Archive for April, 2009

Friends,

Here is my first installment of this week’s Lectionary notes. These notes are on Psalm 23. For part of the time while I was writing these notes I was listening to David Crowder*Band’s A Collision or 3+4=7. There are ten (10) pages of notes that include relevant cross-references and quotes and personal observations about faith. An obvious choice of books in this lesson is Philip Keller’s Psalm 23: A Shepherd Looks at the Psalm 23. I have chosen not to utilize this source, but it is available for others if they so choose. My notes sort of play with the themes of Presence, Abundance, Dependence and Journey. The notes are in semi-random order. You can download them from my box.net account.

Psalm 23: The Lord is My Shepherd (Therefore, I need no other)

jerry

Update: I turned this lesson into a Bible School Lesson. Access here at box.net.

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The God of Our Expectations

1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”

5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.” 10 But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

There is something wrong with this story and it’s not what you think. Well, maybe it is; I don’t know what you are thinking. From where I sit the problem appears to be Jonah, though, again, perhaps not how we think. In an ironic twist, the only person in the story of Jonah to remain unconverted was Jonah. I believe that this story is told from a point of view that means for us to see that Jonah was the real target of God’s advances. Everywhere Jonah goes in the story, someone gets religion. It doesn’t matter if it is men on a ship headed for Tarshish or the 100,000 people living in Ninevah or the animals: God does weird, wild, amazing things in spite of Jonah. Yet Jonah, for all his theological profundity, remains steadfast in his anger.

But there’s a problem with the story. The problem should be obvious, but in case it is not, let me point it out to you. It’s in verse 2 and I think it is worth repeating: “He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

The problem is not this verse per se, but Jonah’s application of it. I think what it demonstrates is that Jonah had a profoundly orthodox view of God. He had dotted all the theological ‘i’s’ and crossed all the theological ‘t’s’. He had it all together and to prove it he quoted from the Torah. Jonah knew his Bible; Jonah knew his God. Look what Jonah says, “I knew this is what you would do…” and it was precisely because Jonah knew that he fled and ran and ran and fled. That is, Jonah’s theological orthodoxy is the very problem of this story. It got in the way of Jonah’s discipleship and it got in the way of Jonah’s vocation. It was precisely because Jonah knew something about God that Jonah refused to be obedient to God or care about the people God cared about.

You see, Jonah did not want God to be gracious, and compassionate, and slow to anger, and abounding in love, and relenting from calamity towards the Ninevites. Jonah wanted God to act in a way contrary to God’s revealed character, the character Jonah knew and believed. He wanted God to, well, not be God or do God things. That is, Jonah wanted God, I think this is clearly the implication, to wipe out the Ninevites because of their wickedness. Clearly, if any one deserved the wrath of God, it was the Ninevites. But Jonah knew what kind of a God he served and prophesied for and so Jonah did what any self-respecting, theologically orthodox Christian would do: He ran and refused to offer that God to the Ninevites. He would rather have been dead than to offer the God of grace to the people of Ninevah (that is why he asked to be thrown overboard; he hoped to die.)

Jonah must have figured if he ran and ran and ran then perhaps the Ninevites would get what was coming to them.

I might go so far as to make this claim: Jonah had reduced God to an idol. That’s right: An idol. You know why? Because Jonah knew God, he knew God’s character, he knew how God would act and he, Jonah, challenged God on this point. Jonah wanted God to act like Jonah wanted God to act which is contrary to what Jonah knew about God. Jonah had no desire for God to demonstrate grace to Ninevah. Ninevah deserved wrath and judgment. When we reduce God to our expectations and demand that he act in accordance with our expectations we have made him an idol. God did not act in accordance with Jonah’s wishes but in accordance with his own character: “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” And that is how God acted: Perfectly orthodox.

What I’m suggesting is that God is not bound to our conceptions of theological orthodoxy even if he is bound to his own revealed character. Here, in Jonah’s short book, I think that is abundantly on display. And I suppose when God does do things that run contrary to our conceptions of theological orthodoxy or our expectations of God,  we act just like…Jonah. Theological orthodoxy, while not wrong, can be among the most dangerous weapons wielded by the church because it breeds the sort of pride and privilege we see in Jonah the man. The worst thing we christians can do is try to hold wind in a bottle, but the wind blows where the wind blows and who among us can stop the wind? And if we cannot stop the wind, what makes us think we can stop the Spirit of God?

