Monday, June 12, 2017

From The Great Physician To The Great Commission (Part 4)

  • A Labor Foreign Secretary (1966-68) named George Brown got this response from another guest at a diplomatic reception: “I shall not dance with you for three reasons. First, because you are drunk, second, because this is not a waltz but the Peruvian national anthem and third, because I am not a beautiful lady in red; I am the Cardinal Bishop of Lima.”
  • When Barbara Bush, the wife of then Vice President George Bush, Sr., was on a diplomatic visit in Japan, she attended a lunch with Emperor Hirohito at Tokyo's Imperial Palace. In spite of her best efforts to start a conversation, the Emperor would only smile and give very short answers. She finally complimented Hirohito on his official residence."Thank you," he said. "Is it new?" pressed Mrs. Bush. "Yes." "Was the palace just so old that it was falling down?" “No, I'm afraid that you bombed it."
It’s embarrassing when a leader or an ambassador poorly represents something of which you are a part. They are supposed to be a compelling face for something or someone, and it’s hard. At times they fail, sometimes hilariously and other times more seriously. We tend to think of this in politics or schools or sports teams, but Paul wrote to the first followers of Christ:
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20
As followers of Christ, we are His ambassadors to a world that is not our home. We represent another King and another Kingdom. "Our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20). As ambassadors for Christ, we have the same kind of responsibility as the previous spokespeople I mentioned. But now we are going to the Kingdom of the Earth on behalf of the Kingdom of Heaven, and things of eternal import are at stake.  We’ve been talking about spiritual health for the past six weeks. It’s worth noting that we don’t become healthy through Jesus just for our sake. We are made healthy as part of preparation for evangelism and discipleship.
“The Church is the Church only when it exists for others...not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell [people] of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.” (Dietrich BonhoefferLetters and Papers from Prison).

Monday, May 15, 2017

From The Great Physician To The Great Commission (Part 3)

Here is today’s leading question: how do we reorder our loves and experience what David called ‘the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living’ (Psalm 27:13)? I would like to offer general principles about what I think is the God-ordained path by which our hearts flourish in their new life – and by flourish I mean our hearts increasingly begin to resemble that heart of Jesus.

First, pray for God to do the work only God can do.

He must create a new heart in you (salvation and regeneration), and he must be the foundation of our ongoing heart health (sanctification). I hope my list last week didn’t drive you to despair. It was meant to drive you toward Jesus. Even if we have a sliding scale that showed us how close we were to the right side, it would always remind us of the need for Jesus. No matter how close we get, we will fail. This reality is not meant discourage us. Godly sorrow is intended to bring repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10).

I am reminded of the times when it is clear to me that I fail my wife or friends. I have two choices: I can retreat in frustration and depression (maybe even anger), or I can appreciate how much they must love me to continue to do life with me. So my failure, properly processed, increases my awe at their faithful love. It is often when I am most aware of my sin that I am in awe of God’s love. When I am most aware of my weakness, I marvel at His power. When I am asking others and God to forgive me, I see the cost and beauty of their love as they forgive and remain faithful.
Let your failures increase your awe of God’s love and inspire you even more to press toward the kind of heart that loves like that.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

From The Great Physician To The Great Commission (Part 2)

The classic vampire claim is that they can’t come into your house until you let them.  Kept outside, they can do nothing. Left inside, they will drain your life.  Though Hollywood has turned most vampire stories into gory bloodbaths, this wasn’t always the case. Some of the earliest stories (such as Bram Stoker’s classic work) were deeply connected with Christianity, with the vampire as the figure of Satan or at least of sin. It was meant to shock the reader into recognizing the seriousness and horror of what sin does.

This doorway metaphor echoes biblical imagery. Right before Cain killed his brother, God reminded him that “sin crouches at the door; its desire is for you, and you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7) Sin is the ultimate vampire, the one that wants in to drain our souls.

These spiritual vampires that crouch at the door of my heart want me to be harsh in my home; they want me to love money and fame; they want me to ignore God; they want me to reject the guidelines of the Bible; they want me to overlook my friends and hate my enemies; they want me to objectify people and love things. They want me to shame the name of Jesus in my testimony.

