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Just a Man with a Can | 1 Corinthians 3:5-9


A MAN WITH A CAN     1 Corinthians 3:5-9

The last two months, for me, have been a rollercoaster, to say the least.  We had the chance to go to Disneyland on our vacation two weeks ago, and I can tell you that Disneyland has nothing on two months of processing a move across the country.  That’s been a way better rollercoaster than anything we rode there.  It’s been an interesting journey, to be quite honest with you.  In many ways I didn’t see the emotional journey coming that I’ve been on, and that we’ve been on together as a family.  I’ve experienced sort of mini panic attacks, and immense sadness, and a little bit of anger, and immense doubt in the midst of it all.  I knew that this day was coming.  I woke up this morning and it was sort of that Brian Regan thing of like, “Oh, it’s due today!”  This day that I’ve been getting ready for for so many days just sort of snuck up on me.  It’s hard for me to believe this is my last Sunday standing in the pulpit here as Lead Pastor of South Fellowship Church.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve tried to take some time to remember and to reminisce a little bit, and to do so with thanksgiving, and that’s been such a natural thing because God has been so abundantly good.  Kelly and I were talking last night after a night with friends in our neighborhood.  We said to each other, “This is so hard because it’s been so good,” in every phase of our life here.  I thought about what do I preach on the last Sunday I have with you and what do I try to impart.  To be quite honest, I feel like my bucket’s a little bit empty today, but I’m going to do my best to impart something to you that I hope gives maybe a little bit of framework for where we’ve been over the last seven years and hopefully, a launching pad for this next season for life as a community of faith as South Fellowship Church.

What I’m reminded of is that transition in the church is as old as the church.  This is something that’s not new, it’s actually something that’s ancient, it’s something that’s old.  I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul as he’s saying good-bye to the elders of the church at Ephesus.  It’s a church that he helped start and pastored for three years.  These are people that he grew to love deeply.  Acts 20:36-37 —  He knelt down and prayed with them all.  And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him….  and sent him off to Jerusalem.  You can read in Acts 13:2-3 where the church is having this prayer meeting and worship time—the church in Antioch—and the Spirit of God says to them to send out Paul and Barnabas and it seems like it’s that next day that Paul and Barnabas are on a ship to Cyprus to start their very first missionary journey.  Can you imagine missing that prayer meeting?  You get there the next day and your pastor and teacher for the past year is gone!  Transition in the church is as old as the church.  That doesn’t make it easy, it just means that we have a little bit of perspective on what this looks like and how this goes.

If you have a Bible and want to follow along, I’m going to be camping out in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9.  Context is that the Apostle Paul has planted the church at Corinth; he’s no longer the pastor there.  A man by the name of Apollos has come in after him to be the leader and teacher and one of the pastors in that church.  There’s some people saying that we like Paul better and others that are saying, “Well, we follow Apollos.”  What Paul tries to do in the first few chapters here is reframe that whole discussion.  Here’s what he says in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 — What then is Apollos?  What is Paul?  Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers.  You are God’s field, God’s building.

I was struck by the fact that I didn’t plant this church.  Dale Schlafer did back in 1979.  Brad Strait pastored after that.  Then in 2012, God graciously called Kelly and I to come and water.  Yeah.  As I’ve tried to think about what these last seven years have been, this is the image that came to mind.  This is how I want to say it today:  I’m just a man with a can, partnering with a God who had a plan.  I’m reminded of John 9, where there’s this little boy who comes to Jesus.  All these people are hanging onto every word that Jesus has and every word that he’s saying.  They’ve gathered on this hillside and there’s no food.  The disciples ask well, how are we going to feed all these people?  This little boy goes well, I’ve got five loaves of bread and two fish.  Jesus said, “Bring it to me.”  He brought it to him.  Jesus took what seemed like a totally insignificant, completely insufficient amount of food, looked at 5,000 people and somehow took what was insignificant and insufficient and multiplied it.  Over the last seven years, I’ve just imperfectly—oh man, horribly imperfectly…..but I think the picture I have is that I’m taking my two fish and my five loaves and I’m taking my can and God’s filling it up as he’s gracious…..I’ve just had the chance over seven years to see God multiply my life.  Our lives.  To say that I’m grateful is an understatement.

One of the tensions that this text points out—I think it’s this tension we all wrestle with, whether we’re in “vocational ministry” or whether we work in business, whatever our life looks like.  Whether we’re a mom who stays home and raises kids or whether we’re retired, we have this tension, especially as people who want to follow the way of Jesus.  Here’s the tension:  We wrestle with thinking man, my work doesn’t matter.  God’s just going to do what God’s going to do.  I just want to gently, pastorally say to you that is an absolute lie.  Your life and your work matters greatly.  Somebody needed to bring the food to Jesus for him to multiply it.  Jesus is gracious enough to invite you into his story, to bring your gifts, and to bring your talents, and to bring who you are to him, and to give them to Him and to see what He might do with them.  I think that’s one polarity we wrestle with.  We wrestle with thinking, “My life and my work and what I contribute to this church, or to this community, doesn’t matter.”

Then there’s the other polarity of thinking that it all depends on us.  Larry, who’s one of my best friends in the entire world, usually on Sunday mornings at some point, will pull me aside and he’ll say, “Remember, this all depends on you!”  He did it again today.  He’s speaking my love language of sarcasm.  It’s his way of reminding me, “Ryan, you’re just a man with a can, partnering with a God who has a plan.”  That’s all you are.  I’ve needed that reminder.  Maybe you do too.  To reject the polarity of thinking, “It all depends on me,” and the polarity of thinking, “My life doesn’t matter at all.”  We all live in this beautiful, mysterious in-between of somehow what we bring to the table matters deeply and somehow it’s God who infuses all of it with meaning.

The Apostle Paul is going to unpack this tension.  This is more just from my heart today, but I want to give you just a few things that would be an encouragement to you and sort of some takeaways as we look back together and as we start to look forward.  In verse 5, he says:  What then is Apollos? What is Paul?  Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.   This translation is making it seem as though the Lord is assigning belief to each.  In the Greek, it’s really, really clear.  What he’s assigning to each is a task.  Paul and Apollos had this role to serve the church.  They did it in a way that’s just simply following the instruction of Jesus.  Here’s what Jesus said to his disciples  — And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. {That’s still the way of the world.  If you have the power, if you have the influence, if you have the money, if you have the fame, use it for yourself.}  But it shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45) 

This isn’t just unique for those who are in leadership in the church, but…..I want you to know that every believer is a servant and every servant has a task.   Sometimes we get the opportunity to choose what our task is, and sometimes our task is given to us.  But what I’m reminded of, number one, is that I’m not the master.  If I’m a servant, I’m not the master.  I just get to come under the wings of the master.  I get to live in his wind, in his spirit, in his love, in his goodness, I don’t need to control it.  My role, as a follower of Jesus, is to be a servant, and that means I don’t need to call the shots, I just get to live under the good Master.

I’ve shared with you a little bit about how God started to—what Kelly and I felt like—maybe start to reassign our task.  I shared some of that with you in the message that I gave when I started to say listen, we might be moving, and God seems like he might be leading in this way.  But I want to give you a little fuller picture of what that looked like for us.  I know there’s some of you may be wrestling with the idea of 1) Ryan, how do you know? and 2) Are you just seizing an opportunity?  As you know, back in January and February, I did a series called “Life is A-Mazing.”  It was about discerning and discovering God’s will.  It really started to mess with me.  About three-quarters of the way through it, I was approached by the church in California, Emmanuel Faith, to ask if I’d be interested in interviewing for their lead pastor job.  I had turned them down a year-and-a-half before for a role there and they called me and I said, “No! I’m happy at South. I love South.”  Then I started preaching on Jonah and I gave a message entitled “Life on the Run.”  I was driving home from church and thinking, “Man, Lord, I wonder if I’m running from you, number one, but number two, I’m so glad I already said no.”  Then the search firm Emmanuel Faith was working with emailed me and said, “Ryan, we heard your name floating around, are you interested in having a conversation?”  I gave him a list of reasons why I was a terrible choice for them.  They said, “Well, if some of those are put off to the side, are you interested in having a conversation?”  I said, “Well, maybe.”  On March 10th, I had a meeting with Janice and Craig Hammersmith.  Over lunch, they were sharing about God’s prompting in their life about missions and potentially moving their family of six to Luxembourg in the next season.  I drove home from that meeting thinking, “They’re willing to move to Luxembourg and I’m not willing to move to San Diego.”  On April 4th, Jodi Nevins, who’s on staff with us, met with me—we have a standing meeting once a month just to catch up.  She came into my office and said, “Ryan, I’m really nervous to meet with you today.”  She said she told her husband Eric that she was feeling that way and he suggested praying about a question to ask me.  She thought that was a good idea but nothing came to her.  She went to bed and woke up at one in the morning and said, “The question was really, really clear what I was suppose to ask you.”  I said, “Great.”  She said, “What would it look like for us as a church to accomplish the mission and the vision without you as being involved?”  At this point, nobody knew any of these conversations were happening, except Larry.  I went, “Are you kidding me?”  She said, “I went back downstairs; I couldn’t get back to sleep.  I was listening to my Bible meditation app, just praying and praising, and the word that came to me was real crystal clear.  I was suppose to give you the word ‘release.'”  It was this process, you guys, of God just slowly prying our fingers off of something we loved.

From there it got weird, if that isn’t weird enough.  We’re still going, “God, we’re not with you on this.”  On April 15th, I got a text message from somebody I have never met before.  They said, “Hi, Ryan, my name is Kelly.  I’d like to speak to you about purchasing 7584 S. Ogden Way.  Did I reach the right person?  Thank you.”  I wrote back, “No, absolutely not!  We’re not interested in selling.”  In the back of my mind I’m thinking, “What is going on?”  You can write that off as circumstance, that’s totally fine.  I’m actually okay with that, but some of the ways God speaks and moves is through circumstance.  I asked our neighbors and friends, “Hey, did you guys get this text?”  Nobody else.  April 20th, Kelly and I sit down on our couch after a long day.  We look what’s on our DVR.  We like this show “Restaurant Impossible.”  There was a new season and a new episode; we haven’t watched this show in a year.  We put on “Restaurant Impossible” and where was the episode filmed?  Escondido, California!  May 5th, I went to meet with someone from our congregation.  She’s been a missionary in Democratic Republic of Congo for forty years.  It was this really encouraging and sacred meeting we had for almost two hours.  At one point, she started to quote a hymn.  I said, “Norma, what hymn is that?  I’ve never heard that hymn.”  She said, “The hymn is entitled ‘I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go.'”   May 24th, I was having it out with God.  I told Kelly, “I feel like I’m on a runaway train and I don’t know how I got here and I know where this is going and I’m not sure I like it.”  I was really wrestling with leaving my dad and Kelly’s folks.  In my regular Bible reading, I came to this passage:  Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”  “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:28-30) 

May 29th, we flew out to California.  I preached there and said, “God, if they don’t vote at least 90% I’m not going.”  I’m like praying for an 80% to just say, “Okay!  I knew it!  I knew all this was messing with me.”  The vote was over 95%.  Got home on the night of June 2nd, and on June 3rd we had to make this decision.  I wrote an acceptance letter.  Through tears, I wrote an acceptance letter.  I told Kelly that I couldn’t send it.  I went out on a run.  On the run, I had this idea:  I’m going to write a decline letter also, and I’m going to see which one feels more in line with what God’s doing.  I wrote the decline letter and felt like I worded it really well.  I told Kelly to read both letters and to tell me what she thought God’s doing.  She read them and said, “Ryan, we just know.  We know.”  The assignment has been reassigned.  We’re servants, not the master, and we don’t call the shots.

Here’s a few implications for us, I think, as a community of faith.  The person who follows me as lead pastor of South Fellowship Church will have the same job description, but in a lot of ways will have a different task.  The task is contextual.  The task is unique.  My task for seven years was different than they’ll have, because the church is a different place than it was seven years ago.  We’ll both have the chance to be filled and to pour our little lives out for the sake of the kingdom.  But I think God’s going to grow something different in this new season.  {Will you lean in for a moment?  I just want to say this as clearly as I can.}  That’s a good thing.  That you’re not looking for somebody who’s just like Ryan.  You’re looking for the person that God will call for the next task, for the next season, to lead this church to a place I didn’t lead it to.  One of my pleas with you is that you would support the next lead pastor of South Fellowship Church—the next person who’s a servant with the task of watering this unique field, right here in Littleton—that you would support that person with the same love and support and care that you supported me with from day one.  They’re going to be different, and different isn’t bad, different is probably what this church needs to move into the next season.  So that’s one implication.

Second implication is this:  My task is changing, but that doesn’t mean that yours is.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, transitions are times for the church to rise up.  To say, “God’s planted something in me also.”  Maybe you’ve been sitting on the sidelines for a while wondering: A) Is this the church for me? or wondering B) What do I have to contribute?  I want you to reject the idea that you don’t have anything to give and I want this to be the season where you put your hand in the air and go, “What might it look like for me to pour my life out just a little bit more in this church for the glory of God?”  Because you’re a servant too and as the Apostle Paul would write to the church at Ephesus:  For are his workmanship, {In the Greek, that word is poiema and it means poem or song.  You’re God’s song!}  …created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)   Your work matters.  And when Paul says, “Listen, who’s Paul and who’s Apollos?  We’re nothing,” he’s not saying that their work doesn’t matter, he’s saying the story is not about us, it’s about Jesus.

In 1 Corinthians 3:6-8, he says:  I planted, Apollos watered….  {That image is one that I’ll carry with me.  That as a pastor I’m just a man with a can following a God who’s got a plan.}  but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who water is anything, but only God who gives the growth.    It’s this mysterious inner working of our work and God’s, and God’s spirit and our sweat and it makes something beautiful.  I think the call is to recognize that our greatest blessings are the work of His hands, not the result of our labor.  Think about this, when you plant a garden, at the end of the summer (assuming it grows), very rarely do you look at it and go, “I’m amazing!  I’m awesome!”  No, there’s this mysterious combination of soil and water and rain and photosynthesis and all of these things that I had zero control over that happened.  I think our lives, in so many ways, are just the exact same thing.  It’s really good—whether you’re a follower of Jesus here or not—for us, every once in a while, to pause and remember that the best things in our life aren’t the result of our work.  Think about that.  The best things in life are not the result of your work.  Whether it’s a friendship…..certainly there’s work that goes into that, but did you arrange the meeting?  Did you create your exact personality that would mesh with this person?  No!  So much of that is gift.  If you’re married, the same is true of a marriage.  If you have kids, the same is true of your kids.  The greatest blessings in your life are not the work of your hands, they’re the result of His labor, His work, His goodness, His grace, and His mercy.

As I’ve had the chance to reflect on the things that I’m most grateful for here at South, I want to affirm this once again.  My greatest blessings here are not the work of my hands, they’re the result of His Spirit.  His hands, not my labor.  A few things I reflected on.  It’s been so fun to see, because ministry and church is all about people.  It’s been so fun to see God grow this church, to see more people come to know and to love Jesus.  That’s been an absolute blessing for me.  I’m shocked at what God has done.  To see him clarify our missions and our values when we had a discussion in our elder board about changing our mission statement to be “helping people live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.”   It’s a huge, huge step for an organization to change their mission statement, and for us, it was one part of one meeting and we just went, “Yeah, this feels exactly like what God’s been doing and this is exactly who we are.”  For me, as a pastor, to carry that banner and go, “Oh man, there’s such alignment in my soul with this church,” has been an absolute joy.  I didn’t create that, God did that.  To look at our values on the wall and go, “Those are things I’d give my life to.”  Absolutely.  Pursuing the presence of God.  Practicing relationship with Him.  Helping people move towards wholeness.  Being and living together as a family of believers.  Being rooted in the Scriptures and grounded in the Scriptures.  Renewal.

When we got here, there was around $300,000 in debt.  We’ve seen God wipe that out miraculously, and move us to a place of financial wholeness.  We’ve seen God birth a Young Adult ministry here.  We’ve seen Him start, in the last seven years, a Celebrate Recovery ministry, where people are getting free from hurts, and habits, and hang-ups.  I can assure you, that is not the work of my hands.  It’s not the work of Nicole’s hands; she’s doing an amazing job leading that ministry and I’m so grateful for her partnership, but it’s nothing that we do, it’s the way that God works when we show up and use our gifts.  We’ve seen support groups started that address mental health issues, divorce, addiction, and grief.  Praise God!  We’ve seen the Food Bank remodeled; that was a lot of work of our hands!  Specifically Bill and Erin and Sharon and Larry and John and so many others.  But God’s the one that’s going to make it grow. He’s the one that’s going to make that meaningful, not us.  We’ve seen Family Promise started here, where we get the chance to open our facility for families experiencing homelessness to come and live for a week and try to get their feet back under them, in partnership with twelve other churches around this area, to create seamless transitions for people to hopefully find jobs and find a place to land.  Man, you guys, that’s good work.  But God infuses it with meaning.

I’m so grateful, in the last seven years, that we’ve seen God move in such a way that South Fellowship now has female pastors.  Personally, I’m so grateful for that, because I always said I wanted to raise my daughter in a church where she saw strong female leaders.  We’ve seen missionaries sent out.  We’ve seen spiritual formation and practices and taking discipleship seriously, in the forefront.  I’ve seen a staff that’s grown together, that loves each other, that is like family.  I could stand before you and tell you I’m just a man with a can trying my best to follow a God who’s got a plan, and it’s the work of His hands, not our labor.

Graeme Keith was the treasurer for the Bill Graham Association and one of Billy’s long-time friends.  He was in an elevator and somebody else was in there.  The man said to Billy Graham, “You’re Billy Graham, aren’t you?”  He said, “Yes.”  “Well,” the man said, “you are a truly great man.”  Billy responded, “No, I’m not a great man.  I just have a great message.”  I would say the same thing.

