Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

Jun
06

croissant-newspaper-and-tea

Compadres Blog Tour

I am part of a Facebook group called Compadres and this summer we are doing a blog tour. Each week a few of us will post on something from the life of Jesus. I will post the links here so you can follow along. Jeremy Schopper is the first one to post. Check out The Glory of Jesus

Too Many Bibles?

Every time I go to the bookstore they are advertising a new Bible. Nowadays you can find a Bible tailored to your own beliefs, likes, fashion, favorite celebrities, etc. Is it possible that there are too many Bibles available? This is the question a former Bible publisher asked and wrote about. Check out Four Modern Versions of the Bible that are Ruining the Bible

On Leaders

James K.A. Smith recently interviewed Michael Lindsay, president of Gordon College. The interview offers some fascinating information on leadership and the value of mentors. On the importance of mentors Lindsay says,

What does matter is the formative influence of an adult who speaks into your life and who has a sustaining relationship with you that you carry with you. Each of us could identify one, two, or three people outside of our family who had a formative influence, and my hunch is that the relationship you had was not for months, or for semesters, but for years.

Check out The Hidden Curriculum of Leadership

Sunday Nights

Many congregations are asking questions about Sunday evening services. At my own congregation attendance for Sunday morning worship has increased, while attendance on Sunday evening continues to decline. This is not unusual. Some congregations have abandoned Sunday evening worship services, while others are looking for different alternatives. Bobby Ross Jr. at The Christian Chronicle has written an article about the dilemma many congregations are facing. Check out Five Ideas to Improve Sunday Night

Hans Urs von Balthasar

Balthasar is a Catholic theologian who is both brilliant and challenging. His works can be overwhelming to some, but for those who press forward they are well worth the work. Here is a great introduction to the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar.

The Secret Sisters

There have been several great albums released already this year. One of those is the new album by The Secret Sisters. The final cut on the album is a song called River Jordan. Check out an acoustical version of the song below.

Jun
03

old-key

Here is a sermon on the spiritual discipline of secrecy and the importance of prayer based on Matthew 6:1-18.

Jun
02

obadiah2

Popular commentaries on the Bible are not always the most fun things to read. Sometimes authors ignore the text completely and go off in a direction that is far from the book they are supposed to be discussing. Other times you might find an author who is more interested in proof texting and discussing his or her favorite doctrines rather than helping the reader learn more about the text. Often popular commentaries are shallow and don’t address the issues that average readers of the Bible struggle to understand. Writing a good popular commentary is difficult, but Michael Whitworth has succeeded in writing an excellent commentary on the obscure book of Obadiah. Esau’s Doom is a great introduction to a prophetic book that most Christians know little or nothing about.

Not just anyone can write a commentary that is enjoyable, educational, and that everyone can read, but that is exactly what Michael Whitworth has done. He does a great job of engaging more technical books and boiling down the important information that help readers understand the background and issues at hand within Obadiah. He also includes many helpful illustrations that make the ancient text come alive. Not only that, Michael is a great writer. His writing style is not stuffy or boring. Michael’s love for God and scripture comes through in his writing. The reader is able to feel Michael’s excitement for God’s holy word and his excitement is contagious.

Esau’s Doom is a great book for Bible teachers, ministers, and anyone who wants to know more about Obadiah. You do not have to be an expert theologian to understand this commentary. Esau’s Doom is a commentary that anyone can pick up and learn from. It does not read like a commentary, but instead read’s like an interesting article that opens the reader’s eyes to new information. The information found within this book will help a person teach a class on Obadiah, or simply understand the Bible better.

Obadiah is a brief book. It consists of twenty-one verses. It’s brevity is probably one of the reasons for its obscurity. Because Obadiah is not a lengthy book, Esau’s Doom is not long or wordy either. Michael has done a great job of making his commentary reflect the book which is its focus. A person could read Obadiah and Esau’s Doom in one setting. We live in a culture that is obsessed with busyness. We fill each fleeting moment with things that are designed to distract. Why not spend an afternoon getting to know a book of the Bible you may not be familiar with? Michael Whitworth has made it easy to do just that, and we should be thankful for his noble effort that we are able to benefit from.