Let’s see if this economy of grace plays itself out in the New Testament too. We already know that Jesus preferred hanging around with the sinners of the world, but he also taught about these things. Consider this parable of the workers in the field (which is a sad misnomer) in Matthew 20:

1″For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

3″About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5So they went. “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 7″ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ 8″When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

9″The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12′These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ 13″But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16″So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Here we see a profound example of God acting contra the expectations of people and doing something no one could explain, even though it is perfectly in keeping with his revealed character: Paying everyone equally for unequal work. Thus this isn’t a parable about workers in a field or about eleventh hour salvations as much as it is a parable about the crazy economy of God’s grace. Someone wisely pointed out to me this morning that those who expected to get more because they ‘bore the labor in the heat of the day’ are, actually, those who are bound up in a system of works righteousness. They believe they deserve more because they worked longer and harder and at the most inconvenient times of the day. They did not recognize that they were being paid according to the owner’s gracious will. At the end of the day, all the workers go away baffled at God’s grace. Grace makes no sense. Grace is the great equalizer. (It is likely, though, that those at the end of the day went away far more thankful than did those who began working at the beginning of the day and this for reasons that should be fairly obvious. The whole ‘those who have been forgiven much…’.)

This parable should turn our conceptions of God upside down because in it we see a great, profound reversal of all our expectations about God: He is not fair. Grace is not fair. We need to get used to it. This is what Jonah could not get in his head, and since the story of Jonah is left open-ended, we have no idea how he answered God. (Just like we have no idea if the older brother went in and joined the party in Luke 15.) Grace makes no sense because it is so wasteful. Grace makes no sense because…well, because it is grace. Who can understand it?

The great thing about Jonah and this parable in Matthew 20 is that they both end with questions the readers are supposed answer. In Jonah, God asks whether or not he has a right, as God, to be concerned about those whom he has created and to demonstrate grace to them as he wills. In the parable, God asks the people if they are envious because he is generous and spreads around his grace freely to all equally. (Another parable that fits well here, and also ends with a question, is Luke 15’s parable of the two lost sons.) All of these stories are pointing in one direction with these questions: Have we so bound God to a theological system that we actually prevent God from being God? Or, negatively, we cannot bind God to, or in, a theological system. Hear it well: We cannot control, bind, predict or anticipate this God and his grace.

Just about the minute we do, he tells us this parable (or the story of Jonah or the story of the two lost sons.)

Have we so demanded God act according to our expectations that we have actually reduced him to a mere idol?

Do we have a right to be angry with God when he acts outside our expectations, outside our theological constructs (no matter how orthodox), and against our will? (And doesn’t it infuriate some of us when he does?)

Are we so bound to a theological orthodoxy about God that we actually hope God sends calamity, that we get angry when he doesn’t, against those whom we deem to be the worst of the worst? What if…what if…those that we think are the worst, the ones most deserving of God’s wrath and judgment in our expectation…what if God actually does care about them more than we do and is in the process of saving them quite apart from our efforts, pride, and prejudice?

What if…what if…at the renewal of all things….what if God raised everyone up and in his grace had mercy on…everyone…without exception paid everyone the same price? I don’t know if he will; I don’t know if he won’t. I do know that if he does, which he could since he is a God who delights to act outside and contrary to our expectations, it will be christians who will complain the loudest and the longest and who will, most likely, bear a grudge against God, sit outside the party, pouting and refusing to join in an celebrate that the lost have been found, the blind have received sight, the lame dance, and the sinners forgiven, or will grumble because others have unfairly received the same as we have. Do you think we will rejoice that the lost have been found?

The God of our expectations is not necessarily the God of the Scripture or the God who saves. The God of our theological orthodoxy, is not necessarily the God who saves and reveals and redeems. The God of grace is.

Friends,

This ipodcasts the audio from the sermon I preached this morning, The Resurrection Changes Everything. It was based on the Gospel lesson from this week’s Lectionary reading in Luke 24:36-49. I hope you are blessed by this message. In the text for today, the Resurrected Jesus appears among his disciples–from there, things really heat up in the church.