Verse 9.    For we are God’s fellow workers.   {I just want to set this straight.  Fellow. Workers.  Paul and Apollos: Fellow workers.  Dale Schlafer.  Brad Strait.  Ryan Paulson.  Fill-in-the-blank.  Not competitors; fellow workers.  Just people with a can and some water, doing our best.  Fellow workers, not competitors.}  You are God’s field, God’s building.  According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it.  Let each one take care how he builds upon it.  For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.   I just want to remind you:  understand that your fruitfulness, in the past and in the future, is determined simply by our foundation. Our foundation has a name.  His name is Jesus.  He’s unshakable, immovable.  He’s the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, next Sunday.  Jesus is the foundation.  He’s the chief cornerstone.  He’s the head of this church.  He’s the senior pastor.  You’ll just get another under-shepherd.  Where we build matters.  Where you build matters, not just as a church, but as a person.  Jesus would say, listen, you’re either building your life on sand or you’re building your life on rocks, but the foundation that you lay will determine the fruitfulness that comes from your life.  So where is it?

As Aaron and the team come forward, I just want to end by reading one of my favorite verses to you.  Paul writes in Philippians 1:3-7 — I thank my God in all my remembrance of you    {I just want you to know, South Fellowship, that Kelly and I will remember this church.  Not only because you took a risk on a 31-year-old guy who had no senior pastor experience and were gracious with me while I learned (really gracious with me), but because we’ve grown to love you deeply.  We really have!  So when we remember you, not just you collectively as a church, but you, individually, we will do so with fondness and with gratitude and we’ll thank Jesus.}   …always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.    I’m so grateful the last seven years hasn’t been me building a ministry.  It’s been us linking arms and hearts together for the sake of the kingdom.  This really has been partnership.  I’m so grateful for that.

Paul says:  And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  Hear me, South.  God is not leaving you.  He has great things in store for you.  He’s committed to the plans He has for this church.  He’s committed to the plans He has to you personally.  This is our chance, both collectively….because Kelly and I are in this too.  We’re stepping out—Free Solo style—sort of going, “Alright, God, you’ve been so good to us this last seven years, and we’re just going to do our best to trust that if this is where you’ll lead, this is where you’ll provide, that you’ll be good to us too.”  But hear me, South, God is not done with you.  I firmly believe, with everything in me, that the best days of South Fellowship Church are in front of her.

Finally, I say this to you:  It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace.   We have both tasted and seen that God is good.  That our eternal home is Him.  That we have the opportunity to make our home in Him today.  Paul says those things knit us together and they drill relationships deep within us.  Kelly and I would say to you all, as a community of faith, but also as individuals, you are deeply, deeply, deeply in our hearts and we love you dearly.  So, South, continue to chase after Jesus.  Continue to serve the people around you in this community, and continue to love each other well.  You’ve done it for seven years, I have no doubt that you’ll continue doing it in the future.  Whatever can God gives you to water in the field that he plants you in, do so knowing that He’s the one that’s at work.  Amen.

Just a Man with a Can | 1 Corinthians 3:5-92023-06-22T11:38:00-06:00

The Parables of Jesus | The Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector | Week 2


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THE PARABLES OF JESUS: The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

We started a series last week called “The Parables of Jesus.”  This series is all about the parables of Jesus.  Over the course of the summer, we’re going to be studying together these stories that Jesus told.  That’s what a parable is.  A parable’s a story.  It’s two words put together—“para” which means alongside of and “bollo” which means to throw.  It’s stories for normal everyday people—-they weren’t told by the philosophical leaders or taught in the Socratic seminar.  Stories they threw alongside of reality.  The whole goal of a parable was to make people go, “Huh, I never thought of it like that.”  I never thought that the kingdom of heaven was sort of like a field where there’s both wheat planted in it and weeds.  Hmm, I never saw it like that.  The parables are intended to create some spiritual awakening in our souls.

The parable that we’re going to look at today is found in Luke 18:9-14.  This parable is all about Jesus saying, “I know, I get it.”  The way that you look at the world and the way that you see who’s on top, the power structures, and what it looks like to get ahead, and what it looks like when you accumulate wealth, and how to be a good and right person.  I get it.  I get it.  There’s a way that the world looks, but everything is not as it seems.

Fourth of July, Season 3 of the amazing Netflix show “Stranger Things” came out.  Don’t spoil it, I haven’t started Season 3 yet; I’ve been busy, but I plan on watching it.  “Stranger Things” is this Netflix special TV show.  It’s science fiction and ’80s based.  It has all sorts of allusions to ’80’s movies and TV shows.  It’s brilliant.  It’s about this little town in Hawkins, Indiana where the Hawkins National Laboratory performs these scientific research experiments.  They’re working for the United States Department of Energy, but secretly they are exploring paranormal and supernatural activity.  They just happen to unearth, or uncover, this portal to an alternate dimension called the “Upside Down.”  It’s this dimension that exists right alongside of the dimension you can see, but it’s just completely upside down, completely different.  It’s right there, but totally different.

I think what Jesus wants to do today is invite us to the Upside Down.  I think he wants us to reimagine this world that we live in.  His teaching in this text is quite jarring.  I think the question for all of us is will we have the courage to receive it, will we have the courage to embrace it, to enter into it.  Don’t miss this—whether or not you say yes to that question, I believe, will in large part, determine the trajectory of your life.  Luke 18:9-14.  Here’s the way Jesus tells this story:  He also told this parable {He threw this story alongside of their reality.) to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Now a little bit of context for us because the story demands it for us to really enter in.  Every Jewish person listening to Jesus’s story here would have recognized what Jesus is talking about.  The people would go to temple to pray, two times every day.  At those times, in the morning and in the evening, there would be a sacrifice made, usually a small lamb.  The priest would offer this sacrifice.  There would be incense that would be lit.  There would be trumpets that would be sounded.  There would be cymbals that would clang.  There would be prayers that would be offered and psalms that would be sung.  Jesus says, in that context, there’s two people coming from their homes.  One a tax collector and the other a Pharisee.  This is like, a Pharisee and a tax collector walk into a temple….   Jesus is about to tell us this grand joke, in a sense.

The word “Pharisee” literally means “separate.”  They were the Bible study teachers.  They were the Promise Keepers.  They were the Campus Crusaders.  They were the pastors.  People who had it all together.  People that other people looked up to and went, “Ah, when we get there, then we’ll be okay with God.”  On the other hand, there was this tax collector.  They were the exact opposite.  They were people who’d rob their own countrymen.  They sold out in order to earn from Rome the right to tax their own people, and they kept driving taxes up and up and up so that everybody else was living in poverty and they were living wealthy.  You have one person that everybody looks up to and esteems as pious and elite, and you have another person who everybody says, “I’m glad I’m not like them.”

That’s the context of Jesus telling the story.  A lot of people read the story on the surface and think the story’s about prayer.  The context is prayer, but the story is about this word “righteous.”  It’s this word about how to be right.  There was a way to be right in the Greco-Roman world and it was by following all the rules, by embracing the moral and ethic code, and by being a “decent” person.  But as you read through the Scriptures, you find that righteousness is way deeper than that.  Righteousness actually has to do with relationship also, not just the keeping of the law, but about being right with another person, being able to look them in the eye and to know that things are okay between you and them.  The question is really about “How are you okay?”  That’s what the story’s about.  That’s what Jesus’s little sermon’s about.  How do you get to the place where you’re comfortable in your own skin?  Where you’re comfortable before God?  How do you get to the place where you’re right with God?

And he told them this parable and here’s what he said.   He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves…..and treated others with contempt.    Notice, the way that they treat other people is determined by what they see in their own soul.  Did you know that the way that you interact with everybody around you, including God, is determined primarily by what you see in you?  {You may want to write this down, if you’re taking notes.}  What happens in you determines what happens through you.  Or we might say it like this this morning:  The way you see yourself shapes your approach to everything else.

When you walked in, you got a mirror.  Would you take that out?  What do you see?  If the way you see yourself shapes your approach to everything else, maybe it would be a good practice for us to be honest this morning about what we see.  What do you see?  Do you see someone who has it all together?  Do you see someone who has got a good resumé?  God, thanks for all the good things you’ve given me and thanks for the things I’ve given me.  Do you see someone who’s broken?  Do you see someone who’s failed?  Someone who’s maybe unlovable?  Do you see someone who’s had to be strong for other people….sort of hold it all together?  Do you see someone…..right now I see someone who’s barely holding on.   Anybody with me?  Do you see someone who’s broken beyond repair?  Or maybe we just see someone who’s good.  All of us see something.  Maybe we could write a word on here that would define the way that we see ourselves, but the way that you see YOU determines the way you treat all the you’s around you.  It overflows into the lives of the people that you love the most and that you care about the most.

Look at the way this played out in the Pharisee’s life.  He told them this story—threw this story alongside their reality—to some who trusted in themselves {Where they went God, I’m right before you because of what’s in me.}  that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:  “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself…..  It was really interesting.  We see this progression—they trust in themselves for their own righteousness, which shapes the way they view everything else, which determines the position of everyone else in relationship to them.  And what happens?  The Pharisee is by himself, praying.  God, thank you that I’m amazing.  God, thank you that I’m awesome.  Thank you that I stuck that dismount.  God, you did good work in creating me.  And everybody is over here and praying the psalms, going through the motions and they’re all in one little group, one little cluster.  Jesus wants to make a point.  The Pharisee, who trusts in himself for his own righteousness, is standing APART from everybody else.  That’s exactly what happens when we trust in ourselves.  There’s a word that we have for that—pride.  I think what Jesus wants to show us is that pride creates a divide—-between ourselves, and between God, and between the people that we love the most.

If you dive into Galatians 6:2-3, here’s what the Apostle Paul will write to the church at Galatia — Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  {Which is love—love your neighbor as yourself.}  For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.   Isn’t that interesting?  The thing that prevents you from carrying the burdens of others, from being in life-giving relationship with others, is thinking that you’re something.  Like the Pharisee did.  I’m amazing.  I’ve got it all together.  I’ve accomplished a whole lot.  I read my Bible everyday.  I go to the prayer meeting.  I haven’t missed church in a week.  I tithe on my income….  What starts to happen?  There’s this distance, this divide, that’s created.  Can I invite you to just lean in a little bit today?  As I’ve tried to examine my own soul, what I’ve recognized is that pride is hard to see in myself.  It’s hard to see.  So my guess is most of us are going, “You know who I wish was here for this sermon?”  Fill-in-the-blank, right?  Can we be honest?  Did anybody think that yet?  Yeah.  I think what Jesus might want to say to us today is,  “This sermon isn’t for somebody else, it’s actually for you!”

There’s some devastating things that start to happen in our soul when we embrace this narrative of “I’m okay and I’m good because of what I’ve done.”  Here’s three things that happen in the Pharisee’s life:  1) He starts to have this narrative of his own holiness.  The reason he’s distant is because he believes his holiness needs to be protected by distance between him and dirtiness.  So I’m more holy the more sin I stay away from.  Man, isn’t that interesting how some of these things just keep coming back around.  We still try to define holiness based on what we stay away from.  There’s a whole Christian subculture that’s built around helping you stay away from people that are broken and sinful and hurting and in pain.  You want to know the problem with that?  Jesus!  Jesus entered in with sinful people.  He entered in with broken people.  He entered in with people who were in pain, and he started to reverse that narrative, that narrative that says, “Oh, if I get near ‘sinful’ people, then I’ll become sinful.”  He goes no, no, no, no, actually what happens is when holiness encounters sin; it’s not that holiness is made dirty, it’s that sin is made clean.  So when Jesus touches a leper, He doesn’t get leprosy, the leper is healed.  When Jesus encounters a demon, he drives out the demon, he doesn’t get it himself.  That’s his perspective on holiness.  The Pharisee’s holding onto this old method of I’ve got to stay away from everything that’s dirty so that I can remain clean.  I think a lot of times, pride creates a divide by giving us a faulty narrative of what it means to be holy.  You know you’re holy by not what you stay away from, but because of who you know, and the grace that you receive.  That’s New Covenant holiness, friends.

But it doesn’t stop there for this Pharisee.  It’s not just the narrative that he believes about the way that he’s made holy.  There’s this word Jesus uses to describe the perspective and attitude of the Pharisee—it says he treated others with contempt.  Which literally in the Greek means emptiness.  He looked at them as empty people.  As people who were sort of soulless, and you can see why.  His perspective—I have done all these things.  And I have tithed.  And I have attended temple.  And I have done all of those things out there, that, by the way, weren’t even required by the law.  And they haven’t.  And the fact that they haven’t means that they are unworthy of love.  The narrative he believes is that I’m valuable based on what I do and based on what I produce.

Can I give a pastoral word to all the parents out there?  I think one of the most dangerous things we can do as parents is hold onto that narrative—we’re valuable based on what we produce.  Because what we see in us, always determines what we give to others.  So if the story we’re telling ourselves is I’m valuable based on what I produce, what’s the story that our kids are going to end up hearing?  You’re valuable based on what you produce!  I think one of the truths he wants to teach us is that if I find my value in what I do, I measure everybody else by what they do also.

I can remember, a few weeks ago, my son Ethan was pitching.  Every time he walked somebody—he had a rough game so he walked a few people—he would look over at me (I was coaching).  It was this look of “Are we still okay?”  I’ve failed.  I’ve let you down.  Are we still okay?  The next time he was on the mound, I went up to the mound, put the ball in his hand, knelt down right in front of him and said, “Hey, bud, I want you to know that whether you strike every batter out or walk every batter you face, you’re still my son and I love you exactly the same!”  Man, I wish I would have done that earlier in the season, because he pitched so much better that day!  I wish I would have done that earlier, because he’s carrying this weight….   That’s my narrative, you guys, I’ve got this perfectionism, performer narrative that spins around in my head, and when I let it go it goes crazy, and it spilled over onto my son and somehow he’s gotten in him, “My dad loves me when I strike people out, but when I walk people I’ve got to look back to make sure we’re okay.”  I don’t know about you, but I want to kill that narrative as quickly in me as I possibly can so that it dies in him too, because it’s no way to live wondering if you’re okay with the people who love you most.  If you’re here today and you’re wondering if you’re okay with God….if you’re looking back at him going, “I failed.  Are we still okay?”  His question back to you isn’t “How much have you done for me lately and what have you produced, and what sort of dividends are coming out of your life?”  His question back to you is “Are your hands open to receive grace and mercy from Jesus?”  That’s the only question he cares about.

This Pharisee just can’t get there, so what happens?  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other men.” I mean, can you believe some of these guys?  These extortioners.  These unjust. These adulterers.  Or even like that dude over there!  Can you believe that dude has the audacity to enter into YOUR temple courts to come and pray to you?  That tax collector—he’s ripped everybody in here off and he shows up in church!  Oh man!  Me, I fast twice a week and I give a tenth of everything.   Five times in two verses, this guy says to God, “I’m sure you’re amazing and you’re great, but can we talk about me?  Could we talk about how awesome I am?  You’re good, but let’s talk about me!”  Five times in two verses.  Then he says, “Hey, God, let’s also talk about them.  Let’s talk about how much better I am than those people.”  Have you’ve ever been to a prayer gathering that turned into a sermon somewhere along the way?

Here’s what this guy does.  Like I mentioned, he’s playing by rules that God didn’t give.  These weren’t things God commanded.  He’s made up his own way of being right with God, which is what we call religion.  Isn’t it fascinating how people who make up their own way of being right with God very rarely fall on the wrong side of that equation?  He’s like, God, I’m good.  What does he do?  He’s measuring himself against everyone else.  His first narrative is: I’m holy because I’m separate.  His second narrative is: I’m valuable based on what I produce.  His third narrative is: I’m okay because I’m better than them.  It all falls under this banner of pride.   You know what the devastating thing about this line of thinking—the ‘I’m better than them’ line of thinking—is?  It’s impossible to love if you’re in competition with somebody.  If you’re comparing yourself with somebody, you’re competing, because there’s only two ways I climb this ladder that I feel I have to climb.  One is by actually climbing it and getting better, so I can then pat myself on the back and go, “Aren’t I amazing?”  The other is if you go down a few rungs, I go up a few rungs.  So if you’re comparing yourself to people, you’re competing with people.  And if you’re competing with people, it’s impossible for you to love people.  If you’re comparing yourself to people and it’s impossible for you to love people, then comparison is actually the death of the greatest command.  So we have to find something that allows us to look in the mirror and go, “In all of my brokenness, in all of my failure, and in all of my pain, I’m still okay, and it’s not because of any of the resources inside of me.”  If Jesus were here today, I think he would say, “Man, when we talk about righteousness….righteousness isn’t primarily about whether or not you’ve broken the law, it’s about a broken relationship.”

So let me just ask you some diagnostic questions.  Pride is hard for us to see in ourselves, so here’s some questions to ask.  Maybe if the answer is Yes to some of these, maybe there’s some work that God just wants to do in your life.  Don’t be afraid of that.  There’s a difference between condemnation, which is the enemy’s voice, and conviction, which is the voice of the Spirit.  The enemy wants to condemn so he can beat you down.  The Spirit wants to convict so he can show you that you are down and start to lead you up!   *How easily are you offended?  *How hard do you try to convince people you are right?  Don’t you imagine that if you were to talk to the Pharisee, he would have just said like, I don’t get what the big deal is, I’m right!  And he’s wrong!  How hard do you try to convince people you’re right?  *How hard is it for you to admit you’re wrong?  If you’re like I can’t remember the last time that I was, then this sermon’s for you!  *How often do you think, I’m not as good at fill-in-the-blank as that person?  You might immediately go, well, that’s not pride, that’s actually self-deprecating.  It’s just the opposite side of the coin.  It’s just pride where you haven’t succeeded in your game.  *How often do you try things you might not be good at?  Because people who struggle with pride and perfectionism, typically avoid things that they might fail at because that would be a huge blow to their ego.  I know because I’m preaching to myself!  *How do you respond when people treat you like a servant?  *How hard is it for you to genuinely encourage others?  *How much do you empathize with people who’ve failed?  Or who are in pain?  *How often do you share the deepest parts of your soul with trusted friends?