You can learn more about Esau’s Doom and download a copy here.

Jun
01

love-heart

How do you define love? It might depend on who you ask. What kind of love are we talking about? Are we talking about the kind you read about in the latest Nicholas Sparks’ novel? Are we talking about that scene in your favorite romantic comedy that makes you feel all warm inside, or are we talking about something else? Perhaps love is a wife who stays with her husband and cares for him even though he has lost his mental capabilities and he doesn’t remember her at all.

What if we are not talking about romantic love at all? In our current culture when we hear the word love, we tend to think about romantic love. The word love is found all over the Bible and it is rarely used in the context of romantic love. How do you define biblical love? Again, it might depend on who you ask. Everyone does not think the same way. Moderns tend to think rationally and logically. They want an actual definition. Postmoderns do not think this way. Instead of looking for a definition, they would rather hear a story. One is not right and the other wrong. They are simply different ways of thinking. The Bible actually provides an answer for both perspectives.

If you are a rational and logical thinker, then the Bible provides you with an actual definition of love.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

That is a pretty good definition of love. We can learn a lot about what love is and is not from that definition, but does this definition tell us everything we need to know about love? I don’t believe so. Sometimes a definition is good, but in this case we need a little more.

Love is central to Christianity. The apostle John tells us that God is love. It is important that we understand this concept the best we can. Instead of propositions and definitions, postmoderns would rather have a story. This is not a threat to Christianity, since most of the Bible is story. The Bible uses stories to help teach us about important concepts like love.

In Luke 10 Jesus is asked by a lawyer what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus points him to the law, but the lawyer is not satisfied. He wants more clarification. Jesus quotes the two greatest commands: Love God and love your neighbor. The lawyer is still not satisfied and so Jesus tells a story. It is a story we are familiar with. We may not be able to quote 1 Corinthians 13, but we know the story of the Good Samaritan. Stories stick with us. We can easily recall them, and this is significant because a story like this one helps define what love is.

The story of the Good Samaritan is a story about sacrifice. Love costs us something. It is easy to walk by on the other side of the road, but love demands we stop and help. Love demands our time, energy, and wealth. The Good Samaritan was willing to sacrifice these things for a complete stranger. Why? The only answer is love.

Jesus defines love for us in this story. The definition we get from Paul is nice, but this story goes even further and yet this is not even the most comprehensive story about love in the Bible. The story of Jesus is a story about love overcoming power. Love defeated Caiaphas and Pilate. Love overcame the power of Rome because love was willing to lay down his life. Love not only died for his friends. Love died for his enemies as well. Love offered forgiveness on the cross. What is the greatest power at our disposal? It is not power or might. It is love. Love conquers all.

How do we tell people about love? We could give them a definition, but I don’t think they would be too interested. It is hard to find anyone who would listen to another person talk about the definition of a word. Thankfully a definition is not the only thing we have. We have a story, but not just any story. It is the greatest love story ever told. Ask someone if they want to hear a great love story and I am confident you will be able to find some people who are ready to listen.

For more on modern and postmodern thinking, check out The Church, Postmodernism, and Relative Truth

May
20

hintergrund-717

O Lord, our Sovereign,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
    Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
    to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

(Psalm 8)

“Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances.” Maya Angelou

Psalm 8 is one of several creation accounts found within the Bible. The most famous of these is Genesis 1 and 2, but there are others. As God questions Job in Job 38 he speaks of the creation of the universe. We are given a creation account with a twist at the beginning of the gospel of John.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

One of the things that all these creation accounts have in common is an element of poetry. When God tells us about creation he uses poetry. Why is this? Creation is debated by Christians and atheists. It is even debated by Christians and Christians. When we come to the creation account we want answers. We want details. We want a textbook on the origins of the universe, but instead we are given poetry and song. Why?