Thanks to Jesus, the most it can do is crouch at the door of my life. But I still have my free will, and I can still choose to whom I open the door of my heart.

This isn’t the only time the Bible uses this image: When John records in Revelation 3 that God says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” he was talking to the church – the Christians - of Laodicea. They needed to continue to open the door of their heart.

I need Jesus as much after my salvation as I did before. That’s what I want to talk about today: how, after salvation, God has a plan in place for us to help us resist the ongoing temptation of the sin that so easily besets us (Hebrews 12:1).

From The Great Physician To The Great Commission (Part 1)

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Mark 2: 15-17)

Jesus is often called the Great Physician because of this claim.  He took a common experience (doctors are trained to help the physically ill) to describe a spiritual reality (Jesus came to help the spiritually sick).

The Pharisees were angry because Jesus was more focused on the “sinners” or the “sick” than he was on them, the healthy non-sinners (or so they thought). It was as if the Pharisees were saying, “Look, we are all cleaned up. Wouldn’t you rather hang out with us?”  And Jesus said by his actions and his words, “Oh, well, if you’re that fine without me, carry on. I will find those who see themselves honestly – they are the ones who are ready for me.”

We, the followers of Jesus, came to him as the Sick.
  • We accepted His diagnosis (sin), cure (salvation), and ‘after care’ plan (sanctification), and we celebrate our health by promoting the doctor (evangelism).
  • We became part of the Fellowship of the Healed (once for all for the eternal punishment for our sin) and the Healing (the good work Jesus has begun continues).
  • Now, we have the privilege of paying forward what happened through the presence of the church, in which more of the sick in desperate need of The Great Physician can find healing and hope. 
When people follow Jesus to church, we want them to experience our church as a place where the spiritually sick find healing through the work of Jesus, the power of his Word and Spirit, and the presence of His people. Assuming that Jesus was very purposeful with that analogy, what can we learn from our experiences with medical hospitals as we help to participate in the spiritual hospital that is our church?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Jesus After The Resurrection: The Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13-35)

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing (reasoning) together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.  But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 
And he said to them, "What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they stood still, looking sad. (“gloomy, sullen, dark") Then one of them, named Cle'opas (probably Jesus’ uncle), answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?"  And he said to them, "What things?" 
And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. ("to liberate from an oppressive situation, set free") 
Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. (“Nothing seems to make sense; astound") They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.
 
And he said to them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! ("Without, understanding or perception") Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" (A corresponding OT word analogy literally meant “heavy.” Jesus was a heavyweight, a Messiah worth his credentials.) And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. 
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them.  When he was at table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him (Jesus "made understanding possible"); and he vanished out of their sight. 
They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?"  And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!"  Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35)

I want to talk today about what we learn about Jesus in this passage, how this encourages us, and how this challenges us (and they will probably all run together).

1. Life is hard, but Jesus joins us in our journey

Through Jesus, God entered a world He created in which grief and joy cross paths constantly.
  • Jesus goes from John’s baptism to temptation in the wilderness
  • He was praised for miracles and then walked into traps
  • He fed the 5,000 and was then pummeled by storms
  • Lazarus lived/Lazarus died/Lazarus lived
  • Peter walked on water - and then Peter sank
  • Crowds love him, but villages hate him
  • The triumphal entry was followed by crucifixion, then resurrection
  • Now, on the Emmaus road, there is despair followed by great joy.
The resurrected Christ did not demonstrate the fullness of His glory by removing all the uncertainty and turmoil from life – He demonstrated the fullness of His glory by entering into those situations and redeeming them. David talked about how God would be with him when he walked through the valleys, not if.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Mourning, Waiting, and Celebrating (Easter 2017)

For Easter this year, I did a three part sermon series on three crucial days in the life of Jesus: His day of death (Crucifixion or Good Friday), the day of waiting (Silent Saturday), and the day that Jesus rose (Resurrection Sunday). Some years, we pack them all into one Sunday. Other years, we decide to settle into each one of those days. This year was one of the latter years.

What follows are excerpts from each of the sermons as well as links to the full text. If you find these helpful, feel free to pass them on or use them as you see fit.

The Lord is Risen!

