of others. 

Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.  And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. 

For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow — of those who are in heaven  and on earth and under the earth — and every tongue  should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory  of God the Father. 

So then, my dear friends,  just as you have always obeyed,  not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. Do everything without grumbling  and arguing, so that you may be blameless  and pure,  children of God who are faultless  in a crooked  and perverted  generation,  among whom you shine like stars in the world.

Now that we've read the text, why should we seek unity? The answer is Jesus. Paul gives us reason to untie together and all the reasons are what we have and are receiving from the Lord. Are we being changed to being more encouraging, more merciful? Do we enjoy fellowship with the Holy Spirit? Then we should have one goal, unity.

Sure someone may point out, "Steve, the previous verses had been about sharing the faith, spreading the Good News." Yet the following seem to be more about the unity. When we are united, realizing that the label we wear is more of comfort, like I wear boots instead of shoes.  I believe that unity is a draw for people. If a congregation isn't united, then it stands out like a sore thumb. It's bad enough that we cant achieve unity between congregations that don't wear the same labels. I was once in a town that had 3 ministerial associations. The town was a quarter of Bisbee in population.

Still, if we are glad to be in Christ, then why shouldn't we be glad to be in fellowship with one another? Yet, this is preaching to the choir. I know that some of us regularly are in fellowship with other churches. We need to be mindful that we continue to encourage others, seek unity around Christ, around His Word.  Now here's how we do it:

1. Check our motives.  Why do we do what we do? Is it so that we can look better than our neighbor? Or is it from jealousy, because someone else is getting the spotlight and we desire to be in it?

Consider Joseph of Cyprus from the Book of Acts. He had a plot of land and sold it. Then he handed the check that he received to the Apostles so that the money can help brothers and sisters who had needs. He didn't have any strings attached. He gave. And in turn, the Apostles gave him a cool nickname Son of Encouragement. He would continue to live to that name by giving second chances when others wouldn't.

You'd think that was all to him? Unfortunately, it wasn't. He inspired some jealousy. A couple wanted their 15 minutes of fame. Peter called them on it, and now history has recorded them as being infamous, not quite the same motivation that Joseph had.

Today, I can still see this at play. Many a students enter the ministry with high aspirations for the kingdom. Yet most of us, 20 years later, aren't really known outside of sphere of influence. Most of us preachers won't see the spotlight like Billy Graham, or even Mark Driscoll. Mark said that it was the spotlight that aided him in being distracted from caring for the flock that he was given.

With the proper motivation, we tend to follow what Jesus said about going to banquets. Assume the lower station and let others lift you up. We want to be great, love our neighbor and worry only about what God thinks. Are we doing what we do to bring glory to God, and love to our brothers and sisters in Christ? This is our motivation that we should have.

2. Model Jesus. This is perhaps the hardest to consider, to emulate. Look at the person of Jesus. Here he is. He is fully God, fully man. Read about his life in the Gospels. I challenge you to once find an example of him using his God-ness to achieve something personal. Not one miracle was performed for his benefit. Not once, do I believe that he used even his divine strength for his own benefit. The closest that you might find is at the beginning and end of his earthly ministry. When Philip went for his brother, Jesus said, "before your brother called you, I saw you sitting under the fig tree." This was said refuting Nathaniel's claim of whether anyone/thing good can come from Nazareth. When Nathaniel confesses his faith, Jesus tells him, "You think that was something, you've not seen anything yet." The other was when he's arrested, the officials say that they are looking for Jesus. When he states that he is Jesus, it was like a line of angels knocked them all back. Yet, these two signs were for those whom Jesus was addressing rather than for his own gain. Yet he willingly went through death for us, even stating "Daddy, please don't make me, but ok, I will."

But He's God, someone might say. I believe that when he was baptized, the Holy Spirit came upon him to give him the same strength that Paul says now indwells each of us. What if Jesus so emptied himself that what he did, we can also do? Modelling Jesus is a game changer in that light. We obey because we rely upon the Holy Spirit within us.

3. Live Our Message. When Paul talks about working our faith with fear and trembling, he is not talking about earning our salvation. Rather he is saying that if we are of faith, then our lives should show it, shouldn't it? James restates it this way, "Faith without works is no faith. I will show you faith by works." The point that these men are telling us that it isn't enough to merely state that we have a relationship with Christ if we are not motivated by that relationship. To only know that Jesus is Lord places us on the same level as the demons, and that truth of who Jesus is makes them tremble in fear.

