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.
_________________________________

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)
__________________________________________

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.

The Fables That Fail Us (1 Timothy 4:1-10)

But even so, the Spirit very clearly tells us that in the last times some will abandon the true faith because of their devotion to spirits sent to deceive and sabotage, and mistakenly they will end up following the doctrine of demons. They will be carried away through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences have been branded with a red-hot iron, saying, “Don’t marry. Don’t eat such-and-such foods.” But God created all these to be received with gratitude by people who hold fast to the faith and really comprehend the truth. For everything God made is good. That means nothing should be rejected as long as it’s received with a grateful heart, for by God’s word and prayer, it is made holy.[i] 
Place these truths before the brothers and sisters. If you do, you will be a good servant of Jesus the Anointed, raised and fed on words of true belief, trained in the good instruction you have so clearly followed.  Reject worldly fables. Refuse old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself toward godliness. Although training your body has certain payoffs, godliness benefits all things—holding promise for life here and now and promise for the life that is coming. 
This statement is worthy of trust and our full acceptance. This is what we work so hard for! This is why we are constantly struggling: because we have an assured hope fixed upon a living God who is the Savior of all humankind—especially all of us who believe.
____________________________________________ 

There were two problems facing Timothy in his church: One was a problem of what people believed, and the other was the problem of what people did. We have to believe things that are true, and then do the hard work of living in that truth.

Paul doesn’t pull any punches here. He says there are doctrines of demons, worldly fables and scandalous tales that sear the conscience of those who hold to them. The language is that of cauterizing a wound or being branded as a slave. The things we believe and then commit to first leave a mark, and they eventually tell others who our master is. [ii] Something will brand us and identify us, and it will be the thing to which we give our hearts and minds.  The Bible says we will all be servants or slaves of something. And it will true, or it will be a fable.

The Mystery Of Godliness (1 Timothy 3:14-16)

I am writing all this to you, hoping I can come to you before too long; but in case I am delayed, you will know how one ought to behave as a member of God’s family—the assembly of the living God, the pillar and foundation that support the truth—  and I think you will agree that the mystery of godliness is great: He was revealed in the flesh and proven right in the Spirit; He was seen by the heavenly messengers, and preached to outsider nations; He was believed in the world, and taken up to the heavens in glory.
The context: Paul has been warning Timothy about false teachers; he’s been stressing the connectedness of our beliefs and our actions. Here he connects what we believe with how we live once again.

We can’t get around the fact that this book has a lot of ‘oughts.’ Paul reminds Timothy that there is a particular way people ‘ought to behave’ if they are members of God’s family. It’s yet another reminder that following Jesus will cost us something: in this case, our autonomy. If we join the team, our lives our not our own anymore.  We see this in smaller ways all the time: work, sports teams, clubs. If we want to be a part of them, we have to align our lives with their vision of the good life. If we want to be associated with them, if we want to represent them, there is an obligation attached. In a much bigger and much more important way, we answer to God; He gets to make the call about how we ought to live if we choose to align ourselves with Christ and His Kingdom.

The Qualities of Godly Leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-13)

As we’ve been going through Paul's letter to Timothy, we've seen that there has been a problem in the movers and shakers in the church in Ephesus. False teaching and pagan practices have been creeping in, and Timothy needs to put people in positions of leadership that will safeguard orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxy (righteous living) for the sake of the spread of the gospel.

I’m putting church leadership on the hot spot today. I am keenly aware of that. I am also going to challenge all of you today, because what Paul requires of leaders ought to be a standard for all of us.
Here’s another statement you may trust: if anyone is seeking a position as overseer in the church, he desires an honorable and important work. Here are the qualifications to look for in an overseer: a spotless reputation, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, sensible, respectable, welcoming to strangers (allowing them into his home), and gifted to teach.  Disqualify any drunk or violent man. 
Look for a gentle man; no belligerent fellow can follow this calling. And he should be free from money lust. He should exert good control over his own household, and his children should obey and honor him.  (If someone can’t manage his own household, then how can he take care of God’s family?) He mustn’t be someone recently converted; otherwise, he may become arrogant and fall into the devil’s condemnation. He should also be respected for his character and known as an honorable person by people outside of the church so as to avoid the pitfalls of the devil (“avoid the pit into which the devil fell). 
The same standards apply to deacons: they should be dignified. Double-talking hypocrites, heavy drinkers, and those greedy for ill-gotten gain should not be considered. They should be people who hold tight to the great mystery of faith with a clear conscience. Put these deacon-candidates to the test first; and if they come through without stumbling, then send them out to serve. 
Again the same applies to women (wives?) in key positions; they should also be dignified, not backstabbing gossips but self-controlled and faithful to the core. Now deacons should live faithfully as the husband of one wife and be in control of their households, including their children. Those deacons who serve well will achieve a good standing for themselves in the community and have great confidence to walk in the faith that is in Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King.
I am going to first separate the three categories of people mentioned, then walk through the qualifications.

