Archive for April, 2010

The Caging of God

Posted: April 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

This is a very challenging excerpt from a book that I’m reading for my Systematic Theology class called God in the Wasteland by David Wells:

We have turned to a God that we can use rather than to a God we must obey; we have turned to a God who will fulfill our needs rather than to a God before whom we must surrender our rights to ourselves.  He is a God for us, for our satisfaction – not because we have learned to think of him in this way through Christ but because we have learned to think of him this way through the marketplace.  In the marketplace,  everything is for us, for our pleasure, for our satisfaction, and we have come to assume that it must be so in the church as well.  And so we transform the God of mercy into a God who is at our mercy.  We imagine that he is benign, that he will acquiesce as we toy with his reality and to co-opt him in the promotion of our ventures and careers.  Thus do we presume to restrain him in a Weberian “iran cage” of this-worldly preoccupation.  Thus do we tighten our grip upon him.  And if the sunshine of his benign grace fails to warm us as we expect, if he fails to shower prosperity and success on us, we will find ourselves unable to believe in him anymore.

What are your thoughts as you read this?

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Showing Up For Jesus

Posted: April 24, 2010 in Sermons
1 Peter 2:11-12
 Charles Colson wrote a book about 10 years ago and titled it, “How now shall we live?”  It was about living as a Christian in the world today.  If Peter and the apostles put titles on their letters, we might not have to call it first Peter and Second Peter, and he might have named his letter “How now shall we live?”
The last couple of weeks, we have been going through Peter’s letter that he wrote to the Christians that were scattered over the provinces of the Roman Empire in what is now the country of Turkey.  They had been going through some persecution and had endured a lot of struggle and doubt.  The recipients of the letter were mainly Jewish Christians and so they were getting attacked on both sides of their faith.  The Jewish people accused them of leaving the traditional Jewish faith while the Roman Empire attacked them for being Christians.  Peter writes this letter to encourage them in who they are in Christ and to instruct them in how to live the Christian life. 
Last week, we learned about our new identity in Christ. 
Before Jesus, the Hebrew people were God’s chosen people.  Now Peter calls us God’s chosen people. 
Before Jesus, the Levites were the priests, last week we learned that we are now priests. 
Before Jesus, Israel was God’s holy people set apart for His special purposes.  Now, Peter teaches us that we are God’s holy people because of what Jesus did for us. 
You know who you are in Christ so how is your life different?  What does it mean to show up for Jesus in your life?  We are going to be looking at the answer to this question with the next two verses in Peter. 
1 Peter 2:11-12
Peter addresses two topics in these two verses that I think are essential for understanding the Christian life.  They kind of introduce and explain what the rest of the letter is about. I look at these two verses as a response or conclusion to the previous two verses.  In a way, this is the “Therefore” sermon because of what we learned last week.  Peter just got through telling us that our identity does not come from anything in this world, but from Christ.   It’s not from the car we drive, the house we live in, the clothes we wear, or the job we work.  Our identity if found in God alone.  Because of that, we need to Show Up for Jesus.  It’s time to strap on our boots, put our hard hats on, and get to work.  The first thing peter says is that The Christian Life is a Battlefield.
1.  THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS A BATTLEFIELD
Peter addresses his audience as “dear friends” or “beloved” and he tells them again that they are different than the rest of the world because of their lives in Christ.  He says that they are “aliens and strangers in the world.”  This doesn’t mean that we come from a different planet, but it does mean that this world is not our final destination.  Don’t get too comfortable here. 
There’s a recent song by Carrie Underwood where the chorus says:
“This is my temporary home,
It’s not where I belong.
Windows and rooms that I’m passin’ through.
This is just a stop, on the way to where I’m going.
I’m not afraid because I know this is my
Temporary Home.”
It’s true.  If you are a Christian then you don’t belong to this world anymore.  It’s interesting that this phrase is only used in one other place in the New Testament and one was in Hebrews 11 when explaining how the patriarchs of our faith made it through their trails without losing faith.  It says that they were waiting for a better country– a heavenly one.  You are still a neighbor to this world, but it’s not really just a temporary dwelling place, and not your home. 
1. b. In verse 11, he says to “abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.”  I think you will agree with me that even if you are a Christian and have asked God to forgive you of your sins that there is still a struggle not to sin.  Paul describes it by saying that you are not a slave to sin anymore but to righteousness, but then again it’s still a struggle.  He said when he tried to do good, evil was right there with him.  Peter uses the analogy of soldiers on a military expedition to explain the internal struggle for our soul.  D. L. Moody, the 19th century evangelist said, “I have more trouble with D. L. Moody that with any man I know.”  We have to continually be on our guard against our flesh which war against our soul.  To give into sinful desires, or to even entertain those desires, is to give food and shelter to the enemy.  Peter says that the war is over, won by Christ, but battles continue so abstain from those sinful desires.  Don’t give in to them.  When Jesus said to cut off your hand if it causes you to sin or pluck out your eye if it causes you to sin, I don’t think that he wanted us to become self-mutilators.  If he did, then we’d all be messed up.  I think he was emphasizing that sometimes you need to take drastic measures.  For example, I know of men that will have the TV removed from their hotel rooms when traveling alone.  Or people that struggle with alcohol will refuse to go into bars because of the strong temptation.  Whatever you struggle with in the flesh, Peter says to take the condition of your soul seriously and do something about it.  We are not of this world so don’t live like you are.
2. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS A WITNESS.  Instead, he gives us the second command that goes along with abstaining from sinful desires.  He says to avoid the sin, and then Verse 12 “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”  So, even though you are not a member of this world anymore, you are still a part of it.  In fact, the earlier word “stranger” literally means “sojourner” which gives it more a sense of a traveler.  In this verse, it says that we are still among the pagans.  This is the same word for “Gentiles” and “heathen.”  It doesn’t mean a specific nationality or ethnicity but rather those that don’t know Christ.  So as you are living among them you should be living “good lives.”