I am not sure I have the answer, but I found this quote by Yehudi Menuhin, one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century, and it provides some helpful insight about music, poetry, and creation. Menuhin states, “Music creates order out of chaos: for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent, melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous.” In creation God is creating order out of chaos. What is happening in poetry and song mimics what is happening in creation. Order is being created out of chaos.

Psalm 8 describes the order of things. The Universe is often referred to as the cosmos. It is an ordered system. We might say there is a rhythm or a beat to creation. When things get messed up it means we have gotten out of rhythm, it means we are missing the beat.

Psalm 8 begins and ends with the same refrain.

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

The order of all things begins with God. God is sovereign. God is over all. He is the creator of all things. The rhythm and beat of the Universe is established by God.

Amazingly, God invites human beings to partner with him in maintaining and caring for creation. The psalmist is amazed by this. He asks,

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortals that you care for them?”

He then explains that God has given human beings a special place in creation. We are God’s partners in helping maintain the order God has established. The psalmist writes,

“Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under their feet.”

We live by the beat God has laid down and we get to help others find this rhythm. This is a lot of responsibility because I do not know if you have noticed, but the world is out of rhythm. The world is living by a different beat.

Each day we pass by people on the street who do not acknowledge God as the Sovereign ruler over all things. They have not found the right rhythm yet. We find others who want to mess with the order God has given us. Some want to place more emphasis on the planet than on human beings. Others think they are free to do whatever they want to creation. They think it is theirs to use as they wish. They completely miss the point that God has made us stewards and that God cares about what happens to creation. When we fail to honor God’s good creation we are missing the beat.

People are out of rhythm when it comes to how we treat one another. God has created us in his image. The psalmist says we have been made a little lower than God. Every human being bears this image. We are to treat each other with respect and dignity. We are to love our neighbor as our self. There is an order to life and it is important that we find it, so we can live by God’s beat.

Thomas Merton once said, “Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.” When things get out of whack in our lives it could be because we are not living according to God’s rhythm. We are missing out on the abundant life Jesus has promised because we are moving to a different beat. We must find God’s rhythm. We must adjust our lives according to this rhythm, and we must share this rhythm with others. Many are looking for it and it is up to us to help bring a little cosmos to a chaotic world.

May we take the time to stop and listen to the song God is singing. May we seek to move in harmony with God’s song and bring order and peace to a world that is out of rhythm, a world that is longing for God’s beat.

May
11

401px-Vladimirskaya

A sermon delivered at La Grange Church of Christ on May 11, 2014 (Mother’s Day)

In The Cost of Discipleship Dietrich Bonhoeffer asked Christians to consider the cost of following Jesus. Before Mary ever considered the cost of following a Savior, she considered the cost of motherhood. Mary is one of the most important figures in the Bible, and yet we do not spend much time talking about the faith and life of this incredible woman. This is a mistake. She deserves more of our attention. She deserves for us to call her blessed.

And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed”
(Luke 1:45-48)

Mary is called blessed because of her faith and because of what she did. Not only that, it was prophesied that all future generations would call her blessed. This is not said of any of the apostles. This is not said of some of the great figures we read about in the Old Testament. This is said of Mary. She is given a special designation that not many others in the Bible are given.  Now it is possible to take this designation too far. The Bible never tells us to worship Mary or pray to her. Mary is not deity. She is not God. She was a human just like us, but she was a special human and she is given a special honor in the Bible. It would be wrong for us to ignore this. It would be wrong for us not to call her blessed. Mary was an incredible person and she deserves our attention.

