And Then What Happened? | What Jesus is All About | Mark 2:13-17 | Week 2


AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED?: What Jesus is All About   Mark 2:13-17   Dr. Scott Wenig

{Manuscript:  View Video for complete content}  (2nd Service)  Good to see all of you today.  We’re going to continue our series in the Gospel of Mark today.  Last week, Larry gave us a panoramic view of chapter one. Today, I’m going to give us a snapshot of a particular element in chapter two.  Before we look at this text, I’m going to ask you to join your hearts together with me in prayer.  Father, thanks so much for your provision, your care, your grace in our lives.  Lord, we want to thank you for the salvation that you provided for us in the Lord Jesus.  Thank you for the grace and the guidance you give us every day.  Lord, I thank you for your Church; when she’s filled with your Spirit, she is the hope of the world.  I thank you so much for South Fellowship, the ministry that this church has in this community, in this city, and around the world.  Lord, I thank you for every person that’s here today, and I thank you that I have the privilege to worship here and now to share from your Scripture.  So Lord, as we look into your word, we ask now that by your grace and your Spirit, you would show us who you are, what you’re about, and what that means for us.  Father, we ask all of this in the great and glorious name of Jesus and for our sake.  Amen.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is one of the most famous buildings in the world.  According to the best records, construction on the cathedral began sometime between 1160 and 1163 and was finished about 200 years later. Of greater significance, it served for over eight centuries as one of the finest examples of Gothic medieval architecture ever devised and built. But as you know, last April a section of the cathedral caught on fire, undermining its infrastructure and causing the majestic spire to crumble in a heap. When Notre Dame was built its beauty, majesty, and ministry made it the wonder of all of Europe. But now, after catastrophe, it needs to be saved, restored and made right. And that serves as a metaphor for the condition we find ourselves in today. 

A long time ago, there were two beautiful, majestic, and marvelous creatures named Adam and Eve who lived in a paradise called Eden, but they willfully chose to sin against God and consequently, like Notre Dame, they too were ruined. And all of us here are their descendants; we all have poisoned blood in our veins. And because of that we’re hurt, broken and only a shadow of what our Heavenly Father created us to be.  I like the way the great pastor and theologian, Fleming Rutledge, put it:  “We are all a lot worse off than we think we are.”   So, given that reality, we need to be saved, restored and made right, but only something—or more precisely Someone—really powerful and really loving can accomplish that.  Fortunately there is such a Person. His name is Jesus and we’re told all about Him in the Gospel of Mark.   Most scholars argue that Mark was a close associate of the apostle Peter and so his gospel—this biographical account of Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection—is based on Peter’s eyewitness account of his experience with the Savior. 

In the first few verses of chapter 2, Mark says that Jesus had returned to the city of Capernaum following His itinerant ministry of preaching the Kingdom of God throughout the region of Galilee. And because Capernaum sat next to the Sea of Galilee, Jesus apparently used that location as a regular venue for His teaching and ministry.  We see that in verses 13-14.  Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them.  As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

Levi (who was also known as Matthew) was a tax collector who worked in or around at Capernaum, and he probably knew Jesus from His coming and going in and out of the city.  Now if you’ve been in churchworld for a while or studied the New Testament in detail, you know that tax collectors were at the bottom of the social ladder in ancient Israel because they worked for the Romans and against their own people. Tax collectors hired themselves out to the Roman imperial administration for a specific amount of money that they were required by law to collect. Your employment contract with the Empire forced you to collect enough tax revenue to pay Rome, but anything above and beyond that you could keep for yourself.  As you can see that was a system perfectly made for greed, corruption, and oppression, which tax collectors came to personify.  The Roman historian Tacitus told of a tax collector who was somewhat honest and, in honor of the fact that he had some degree of honesty, a town built a statue of him.  What we need to know is that when a Jew became a tax collector for Rome, he immediately became a social outcast who was viewed as a traitor to his race and nation. He was forever disqualified to serve as a judge or witness in court.  He was excommunicated from the synagogue and his disgrace extended to his family. Let me do the best I can to contemporize this a little bit so we’ll get a feel for what Mark is communicating here about this tax collector Levi. Tax collectors were the ancient equivalents of contemporary drug dealers who make lots of money peddling crack cocaine and destroying lots of lives in the process. They were the worst of the worst.  The scum of the earth.  But the Romans loved them because they enriched the Empire at the expense of their own people.  

What is so amazing about Jesus is that He calls this tax-collecting sinner named Levi to ‘follow’ as one of His disciples so that he could be transformed into the type of man God originally intended him to be.  Friends, this is where we need to understand the importance of the word ‘follow’.  It’s used a number of times in the New Testament and it almost always describes the action of a man or woman answering Jesus’ call to re-direct their lives towards God’s kingdom. It means to start an intimate relationship with Jesus by receiving His forgiveness and then living the new life that Jesus modeled.  Over time—and I want to stress this—over time, people who follow Jesus are transformed by His grace.  

One of the greatest works of art ever produced in western civilization is Michelangelo’s Pieta in Rome.  It’s a marble statue of an anguished Mary holding the crucified Christ.  Some years back a fanatic nationalist rushed upon the masterpiece and began smashing it with a sledgehammer. The damage was significant, but a group of Vatican artists were eventually able to restore it to near-perfect condition because they had lots of pictures of the original that they could use to see exactly how Michelangelo had originally made it to be. 

Friends, we all know the damage that sin has done in our own lives and in the world around us.  We all know how really tangled we are and how tangled the world is, but Mark wants us to know that Jesus is all about transformation and He has inaugurated a kingdom centered in the powerful grace of God, which not only provides forgiveness of sins, but over time, redeems our raggedness as we follow Him.  That’s true for you and it’s true for me and Jesus wants it to be true of lots and lots of other people as well.  Look at v. 15:  While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 

For Jesus to go to this dinner party populated by tax collectors and sinners was both culturally radical and theologically provocative.  Religious types of people, especially rabbis like Jesus, weren’t supposed to hang around tax collectors and other really sinful people. But, as a number of commentators have pointed out, when Jesus sat down to eat with them it was a visible sign of fellowship, acceptance, grace, and forgiveness. 

C.H. Dodd was a pre-eminent New Testament scholar of the 20th century.  It said he had the entire New Testament memorized in Greek.  Here’s his comment on this text:  “Jesus’ affirmation of the disreputable is not to be confused with the tolerance of a broadminded humanist.  It expresses the sovereign mercy of God in calling whom He will into His kingdom.”  

Friends, Jesus flaunted the culture of His day and ate with this group of people because He’s all about transformation and He’s all about multiplication.  Jesus wants to extend salvation to as many people as possible.  So, I’d like to suggest that’s why it’s so important for us to keep John 3:16 at the forefront of our minds:  For God so loved the WORLD….(all the tangled, broken, sinful people of the world)…that He gave His Only Begotten Son that Whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but shall have eternal life. 

Gilbert Belezikian taught New Testament at Wheaton College in suburban Chicago back in the 1970s and 80s.  Dr. B, as he was affectionately known, always had a great heart for taking the Good News of Jesus to lost people and he could get pretty passionate about that. On one occasion, Dr. B was teaching a group of elders, deacons, and ministry leaders in a church in California.  And as he did so, he told them that it was clear from the New Testament that a big part of having a church that lived like Jesus was to have a heart for lost people, for those who are currently far from God.  And one of the leaders asked, “But isn’t our church supposed to be for people like us?” Well, that pushed one of Dr. B’s buttons and he got pretty amped up and said, “There are lots of churches that are only for Christians and which have no heart for the lost and you can be like them if you want. But whose gonna reach out to all the chain-smoking, wife swapping, whiskey-drinking, tax-cheating, child-neglecting SOBs in this community?”  And it got really quiet because no one expected to hear something like that from a New Testament professor.  And then one of the deacons said, “You mean sons of Baptists?”  Friends, Jesus has a huge heart for all those ‘sons of Baptists’ and He wants us to have that kind of heart as well because he’s all about transformation AND multiplication. So here’s a question I’m laying out for you and for me:  Who is ONE person who does not yet know Christ that you’re praying for, reaching out to and building a relationship with that you can invite him or her to church sometime in 2020? Jesus wants you and me and everyone at South Fellowship to be transformed into the men and women He’s called us to be.  AND He also wants the exact same thing for all the people we’re related to, all the people we know, and all the people who live and work around us in Littleton, Englewood, and Denver regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, economic status, or political party affiliation. So, friends, let’s be friendly, let’s be prayerful, let’s build relationships, and let’s invite non-church folks to South in 2020 because Jesus is about transformation and multiplication! 

He was willing to do whatever it took show people the love and grace of God. But that’s not something the Pharisees could sign off on. Look at how they respond to Jesus in verse 16: When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 

The Pharisees were the spiritual descendants of an earlier Jewish group known as the Hasidim.  The Hasidim had stood for obedience to God’s law during the 2nd century b.c. when they were subjected to a horrible persecution by Antiochus Epiphanes IV.  The Hasidim were honored for their commitment and endurance in the face of persecution and destruction and rightly so.  But as time went on, the core component of Hasidic piety which came to define the Pharisees was the distinction between those who strictly followed all the laws and religious traditions that developed over time and those who didn’t.  And by the time of Christ, the Pharisees had divided all of Jewish society into the righteous and the sinners.  So, for Jesus as a rabbi to eat and hang out with a group of tax collectors was outrageous and reprehensible in their eyes!  From their perspective Jesus was WAY OUT OF BOUNDS!  So when they ask why He’s eating with them, it’s not a question as much as it’s a condemnation of Him and all the tangled sinners that He’s eating with. 

Jonathan Haidt is a contemporary researcher and writer and in his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Religion and Politics, he says that his research has shown that ‘self-righteousness is the normal human condition.’  Ouch!  It’s normal for you and me to think we’re better and more pure and more righteous than everyone around us, and that’s why we condemn them when they act and live differently than we think they should—despite the fact that in our heart of hearts we all know that we’re pretty ragged!  

Gordon Macdonald {picture} served as chancellor of Denver Seminary—where I have the privilege of teaching—for the last ten years.  I’ve gotten to know Gordon pretty well through teaching together and spending time with him and he’s become a good friend.  Some of you may remember that back in the late 1990s, former President Bill Clinton got involved in this horrible sordid affair with his intern, Monica Lewinsky.  The White House put out a call to Gordon and two other Christian leaders to come to the White House to meet with then-President Clinton to see if they could pastor him and help him come out of this crisis.  I talked to Gordon about that on a number of occasions and asked what it was like, and he said, “Well, there were some up sides to that and there were some down sides.”  I asked him about the down sides.  He said, “The main down side was that as soon as it got out that we were meeting with former President Clinton, the larger evangelical community condemned all three of us, including me.”  He said, “People in my church condemned me for doing that.  People in my family condemned me and said they didn’t want to be around me anymore!”   He said, “You know, I was just trying to get a guy that was really, really tangled up to get him untangled and get him on the path to redemption.”

Friends, Gordon’s experience and the experience Jesus has in this story with the Pharisees, raises at least 2 questions for us:  1) Who are we most likely to condemn?  (Democrats, Republicans, illegal immigrants, people of other racial/ethnic backgrounds, members of the trans or LGBTQ communities, rich hedge fund managers, folks who belong to other religious faiths, or the really annoying neighbor down the street?)  2) Do we see others—especially those who might be especially tangled from our perspective—through the lens of condemnation, or do we see them through the possible lens of transformation? 

I say this with all sincerity, you could pray for me in this regard. I come from a good family and thank God for my mom and dad who loved me, cared for me, educated me.  It wasn’t a perfect family, it had its tangles, but it was a good family.  But there was a streak of condemnation that ran through our family and that bled into me.  I didn’t grow up in churchworld, but the very first church that I became a part of, I rise up and thank God for that church.  That church taught me to read the bible and pray, the importance of worship and fellowship, the value of consistent giving.  I’m so grateful for that church and what it did for me, but there was a streak of condemnation that pervaded that church and it seeped into me. By the grace of God I think I’m making progress, but I know I have a long way to go. And that’s why studying this text about how Jesus inaugurated a Kingdom that’s all about transformation and multiplication rather than condemnation is so very beneficial to me and hopefully to you as well. Let’s try to remember what C.S. Lewis once wrote: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.  There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal…it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” 

Friends, people matter to God and He wants them to enter His kingdom, receive His forgiveness, and, over time, become all He made them to be. That’s why He’s all about transformation and multiplication rather than condemnation, and in His response to the Pharisees in verse 17, He takes this one step further: On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”   Jesus makes a common sense observation here and ties it to His mission:  Only sick people need a doctor and so He’s come to call people to Himself who realize that they’re infected with the disease of sin. And in this statement, He implies that the Pharisees saw themselves as ‘the righteous’ who, in their self-delusion cannot see their own tangles and sin.  They can’t see that—in their own religious way—they’re just as far from God as all those tax collectors and sinners.  They were spiritually blind to their own need of transformation that Jesus came to bring. 