2.a. We need to talk about this word “good” for a minute because it’s a very vague word.  For instance, after a basketball game someone might ask me how our team played.  If I said, ‘we played good’ with no emotion you would think that we lost the game but as a team we gave it out best shot.  But if I said, “oh, we played GOOD” then you would assume that we won the game easily.  So we need to look at this a little further to get a better understanding of what Peter is getting at.  What kind of “good deeds” is he talking about?
The Greeks had several words for “good” in their language.  In the NT, there are two Greek words that have been translated as “good” in our Bible.  And both are used in equal amounts.  Each one has a little different meaning in the Greek.  The first is Agathos and the second is kalos.
Agathos means good as in pleasant, agreeable…it generally means morally upright as in honest and respectable.  There are a number of reasons why we must be good (agathos) followers of Christ…why we should live a “good life”.  One is what we just mentioned: there is a battle for your soul and you shouldn’t let the devil get a foothold.  A second reason is that goodness of life has value because it brings pleasure to God.  Righteousness is a worship language that enables us to express to Jesus how much we love and adore Him.  Romans 12 says that by offering our bodies as living sacrifices it is our spiritual act of worship.  A third reason to live a good/agathos life is to uphold your testimony.  We cannot be Christians on Sunday and deny Christ by our lifestyle choices.  I am reminded about a time that I took a kid out to eat at McDonald’s when I worked in Chicago.  He had asked me about what I meant when I said that he needed to have a relationship with God.  He was very confused about that because he knew a lot of people that said they were Christians on Sunday but they went on the block during the week and did the same thing that he did.  I don’t know if those people were Christians, but if they were there was no way they could share the gospel with this young man because they had denied Christ by their lifestyle.  Brennan Manning has a famous quote, because it was on a DC Talk album, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Him with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” 
2b.     As important as agathos is, it rarely draws other people to Christ.  It might make you stand out somewhat, but it’s not usually the deciding factor.  But there are good works that do which is what Peter is talking about here.  And here the word that Peter uses is the Greek word kalos.   It’s the same word that Jesus used during his sermon on the mount when he said, “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good (kalos) deeds and glorify God who is heaven.”  Let me explain the difference a little:
          Agathos is about not breaking any of the rules… kalos is about relationships.
          Agathos does what is right…kalos forgives those who don’t.  Without exception.
          Agathos tithes…Kalos gives generously and doesn’t expect anything in return.
          To explain a little further look at it like this: Someone practicing being good/agathos is walking down the street and they come across an Adult Bookstore.  Naturally, they look the other way and keep walking.  Someone that is kalos is concerned about the people in the store making spiritual destructive choices and they are moved to pray for them. 
          Agathos means that you might not be involved in deceptive practices like every other person in your office…but kalos means that you actively praying for and looking for ways to share the light of Christ with others through your actions.  It’s not just about not hurting people in your life, but it’s about actively helping people.  For example, I play basketball some mornings with guys in the community.  They are a bunch of good guys.  Not everyone is a Christian, but a lot of agathos-type guys nonetheless, that come in, play ball, avoid getting into fights and leave.  But if I were kalos, I would do more than just be a “nice guy.”  I would get to know them, pray for them, maybe take some bottle of water or Gatorade to them.
          In fact, the word “deeds” here in the second part of the verse means your “employment or your business or the thing which keeps you occupied.”  You get the sense that while you are doing your business, whatever your business is, that you should be looking for opportunities to be a kalos-Christian.
Video Illustration of Stephen Baldwin famous actor making a lot of money.  This video is part of a series called I am Second because they put Jesus first in their life. 
I don’t think we always have to be as direct as this lady was.  Obviously, she had a special mission from God and she was just waiting to tell the Baldwin’s that.  But she was going about her business in an agathos and in a kalos way I would assume.  And it had an impact on the people she was working for.  I think we can look at our own employment in the same way.  We need to have the same attitude that this lady had.  “You think I’m hear to clean your house, in reality I’m going to share Jesus with you.”
          “You think I’m just going to mow your yard, in reality, I’m going to share Jesus with you through my actions.”
          “You think I’m going to just be your neighbor and wave at you when I drive by. Instead, I’m going to share Jesus with you and invite you to church.”
          “You think I’m just going to teach your kids how to ride horses.  No, instead I’m going to pray every day that you become a Christian.”
2. c. It doesn’t always work out this way as we all know.  Peter even told those first Christians that even though they were doing kalos works that they may be accused of doing wrong.  People were going to speak against them, criminate them, and slander them.  In Peter’s time there were a few charges by both the Jews and the Romans that the Christians had to deal with:
          -Disloyal to the state/Caesar
          -Accused of cannibalism because of Jesus words to drink his blood and eat his flesh.
          -In the book of Acts, they were accused of upsetting trade.
          -They didn’t participate in the pagan festivals (such as the New Moon Festival) anymore.
          -They were accused of being “atheists” because God forbid them to have idols in their houses.
          I’ve seen cases where co-workers falsely accused someone because they were a hardworker and they were trying to do good things.  Sometimes our good actions will upset others.  In Romans, it says that by being kind to your enemy it’s like heaping burning coals on their head…no wonder they would get upset. 
          Peter says that you shouldn’t let that stop you because…
3. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE GLORIFIES GOD
Peter says as you are living among the Gentiles, as you are doing good deeds, some may slander you, but some will glorify God because of you.  This could mean that they will glorify God when Jesus comes back a second time or it could mean that they will glorify God when they turn their lives over to God and become filled with the Holy Spirit. 
If you are a Christian then you become Christ to others.  If you don’t know Christ, then you have no way of showing up for Jesus.  Jesus died for you.  In Galatians it says, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  If you don’t have Christ then you are dead in your sins.  Today is the day to give glory to God by putting off your old self and asking God to make you like Christ.  Christ died for you, it’s time for you to show up for Jesus.