When we happen to take the time to look at Mary, the story we most often tell is that of the angel Gabriel telling young Mary that she is going to be the mother of the Messiah. Mary is probably around the age of 16 when this happens. She is a young single woman when the angel explains to her that she is going to have a baby. This is not exactly good news. This is something that could get Mary in a lot of trouble. She could even be put to death. Notice how she responds to this incredible news. In Luke 1:38 she says,

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

At sixteen Mary utters these extraordinary words of faith. “Let it be to me according to your word.” But Mary you are going to be an unwed mother. “Let it be me to me according to your word.” But Mary this could ruin your reputation. Your upcoming wedding could be called off. “Let it be to me according to your word.” But Mary they may stone you. They may put you to death for taking this risk. “Let it be to me according to your word.”  Mary, a young peasant girl from the small town of Nazareth, showed incredible faith in the face of great peril.

That story alone would have been enough to ensure Mary’s legacy among Christians, but that is just the beginning. Following this visit from the angel Mary sings a song. This song is more than faithful praise to the God who has blessed Mary with this honor. It is a song of trust in a God who Mary believes will act in incredible ways to help his people. Mary puts her trust in the God of the Exodus who heard the cries of his people and set them free. This song is a song of rebellion against the rulers and powers who oppress. Mary sings,

He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)

This sixteen year old peasant girl goes toe to toe with Herod and Caesar. In the eyes of the world this girl is powerless. She has no standing or status within her community, and yet she is not afraid. She will not back down. She knows God is on her side, and because of this she has nothing to fear.

At this point in the gospel story other figures become prominent.  The emphasis begins to transition to Mary’s Son, Jesus.  Mary shows up in the story from time to time, but we are not told everything about her life, just as we are not told everything about the life of Jesus or others in the story of the Bible. However, Mary does make another appearance at the climax of the entire Biblical narrative. Mary shows up at the cross. In John 19 we learn that Mary was standing near the cross as Jesus was being crucified. Here we find a third pivotal moment in the life of Mary where she shows great faith. As many followers of Jesus are fleeing the scene of the cross, Mary is close by. She refuses to leave her Son, but she also refuses to leave her Savior.

As Jesus is looking down from the cross he sees his mother and he does a remarkable thing. As he is dying he is still thinking of others. He is concerned about who will care for his mother. He entrusts her care to the disciple whom he loved. This is interesting. Why did he not commission one of his brothers to take care of his mother? It could be because his brothers did not believe he was the Messiah at first. They doubted the claims of Jesus. They are absent at the cross, but not Mary. She is present at the cross. She is not only the mother of Jesus, but she is a believer also. Now that Jesus knows he is about to die, he entrusts his mother’s care to another believer.

Jesus believed that the bonds that unite Christians should be stronger than any bonds we share with others. Family ties are important, but spiritual ones are even more important. This day many people will honor their mothers. This is important. This is a great thing to do. Family is important, but let me encourage you not to forget to honor your mothers in the faith. Many of you are here because some faithful woman encouraged you in a Sunday school class.  Many of you are here because you had a mother or grandmother like Timothy who passed the faith on to you. The church would not exist if it were not for faithful women. Faithful women were at the cross when everyone else had fled. Faithful women were the first ones to witness the resurrection and tell others. Faithful women, like Mary, were there at the darkest moments of the Jesus story. They were there when everyone else had given up and it looked as if there was no hope. Often when we are experiencing one of our darkest moments in our life, it is a faithful woman who encourages us and keeps hope alive. Remember your mother today, but also remember the spiritual mothers who have helped you to get to where you are.

Mary is this incredible woman who trusts in God even though the results may be deadly. She is not afraid of powerful leaders or people in high positions. She will not back down and she calls them out because she knows that God is on her side. Mary is a woman who is faithful when most are not. She stands near the cross while many are running in the opposite direction. She witnesses the horror and tragedy of the death of Jesus, not just as a believer, but as a mother also. She is unwilling to abandon her Son. Mary is the ultimate example of what it means to be a mother, but her story is not over. She appears once more in the pages of the Bible. After the crucifixion and after the resurrection we find a group of believers waiting in Jerusalem and Mary is among them.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. (Acts 1:6-14)

The gospel story begins with Mary being visited by the angel Gabriel. It ends with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. During all these events Mary was close by, but now we also learn that Mary was present at the beginning of the church. She was there with all the apostles and other followers of Jesus. Imagine how encouraging this must have been for all these people. Jesus had ascended and the Holy Spirit had not come yet, but they were in the presence of Mary, one of the real heroes of the faith. Some of these individuals who would go on to be important leaders in the church had denied Jesus and turned their back on him, but not Mary. She remained faithful through it all.