In Jesus’s story, the Pharisee is created to serve as a warning for us.  To create a spiritual awakening.  To go oh, maybe I’ve been playing this game.  Maybe I’ve just been coming to church and maybe church has turned into a ledger sheet for me to show to God, to say to God, “God, are we okay?”  Maybe today there’s some sort of awakening in your soul, by the power of the Spirit, where Jesus is going yeah, this isn’t for that other person you thought it was for, it’s actually for you and I want to do some business on your soul.  Maybe you’re going, oh my goodness, pride creates divide and the pride in my life has actually cut me off from some of the people I love the most.  Maybe it’s also cut me off from God.  Maybe you’re here today and you’re still thinking it’s somebody else’s fault.

If pride is the clandestine destroyer of all relationships—and it is—Jesus also invites us to one of the secrets of success.  I love the way John Stott put it:  “Pride is your greatest enemy; humility is your greatest friend.”  Verse 13 — But the tax collector, standing far off, {See, the Pharisee stands alone—these are intentional word choices by Jesus—as if to say, I’m better than you.  The tax collector stands far off, as if to say I could never get that close.  It’s different.} would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, {Which was typically something reserved for females to do in the ancient Jewish culture, and it was something reserved for funerals, for lament, for a death that’s happened.  So he’s beating his chest, not God, I’m good and I’ve got, but God, I’m broken and I’m in need.}  saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” 

Here’s what’s interesting: They’ve walked up to the temple.  They’ve seen a priest slaughter a lamb, spread his blood.  They’ve seen the incense rise.  They’ve sung the psalms.  They’ve cried out their prayers to God.  They’ve done everything.  And yet, he’s still thinking there’s something off between us.  Here’s what he recognizes:  He recognizes that going through the motion of religion will never touch the deepest places of his soul that he knows are broken.  So what does he do?  He does the thing that all of us who receive grace and mercy do—-he asks for it!  The truth of the matter, friends, is that humility frees us to receive mercy.  Originally I had in my notes, humility releases mercy, but that would be theologically false.  Humility does not release mercy.  Humility is the thing that releases the thing that we’re holding onto that prevents us from capturing God’s mercy that is always being poured out.  The only thing that can keep you from accepting God’s grace is your unwillingness to admit that you need it; everybody who admits that they need it, receives it.  The Pharisee is so obsessed with his own resumé that he is unable to receive God’s grace.

What Jesus teaches — Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.  This is the upside-down!  It is!  If you want to gain your life, lose it. (Luke 9:24)  If you want to know what it means to be great in the kingdom, be the last. (Matthew 12:16)  If you want to be the greatest of all, be the servant of all. (Luke 22:26)  This is messed up, upside-down, inverted, paradoxical kingdom living.  That’s what it is.

If you’re tracking with me, my guess is your question is yeah, but Ryan, how do I become humble?  It’s the right question.  If you try to become humble and you succeed, where does that leave you?  You’re like, “Man, I’m the most humble person I’ve ever met! I’ve really been working on humility and I think I’ve stuck the dismount!”  Immediately you’re knocked off the podium.  So how do we do it?  Let me give you two ideas.  1) I think Mother Teresa said it best: “We learn humility through accepting humiliations cheerfully.  Do not let that chance pass you by.”  I think the way we step into a life of humility is by being humiliated.  Sounds fun, doesn’t it?  Where do we sign up for that?!  We want to avoid that like the plague, don’t we?

A few weeks ago, Kelly and I were in Costa Rica on vacation.  We were hiking along this trail in the jungle.  It was just gorgeous!  These massive birds chirping, monkeys howling; it was this picturesque scene.  We walked passed this little hut in the jungle, and there were these dogs in the backyard of this hut that were just ROWR, ROWR, RUFF, RUFF! They were going crazy, so I just responded!  My adrenaline kicked into gear and I started to run as fast as I could.  My wife happened to be a little bit in front of me, and in order to save her life from these vicious dogs, I pushed her out of the way so that I would be in between her and the dogs, to give my life for her.  At least that’s my version of this story!  I fell down face first, on the trail, and these dogs come rushing out.  Rowr, rowr, rowr!   They were the two most vicious Chihuahuas I have ever seen in my entire life!  I am lying face first in the dirt; Kelly is laughing at me and asking if I’m okay.  The guy comes running out of his house and says, “Oh, did my dogs scare you?”  I’m like face on the ground, “No, I’m good. Uh, I thought I saw a quarter down here.  I was looking for it….”  It was just her and I and something in me was like, “You should feel embarrassed.”

Just the thought of being humiliated fills us with fear, doesn’t it?  I think what Mother Teresa is saying is that there will be opportunities for you to embrace that feeling and go, “Yeah, maybe I’m imperfect.”  Maybe there’s some flaws, maybe there’s some shortcomings.   See, what happens in us when we’re humiliated is the false self that we’ve tried to construct, the public self, the I’m okay self, the look-at-me self, starts to die.

Here’s the other way we can embrace a posture of humility.  We can position ourselves to experience greatness—God’s greatness.  No one stands on the edge of the Grand Canyon and goes, “I’m pretty cool.”  No one puts their blanket out on the Pacific Ocean, watches the sunset and goes, “That’s pretty great, but have you seen what I’ve done lately?”  Nobody holds a baby, crying for the first time, and thinks to themselves, “I am awesome.”  In each of those scenarios, they think to themselves, “God, YOU are GREAT!  God, you have been good.”  We can step into humility by embracing the humiliation that’s going to come.  Don’t chase it!  It’s coming for you!  But, we can also position ourselves to experience God’s greatness and his mercy and his love.

The beautiful thing about humility is it is the very thing that allows us to carry the power of God.  Here’s the thing, friend, you can either choose with your life to carry YOUR strength and YOUR power and YOUR pride, or you can choose to carry God’s love and God’s grace and God’s mercy, but you can’t carry both.  Which is in your bucket today?  What Paul would say is:  We have this treasure in jars of clay, {He’s talking about the gospel, the good news that in the midst of being broken and sinful and needy, you are loved and showered down with mercy and grace and the kindness of the divine.} to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  (2 Cor. 4:7)

As we land the plane, can I just say that I think there’s some danger, too, in this message, so let me just try to stave it off, if I can.  What I’m not saying is that you should look in the mirror and go, “What a pile of garbage.”  That’s not humility.  That’s actually false pride.  You shouldn’t say, “What a pile of garbage.  I have no worth, because I haven’t added up to God’s standard.”  You’ve heard narratives like this in Christian circles.  Basically, when you go to church, your expectation is when I walk out the doors I should feel worse than when I walked in.  If we don’t feel guilty, we haven’t been to church.  What I think you should think when you look in the mirror is I am imperfect, and I’m broken, and I’m sinful, and in the midst of all of that, I am a dearly-loved child of God.  I carry his image.  I’m indwelt with his Spirit.  He has called me and made me holy, not because I’m amazing and I’m awesome, but because his grace and mercy has been showered down on me, and I’ve just gotten low enough to know that I need it.  He’s placed me in the heavenly realms with Him.  He’s forgiven me and calls me His child.  He hasn’t put inside of me a spirit of fear and timidity, but one of strength and courage and power.  I think when you look in the mirror you should see both your brokenness and your beauty, and my hope is that you see God’s grace reigning and showering down on it all.

So what do we do?  We’re going to come to the table in just a moment, but you might want to write this down: In the kingdom of God, downward mobility (tax-collector mentalities) actually leads to an upward trajectory.  Here’s what that might look like in your life this week, because I want to give you some handles for this.  *What if this week you embraced your smallness by entering God’s presence.  The Scriptures are really clear:  Be still, and know that I am God. (Ps. 46:10)  So one of best ways to forget that God is God and to think that you are God is for you to keep going on that hamster wheel of success.  I think Jesus might want to say to us, “Just slow down.”  Worship and enter my presence.  Stop!  Pray.”  *Maybe this week you decide to serve the people around you.  Maybe it’s a roommate or a friend or a family member or a child.  Maybe it’s something simple like a note of encouragement, or an arm around them, or a word of truth spoken.  Maybe you do something that just needs to be done and you don’t tell anybody about it.  What if this week you chose to serve selflessly and then accept it as part of your discipleship when you’re treated like a servant?  “They’re treating me like a servant.  Jesus, that’s part of your school of shaping me in your image.  Help me respond appropriately.”    *What if this week you started to look at every single person that you saw and you attributed to them intrinsic value; they didn’t earn it.  They didn’t do anything to accomplish something so that they have value, but rather than earned worth, they have intrinsic value.  It’s just there.  They’re a child of God.  My friend Carolyn says she’s been practicing as she drives, looking at other drivers and just imagining that the image of God is stamped on every single one of them—the good drivers and the bad.  Maybe that’s a practice.  *Maybe today you just admit your need and receive his grace.  You can either earn or you can receive, but you can’t do both, friends.  You can’t do both.  You only receive grace if you know that you need it, and God never says No to anybody who asks for it.

Some of you are here today and you’re going, “Man, Jesus, maybe for the first time I just want to say to you I need your grace,” and He’s saying, “Welcome to my kingdom.”  Here’s the question I want us to wrestle with as we come to the table this morning…..maybe for some of us it’s going, Jesus, I need your grace in this area of my life.  I’ve been trying to be strong, but today it’s time to admit that I am weak, and I need you to show up.  And I need your Spirit to infuse my brokenness.  I need your life to take over my death.  I need my trying to be replaced by your showering down of grace and mercy.  As we go to the table this morning, would you just take a moment and would you ask Jesus….Jesus, where do you want to infuse grace into my life today?  Where have I been trying and you’re inviting me to receive?

You know what’s amazing?  In John 13, John tells us the story of Jesus celebrating the Passover meal—-we’re going to celebrate communion in just a moment; would our servers start coming forward?  That night, Jesus gathered his disciples around the table and he took off his outer garment and he tied a towel around his waist.  He got down on his hands and knees and started to wash his disciples’ feet.  I mean, this should absolutely shock us.  The one being in the entire universe that could be prideful isn’t.  Isn’t.  He shows us what God is like; that God doesn’t beat his chest even though he could, he gives his life so that you and I might be made right.  So that you and I might be welcomed back.  For 2000 years, followers of Jesus have been getting low enough to crawl to the table to remember that they’re people in need and that God fills that need.  To remember that they’re people empty and God fills them with his life.  To remember that they’re people who are broken, but they’re beautiful because they’re loved.  To remind themselves that they’re people who have failed but they’re not failures; they are children of the Most High God because of the grace of Jesus.  As you come this morning, would you come knowing that you are deeply loved.  Would that be what you see in the mirror, in the midst of all of the junk going on in your life, that there might be that view that transcends it all.

{Communion instructions}

Let’s pray.  Jesus, would you fill our lack with your abundance?  Would you replace our trying with your Spirit?  And Jesus, would you overshadow our failure with your grace?  Our arms and our hearts are open, speak to us as we celebrate this table today, we pray.  In Jesus’s name.  Amen.


The Parables of Jesus | The Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector | Week 22020-08-20T18:18:22-06:00

The Parables of Jesus | Parables of the Weeds and Seeds | Matthew 13:24-33 | Week 1

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THE PARABLES OF JESUS: The Weeds and Seeds     Matt. 13:24-35  

A week ago today, my family and I were leaving to go to a week at Mount Hermon.  I taught there last week, and the family went and had an awesome time.  Kelly and I are both Type A people.  Our flight left at 8:45 and we left the house at 6:00 am because we like to be on time.  If you followed the news last Sunday, you might have heard there was a little bit of an accident on Peña Boulevard.  If you know DIA, you know that Peña’s really the only way to get into that airport.  We left our house at 6:00 and about 6:30 we’re at that stretch of Peña that juts north and then heads east to the final stretch that takes you into the airport.  When we turned east, we hit gridlock traffic like I’ve never seen on that street before!  It just came to an absolute screeching halt!  Kelly and I looked at each other and said, “This isn’t good,” and started Googling what’s going on.  Turns out there was a huge accident up front.  From 6:30 to 7:00, we just sat there and didn’t move at all.  We saw (on Apple Maps) there was a shortcut you could take and get off the road and sort of circumvent the issue a little bit.  We did that and ended up in another line of cars.  You may have heard that there were some people who took a short cut into an open field and they got absolutely stuck; that wasn’t us, but we could see them from where we were.  As we were waiting, I was saying, “Okay, if we get there 7:45 (an hour before our flight leaves) we’ll be just fine.”  It hit 7:45 and we were still stuck.  Then I said, “If we get to the airport by 8:00, I think we’re going to be okay.”  We started to move a little bit more, but we didn’t pull into the airport until 8:10.  I went and parked in short-term parking, which, by the way, if you do that for a whole week, costs you $175, I found out.  We ran into the airport, got through security, begging and pleading with people to let us through.  I was in such a hurry I put all my kids luggage on the conveyor belt to go through security, and I left mine there.  We got down to the train and I’m standing there empty handed.  Kelly says to me, “Where’s your bag?”  I went, “Oh, I blew it!”  I ran back and said, “It’s going to be easier to find a flight for one than it is five.  You guys get on the flight.  You go!”  I ran back to security and asked if they had a bag and they asked, “Does it have a car seat on it?”  “Yeah, I’m that idiot.”  I run up to the gate…..it’s three minutes after the flight was suppose to have taken off.  As I’m running up, they ask, “Are you Mr. Paulson?”  “Yes, thank you, Jesus!”  They said, “Reid was really worried you weren’t going to make this flight!”

As we were waiting in line, we saw people who decided that waiting in line wasn’t going to be for them; they were going to miss their flight as most of us waiting in line.  So they tried to turn around and get out of the line.  This guy had a Jeep so I guess he thought he would be okay, but, if you remember, it rained pretty hard the Saturday before, and that field was absolutely mud.  I didn’t get him in the picture, but he was standing with his arms crossed looking at what was formerly his car.  I thought to myself, “Yeah, waiting’s hard.”  Especially when you’re waiting and you don’t have any sort of time frame for when that next thing is coming.  Waiting’s really difficult.  I think our tendency, as human beings, is to try to look for any short cut that we can, in order to get around the waiting.  How many of you have tried to circumvent the line at an amusement park?  We wait for food to come at a restaurant.  Or maybe it’s waiting for that next season of life.  In high school, just waiting to get done so we can get to college.  In college, waiting to get done so we can find that job…..or at least our parents are waiting for us to find that job.  Or maybe it’s single and I’m waiting to get married.  Or maybe it’s that next season, that next job, that next opportunity.  Waiting can be really hard.

Will you just lean in for a moment?  Everybody waits.  Everybody waits in life.  But not everybody waits well.  The way that you wait, in many ways, will shape the life that you live.  What we’re going to circle around in these parables that Jesus is going to tell this morning is that life in God’s kingdom requires waiting, with both patience and persistence.  I don’t know about you, but I can wait with patience at some times in my life and sort of sit on my hands and go, “What’s going to come is going to come, and I don’t have any control over this, and I’m just sort of along for the ride.”  OR, I can say, “I’m going to make it through this season.”  I’m going to turn around and find away out of it.  But to wait with a balanced approach of patience…..God, you’re at work in ways I can see and in ways I can’t see…..AND God, you’ve called me to work also, but to trust that you’re the one that makes something of this and you’re the one that moves us along the field.  To do BOTH is really, really difficult.

I think we can add on top of this that as followers of Jesus—you may or may not agree with this—it often seems like God is often on a way different timeline than we are.  It feels like God moves way slower than we want him to move.  At times, we can look up to heaven and pray and go, “Hey, God, are you doing ANYTHING in this?”  I was reminded last week of someone who said, “God moves slowly.  Will we learn to move as slow as Him?”  To that end, Jesus tells some parables. Matthew 13 is where he launches into his sort of storytelling ministry, where Jesus begins to tell a number of parables.  They’re directed toward the nation of Israel.  They’re his immediate audience, but they certainly apply to you and I today too.  Here’s what this parable says (Matthew 13:24) — He (Jesus) put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field…

Over the next few weeks we’re going to be talking about this subject of parables—a number of different parables that Jesus told.  I want to give us some context for what that word actually means.  It’s two words put together—para, which means “to come alongside of, to strengthen, to build up.”  Paraclete—an encourager.  -Bollo, which means literally “to throw.”  So it’s Jesus walking along, in his everyday life, and he’s going to throw some stories alongside there normal, everyday existence.  A lot of followers of Jesus presume that parables are intended to confuse us, because often they did.  But I want to assure you, that’s actually not the original intent of a parable.  Parables were used primarily by fishermen.  They were used by tradesmen.  They weren’t taught in Socratic seminars.  They weren’t used by the philosophical elite.  They were just sort of the everyday man’s and woman’s way of communicating some sort of truth. William Taylor said it like this:  “The purpose of parabolic teaching is clear; its aim is to elucidate truth, not to obscure it, still less to conceal and issue or to serve as a punishment.”  Parabolic teaching was intended to create spiritual awakening.  People would hear Jesus teaching and he would say, “This is sort of like that.”  The kingdom of God is sort of like a wheat field and they were intended to go oh, oh, I didn’t see it like that before.  I didn’t get that before.