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Quest (1 Timothy 6:11-21)

You are a man of God. Your quest is for justice, godliness, faithfulness, love, perseverance, and gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith! [Agonize the good agony.] Cling to the eternal life you were called to when you confessed the good confession before witnesses.  Before God—the life-giving Creator of all things—and Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, who made the good confession to Pontius Pilate, I urge you: keep His commandment. Have a spotless, indisputable record until our Lord Jesus the Anointed appears to set this world straight. 
In His own perfect time, He will come—blessed is the only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords. He alone possesses immortality; He makes His home in matchless, blinding, brilliant light that no one can approach—no mortal has ever even seen Him, and no human can. So let it be that all honor and eternal power are His. Amen. 
Here’s what you say to those wealthy in regard to this age: “Don’t become high and mighty or place all your hope on a gamble for riches; instead, fix your hope on God, the One who richly provides everything for our enjoyment.” Tell them to use their wealth for good things; be rich in good works! If they are willing to give generously and share everything, then they will send ahead a great treasure for themselves and build their futures on a solid foundation. As a result, they will surely take hold of eternal life. 
O Timothy, protect what was entrusted to you![the gospel]. Walk away from all the godless, empty voices out there, and turn aside from objections and arguments that arise from false knowledge.  (By professing such knowledge, some are missing the mark when it comes to true faith.) May God’s grace be with you.
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I’ll be honest: sometimes, when I read the Bible, I get tired. I know what a good quest looks like.

I grew up reading the stories of King Arthur and His knights (which I even forced on my high school literature classes for a time).  As a kid, I listened to the record of Rankin Bass’s The Hobbit, then read the Lord of the Rings every Christmas break during high school.  I’ve seen Indiana Jones, The Princess Bride and Guardians of the Galaxy; I know about the pursuit of Superbowl rings and NBA championships and NCAA tournament winners. There’s even that little bird in the kid’s stories who just wants to find his mother.

We all know what a quest is – and we all quest.

Don’t Neglect Your Gift (1 Timothy 4:12 – 4:16)

Don’t let anyone belittle you because you are young. Instead, show the faithful, young and old, an example of how to live: set the standard for how to talk, act, love, and be faithful and pure. Until I get there, make sure to devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching. Don’t neglect the gift that was given to you through the prophecy spoken when the company of the elders laid their hands on you. Cultivate all these practices; live by them so that all will see how you are advancing and growing. Take care of yourself, concentrate on your teaching, and stick with these things. If you do, then you will be effective in bringing salvation {sanctification] to yourself and all who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:12-4:16)
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There's a scene at the beginning of The Equalizer where a young lady named Teri asks Robert (The Equalizer) what happens in Hemingway’s story, "The Old Man and the Sea." Robert tells her that the old man catches the fish. She asks, "Why didn't he just let the fish go?" Robert replies, "Old man's gotta be the old man. Fish has got to be the fish. Gotta be who you are in this world, no matter what."

In the context of the story, I don’t think it was a statement of fatalistic resignation or some silly version of, "You are perfect just the way you are!" Robert was pointing out that we are all made for a purpose, with a role to play. We have to find that purpose and live it. It's an acknowledgment that we are made for some things and not others. You see the importance of this principle in Scripture numerous times, but I am going to point out my favorite one: Gideon. We meet Gideon in Judges 6 (11-14):
“Now in Ophrah, a messenger from God sat under an oak tree that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite. Gideon, the son of Joash, was beating out wheat in the winepress so that the Midianites could not see what he was doing. The  messenger appeared to Gideon and said, “The Eternal One is with you, mighty warrior.” Gideon replied, “Sir, if He is with us, then why has all this misfortune come on us? Where are all the miracles that our ancestors told us about? They said, “Didn’t the Eternal deliver us out of Egypt?” But now He has left us. He has made us servants of the Midianites.” The messenger of God replied, “Go out with your strength and rescue Israel from the oppression of Midian. Do you understand that I am the one sending you?”
There is nothing wrong with farming, but Gideon was not made to farm; he was made to fight. Gideon had forgotten who he was – who God made Him to be. Note the combination of how this will work: Gideon is to “go out with his strength” - because “I am the one sending you.” So God will send Gideon to a place where Gideon’s strengths will allow him to flourish in the service of God’s kingdom.