The core issue here is theology:  Who is God and what is He all about?   The Pharisees believed that only obedience to God’s laws in the Old Testament and the traditions of the elders would lay the proper foundation for the arrival of God’s kingdom.  Since the majority of people were never going to devote their lives to that impossible task, the Pharisees became spiritual isolationists.  They sincerely believed they were the one true group of God followers; they were the righteous ones that God liked and approved of.  So, when Jesus arrives and begins to teach that God’s kingdom was open to everyone and anyone who acknowledged their need of His grace and forgiveness that totally messed with their theology of isolation.  

I’ve read enough church history to know that theologies of isolation have popped up in the history of the church over time.   Recently it popped up in a book called The Benedict Option.   When this book came out about three years ago, it got a tremendous amount of publicity.  I was really excited about it because I’m a church historian and he’s writing about the ancient Benedictine movement and I wanted to see what he said.  Here’s what it says on the inside cover:  “Today a new post-Christian barbarism reigns.  Many believers are blind to it and their churches are too weak to resist.  Politics offers little help in this spiritual crisis.  What is needed is the Benedict Option, a strategy that draws on the authority of scripture and the wisdom of the ancient church.  The goal is to embrace exile from mainstream culture and construct a resilient counter-culture.”  Well, I read the book and apart from the fact that Dreher completely misunderstands and misinterprets the Benedictine movements of the sixth through eighth centuries, he makes some good points.  He talks about the fact about how overly sexualized and weird sexually our culture has become.  And he’s right.  He talks about the fact that technology now dominates our culture in ways that we could not have conceived of thirty years ago.  And he’s right.  But the core issue of this book is that it’s based on fear—fear of being contaminated, fear of losing our kids to secularism, fear of losing our souls.  Friends, you can’t live the Christian life and follow Jesus and totally be motivated by fear.  And that doesn’t work in life anyway.  What we don’t often admit or think about or talk about is that, by its very nature, life is risky and dangerous.  In theory:  When you get into your car, you could easily get killed.  When you go out to eat, you could easily get food poisoning.  This isn’t likely but in theory, when you fly on airplane you could possibly end up in a crash.  But none of us are going to quit driving, flying, or eating out.  Friends, we’re simply not going to isolate ourselves in those ways and the Church should never, ever isolate herself either. In fact, the Church should exemplify a theology of engagement, where she puts herself and her resources on the front lines, reaching out to tangled and lost people all over the place, because her Lord Jesus is all about transformation and multiplication and never about condemnation or isolation! 

This story in Mark 2 is revolutionary because it shows us that Jesus, who is God incarnate and Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, invited one of the worst of the worst of ancient Jewish society to follow Him as a disciple, and then had an intimate lunch with all his bad-guy buddies in order to get them to do the same!  See, this story calls for some theological reflection on our part.   What does this story tell us about God?  What does Jesus’ public action here tell us about God’s heart for people, especially fallen, broken, sinfully ragged people? Is God the God of condemnation and isolation or is He the God of transformation and multiplication? 

About two-and-a-half years ago, Aaron was gone and had a friend of his (and mine), Jake Gosselin, come in to lead worship. He led us in a song that I’ve come to love because it exemplifies who are God really is and what are God is really about.  It’s called “Reckless Love.”  The chorus says:  Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God // It chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine // I couldn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it, still You give Yourself away // Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.   Friends, Jesus exemplifies, personifies, and magnifies the overwhelming, never-ending reckless love of God, because He is always about transformation and multiplication, and He is NOT about condemnation and isolation. May all of us here at South Fellowship, by His grace and with His love, be about the exact same things that He’s about.

Let’s pray.  Father, we thank you for your grace, which you’ve poured out on us in Christ.  Help us to take that grace and, in the right way, at the right time with the right person, extend that grace so that we can see your kingdom extend to more and more and more people throughout 2020 and beyond.  Lord, we love you, we thank you.  Lord, may you watch over us and be with us this day.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

And Then What Happened? | What Jesus is All About | Mark 2:13-17 | Week 22021-01-17T09:27:21-07:00

Advent | Embrace Immanuel | Matthew 1:18-25 | Week 4


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ADVENT: Embrace Immanuel     Matthew 1:18-25    Pastor Larry Boatright   (1st Service)

{Manuscript–View video for complete content}       I’ve mentioned before that when I was a kid, my parents worked in a factory about a half hour away from where we lived, and I was home alone for most of the day.  We didn’t have cable or satellite or anything like that, and I didn’t have a Nintendo, so the only thing to watch on TV during the day were the three channels our antenna would pick up.  We had this antenna on top of the house, and you had a DIAL inside you’d TURN in order to turn the antenna the right way to get the best signal. It was bananas.  Anyway, there were three things on during the day during those days:  Game shows.  Talk shows. And finally, soap operas.  And I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I became addicted to talk shows and soap operas.  One thing was similar, they always left on a cliffhanger, whether to cut to a commercial or to end the show.  I watched Phil Donahue, Oprah, and Maury Povich.  And I watched “General Hospital” and “All My Children.”  I mean, I got into them and couldn’t wait for them each day.  Right before the commercial, whether it was a talk show or a soap opera, some BIG NEWS got dropped on someone.  On a soap opera, it would often be a woman telling a man, “I’m pregnant,” and it either was or wasn’t his baby.  And then, the camera would go tight on the person who received this hard news and hold for like 15 seconds.  They would contort their face every which way, and dramatic music played to illustrate that they were wrestling with the news.  A few years ago, my wife and I got addicted to the show “24.”   At some point, I realized, “This is just a night time soap opera!”.  It sounds kind of funny, but most of us have had moments in our lives where we receive unexpected news, or we are going in a particular direction and something happens to redirect our path.  Thank goodness those moments aren’t recorded for posterity, at least for most of us!

We’re in the fourth and final week of Advent, that time in the Church calendar BEFORE Christmas where the church lives in the tension between the resurrection of Jesus and His return.  The first two weeks were somewhat heavy passages.  Then last week, Dan shifted gears a little and started preparing our hearts for the coming of the Messiah.  And now we find ourselves two days away from Christmas Eve, which, by the way, I’m really excited about, so I hope you’ll invite your friends and family to come!  So, this fourth Sunday of Advent, we’re turning the page in our Advent journey to go back and look behind the scenes of Jesus’ impending incarnation, as we prepare our hearts for Christmas.  If you have your Bible with you, or you can bring it up on your phone, I’d love to invite you to turn to Matthew chapter 1.  We’re going to be looking at verses 18-25.

In the first seventeen verses of Matthew 1, we see the genealogy of Jesus; his ancestry, if you will.  Unlike the Lukan account that shows his lineage through Mary, this account traces the descendants of Abraham and David, to show Jesus to be in the line of the Davidic King.  In that day, though we know Jesus wasn’t Joseph’s blood-born child, he would legally have been Joseph’s son, so in multiple ways, Jesus was the long-awaited Davidic King.  So imagine, to first-century hearers, hearing about his lineage and then turning the page and hearing this account of Mary becoming pregnant…..it WASN’T what they would have expected!  In this account, it’s not the warm and fuzzy “baby in a manager” telling of the incarnation.  No, it reads a little bit like a soap opera, with unexpected news, a decision to make, an angelic visit, a fulfillment of an ancient prophecy, and more.  Sounds like “Lord of the Rings,” or “Game of Thrones,” or “Harry Potter” or something like that.  Yet, as we heard just a moment ago, it’s the account of Joseph contending with the fact that Mary, the woman he is engaged to, is pregnant  and, just like in a soap opera, it’s. Not. His. Baby.  Dun Dun Dun.  Talk about some crazy family of origin stuff!

I think we are going to see today that there are often interruptions to our lives, but that God has been orchestrating things all along—rooted in His love—and that if we will look for Messiah, learn to trust Him, that He will work things out for good.  Let’s dive in. I’ll walk us through the text, and point out some observations along the way.  18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.

To really grasp what is going on here, we have to go back a little bit into ancient near-eastern culture.  We see that Mary and Joseph were “pledged to be married.”  What does that mean, exactly?  It’s quite a bit different than engagement in our day and time.  In those days, quite often this kind of marriage was arranged between their parents.  Mary was probably between 12 and 16 years of age, and Joseph was probably between 18 and 20 years of age.  The idea of engagement back then had two parts:  The engagement arrangement itself, and then the Marriage.  The engagement was where they were officially committed, but in our culture, if an engagement is ended, we say they “called off the engagement.”   In those days, calling off the engagement would be considered a divorce.  In fact, if either partner in the engagement passed away during the engagement, the other partner would be considered a widow or a widower.   Needless to say, they took being ‘pledged to be married’ almost as if they WERE married.  Engagement lasted about a year, and during that time, especially in Galilee, premarital privacy between the couple was frowned upon, so they likely hadn’t spent much time together at this point.  Imagine being forced to become engaged to someone you may not know all that well, and not really being allowed to spend quality time with them until you were married.

So Joseph found himself in a pretty weird situation.  The woman he was pledged to marry—the GIRL, really—became pregnant.  Through the Holy Spirit.  What we don’t have is a record of their conversation.  Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the wall?   “Hey, Mary, I notice you’re having a bit of a bump on your belly. I thought you were on KETO.  What’s going on?”   Mary says, “Oh, what, this?”  She looks down and says, “Funny story…” She proceeds to tell him, “Yes, I’m with child, but it’s the Holy Spirit’s baby.”  If we’re honest and try to put ourselves in Joseph’s shoes, it would be natural to be skeptical.  I mean, yeah right, it’s the Holy Spirit’s baby.  That sounds like a Maury Povich episode—“Holy Spirit, you ARE the father.  We’ve got the results.”

It would be natural to assume that, since they hadn’t been together, that she had been unfaithful.  And this presented a real problem for Joseph, because he followed God.  Joseph was faithful to the law and the law was clear.  In a case of infidelity, he could divorce her or even worse, she could be sentenced to death by stoning.  This wasn’t real common this time in history, but it was still possible.  What do you do when you’re trying to do the right thing, when you’re trying to walk the right path, and a curveball gets thrown in your face?  Look at verse 19 — Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

Joseph was doing his best to follow the law; he was a righteous man.  And he knew what the law said.  He really only had two options here. (1) Go public with it. Blast it on Facebook, send out emails, make a video, make it a really big deal, and publicly shame her, and explain the consequences of what he thought was her sin. (2) Divorce her quietly. Do it privately with a couple of witnesses, and let the memory of the betrothal fade into obscurity.  We have the benefit of hindsight here, so we know what happened, and we see that Joseph was a great guy.  But imagine how he must have felt at this time.  He was in this season of waiting.  He was excited, and I’d dare say, in love with this girl who soon would be his wife, and a bombshell got dropped on him.  His dreams came crashing down.  Starting a family.  Becoming a father.  All of his plans laid out in his mind.  And then it all got interrupted.

Maybe you’ve felt that way—you were waiting on something special, something you were looking forward to.  Maybe you were looking forward to a dream to come true you’ve dreamed about for years.  Several years ago, my cousin Melissa and her husband built a brand new house. They were SO excited about it. They literally were days away from moving in.  One of the last touches was for the contractors to stain the custom cabinets, wait  for them to dry and fumes dissipate and then they could move it. They cabinets were finished and beautiful and they were waiting.  Later that night, Melissa received a call from a neighbor that their house was on fire.  Yes, their BRAND NEW HOUSE.  She and her husband stood outside as they watched this brand new house burn to the ground.  Apparently, the rags the contractors used to stain the cabinets were put into buckets at the end of the day, and in the hot Oklahoma summer they combusted in those buckets, caught the cabinets on fire, and burned the house down.  A dream was gone.

I think we’ve all experienced those moments of waiting for something good, and experiencing massive loss and disappointment along the way.  Remember, Joseph was human, so he no doubt had to deal with a swirl of human emotions, and a desire to honor God and to follow the law.  But I also think we see a clear picture that the character of God was being modeled right from Joseph.  Instead of publicly shaming her, even though he likely felt shame, he decided to honor her and protect her, and extend mercy towards her.  So we see an important lesson about who God is by how he modeled this.  God’s faithfulness and his mercy are always on display.  Life might be messy and we might not see it.  Your marriage or relationships might be strained.  Your business might be struggling or work might not be going well.  I can promise you that in the midst of the fog of all of those things, God’s faithfulness and his mercy are always on display.  I think that’s really, really good news! Think about a time when you deserved the opposite of mercy, but God gave it to you and protected you along the way.