You can download the audio at Luke 24:36-49 or listen to the audio using the inline player below.

You can access the manuscript form here and the preparation notes here. (These links take you to other posts at this blog where there are links to box.net files.)

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Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

Here is the link to the sermon I have written based on this week’s Gospel Lesson from Luke 24:36-49. I have attached a link to the notes too. Be blessed.

Resurrection Changes Everything, Luke 24:26-49

Gospel Lesson notes: Luke 24:36-49

Here’s an excerpt:

Resurrection changed everything. The resurrection of Jesus set the world on a course that could not be predicted or controlled. The resurrection of Jesus, if it doesn’t, ought to scare the daylights out of us. And yet it brings us peace. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. I said it last week, I’ll say it again: Your Christian faith, your belief in the Resurrected Jesus, your acceptance of his Spirit into your life is not defined by your appearance here once per week. And perhaps if we are too willing to persist in sin, we are actually denying his work in our lives.

Resurrection changes us. And if resurrection hasn’t changed us, doesn’t change us, then perhaps it is not the resurrected Jesus who stands among us. Resurrection means that nothing remains the same. Resurrection means that we cannot stay the same. Resurrection means that we cannot sit still, we cannot stay, we cannot be content.

[But whatever else we may say, we may say this: Jesus did not stand among them, resurrected as he was, and allow them stand slack-jawed in awe and amazement. He commissioned them. He told them they were getting power to do something. He opened their minds to the Word so they could do something. He gave them peace so they could do something. He challenged their doubts and unbelief so they could do something. Resurrection does not bade us to stand around in wonderment; it compels us to obey the Resurrected Christ. It compels us to go. And we will see, it compels us to worship.] (This is not a part of the manuscript you can download.)

Thanks for stopping by. Have a blessed Easter season Sunday.  I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to Pentecost. The Lord be praised.

jerry

Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you . . . — Luke 10:20

Oswald Chambers on discipleship:

Worldliness is not the trap that most endangers us as Christian workers; nor is it sin. The trap we fall into is extravagantly desiring spiritual success; that is, success measured by, and patterned after, the form set by this religious age in which we now live. Never seek after anything other than the approval of God, and always be willing to go “outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13). In Luke 10:20, Jesus told the disciples not to rejoice in successful service, and yet this seems to be the one thing in which most of us do rejoice. We have a commercialized view— we count how many souls have been saved and sanctified, we thank God, and then we think everything is all right. Yet our work only begins where God’s grace has laid the foundation. Our work is not to save souls, but to disciple them. Salvation and sanctification are the work of God’s sovereign grace, and our work as His disciples is to disciple others’ lives until they are totally yielded to God. One life totally devoted to God is of more value to Him than one hundred lives which have been simply awakened by His Spirit. As workers for God, we must reproduce our own kind spiritually, and those lives will be God’s testimony to us as His workers. God brings us up to a standard of life through His grace, and we are responsible for reproducing that same standard in others.

Unless the worker lives a life that “is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3), he is apt to become an irritating dictator to others, instead of an active, living disciple. Many of us are dictators, dictating our desires to individuals and to groups. But Jesus never dictates to us in that way. Whenever our Lord talked about discipleship, He always prefaced His words with an “if,” never with the forceful or dogmatic statement— “You must.” Discipleship carries with it an option.

HT: Brendt

Friends,

A new feature I will try to practice for a while. I have decided that I will follow the Lectionary readings for a while in 2009 for my preaching schedule. As I study and prepare each week, I will post my notes here at the blog for anyone to partake of. It will vary from week to week, but it will always have good resources.

This week’s readings are: Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, 1 John 3:1-7, and Luke 24:36-49. My notes are from Luke 24:36-49. You can access all 10 pages of notes from my box.net account.

Notes on Luke 24:36-49: Resurrection Changes Everything

I hope the notes help. Some of them are unfinished thoughts. Others are lengthy quotations. All of them are trying to get at the heart of what happened in the room when Jesus appeared, what it meant, and what it means.

jerry

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life
John 20:19-23

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

There has always been, at least for a great many years, in the history of mankind, a terribly large and unhealthy debate about creation. One the one hand, there are some who are absolutely convinced beyond doubt that we have, gradually, over time, evolved from or at least share common ancestry with other species of life on earth. On the other hand, there are some who dismiss all of these sorts of mechanisms and accept by faith that God, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth. It’s a fun debate and one that I am certain will not find any resolution this side of divide.