Consider what supernatural answers to prayer you have seen in your life. Look at events that you've gone through, what Christ has helped you endure. Doesn't that make you pause, perhaps even shudder? It does me. God has done some mighty things in my life, things that cannot be explained my natural reasoning.

Yet that is the measure of God. His desire to be in fellowship with His creation is so great that Jesus came to taste the pain and separation from God in a way that we won't have to if we remain in Him. This is how we should be motivated to live our faith.

Now the why is as important. Paul told Timothy to preach the the Gospel when it's convenient and when its not. Augustine added to it by stating preach the word, and when necessary, use words. Today, the biggest problem nonbelievers have with the church is that we tend to talk the talk, but not walk the talk. We are accused of being hypocrites.

It is a valid point. I don't mean that we don't stumble in our walk. We do. What the world is accusing the Church is that Sven, for example, always goes to church, professes his love for God but is the crustiest guy in the neighborhood. Sven isn't walking his talk. It comes from the attitude that we do our duty to God by coming to Church when the church is open, and the rest of the time is ours. Rather, coming to Church isn't about doing duty to God, but to be recharged for the struggles ahead, to encourage one another.

But this is where the Holy Spirit helps us. Unity is possible with the effort, with relying upon the Holy Spirit, and with fellowship with one another. Once we have this down, as we work on it, our neighbors may take stock and become more receptive so that we might complete the mission.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Remembering the Mission - Philippians 1.12-20

They're called, the Houston 5, or H5 for short. These are five pastors who may or may not have been vocal in their churches about the mayor's action to make public restrooms coed. Their sermons were demanded for review, their text messages, their emails as well as anything else that might mention homosexuality, coed bathrooms or the mayor herself. 

Why this happened is interesting. After she declared bathrooms coed, she and the city's attorney were served with 50k signatures demanding that the people of Houston should decide if bathrooms were to become coed. 50k people against her? The signatures must have been forged. She rejects them despite city protocols. Of course the people who spent time collecting the signatures didn't appreciate their hard work being tossed, and their integrity being questioned. They filed a law suit.

So if there were really 50k people against her, then there has to be someone rallying the troops, perhaps these 5 pastors were deemed the most influential against her agenda.  Now 5 pastors stared at court orders demanding everything that mentioned those 3 items. They were in a conundrum. What were they to do? They decided to fight the subpoenas. 

At the same time, I wonder if they, and not just H5, but Christians across the nation had forgotten the primary mission of the church? Opportunities to share the gospel is something we ever need to be seeking, perhaps even creating.  This morning, as we continue in our journey through Philippians, we'll look at 3 results that can happen as we carry out the mission. Let's read the text:

Before I point out these results, I will say something that will challenge every patriotic fiber each of us has, regardless of the label we claim. Now the primary mission of the American Christian is to share God's love and grace, or the good news of Jesus to those around us. Though our nation was founded on rights of the individual, rights aren't new to us. Paul had rights as a Roman citizen. Citizens usually have rights. 

Ah but in America, we fought for them. We fought and fight for others. And there is nothing wrong with that. It's noble for a young citizen to sacrifice a few years or even his or her life for our nation. Yet at the end of the day, when option A is to hold on to those rights, or B to lay them aside and share the good news, then we need to lay aside those rights. Paul did as he founded this very church. 

So the first result is that bad things may happen. Paul laid aside his rights when he was flogged and is now in chains heading off to see Nero. 

In this cultural war, a term I take strong issue, we are being told to attend for our rights. We get downright ugly against someone who doesn't know Christ. We've forgotten that the Houston mayor isn't the real enemy. She's a pawn. Our enemy is the devil. Let me go further, in this culture of war, we tend to expect Christian behavior from both non Christians and corporations. We are too reach the nonuniform, but we teach and mentor one another. As for corporations? God didn't call them to behave as such. Jesus didn't die for Home Depot, nor Hobby Lobby. He died for you, me, our lost neighbor.

This war, anyway, started off with a photographer and a baker. It moved on to a family that opened up their ranch. Now a couple who run a wedding chapel, pastors they're called, are being sued. Next will be a church. And I can see it being in a small rural church, not too different from ours here in Bisbee. 

