January 31st 2016

listen to last Sunday’s worship set.

A number of years ago, I got into road biking and I never thought I’d be a road biker, but my wife got me a bike for Christmas.  I was looking for another way to get out and enjoy beautiful Colorado and, indeed, over the last few years, I’ve really grown to love the sport of road biking.  I had a friend who invited me to go on a bike ride with him, sort of spontaneously.  He called me and at the time my wife was hosting a party and there were a number of women over at our house.  I said yes to him.  I was biding my time and hoping that by the time it was for me to go, they’d be gone.  I went upstairs and got ready.  It came time for me to go.  I had to walk downstairs through my living room to get into my garage.  The living room is where all these ladies were.  I had to go downstairs dressed head-to-toe in full-on spandex in order to get into my garage!  I had always been the guy that looked at others in full spandex and thought, “I’m never going there!  I’m never doing THAT!” until I went on a bike ride not wearing them.  It was not fun!  I realized the moment I got on the bike WHY everybody that rides spandex head-to-toe!  I joined that club.  It turned out….the thing that looked confining at first, actually brought freedom.  The thing that looked like it was going to be uncomfortable and it looked like there’s no way I’m ever going there, actually was the thing that allowed me to ride way better with way more comfort than I ever would have imagined.

It’s interesting as I read through the commands of Jesus, as I read through the Scriptures, that some of the things He invites us to, at the onset seem like they’re chains rather than freedom.  They seem like they’re confining rather than releasing.  They seem like they keep us down rather than lift us up.  Things like…..in the Beatitudes where Jesus will say the poor in Spirit…they shall see the Kingdom.  The meek….they shall inherit the earth…and none of us are going listen, count me in on that.  That sounds like freedom.  It doesn’t to us at the onset.  The peacemakers, the people who seek, not to find out what’s wrong with everybody else, but to build a bridge, those are the people who really are the sons of God.  A lot of it seems really confining until you step into it and start to live it.  There’s no place, there’s no command, where this is more evident and more true than in the way that Jesus invites us to find freedom.  We typically think of freedom like in Braveheart…..”They may take our lives, but they will never take our FREEDOM!”  He charges on to the battlefield.  Here’s what you and I think deep down inside….we think we get freedom by fighting for our freedom.  The way of Jesus teaches us something completely other.  That freedom isn’t something you fight for….it’s something you step into and there’s a specific way that He teaches us how to step into it.

Here’s what He says in John 8:31-32:  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him {Just a quick timeout. This would have been a HUGE deal for any Jewish person.  To put their faith in this Messiah would have been groundbreaking, would have been completely contrary to the culture that they’d grown up in, to the parents that they had, to the traditions that they embraced.}  ….”If you abide in my word, {If you make your home in my word.  The NIV says it: If you hold to my teachings.  The Amplified Version: If you continually obey My teachings.  The Message:  If you stick with this.  The NLT: If you remain faithful to my teachings.  Then, and only then….} …you are truly my disciples… {People who live in my wake.  People who embrace my way. People who take on my character.  This word literally means “a learner.”  Somebody who takes on the way of Jesus.  If you obey my word then you are my disciples.  Did you know that for a disciple obedience is not optional, it’s essential.  Obedience isn’t something that’s super-spiritual that disciples do.  Obedience isn’t sort of varsity and we’re sort of JV.  Obedience is the baseline for anybody that would say I want to be a follower of the Messiah, a follower of Jesus.  It’s not optional, it’s essential.  Jesus goes on and says as you abide in my word, as you obey my teachings, as you take on my character as your own, learning from me how to live this life, you will be my disciples….} ….and you will know the truth.  

That’s fascinating, isn’t it?  We’ve been looking at the truth of the Scriptures over the last few weeks and Jesus sort of twists this a little bit, doesn’t he?  Here’s what he says: You only really KNOW as much as you’re willing to believe.  You only really know as much of the Scriptures as you’re willing to step into.  You will know the truth AFTER you obey the truth.  But only then.  There’s this aspect of truth that is absolutely objective.  True in every instance.  True in every case. And in post-enlightenment modernity, Christianity has sunk their anchor into THAT truth, but only into that truth.  We haven’t created space for the truth that’s, what we would call, a little bit more subjective.  The truth that you know when you get into it and start to live it.  THAT truth is just as true as the objective truth that we’ve built much of our faith on.  Jesus says it’s at least as important, if not more so.