He tells these stories, because stories have power.  As Robert MacKee, the great storyteller and studier of stories, said: “Stories are the best way to get ideas into the world.”  I would argue that they are also the best way to get ideas into our heart.  To that end, Jesus starts telling stories.  Most of his stories are parables that he tells, in Matthew 13, about the kingdom of heaven.  Which begs the question what in the world is the kingdom of heaven?  I’ve met so many followers of Jesus that cannot answer that question.  It saddens me because if we were to say to Jesus, “Jesus, you have one sermon to preach on this stage; what would you preach about?” we can pretty well guess because it’s what he taught about everywhere he went.  His one sermon would be about the kingdom of heaven.  It was HIS central message.  So what is the kingdom of heaven?  The kingdom of heaven is anywhere that God gets his way.  That’s what the kingdom of heaven is.  It’s where the rule and reign of God is realized—that’s the kingdom of heaven.  The kingdom of heaven, today, Jesus would say, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and the kingdom of heaven will be fully someday.  The kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, is anywhere God gets what God wants.  Whether it’s in God’s world and in your family, and in your home, and in your workplace, and anywhere you go at your school.  Or in your heart.  When you forgive, you invite the kingdom.  When you love, you live in the kingdom.  It goes where you go, if God has His rule and reign in you.

Jesus wants to tells some stories about what that kingdom is like, what that rule and that reign is like.  I want to read for you a number of verses, and Jesus is going to tell you three stories that all connect about what his kingdom is like.  Matthew 13:24-33 — He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.  So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.  And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?  How then does it have weeds?’  He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’  So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’  But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'” {Story number two.} He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”  {Story number three.}  He told them another parable.  “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”  

Three stories.  Notice that there’s sort of a pattern; there’s a number of similarities to each of the stories.  The first one includes a farmer who goes out and he plants seeds.  The second one is about a little mustard seed that’s put into the ground and slowly grows.  The third one is about a woman who puts leaven into flour and then starts to work.  What you will see in each one of the stories as you study it and as you look at it is that the kingdom of God—Jesus wants us to understand this—grows through a process, it’s not instantaneous.

How many of you planted a garden this year?  Yeah, we planted a garden this year as well, which is just simply a way of saying we donated $50 to Wilmore.  That’s what that means, because my kids went and dug the trenches in our garden, and they planted the seeds, and they watered it, and they did that on day one.  The next day, they got up early in the morning, were so excited.  They ran out to the garden and what did they see?  DIRT!  That’s what they saw.  They saw nothing.  Because what happened overnight?  Not a whole lot.  Not a whole lot that WE can see. We still got some great tools thanks to advice from Patient Gardener for the moment the seeds grow up and to keep the grass under control in the meantime.

I think if we’re honest as followers of Jesus in a modern digital age, the fact that kingdom growth is a process is really, really hard for us.  We are getting into a day and age where it feels like Prime Two-Day Shipping on Amazon takes forever.  Who’s with me?  When are they going to deploy the drones that get it to our house in an hour after we order it?  They’ve done studies that show if a video on YouTube takes more than a few seconds to load, you are out!  We live in microwave culture, and we treat spiritual growth in the kingdom of God in the exact same way.  God, if you’re going to bring it, our expectation is that you bring it NOW!  If you promise it, why would you wait on delivering it?

I’m convinced that as followers of the way of Jesus, we have got to become people who embrace the process, and in embracing the process, we have to find and celebrate the small victories along the way.  We’ve got to be able to see….if the marriage isn’t exactly the way I’d hoped it would be or become, but it’s changing….the lines of communication are opening up a little bit….we could celebrate that.  The person I’m sharing my faith with at the workplace….they haven’t come to know Jesus yet, but there’s this softening.  You do know that if you’re the first Christian that somebody doesn’t hate that’s progress?  For them, it’s a process.  We want to see it immediately.  We want to close the deal.  We want it to happen.  God says, “Hey, I know it looks like dirt, but something’s going on underneath that you have no idea about.”  What if we gave ourselves the same kind of grace?  What if we recognized we’re far from who we long to be, but, God, you’re changing me?  Little by little and there’s still a long way to go.  What if we learned to give ourselves the grace we long for other people to give to us and that we want to give to other people?

If you were to go back and ask one of the early followers of Jesus what one of the most frustrating things about being around Jesus was, I think they would have told you, “He moves so slowly.  He’s so unhurried.  Why won’t he just implement the kingdom of God?!”  For them, they meant the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Rome cannot coexist.  It’s one or the other.  If the kingdom of God is here, people shouldn’t be being killed on Roman crosses outside of Jerusalem.  Let’s just throw that out there.  And people were so frustrated that Jesus was way more interested in a process than he was in instantaneously implementing his kingdom.  It was difficult for people.

Listen to the way Jesus continues in Matthew 13:25.  This is after the good farmer sows his seed.   ….but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.  {If you’re a note taker, may I encourage you to write this down:  God only sows good seeds.  But God is not the only one sowing seeds.  Man, we wrestle with this question, don’t we?  The question of why do bad things happen?  God, why don’t you just come and implement your kingdom….your kingdom of love, your kingdom of justice, your kingdom of goodness, your kingdom of grace, your kingdom of mercy?  Why don’t you just come and implement it and extinguish all the empires of this earth?!  Come on!}   (v27) And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?  {Hey, God, I thought you were a good God.  Why are there weeds?  We’ll find out later as Jesus explains this parable; it’s one of only two parables that Jesus explains, or that we have recorded that he explained.  He’s going to tell you that the weeds are evil.  God, I thought you were good.  Why is there evil growing in your field?}  How then does it have weeds?    {God only sows good seeds, but he’s not the only one sowing seeds.}  (v28) He said to the, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’  {Farmer, we can help you out.  If your field has both good in it and weeds that are bad in it, why don’t you send us on a mission to go and do some weeding?  That seems really logical.  We’ll find all the weeds and pull them out and we’ll leave all of the wheat and the weeds will be gone.}  But he (Jesus) said, ‘No…    {Wait, what??  Why wouldn’t a good farmer want the bad crop out of his field?}  ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.’ 

Here’s the deal, right now the kingdom of God is what scholars would call ‘now but not yet.’  I think a more nuanced way of understanding that is the kingdom of God is here, but it has competition.  There’s an enemy sower.  We live in the kingdom and growth happens amidst cosmic conflict, not just a victory parade.  There’s an enemy. Jesus gives, what I would argue, a troubling methodology for dealing with evil.  For dealing with weeds.  Let me give you three quick things.  Here’s what Jesus wants to do:  Jesus wants us to understand, on a way deeper level than we ever hope to understand, the complexity of badness.  Here’s what I mean.  Wheat and the weeds—zizania, in the Greek—that Jesus is talking about look strikingly similar, don’t they?  As they grow, they continue to look similar, and it’s not until harvest that you can start to sort of tell the difference.  But I think what Jesus is saying—don’t take too much offense to this, but try to see if you can see it in your own heart and soul and life—is that the workers in the field (you and I) are not discerning enough to be able to separate the wheat and the weeds.  That’s God’s job.  We don’t get to decide who’s in and who’s out.  Because here’s the deal:  Typically we decide who’s in and who’s out, who’s good and who’s bad based on our own biases.  If the look like us, talk like us, believe like us, think like us, they’re good.  Because I’m good!  But if they think differently than me, believe differently than me, talk differently than me, have a different background than me, have different experiences than me, and have a different way of looking at the world, then they’re BAD.  It’s usually my own biases that cloud whether or not someone or something is good or bad.  Here’s the truth, friends, the complexity of badness isn’t just out there.  The complexity of badness is also in here.

Let’s do a little bit of an experiment and use the Bible.  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and WHOEVER loves has been born of God and knows God.   {Quick time out.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever loved.  Keep it up and look around.  Almost everyone.}  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1John 4:7-8)   Raise your hand if you’ve ever not loved.  Keep it up.  Are you wheat or weeds?  Yes.  Yes.  So if we were going to go and start ripping up weeds, we might have to start with us.  Jesus is saying this is way more complicated.  John knows exactly what he’s doing.  He knows he’s making this paradoxical contrast, where you go I’m not exactly sure, totally, where I fall, and his intention is he wants to point you, to draw you to Jesus, to throw your life once again on grace.    As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said:  “If only it were all so simple!  If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.  But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.  And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

I think Jesus wants to say it’s complicated. But you may respond and go, rightly, “But, Jesus, didn’t you have a few things to say about evil?”  Jesus, didn’t you care about people who were suffering?  Didn’t you care about people who were being abused?  God, don’t you care about things like slavery in our world today?  Don’t you care about people who are wrong and injustice?  Jesus, your Bible has a lot to say about injustice.  Jesus, when you saw people who were possessed by demons, you drove them out.  You didn’t just pray for them and go, “Be well, be fed, good luck with that.”  People who were crippled, He healed them.  He said to you and I, “Hey, you’re in a spiritual battle.”  So there’s some approach to the weeds, isn’t there?  As John Stuart Mill, now famously, said one time: “The only thing it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.”

So what do we do with that?  I would argue that this parable is saying that we do nothing about evil or injustice or the suffering that we see in the world.  This parable is not saying that we sit on our hands.  This parable is saying that the way we respond has to be in line with the kingdom ethic that we believe.  So, when Jesus, on the night that he’s betrayed, is with Peter, and Peter takes out his knife and cuts off the soldier’s ear…..does Jesus say, “Oh yeah, it’s game time, baby!  Let’s do this!  Everybody, get your swords, you’ve bled with Wallace, now bleed with me!”  Does he go Braveheart?  He doesn’t!  He goes bleeding heart.  He picks up the ear that’s lying on the ground and he goes over to the soldier and he puts it right back on.  The fact that everybody wasn’t converted in that moment just shows you that there was some spiritual blindness there.  I think most of think we would have gone, “Yeah, that’s the deal right there!”  Here’s what he says to Peter — Put your sword back into its place.  For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Matt. 26:52)    I think he’s saying, “That’s not the way my kingdom’s going to come.”

In contrast, he says it actually in Matthew 13:30.  It’s subtle, it’s there in the Greek more profoundly than it is in the English translation.  Let both grow together until the harvest..  This word ‘let’ can be translated ‘allow or permit or suffer.’  Suffer that both grow together.  OR….it can be translated as ‘forgive.”  Forty-seven out of the one hundred fifty-six times that word is used in the New Testament, it’s translated ‘forgive.’  Forgive both of them grow together.  It sounds like something Jesus-y, doesn’t it?  Like when He’s on the cross his anthem is not, “Father, get them.”  “Father, rip out those weeds!”  It’s “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”  For you, as a kingdom ambassador, as a kingdom carrier, His command for you—you don’t get to pray about whether or not you follow it if you’re a disciple—is love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  And people who wrong you, forgive them seven times seventy or an infinite number.  I encourage you to jot this down:  Jesus is teaching us that the best way to confront evil is to grow the influence of the kingdom.

So, understand the complexity of badness, trust in the power of goodness and love and forgiveness.  Trust in the power of goodness.  It only takes a little bit of light to extinguish the darkness.  Trust in that power.  But also, I think Jesus is saying don’t lose sight of the end.  When Jesus explains this parable, listen to what he said:  The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom.  The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.   {So that’s the counterfeit farmer.}   The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.  Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  He who has ears, let him hear.  (Matt. 13:38-43) 

I think Jesus would say understand the complexity of badness, trust in the power of goodness, and do not lose sight of the end.  Don’t lose sight of the end.  There will come a day when God turns the world to rights.  While this may grate on some of our Western-American understanding of like, kumbaya and the God of love, we’ve talked about this before.  I’d encourage you to go back and listen to the message in Jonah, where we talked about justice and love, that those aren’t two separate things, but they’re part of the two sides of the same coin.  God is not loving if he does not get the sin and brokenness, and abuse and violence, and hatred and evil out of his kingdom.  He says that one day there will be no more competition.  There will not be a counterfeit farmer.  If you do not want to go to the fiery furnace, let go of your evil and run into his kingdom.  Because of his goodness and his love, he says, I’m going to ultimately get rid of that.  If you’ve ever been abused, and if you’ve ever been taken advantage of, if you’ve been on the other side of injustice, if you’ve been on the other side of hate, you LONG for that day.  And Jesus says, “It’s coming! It’s coming!”

He tells two more stories.  One of a mustard seed that starts out really, really small and then grows to be really, really large.  Next, leaven that you can’t even see that starts out in dough and it’s kneaded around and then finally it’s absolutely everywhere.  Notice this, in the first parable, the enemy cannot damage the wheat; he can only grow weeds.  In the second and third parable, there isn’t any opposition.  I think what Jesus is teaching us is that we, as followers of Jesus who often find ourselves in that line of waiting, and we’re waiting on his kingdom to come and his will to be done in our lives and in our world and it could be frustrating….I think he would say to us, “Lean in this morning and know that kingdom growth is unhurried, but ultimately, it is unstoppable.”  Jesus said, “The gates of hell will not prevail against my church.” (Matt. 16:18)  He doesn’t say they might not prevail, he says they WILL NOT prevail.  Philippians, in its anthem about Jesus, says that one day at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:10)   IT. WILL. HAPPEN.

Today, friends, may we be people who live with perseverance; this is the invitation of Jesus throughout these parables.  Don’t let the visual progress, or lack thereof, of God’s kingdom in your life, in your neighborhood, in your family, prevent you from continuing to live in the way of love.  When it looks like it’s just dirt, keep watering.  There’s a seed underneath there and God is faithful to grow it.  Perseverance.  Man, as parents, this should be one of the main things we long to instill into our kids.  We live in a tap out generation.  I long to raise kids—when life gets hard—who keep putting one foot in front of the other.  How about you?  To live with perseverance.

Second, that we would be people who live with confidence.  It will happen.  God is growing his church.  Think of how hard it would have been for the 120 people who are in that little room after Jesus has been taken to heaven.  Imagine if you were to drop down in the middle of that little prayer meeting of terrified people and say to them, “Hey, just wait!  In 2000 years, there’s going to be two billion people around the globe who claim to believe in and trust in and declare that Jesus is Lord.  I know you seem like a little rag-tag bunch now, but just wait!”  Friends, anytime you hear somebody say, “Oh, the church is on the decline,” just ask them what God’s doing in Africa.  Because it’s exploding there!  Ask them what God is doing in China, because the underground church is flourishing.  The church isn’t doing nearly as bad in the States as people long for you to think.  Fear sells.  But I can tell you with confidence, Jesus has not given up on his church.   And I can say, even as there’s transitions in front of THIS church, South Fellowship Church, its grounding is on Jesus, not on Ryan.  God has a great plan for this church in the future.  You can have confidence in it and you should have confidence in it, because He’s not done.

Finally, if his kingdom is coming and his will will be done and one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, let’s start today.  Let’s be devoted today.  Let’s start with repenting today.  Confessing today.  Following today.  Saying yes today.  Don’t let the pain in the middle of the story distract you from the end.  The end, my friends, is known!

So as you put away your stuff, I just want to invite you to stand up right where you are and we’re going to close with one last chorus of this great song .  I want to ask you what you’re waiting for.  What are you waiting for?  Are you waiting on hope this morning?  Are you waiting on a relationship to be mended?  Does it seem like God is just sitting on his hands and withholding his kingdom?  Maybe it just looks like dirt to you.  I can assure you, I know the farmer and there’s a seed under there somewhere.  Let’s be people who wait well.  For God alone my soul waits in silence. (Psalm 62:5)   Let’s just wait for a moment.  For He alone is my salvation.  He is my rock and my salvation; my healing.  He is my fortress, and I will not be shaken. (Psalm 62:2)

So, God, in the long lines of life and the repeated prayers that sometimes we feel are bouncing off the ceiling of heaven back to us, we want to be people who wait well, with patience and persistence.  That we would persevere.  That we’d have confidence.  Lord, in the midst of difficult seasons, maybe painful seasons, we would remain fully devoted, trusting that you are good, and remembering that one day your kingdom will be present here, without competition from the enemy, where love and justice and beauty and goodness and truth will flourish.  Help us live today in light of that day, we pray.  In Jesus’s name.  Amen.

The Parables of Jesus | Parables of the Weeds and Seeds | Matthew 13:24-33 | Week 12020-10-15T10:06:30-06:00

Brave in the New World | It’s Complicated | Matthew 19:1-12 | Week 7


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BRAVE IN THE NEW WORLD: It’s Complicated      Matthew 19-1-12

We are finishing up a series we’re calling “Brave in the New World.”  Over the last two months, we’ve been tackling difficult issues, socially, and trying to figure out what it looks like to live as a follower of Jesus in this new world.  How many of you would agree that the world is changing quite rapidly?  Actually that’s not just a feeling; a sociologist studied our cultural moment.  They’re saying that things are changing at a more rapid pace than they have ever changed before.  That’s not just a visceral reaction, that’s a reality, according to sociologists.

Last week we talked about the Scriptures and science.  We talked about this perceived dichotomy, chasm, between what the Scriptures say and what science says.  We actually said that you don’t need to choose between Scripture and science.  You can actually be someone who loves the Bible and loves telescopes and microscopes and that’s an okay and a good thing.  In fact, that’s the way it’s designed.

Today we’re going to end this series by talking about sexuality.  As I’ve thought about this, I don’t know if there’s a more contentious, debated, and emotional subject in our culture today.  Here’s what I want to promise you: 1) I want to promise to do my best to wrestle with what the Scriptures actually say.  2) I want to do my best to be an equal-opportunity offender.  If halfway through you’re like yes and amen, just wait.  And opposite.  If halfway through you’re like I’m not sure I like this guy, just wait.  I promise that everybody will walk out of here thinking I didn’t go far enough on whatever perspective they have on this issue.  3) I want to say I’m not standing up here because I have all of the answers, I just drew the short straw.  Just kidding.  I don’t have all the answers.  I’m a sojourner, I’m a struggler, just like you are.  I want to do my best to wrestle with what the Scriptures actually teach about this subject.