Just as Paul did, are we prepared to lay aside our rights for the opportunity share the Gospel? 

Not only does our laying aside our rights lead us to discomfort, but it may also encourage others. Paul states in verse 14 that others have gained confidence. 

It's not to different from the whistle blower. Once a victim comes forward, other victims are encouraged to come forward. They do so because they're not alone. Just as Paul suffered, others gained confidence because they're not alone. 
For now, a church standing to preach Christ alone, apart from political rhetoric, is rare, but we're not alone. There are many churches that refuse this battle so that they can reach lost souls. 
Which brings up our last result. Others preach. Regardless of their motives, they are preaching.  Perhaps it's from Catholics versus Protestants, but somewhere, though we vocally deny it, we can see other churches as competition. Perhaps it comes from the love of sports. But we are not competing. 

We have, regardless of church label, the same mission, to reach lost souls for Christ. One time Jesus sent out his disciples to preach and prepare the community for his arrival. They came across others preaching about Jesus, well more doing miracles that they were doing in Jesus name as well. Well the disciples told them to stop. Jesus then said whoever isn't against us is for us. Basically we're on the same team. 

Competition should enter our minds until more people are in Christ than are not. Unfortunately that's unlikely to happen. 
This is why we are instead to pray for different eyes. Eyes that allow us to see the world ready to hear the good news. It won't be easy. It flies against everything I've been taught, and even lived. 

Prayer is the first step. The second is to be in the word. This isn't our shield but also and primarily our sword. By the Word, we know how to love God, and to know that we should love our neighbor. And then there's fellowship. Through fellowship, we not only encourage one another, but also hold each other accountable, to living love and grace. 

As you read, listen to the news this week, consider a different way we might handle the situation as we remember the mission. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

This Is my Truck

Here is the truck that I drive. It is a 1994 Chevy Suburban Silverado. Back when I was selling cars, Silverado was Chevy's tag of quality (and still is).

I purchased this truck back in October, it isn't pretty. You can see that I have a spare on the rear, and the driver's side front has a different hubcap than the rest. Look carefully at the luggage rack and trim. You will notice that the chrome isn't in good condition either. There are a few other problems with the body that the two pictures cannot show you such as dinks and chips in the paint. It does look better after it's been washed as you can see.

But this doesn't begin to look at the inside of the truck. There are plenty of flaws there too. For example, the stereo was a premium am/fm cassette player with an 8 speaker system. Only the speaker in the driver's side dash works for the FM stations. The upholstery and headliner needs some serious work as well. The previous owners smoked high-end cigarillos in the truck, so it's not as bad a smell, and not even noticeable if I hadn't told you. This doesn't even begin to touch the 225k miles that were already logged on this puppy or that the transmission went out the day after I bought it.

So the question you might be wondering now is why in the world with all that is wrong with her, would I buy her? I have had a dream for quite some time. I have wanted to restore an old vehicle. I thought about the Studebaker truck in my father-in-law's garage, but that needs engine work, and I seem to have an adverse reaction to petroleum products touching my skin. This forced me to rethink what I can and cannot do. I like older trucks and cars. So I came to the idea that I would get an old truck that was mechanically sound (though I tried to get the transmission to betray before I bought it) and restore the body and interior. THAT I can do.

Plus this really isn't a bad truck. It has its quirks, granted. Transmission seems to act up, but she warns me by having the engine light pop on as I put her into drive. When that happens, I just shut her off and try again. A quirk. Also a plus is that the A/C works great, both front and rear blowers. This is important on long road trips and living in the desert. Though she has ultrahigh miles, she has no leaks, burns no oil, spews no water and we've seen her get 20 mpg running at 80 mph. She loves to fly. And finally, I have more kids than what can be fit in a more reasonable sized truck or SUV. I almost went with an Expedition but it didn't allow for both children and cargo.

I have a few ideas of what I want to do to the truck, how it shall look in the years to come. I have an order of repair in my mind as I have ability to do them. For example, the first order would be to realign and paint the body, keeping the black theme because I do like black almost as much as I like green. Then I will change out the audio system, followed by the head/tail lights. Then I will tackle the upholstery and then the bumpers and finishing with the wheels. Of course I shouldn't forget to mention all the extra trimmings that I will add.