This word “know”…..there’s a number of different words in the Greek in the New Testament that we would translate to “know”.  Three specifically, but the other two mean “to know something by reading a book.” To know something if you sort of perceive it from afar.  The word that Jesus choses, in this instance, is that we “know” the truth.  It’s this first-hand experiential knowledge.  We know it as we live it.  We know the truth AND the truth sets us free.  You know this.  You know this if you’re a follower of Jesus.  You know, that at the onset, Jesus’ teaching to forgive people as many times as they wrong you, felt confining until you lived it.  Until you lived it.  Until you stepped into and thought you know what, it really is a lot of work to continue to hate that person.  It’s sorta like running on a treadmill….I’m expending a ton of energy and I’m not getting anywhere. The same is true of generosity.  At the onset: you want me to be generous with my stuff that I’ve worked so hard to get?  You want me to be generous with my resources that I’ve worked really hard for…my time that I have a very limited amount of?  You want me to be generous with myself?  That seems so outside of where I’d actually want to go…until you step into it and you would affirm this is the best way to live.  But you only know it once you get into it.  Christianity is far more than an experience, but it’s never less.  We often want to take that out of the picture, but Jesus wants it front and center because when He talks about truth He’s talking about reality. The way that He created the world to function, the way He created you and I as human beings to live in His world, He’s talking about reality.  It’s extremely practical.

Here’s the way Tim Keller says it: “We don’t live as we should—not because we simply know what to do but fail to do it, but rather because what we think we know is not truly real in our hearts.”  What we know in our head and what we know in our hearts can often be different things, can’t it?  You only live as much of the truth as you really know.  That’s what Jesus wants to invite you to: to step into His way.  Here’s the way we’ll say it: The way to freedom…..by freedom we mean living in the way that we were designed to live.  We often will define freedom simply as being able to do whatever we want.  That’s not biblical freedom.  Biblical freedom has some confinements around it.  It’s living in the way God designed us to live and recognizing in that is ultimate joy.  You know if you want to live in freedom there’s some things you can’t do.  You also know, if you want to live in freedom there’s some things you MUST do.  If any of you want to live in the freedom of being a concert pianist, you MUST, you MUST discipline and train yourself.  There’s gotta be some confinement.  Jesus’ teaching is no different.  He says the way to freedom is through the walk of obedience!  And it’s the ONLY way to his freedom.

My question, as I wrestled with this, is does this make our obedience self-serving.  Should we obey because we get something from God?  Well, it’s interesting because Jesus doesn’t think that’s an issue.  WE think it’s an issue because of a perspective we have in our heads of God.  The perspective we often have in our heads of God is that He’d much rather take joy FROM us than lead us TO joy.  So the Commandments….they have to be hard. They have to be burdensome.  They have to be really, really difficult and they have to lead us to a place where we have less joy than if we wouldn’t have obeyed.  Right?  That’s why we ask the question.  That’s why I wrestled with the question.  In a sense, Jesus is inviting us to this hedonistic, for-your-joy endeavor to obey. To walk with Him….there is no greater life, there is no greater freedom and we only find it as we walk in His way. Obedience isn’t so much about appeasing God….it’s not about making God happy.  Obedience is about walking with God.  Being in relationship with God.  Living by faith.  John Piper says it like this: “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.”  You can’t sorta dice these two and pit them against each other.  As you walk in obedience, you find freedom and as you walk in freedom, you live in joy and as you live in joy, God gets the glory.  This is the invitation of the Messiah.  Obey my words.  Find freedom.  Live a life of joy.  That’s his invitation.