I think we see something beautiful….that Joseph considered Mary and decided to honor her, even though it must have been really hard.  But, as God has a tendency to do when we think we have our perfect plan crafted, God showed up in a pretty amazing way.  Verse 20 — But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

What did angels usually say when they met humans in Scripture?  Do not be “afraid.” Afraid of what? Of THEM!  I mean, how crazy would it be for an angelic being to appear? How could you not be afraid?  But this angel said something different.  He said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,” meaning, “Don’t be afraid to go through the marriage and trust that what she said was true.”  Don’t be afraid to listen to what she said, to be obedient to God, even though it didn’t make sense.  He affirmed what she said, this child is from the Holy Spirit,  meaning, “This interruption is a God-interruption, so don’t be afraid to let your plans shift.” That’s tough for most of us.  We like to control things and order things to go a certain way, don’t we? I once performed a wedding where the bride literally sat in a limo with a walkie-talkie and barked orders throughout the majority of the wedding.  That’s a great example of someone who likes to control things.

But in those seasons of waiting for God to show up sometimes He provides a divine interruption, and it inevitably changes the game and requires us to trust Him.  Control and trust aren’t always equal.  Listen to the words of Proverbs 16:9 — A person plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps.  How many times have you made a plan that sounds right and God redirects it for some reason?  Just like us, Joseph plotted his course and he had it all worked out.  Beautiful fiancé, beautiful future.  But then….beautiful fiancé who is pregnant, with God’s baby.  I imagine him going,  “How am I going to explain this to my friends?”  God shifted those plans, but He didn’t leave him in the dust. He met with Joseph via an angel and directed his steps and gave them divine purpose.

This child, this unseen but present child, name him Jesus.  Jesus was a pretty common name in the first century, by the way.  As we talked about a couple of weeks ago, the people had been living under Roman oppression for quite some time and the nation was longing for God’s intervention.  Jesus was the Greek rendering of the Hebrew name Joshua, or YAHWEH, and it literally means, “God saves”.  So Joseph is instructed to name his boy (who would legally be his, even though Jesus isn’t biologically his) a name that reflects the hope of the time—God saves—but this time, it’s God-ordained.  How powerful is it to have God give the name of the child and to know God was going to use this child to save the people from their sins!  See, we can rest assured that when those divine interruptions happen, those divine redirections, even when the intention behind what we set out to do was good, we can rest assured that God’s redirection or interruption is always for His glory, for His good purpose, even when we can’t see it at the time.

Now Matthew sort of pauses the story and looks right at the camera to give his Jewish audience a little perspective into what would no doubt have been a pretty incredulous story.  Look at verse 22:.  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).  This comes from the seventh chapter of the book of Isaiah, that Old Testament prophet.  Isaiah shared many things that were foretelling of this coming messiah, the savior, the eventual Davidic king.  But in the seventh chapter, the Lord was talking to Ahaz about two kings who had come to stand up against him. 
He basically said that a sign that God was about to move was that a young woman would conceive and give birth to the son.   We don’t know if it was Isaiah’s wife, or Ahaz’s wife, or who,  but that by the time this child was born and grew old enough to know the difference between right and wrong— about three years from the time he said it—the oppressive northern Kingdom would be destroyed.  God saves.  So it had a now and not yet aspect to what he said.  He said that would happen at that time, but he also was foreshadowing a day when a virgin would conceive a child, and they would call him Immanuel.

Now, we don’t see a record in the New Testament of anyone calling Jesus ‘Immanuel.’  The literal meaning of Immanuel is ‘God with us.’   As we’ll look at together on Christmas Eve, John 1 shows us that Jesus literally was the fulfillment of God with us, Immanuel.  So it’s like Matthew is pulling his audience aside and saying, “Listen, this is credible.  This story is the literal fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, whom I know you have respect for.”  Matthew’s writing to a Jewish audience and telling them, “Hey, this thing that you’ve been longing for?  I’m writing about it here.  It happened.”

So, as we prepare our hearts for Christmas, we see something powerful.  This soon-to-be-born baby has two names ascribed to him in this passage:  Jesus = God saves. This is about what God does, He saves.  The second name is Immanuel = God with us. This is about who God is, He is present with us.  He saves us and He is present with us.  For a hurting, oppressed people who felt forgotten, what good news this must have been.  Not only will God SAVE you, but He will be WITH you.  And for all of us, as a church that joins with millions of others in reading this same passage today as we prepare our hearts for Christmas, it’s good news for us.  GOD SAVES US and GOD IS WITH US.  Amen!

We all need the reminder that when we are waiting or moving forward with our plans and God interrupts, you need to remember it’s God’s very nature to save.  He gave his son the name Jesus, which means God saves.  God is the one that is responsible to guide you, to guard you, to protect you, as you move forward on your journey.  The second thing I want you to hear loud and clear is that it’s God’s nature to be WITH you. His presence is with you. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, through the good times and the bad.  Both of those things—God saves and God is with us—is really, really good news!  That is the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, finally, Joseph had been deliberating what to do, and an angel came to him in a dream to tell him not to be afraid, to wholeheartedly follow God, and to wait on His perfect plan.  Before we go on, you might think this sounds bananas, like God could really speak to someone through a dream. Our former lead pastor had a dream before he came here that he drove up to a church in a strip mall that had tons of fake plants.  When he came here to interview, he pulled up and guess what he found?  FAKE PLANTS!!  A little over a year ago, a friend of mine passed away suddenly.  One night I had a dream that he came to me and asked me to tell his wife not to forget to let his old buddy Paul that he had passed away.  I waited two days before calling her to tell her, because I didn’t want to add to her grief, and I didn’t want to sound like a crazy person.  But I finally did. She didn’t know the name, but said she’d think on it.  A couple of days later, she called me all excited and realized who I was talking about.  It was an old army friend of his who was traveling around the world.  She got in touch with him to let him know Tim had passed.  Crazy, huh?  I believe the Holy Spirit somehow allowed me to have that dream.  The Bible has many stories of God using dreams to speak to people.  Sometimes God speaks to us in the most unexpected of ways.  Sometimes as we are waiting, we miss what God is doing right in front of us because we are expecting something different, but it doesn’t mean God didn’t show up.  Sometimes it’s a dream, sometimes it’s through the Scriptures, sometimes it’s through the wise words of a godly friend.  God with us means God is ALWAYS speaking, but sometimes in completely unexpected ways.   Listen, a whole nation missed the birth of the Messiah and the reality of God with them, because they were looking for a king who would overthrow Rome.

Let’s see what happened when Joseph woke up.  Verse 24—When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.  So Joseph had a plan, it was interrupted, an angel met with him and redirected him.  And then we see that Joseph did exactly what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and, out of love,  took Mary home as his wife.  But he didn’t sleep with her until she gave birth to Jesus.  In the ancient near east, it was frowned upon to have sexual relations while a woman was pregnant.  So even after all of this, even after the assurance that this was all from the Holy Spirit, Joseph went above and beyond to honor Mary, which again, I think is a picture of the grace, mercy, and love of God towards all of us as well.

So I want to leave us with three observations from this text.  (1) God saves us and God is with us.  Even if life is going really well for you right now, think on those words.  That’s why we follow Jesus, that is the good news, the heart of the gospel.  God saves and God is with us.  (2) God’s redirection is always for the best. It might not feel like it right now.  It might feel scary. I don’t know why Jesus hasn’t returned yet.  I wish I could tell you.  But I can tell you that his plan is perfect.  (3)  Joseph shows us how to be faithful to the Scriptures but filled with grace and mercy.  Joseph was a man of the book, but he also had the heart of Jesus, the heart of God, and he treated her with dignity, respect, and mercy, and that is the way God treats all of us too.

So as we get ready to turn the page into Christmas, we get to see some behind the scenes of Joseph trying to do the right thing and then hearing from God along the way.  We also get to see that the birth of Jesus was messy.   I want to encourage all of us to look expectantly towards this Jesus we proclaim, to wait for Him, to allow Him to redirect us as we go in our journey, and to trust that He HAS and WILL do great things for us, in us, and through us.  Maybe for you, you need to embrace that GOD SAVES and GOD IS WITH YOU.  Maybe you need to accept God’s redirection and stop resisting.  Maybe you need to show grace and mercy to someone you’ve been only expressing truth to.  Let’s pray.

Jesus, I am thrilled that in two days we get to make much of your name.  I’m so thrilled, too, that in the waiting You are with us, that you save.  Lord, for those today, who just need to hear from you, would you speak to them clearly.  Lord, would you help us to embrace that you save and that you’re with us, to experience you fully in this season.  Lord, for those who are struggling to be redirected, would you help us to just stop resisting and trying to control everything.  Lord, for those of us who are really keen on sharing truth, but not mercy and grace, would you redirect us to let the fruit of the Spirit flow in and through us.  We pray for your mercy, your grace, and your truth.  We’re excited to worship you, great, great King.  We ask this in the strong powerful name of Jesus and together this church said….Amen.

Advent | Embrace Immanuel | Matthew 1:18-25 | Week 42020-08-20T18:42:09-06:00

Advent | Rejoice In Messiah | Matthew 11:2-11 | Week 3


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 ADVENT: Rejoice in Messiah      Matthew 11:2-11      Pastor Dan Elliott  (2nd Service)

We’re in the third Sunday of Advent.  I’ve got to tell you, I’m a big Christmas guy.   As you can tell, I’ve been a pastor for a long time and it seems like whenever we come to the Advent season, I thought I was preaching Advent sermons, but I was really preaching Christmas sermons four times.  Advent is a series of four weeks preparing ourselves for Christmas, yes, but it had a much broader perspective.  It was looking forward to the Coming.  Back in the day when they depended on agriculture, the harvest would have been taken in, but they would wonder if they’d taken in enough harvest to last them until Spring.  So there was a sense of uncertainty, a little bit of tension.  The early church instituted this season of Advent as a time for people to reflect as the days got shorter, and shorter, and shorter.  To reflect that there is a Coming of One who has light that would bring more and more and more.  There is hope that we have.  So, we come to this third week of Advent.  The days are going to get shorter.  It’s cold out.  This is Advent.  Welcome to Advent.

As we look at this passage in Matthew, I’m asking God to make it come alive for you.  He’s made it come alive for me and I don’t want to get in the way of making it alive for you.  Let’s bow our heads in a word of prayer and ask God to enlighten us.  Let’s pray.  Father, I thank you.  I thank you that you’re here.  I thank you that you’re here and this is your Word—you’ve revealed yourself to us in this Word.  You want us to understand it.  You want us to wrestle with it.  Lord, make it come alive to us.  Jesus, thank you so much.  Thank you so much that you entered our world, that you made all of this possible.  Thank you, Spirit, that you are here right now to empower this Word to become real to us.  Lord, may the words that I say not get in the way of your work.  Thank you, God.  I pray this in Jesus’s name.  Amen.

I want to share about…..it’s probably the weirdest auction I’ve ever heard of.  It’s something that happened in 1926.  There was an auction at the U.S. Patent Office.  It was called the Great Patent Auction of 1926.  The Patent Office was opened in 1836 as “a general repository of all the inventions and improvements in machinery and manufactures, of which our country can claim the honor.”  When it opened 1836, they immediately began to get overwhelmed for patents on these ideas and inventions.  Forty thousand a year!  After about 15-20 years of that, the Patent Office wanted to slow it down.  There were a lot of harebrained ideas that once they got the patent they couldn’t get it to work.  They said, “We’ve got to have a model of what you’re going to invent.  When you give your idea, there’s got to be a model with it.”  They put that in about the 1860s, and people started bombarding this office with more and more models until they ran out of room.  Thousands and thousands……again, there were 30-40 thousand a year of these models.  Finally, about 1890, they said, “Let’s stop the model business, we don’t have anymore room.”  They stopped it, but they still had all these models, so, thirty years later, 1926, they came up with the idea of auctioning off all of the models.  Here’s a picture of a man standing at a table with all these small models.  This is only a fraction of them, because the auction was comprised of 150,000 models and it took six years to auction all of them off!  There was a metal illuminated cat that was suppose to rid your house of mice.  There was a device to solve your snoring problem—it looked like a trumpet that curved over the ear to the snorer’s mouth.  He or she would wake themselves up!  There were all of these whacky little models.