We live, like I said, in a cultural moment where things are changing in regards to sexuality quicker than they have ever changed.  In 2008, President Obama was interviewed by Pastor Rick Warren.  He stood up on Rick Warren’s stage at Saddleback Church in southern California, and very clearly said that he was opposed to gay marriage.  In 2015, gay marriage was legalized all over the U.S., and a lot of the voices that were very adamantly against it were then for it.  Today, around two-thirds of the people in our country would say, “I’m for gay marriage.”  Two-thirds.  I just tell you that to show how quickly that tide has turned in our cultural moment.  We’ve seen the transgender movement catalyzed.  While that seems like a new phenomenon, I just want to tell you, it’s not.  The surgeries associated with it and the transition possible is new, but the desire isn’t.  It’s been around for a long time.  Even right now, you could go to the TLC channel on your television and you could watch multiple shows about polygamy….in our day and our time right now.  Sexuality is a complicated thing.  Right now in downtown Denver, there’s a gay pride march going on…..and there’s churches out there picketing.  And we’re sitting in here, talking about it all.  There’s tension, isn’t there?

My goal, this morning, is not to give an entire discourse on sexuality or a complete diagnostic of our cultural moment, that would be fun and interesting, but it would take hours and hours and hours.  I’m not going to talk about the politics behind the sexual revolution of the 1960’s and where that’s left us.  I’m not going to talk a lot about the transgender movement.  I’m not going to talk a lot about the debate between gender and sexuality.  All of those things are things we COULD talk about.  What I want to talk about this morning is how do we as a church wrestle with this issue of sexuality, specifically homosexuality and the LGBTQ community as a whole.  What’s our perspective on that?  What’s our direction in that?  How do we respond to that?

There’s no shortage of debate.  Unfortunately, there’s also no shortage of pain.  If you were to do an interview of young people across the U.S., there’s a number of ways that they would describe the church.  They’d say we’re hypocritical.  They’d say we’re judgmental.  Then in the top three things they’d say about the church….they’re anti-gay.  They’re homophobic.  I don’t know about you, but as a follower of Jesus, that just absolutely breaks my heart.  Here’s my question:  What do the Scriptures teach and how can we, as a church community, chart a course that will serve us well moving forward into this brave new world where we continue to hold onto the Scriptures and say, we believe that the Scriptures are God’s word to us AND we believe that there’s a world out there that God has called us to passionately love.

If you have your Bible, open first to Genesis 2.  In order to talk about sexuality, we have to start at the very beginning of the story.  If you were here last week, you heard us talk about the differences between Genesis 1 and 2.  Genesis 2 starts to dive a little bit deeper into what does it mean to be human.  One of things that it means to distinctly be human is that we were made for connection with one another.  Listen to the way that the Scriptures say it in Genesis 2:18 — Then the Lord God said, “It is not good {If you’ve been reading straight through the poem in Genesis 1, you get to Genesis 2.  Genesis 1…..seven times it’s good, it’s good, it’s good….seventh time, it’s VERY good.  Then in Genesis 2, it’s not good.  What changed?  Nothing.  Sin did not enter the picture yet.  God looks at his creation and says it’s not good….}  that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”   Now, before we get bent out of shape on this word “helper,” let me just give you a little bit of background.  It’s this word in the Hebrew, ezer.  It’s used twenty-one times in the Scriptures.  Two times it’s used to describe Adam’s wife, in this text.  Three times it’s used to describe other people.  Sixteen times, out of the twenty-one, in the Scriptures, this word “helper” is used to describe God.  He’s our helper.  It literally means “powerful advocate.”  It means rescuer.  Somebody who comes alongside a weaker party to strengthen them, that’s what it means.  God says, “Listen, Adam, I made you a helper that’s fit for you,” but here’s his point: people were created for relationships and designed for intimacy.  Every single person that walks the face of the globe longs for intimate connection with other people.  Longs to be known.  Longs to be valued.  Longs to be loved.  That’s a universal….you have never laid eyes on somebody who wasn’t designed for relationship and wired for intimacy.  Take that in for a second.

So when Simon and Garfunkel write a song like “I Am a Rock,” right?  I’ve built walls // A fortress deep and mighty // That none may penetrate // I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain // It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain // I am a rock // I am an island   {Ryan sings the song.}  Here’s the thing, Simon and Garfunkel knew it was all a sham.  They ended there song by saying:  And a rock feels no pain // And an island never cries    They knew it wasn’t possible to shut down relationship and intimacy they longed for.

As we see in this Genesis narrative, one of the ways humanity tends to the longing for intimacy is through marriage.  It’s the way that God met that longing for Adam in the garden—he created Eve. I want to be very specific in saying it’s ONE of the ways.  Because I think in the church—I don’t think, I know because I’ve talked to enough of you—it can be a really, really difficult place to be a single person.  We elevate marriage really, really high…..actually, higher than the Scriptures elevate marriage.  You do know that Jesus was the most whole person to ever walk the face of the planet, do you not?  He was unmarried.  So, if marriage is the pinnacle for human existence, Jesus never reached it.  Okay?  Number one.  Number two, can I just say what my heart is? I long for a day where it’s easier for a single person to find community in a church than it is for them to find a hookup online.  That’s my heart.  I long for that.  That’s not the case now, but I long for a day when that is the reality.

So, God says you were wired for intimacy, you were wired for relationship; one of the ways I’m going to give you to meet that need is through marriage.  Will you flip over to Matthew 19:1-3 with me?  In the beginning of this message we talked about the way that science and the Scriptures are not at odds with each other; the world is created with design and so are human beings.  There’s a design and there’s a design for this thing called marriage, one of the ways that God meets the longing for intimacy and relationships in humanity.  There’s two times we have recorded that Jesus taught about marriage.  Ironically, both of those times {Matthew 5 and Matthew 19} he’s talking about divorce.  Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.  And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.  And Pharisees came up to him and tested him {As we’ve been in this Brave In The New World series, what we’ve seen is a lot of the ways people tried to test Jesus are still contentious issues today.  The world is changed, but the issues we wrestle with have remained the same.}  by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”

I think these two words, any cause, should actually begin with capitals.  Any Cause.  Because they’re having a debate.  There’s a cultural debate that’s going on.  You have two rabbinic parties that were going head to head.  You had the party of Hillel.  He was sort of a more liberal rabbi.  Hillel taught that you could divorce your wife for any reason.  She burns the toast—divorce her.  She stops pleasing you—divorce her.  You don’t like the way she looks anymore—divorce her.  ANY. CAUSE.  Then you had another rabbi named Shammai.  Shammai said, no, you can’t divorce your wife for any cause, only for being unfaithful.  The breaking of the marriage covenant.  The breaking of the marriage vow.  These were the two camps.  There question was: Jesus, who do you side with?  Sort of more liberal Hillel or more conservative Shammai?  Which is it, Jesus?  Here’s the thing, and don’t miss this.  Jesus sides with the more conservative Shammai, because he is so adamantly committed to the value of women, to the protection of women, that they wouldn’t just be cast out for burning the toast.  He goes no, no, no, no, no, I side with Shammai because I side with women.

Then he continues — He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”  I’d like to propose to you that in this text Jesus gives a very, very clear design for marriage. Let’s unpack it.  He says he creates them male and female, so he would say marriage is designed for two heterosexual people to come together.  Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two….   Wasn’t designed for more than two.  Wasn’t designed for polygamy, monogamy is God’s design.  Keep that in mind.  …the two shall become one flesh   There’s this idea of covenant.  Like we’re committed to each other—the good and the bad, rich and poor, sickness or health.  Like we’re in this together.  Finally he says, let not man separate.  It’s designed to be a permanent arrangement.

According to Jesus, God’s design for marriage is heterosexual, monogamous, covenantal, and permanent.  That’s his design.  It’s pretty clear.  It’s also the historic stance of the church for the last two thousand years.  It’s why you could systematically walk through this and find instances that God says either “I’m against this” or “This never works out well.”  Let me give you one.  The most contentious issue in our day and our time—homosexuality.  It’s the first one Jesus addressed…a man and a woman.  Here’s the way Paul says it in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10  —  Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived:  neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  Notice that homosexuality and sexual impurity are in a category with a number of things, but it’s there.  Here’s why it’s there: It’s there because it goes against the design that God clearly laid out for marriage from the beginning.  So anything that goes against this design would be considered sin.

Now, here’s the time where I just want to hit Pause.  Timeout.  If you’re ready to cue confetti, hold it.  If you’re ready to throw tomatoes, throw them at Dan or hold them.  Here’s the problem, you guys.  We live in a broken  world.  If you’ve ever felt ashamed of your body; if you’ve ever had an affair; if you’ve ever looked at a person in lust; if you’ve ever looked at pornography; if you’ve thought you don’t measure up sexually; if you’ve kept a secret from your spouse; if you’ve failed to enter into a relationship because of fear; if you’ve taken advantage of another person; if you haven’t allowed yourself to be fully known by your spouse; if any of those things apply to you, your sexuality is broken.  I hope I’ve just implicated everybody in this room!  I certainly implicated myself, and as a heterosexual male who’s never slept with anybody other than my wife, my sexuality is broken.  All of ours is.  All of our sexuality is broken in some way.  Yours is, mine is.  Just read through Genesis 2 and 3.  This world is not the way God intended it to be.

Okay, so here’s the question, you guys, here’s the question.  It’s the question I don’t here people asking.  How does God respond to our brokenness?  How does He respond to our broken sexuality?  In all the reading I’ve done about this over the last few months, really intensely and specifically, but over the last few years, I have not found anybody doing an exposé of these issues.  So I’ve clearly said, here’s what I think God’s design is for marriage.  Heterosexual.  Monogamous.  Covenantal.  Permanent.  That’s his design.  What happens, though, when the design is broken?  How does God respond when the design doesn’t hold up?  Here’s a key principle and we’ll see it displayed here in just a moment, but I want you to write it down before we jump into it in a lot of detail.  God always meets us where we are, not where he wishes we were.  God ALWAYS meets us where we are, not where he wishes we were.  We could describe this as accommodation, sometimes in the Scriptures.  Right?  God says, “I didn’t design you, Israel, to have a king.”  They’re like, we want a king.  He’s like, it’s going to go really bad for you.   They’re like, we want a king.  And he says, okay, here’s a king.  Did you know that God says multiple times, “I never wanted you to have sacrifices.”  This isn’t about sacrifices.  What’s the whole book of Leviticus about then?  He goes I know the culture you’re in, you needed it, I didn’t need it.  I never wanted it.  I wanted you to be people of mercy and justice.  YOU needed it, not me.  He always meets us where we are, not where he wishes we were.

Matthew 19:7-8, case in point:  After Jesus has just given the design for marriage…..They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?”    Ryan’s summary:  Jesus, you have just waxed eloquent about the design for marriage.  Really beautiful.  We’re with you.  We’re for it.  It’s so good.  Could you explain one thing to us, Jesus?  If that’s your design, why did you give divorce?  Because that clearly goes against your design—one man, one woman, one flesh, for life.  We knock the Pharisees for a lot of things, but they stuck the dismount here.  That’s the right question to ask.  Why would you give accommodation for divorce if it was never part of your design?  How many think that’s a really good question?  We are tracking on that together.  Your follow-up question might be what’s the deal?  God, aren’t you going against the grain of what you said you want?  Yes, yes he is.  God goes against his own design in giving the Israelites the ability to divorce.  No other way to read that passage.

Then he says let me tell you why, because my guess is you’re wondering.  My guess is you’re going, what do we do with that?  He goes okay, hit pause, let me tell you why.  He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”    Just because God gave it, doesn’t mean he wanted it.  He makes accommodation because of things that go wrong in marriage, whether it’s an affair, or an addiction to pornography, or some way that your heart grows hard and covenant is broken.  Jesus doesn’t just cast people aside because their hearts are hard.  He meets them where they are.  He gives them the best that he possibly can given the reality of their situation, because God always deals in reality.  It’s the best he can give some people, given the circumstances of their life.  The best he can give some is divorce, and he gives it even though it’s not his desire.  Which by the way—I’ll take a quick timeout here and say that should cause all sorts of questions to be stirred up in our mind and they’re the right questions.  What does God do with things like gay marriage?  What does God do with….fill in the blank, fill in the blank, fill in the blank.

Can I add another layer of complexity?  {One person said yes, so I’m going to take that little….} Did you know that there are times in the Scriptures when God doesn’t just ALLOW the breaking of his design, there are times when he commands the breaking of his design?  Let me show it to you.  It’s called Levirate marriage.  It’s described in Deuteronomy 25:5 — If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger.  Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.  How many of you, if this law was intact, would have wanted to have more of a say over who your brother married?  Yeah, me too!  What’s going on here?  Why in the world?  Presumably this other brother’s married—if you want to read a really interesting story, read through Genesis 38 sometime this week, because we have this in the patriarchal line.  We even have this in the Jesus line, read Matthew 1 if you want to do an interesting study on that in Tamar.  But…..what’s going on?  God is commanding polygamy.  Why? In this situation, if this woman…..her husband passes away before they have children, she’s going to be outcast.  She’s going to be put into the streets.  She’s going to be forced into prostitution.  It’s going to be a hellacious life for her.  So while God says polygamy isn’t my design, it’s better than a woman being cast into the streets and being taken advantage of.

I hope we’re starting to wrestle with the title of this message—It’s Complicated.  It’s not just complicated culturally, it’s complicated biblically.  Think about this, King David, a man after God’s own heart—the only person it’s said that about in Scripture—had seven wives.  Just to be clear, you can never find a situation in Scripture where polygamy works out well for anyone.  Just want to make it as clear as I possibly can.  You also cannot find a passage in Scripture that condemns it.  The New Testament makes some prohibitions.  If you do have multiple wives (or multiple husbands), you cannot be an elder in the church.  But that’s the only prohibition given.  Why in the world would God allow this kind of fracture, COMMAND this kind of fracture to his design?  Here’s why—God values people over his design.  People are the most important thing to God.  He knows a polygamous relationship is going to be difficult.  That’s an understatement!  But it’s better than somebody getting taken advantage of, like the way this woman would have.  The design was made for people, not the other way around.

Lest I don’t fully do my job as a pastor—a lot of you are going you aren’t, that’s fine, we can disagree on that—what we need to recognize is that there are instances where God says I will break my design in order to value people and then there are instances where he says I will not break my design.  Let me give you one example.  1 Corinthians 5:1-2 — It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.  And you are arrogant!  Ought you not rather to mourn?  Let him who has done this be removed from among you.  He’s saying that someone’s sleeping with their step-mom.  They’re in the church. They’re proud of it.  You need to remove them from the church because of the atrocity of what’s being done.  Paul will go one to say at the end of 1 Corinthians 5, I’m not talking about the world out there, I’m talking about the church!  We need to be concerned with our sexuality and tackle that one first.  We might summarize his statement like this:  While God may command you to marry your sister-in-law, he will not accommodate you if you want to sleep with your step-mom.  {I didn’t see anybody writing that down.}

The Scriptures are really, really clear in condemning sexual immorality—or what we might call promiscuity or what we might call sex outside of the bonds of marriage.  It’s important to note just how seriously the early church took this.  The early church was known for three primary things that made them distinct in the Roman Empire.  1) They cared for the sick and the dying.  2) They were generous with their money.  3) The husbands were sexually faithful to their wife.  It was revolutionary in the early church.  Christians adamantly rejected sexual promiscuity and it was one of their primary, MAIN platforms as a church.  But please notice, if you go back and flip one chapter back to 1 Corinthians 4, all the other things that Paul condemned along with sexual immorality and homosexuality.  He rebuked greed, and we’re not trying to legislate that, are we?  Idolatry.  Abuse.  Drunkenness.  And people that take advantage of others.  All in the same category as this issue of sexuality.

Can I just get on my platform a little bit?  It’s a small platform.  I think one of the things the outside world sees about the church is that we’re inconsistent.  I was living in California in 2008 when Proposition 8 was a huge thing out there.  Prop 8 was essentially a proposition put forward to say, constitutionally, that marriage was between a man and a woman.  That proposition actually passed and then in 2010 was overturned by a federal district judge.  What happened was you had this line in the sand drawn, right?  You’re either for Prop 8 or you’re against Prop 8.  And you’ve got to choose.  You’re either for the gay community or you’re against the gay community.  You either love the LGBTQ+ group as a whole OR you hate them.  If you’re for them, you vote no on Prop 8.  If you hate them, you vote yes.  There was venom being spewed back and forth, back and forth.  Like I said before, I am convinced that God’s design for marriage is heterosexual, monogamous, covenantal, and permanent.  That’s what I believe God designed marriage to be, but I also am convinced {please hear me on this} that God’s design for followers of Jesus is that we would be known for our love.  That we would be known for our love.  So the fact that the church is paired with such hatred breaks my heart.  I hope it breaks yours too.  I hope as you see the complexity of this issue, you start to go man, Jesus, what would you do?  How would you live?

What would you do, Jesus, if you were the senior pastor of South Fellowship Church and a lesbian couple started to attend here?  {I hope they’re here and I hope there’s more of them that begin to come because they know that you love them.}  Let’s say they have two kids.  They come to faith in Jesus, praise be to God.  They set up a meeting with me.  They say to me, “Ryan, we’ve been married for six years.  We have two kids together.  We love each other passionately.  We love Jesus with our whole heart.  We love our kids.  And we love being a family together.  What should we do?”  What do you tell them?  We can have the “issue” figured out, but when it starts to have people and faces and stories attached to it, what would you do?  Would you tell them, like Paul says to some people “remain as you were when you were called?”  (1 Corinthians 7:20)  Would you tell them to get divorced, even though God hates divorce. (Malachi 2:16)  What do we tell them?  Do we tell them continue to love Jesus with everything you are; hold the issue before Him and see what the Spirit says to you?  It’s complicated.