So the question is:  What parts of the Bible should we obey?  We just established that our freedom is on the line here.  This is a HUGE question.  There is no bigger question for followers of Jesus in the 21st century.  What parts of the Bible should we obey?  Our freedom is on the line.  Our joy is on the line.  Our vitality and life is on the line, so therefore, this is a huge question, would you not agree?  Which parts of the Bible should we obey? There’s a number of different perspectives on that.  Let me throw some out to you.  No shame if you’re in one of these camps.  Let’s just walk together for a few moments today.  One perspective–We should obey the whole thing.  The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.  End of discussion.  There’s a lot of people that would say that.  I have not met anybody that actually lives that.  Let’s just be honest for a second.  This perspective, while we would love to believe it on a soul level, none of us actually live.  It’s caused us to lose our voice in any sort of public discourse because everybody else can see…you guys say that but you don’t believe it.  You don’t really do it.  Just a few things we don’t obey.  I’m not saying we should, but I’m saying these are a few things we don’t.  Exodus 21:17 — Any child who curses his parents should be put to death.  Anybody done that?  It was my son’s birthday yesterday and he didn’t exactly have a stellar day.  I don’t know if he cursed us, but it was pretty close.  Deuteronomy 25:11-12 — If there’s two men in a fist fight and one of their wives come while they’re fighting and grabs the other man’s genitals, she should have her hand cut off.  First of all, you have to ask the question was this an issue?  Evidently so.  Leviticus 19:19 — You shouldn’t wear clothes made of more than one fabric.  We could go on and on and on.  We could talk about bacon.  We could talk about Sabbath.  We could talk about you name it!  It’s too simplistic to say we just obey the whole Bible.  We don’t!

A.J. Jacobs wrote a book.  He was an editorial writer for Esquire Magazine.  He wrote a book recently called The Year of Living Biblically.  He tried to follow every single command given in the Old Testament.  This is what he says:  “It’s impossible to do everything written in the law.  Everyone must pick and choose.  The important things is picking and choosing the right things.”  I think after a full year….I agree with him.  It’s impossible.  The important thing is picking and choosing the right thing.  So the question is what are the right things?  Most of you may respond to me and say well, we obey the New Testament.  To that I say the only problem is….we don’t!  We don’t!  Case in point, I have been here three and a half years, South Fellowship Church.  The only person who’s greeted me with a “holy kiss” is my wife!  That’s not an invitation for anybody else!  Hey, if we were going to take the Scriptures literally and if we were going to follow….this is a command.  This is an imperative in the Scriptures!  Paul commands the church at Corinth:  Greet one another with a holy kiss. (2 Corin. 13:12)  In Romans 16:16 — Greet one another with a holy kiss.  1 Peter 5:14 — Greet one another with the kiss of love.  It was not unique to one church.  It was a command given across the board….and we don’t follow it.

You know what else is difficult as you get into the New Testament?  There’s some areas where, not only does the Bible not answer some questions that we have, but the Bible answers some questions with two different answers.  I’ll give you an example:  In Acts 15:28-29, the early church is wrestling with how do we create a way for Gentiles to be a part of the community of faith.  The big question was:  Are we going to require the men who’ve converted to Christianity to be circumcised?  You’d better believe that there was fasting and prayer on the other side of this conversation by every man going oh please, don’t let it be!  Please don’t make us go there! This is what the church decided after a season of prayer and seeking the Lord, dialoguing with the community of faith (which are all great principles…those are great ways to seek the Lord’s will and guidance, because Scripture isn’t always crystal clear):  For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us  {Don’t you love how definitive they are?  It seemed good.  After a season of prayer and walking together and speaking into each other’s lives…..it seemed good.}  …and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements:  that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.  If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.  Farewell. 1 Corinthians 8:7-8 — However, not all possess this knowledge.  But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.  Food will not commend us to God.  We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.   Huh.  What do you do with that?  Should you or shouldn’t you?  In one passage, we shouldn’t and in another passage food sacrificed to idols is fair game.   What parts of the Bible should we obey?  Should we obey Acts 15:29 or should we obey 1 Cor. 8:8?   All this to say, it’s not as simple as “the Bible says it, so I believe it, and that settles it.”   It’s not that simple.

Here’s a third way.  How about we read the way that Jesus invited us to look at the whole law.  Matthew 22:37-40.  He’s getting pinned in by some Pharisees, teachers of the law, that really want to ask Him this question “what parts of the Bible should we obey?”  So, Jesus, give us the best, give us the highest commandment of them all.  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: {The word “like it” is “the second is a mirror of it.”  You can’t do the first if you don’t do the second.  These are intricately intertwined together.}  You shall love our neighbor as yourself.   {So Jesus says that’s the first and greatest and in your mind you’re thinking, Paulson, fine, Jesus says it’s the greatest.  But it’s not the only.  To that I say verse 40.} On these two commandments depend {Or hang. Or are suspended by….} …all the Law and the Prophets. Here’s the picture that Jesus wants to paint for you: That the ENTIRE Old Testament (611 commands) hang in the balance of these two….are you going to love God and are you going to love the people around you.  That’s what it all boils down to.  That’s the intent of the entire thing.  The rest of the Old Testament, the rest of the law, any other command we get is simply commentary on these two…love God and love the people around you.  So, which parts of the Bible should we obey?  We should obey the law of love.  You’re going, Paulson, that’s way too easy.  That’s way too simplified.  And to you I say, that’s fine.  How about we just start here?  We don’t need to take it to the nth degree, let’s just start here and once you nail this one—loving God and loving others—just come back to me and say Paulson, I have nailed that, I’m so dialed into that, I’ve checked that off my list, then let’s go from there.  You want to know why we’ll never have that conversation?  One of two reasons:  (a) Because you can’t perfectly live that out; (b) If you could, you would realize that there’s nothing higher and nothing better and nothing else really matters.