There’s another debate, however, that we rarely hear anything about at all. Well, ‘debate’ is not really the right word, but it seems that Christians, in their zeal to defend a literal 6, twenty-four hour day, creation cycle get caught up in a debate that prevents them entering into a discussion concerning creation that carries far more weight and as infinitely more important. Frankly, even though I happen to believe Genesis is true, I’m not so much interested in the old creation as I am the new creation. Paul wrote as much in Galatians 6: What matters is the new creation.

I mean, the old creation is fine and fun and to an extent theological necessary, but even that creation is going to prove futile. NT Wright wrote, “When the final resurrection occurs, as the centerpiece of God’s new creation, we will discover that everything done in the present world in the power of Jesus’s own resurrection will be celebrated and included, appropriately transformed.” (Surprised by Hope, 294)
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The next seven Sundays are considered Easter, meaning Resurrection. Thus seven Sundays between Resurrection and Pentecost. Today is the second.

John began his Gospel with words that recall the book of Genesis and that initial act of creation by God: “In the beginning…” In Genesis we are told “In the beginning God created…” John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word…” Clearly he wants us, at the beginning of his Gospel, to think about what happened at the very beginning.

We stroll through chapter 1 and we see John continuing to recount the Genesis narrative: The next day John was there again…The next day Jesus decided to leave…On the third day, Jesus went to a wedding…and the days keep on rolling. John picks up this theme again in John 20, except that it’s a little different.

In John 20:1: “Early on the first day of the week…” Then again in John 20:19: “On the evening of the first day of the week…” Again in John 20:26: “A week later…” which a week earlier was, clearly, the first day of the week.

The point is simple: The Resurrection of Jesus has ushered in a new day, a new beginning, a new creation. And he has invited us to participate in this new day, this new creation. His resurrection marks a new ‘in the beginning.’ New life. New hope. Again, as NT Wright notes, “The claim advanced in Christianity is of that magnitude: Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation.” (Surprised by Hope, 67).
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So the first new day draws to a close. “On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said.”

Jesus stood among them. John also told his readers, in the Revelation, that there were seven lampstands and that ‘among the lampstands was someone like a son of man…’ Jesus is not afraid to stand among the churches, he is is not afraid to stand among his people…even in his gloriousness…he is not afraid to stand among us and dispel whatever fears we have.

Fears of people! Then he said ‘Peace be with you.’ Then John tells us this interesting little note, “After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.” In other words, peace because he triumphed. Peace because he resurrected. Peace because he was victorious. Oh, be certain of this: the world conquered for a little while—see the hands? See the side? Yes. For a little while the world has its way. But the disciples were overjoyed because ‘they saw the Lord.’

This resurrection of Jesus ushers in a life of vindication. Out with the old peaceless, fearful, comes the new resurrection, peaceful, fearless overwhelmed with joy life of the new creation. Yes there are wounds. Yes there are scars. But the other side of Good Friday is Easter; the other side of death is life; the other side of fear of humans is the peace of Christ; the other side of defeat by the world is vindication by God!
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Then Jesus said to them again: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” We go out in peace. We go out without fear. We go out by order of Christ. We go out…with orders by Christ.

So we look at what Jesus did while he was out. What did he accomplish? What did he do? He gives them, in other words, a new purpose, a new responsibility, a new reason to live and exist and work and serve.

Our work in Christ, our work in obedience to Christ, is no longer futile. But you will recall the old creation and what God said to Adam just before Adam was cast out of the new creation and into the wilderness, and barrenness that is not Eden: “Cursed is the ground because of you: through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

But here Jesus removes the essence of futility by giving us work that is not bound up in the flesh even if it is done in the flesh. This is not merely to spiritualize all the work we do; not at all. It is, however, to transform the nature of that work. We serve a risen Savior who’s in the World today.

This is what Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his great resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15. After telling all about the defeat of the cursed world, and the flesh, and death, he merely writes, “Therefore my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

Go out and be agents of peace, and forgiveness, and hope, and new creation, and love, and mercy, and grace, and forgiveness. Go out and bear fruit…not the fruit of cursed, dead soil, but the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the fruit of new creation, the fruit of Resurrection. By his resurrection, on this new day, we have new work to do in Him and because of Him; and He himself continues this new work through us.