She was the first person to know about God’s amazing plan. Before anyone else knew who the Messiah was going to be, an angel came and spoke to a very brave young girl. Mary was ready. She responded to the angel by saying, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Mary showed great faith before anyone else was aware of the details of God’s marvelous plan. Not many people are ready to be a mother at age sixteen, but Mary was. She was prepared to do whatever God asked her to do. She was prepared to care for this special child that God had entrusted to her. She gave birth to him. She raised him. She did everything a mother should do, but later she did something even more incredible. She came to believe in him, not just as a Son, but as a Savior. She became one of his faithful followers. She believed at the cross and she continued to believe as this new community of Jesus followers prepared to change the world.

This is an incredible story. It is a story we could all learn something from. Mary was an amazing mother who accepted this gift God gave her and the responsibility that went along with it. Being a parent is special, but we need to keep in mind that these children are not our own. They are gifts from God. Being a parent means I have a responsibility to my child and I have a responsibility to God. Mary understood this. Her story is a story of faith and trust in God. She was not sure how it would all work out, but she continued to trust. She trusted him when she learned she would be a single unwed mother. She trusted him as she painfully watched her Son die on the cross. We do not know what parenthood will bring. We cannot predict what will happen in the lives of our children. All we can do is put our trust in God. If anything parenting is about being faithful. It is about doing the best job we possibly can with the children God has blessed us with, and relying on God for all the rest. A good parent will spend much time in prayer to the Father above.

More important than being a good parent, Mary was a faithful follower of God and Jesus. This made her a good parent. Wilfred A. Peterson wrote, “Our children are watching us live, and what we are shouts louder than anything we can say.”  The life we choose to live is perhaps the most important parenting decision we will make. We cannot live one way and expect our children to live another. Children will learn from our good behavior as well as our bad behavior. If we want our children to be like Jesus, then we must get serious about living like Jesus. We teach our children about Jesus, not just by the stories we tell, but by the lives we live. If we want to be good parents, then we must commit to being faithful followers of Jesus. Mary did this. Mary was faithful in joyous times and in difficult times. When the future was unclear Mary trusted God. Mary is an example, not just to parents, but to anyone who seeks to be a faithful follower of Jesus.

For generations now Christians have called this woman blessed.  May we seek to do the same. Let us give honor to whom honor is due. We may have never met Mary, but she has been a mother in the faith to all of us who have heard her story. Her story is important because it is a story that magnifies the Lord.  As we go out into a lost and broken world let us take comfort in the words of Mary.

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.”

Hear the audio of this sermon below

May
10

book-and-glasses

In 1 Timothy 4:13 Paul tells Timothy to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture.” The public reading of long sections of Scriptures was an essential practice in the early church. The church came together on the first day of the week for worship. They sang, prayed, gave, listened to teaching, observed the Lord’s Supper, and heard the word of God read aloud to them. Sometimes entire letters were read aloud at one setting. This was a necessary part of worship since not everyone had a Bible and not everyone could read. They needed to hear the word of God read aloud.

Bibles are now readily available and many of us possess more than one. Illiteracy has almost been wiped out in our culture. Nearly everyone has the ability to read. Even though we have made great strides in these areas, this does not mean we know the Bible any better than Christians who lived in the first, second, or third centuries. Hearing the Bible read aloud on a regular basis helps us to learn what is in the Bible and commit it to memory. Hearing is different than reading. It is a different style of learning. Paul is advocating that people listen to the word of God being read in the worship service. He wants us to hear the words of Scripture being spoken out loud. This should be an important part of our worship. This reading should not consist of just a verse or two, but an entire section of Scripture. We need to get a feel for the context of the passage and we need to allow it to speak to our lives.