When you step back and look at this thing—150,000 models of things that never made it through the patent office process.  150,000 broken dreams.  150,000 disappointed ideas.  I say that with some first-hand experienced.  Not that I was born in 1926, but let me show you something.  This is a little device I came up with ten years ago.  I thought, “Man, this is going revolutionize exercise!”   I called this the “walk gym.”  I envisioned people, during lunch hour, going out walking and exercising both their upper and their lower and I thought, “This is the cat’s meow!”  I had our whole retirement planned based upon the ‘walk gym.’  Someone suggested, “Dan, before you go too far, you’d better talk to a patent lawyer.”  So I checked into some patent lawyers and found out they are very expensive.  Then I found a friend who had a friend who was a patent lawyer so he set us up.  About five days later he called me and said, “Dan, no! I’m afraid this would never make it through the patent process.  You’re copying too many inventions already.”  I have to admit, he saved me from probably bankruptcy.  I experienced a good amount of disappointment, because I was thinking this thing was really good—I still have it hanging in my garage.  Silly but I still walk with it once in a while.

Anyway, these things pale by the disappointments we’re going to see today.  What we’re going to look at today is a man who had given himself to a purpose, so fully, so intensely, and then he found himself at a loss in his expectations, wondering, “Is this ever going to be the right thing?”  We see in Matthew 11:2-3 — When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

This is not John the Apostle, this is John the Baptist, who Larry talked about last week.  This was the man who was so fervent and strong in his proclamation.  This was the man who realized, “I’ve come to prepare the way for the Messiah.”  This is the man, when he saw Jesus coming, said, “This is the Lamb of God.”  This is the man, when it came to baptizing Him, said, “No, I’m not worthy to baptize you, you need to baptize me.”  This is the man who said to his own disciples, “That’s the man you need to follow; go after Jesus.”  And now, he’s coming back and asking, “Are you really the One?”  I wondered, where are we going to go with this?  Yet I had to realize, wow!  This is not really profound—Doubt — Don’t be discouraged, if it happened to John the Baptist, it’ll probably happen to us!

As I reflected on that statement, I probably shouldn’t put it in the future tense.  It probably HAS happened to us.  I think that every one of us in this room that has been walking with Jesus Christ have had times of disappointment.  Times of questioning.  Times of doubting.  I want to tell you, that is okay!  Your faith is not going to get shipwrecked by asking questions.  God is not going to turn his back on you simply because you’re expressing some doubts about Him.  I would tell you that when you’re questioning, and doubting, and wrestling, and struggling, God knows you’re doing that, so talk to Him about it.  Don’t let the doubts fester within you.

I think, in the church, we haven’t done the best job of giving each other the freedom of being able to wrestle, to be able to question, to be able to struggle sometimes in our faith.  I have a good, good friend who, about eight years ago, went through an intense struggle.  At the time I said he was going through a crisis of his faith.  His wife had a debilitating disease.  There were a number of folks close to him that had passed away.  It was a hard time in his life.  He wrestled, he struggled, he asked a lot of questions.  I wondered if he was ever going to come around.  But you know what?  Now I wouldn’t call it a crisis of his faith, I would say it’s a refinement of his faith.  I believe that as we our honest enough to admit our questions, our struggles, our doubts, God comes to us and helps us to grow in the midst of that.

So back to John — When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”   There’s two things that jump out at me right there.  One is he’s in prison.  Prison will do a job on your perspective.  The other thing is he heard the deeds of the Messiah.  Will touch base on that later.  John is in prison.  I was kind of surprised.  Yes, it doesn’t tell us what prison he was put in.  But there was a historian, Josephus, who said John was in a prison called Machaerus.  It’s east of the Dead Sea and it was a ‘summer palace’ built by Herod the Great.  After Herod the Great died, he gave his palaces to his sons, and this one went to Herod Antipas.  Herod Antipas had the hots for his sister-in-law and he stole his brother’s wife.  John had the audacity to speak out against that, in public, and so he was imprisoned.  We first read about this imprisonment in Matthew 4.  It came shortly after—in fact, it might have come during the time Jesus was being tempted for forty days in the wilderness.  When you think about that….He’d been baptized by John and then it says immediately he was taken out to the wilderness for forty days.  Then when he came back, he heard that John had been imprisoned, so Jesus went north to the Galilean area where it was safer.  I had no idea John was imprisoned that close to the time of Jesus’s baptism.

So hear was John, sending this message from this edifice.  They’ve done a lot of excavating and found a lot of ruins, but they went down to the bottom of the mountain and they found a dungeon.  You walk through the door and it goes off to more rooms where people were imprisoned.  I don’t see a lot of windows!  I can’t imagine staying in the dark in the dungeon.  It tells us that while John was there he heard about all the deeds of the Messiah.  That means his disciples must have been allowed to visit him while he was imprisoned in that dungeon.

I went back through Matthew and went through Matthew 4, after he was imprisoned, and tried to see what were the things Jesus did.  He goes up into Galilee and teaches.  Then it says he healed all kinds of diseases. (Mt. 4:23)  In chapters 5, 6, and 7, you have the Sermon on the Mount, which a number of people believe is a template for what Jesus preached in many different places.  Then you come to chapter 8.  He healed a person of leprosy.  He healed a person of paralysis and reshaped their leg so they could walk again.  He exorcised a person of demons.  He calmed a storm.  That’s a huge one, I think.  I believe all of that was reported to John.  Chapter 9 — There was a paralytic that he healed.  He raised a girl from the dead.  He cleansed a person of blindness and leprosy.

I believe all those things were reported back to John, so I asked the question, “John, that’s a good resumé.  Why the questions?  Why the doubts?”  He still sent that question, “Are you the one to come or shall we expect someone else?”  I went back to Matthew 3:7-12, and let me remind you what John was preaching.  Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near. … Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? … Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  … The ax is already at the root of the trees.  Every tree that does not produce good fruit is going to be cut down and thrown into the fire. …. Someone’s coming after me who is so powerful I can’t carry his sandals, but he’s going to baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. …. His winnowing fork is in his hand.  He will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn, burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.  That’s the message John had been preaching months and months in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, who he recognized as Jesus.  Then he hears what Jesus is doing.  Doesn’t hear a lot about winnowing forks.  He hears about healing.  He hears about forgiveness.  He hears about mercy.  John’s disciples go to Jesus and say, “How come you guys don’t fast like the rest of us do?”  I bet you when they went, they might have heard this statement:  I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.  That’s an expectation that I don’t think John had.  I don’t think Jesus quite fit what John anticipated he was suppose to do. Often our expectations of how God should work can cause us to miss the work He’s actually doing.

As I wrote that I was trying to think, okay, what in my life….because when you preach you’re suppose to have an illustration.  Frankly, as I was trying to think and process I went, hey, Kerry and I have had a pretty good life.  I can’t complain about anything.  I asked Kerry if she could think of any expectations we had of God that may have caused us to kind of miss what He was doing.  She said, “I can’t believe you’re even asking that question! Dan, don’t you remember?  We wanted to have kids.  We thought God was going to give us children.”  Instead, we got cancer.  That shot me back to thirty years ago.  When we got married, we had all the dreams of many young married couples.  We thought we’d have kids to pour our lives into, and nurture them, and watch them grow.  We thought they’d grow and have kids and we’d be grandparents.  We looks so forward to that.  Then we discovered the word ‘infertility.’  We were trying one thing after another after another—different fertility drugs.  All of a sudden, Kerry gets diagnosed with cancer.  Now we were in a fight for her life.  I can remember nights going to God and saying, “Are you for real?”  When I asked that, it wasn’t so much questioning the realness of God, it was questioning the type of God I expected him to be.  I found myself saying, “I’m not sure if you’re so good.”  I’m not sure if you’re so loving, because this is hard.  I didn’t expect this.  Those expectations that many times we camp on for God cause us to miss the work that He’s actually doing.

John sends the disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”  There’s another thing that pops out to me in that verse.  John sends his disciples to Jesus.  He was stuck in that dungeon, yes.  He had to take second-hand reports, but John did not sit on his unfulfilled expectations, but he brought them about before God, before Jesus.  He went to the source of his frustration.  He asks Jesus directly.  I would encourage us to do that.  Like I said earlier, God already knows that we’ve got the questions.  God already knows that we may be wrestling with doubt.  He already knows that we’re wrestling with disappointment.  Probably He’s waiting for us to have the courage to come to Him and explain that to Him.   You might think that’s crazy if He already knows it, but He wants to hear from his children.  He’s not going to abandon you.  Just like Jesus did not abandon John.  Jesus instead says, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”   All those things I found in earlier chapters of Matthew…that’s what Jesus is saying.  Tell John those things.  Report back to John that.

One observation I make of that — John asked the question, “Are you the Messiah?”  Jesus never answered him.  Jesus never said “Yes” or “No.”  Instead He gave him evidence and told John to figure it out.  John would have to decide where he stood with Jesus.  Jesus says the same thing to us:  Where do we stand with Jesus?  I believe that as John received this message:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear…    I believe that might have jogged in John’s mind a little bit as he though back to a referenced in the Old Testament to a prophet named Isaiah who said some very similar things about the Messianic time that was coming, the kingdom that was going to come (Isaiah 35:5-6).  Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.  Then will the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy.  Sounds very similar to what Jesus is doing.  We may say, “John, why didn’t you catch on?”  Well, let’s look at the verse right before this (Isaiah 35:4) — Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.  Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.  Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.”

As John reads those verses, he’s probably thinking, “Come on, it talks about vengeance.  It talks about retribution.  I’m stuck in a dungeon because I spoke up about that.  I spoke up about the king’s unrighteousness and now I’m stuck in a dungeon.”  You know what?  There’s many times we feel we’re in a dungeon.  There’s many times we feel we’re stuck.  I identify with this.  I love being a pastor, don’t get me wrong.  There are some days you just want to throw out.  There are some days…..at the end of the day you’re exhausted.  There was a day, recently, that began with a request from someone.  It broke my heart because their infant had been born so very prematurely, and it was a daily struggle to keep this guy alive.  Then there was a message that a friend was diagnosed with cancer.  Then there was a benevolence case that ate away at me as I tried to work on this and solve this and I was so frustrated that we could not come to grips and correct this.  Then there was someone who had to be rushed into emergency surgery and wanted to have prayer.  I wanted all those things fixed.  I so much wanted to be able to say, “Hey, I can correct that because God’s here.”  I’ve been on lots of healing sessions.  I don’t mean to say I don’t believe in healing….I do!  I tell you, the majority of those healing sessions haven’t healed.  Maybe there’s something wrong with my faith? I think it’s more the reality of where we live now.

I think John’s expectations of Jesus….he was expecting this wide, wide repentance and brokenness that was going to cover the land.  I think my expectations of Jesus, many times, is He’s going to solve all the problems.  I think sometimes if we expect only the exceptional, we will miss the miracles of everyday.  The kingdom that God has established has entered the life of each and every one of us in an everyday way.  I would even say in the mundane, because I think there’s many miracles in the mundane.

Kerry and I still don’t have kids.  God may still do some ‘Abraham and Sarah’ thing—that would be exceptional.  I’m not expecting it.  But if I camped in that, I would miss what God has done the last thirty years of our lives.  I’ve seen a miracle happening in my wife….and myself, but I think especially in Kerry.  Yes, we still grieve the fact that we don’t have kids.  We grieve the fact that we’ll never have grandkids.  But you know what?  It forces us to evaluate what our lives are going to be about.  As Kerry wrestled with that, she said, “Well, I want to pass on a legacy to kids.”  That revolutionized her teaching.  She became one of the best elementary school teachers I have ever seen.  I used to love to watch her working with the kids in her classroom.  She brought hope and structure and all kinds of wisdom into their lives.  I loved it!  I don’t know if that would have necessarily happened if we were totally focused on the kids we expected God to give us.  He had other plans for us.  People have told me I’ve got a lot of kids.  Ehh!  Kerry had 25 a year, I don’t know if I’ve had that many.  But I had to realize, I have been able to influence people, and for that, I’m grateful.  I think many times we expect that the Kingdom of God comes into this setting and is going to come in with exceptional power and is going to correct all the wrongs, and yet, we wrestle with the fact that I still struggle with anxiety.  I still have fears about the future.  I have friends who are still blind.  People who are getting older and won’t be raised from the dead.  That brings me to rest in the fact of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus said he ushered in.

There’s a theologian—I remember this from seminary—who said, “The Kingdom of God is here, it’s now, it’s already, but it’s not yet.”  By that he meant yes, the influence of the kingdom is here, but the fullness of the kingdom is not here yet.  I had a very good friend explain this—The kingdom influence is right here and now, but the day is going to come when the kingdom will have no more competition, and it will have all the freedom just to flow.  The power Jesus talked about is going to be so real.  The power’s here now, but we’re in a broken world.