In Genesis he said, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it…” Now Jesus says, “I am sending you.” He sent us.
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And then Jesus did something that I wonder if the disciples weren’t a little shaken by. Jesus continued his re-enactment of Genesis by imitating the actions of God himself, “He breathed on them” and he spoke. “Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

This is Jesus, after His resurrection, not only recreating our purpose, triumphing over the old creation, but recreating humanity and breathing into them his own Holy Spirit. He himself has empowered us to go about doing what he has called and commanded us to do. He himself has empowered us to continue his work. He himself prepares us to be people through whom he can continue his work.

And to the world, and to us, what Jesus has empowered his people to do is simply out of control. Frankly, what he has empowered us to do is the last thing we want to do and the last thing we are capable of doing. But the new creation is marked by this: Go and forgive. Jesus makes perfectly clear the point of being in possession of the Holy Spirit: Go and forgive.

In a different book, Tom Wright notes, “The point [of receiving the Holy Spirit] is so that they can do, in and for the whole world, what Jesus had been doing in Israel.” (John For Everyone, 149) He has sent us out into the harsh and terribly world, recreated, repurposed, and in the new day free to forgive in the Name of Christ.

So I don’t know that this is entirely personal. I don’t know that this is only about learning how to forgive those people who personally crush and bruise you. It could be that Jesus is concerned that we spread the fragrance of forgiveness is spread far and wide and to as many people as possible in as quick a time as possible. I think we should be as generous with forgiveness towards people as he was with us. Grace freely received and grace freely given.

“But,” you might say, “I cannot forgive. Some people are too consumed in their flesh. I must make all sorts of demands upon them before they can be forgiven.” But Jesus thinks you can forgive and he has made certain that you are able to by giving you His Holy Spirit. When he breathed new life into you, as he did the apostles, he gave you power to forgive.

So if we find ourselves in a situation where we say something silly like, “I cannot forgive…” well, there might be a couple of things in play in our lives. First, we might simply be disobeying the commands of Christ. Being unforgiving is simply not an option when it comes to Christians. Second, we might simply be denying the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That is, we might be saying that we don’t want the Holy Spirit to work in our lives—we are quenching the Spirit.

Or third, we might be, shudder the thought, un-regenerate. That is, if we can muster up the nerve to say that someone has done something in the world that we cannot forgive…shudder the thought…we might not even have the Holy Spirit to begin with. I shudder to think that the words ‘I cannot forgive’ can come out of the mouths of people who claim to be empowered by the Holy Spirit of Christ.

Disobedience. Indifference. Or unregeneration. Yet I suspect that since Jesus empowers us to be forgiving by the power of his spirit, I don’t suppose it matters all that much if it is disobedience, indifferent, or unregenerate: It is all wrong and a denial of the work of Christ in our lives.
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This is the morning of resurrection. This is the new day. This is the ushering in of all newness and hope and grace. This is the end of law and the beginning of freedom. This is Christ remaking each of us and thus remaking the world. This is Christ the firstfruits of resurrection resurrecting each of us now.

I don’t know if those disciples, locked behind doors as they were—because of fear—had any idea what the first day held for them. As they slept off the failures and unforgiveness of the days before, as they limped along in the old creation, as they went about under their power…who knows what was going through their minds. But it wasn’t resurrection: Jesus’s or their own.

Jesus arose, resurrected, cracked the stone table of death and resurrected, bringing with him the dawn of the True First Day, opening our eyes to the beginnings of the New Creation: “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

Frederick Buechner wrote, in his book The Alphabet of Grace,

To wake up is to be given back your life again. To wake up—and I suspect that you have a choice always, to wake or not to wake—is to be given back the world again and of all possible worlds this world, this earth rich with the bodies of the dead as our drams are rich with their ghosts, this earth that we have seen hanging in space, our toy, our tomb, our precious jewel, our hope and our despair and our heart’s delight. Waking into the new day, we are all of us Adam on the morning of creation, and the world is ours to name. Out of many fragments we are called to put back together a self again. (Frederick Buechner, The Alphabet of Grace, 22)

The problem is that some get stuck between Good Friday and Easter and never wake up. The problem is that some are so concerned about the Old Creation that we are thoroughly unconcerned about the New. The problem is that some are so concerned about their own resurrection that they have no interest whatsoever in waking others by offering them the same forgiveness.