This is not easy for us. This is a difficult task in our day and age. In ancient times people were accustomed to long public readings, but we live in a world of short attention spans. We would rather hear a sound bite than a full lecture. We are accustomed to YouTube videos that give us heavy doses of information in a few brief minutes. The public reading of Scripture takes time and concentration. We must discipline ourselves to get ready to receive the word. We must put down our phones and simply hear the words of God. This has been the practice of Christians for 2,000 years and it is important that we hold on to this apostolic tradition. We must give attention to the public reading of Scripture just as Paul tells Timothy to do, and we must pass this tradition on to our children. There is something very valuable in coming to worship, fasting from the hustle and bustle of social media, and allowing God’s holy word to speak to us.

May
08

optical-glasses

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)

When we become Christians we adopt a different way of looking at others and the world. We see possibility where the world sees none. This is rooted in our faith in God who is able to make all things new. We have experienced this in our own lives and we believe it can happen in the lives of others as well. We do not see people for what they are. We see them for what they can become.

Seeing the World Through Eyes of Faith

We should keep this in mind when we are interacting with people in the world. Too often people in this world are written off by others. As Christians we should not write people off. We should exude hope in others, not because we are over confident in their own ability, but because we believe in an almighty God who can do amazing things in people’s lives. We see people not for who they are, but for who they can become in Christ Jesus. We believe in people because we trust in God’s ability to redeem and make something new.

Jesus had this hope in others. He ministered to people on the margins of society, people that others ignored. Jesus saw something in these people that others did not. He believed in them when no one would give them a second look. Jesus ate with people that normally did not get noticed. He paid attention to people whom society viewed as having little or no worth. He took the time to stop and talk to a woman who had not stopped bleeding for twelve years. He noticed a tax collector who had climbed up a tree just to get a glimpse of this teacher everyone was talking about. He traveled across a lake to speak with a man possessed by demons. Jesus noticed people that often get overlooked. He did not just pay attention to people who are like him. He went out of his way to talk to people who were different, people who some might think were unimportant. He did not just notice these people, he ate with them, he healed them, and he helped them.

This is the life we are called to imitate. We are called to notice people we tend to overlook. We are called to form relationships with people who are in need and don’t have anywhere else to turn. The gospel takes work. The gospel is not a sales pitch. Jesus never once in the Bible makes a sales pitch. When we try to sale the gospel to people we cheapen the very thing Jesus died for. The gospel is not about persuasive speech or superior salesmanship. It is about giving our lives to others. It is about investing ourselves in someone else. It is about seeing what others cannot see in someone else.

Seeing Christians Through Eyes of Faith

We should also keep this new way of looking at people in mind when it comes to the church. God has acted in our life, but he is not done yet. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul says we are being transformed into the image of Christ. This is a process that does not happen overnight and we must keep this in mind. None of us are perfect. We still make mistakes. We still falter from time to time, but it should be clear that we are moving in a forward direction. We should not focus on the faults and shortcomings of other Christians, but we should see them as a person who is being shaped into the image of Jesus. God is working in their lives, just as he is working in our lives. We are all on a journey to become something more than we are right now.

Christians are called to come together and form a community. This is what church is. It is a community of believers who put their trust in Jesus and who are working towards God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. Community life is hard. It is easier to tear down than it is to build up. It is easy to see the shortcomings of others and focus on that. The Christian community was not established to make us feel bad about ourselves. It was established to do good, and to help each other on this journey to be shaped into the image of Jesus. In the Christian community we know the potential within everyone who belongs to the community. Each of us has the ability, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to be just like Jesus. This is what humanity is supposed to look like, and we should see this potential in our fellow Christians as we continue to be molded and shaped ourselves. The eyes of faith allow us to see what others cannot see yet.

May we see people not with worldly eyes, but with eyes of faith. May we never forget that we serve a God who is able to do incredible things in our life and the life of others. We rely not on our own ability or the ability of others, but we rely on God who can make all things new.