Jesus goes on to say—Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.   A loose paraphrase may be—Blessed is the one who believes in me in spite of what he expected me to be like.  I don’t think He’s saying this word to John, necessarily.  It could be a challenge to John, but I think it’s a challenge to all that crowd that’s around Him.  What are you going to do with me?  I think it’s a challenge to all of us who are sitting here today.  What are we going to do with Jesus?

Jesus goes on to talk about John a little bit.  He says to this crowd, “What did you go out to hear when you went out in the wilderness?  Did you go out to see a blade of reed grass waving in the wind?”  (Matt. 11:7-11)  It was interesting reading about this reed grass.  Jesus was up in the Galilean area; I read that hillsides of reed grass are there in Galilee.  When the wind blows, they all go the same way.  They’re all blown by the wind.  It’s kind of like the picture of a teacher who’s teaching whatever’s popular at the moment; whatever’s going to tickle the ears of the people.  Did you go out into the wilderness to hear John just tickle your ears?  No, you didn’t.  It’s a rhetorical question.  Did you go out to see a man dressed in fine clothes?  Well, you didn’t find him, because he had camel  skin.  No, fine clothes are found in the royal palaces.  John’s in a royal palace but he’s in the dungeon of that palace.  No, you didn’t go there to see somebody with sophistication.  No.  Did you go to see a prophet?  Yes, and guess what?  We haven’t had a prophet in 400 years, and you went to hear the prophet that God has risen.  And he’s not a prophet like any other prophets.  He surpasses all the prophets.  John was the one who was coming to prepare the way for the Messiah.  John’s the one who’s coming to announce His coming.  John is unique.  John is the greatest of all prophets.  As far as men born of women, John is the best.

I believe, as I picture John in that dungeon, as I see him wrestling with the answer Jesus sent to him, as I see him going back to revisit that passage in Isaiah, I see him going down farther into that passage and he comes to this phrase:  And a highway will be there……but only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return.  They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.  Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. (Isaiah 35:8,10)  I read those verses and it’s so easy for me to say, oh, that’s something in the future.  But Jesus said no, the kingdom is now.  Those verses I’m reading are NOW!  We come to this place….singing….in God’s presence.  I love how Aaron leads us in worship, but that’s because of Jesus Christ.  He opened the way so we could worship in His presence.  We come with everlasting joy crowning our heads.  Did you know everyone of you that’s given your life to Jesus Christ is an eternal being right now?!  Yeah, you’re in a body that’s dying, some of us more so than others, but you’re an eternal being, everlasting joy is upon your head.  Gladness and joy will overtake, sorrow and sighing will flee away.  I know that we will have sorrow.  I know there are going to be days we sigh, but let me tell you, Jesus promises us it’s going to flee….eventually it’s going to go away.  There’s hope.  There’s joy.  Because of this man Jesus.  Blessed is the one who believes in me in spite of what he expected me to be like.

There’s one last thing Jesus said when he was talking to this crowd and that’s these words:  Whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he .   And Jesus just said John’s the greatest of any man that was born of women, but then he says he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John.  Yeah, the kingdom does not erase the problems, the issues, that we face, but I’ll tell you something, I believe very much that when John received that word, we know he wasn’t freed from prison, but I believe he was freed IN prison.  He was freed in a way that he could face whatever they threw at him….and that was execution.  I believe that the kingdom of God enters into our world and frees us within the circumstances we find ourselves.

That word ‘blessed’—Blessed is the man who does not stumble on account of me.  Makarios means it has the internal strength, that gladness, that joy, that circumstances can’t change, that we have for eternity crowning our heads with joy.  That takes me back to a verse that’s very popular right now, a verse that’s attributed to an angel talking to some shepherds on a hill  —-  Do not be afraid! I bring good news of great joy that will be for all people! (Luke 2:10)   It doesn’t mean you have to have your act together.  It doesn’t mean you have to have all your doubts and questions taken care of.  It doesn’t mean that you won’t have disappointments again.  It means that we will walk in the joy and the strength of knowing that Jesus is the one who has made the difference, and he asks us today, “What are you going to do with Me?”  Will I be your Savior, your Messiah or are you going to look for somebody else?  You know what?  John wrestled with that; I think it’s a good wrestle.

Let’s all stand and sing “Joy to the world the Lord has come.”  Jesus is here!  We’ve got an everlasting crown of glory on our heads.

Advent | Rejoice In Messiah | Matthew 11:2-11 | Week 32020-08-20T18:41:11-06:00

Advent | Wake Up to Hope | Matthew 24:36-44 | Week 1


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ADVENT: Wake Up to Hope   Matthew 24:36-44  Pastor Larry Boatright   (2nd Service)

{Manuscript–View video for complete content}   Hello, everyone.  My name is Larry Boatright, and I’m one of the pastors here. So glad to see you all!  Wow. That’s a festive passage of scripture, isn’t it! Sure puts me in the Christmas spirit.  I’ll concede that it’s a strange, ominous passage.  Who’s with me?  You might be wondering, “Uh, it’s December. We sang Christmas carols today. It’s Christmas time.  Why are we starting an Advent series with a passage that looks like the end of the world?” I’m so glad you’re wondering that too!

Now, maybe you grew up in a tradition that followed the church calendar.  I didn’t, but someone introduced me to it a number of years ago, and it had a massive impact on my formation.  The church calendar has been around for centuries, and the practice of following a specific text during a specific season has its roots deep in Old Testament history.  In fact, some scholars believe that Jesus, when He got up in the synagogue and read from the scroll of Isaiah, was reading the prescribed text of the day, which just so “happened” to be about Him!

It’s not just a logistical exercise, it’s a powerful tool for formation, because the church calendar immerses the church into the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  It slows us down from the chaos of life to actually journey with Jesus in an intimate way.  This passage is one of the four prescribed readings in what is called the Lectionary, which is sort of a Bible reading plan that follows the church calendar. What’s neat is that millions of Christians around the world are reading these exact same passages today!

The church calendar begins with Advent, which really is all about living in that space, not just looking towards Christmas.  It’s actually looking toward the return of Christ. The term literally means “arrival.”  It’s looking for the arrival.  We find ourselves sandwiched between that first arrival—the incarnation, which we’ll celebrate in a few weeks—but also the looking and the waiting for Jesus to come.  In fact,  Advent is the beginning of the Church year.  You didn’t know it was New Years, did you?  Turn to someone near you and say, “Happy New Year!”

After that, we move into Christmas, which, in just a few short weeks, we’ll honor and celebrate the incarnation of Jesus. Then we move from that into the season of Epiphany, which starts in January, and journeys through the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry on earth.  After that, churches historically follow Lent, which is a season of reflection, repentance, and groaning for the resurrection. And then Easter, which is that glorious celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, that event which causes us to have HOPE.  I was really excited about the Lectionary guiding our Advent journey this December. It’s my favorite time of year and I love getting back into that rhythm of observing the calendar.  I was really excited until I read the gospel passage I was supposed to be teaching on this week, and I thought, “Oh man, I don’t want to talk about THAT!”  Seriously, though, one of the things that I love about the Lectionary is that it forces us to engage even the difficult texts.  And I’d say this is one of those difficult texts.

So to get the gist of what’s going on here, let’s take a step back and get some context. Jesus had been teaching in and around Jerusalem, and He and His disciples were walking away from the temple, and His disciples asked Him what He thought of the temple buildings.  He started using this cryptic language, saying that everything they see (the temple and surrounding buildings) would be turned to rubble. And He didn’t really explain what He meant.  So it really bothered the disciples, and later, they come to Him and say this:  As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, they came to Him privately. The disciples said,  “We don’t understand your predictions. Tell us, when will these things happen: When will the temple be destroyed? What will be the sign that You are returning? How will we know that the end of the age is upon us?”

So they ask him a two-pronged question:  1. When will the temple be destroyed?  2. What will be the sign that you’re returning?  So verses 4-35 are Him basically talking about what the next era was going to be like.  Kind of like what the next season was going to be like; how to know the basic signs of the coming era.  But then he gets really specific in the verses we read today.  Because the disciples had basically asked, “When are you coming back, and how will we know exactly what day you’re coming back?”  Pretty easy stuff, right?

I have to be honest, this text is not an easy one.  Scholars have argued, for almost 2,000 years, what this text is all about.   Most of us read this and think it has something to do with the end of the world.  Throughout the years, the Church has wrestled with a number of different ways to interpret it.  Some think it’s metaphor.  Some think it’s talking about when Jesus returns to the earth.  Some interpret this to be talking about this thing called a rapture, where Jesus will snatch everyone who follows Him out of the earth, and everyone else has been left behind.  Sound familiar?

It’s a pretty popular theory, but the early church fathers didn’t believe that.  It didn’t come around until the 19th century.  It’s a pretty recent phenomenon.  Entire book series and movies and scary youth group films were generated from this way of looking at this text.  I remember watching a film when I was in youth group about “the Rapture” and when people were snatched out, their clothes were neatly folded.  I’m saying, their shoes were laid out, and their wallet and keys and jewelry were in there, and then their jeans were folded and their shirt was folded on top of that.  One guy was on a ladder and when his buddy turned to see what was going on, he saw the guy’s clothes neatly folded…ON THE LADDER!!

Culture has been fascinated with this approach.  Books have been written, t-shirts printed, and all that sort of stuff.  We shouldn’t really be surprised, because people have been fascinated by the “end of the world” since humans have been on the planet.  Even 2,000 years ago, people were fascinated with the end of time.  When Jesus said this stuff, his disciples were like, “Let’s go back to that. What’s it’s going to be like?”  People have all these different ideas what it looks like.  There’s a ton of speculation. For example, there was this guy in 44 A.D. who thought he was the messiah and would be ushering in the end of the world. And so he rallied 400 followers to go with him out into the desert.  Turns out, he was right. It was the end of the world for him, because the Roman Army showed up and wiped out him and his followers.  Or what about Harold Camping?  This is the guy who had a radio ministry and a few years ago was insistent that Jesus would come back on a certain date.  Spoiler Alert: Jesus didn’t come back on the day he predicted.  So he got back on the radio, and said he had “miscalculated” and was off by seven months, and to donate to his ministry.  Guess what?  Jesus didn’t come back seven months later.  I guess he should have bought a better calculator with the money people were donating.   And what’s crazy is people still follow some of these guys and their predictions!  Back in 2012, some researchers found that the Mayan calendar ran out in December.  Remember the uproar over this?  The calendar ended on a certain date in 2012, so people thought that must mean it’s the end of time.  Could it be that they just ran out of paper or stone or whatever it may have been?

But the thing is, people have gone to great lengths to find out when exactly Jesus was coming back so they can be ready.  They’ve made all kinds of flowcharts and spreadsheets and taught seminars and got ultra nerdy.  And so, back to the passage. We find ourselves here, nearly 2,000 years later, faced with the task of looking at a text like this and asking, “What in the world does this mean?”  “What in the world does it mean for us, today?”

But we can go back to what the disciples asked to find out what they had in mind when they were talking to Jesus.  The disciples said, “We don’t understand Your predictions. Tell us, when will these things happen: When will the temple be destroyed?  What will be the sign that You are returning? How will we know that the end of the age is upon us?  So the disciples were pretty unnerved by what Jesus said and saying, “We don’t understand everything you’ve said, and we want to know what’s going to happen someday, and we don’t know what it will look like or exactly when or…”  This is not too different than us, is it?  We like to have things figured out.  I like to know what’s next.   Have you ever sat with someone who is having a freak-out about something because they don’t know how to process it, and they don’t know what’s going to happen, and they worried about every possible doomsday scenario?  Do you ever want to just put your hand up and say, “Stop!” This is kind of what Jesus does here.  Jesus patiently listens to their question, and then uses a handful of word pictures to help them see something very important. He used a word picture like the days of Noah. People are going to be eating, drinking, carrying on.  Two women—They’re at a mill making corn meal or flour and one disappears. The two men are walking up a hill and one disappears.  We think of rapture as Jesus snatching us out, but a flood is bad.  Have you ever thought about that?  When you read about Noah and a flood came and took them away.  If we’re going to use that metaphor, it doesn’t make sense because the flood is bad.  The people that are taken away…it’s kind of confusing.