Resurrection is a call to wake up and taste the day. Resurrection is a call to live now on the way to then. Resurrection is the first day of the rest of your life. Resurrection is not just something we hope for, it is something that defines us: We are a live now and Christ has given us peace, power, and purpose to show the world a new creation, and be a new creation, and not just talk about it.

Soli Deo Gloria!!

Gossip and Murder

From “Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus” (p. 170):

Later rabbis also preached about sin by comparing small sins to greater ones.  Listen to what they say about gossip:

“To which is gossip more similar, robbery or murder?”

“Murder, because robbers can always give back what they’ve stolen, but gossips can never repair the damage they’ve done.”

To them, humiliating someone publicly was also like murder, because “the pain of humiliation is more bitter than death.”  The rabbis called such sin “whitening of the face” because when a person’s face pales with shame, it’s as if a pallor of death has overtaken him or her.  “Therefore,” they said, “one should rather fling himself into a fiery furnace than humiliate someone in public.”

Such comments remind us of Jesus’ striking exhortations to cut off your hand or pluck out your eye should they cause you to sin (also in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:29-30).  The rabbis knew the great damage that even tiny sins can do.  A little bit of gossip can ruin a reputation.  One sharp retort can ignite a war.  The goal of their exaggerations was to impress upon their listeners the dire consequences of sin.  Jesus, too, was urging his listeners to avoid evil at all costs.  His strong warnings express his anguish at the destruction that ensues when we do not resist temptation at the very beginning.

HT: Fishing the Abyss

Friends,

I have been posting a lot lately about the essential oneness of the church and why it is so important for us to be one in the Spirit of peace. I have also been preaching such sermons to my congregation on Sundays during Lent.

Last week, as I prepared for my last sermon in the series, I came across the following article by David Faust, president of Cincinnati Christian University. The essay is brilliant and lays out our motivation for Christian Oneness quite succinctly.

He begins by talking about some things that are not the glue of our unity:

In a 1910 lecture at Yale, Charles E. Jefferson described the difference between a church and an audience,

It is to be regretted that we have come to judge preachers by the number of persons who listen to their sermons. A superficial man is consequently tempted to work, not for a church, but for an audience.

An audience, however, is not worth working for. An audience is a group of unrelated people drawn together by a short-lived attraction. . . . It is a fortuitous concourse of human atoms, scattering as soon as a certain performance has ended. It is a pile of leaves to be blown away by the wind, a handful of sand lacking consistency and cohesion, a number of human filings drawn into position by a pulpit magnet, which will drop away as soon as the magnet is removed.

An audience is a crowd, a church is a family. An audience is a gathering, a church is a fellowship. An audience is a collection, a church is an organism. An audience is a heap of stones, a church is a temple. Preachers are ordained, not to attract an audience, but to build a church. Coarse and ambitious and worldly men, if richly gifted, can draw audiences. Only a disciple of the Lord can build a church.

If strong personalities don’t hold God’s people together, what does? To ask the question more narrowly, what holds the Christian churches and churches of Christ together? (My emphasis

Faust goes on with an important reminder:

Maybe we have been looking for glue in the wrong places. I love our colleges and conventions, our camps and conferences, and I hold our publishing houses in high esteem. I admire the founders of these ministries, and I’m thankful for the faithful believers who have led and supported them, often at considerable personal sacrifice. I don’t want any of them to go away.

Years ago I worked for Christ In Youth. Today I serve as president of a Christian university and write a weekly column as executive editor of The Lookout, published by Standard Publishing. My life has been powerfully impacted by these and other parachurch groups. I want these ministries and others like them to thrive and grow—as long as they clearly fulfill God’s will.

None of these worthwhile endeavors, though, can hold all of God’s people together. As important as our favorite parachurch organizations seem to us, they aren’t essential to the body of Christ. The church is God’s forever family, not our colleges and conventions.