Apr
27

sadness-man-in-the-shadow-1368461366ES7

 

They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. For what are we, that you grumble against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.” (Exodus 16:1-8)

This is an interesting text. It opens in verse 2 with these words, “And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled…” Now that is an opening. Not just one or two people, not even a group of people, but the whole congregation grumbled. I must confess that I like a good grumble. Don’t we all? Don’t we find something pleasurable about finding someone who will listen to our complaints and grumblings? Sometimes when I find a listening ear I can simply go off. I find it easy to talk about everything I perceive to be a problem. I can grumble with the best of them.

Grumbling is easy, but after I grumble I don’t always feel good about myself, especially when I grumble about petty things that really don’t matter. I look back on my grumblings and I think about how selfish or meaningless they were. A lot of grumbling is unnecessary. We grumble when we feel sorry for our self. We grumble when things don’t go our way. Those are not very good reasons to grumble, but believe it or not some grumbling is ok. The psalmist is a faithful grumbler. He does not go behind God’s back. He approaches the throne of God and voices his complaints. Here are two examples.

Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;
preserve my life from dread of the enemy.
Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,
from the throng of evildoers,
who whet their tongues like swords,
who aim bitter words like arrows,
shooting from ambush at the blameless,
shooting at him suddenly and without fear.
(Psalm 64:1-4)

With my voice I cry out to the Lord;
with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.
I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.
When my spirit faints within me,
you know my way!
In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.
(Psalm 142:1-4)

The psalmist is an expert grumbler, but there is a major difference between the grumblings of the psalmist and the grumblings of the congregation in Exodus 16. The psalmist calls to God out of faith. The psalmist trusts that the Lord will hear his complaint and act. The congregation’s grumble does not originate from faith or trust. It is an act of rebellion. They no longer trust in the God who delivered them from Egyptian bondage and in verse 3 they long to be slaves in Egypt once again.

What will God do? How will he deal with this outright rebellion? We may think we know. We may have an idea about the God of the Old Testament and we may think we know how he would act. It is never a good idea to rebel against God. It is never a good idea to spit in the face of God, especially when he has done so much for you. He freed the people from Egyptian bondage because they cried out to him. They were being abused. They were being mistreated. God heard their cries and he acted. Now they are rebelling against God. Now they want to go back to Egypt and live as slaves. What will God do? We may expect hellfire and brimstone. We may expect one gigantic lightning bolt to come down and take them all out. We probably wouldn’t be surprised if one of the plagues God used against Egypt is now unleashed on his own people. God has been so good. He has done so many things for his people and all they can do is complain.

Sometimes we come to the text with ideas about God. We may have some preconceived idea about what God should do. We may think God acts one way in the Old Testament and another way in the New Testament. We may be expecting God to strike these people dead for their complaining, but that is not what happens. God hears their complaint and he gives them what they want. He says in verse 4, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you.” Even in their complaining God is merciful and gracious. When the people rebel he responds with grace and kindness.

We expect God to do one thing but he does another. We want to believe we are not like the congregation in Exodus 16, but maybe we are more like them then we want to admit. These people witnessed God’s goodness firsthand. They knew he was a God who answered prayers. They knew he was a God who acted. They knew he was a God who could do mighty miracles in order to free his people, and yet they somehow believed he would let them die in the wilderness. They knew all these things and yet they did not trust God.

We have the story of Jesus. We know more about God than the people of Israel knew. God has been fully revealed to us in Jesus Christ. We know how far he was willing to go to set us free. We know about the great love he has for us, love that led him to a cross. We know the cost he was willing to pay in order to reconcile us to himself. We know God’s great love for us. We know how merciful he is. We know his bountiful grace, and yet sometimes we feel as if he does not love us. We think his mercy cannot reach us. We believe his grace will not cover our sin. When we fall into this line of thinking we are no different from the congregation in Exodus 16. We know the goodness of God, and yet we find some reason not to believe, not to trust, not to depend upon a loving and merciful God.