Jesus is basically trying to say that you’ll be doing ordinary, everyday, average things.  When you do those things, you should live with an awareness of Me.  You should be watching vigilantly for Me.  It sounds a little bit scary.  It’s a lot to try to figure out.  We try to figure it out and get so focused on HOW it’s going to happen. Like, what kind of cloud is Jesus going to be riding when he comes down?   Is this literal?  Will He be wearing a robe or a snuggie or what’s happening when Jesus comes back?  We dig into the Greek nuance of the words to try to predict something that will happen in the future. We want to know all there is to know about that thing that will happen in the future.

But I think the answer to this passage is pretty simple, really.  Jesus says something to His disciples that I think carries over to us today.  He basically says, “Don’t worry about when I’m coming back or exactly how I’ll do it.”  See, Jesus was aware of how we as humans like to have everything figured out and think through every little detail and obsess over the future.  So Jesus squashes all of that and cuts right through the mess and in verse 36 He tells us all that no one knows the day or the hour. After much study, prayer, and consulting with the very best commentaries, and after four years of seminary, and two master’s degrees in theology, we can deduce this from this passage:  Something WILL happen SOMEDAY.   I’ll say it again:  Something WILL happen SOMEDAY.  Aren’t you impressed?

But that’s not even what this text is all about.  Jesus is basically saying, “You’re missing the entire point. You’re so focused on this thing that you hope will happen someday that you’re missing being awake and ready to embrace the kingdom that’s bursting forth right now.”  Now THAT is extremely relevant to where we find ourselves at this point in history.  You see, for most of us, December is a crazy, busy month filled with parties, and shopping, and organizing things, and meetings, and on and on it goes.  And I don’t know about you, but sometimes I plow through this month and sing the songs and go to the parties and all of that, and think so much about what is to come that I miss the beauty of what is right in front of me.  Time with my kids.  Thinking about things other than me, me, me.  Or, as a pastor, I’m teaching a lot this month, and one of the things I’m afraid of is what if I get to the end of this month and I talked a lot ABOUT Jesus, but I didn’t really spend time WITH Jesus.

See, this has a lot more to do with how we live our lives right now, awaiting the Advent, than it does with what will happen someday.  Jesus wasn’t saying, “Nerds unite: let me give you some homework. Go research like crazy and tear my words apart.”  He’s saying, “Be a light in this season when darkness is trying push the light back. You are the light of the world.  BE the light as you go about your ordinary, average life.”  Jesus is saying it’s all too easy to be focused on stuff, and figuring things out, and worrying about someday, and that instead of being concerned about what’s going to happen 10 years from now or 50 years from now or 2,000 years from now, we should take the opportunity be watchful and awake right now.  Advent is about sitting in the tension of waiting for when He returns to make right all the things the enemy and the forces of darkness have made wrong.   It’s about going about our business with an increasing awareness of His presence in all aspects of our lives.  He wants us to wake up and experience life right now filled with hope, not filled with dread at what will happen at some undetermined point in the future. To work and to play, and to live and be married, and to eat and drink, and to sleep.  But to do it all with an awareness of Him, with a watchful eye toward the sacred— that really, everything is sacred.  And to move beyond that as we experience that unhurried pace of life this month.  As we experience the joy that comes from knowing that God’s got this.  As we experience the peace that can only come from Christ, that we can show an unbelieving, frenetic, anxious world what hope in Jesus and the peace of Christ look like.

It’s really interesting that this is where the church finds herself permanently planted in a season of waiting, in a season of  Advent.  Karl Barth, the Swiss theologian, wrote, “What other time of season can or will the Church ever have but that of Advent.”  He called it “the time in between.”  Basically, we’re stuck in Advent; we’re waiting.  We’re still longing.  We’re still groaning for the return of Christ.  That’s what Advent’s about, it’s not just buying presents for people and looking forward to singing Christmas carols.  It’s the awareness of the presence of Christ now and the longing for incarnational presence of Christ when He comes again.

Fear is big money in the culture we live in.  People use it to sell things, that use it to rally you to their political persuasion on either side of the aisle.  They use it to force you to move into some things, and that’s what the rapture movies attempted to do.  They didn’t produce lasting fruit, because fear doesn’t do that.  When we follow Jesus, we have peace.  Jesus invites us to step into Advent and live counter-culturally, going about our business and embracing this season with peace, joy, and hope, and extending that hope to others who desperately need it.  For most of us, this season isn’t like that at all.

A poll by the American Psychological Association showed that up to 69 percent of people are stressed by the feeling of having a “lack of time,” 69 percent are stressed by perceiving a “lack of money,” and 51 percent are stressed out about the “pressure to give or get gifts.” This stress often leads to symptoms like headaches, sleep disturbances, fatigue, exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, short temper, upset stomach, low job satisfaction and morale, aching muscles (including lower back pain), loss of appetite, changes in behavior while at work, and a decline in productivity and work performance.  That’s what a lot of people said they experienced this time of year.  I don’t think that’s what Advent is supposed to be about.

I also, realistically, know that December can be a pretty tough time for a lot of people. There are some people who are experiencing their first Christmas without a loved one.  This might be a Christmas where you lost your job and you struggle to provide for your kids. I think for all of us, not just in December, but in life things are tough sometimes and we find ourselves groaning and longing for Jesus to come back and make what is broken whole again.  That’s what Advent is all about.  It’s about being awake to the fact that all that stuff’s happening.  There may be fear or there may be hardship, or maybe just having our heads in the clouds waiting for someday, holed up in a cave waiting for Jesus to return and withdrawn for life.  But Advent is about being awake to what God is up to right now as we longingly wait for Him to do what He said he would do.  So, the bottom line of this passage is this:  Something will happen someday….but Jesus wants to meet us right now, in this season.

As I mentioned earlier, there are four readings, and I want to look at two of those because they’re designed to work together. I want to look at Romans 13:11-14 to sort of expand our idea of what Advent looks like and what this passage means.    And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.   This month invites us to lots of desires of the flesh.  This month invites us to fall in line with everybody else and to do what everybody else does, but this passage tells us to put on clothes of Christ, clothe yourself with Jesus.  Jesus was unhurried. He wasn’t worried.  Imagine if December was like that for you.  Who would be excited about a month that was unhurried and not worried?  I think all of us.  That’s what the Scriptures invite us to do, to live as awake people, filled with hope and not despair.

It goes on to tell us some harsh things there on how to live in the light of Christ.  Not to give over to the things, culturally, that are trying to entice us, but to put on the clothing of Christ in a way that honors Jesus.  And groaning with anticipation of the future return of Jesus, but filled with joy and hope today.  See, we don’t have to live as people who have no hope, do we? The resurrection happened then and it’s happening now.  That cycle of life, death, burial, and resurrection is still happening.  Here’s the thing, we get to live as people who live under the kingship of the King of kings, who will have the last word.

Let me tell you what that last word is.  This is from Isaiah 2:1-5 — The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s temple shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.  Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between the nations, and  arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.  O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

That’s a pretty beautiful picture of the end of the world.  We can trust that whenever it is, His plans are good and righteous and holy.  I look at the peace that this verse promises us, I get excited about and go, “Wait a second!”  If the King of kings is promising this and he’s got this under control, maybe I don’t have to live anxious today for what’s going to happen tomorrow, because He is the God of this world.  He owns this world.  He has all authority and power and all dominion over the forces of darkness.  Jesus, the light of Christ, is pushing back the darkness.  We don’t have to live in a month filled with darkness, because we live under the Sonship of the King of kings!     Paul writes in the Scripture from his letter to the Romans (13:12) — The night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Listen, this month you have to make a conscious decision.  You can go on about your business and be a zombie and just go through the month of December and go, “Wow, that was crazy.”  You can do that.  If we don’t stop and make a conscious decision to stay awake, mindful of the presence of Christ in every situation we’re in, Macy’s and Wal-Mart and Amazon’s Cyber Monday and all those things will keep us mindlessly walking through the Christmas Season.

I don’t want to just say all that and say, “Have a good day.”  I want to give you a couple practical things you can do to be mindful and awake, filled with hope and joy in this season.   Here’s the first one:  Engage in a contemplative practice for this whole month.  A contemplative practice is the type of practice where you just slow down and you just really try to connect with the presence of Christ.  When Advent first began in the 4th century, it was seen as a time of fasting and repentance.  Similar to how many traditions celebrate “Lent.”  The idea had to do with reflecting on the first incarnation of Christ and second coming of Christ.  But slowing ourselves  down and cultivating a mindfulness about Jesus and what Jesus is up to in this moment, being watchful and waiting for him.  It might be hard today to imagine fasting in the month of December.   But it could be helpful to put some kind of practice in place that helps you not jump from Thanksgiving to Christmas too quickly.  I’m talking about practices you’ve heard us talking a lot about like prayer, meditating on Scripture, solitude—getting away and getting quiet.  Those sorts of things help us reframe our vision.  Those help us escape our prewritten patterns of busyness in this season.  They help us to stay present to the invisible.  Have you ever thought about the fact that when Mary was pregnant and Jesus was in the womb, He was present, but He was invisible.  The whole month of December, Jesus is in the womb….He’s coming but He’s not quite there, but He’s present and with us in the moment.   Those kind of practices help us to look beyond what we can physically see and reflect on God showing up in everyday circumstances.

Just to be clear, I’m not asking you to become a monk.  I’m just saying pick one thing you can practice the next four weeks.  Maybe it’s….I’m going to try journaling three times a week.  Maybe it’s sitting in silence for 15 minutes a day.  Maybe it’s reading Scripture in the middle of your day.  Maybe it’s reading the lectionary readings for each day of the week.  I’m going to ask you to just pause for a moment and ask yourself this question:  What is one practice you can embrace in this season to disrupt your typical pattern and walk more closely with Jesus?  That’s why we meet and have church, not just to hear me talk, but so you can practice living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.

The second thing you can do to help you stay awake is to practice gratitude.  Facebook can be a real pain sometimes, but the one day it gets a bit redemptive is on Thanksgiving.  It’s fun to flip through newsfeed and read statuses.  Giving thanks for the past and present sets us up to be hopeful for the future.  So, its really important that we remember our past and give thanks for it and learn to pause and give thanks as the day goes on.  This is why we gather and reflect on what God has done through prayer and worship.  Practicing gratitude can become a habit that can redeem each moment as it comes.  It allows us to escape from our pattern of self-concern and fear.  When we are tempted to start complaining about overcrowded airport terminals, or bossy family members, or kids that don’t appreciate the line you waited in on Black Friday, what if we practiced gratitude in those moments?  It can jerk us back to the reality that everything we have is a gift.  Our God delights in giving us experiences with nature and relationships and blessing us with small and big things, but, most importantly, with His presence.

So, I want to encourage you to set up a pattern for yourself to give thanks.  You might want to set a reminder on your phone to say every morning at this time and every night at this time practice gratitude.  Just take 30 seconds and get quiet and then thank God.  Maybe you write the word “thanks” on a napkin and tape it to your dashboard.  Start a habit with your kids before meals where you share one thing you were thankful for in the day.  Or maybe post on Facebook or instagram what you’re grateful for and ask others to share what they are grateful for as well.

And finally, another thing you can do to help wake up and live awake:  Think beyond yourself.  We expend an extraordinary amount of energy this time of year asking ‘me’ questions, don’t we?  What party will I go to?  Which family will I spend the holidays with?  What do I want for Christmas?  What should I give so-and-so… and will I spend the appropriate amount of money on it?  What should I eat?  What should I cook?  Identifying with others can help disrupt this hurried cycle, slow down, and wake us up to the reality of what others are experiencing in this season. Maybe you serve dinner at a homeless shelter.  Maybe you find a family who has just gone through a job loss and is struggling financially; maybe you adopt them for Christmas.  Maybe you volunteer at the Christmas Shoppe, or the Christmas Marketplace, or the posada that’s coming up.  Maybe you open up your home to those neighbors that just moved across the street from you.  Maybe you give someone your old laptop.  Maybe you listen to Uncle Joe’s story again and actually LISTEN to it.  Maybe you just sit with someone and be present with them.

Advent invites us to live in that tension between the resurrection, the ascension of Christ, and Jesus’s returning again.  It’s the time when he brings true Shalom.  It invites us to live with a conscious awareness of him in this season—no matter what our circumstances are. Three ways we can do that this month:  1.  Engage in a contemplative practice that reminds us of the presence of God.   2. Practice gratitude.  3. Be present with others as we think beyond ourselves.

As we move towards a close, I want you to know that the One who created all things is with you. If this is a hard season for you, I want you to know I’m really sorry.  It’s hard for a lot of people.  I want you to know that Jesus is not content to let you languish in your pain forever.  Jesus meets you. In Advent, He is waiting with us. He is groaning with us.  He is ever-present in our time of need.  He meets with us in the good and the bad and He will return again.