Just so you don’t think I’m lifting the words of Jesus out of context, the early church wrestled with this question too.  Listen to the way Paul writes to the church at Rome:  Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  (Romans 13:8)   Well, how much of the law?  Presumably, the whole law.  It would be akin to seeing a little thread hanging out of a sweater and going and pulling that little thread….if that little thread is love God and love people, you would pull it and if you pulled it long enough, you would be naked lying on the floor…you’ve come undone.  It’s all attached to that.  It’s all attached to these two things:  Love God and love the people around you.  Does it mean that we fulfill the law in every single little detail of it?  No.  Actually, it doesn’t.  Good thing for you that’s not what it means to fulfill the law period. That’s not how Jesus fulfilled the law.  Jesus did not fulfill the law by accomplishing every command exactly as it was written.  Case in point, Sabbath.  He didn’t fulfill the Sabbath exactly as it was written.  What he DID was that he accomplished the INTENT of the Sabbath, which was to find rest in the only One in whom our souls can truly be satisfied.  He fulfills the intent behind the law and in doing so fulfills it.

Here’s what he says to you.  You want to fulfill the intent behind every single law God has?   LOVE.  You go, Paulson, I don’t think you fulfill every single law God has just by loving.  Let’s keep reading, Romans 13:9:  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” {He’s just going “Ten Commandments” on us.  Very basic.  Very, sort of, elementary.  He goes let’s just start there.} …and any other commandment {That’s a lot of other commandments.  600+ in the law.} …are summed up in this word:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”    ANY. OTHER. COMMANDMENT.  Which part of the Bible should we obey?  Well, let’s start with the law of love and once we nail that, let’s start to ask what else, God, do you have for us?  You see, early disciples were convinced that love was the intent of the entire law.  Here’s the deal.  This is going to be a little bit difficult for us, but they weren’t as concerned about their interpretation, Jesus wasn’t as concerned with the early church’s interpretation of the law as He was with them understanding the intent behind the law.  The Pharisees wanted to split hairs; how much of our spices should we tithe on?  Let’s tithe on them all, so they’re bringing in a little bit of salt, a little paprika, a little bit of oregano and they’re putting that in the offering tray.  Jesus goes I’m not exactly sure that’s what I mean by that, thank you very much.  Did you know that you can actually fulfill the law, fulfill the commands and miss the heart of the commander?  It’s possible!  Read through Isaiah 58….You do all these fasts, you do all these ceremonies, you do all this religious stuff and yet you miss the heart of it.  You refuse to speak into those whose lives are in captivity.  You refuse to help those who are downtrodden.  You refuse the greater fast, which is offering your body to the one who paid it all.  There’s a way to execute the command without honoring the commander.  What Jesus wants to do, what the New Testament Scriptures want to do is point us back to this is what’s behind….if you were to dig down through all 613 different laws there would be one intent and only one. LOVE.  That’s the only intent.

Does this minimize the law of God, you might ask.  Absolutely not!  It clarifies it. It reveals the heart of what God intended for it.  When we talk about things like food sacrificed to idols, Paul will continue (1 Cor. 8:13): Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. What’s his guiding principle?  LOVE.  He goes it’s not really about the issue.  The issue is do I value people or do I value my position more?  Do I love people or do I love being right?    Romans 14:15 — For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.   As if to say this is the bigger issue and it will clarify any other sub-issues that you might have.  To quote one of the church fathers, St. Augustine: “Love God and do whatever you please; {Some might say that just leaves to licentiousness.  Not if you genuinely love God, it won’t.  These are the guardrails.} ….for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”

Lest you think I’m taking this too far, listen to the words of Jesus:  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another {And it really wasn’t all that new.  It was all over the Old Testament.  It was the intent of the entire law, but what’s new is the extent to which the disciples are called to live this out.}…just as I have loved, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples…   It’s not by how much you know and what you believe, although those things are important.  Those things are extremely important, they’re just not the MOST important.  People will not know you are disciples of the Messiah because you have great theology and great doctrine, although I believe that’s really important.  They will not know you are disciples of the Messiah because you’ve memorized “x” amount of the Bible, although I believe that’s really important.  The way that they will know whether or not you are disciples of the King of kings and the Lord of lords is do you live in the way of love.  That’s what will define us.