Can we find within ourselves the humility to admit that, good as they are, these institutions we hold dear are human expediencies, not biblical necessities? Even more, are we willing to boldly declare that if God so willed, and all of our favorite manmade organizations suddenly disappeared, we would still possess everything that matters most as long as we have the Lord? Can we see through the fog of the familiar and recognize that God’s kingdom and his reign, his gospel and his grace, will remain intact and unmoved no matter what happens to our favorite ministries?

Despite all the good they have done and no matter how much we value them, manmade institutions can never hold us all together. We need to look to a higher place to find the glue.

So where does Faust suggest that we find the glue that holds us together? How can we recognize it? What will it be?

What really pulls us together? It’s simple, really. So simple that we tend to miss it altogether.

The Savior sticks us together. We are one in Christ—stuck to him like branches on a vine, like skin on a body, like flames on a candlewick. Unity finds its focus in him.

The Spirit sticks us together. We aren’t united because we share the same political views or personality types, the same opinions and preferences, the same nationality or language or skin color. We’re one because “we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). The Holy Spirit’s “bond of peace” is strong glue indeed (Ephesians 4:3).

Scripture sticks us together. Not that we all understand every verse exactly the same way. But Scripture gives us a common starting point, a common language, a common compass. The Bible pulls us together when we read it personally, preach it powerfully, teach it faithfully, interpret it carefully, and apply it practically. Sound doctrine is manna for the hungry heart. It makes the church healthy and strong.

Service sticks us together. Mission trips and new church plants prove it. Benevolence projects demonstrate it. It’s hard to fight when you’re working side by side to serve someone in need. It’s hard to put your brother down when you’re already down there with him, praying together on your knees. Unity becomes visible, even tangible, when we “serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).

Do you want your favorite college, convention, camp, or other cause to thrive and grow? Then make sure it’s subservient to the mission of the church! Make sure it’s helping people connect with the Savior, the Spirit, and the Scriptures, and engaging them in meaningful service. A parachurch ministry that does those things will thrive. If it doesn’t do those things, we’re probably better off without it anyway.

What is the glue? Savior, Spirit, Scripture, Service—not a flashy formula, but somehow it kept us glued together in the past.

I suggest we stick with it.

Well, I’ll probably get in trouble for quoting so much of his essay here, but I’m willing to risk it just in case you don’t follow the link. These are beautiful words. There is too much that divides the body of Christ, too much that separates us, too much that effectively ruins whatever witness we may have for him and his grace.

We should continue to fan the flame of Christian unity and essential oneness. We must continue to work to preserve the unity already forged for us at the cross.

Be blessed this Resurrection season. Ask yourself: Am I the answer to Jesus’ prayer for Christian Unity or am I the problem? Am I working for peace or fostering division? Am I part of the solution or creating more problems?

Soli Deo Gloria!

caponIn the course of some reading this afternoon in preparation for a blog post on Matthew 13, I read the following paragraphs from Capon’s wonderful book The Parables of the Kingdom.

These paragraphs speak to the untidy nature of the parables and strange nature of the God whose Kingdom is spoken of by Jesus. God, as it turns out, turns all of our notions about himself upside down and inside out. We do not get from him what we might expect, and he does not give to us as we might desire. Those who are first are last and those who are last are first.

It is this strange way of grace that keeps us anchored to him. It is his own strangeness that keeps us coming back to his well of grace. We know that even if all else fails, grace will not.

“In the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we find him addressing a group of people who are smugly content in their confidence that they are upstanding citizens—and who are convinced that anyone not exactly like themselves has no chance of making it into God’s guest register. So he tells them the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. Note not only what an insulting story it is, but also how small the prospects are that his audience will ever be able to get past its details to its point. Far from being an illustrations that shines an understanding they already have on something they haven’t figured out, it is one that is guaranteed to pop every circuit break in their minds.

“God, Jesus informs them, is not the least bit interested in their wonderful lists of moral and religious accomplishments. Imagine the scene for a moment. You can almost hear the reaction forming in their minds: ‘What do you mean, God’s not interested? We have read the Scriptures—with particular attention to the commandments. We happen to know he is absolutely wild about fasting, tithing, and not committing adultery.’ But Jesus ignores them and presses the parable for all it’s worth. Not only is God going to take a dim view of all their high scores in the behaving  competition; he is, in fact, going to bestow the gold medal on an out-and-out crook who just waltzes into the temple, stares at his shoelaces, and does nothing more than admit as much” (7).