Thankfully, God does not give up on us. When Israel complains, God responds by giving them what they need. When Israel rebels, God responds by blessing them. We serve a God full of grace and mercy. He loves us more than we can ever imagine, and he has promised to never give up on us or turn his back on us (Rom. 8:38-39). This is the God we serve.

May we learn to give up on our meaningless complaining and live into the grace and mercy of God and never ever doubt his goodness or love for us.

Apr
21

earphone

It has happened to all of us. We spend hours preparing what we believe is a great sermon. We sacrifice time and energy. We wrestle with God’s word. We meditate on holy Scripture. We whittle down our thoughts until we think we have it. We cannot wait for Sunday morning to come. We get up and deliver the sermon with all the passion and fury that one can get away with in a reserved small town church. After it is all over we feel like we have done our job. We have spoke a word of God to the people of God. We walk to the back of the auditorium and greet everyone as they make their way out of the building. That is when it happens. Someone comes up and says, “Preacher, I loved that sermon. We really needed to hear about _________.” You think to yourself, “Ok, but that was not the point.” Someone else comes up and says, “I am glad you used that passage. I have studied that passage and here is what I think it means.” The person then continues to tell you what the passage means, even though your lesson just contradicted nearly everything they are saying. You begin to think to yourself, “Did I do something wrong? Did I miss something along the way?” You preached one thing, but it is obvious that a few people heard something completely different.

We can control what we preach, but we cannot control how the message is heard. This is frustrating, but it is also something we need to come to grips with. We have no power or control over how another person hears our words. There could be many factors that lead to a person missing the point. They might be dealing with personal struggles and their mind is on other things. They could have become distracted and missed a key point in the sermon. They might have had their mind made up before the sermon was preached and really didn’t listen to a thing that was said. We have all probably missed the point of a lecture, class, or sermon sometime in our life. It happens. It happened when Jesus preached, so we shouldn’t be too surprised when it happens to us.

When we come to this understanding it is easy to feel like there is nothing we can do. We might want to throw our hands in the air and walk away, but that would be a mistake. We are not left without any options. There are things we can do. Here are a few.

Preach Clearly – It is easy to put the blame on others, but first go back and reexamine your own practices. Ask yourself, “Is there a way that I can make the message any clearer?” Try conveying the message in multiple ways. Preach it, but also put it on a slide or give the congregation an outline. I am sure most preachers are already doing these things, but we have an obligation to make sure God’s word is heard by as many people as possible. On Sunday morning we have people coming to our building with the sole purpose of hearing God’s word. We must make sure that we don’t disappoint.

Be Open to Another Perspective – The person may have missed the point you were trying to make, but maybe they got something out of the lesson that was beneficial to them. Don’t get defensive. Listen to what they have to say. Try and understand their point of view. You might learn something. This might be a good opportunity to begin a conversation about what was preached. Allow them to explain what they heard, and then you explain where you were coming from. Be open and encouraging and hope the conversation leads both of you to a deeper knowledge of God’s truth.

Don’t Get Frustrated – I have heard preaching compared to the birthing process on multiple occasions. Preachers spend a great deal of time preparing the lessons that are preached. Often the preacher is alone in his office with nothing but the sermon. A relationship is formed. A bond is established. When someone criticizes or misunderstands a sermon, it is hard not to take it personally. Don’t take it personally. Don’t get frustrated. The reason you see the point so clearly may have to do with the fact that you have spent hours with the text, and someone in the pew may have just read it for the first time. Some people may need a little time to meditate on the text. Just because a person misunderstands what you are trying to say does not mean it is personal. It could simply mean they misunderstood and they need a little guidance.

Trust God – I have preached sermons which I didn’t think were good at all, but then someone will come up to me and tell me about how great the lesson was. God can use imperfect people and situations to get his message across. Do not put so much trust in your own ability that you fail to leave a place for God to work. Pray to God before you preach and after you preach. Pray for understanding. Pray for God to use you in ways that are beneficial to others.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 229 other followers