One of the tools our team has put together to help in this season is to put a formation guide inside the bulletin.  Every week it will have the four passages of the week, so you can chew on those.   It’s going to have helpful questions that you can journal through, you can ask in your small group, you can meet someone for coffee and talk about those things.  It has some practices you can engage in.  My prayer is that God would be with us in this season, however we find ourselves engaging in it.  As it’s busy, as it’s crazy, that we would somehow be unhurried and would remember that Advent is coming, but Jesus is with us right now.  Awake to His presence in ordinary, average moments; knowing that Jesus meets us in every season of our lives.

The band is going to share a real beautiful song that embodies the spirit and the heart of Advent.  I’m going to ask you to lean in and pay attention and then we’ll celebrate the Lord’s Table together.

Advent | Wake Up to Hope | Matthew 24:36-44 | Week 12020-08-20T18:39:12-06:00

Expedition | A Season For Praise | Psalm 103 | Week 3


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EXPEDITION: A Season for Praise  Psalm 103  Dr. Scott Wenig  (2nd Service)

{Manuscript–View video for complete content}  Today we’re going to walk our way through Psalm 103. Before we look into this psalm and see what the Lord would teach us through it, I’m going to ask you to join your hearts together with me in prayer.  Father, a couple of moments ago, we sang about how good you are and you are so, so good to all of us.  So, Lord, today, I just ask that you would reveal that side of your character to us in the teaching.  Lord, as we continue to engage you and try to come to know you, I just pray you would pour out your mercy and your grace and your compassion on each of us.  Father, we probably all walked in here today with different things we’re processing through, different issues we’re struggling with, maybe even sins we’re tempted to commit, so, Lord, wherever we’re at, I just pray that you embrace us and love us and show us how much you care for us.  Now as we look into this psalm, Lord, we ask for your Spirit’s guidance, we ask that you might enlighten our minds, we ask that you might touch our hearts, we ask that you would show us who you are and what that means for us.  We pray all this in the great and powerful name of Jesus.  Amen.

Beginning this week, we’re entering into what our society labels ‘the most wonderful time of the year’.  And for many of us, this is a great time because we get to see family and friends, and eat some great food, and read some great books, and go the movies, and sing Christmas carols, and sleep in more than normal.  But for others here, it may not be so wonderful.  The reason why it’s not so much fun is because there’s pain from family dysfunction, or there’s the increasing cost of buying all those gifts, or we have to stand in the security line at DIA with thousands of our closest friends to board a plane which might be delayed at some point due to bad weather. And while the holiday season is really good for lots of us and not so good for others of us, it’s almost always the BUSIEST time of the year for ALL of us.  Regardless of who we are or how old we are, at one point or another we’re probably going to be shopping for presents at the mall or shopping on Amazon.  At some point, we’re going to be standing in line at King Soopers, or standing in line at Starbucks, or standing in line at Starbucks at King Soopers.  We’re going to be attending Christmas concerts and school concerts.  We’re going to be completing the semester.  We’re going to be wrapping up a big project at work before the end of the year, We’re going to be coming to church; we going to be sitting in traffic.  And that’s just in the first week of December.

The holiday season often reflects what the Red Queen said in the famous novel, Alice in Wonderland:  “Now, here you see, it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you’ll have to run at least twice as fast as that!”

And yet in the midst of all the busyness and the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, Scripture calls us to pause for a few moments here and there, to pause beyond Sunday morning, and then from the very deepest part of our being, praise our great God and Savior.  Look how Psalm 103:1 starts off:  Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Everyone of these psalms in the psalter has what we call a superscription.  It’s a little statement right underneath the number of the psalm and it usually ascribes the psalm to a particular author.  The superscription for Psalm 103 attributes it to David.  If you’ve ever read the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, you know that David was many things throughout the course of his life.  He was a son, a shepherd, a refugee for a large part of his life, a warrior, a politician, a friend, a husband, a father, a poet, a worship leader, and eventually he became Israel’s king.  Many scholars think David wrote this psalm when he was serving as Israel’s king.  I think it’s instructive that in the midst of all his various royal responsibilities, tasks, and duties, he pauses, he reflects, and he calls upon himself, from the deepest part of his being, to praise God.

What’s it mean to praise?  What exactly is that?  Praise is the verbal and emotional expression we give to something or someone that we heartily approve of.  If you’re a music lover, or a movie lover, or a sports fan, you understand what praise is all about.  If you really like a movie, you say, “That movie was fantastic!”   Or if you loved the music, you say, “Man, that concert was great!”  If you’re a sports fan and your team does something really, really well, you get up out of your chair and automatically go, “They were awesome!  That was fantastic!”

Well, that’s what David is expressing here in the psalm. In the midst of everything, as king, that he’s got going on, he’s pausing to say, “God, you’re my Savior, you’re my Lord, and from the deepest part of my soul I want to praise you!”  In fact, the word that’s used here for ‘praise,’ in Psalm 103:1—it’s also translated ‘bless’ in some versions—is the Hebrew word barak.  It means to humbly bow in the presence of someone who is unbelievably great.   Friends, Psalm 103 calls all of us to dedicate some time, some energy, some effort to praising God in the midst of the good times, the tough times, and the really, really busy times that are going to come our way here in the next few weeks.

The most famous Christian missionary of the 19th century was the Englishman, David Livingstone.  By all counts, Livingstone was a person of exceptional gifts, and he was utterly committed to taking the gospel to places and to people where they had never heard of Jesus.  So in 1866, he ventured deep into the African jungle and was not heard of for years; most thought that he had been killed or died of disease.  A few years later, in 1871, Morton Stanley stumbled on Livingstone coming out of the jungle, all emaciated and dehydrated. But the very first thing Livingstone said upon seeing Stanley was Psalm 103:1, “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name.”  

See, David comes to us here, friends, and he tells us that regardless of our circumstances, praise can be a core part of who we are, but like everything else in the Christian life, it has to be learned and practiced.  So King David wants to push us in that direction by giving us some very specific reasons to praise our great God.  The first comes to us in Psalm 103:2-5:  Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The first reason David tells you and me to praise God is because of the many, many, many benefits He’s bestowed upon us.  Let me walk through these one more time.   God is the One who forgives our sins. He heals our diseases. He redeems our life from the pit.  He crowns us with love and compassion.  He renews our youth by giving us good, good things.  I like the way the great 19th century preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, phrased this:  “Here David begins his list of blessings received which he rehearses as themes and arguments for praise. He selects a few of the choicest pearls from the basket of divine love, threads them on the string of memory and then hangs them on the neck of gratitude.”  I love that, because Spurgeon says in such an eloquent manner that God has blessed us with all of these benefits! 

I want us to pause here for a moment and do just a little bit of personal reflection. Is there one benefit in this list that applies to you more than any of the rest?  Let me rephrase the question:  I mean, we’re all the recipients of all of those benefits, but does one stand out in your mind as a special reason for YOU to praise this great God today?   For me, it’s that second phrase: heals your diseases.  In early December 2005, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. My mom had died about 15 years before that from cancer, and so I knew that if the Lord did not intervene the medical professionals would just buy me some time. But, by God’s grace, my two doctors had caught the cancer early, did a great job of diagnosis and surgery, and were used by the Lord to heal my disease.  Friends, our great and gracious God has blessed us with incredible benefits and even though we’re busy right now—and we’re all going to get a whole lot busier over the next four or five weeks—let’s do what David says here and take some time to pause, reflect, and praise our great God.

David says you should do that first of all because of his many benefits, but then he goes on to give us a second reason to pause and praise God. He says that the Lord deserves our praise because He forgives each and every one of our sins.  Look at verses 6-12:   The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.  He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel:  The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

The historical context that David is referencing here is that period of time in Israel’s history known as the Exodus.  God called Moses to be the human agent of His divine deliverance in bringing the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt.  Then they wandered for forty years in the desert, grumbling, and complaining, and sinning against the Lord who had miraculously delivered them and then provided for their needs.  Sometimes that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  Maybe sounds a little bit like us.  Praise and gratitude don’t come easily to humanity.  Praise of God is not our normal default mode.  I think that’s especially true for us as Americans, in spite of all our abundance, and our wealth, and our mobility.

In fact, in American society, if things don’t go too well, a lot of Americans have the tendency to grumble, to complain, to blame others, and then sue them.  I don’t know if you knew this, but a few years ago, the San Francisco Giants baseball team was sued for passing out Father’s Day gifts to ONLY men.  Not long after that, a psychology professor sued for sexual harassment because there was the presence of mistletoe at a Christmas party.  One I just read recently about:  A psychic was awarded almost a million dollars in damages when a doctor’s CT scan impaired her psychic abilities.  You have to wonder about that third one a little bit, don’t you?  If she was really a psychic, wouldn’t she had known she shouldn’t have gone to that doctor or gotten that CT scan in the first place?

Psalm 103 pushes back on all that negativity by calling us, as God’s people, to give Him praise.  In this section of the psalm, we’re to praise Him for his gracious forgiveness.  As David says in verse 10, “Listen, listen, listen, He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve, He forgives our iniquities,” and I love how he states it in verse 12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”  So let me ask you, how far, how far, how far is the east from the west?  That’s a wonderfully poetic way of illustrating that our God is never reluctant to forgive humble, penitent sinners.  I’d also like to suggest that this phrase, that David wrote around 1000 bc, points forward 1000 years to when Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross for our sins.  As the Apostle Paul would write in the fifth chapter of his great letter to those first Christians in Rome—God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The novel Sophie’s Choice was made into a movie back in the early 1980s. The film revolves around the main character, Sophie, who was placed in a German concentration camp along with her two children.  At one point the camp commandant comes to her and says, “Choose. Choose one of your children to live and one of them to die. And if you don’t choose, they’ll both die.”  And so Sophie is forced to make the most horrible decision that any human being, any parent, any mom, would ever have to make.  Choosing one of your children to live and the other child to die. 

Yet the Bible tells us that that’s the choice our heavenly Father was faced with.  On the one hand, He had His Son Jesus who was sinless, holy,  and perfect, and on the other hand He had each one of us who are by nature deeply sinful.  That was the choice our heavenly Father faced, and yet He chose us to live and Jesus to die! Friends, this God that is pictured for us in Psalm 103 is a God of gracious compassion who forgives every single one of our sins, and if only for that, we should pause, bow down, and praise Him every single day!

Listen, listen, listen, David comes to us here and says we should pause and praise God for his many benefits.  We should pause and praise God because of his gracious forgiveness.  But he doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to say that we should also praise God for His everlasting love.  Look at verses 13-18 of this psalm:  As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.  The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.  But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children—with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

As David makes crystal clear, we’re all frail and mortal creatures.  We come from the dust of the ground and someday, we’ll return to that.  We’re like grass or flowers that flourish in the summer, but now it’s November and they’re gone. The wind blows over our lives and before we know it, life is over.

I don’t know if you’ve ever come across this website:  Deathclock.com.  You type in your date of birth, gender, and your body mass index—they have a chart to figure it out.  Then you press a button that gives you the date of your death based on actuarial tables from insurance companies.  But the creepy thing is there’s a clock right in your face that’s counting down the seconds!

Friends, we’re mortal, frail creatures.  Some day we will return to dust.  That’s the bad news, but Psalm 103 doesn’t stop there.  It gives us the good news that God gives us His everlasting love.  David mentions God’s love in verse 4 and verse 8 and verse 11 of this psalm.  But I want us to look again at verse 17.  But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him.  The word that he uses here for love is the Hebrew word hesed.  Hesed means God’s covenant love with His people from eternity past all the way into eternity future.  The Apostle Paul was a great Jewish rabbi.  He knew the Old Testament by heart.  Certainly he had hesed in mind when he wrote that passage in Romans 8 — …neither height nor depth, nor angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, or anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Karl Barth is considered by many to be the greatest Christian theologian of the 20th century.  In 1919 he wrote a brilliant commentary on the Book of Romans that completely changed the nature and scope of biblical studies for the next sixty years.  Then in the 1930s he went on to write a massive four volume treatise of systematic theology known as Church Dogmatics.  On one occasion, after giving a lecture, someone asked Barth for the most profound theological insight he had gained through all his work and scholarship.  And Barth said, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  Friends, you might not believe this, but the truth is Jesus loves you and He loves me.  He is with us through thick and thin, good and bad, sickness and death.  Then, on that great day of His return, He’ll love us beyond what we can think or imagine by resurrecting us from the dead and giving us a glorified body that is not made of dust, that is not frail, that is not mortal, that can do all kinds of unbelievable things and is indestructible for all of eternity!  Friends, in this busy season of the year, David comes to us here in Psalm 103 and he tells us that we should praise God for His many benefits.  You should praise God for His gracious forgiveness.   You should praise God for His everlasting love.