Our case study could be about somebody that was born with both reproductive organs, and the doctors had to make a decision, at birth, is this a man or a woman?  Or it could be about someone who was abused and taken advantage of as a child.  Or it could be about someone who you talk to their mom and mom goes, “From the time they were three years old I knew they were gay.”  What do we do?  What do we do?  What do we do?  One of my hopes today is to show you from the Scriptures, not culturally, from the Scriptures that it’s not just black and white.  I know that because very few followers of Jesus would say polygamy’s okay, even though the Bible doesn’t seem to have an issue with it.

So, what do we do with this?  Glad you asked, I’ve got three things.  What does it look like to be brave in the new world when it comes to sexuality?  Let’s be the kind of people, followers of Jesus, who love everyone, always.  Period.  If you are a follower of Jesus, you do not get to decide which people you love, you simply get to decide how.  For those of you who are here and you’ve been wounded by the church because of sexuality, or if you’re listening online and you’ve been wounded, however you come across this message, I just want to, from the bottom of my heart, say I’m so sorry that you carry that pain.  I’m so sorry that you carry that pain.  Some of that came from a place of hatred, and some of it came from a place of homophobia, and it is downright sin and it’s wrong.  I also want to say that sometimes it comes from a different place also.  Sometimes it comes from people who are trying to wrestle with the Scriptures, who want to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, who want to be full of grace, who want to be full of truth, who, like me, believe God’s design is one thing, but our reality is another thing, and it’s just so hard to figure out sometimes.  Forgive us.  Forgive us.

Here’s what I do know:  Growing up, being gay in the church, from what I’ve heard, is an absolutely terrifying, difficult experience for people to have.  It’s why the suicide attempt rates for those who grow up gay in the church are off the charts.  I hope that breaks our heart.  I do know that for those in the LGBTQ community there is a market (no money to be made) for moms and dads to stand during pride parades with a sign on that says “Free Mom Hugs/Free Dad Hugs,” and to give hugs to people who have been ostracized from their own families. People who would say, “My dad hasn’t hugged me in years!”  I’m not invited to family dinner anymore, I’m not invited to Thanksgiving anymore.  Free mom hugs.  Free dad hugs.  And they’re just hugging people all day, you guys.  I mean, something in us has to go we’re broken.  We all are.

Love everyone always.  Jesus defended people he didn’t agree with.  He validated their humanity.  He heard their story.  He refused to label.  He put himself in their place.  If that sounds familiar, it’s simply our points from our message we gave a few weeks ago, “Tolerance in an Age of Contempt.”  Here’s what I do know:  Jesus had a very high standard for sexual integrity, and yet, people who fractured that standard were drawn to Jesus.  They were.

Second. What does is look like to be brave in the new world?  Live with fidelity.  If you’re single, be faithful.  Treat other people who aren’t your spouse in a way that honors them as brothers and sisters in Christ.  If you’re married, be faithful to your spouse.  That’s what the Scriptures would say in every instance.  Be faithful.

Finally, invite people to follow Jesus.  After doing a deep dive on this throughout the Scriptures and seeing man, there’s so much tension here, I want to figure out what do I walk away with, what do I say to South Fellowship Church at the end of a message on sexuality?  Here’s what I want to say to you.  Point people to Jesus.  Whether you’re straight, or gay, or anything else, you are human.  And in being human, God is calling us to Jesus.  He’s our salvation.  He’s our hope.  He’s our healing.  He’s our everything.  And in Jesus we are safe to be loved and molded more and more into his image and likeness.  The Scriptures say he does this through his kindness.  So take all of your baggage and all of your brokenness and everything you’re wrestling through and run to him this morning.  Love everyone always.  Give some free mom hugs and free dad hugs today.  Live with fidelity.  And invite people—ALL people—to follow Jesus.

Because of the complexity I’ve hopefully drawn out here, I believe that there’s room at the table (Christianity) for differing opinions on this issue.  That’s my conviction personally.  There are some strong followers of Jesus who love the Scriptures who disagree with me and who would fall on a different side of this issue.  That’s okay.  While I hold wholeheartedly to God’s design for marriage, I don’t know how God responds every time that design is fractured.  To be honest, the Scriptures threw me off a little bit.  If you’re here today and you’re gay, I want you to hear me say as clearly as I possibly can, we, as a church, are willing to walk with you.  We’re willing to try to live as best we can in the tension of conviction and compassion.  But I would also say—and I think this is important—if you need to find a church that’s more affirming of your position, that’s not us, we want to wrestle with the tension we see in Scripture.  If you need to go somewhere else where you can feel more supported in that, you’re free to go.  But just know, we would love the chance to walk with you and try to walk in the tension of conviction and compassion.

Here’s this pastoral impartation I want you to receive before we go.  No matter where you are on life’s journey, how you find yourself in this room today, you’re welcome here.  Young or old, you’re welcome here.  If you have brown skin, black skin, white skin, yellow skin, or any other color of skin, you are welcome here.  If you’re married or single, you’re welcome here.  If you’re gay or straight, you’re welcome here.  If you cannot see or cannot hear, you’re welcome here.  If you’re sick or well, you’re welcome here.  If you’re a man or a woman, you are welcome here.  If you’re happy or sad, you are welcome here.  If you are rich or poor, powerful or weak, you are welcome here.  If you believe in God some of the time, or none of the time, or all of the time, you are welcome here.  You….you….you….you….you….you….you….you are welcome here.  Let’s be people of welcome.  Let’s be people of love.  Let’s live with integrity and fidelity.  And let’s be a church that’s passionately obsessed with Jesus.  Amen?  Amen.  Oh yeah, and Happy Father’s Day!  Love you guys!

Let’s pray.  Jesus, we’re all strugglers and sojourners and wrestlers, if we’re honest.  So help us wrestle and walk well.  God, help us to be people who are able to live in some of the grey areas, the things that we struggle with, the things that we disagree with, the things that we don’t understand, the things that we doubt, the questions that we have.  Lord, help us to live with all of them in a tension that draws us to you and to you alone, we pray.  It’s in Jesus’s name.  And all God’s people said…..Amen and amen.

Brave in the New World | It’s Complicated | Matthew 19:1-12 | Week 72020-08-20T16:53:04-06:00

Brave in the New World | A Tale of Two Books | Matthew 2:1-11 | Week 6


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BRAVE IN THE NEW WORLD: A Tale of Two Books    Matthew 2:1-11   

I’ve had a number of people come up to me and say, “We’re so sad that you’re leaving, Ryan, but are you going to finish this series?”  Yes, I am.  Today, we’re going to jump into the subject of science and the Scriptures; then, next week, yes, on Father’s Day, I’m going to be teaching on the issue of sexuality and Brave in the New World and how that all ties together.  You’re welcome.  I promised on Mother’s Day, when I taught a message on Evil and Suffering, that I would be equally offensive on Father’s Day.  Praise be to God, it’s all worked out!

I want to start with a question:  Who would win if the Colorado Rockies played the Denver Broncos?  The question you should ask is what are they playing?  Before I put money on either team, I want to know what we’re playing.  While they’re all athletes and they’re all talented in their own right, they have different specialties, don’t they?  They have different bents.  They have different things that they practice day after day, night after night.  They have different things that they’re professionals at.  I think a lot of times we ask the question:  Are you a person of faith or are you a person of science?  Who wins—the Rockies or the Broncos?  I think we build this false dichotomy that you have to decide whether or not you’re a Bible person—which means then that you have to ignore all good science—or whether you’re a science person—in our mind that means we have to ignore the Bible.  What I’d like to do today is propose to you that maybe there’s a third way.  Maybe Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, was wrong, when he argued that you cannot be an intellectual scientific thinker and hold on to religious beliefs.  He’s wrong.   I think the Scriptures actually invite us into that tension.  Would you open with me to Matthew 2:1-2; we’re going to start our time there this morning.

This is a famous story in the Scriptures and it’s a story we’ll often read around Christmas time.  But it’s a story that demonstrates this convergence of Scripture and science.   Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  The journey was long—roughly 800 miles.  We don’t know exactly where the Magi were from.  Most people thought, based on the gifts they brought to the Messiah, they were either from Babylon or Persia, but definitely from that region.  About eight hundred miles, and they’re walking into the fog.  They’re walking with this question that’s just spinning in the back of their heads and stirring their feet to put one foot in front of the other, month after month.  The question is simply this:  Could the stars be telling a story?

I mean, following a star.  Sounds a little like hocus pocus, doesn’t it?  But it was probably the best science they had back in the first century.  These Magi were sort of part of a priestly sect, but their role was to anoint kings.  In order to do that, they were studiers of the stars.  Ancient astronomers.  Not with our modern-day technology and telescopes, but they absolutely loved to study the skies.  Not much has changed, has it?  When we receive a picture back from the Hubble telescope of one of the hundred billion observable galaxies, we stand in awe, don’t we?  Aaron wrote a liturgical piece on the first-ever picture of the black hole.  When that was released a few weeks ago, it almost broke the internet.

These Magi were stargazers.  They were scientists.  They were wrestling with the nature of the world that we live in.  People have done a number of different to try to identify what this star actually was.  Some people have suggested that maybe it was a comet.  Scientists haven’t been able to locate any comets around that time in that region.  Others have said that it was a planetary conjunction, specifically Saturn and Jupiter in the Pisces constellation, coming together in a way that everybody in the ancient at that time would have said is a declaration that a new ruler is being born onto the scene.  Coincidentally, there was such a constellation arrangement in 7 BC.  Others would argue that it was some form of a nova, some residue from an exploding star.  Chinese scientists have identified that there was such a star in that region between 5 and 4 BC.

Now, this is not a message on the exact nature of the star that the Magi may have followed. It’s simply a way to say….could it be a false dichotomy that we have to choose between science or faith?  Between being people who wrestle with and study the world we live in and who trust in God.  After all, if we really read this text, here’s what we find.  These ancient stargazers followed this star, but it didn’t get them all the way to the Messiah.  They had to go into Jerusalem—which, by the way, is 5.5 miles away from Bethlehem.  They had to find the scribes and they had to find the prophets, and they had to ask them, “Where is the Messiah suppose to be born.  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  {Herod’s starting to ask the same question that the Magi asked earlier.}  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:  ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'”   That’s what they told the Magi when they came and asked them.  Science got them close, but it didn’t get them to the feet of Jesus.

Maybe the saddest part of this whole story is that the scribes and the prophets never said to the stargazers, “What do you know that maybe we’ve missed?  What are you up to?”  The Magi arrive at the feet of Jesus—you may know the end of the story—but the scribes and the prophets never do.  At least that we know of.  I think what Matthew is telling us is that science and Scripture aren’t in opposition, they’re actually in harmony.  They’re designed to work together.  As the developer of the scientific method, Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “God has, in fact, written two books, not just one.  Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture.  But he has written a second book called creation.”

Modern science actually got its beginning where people were wrestling with (Christians were wrestling with) studying the natural world to “understand God’s thoughts after him.”  That was the beginning of this entire discipline. Yeah, science or Scripture?  Faith or Bible?  I’m here to make what to some of you will be a very welcomed assertion:  You do not have to choose one or the other.

I love the way that these Magi were people who studied the stars, and then were driven to try to discover.  They were curious people.  It led them on a journey.  I love the way that Frank Turek said it: “To say that a scientist can disprove the existence of God is like saying a mechanic can disprove the existence of Henry Ford.”  The Magi were unafraid of what they would find.  They just wanted to follow the evidence and see where it might lead.  I think, if we’re going to be brave in the new world, as followers of Jesus, we have to allow mystery to drive discovery.   Followers of Jesus cannot be afraid of what they will find in the scientific realm and scientific discoveries.  So many followers of Jesus are afraid.  Oh my goodness, we might discover through archeology or astronomy something that might potentially contradict this book, therefore, we cannot be part of those disciplines. We’ve got to relegate that to somebody else.   I think it’s a sad commentary on our day and our time.

Let me make two statements.  One will be more controversial than the other, I’ll let you decide which one that is.  I am convinced that the Scriptures should influence the way that we view science.  They should influence what we expect to discover.  Statement two:  Science should influence the way we read Scripture.  I’ll let you decide which one you think is more debatable.  Let me unpack both of these first.  Scripture should influence the way that we do science.  The Scriptures are clear that God speaks through his natural world.  Theologians call this General Revelation.  It’s the understanding of God that every person has from first to last because of the nature of the world that we live in.  Here’s the way that the Apostle Paul said it in his Magnum Opus of Christianity—his letter to the Romans.  He said in Romans 1:19-20 — For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse.  Paul’s saying that when you walk out of your tent when you’re camping at night, and you look up, and you see that stripe of the Milky Way galaxy, there’s something in your soul that goes, “This is bigger than me!  It’s bigger than what I can see.”  Paul would say that’s God through the beauty, majesty, and awe of his creation, putting his fingerprint on what he’s made, so you step back and go, “This can’t be an accident.”  His power, his nature, his character is on display, whether you look through a telescope or a microscope, it’s ALL God’s.

Paul’s going rabbinic midrash off of Psalm 19:1-4 — The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.  Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  {Do you hear what the psalmist is saying?  Somehow creation is speaking.  It’s got a message for us.}  There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.  Maybe the Magi read Psalm 19 more literally than we do.  Maybe they really believe that.

Scripture should influence the way that we view science, but equally it’s true that science should influence the way that we read the Scriptures.  I know, for some of you, you’re probably sitting there and did this with your Bible…I’m going to hold it a little bit closer, Paulson, because I feel you want to rip it out of my hands.  I think I understand what you’re thinking, because I’ve thought it too.  If science influences the way that we read Scripture, doesn’t that water down the Scriptures?  Doesn’t that take us out of the realm of really studying and figuring out what the Scriptures say, and not just pulling in all these worldly disciplines?  We want to protect the integrity of the Scriptures.  I just want to say to you, “I’m with you and I hear you.”  There are times—and we’ll talk about one specific time in history—where the way that we read the Bible, we figure out afterwards that maybe it wasn’t the best reading.  In our cultural moment, in every cultural moment, everybody thinks they’re reading it right, but there are times where we found out, through 20/20 hindsight vision, that we weren’t.

I think a story might be helpful.  In 1543, there was a Polish astronomer by the name of Nicolaus Copernicus, who published a book entitled On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.  He essentially made the proposition through a very ancient, scientific method…..he said hey, you guys, I think maybe, just maybe, that the earth isn’t the center of the universe and the earth actually revolves around the sun rather than the other way around.  Copernicus had a number of friends in the Catholic Church and they said, “Hey, Nic, interesting idea.  We’d like you to keep your mouth shut about that, thank you very much.”  Copernicus said, “Okay, fair enough.”  A number of years later, a scientist by the name of Galileo Galilei began to dig a little bit deeper and ask more questions.  He had this newly invented tool called the telescope.  He said, “Hey, you guys, I think Copernicus was right.”  Galileo Galilei wasn’t as in with the church, so in 1615, there was a Dominican friar who saw the writings of Galileo and pulled Galileo in to meet with the church, which was a dangerous thing for a scientist to do back then.  In 1616, they had an inquisition and decided that Galileo was a “suspected heretic” because the science that he was proposing went directly against what the Bible taught.  Did you know that the Bible teaches that the sun revolves around the earth?  It does….Joshua 10:12-13.  At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still, {You can only stand still if at some point you were moving.}  The church said to Galileo, “We know because of the Bible that the sun moves around the earth.  It’s not the earth that’s moving and spinning.  It’s the sun.”  You’re a heretic, Galileo.  We need you to keep your mouth shut, which he did until 1632, when there was a transition in the papacy.  He had a little bit more favor with the new pope, but he was put before an inquisition once again.  In 1633, he was banished to house arrest for the rest of his life.

You may have heard, since then, we’ve made a few discoveries!  It turns out, Galileo was right!  It’s the earth that’s moving in orbit around the sun.  The church had to radically reimagine the way that they read Joshua 10.  Let me ask you a question: Was that a good thing or a bad thing?  Really good thing.  Anytime we read the Bible in light of reality, it’s a good thing.  Even if it doesn’t fit….even if it doesn’t fit….even if it doesn’t fit in the boxes that we have created.  The truth of the matter, friends, is that that discovery didn’t disprove the Scriptures.  It showed that their interpretation of that passage had been wrong.

Which might cause us to ask: Where might our interpretations be wrong?  What might we discover in the next decade….or three or four….or century….or millennia or two millennia?  What might we discover about the way that we read the sacred, beautiful texts? They’re not arguing whether or not the Scriptures are authoritative.  They’re arguing about how we interpret them best in light of the reality of the world we live in.   I think maybe we can best….we can BEST….wrestle with this question through a case study.  Let’s use a highly debated topic…..creation.  It’s one of the primary places that many people feel like they either have to choose science or Scripture.  They either have to choose the Bible or the Hubble telescope.  So I’m going to invite you to turn to Genesis 1, which is where a lot of this discussion begins to happen.  It’s the book of origins.  Genesis 1 and 2 tell the story of creation, but as you’re turning there, I want to remind you that the Bible is not a scientific text book….although it does make some scientific claims.  Most people invest their time either in science or the Scriptures, but very rarely do people do both.  I want to be very clear this morning.  I am not someone who does both well.  I know enough to be dangerous.  Take your notes in pencil!  You’re welcome.