So you can be reminded of what Jesus said that day and why Capon’s words are so important:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The trouble with this parable is in the assumption that we know who Jesus is speaking to (‘those who were confident in their own righteousness’) and the assigning of roles. This is exactly what we must not do with this parable. It’s too easy to do so. It’s too easy to know exactly who is the publican and who is the sinner and the minute we start assigning roles we have ceased being a player (either a publican or a tax-collector) and started being the one who justifies one and not the other (i.e., God). It is only God who justifies and therefore only God who can assign roles.

Jesus didn’t tell this parable to us so that we would take it upon ourselves to assign roles. He told it to us so that we would recognize the grace of God. What is amazing is that the grace of God was available to both the publican and the tax-collector, but one understood it and the other did not. That is, the publican thought he deserved it because of all his righteous acts; the tax-collector did not even though he begged for it on the slim chance that there might be some for him.

Those who are warped by the grace of God get this, sort of. These are the ones who come before God singing ‘nothing in my hands I bring simply to the cross I cling.’ They recognize that they are broke, broken, and full of brokenness. They recognize that before God they are empty and need everything. These ones fall on their faces saying, “God what do you have for me?”

Those untouched by grace do not get it. They are the ones who come before God with a laundry list of their accomplishments and gifts and achievements talking out loud to God and saying, “God what can I give to you?” They have to do this because, as people who have everything already, there is nothing left for God to give them. They don’t need his grace because they don’t want it. They don’t want his grace because they don’t need it.

So God turns upside down and inside out notions of who he is and what his kingdom is like. It’s certainly nothing like we might expect. His is a kingdom where it is far better to be broke than it is to be fixed, far better to be empty than filled, far better to be the sinner than the righteous.

With each passing day, grace becomes more and more alive to those who are willing to cast all of their life on Jesus who can and does what we can’t and won’t. Grace. A sweet word. A sweet sound.

Friends,

Since it is the holiday season of Resurrection, I thought perhaps some of you might be interested in or might benefit from some Resurrection sermons. I  preached these sermons about 3 years ago shortly after I preached a series called The Crucifixion Driven Life.

These sermons were inspired by a book that I read by Eugene Peterson called Living the Resurrection. It is a short book, but a fantastic book.peterson I think you will appreciate this book a great deal. I know how much it helped me to focus my attention on the Resurrection of Jesus and actually live out the implications of my own resurrection.

Here is the audio for the first sermon, Now is the Time to Fast and Pray.

Below you will find the manuscripts and the power point presentations. Later I will add a MS Publisher study guide to go along with the series. Thanks for stopping by. jerry

Here it is, then, The Resurrection Driven Life.

1. Now is the Time to Fast and Pray: Various Scripture:  PPT

2. The Fellowship of the Resurrection or Leaving the Garbage in the Can: Philippians 3:1-11: PPT

3. The Dust of Heaven & The Dust of Earth: 1 Corinthians 15:1-58: PPT

4. United with Christ in Death and Life: In my End is my Beginning: Romans 6:1-4: PPT

5. A Better Resurrection or the Mad Farmer Liberation Front: Hebrews 11:1-40: PPT

Friends,

Here’s a Bible School lesson to use from Luke 9. Here, Jesus is sending out his 12. I use this as a paradigm for our own going out in the name of Jesus. I have provided a very brief synopsis of each ‘T’ (this will make sense when you download the lesson). I mean also at some point to flesh out these ‘T’s’ a little more here or in another lesson. I think you will get the gist when you see the lesson.

Luke 9: Jesus Sends out the Twelve

Friends,

Here’s a Bible School lesson for you to use. There is both an outline of Scripture verses with a couple of thoughts each and an outline page for your people to take notes. The lesson focuses on my own personal goal to give up sarcasm and learn to talk in a way befitting someone who is called by Christ.

Learning to Talk  notes

Learning to Talk outline

Heard last night:

“The enemy can quote Scripture, and it isn’t doing him much good.”

Amen.

Heard today:

“Intercession is when you bring people and their problems before the Lord.

“Criticism is when you expose people and their problems to others.”

Amen. Amen.