We are like that old truck of mine. Not much to look at, needing a whole lot of work, but has promise. That's how I see my truck. I don't see the beat up beast, but I see what I am envisioning for her.

But this is how we are different. When we come to Christ, we are forgiven and declared pure and sin-free. Yet we have a choice that my truck doesn't have. My truck cannot keep me from changing her color, fixing the stereo, etc. But we can quench the Spirit's work. (1 Thessalonians 5.19)

How do quench the Spirit? We do so when we cling to our pet sins. There are those who are first to claim that God loves us just the way we are. And yet He means so much more for us. We forget that though God loves us just the way we are, that He sees us through Jesus' blood shed on the cross, that we must be open to His shaping us, molding us. (Isaiah 64.8)

We are encouraged by the Word that because we are clothed in Christ, we should set our minds on things above. Paul encourages us in Colossians in chapter 3, “If you have been raised with the Savior, then seek what is above, where the Savior is. You old life has died, therefore put on your new life. You are being renewed in the knowledge according to the image of your Creator.”

And though it may be uncomfortable, laying aside our old ways, our old life, we can take courage that it will become easier. The Word also gives this promise from Philippians 1.6, “He who has started a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.”

This will bemy truck.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Gospel in a Nutshell (Sermon)

I’d like to tell you about one of my favorite verses from the scripture. It’s from the Old Testament, from the court of King David. I like this verse because it is packed full of hope. Hope for something that is better because in today’s world, we are a pretty messed up people. What we are going to see in the context of this verse of hope is that people were just as messed up and perhaps, even more so, than we can imagine today.

Now to understand this fully, we are going to go back five years from before this verse was spoken. Back to the beginning of chapter 13. Now, at the end of chapter 13, Joab, the general of David’s army, or the commander of David’s army, noticed that the king was longing for his son’s presence. In fact here is how the end of the chapter reads, 13.39 says “Then King David longed to go to Absalom, for David had finished grieving over Amnon’s death. Joab son of Zeruiah observed that the king’s mind was on Absalom.”

So Joab takes action into his own hands. Absalom wasn’t there because he was in exile. Absalom was in exile because he took matters into his own hands. Amnon desired Absalom’s sister, claimed to love her, and then once he had her, he disgraced her, cast her away, hated her according to Scripture. And she lived out the rest of her life a desolate woman in Absalom’s house.

So here we have a situation, the king is aware of it, he’s furious at Amnon would mistreat his daughter as such. We have a brother who furious at his other brother for mistreating his sister as such. So what was Absalom to do?

He wanted to be a good son so he waited. And he waited.  And unfortunately, he thought that perhaps the king would step in and serve justice. For two years he waited, and for two years nothing happened.

Perhaps David thought that this was one of those situations where the kids need to work it out on their own. But Dad, moms even, sometimes, when your kids are doing wrong you just have to step in, you just have to tell them what’s right and what’s wrong, even if they are grown and flown from your house. It doesn’t matter, doing right is always important. But because David didn’t do what is right, Absalom conspired. After waiting for two years for the justice that was denied,  he killed his brother.

Because he killed his brother, any of his other brothers would be after him, could be after him. Any one of his relatives would have the right to say that he needs to stand for murder. It’s an ugly family situation, but he flees for the kingdom of Geshur for three years where he waits for his dad to finish mourning.

I don’t know if he ever hoped to come back. I don’t know if perhaps he was in contact with Joab, the commander. That would be reading between the lines and perhaps he was because Joab did take matters into his own hands in verse 2. Anyway, Absalom is finally restored, brought back to Jerusalem, but not fully restored, he is still somewhat banished. The king didn’t call on him. The king wanted to see him, but the king didn’t see him. The king was full of pride, Absalom was full of pride. You see how messy life gets when we do things without consulting the Lord?

Yet, Absalom wasn’t content. He figures he would be better off in the kingdom of Geshur, because at least he wouldn’t be all alone in isolation in his own house. He’d be able to see people, he’d be able to attend the king’s court. So he pleads to Joab, to make petition for the king to see the king. And yet, twice Joab declines. I guess Joab wasn’t quite the friend he thought. But Joab was following the king’s example. By ignoring the problem, maybe it will go away. But when you have a problem in your house, ignoring it will just make it worse as we’ll see. Absalom was desperate to grab Joab’s attention so Absalom set fire to Joab’s field.