The Last Supper

Posted: April 5, 2010 in Sermons
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The table was set.
Jesus had sent his disciple ahead of him to prepare the Passover meal, what they called the seder, which meant “order”.  Of course they knew what food to buy, how to set the table, and what happened at the Passover meal.  You see, most Jewish celebrations took place in the local synagogue, but this one happened in the home.  The disciples, like all Jewish people, had celebrated this holiday with their families for over 1,000 years.  And no matter where you lived in the world, every year it was the same meal and the same rituals.  It started with the youngest person in the families asking a question, “Why is this night different than all the rest?”  The father would explain the history of God’s people being rescued from slavery in Egypt.  There was a series of questions and answers along with a specific order of eating the food and drinking the wine in order to remember and teach.
However, on this night things turned out different.  Jesus inserted something into the order of the meal, which most likely shocked the disciples and left them speechless.  Jesus took the unleavened bread, which was supposed to symbolize the Israelites quick flight out of Egypt, and he broke it and passed it to his disciples.  He said that it was his body broken for them.  He said to eat it in remembrance of him.  We take the bread, which is a reminder to us of Christ’s broken body, and after everyone has it, we will thank Him and take it together.
In the same way, after supper he took the cup… If Jesus were following the traditional Jewish seder then he and the disciples would have already had two cups of wine before and during the meal.  Those were a reminder of Exodus 6:6-7 and the deliverance and freedom that God gave them.  If they had already eaten the main course (“after supper”), then the disciples were expecting Jesus to raise the 3rd cup and say the Cup of Blessing.  This was a reminder to them of God’s third promise in Exodus 6: “I will redeem.”  However, Jesus changes the script again because it says that he took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  Again, we pass the cup, reminding us of Jesus’ blood that was shed so that we could be redeemed.