Truth, Humility and Peace: The Hard Work Of Church Community (1 Timothy 2:8-15)

In 1 Timothy, Paul keeps coming back to two things: orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (righteous action). Pretty much everything in the letter relates to these two things in some fashion. Before Paul moves into a discussion of ecclesiology (church structure) in Chapter 3, he addresses a dynamic happening in Timothy’s church where men and women were being influenced by bad teaching and responding in troubling ways.Paul’s solution may sound odd to us, but it made sense to his audience, and there are implications for us today. Here’s the passage:
So here’s what you tell them; here’s what I want to see: Men, pray wherever you are. Reach your holy hands to heaven—without rage or conflict—completely open. Women, the same goes for you: dress properly, modestly, and appropriately. Don’t get carried away in grooming your hair or seek beauty in glittering gold, pearls, or expensive clothes. Instead, as is fitting, let good works decorate your true beauty and show that you are a woman who claims reverence for God.  

It’s best if a woman learns quietly and orderly in complete submission.  Now, Timothy, it’s not my habit to allow women to teach in a way that wrenches authority from a man. As I said, it’s best if a woman learns quietly and orderly. This is because Adam was formed first by God, then Eve. Plus, it wasn’t Adam who was tricked; it was she—the woman was the one who was fooled and disobeyed God’s command first.Still, God, in His faithfulness, will deliver her through childbearing as long as she remains in faith and love and holiness with self-restraint. (1 Timothy 2:8-15)
Can we just acknowledge right up front that this is an odd passage? Christian theologians and Bible scholars have wrestled with this passage for as long as it’s been around. Is this about some specific dynamic in Timothy’s church or in Ephesus? Is this a timeless comment about women and men?
Unknown Object
What I’m going to attempt to do this morning is show why this was important for them to do what we talked about last week: ‘lead quiet and peaceful lives, with holiness and godliness, for the sake of the spread of gospel.’  Then I want to challenge us with how this might apply in our lives today.

Living With Kings: Prayer, Peace and Gravity (1 Timothy 1:18 – 2:6)

 "Timothy, my dear child, I am placing before you a charge for the mission ahead. It is in total agreement with the prophecies once spoken over you. Here it is: with God’s message stirring and directing you, fight the good fight, armed with faith and a good conscience. Some have tried to silence their consciences, making a shipwreck of their lives and ruining their faiths. Hymenaeus and Alexander are among these; I have had to hand them over to Satan so they might learn not to speak against God.  
So, first and foremost, I urge God’s people to pray. They should make their requests, petitions, and thanksgivings on behalf of all humanity. Teach them to pray for kings (or anyone in high places for that matter) so that we can lead quiet, peaceful lives in godliness and holiness, all of which is good and acceptable before the eyes of God our Savior who desires for everyone to be saved and know the truth.   
Because ‘There is one God and one Mediator[1] between God and us— the man Jesus, God’s Anointed, Who gave His life as a ransom for all so that we might have freedom.’The testimony was given to me at just the right time. This is exactly what I was appointed to do—tell everyone His story—as a herald, an emissary, a teacher of the outsiders in faith and the truth."
_____________________________________________________

Paul has already mentioned two kinds of doctrine in his letter to Timothy: the proper knowledge of Jesus (orthodoxy), and the proper embrace of life under the lordship of Jesus (orthopraxy).[2] Without these, we shipwreck our faith. If you want a sense of how seriously Paul takes this, watch The Finest Hours, or The Perfect Storm. Paul knew something about shipwrecks. I’m sure he didn’t choose this word casually.

So Timothy has to address that. In this case, “turning them over to Satan” does not mean he has some kind of authority to damn them. It seems to be more of a formal church pronouncement where they pray that God removes his blessing or protection so that the two men mentioned can experience the disaster of where their lives and teaching are going - but for the sake of restoration.

This opening section of warning about protecting orthodoxy and orthopraxy is followed immediately with the command to pray in every possible way. The four words used all mean different things, but they basically cover the full range of prayer. Just…pray.

Then Paul gets specific.The church is to pray for all people and for kings and those who are in authority, so Christians can lead quite and peaceful lives. God really likes this, because He desires the salvation of everyone.

Trustworthy Saying (1Timothy 1:8-17)

In the previous post, we talked about the importance of a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a genuine faith that comes from sound doctrine. We also noted there are those who wander from this, who bring arguments and confusion rather than welcoming in the Kingdom of God as expressed by the presence of the church on earth. Paul continues by showing a contrast between a life that rejects the reign of Christ and a life that embraces it, and why embracing Jesus brings life.
You and I know the law is good (if used in the right way), and we also know the law was not designed for law-abiding people but for lawbreakers and criminals, the ungodly and sin-filled, the unholy and worldly, the father killers and mother killers, the murderers, the sexually immoral and homosexuals, slave dealers, liars, perjurers, and anyone else who acts against the sound doctrine (“teaching as it extends to a necessary lifestyle”)[1] laid out in the glorious, holy, and pure good news of the blessed God that has been entrusted to me. (8-11)
First, Paul establishes the standard: God’s law reveals God’s will for the world. We want our hearts to align with God’s so that we love what God loves; we want our consciences to be clear by then doing what God wants us to do. There is a ‘necessary lifestyle’ that is supposed to follow if we commit ourselves to Jesus – not because it saves us, but because it expresses our commitment to the one who has saved us.

Part of the problem in Timothy’s church was that the Judaizers were teaching that keeping the Law would save people. But that’s not the way the law was meant to be used. It was meant to be a schoolmaster, a teacher, showing the way that pleases God. God has revealed His will so that we know if our actions are pleasing to Him, and if what we are doing is promoting or undermining life in the Kingdom of God. But even the best lawkeeping cannot save us, so Paul immediately moves into the necessity of the intervention of Jesus in our life.