You see, not too different from today, there wasn’t a whole lot of money in being a military man. And even less if you are a commander. Usually the soldiers would get spoils of war, if you will, and the commander would often take less so that each of the soldiers would remain loyal to him. To make ends meet, Joab, when he wasn’t busy commanding the soldiers, was busy tending to the crops in his field. And then, Absalom robbed that of him.

So Joab finally gives him his attention. The king finally sees Absalom. I wonder if what happened next at the end of chapter 14 isn’t too different from what we see Judas doing for Jesus, giving him a kiss, a kiss of farewell, a kiss of the betrayer. Or perhaps David was saying, “Now you have seen me, now no more. This is it, you are dead to me.”

However, the fallout is just beginning. Life gets messier here.  From here, Absalom starts putting into work a coup. He starts grabbing malcontents to form his army. And then at an appointed time, when he thought the opportunity was right, he decided to have the horns of Hebron blown and the people of Israel declare now Absalom is king instead of David.

David, not wanting it to be too bloody, quickly flees the palace. He leaves just a few concubines to take care of the palace while he and his warriors retreat.

Now this coup is long, perhaps a year. And in that time, Absalom makes himself a stench in not only the eyes of the people, but in the eyes of his father, in the eyes of his God. He does things to defile David as much as he can from a distance. And then at the end of the coup, David’s men triumph and Joab exacts revenge. (Remember Joab no longer has a field. Perhaps he assumed that by killing Absalom, he could take Absalom’s field that was right next to his.)

And then what we see in chapter 19 is David wailing. Here the army of Judah had such a great victory. The coup was over but the king was in mourning. Here’s what happens next, Joab gets into the kings personal space and says, “How dare you! How dare you turn your men’s victory into a time of sorrow and weeping! You are carrying on as if to say, ‘I would rather my loyal men be dead in the field instead of my enemy.’ But no, your enemy is dead! Now you go and you cheer your men. You go, and you encourage them because if you do not by the time this day is over you will not have a loyal man left to you!”

Of course, what we know from reading further into 19, Joab’s words, and of course his actions to destroy the king’s son, cost him dearly. At that point, Joab ceased to be David’s commander. David made his nephew his commander.

But David nevertheless listened to the advice. He went out and he told his men what a good job they did. He encouraged them. He did what a king as supposed to do on the eve, the night of victory. So that is the context of the verse that we have.

Now let me tell you the verse itself. It’s verse 14 of chapter 14 of 2 Samuel. 2 Samuel 14.14, the address is easy to remember. Let me go ahead and read this gospel in a nutshell to you. “We will certainly die and be like water poured out on the ground, which can’t be recovered. But God would not take away a life; He would devise a plan so that the one banished from Him does not remain banished.” (HCSB) Did you catch that?

Now David was quick at this point, he realized that this was Joab’s doing. That this woman probably didn’t have a son who was needing protection from killing his brother but David did. And what she said ended up being very prophetic. God is not satisfied with taking a life, instead He seeks a way to restore the person. Now do you see a beginning of the hope? In the midst of this mess there’s a story of redemption. In the midst of the mess of our life, we have had our story of redemption if we’re following Christ.

This story of redemption goes back to understanding why we were created. We were created for God’s pleasure. We were created for fellowship with our heavenly Father.  Look back at the creation account. You’ll see that God spoke nearly everything into being. Nothing was made that He didn’t speak except for man. See, we weren’t spoken into existence. No, the Bible says that God took the dust of the earth and He fashioned it. Some versions would say mud. And He fashioned man out of that mud. And then He breathed his breath into man, giving man his life. And then from man, He would cause him to fall into a deep sleep and remove from him, a rib. And from that rib, God again used His hands and fashioned woman. Of creation He said it is good. It is good, every day, it is good. The sixth day, He said the animals and critters were good but of you and I, of Adam and Eve, of mankind He says this is very good. We are the crowning point of His creation. We were created with purpose. We were created for fellowship. Not just with one another, but also with our heavenly father.

Consider Genesis chapter 3 verse 8, in the cool of the day, the scripture says, God came looking for Adam and Eve. This I get the sense that this wasn’t just a one-time event, that God instantly knew that He had to confront these sinners. But that this was a regular event. That regularly, they met God at the cool of the day to enjoy being with Him. But when He sees them in Chapter 3, He realizes that they did indeed eat from the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil.