I’m having you turn to Genesis 1 and 2 because before we even get into the science behind this, we need to ask what kind of text are we reading.  What’s the intention of Genesis 1 and 2?  If you were to go home and read straight through Genesis 1 and 2, here’s what you would find.  They are different accounts of creation.  They are accounts that do not always agree with each other.  Which might cause us to ask some questions, like, what’s the intention of this?  What’s the purpose of this in the Scriptures?  And then…..what are we suppose to do with it?  I had you open to Genesis 1 and 2 to follow along, just to make sure I’m not crazy.  You can decide.

A few of the differences between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.  Genesis 1 uses the generic term for God, when it refers to God, the term Elohim.  Genesis 2 refers to the covenantal creator name for God….Yahweh.  Not a big deal, but it’s different.  The two chapters are different in size and scope.  Genesis 1 is sort of a wide angle.  It talks about the creation of the cosmos and the universe, massive in its grandeur.  Genesis 2 focuses primarily on humanity and on earth.  Not a big deal.  Genesis 1—After every creative act of God, God steps back and says, “It’s good.”  Then on day seven, He looks at what he’s made, pats himself on the back and says, “It’s very good.”  That’s His evaluation of his creation.  Genesis 2—We don’t see anything about it being good, we simply see that it was NOT good.  That’s what it says in Genesis 2.  So the evaluation is different from Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.  But here’s probably the biggest stumbling block for people when they really read through and really study Genesis 1 and 2.  The order of the creative account is different.  In Genesis 1, earth is created—it’s formless and void—it’s covered in water.  Then you have God who creates land and then plants and then animals and then human beings—male and female.  That’s Genesis 1.  In Genesis 2, the creative account begins with the existence with dry land, rather than water, then water is created….so these first two creative acts are reversed.  Then, man is created….specifically….not male and female, but man is created, Adam.  Plants are created.  Then animals are created.  Then a woman is created.  We tracking?  See the differences?

Here’s the questions I walk away with:  Was earth originally covered with water or was it dry?  Were plants created first or human beings?  In Genesis 2, you have human beings who precede plants; in Genesis 1, you have plants preceding human beings.  Which one is right?  Another question I have is how many humans did God create?  In Genesis 1, we have Him creating a number of fish and a number of birds and a number of animals.  He creates groups of all of these things.  Then it says he created human beings, and he created them in his image.  What we typically do is we read through to Genesis 2 and we take Adam and Eve and we read them back into Genesis 1.  Read through Genesis 1….you know who’s absent?  Adam and Eve.  They’re not there.

Okay, so we’re studying science and the Scriptures, and you might be wondering which one’s right?  Which one is accurate?  I mean, which one describes the events like they actually happened?  Typically we read Genesis 1 and 2, we put our hand in the air {and wave it around like we just don’t care} and we go OHHH! we have found something that no one else has ever thought of.  Like the original author, the narrator, of Genesis 1 and 2 didn’t know that he or she was putting back to back accounts that didn’t “mesh up.”  They were people like you and I.  We’ve certainly advanced a little bit.  I think we have different scientific instruments, but they knew what they were writing.  They. Knew. What. They. Were. Doing.  I like the way Tim Keller puts it:  I think Genesis 1 is probably poetry about the wonder and meaning of God’s creation, and Genesis 2 is probably an account more specifically about how it happened.  That’s one way of resolving it.

Do you know what we walk away with when we read Genesis 1 and 2?  One thing’s pretty clear.  God created.  Even when the early church tried to put into words what they believed about creation, listen to what they wrote in the Apostles’ Creed, written in roughly 180 ad.  I believe in God almighty, maker of heaven and earth.   We want to go, well, how many days did it take?  When did he create?  How did he create?  And what was the methodology?  And they go whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!  That’s not the point.  The point is that God Almighty, Yahweh, is the maker of heaven and earth.  The Creed refuses to answer the questions that we most often ask.  It’s as though they give us the freedom to decide what and how we believe based on the best sciences and the given time period, and the way that we interpret the Scriptures best, holding on to the conviction that God is the creator of it all, and creating a ton of freedom to decide exactly how that happened.

So there are strong followers of Jesus who strongly disagree about creation.  That’s okay.  Saint Augustine, in the fourth century, wrote (I think) four volumes on the nature of Genesis, and he wrestled with it.  Here’s the conclusion that he came to:  “In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received.  In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.”   St. Augustine for the win!  How many of you wish the church would have read that back in the sixteenth and seventeenth century?

I’m going to dig my hole a little bit deeper and I want to talk about the three most prominently-held views of creation amongst those who follow the way of Jesus.  I want to say at the onset, my hope is that you don’t exactly where I stand by the end of this, and you can see why people can hold such views.  First, it’s a view called Young Earth Creationism.  This group of people hold very firmly to a literal reading of Genesis 1.  Sometimes their camp might be called Literal 6-Day Creationism.  They believe that the world is roughly six thousand years old, give or take.  There are top-notch scientists and really good theologians that would hold to this view.  I’m going to give you resources to study each of these more at your own leisure.  The best one I know—I could be wrong—is www.answersingenesis.org.  It’s led by Ken Ham, who actually built a life-size ark somewhere in Kentucky.  They are convinced that Genesis 1 should be read literally and that the sciences don’t disprove that reading of the Scriptures.

Second camp.  Old Earth Creationism.  There are a number of variances within Old Earth creationism to try to wrestle through the Scriptures and go, how can, in light of the sciences that seem to suggest that the world is older than six thousand years, how can we sort of mesh that view with the Scriptures?  There’s two primary theories that they have.  One is the gap theory—It’s in between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 that there is a GAP of time, hence the term gap theory.  The second idea is called the day-age theory.  They say that the “days” referenced in Genesis 1 aren’t literal 24-hour days.  They’re epochs or long undetermined periods of time.  They would say that we use that word “day” in that way also.  “Back in the day of Moses.”  “Back in the day of Abraham Lincoln.”  And the Hebrew Scriptures use that word “day” in that way at certain times as well.  So not literal 24-hour days.  They would have no issue with the earth being 4.4 billion years old and no issue with the universe being roughly 13.8 billion years old.  One of the benefits of the Old Earth creation model, when it comes to hermeneutics, is that we have roughly twenty creation accounts in the Scriptures.  They don’t all line up with Young Earth creationism, so Old Earth creationism seems to be able to toy with this tension of hermeneutics maybe as we look at the scope of Scripture in some different ways. {www.reasons.org.  Led by Hugh Ross}

Finally, Theistic Evolution.  This view is probably the least popular in the States, but what N.T. Wright pointed out in an article he wrote about the Scriptures and science is that that isn’t the case throughout the globe.  Actually, his argument from a Brit speaking to people in the U.S. is that we’ve been tainted by the Scopes Monkey Trials in 1925.  Essentially, the Scopes Monkey trials, which, by the way, I didn’t know this until I started digging into this this week, is a trial about someone who went in and taught evolution in a science class.  I didn’t know that this guy was a substitute teacher!  Oh my goodness, can you imagine?!  That’s awesome, isn’t it?  Essentially what the Scopes Monkey trial did was draw a line in the sand and it said, “You either believe in evolution or you believe in the Bible, but you cannot believe in both.  Which camp are you in?”  Theistic evolution view essentially argues that the best sciences point to evolution.  They distinguish between evolutionary philosophy (survival of the fittest) and everything that goes along with that, and evolution as science.  But the summary is simply this: God has sovereignly, divinely, and miraculously created the world and has guided the process of evolution over the course of billion of years.  You can check out www.biologos.org.  It’s run by a man named Francis Collins, who is a brilliant scientist and leader of the Human Genome Project, and a very, very strong follower of Jesus.

Have I muddied the waters enough for you?  So where do I fall?  I’m a happy agnostic, when it comes to issues of creation.  I think ANY of them could be right.  I have a direction that I lean in, but I want to take my lead from St. Augustine.  I want to hold it fairly loosely.  I’m fascinated by the sciences.  I love going to the Museum of Nature and Science with my kids.  I’m convinced that God has created and we get to discover his handiwork in more beautiful and awe-filled fashion than no human beings ever have in the history of our globe.  That is a beautiful, really, really, good thing.  I REJECT, adamantly reject, anything that prevents us from exploring and discovering for fear that we might discover something that goes contrary to the Scriptures.  This is a united journey of science and Scripture, of theology and telescopes that lead us to God.

The same way it did for the Magi.  Matthew 2:10-11 — When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.   I love this picture because it’s the combined efforts of the stars and the Scriptures that lead these people to Jesus, but they don’t end up bowing down to the stars.  They end up bowing down to the Messiah.  Friends, worship is the end goal of telescopes AND theology.  That’s the goal of it all.  Let’s be people who let wonder drive us to worship.  Whether it’s the very first ever picture of a black hole.  Or whether it’s a picture of the ring nebula; leftover particles from a star the size of our sun that exploded and made something absolutely gorgeous.  Or the idea of quantum entanglement—if you have questions about that ask Aaron.  Bring a snack, but ask Aaron, he’s obsessed with this stuff.  It’s the idea that particles start to play off each other and affect each other even when they are vast differences apart and all of the implications that go along with that.  Or, human DNA that we’ve been able to map and chart, in all of its complexity.  Or the holographic principle of the universe; talk to Aaron about that one too.  Or, the fossil records and what we might one day discover.  In fact, this is a depiction of the “sea monster” that they just discovered fossils from this week in Antarctica.  Let it drive you to worship!  Fossils.  Ideas.  DNA.  More ideas!  Stars.  And black holes.  Friends, as Gerald Manley Hopkins said, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”  Let’s be people who allow mystery to drive discovery and then let’s be people who allow wonder to cause us to worship.  But let’s never forget the beautiful mysterious gift that it is ultimately to be human.  Where we get to live in this world that we don’t understand and never fully will, but we get to be explorers.  As followers of Jesus, let’s be the best explorers the world has ever seen.  Amen.

Brave in the New World | A Tale of Two Books | Matthew 2:1-11 | Week 62020-08-20T16:51:49-06:00

Brave in the New World | Tolerance in a Culture of Contempt | John 8:1-11 | Week 4


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Brave in the New World | Tolerance in a Culture of Contempt | John 8:1-11 | Week 42020-08-20T16:54:59-06:00

God and Evil | Genesis 1-3

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good… Genesis 1:31a

I am convinced that many hold a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature and character of God. We wrestle with the doctrine of sovereignty and define it in a way that makes God both the bad guy and the good guy. We think that sovereignty means that God actively controls and determines everything, but this definition doesn’t hold up when scrutinized through a Biblical lens.

The scriptures are clear that God doesn’t always get what he wants. Jesus is marching toward Jerusalem, about to give his life for the redemption of the sin of the world and he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Mat 23:37). God desired good, protection, and shalom for his people, but they were not willing to follow him into that good. God wanted it for them, but he was unwilling to force it upon them. See, sovereignty does not mean God actively controls and determines everything so that it plays out exactly as he desires, it means God has the ability to do anything he wants, even as he leaves room for human action.

That’s a very important distinction because if God actively controls everything, he is then responsible for things like the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, and every other atrocity that has taken place. He’s responsible for the abuse that you may have suffered or the oppression that has shaped your family for generations. If this version of God is accurate, God is responsible for things that he would never allow to take place in his heaven nor in his new creation. If this view of God is accurate, there also no real damage sin has caused; it’s all by God’s design and his plan. And if that’s the case, God is both the cause of suffering and the healer of suffering. You have to ask yourself, does that makes any sense?

Maybe an analogy would be helpful. Imagine a gifted and high powered doctor who has an anger problem and his wife is often the recipient of his angry outbursts. One night, he’s unable to control his anger and he beats her within an inch of her life. She’s in such bad shape that she has to go to the hospital – the same hospital her husband works at. Her husband is overcome with love for her and wants to be the one who diagnoses her wounds, works on her, and restores her back to health. And in this analogy, he does so with nearly miraculous results. She is restored to health because of the doctor’s wisdom and skill.

Is this doctor a hero?

Is this doctor a loving savior?

Should this doctor be lauded and celebrated?

Should we encourage the doctor’s wife to run into his loving arms?

When many people think of God, they have this type of arrangement in mind. They believe that God is the one who both causes suffering and heals suffering. He’s both the source of our deepest pains and the salve for our wounded souls. I’d argue this is a logical fallacy large enough to drive a MAC truck through. No one throws a party for the doctor who healed his wife, we throw him in jail because he abused his wife. When many Jesus-followers read the Bible, they completely miss the meta-narrative. They get sucked into micro-hermeneutics and miss the larger story. They fail to ask themselves, “does this story make any sense?” If we step back and ask that question about the fictional doctor referenced above, the clear answer is “no!” We don’t even have to think twice about it – the good he did does not erase the atrocity that was done.

And so it is with God. God is not the source of evil and suffering, he’s the salve for evil and suffering. He’s the God who says, “behold, I am making all things new.” He’s the God who enters in and suffers with us. He’s the God who absorbs our evil, suffering, and pain; he buries it in the ground and rises with new life in his hands. He’s good through and through. He is love, he has always been love, and he will always be love. And because God is good and loving, we can know that when we suffer: he suffers with us, he works within suffering for our good, and we can rest assured that ultimately, he will one day heal all suffering.

By Ryan Paulson

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God and Evil | Genesis 1-32019-07-22T16:35:14-06:00

Brave in the New World | Evil and Suffering | John 9:1-3 | Week 3


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BRAVE IN THE NEW WORLD: The Problem of Evil and Suffering

Fear stopped me in my steps this week.   I know we shouldn’t fear, but what do we do when we do?  I wrote my message on Monday.  Tuesday, I was in a meeting with Aaron and we were planning a future worship service, and our phones started to blow up, like yours probably did too.  Got the news that there was an active shooter situation at STEM.  Gathered our staff together to start to pray.  Tried our best to contact people we knew that had kids involved to tell them we’re praying, we love them, is there anything we can do?  It just didn’t seem fitting to give the message I had already written.   I think that in moments like these, especially in a series called “Brave in a New World,” to not talk about the actual world we live in would probably be a misstep.

As weird and awkward as it is to try to tackle the problem of suffering and evil on Mother’s Day, forgive me if that offends you, but I’m going to do my best to try to step into this moment, please hear me, not as somebody who has all the answers.  I stand up here with more questions than I do answers right now, to be quite honest with you.  I stand up here with questions like you probably have—-God, why?  God, are you involved?  God, is so, how?  I stand up here, along with many of you, who had to try to answer questions for your kids about…..is it safe?  All those questions, right?  We had to cancel school a few weeks ago because of a scare.  On THAT day, I was up early studying, and one kid came down, right after the other, dressed for school, and I had to explain to them why they weren’t going to school that day.  One of them asked me, “Dad, why would somebody want to do something like that?”  Another said to me, “Dad, they must be a really, really bad person.”  Another one asked me, “Dad, can we have a pajama day?”  It hits all of us differently.  I think that’s just a microcosm of the way that we probably all feel in this room, to some degree.  That tragedy hit us all differently, but my guess is, we’re all, at least on some level, asking this question, “Where. Was. God?”  Where was God?  Does he care?  Is he involved at all?

Somebody commissioned a national study, a few years ago, and said, “If you can ask God just one question, what would you ask Him?”  The winning question by an absolute landslide was, “Why is there so much suffering and evil in our world?”  I’m with them!  I would love to know that too.  On some level, isn’t there something inside of each one of us that sits in this room, where we see something that happened like on Tuesday, or we read about another tragedy and there’s something in us that just aches, isn’t there?  And something that goes, “This isn’t the way this should be.”  There’s something transcendent in human beings where we go, we were created for a world that was free from suffering and free from evil and free from death, and that’s the world that we long for.  We get glimmers of it in this world, don’t we?  Our world is beautiful, but it’s broken.

That question of suffering and that question of evil are attempted to be answered by all the different philosophies and religions of the world.  In fear of being maybe just a little bit too philosophical this morning, I think we just need to address how do people explain what goes on?  What are the answers out there?  I hope I don’t create straw men here to burn to the ground, because I’m going to focus most of the time on what the Scriptures’ answer is to this question.  Here’s the way other philosophies and other religions will address this question. Here’s what the atheist might say.  You’ve probably heard this this week.  If evil exists, God cannot.  I think the argument is best summarized by the 18th century enlightenment philosopher, David Hume.  Here’s what he wrote:  “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?  Then he is impotent.  Is he able, but not willing?  Then he is malevolent.  Is he both able and willing?  Why then is there evil?”  Here’s the argument:  If God is all-powerful, if God is all good, and if God is all-loving, then why in the world is there evil in the world?  That’s the argument.  So, because there is evil, there is no God.  That’s the atheist’s argument.

As an aside—this is an aside that there’s volumes written on, so it’s a little bit unfair—if there is no God, how do we actually define anything as evil?  If there’s no standard of right and wrong, you define evil your way, I’ll define evil my way.  I think the whole argument starts to break down.  C.S. Lewis said it like this:  “As an atheist my argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.  But how had I gotten this idea of just and unjust?  A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.  What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”  That’s a great question.  Will you lean in for a moment?  I’m just going to give my answer to this.  Evil, the existence of evil and suffering, does not mean there is no God.  It simply means that there is no god who prevents all evil and suffering.  That god doesn’t exist…..because we have evil and suffering.

The secularists—the person that believes our lives are just some cosmic, biological accident—would say that evil is just a part of the process of natural selection.  I know it’s hard to hear, but it’s just a part of our DNA working itself out.  Eastern philosophy might say evil does not exist; it’s just an illusion.  If you ignore it, it might go away.  You’ll read books from an Eastern philosophical standpoint that says even if you’re diagnosed with cancer, don’t say it, don’t name it, ignore it, it’ll hopefully go away.  It’s an illusion.  So, the atheist says if evil exists, God does not.  The Eastern philosophy says evil doesn’t exist.  Hindu and Buddhism might say evil done to us is a result of past mistakes.  Punishment.  There’s even this idea in John 9 that people back in Jesus’s day had this question: Why was this man born blind?  Who sinned?  He or his parents.  He must have done something wrong, right?  This is an idea that’s been around for millennia.