Early disciples were known for how they loved, not for what they believed.   Now, if you read through the New Testament, you go well, what they believed was extremely important.  I would say yes and amen.  I couldn’t agree more.  It just wasn’t what they were known for.  They were known as people who were convinced of the resurrection.   That’s what they were known for as far as what they believed.  The way that shaped their community and their interaction with the world is the reason the church still stands today.  They were known for the way that they loved.  Listen to the early church father, Tertullian, reporting about what the Romans would say about followers of Jesus:  “See how they love one another!”  An anonymous Christian said to the Romans:  “We love one another with a mutual love because we do not know how to hate.”  Clement of Rome, one of the early church fathers said: “He impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother. He likewise considers the pain of another as his own pain. And if he suffers any hardship because of having given out of his own poverty, he does not complain.”  Early followers of Jesus weren’t so much asking the question “what does the Bible say?”  The reason they weren’t asking it?  Because they didn’t have a Bible.  They didn’t have as much of the New Testament that you have.  They had the Old Testament on scrolls.  What does the Bible say? {Pastor Ryan acts out rolling out a large scroll.}  They were asking “what does love require of us?”  What does love demand of us?  What does it look like to love in this situation?  Let’s talk for a second.  You tell me that wouldn’t change….if we started to ask the same question “what does love ask of us?”…if that wouldn’t change our neighborhoods.  If that wouldn’t change our schools.  If that wouldn’t change our churches.  If that wouldn’t eventually, in the ripple effects of it, change our world.  What does love ask of us?

We have the tendency to read the Bible through a lens that we create and that tends to benefit us.  We can make the Bible say almost anything we want it to say.  If we had the chance to sit down over a cup of coffee and you disagreed with me, I would have the chance to walk you through some of the most grievous offenses that people have made and they’ve used the Bible to do it.  Here’s what they missed.  Here’s what they could not have done.  They could not have said the way of Jesus is the way of love and that is our guiding ethic and that is our guiding principle and those are the guardrails that He has set for us.  They could not have made those mistakes if they would have had THAT as their guiding ethic.  We use the Bible to justify our politics.  We use the Bible to justify some of our nationalistic endeavors.  We use the Bible to justify some of our personal soap-box issues.  {Will you look up at me for just a second?}  Instead of using the Bible as a mallet to hit people over the head with, what if we started using it as a mirror to discern the condition of our own soul and then to walk forward in the way of love that Jesus clearly commands us to.  The early followers of Jesus are convinced that this is what Jesus has called us to.

Let’s go back to where we started.  If you really are my disciples, you will abide in my word.  You’re going to obey my words, he says.  Then you will know the truth.  You’re going to step into it and you’re going to be like YES and AMEN!  This is truth.  This is the reality that you designed the human soul to live in and walk in.  And that truth will, in turn, set you free.  So let’s look at it again.  If you abide in my word and obey my words and that, at it’s very core, base level is love.  So if you love, but only if you love, if you love you will know the truth of God and that truth will free you to walk into his world for his glory and for your joy.  Living the law of love leads to a life of liberty!  We do not fight our way to freedom, ironically.  We love our way to freedom.  Can we all agree that it’s a lot of work to hate.  It’s a lot of work to be right all the time, isn’t it?  I know!!!  (Just kidding.)  It’s a lot of work to be right all the time.  It’s a lot of work to judge.  And it’s work that only leads to our chains.  But if you want to live in the way of Jesus, LOVE in the way of Jesus.  Love ridiculously.  Love lavishly.  Love people that you would normally hate and disagree with and want to push down.  Love people who don’t deserve it.  Love people who are unworthy.  Love people who don’t love you back.  Love period, no strings attached.  You know what will start to happen?  You will start to walk in the freedom of knowing THIS is why I was created!  Let’s pray.

(Prayer not included on this recording.)