And because they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, what happened? He drove them from the Garden and He put an angel a flaming sword to guard the path back to the tree of life. So that man might not live eternally in sin. From that moment God started laying the works of a redeemer.

God is not content with leaving one banished but He devises a plan to restore that lost person. And that plan is Jesus Christ. And because Jesus came and He was our perfect sacrifice, our perfect Passover lamb having no sin, He was able to perfectly remove your sins and my sins. He was able to remove the sins of all of us sinners. And He did this all when we were messy and full of muck and mire.

We look at ourselves and we see our sinful natures. We know exactly how sinful we are. And we’re not fooling anyone. Oh we might be fooling our neighbors but we are not really fooling ourselves and we certainly not fooling God. But you know what? Because of what Jesus did? No God’s not fooled but God chose to do something. Romans 5.1 says if we are in Christ we are declared righteous. We are not made righteous, we are declared righteous. I like that the Christian Standard Bible uses that verbiage because it’s a world of difference. While you and I see the muck and mire on ourselves, God sees us through the filter of the blood of His son Jesus. We are declared righteous. God sees us pure. God doesn’t see us full of sin.

The second half of that hope that we have is because we are in Christ Jesus. This is coming from Romans 8 chapter 1, It says if we are in Christ Jesus, we have no condemnation. It’s like our sins never happened. Isn’t that wonderful news! Because of that we can confidently approach God’s throne. Paul tells us that we can call our heavenly father, the creator of the universe, Abba Father.

Now our tradition says that this is some holy title. But let me tell you a little secret here, this is a Mediterranean title. My boys call me papa, my little daughter calls me Papa. That’s what abba is. It’s the Mediterranean term for papa. Now most of the parents here, or most of the dads here are called dad, or daddy. But have you ever considered that you can call your heavenly father papa? Our heavenly papa? All because of the 1700 years of tradition that we are used to, that seems foreign to our ears, it almost seems blasphemous, but that is exactly what God has done. He has removed that banishment from us.

Now Christian, I realize that this is a new teaching, perhaps not new. One I’ve not heard enough about approaching our heavenly father so casually. Just as my little daughter loves to crawl into my lap and cuddle with me, just as Jesus says, unless you become like one of these little children, you can’t see the kingdom of God. So is there anything in your life that prevents you from going and approaching God as if He were your daddy, your papa, your abba? If so, I want to encourage you to lay that down at the cross. Leave that burden to Jesus. That’s what Jesus asks for; “give me your burdens take up my burden for it is light.” Let him worry about your stresses and your storms.

Yes life is messy, but we have a daddy who cares for us. David was too prideful to let Absalom come back into his presence. But God is different. Nothing in our past will keep us from coming to Him. It doesn’t matter what your sin is, God wants you. And Christian, leave that burden at His feet.

Now some of you might be able to do that and have no problem calling heavenly father Papa. So I want to encourage you with this challenge instead. You know how messy life is. Perhaps there is someone there in your life, in your sphere of influence, whose life is even a bigger mess. You can look at them and you know they’re struggling, you know that they are without hope, longing for something better, longing for the good news that we have, that God wants them. Even in a world where rejection is the norm. God won’t, I want to encourage you to go to that person who is hurting in your world. Encourage them let them know what Jesus has done for you. Let them know what God wants to do for them.

Now, finally, let me talk to you, the person who may not know Christ. I don’t know everyone who is going to be looking at this video, but someone surely is looking at this video who doesn’t know Christ. You have heard the entire Gospel message, that you were created with purpose, but sin (and you know what sin is, the wrongs in your life) have separated you from God. And while we were still enemies with God, God sent Jesus to die for us. You’ve heard that, that is the Good News. Now what are you going to do about it?

I encourage you at this point look at the bottom of your screen, you’ll see my email address. If you are ready to take that next step to get your life right with God, email me., and I’ll talk with you. I’ll encourage you and I’ll connect you with someone in your area, in your city, in your community that will help you get your life right with Christ. Now is the time to do so. So friend, I invite you to take that step of faith.

So this is why 2 Samuel 14.14 is one of my favorite verses in all of the Scriptures. The Father’s blessing be to you.