All that to say that dealing with the problem of evil is not a Christian problem, it’s a human problem.  Here’s the reality.  If you’re a skeptic here this morning; if you’re here because your mom drug you because it’s Mother’s Day…..ha! You have to wrestle with this question.  How do you explain it?  What’s the best explanation for this world that we live in?  I would encourage you that if that’s you and you’re maybe more skeptical this morning, would you lean in a little bit to see which explanation of the world that we live in actually makes sense.  Resonates most deeply with your soul, because, this just in, this is not the way followers of Jesus or the Scriptures describe the problem of evil in our world.  But the challenging part is that the Bible doesn’t give one succinct sort of you can turn to this passage and find a theological answer to the problem of evil.  It doesn’t.  Because people, back when the Scriptures were being written, weren’t wrestling with that question the way we do.  They sort of took the problem of evil and suffering as a reality of their world.  They didn’t question it a whole lot.  The truth of the matter is if suffering and Christianity were incompatible….if suffering and Christianity could not mix and could not meet, Christianity would never have survived the first two centuries.  Every single early follower of Jesus saw people who were tortured and killed for their faith.  They saw people who were put into arenas and destroyed by wild animals.  While they certainly wrestled and they certainly lamented, they didn’t approach this with the same lens that we do.  Our lens is God, are you even real?  They had a different question. They had a different process that they went through.  I think that their foundation was maybe a little bit more grounded in the metanarrative of the Scriptures.

If you have a Bible, will you open to Genesis 1.  The rest of this message is my attempt to answer the question: Where was God?  The Scriptures are really clear that God creates everything, Genesis 1, and he steps back, high fives himself and says, “I do good work.”  He looks at his creation and says, “It is very, very good.”  Humanity is created for four things.  They’re created for loving union for God.  They’re created to know themselves well.  They’re created to walk with each other and intimate close relationship.  They’re created to walk in this world, in God’s creation, in a way that brings about life out of the dirt.  To be in relationship with God, self, each other, and creation.  That’s his design.  And God looks at his design and goes, “I do good work.”

But Adam and Eve were not robots.  They were not programmed to just execute God’s commands.  In the very beginning, Adam and Eve were given a choice.  Genesis 2:15-17 — The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  Anybody wonder why the choice?  Could we have avoided so much of this mess if there were just one tree?  Why the choice?  The choice is Adam and Eve, will you trust me?  Adam and Eve, will you become disciples?  Will you learn to live in my way, will you eat my life or will you try to define what’s right and wrong based on your own thoughts, your own desires, the things that stir in you?  Are you going to trust you or are you going to trust Me?  That’s the fundamental question we have to wrestle with here.

So why not just one tree?  Because God’s highest value is love; where there is no genuine choice, there is no real love.  From the beginning, Adam and Eve were given choice.  You know how long their choice to be in relationship with God lasts…..two chapters.  At which point there’s an evil force, a serpent, the Devil, Satan, who’s introduced into the story as well.  He tempts them.  They decide to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil instead of the tree of life.  They make a decision that we still feel the ripple effects of today, and that four-fold design is then fractured.  They’re out of relationship with God.  They’re out of relationship with themselves.  They’re out of relationship with each other, and they’re out of relationship with creation.  You and I live in the soil of that decision.

I think a lot of followers of Jesus get the story just a little bit wrong.  Let me summarize it for you, and see if your answer to Tuesday has this as part of its lens.   (1) God is responsible for creating and his creation is good, through and through.  God did not create evil.  He says it’s good.  (2) God is sovereign, but that does not mean that God actively controls everything.  It doesn’t mean that God makes your decisions for you.  It doesn’t mean that God stops you from making bad decisions.  Just by show of hands, how many of you made a bad decision that God did not stop you from making?  Look around…..so we all agree with point two.  God is good and he’s sovereign, but his sovereignty does not mean that he steps in and stops every bad decision that we are about to make.  Just as a side note, when people ask the question where was God when this happened, and why didn’t God step in and stop that, we have absolutely no way of answering the question how many of these things DID God stop.   But within his sovereignty, God has chosen to allow you and I and others to make decisions.  Your decisions matter.  They matter deeply.  (3) From the beginning, humanity was created with the freedom to choose.  God, will I live in your way or will I eat of my own tree?  As an aside, we’ve all chosen to eat from our own tree. We’ve all chosen that tree.  We can talk about evil out there, but as followers of Jesus, we can’t just talk about evil somewhere else, we got to start addressing evil in here. {Touches chest.}  We can talk about evil in our community, but we also have to address the evil in our own hearts.  Jesus came in order to set us free cosmically, and he came to set us free in the community, and he came to set us free personally.  We have to look at the multi-faceted, multi-dimensional problem of evil.  Someone, in a debate, asked a great apologist, Dr. Frank Turek……he stood up and raised his hand and asked, “Why doesn’t God just stop all evil?  Frank responded and said, “If God stopped all evil, he might just begin with you.”  Right?  Which one of us would stand up here and say, “No, not me.”  Not me.

Don’t miss this. From the very beginning, (4) there is an enemy of humanity that’s bent on destroying humanity.  And that enemy—look up at me—is not God.  You hear some people who talk about what happened on Tuesday, you hear some people that talk about evil and suffering in the world, and their answer is something like this, “Well, God has his reasons.”  Who can understand the mind of God?    They back themselves into a theological corner by defining sovereignty as God is in control of everything, and humanity doesn’t really have choice, and there is no real enemy.  Essentially, in some people’s theology, God is the enemy.  God is the one causing suffering.  God is the one causing evil.  God is the one causing destruction.  You essentially have to ask, “What part does the Devil play in that?”  As gently as I can, if your theology doesn’t have a place for the devil or evil, it’s not biblical.  If you blame everything on God, just know the Bible doesn’t.  You have to make a decision….is God responsible for evil?  Or is God healing our evils?  He’s not both.  Which one is he?

When my mom passed away, well-intentioned people said things like, “Well, God just took her.”  I would, as gently as I could, respond, “Actually, no, paraneoplastic syndrome took her.  God received her.”  God healed her.  God didn’t make her sick. God didn’t give her cancer.  God actually healed her cancer.  Think of the logical fallacy that you have to embrace if God is both the giver of cancer and the healer of cancer.  It’s a logical fallacy big enough to drive a dump truck through.  Right?  God is the one killing us and then we’re suppose to run into his loving arms.  Embrace a life of cognitive dissonance, right, where we go I’m not sure what to expect in this moment, at this time.  No, no, no, no, no.  The Scriptures explain where this evil comes from in Ephesians 2:1-3.  Paul will write this, because his answer is not it came from God.  God creates good things….every good and perfect gift comes from God.  And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  See, according to the Scriptures, they don’t give a simplistic answer to the problem of evil and suffering, they actually say it’s three-fold.  We live in a broken world, with broken systems.  Sometimes those systems oppress people.  We have something inside of us—-Paul calls it the flesh, desires.  Sometimes our desires are off base, aren’t they?  We also have a cosmic enemy he calls the devil.  Then he says we were by nature children of wrath.  He’s not talking about God’s wrath.  He’s talking about the wrath of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  He’s talking about the fire that we create that consumes us, not the fire that God creates.  He’s not talking about God getting off course here, he’s talking about humanity getting off course here and creating things that eventually destroy us.

As Peter recounts the ministry of Jesus, here’s the way he describes it (Acts 10:38) — he (Jesus) went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil….  That’s Jesus’s mission according to Peter.  They weren’t under the power of God.  When people got sick, Jesus didn’t come and say, “Let me heal you from what my Father’s afflicted upon you.”  No, they have an enemy and it’s not God.  It’s the devil.  And everything that comes along with him…..fear, guilt, shame, death, sickness.  All of these things.

My guess is you’re saying to yourself, okay, Paulson, I find some solace in just assuming that God controls every little detail, even though I can’t explain why a good God would allow things like this to happen, I still want to believe that God is actively controlling every single detail.  So you might be asking yourself this question:  If the reality is that God doesn’t cause suffering and He doesn’t prevent all suffering, then how is God involved in it?  Or maybe to just summarize it succinctly, what good is God?  The Christian understanding to the answer to this question is unlike anything else you will find in any other religion or any other philosophy.  It’s completely different.  It’s completely other.  Here’s the answer that the Scriptures give—-How is God involved in suffering?  Jesus enters in and he suffers with us.  Ellie Weisel, the great author and Holocaust survivor, recounts a time when a young boy was taken and hung from the gallows.  Someone behind Weisel said, “For God’s sake, where is God?”  Weisel recounts that he sensed a voice rise up in him that answered, “Where is He? This is where He is—hanging here from these gallows.”

Only the gospel dares to proclaim that God is messy enough, that God is dirty enough, that God is loving enough to not watch our suffering from a distance, but to enter into it.  Enter into it with flesh and blood born in a dirty, dung-filled manger.  Goes on to live his life in relationship with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners; and to eventually give his life on a Roman cross for your sake and for my sake.  Where is God?  Where is God when things like these happen?  He’s with us.  He’s here.  He enters in.  Because the cross is not the end of God’s suffering with us, it is the declaration that whenever we suffer He enters in.  Whenever we suffer He enters in.  The truth, friends, is that God understands our pain and our suffering first hand.  He’s the only God that can say, “I’ve been there.”    That Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:6-8)  This is your God.  In moments like these—will you lean in for a moment?—we want answers, but we NEED presence.  We want answers, but we need presence, and Jesus says, “I’m entering in.”

Here’s the other thing he says.  Followers of Jesus can have confidence that God hates suffering and death more than we do.  I’m reminded of Jesus having a conversation with Mary and Martha—you can read about it in John 11.  They’re frustrated that Jesus took his time getting to them, that their brother Lazarus had died.  As Jesus talks with them, here’s the way John records what’s going on with Jesus.  (John 11:33)  When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.”   He had compassion on the inside–deeply moved.  Then it says .  In the Greek it’s like a horse whinnying and shaking its head.  What’s he troubled at?  Death.  He hates it.  He’s going this isn’t my creation, this isn’t the way I designed this.  This isn’t what I wanted it to look like.  As much as we hate what happened on Tuesday, I want to assure you, Jesus hates it more.

The God who suffers with us—-here’s what we can know.  There’s a lot of things we can’t know.  We can’t know all of the answers as to why people make all the decisions they make.  What role the devil plays in that.  What role the world plays in that.  What role they play in that.  We can’t nuance that out.  There’s so many things we don’t have answers for, but here’s what we don’t have to question.  We can look at the cross that stands at the center point of history that the King of kings and the Lord of lords would come down, clothe himself in human flesh and blood, that he would come in and suffer and die, that it would be his declaration of love for you and me.  The cross stands at the center point of history to say to us, of all the questions you have, one you don’t have to ask is, “Does God love me?”  We know the answer to that one.  Yes.  Yes!  YES!  He does!  All of this says that we can take our pain, we can take our brokenness, we can take our lament, we can take it to his throne and say, “God, we freaking hate this!  We HATE this!”  We hate that we have to put our kids on a bus and be scared.  We HATE this!  We hate that we, as a society, have not stepped up to do more to stop it.  We hate it!  We feel like our hands are tied.  We don’t know what to do.  We know we need to do something, but we don’t have the answers.  We hate this!  God goes, “I hate it too! I hate it too! I weep with you! I love you!”  You do your research.  No other religion makes that claim.  Ask yourself what you really need in moments like this.  Is it answers?  Or is it presence?

I’ve been praying this week and I’ve just sensed this spirit-driven frustration AND peace.  I’m going, “God, I don’t know how to make sense of this.”  But I sense Jesus reminding me that he’s way more creative than I am.  While I’m confident that God did not cause this, He also didn’t prevent it.  The Scriptures make these claims that man, are so hard to hear in moments like this. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)  I’m going, God, how would this….how would you ever work this together for good?  I imagine myself on a whiteboard trying to figure it out.  You could do this and you could do this and then…..  I just sensed this week God going, “Pause. Pray.”  One of the reasons I love this verse is because there are some things tucked right beneath that I think we need to hear.  One, if God needs to work things together FOR good, they are not good in and of themselves.  If he has to work it together for good, it didn’t come directly from his hand.  The things that come from His hand are good, pleasing and perfect.  Those are what come directly from God.  God is the Master Creator taking the mess that we make and somehow and some way weaving it together to say, not only do I enter in and suffer with you, but some how I’ll use this.  For every atheist that’s walked away from God saying, “I can’t believe in a God because there’s evil and suffering,” there are ten followers of Jesus who will raise their hand and say, “I can’t explain it to you, but somehow, some way that pain pushed me into his loving arms.”  I’ve heard people say to me in my office….at first, I did a double take as a young pastor, and now I’ve almost started to expect it on some level….they’ll say things like, “Cancer was the best thing that happened to me.”  And they’re not saying God gave me cancer.  They’re saying that God somehow took that sickness and that pain and twisted and turned it and what the enemy wanted to use for evil, somehow God is his creative, redemptive way used for good.  He’s at work even in our mess.

I’ll tell you what, friends, knowing that God is with us, and knowing that God is at work within this crappy situation, there’s still this ache.  There’s still something in our bones that cries out “this isn’t how it should be.”  There’s still something in our heart that longs for something more beautiful.  There’s still something in our heart that longs for the tension of the beauty and the broken to be resolved.  There’s still some sort of residue on every single soul that know we were created for something more.  I want to invite you today to not push that longing away.  Actually, reel it in.  Let it speak to you.  Let it speak a better word over your life.  Allow yourself to hope in the midst of pain.  Allow yourself to dream in the midst of the brokenness.  Allow yourself to say, “Jesus, we don’t get it. There’s something in our souls that long for so much more.”  Our ache, our longing is a holy ache, it’s a holy longing that reminds us of a holy God who created us for a good and beautiful world.  What He wants to say to us today is do not judge the story mid-way through, but behold I will make all things new.  Jesus doesn’t just suffer with us and he doesn’t just use our suffering, he suffers FOR us and ultimately IS our healing.  He is making all things new.  And this is his final word on the matter.  I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation. {It’s going to happen, because of the world, flesh, and the devil. That’s the world you live in.}  But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Jesus does what every single mom in this room longs to do.  He comes up to us, brushes off our knees, puts his arm around us and says, “It’s going to be okay.”  Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but it’s going to be okay.  And once it is, it will forever be.  I’m going to make it all new.

In closing, number one, there’s an evil out there, but there’s also evil in here.  When Jesus came, he taught, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”  Repent.  Because of my Spirit’s prompting, because of my Spirit’s power, you can let go of the dominion of sin and death, the reign of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and you can step out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light.  If you have not made that decision today, friends, I invite you, just like Jesus did, “Repent.”  The kingdom of heaven is available for you today.  If you have made that decision, reaffirm your commitment to say, “Jesus, this world needs people who will live in the way of life, who will live in the way of love, who will reject the kingdom of darkness—both out there and in here, and carry your light.  Let’s be that church, friends.

Let me give you my summary on how we answer this question.  Where was God during this tragedy?  God didn’t cause it, but he also didn’t prevent it.  He entered into it.  He entered into it with nail pierced hands and a broken heart.  He entered into it pointing us to a better way—to the way of love.  And he entered into it with the whisper, “Behold, I am making ALL things new.”   Let’s pray.

Jesus, I’m just a broken man.  These questions just haunt us because there’s this beautiful residue of what you’ve created us to live in that remains, and today we want to look at that and say, Jesus, in the midst of fear, in the midst of pain, in the midst of hurt, we don’t want to solve the problem by ignoring design and your original intent.  We want to hold on to that hope, knowing that this world is both beautiful and broken.  So, Jesus, help us hold it well.  Help us know today, that regardless of where we are with all that’s gone on, that you’re present with us, that you enter in with us, that you love us in the midst of it.  That you are promising that somehow, as the Grand Weaver, you’re going to make something beautiful out of our mess.  God, please, please!  I pray that over my friends in this room who had students that were there on Tuesday.  Jesus, would you do a work in them, please.  May your peace cover their homes.  May your peace cover their children.  Will you give them back the ability to sleep and in time, would you somehow and in some way give us the ability to move forward without fear.  Please, Jesus, please.  Jesus, we look forward to that day, we long for that day, when you make all things new.   Help us hope well today.  It’s in your name we pray.  Amen. 

Brave in the New World | Evil and Suffering | John 9:1-3 | Week 32020-08-20T16:56:10-06:00

Pray Scripture | Matthew‬ ‭9:10-13

We often envision Jesus as a teacher, but rarely do we imagine him giving people a homework assignment. However, that’s exactly what he does in this passage. He gives his listeners a metaphor to explain what he’s doing, and then he gives the Pharisees an assignment: “Go and learn what this means.”

Pray through this passage and then go do the homework Jesus assigned.

“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.””‭‭ (Matthew‬ ‭9:10-13‬)

Ask Jesus what it means that he desires mercy, not sacrifice.

Ask Jesus how you may be offering sacrifice, not mercy.

Ask Jesus how you can more fully become a person of mercy.

Pray: Jesus, I recognize that I need your restorative work in my soul. I need you to be the great physician you claimed to be. I know that you don’t heal me because of religion, but rather through relationship. I want that real relationship with you today. I want to hear your voice and know your presence. As I do that, help me become a person who generously gives mercy to all those whom I encounter. Today, help me see the world through your eyes that I might be your hands and feet. In the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, Amen.

By Ryan Paulson

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Pray Scripture | Matthew‬ ‭9:10-132019-07-22T16:35:16-06:00
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