As you read this psalm and you read all these reasons why we should praise God, it makes sense to think that David was ready to draw it to a close. But that’s not what happened.  It’s like that as he thought about how God has done all these things for us, and how great God is, and how we have all these reasons why we should praise Him, David got more inspired.  It looks like he got more emotional and more and more pumped up.  I imagine him sitting in his room in the early evening, and as he comes to this section of the psalm, he’s so wired he gets up and runs outside.  He looks up to the sky and it’s become dark and he sees all those stars—those million and million of stars and galaxies.  He calls on the entire cosmos to break out in praise of this great and glorious God.  Look what he says here in 19-22:  The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.  Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.  Praise the LORD, all his works everywhere in his dominion.  Praise the LORD, my soul.

In 1741, the great German composer George Frederick Handel composed what quickly became his most famous oratorio, “Handel’s Messiah.” Written in three parts, it follows the narrative of the New Testament from the birth of Jesus the Messiah, through His life, death, resurrection, and his ascension.  Handel also went on to include Jesus’s promised return to get us in glory. The high point of “Handel’s Messiah” is the famous “Hallelujah Chorus” which always brings audiences to their feet in a standing ovation.  These final four verses of Psalm 103 are David’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ to this great and awesome God that you and I get to serve.  David’s calling on everyone and everything in the universe, from the tiniest creature to the largest galaxy, including angels and heavenly hosts, to rise up and praise this great and glorious God who has given us so very much, and who sovereignly rules and reigns over all!

As Aaron and the team come up on stage, I want us to do the exact same thing that David is calling the cosmos to do. I want us to stand on our feet, in honor of this Old Testament version of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus,’ and then from the deepest part of who we are, let’s give praise to God for his many blessings, his gracious forgiveness, his everlasting love!

Expedition | A Season For Praise | Psalm 103 | Week 32020-08-20T18:37:43-06:00

Expedition | World’s Best Boss | Psalm 2 | Week 2


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EXPEDITION: World’s Best Boss   Psalm 2    Resident Amelia Schmidt    (1st)

{Manuscript–View video for complete content}  Hi! I just want to tell you about myself before I get started.   I grew up in a tiny town in South Dakota, moved to Minnesota to go to Crown College, and then moved here just over three years ago to attend Denver Seminary and pursue my Masters of Divinity.  In just under a month I will finally graduate! I started working here at South just four days after moving to Colorado and I’ve had the privilege of working with our middle and high school students here for the past three years, leading worship for them. I absolutely love our students and getting to be a part of their lives. Some other important things you should know about me is that I love pizza, ultimate Frisbee, and spending time with friends.

Another thing about me that a lot of people don’t know, is that I’m a pretty big nerd. Growing up, my family watched a lot of sci-fi movies and shows, and one of my favorites was Star Wars! Throughout this epic series, we see the story of a famous rebellion. The Rebel Alliance stood bravely against the evil Galactic Empire. They never backed down, despite the overwhelming odds stacked against them. They worked in secret for decades to overthrow the Emperor and restore democracy to the galaxy, which (spoiler alert) they finally did. The Rebels took down the Empire! Good won once again!

This story, and those like it, move us; good versus evil and the good guys winning! But what if it was evil rebelling against good? That’s not a story you hear very often, probably because it wouldn’t make much sense, because people don’t usually rebel against good things, right? I mean, if you go watch a movie where the bad guys were trying to defeat the good guys, and they won, it probably wouldn’t be a very good movie. It doesn’t seem right. Yet, as much as that doesn’t make sense, I realized that it happens all the time. Kids rebel against their parents who love them. People break rules that are meant to help them and keep them safe. And each and every one of us rebel against God. We sin. As much as we don’t want to, we still do it. We rebel against a God who deeply loves us and wants what’s best for us. We want to control our lives, be our own boss. And we lose sight of who God is.

We’re not the first ones to do this either. Ever since the beginning of humanity this has been an issue.  Psalm 2 starts off by talking about a rebellion, a rebellion against good, a rebellion against God. If you have your Bibles, open them to Psalm 2. It will also be on the screen.   Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.”  The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.  He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”  I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.  Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the end of the earth your possession.  You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”  Therefore, you kings, be wise;  be warned, you rulers of the earth.  Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.  Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment.  Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Psalm 2 begins by setting the scene with a rebellion. The nations are conspiring, people plotting, kings rising up, rulers banding together. It seems as though everyone is in on this revolution. Then, we see that they are all against the Lord and his anointed, which is the king, the king of Israel. The goal of rebellion was lordship. These earthly leaders wanted to be the ones in charge.

In verse 3, we hear the battle cry of the rebels, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” This was a metaphor of stubborn cattle or oxen that break and throw off their restraints in order to be free of the plow they were attached to. These earthly leaders saw the rule of God as something they were enslaved to, something oppressive, and something they needed to free themselves from. God was an opposing force, their enemy.

Throughout Scripture, there is this theme of rebellion against God, and things aren’t much different today. In our post-Christian culture it’s become normal to live in rebellion to God.   How do we do this?  Rebel against God? It might not be obvious. Maybe for you, it’s trying to control every area of your life – your finances, schedule, family, job – instead of surrendering it to God. Maybe, it’s just avoiding spending time with him overall, letting busyness, laziness, fear, or just life get in the way. I know I struggle with that.

One night in youth group, we were in small groups, and I asked a question, “How do you enjoy God?” Students were throwing out answers – sports, nature, music. And then I called on one student and I asked her, “How do you enjoy God?” and she just replied, “I’ve never thought about it. For most of my life, I’ve been afraid of God, so the idea of enjoying God is so foreign to me.” I don’t think she’s alone in that. There is this widespread view of God that he is a big scary God who will strike you down if you mess up or do anything wrong. If you think that, the idea of enjoying God would be crazy! If you have that view of God, I want to encourage you to listen up this morning and to be open to the idea that maybe you have an incomplete view of God. The one true God is all powerful, yes, but he is also full of love, compassion, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and so much more!

These rebels in Psalm 2 thought God was oppressive, they did not enjoy him, and they wanted nothing to do with him. They didn’t see him as good, and thought that they could get out from under his control by rebelling, but they would soon realize that wouldn’t work out very well.  In verses 4-6, we see God’s response to the rebellion of the nations, kings, and rulers.  The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”

The psalmist shows here that God has the full range of emotions, from laughter to anger, scoffing to wrath. God is laughing at the ridiculous idea of people trying to defeat him. God. The very one who gave them life, the one enthroned in heaven.

WRATH – What do you think of when you hear this word? How does it make you feel? Maybe a little uncomfortable, fearful, anxious? Let’s be honest, it sounds scary. God’s anger and wrath is something that we don’t often talk about. It’s not as fun to talk about as his love or mercy. It’s pretty ironic that I’m talking  about wrath and anger, because for those of you who know me, know that I never really get angry. I could probably count on one hand the times I’ve actually been angry in the past 5 years. But love, now love I can talk about! I love love, and I love loving people, and helping them, and encouraging them! So I prefer to talk about God’s love, and avoid his wrath and anger. But today, I’m gonna go there.

I want us to take a step back and look at what God’s wrath really means.  So many of us have this picture of an angry, scary, wrathful God, like my student had for most of her life.  I think God’s wrath is his response when things go against his design, his good plan. It’s the natural reaction to evil and sin, things that God didn’t intend for humanity, those created in his image. But, listen to this because it’s very important. The object of God’s wrath is not you, it’s not me, it’s not us. The object of God’s wrath is sin and evil. God is angry at sin, death, and evil, and what it does to his children whom he deeply loves. He hates when those things have a hold on our lives and isn’t going to just leave it alone. But some people experience God’s love as pain when they want to reject it. Going against the grain of God’s love can feel like wrath. It’s kind of like if you have a piece of wood. You can run your hand across it one way, and it feels pretty smooth. But then, if you go back the other way, against the grain, you might get a splinter. God’s wrath is the result of things going against his good plan, against his love.

I believe that one of the reasons we don’t talk about God’s wrath and anger is because there’s a stigma around anger in general, especially in the Christian culture. Ever since I was young, I viewed sadness, anger, fear, and other negative emotions as bad and things to avoid at all cost. I thought that a good Christian didn’t experience those emotions. So, even if I did ever feel those things, I wouldn’t dare let them out or express them in any way. However, earlier this year, I began to learn more about emotions. In a leadership class I took we read the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero, which is probably one of the best books I have ever read, so I’d encourage you to go read it too. I learned that emotions are not bad. They are a part of being human and we need to embrace them and let ourselves feel whatever feelings we’re feeling. There is no such thing as “bad” emotions. There are bad, or unhealthy, ways to deal with our emotions, but they are not bad in and of themselves. Emotions are a part of being human, made in the image of God. Scazerro says in his book, “To feel is to be human. To minimize or deny what we feel is a distortion of what it means to be image bearers of our personal God. . . . To cut them out of our spirituality is to slice off a part of our humanity.” If emotions are a part of being made in the image of God, that means that emotions are a part of who God is too. We cannot minimize God’s anger and wrath or expect him to only express his love and other “good” emotions; just like we can’t tell a person that they can’t be angry or sad, just happy. I told that to myself for most of my life, and let me tell you, it’s not healthy! God experiences the full range of emotions, and we should expect nothing less from him.

God’s anger and wrath here are a result of people rebelling against him, going against his good plan for them, going against the grain of his love. God’s response in verses 4-6 reveals the ignorance of these nations that are rebelling, as well as God’s sovereignty. God is the sovereign King. He is the supreme authority and all things are under his control.

One of my dad’s favorite shows is Star Trek, and in this show there is an alien group called the Borg, and when they encounter another alien race they intend to assimilate into their Borg collective, part of their standard message they say is “Resistance is futile.” God’s response to the nations’ rebellion here is an emphatic and resounding, “Resistance is futile.”

God installs his king and gives a decree, read by the king here, starts with the statement in verse 7, “You are my son; today I have become your father.” At the heart of this decree is the idea of adoption, sonship. God is the sovereign king, but his earthly representative was this Davidic king, this king of Israel.

Verse 9 then says, “You will break them with a rod of iron.” The word for break can also be translated as “rule.” The rod of iron, or iron scepter, is a symbol of rule and authority. It is the means of discipline and judgment. Another use of this verb is in shepherding. Shepherds rule with a staff by using it to fight off intruders and protect their flock. So, the king will rule over the nations with this rod of iron, expressing his God-given authority, enforcing and disciplining, as well as using it to protect and guide.

The next phrase is, “You will dash them to pieces like pottery.” Now, I thought about throwing this clay pot on the ground to help you visualize this, but I figured it might make too much of a mess. But, shattering a clay vessel, or piece of pottery, was a common symbol of destruction in the Ancient Near East. In Egypt, names were often written on pottery and then shattered, emphasizing the defeat and destruction of their enemies.

An iron rod is very strong, and pottery is very fragile. These metaphors reveal the difference between the power of the Davidic king and the fragility of the earthly rulers. It all comes down to the strength and power of God. For Davidic kings, their power and authority came from God and was exercised under God, unlike the earthly kings who try to rule out of their own power.

You may have heard in the past month or so that the famous music artist, Kanye West, became a Christian. He released a new album called, “Jesus is King.” Kanye recognized this truth, that God is king. Until recently, he was his own boss. He seemingly controlled everything in his life, he had fame, money, fans. He lived out of his own power. But that wasn’t enough for him. His life has changed drastically since becoming a Christian and accepting the fact that God is the sovereign king. Now, he lives and leads out of God’s power, not his own. How cool is that!

Psalm 2 is one of the psalms most frequently quoted and alluded to in the New Testament. That is because from the perspective of early Christianity, this was a messianic psalm, which means it’s a prophesy or expressing hope for a messiah, or savior. Without a king, the Israelites were left waiting and hoping for their messiah, a king who would come in and finally deliver them and rule over them once again. That king was Jesus, though he wasn’t the kind of king they expected. First of all, he came as a fragile, innocent, baby. Years later, after he had been teaching for a while, he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not on a big horse, as kings would normally do. A week later, Jesus was crowned, not with a crown of jewels, but a with a crown of thorns, and instead of being exalted on a throne, he was crucified, killed on a cross. This so called Messiah had just died and the Jewish people were back to square one, waiting again for their king to come.  But to death, Jesus declared, resistance is futile! Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead, defeating death once and for all. He showed that he not only rules over life, but he has power over death as well.  This new kingdom that Jesus ushered in was established in his death and resurrection and he is the king of this kingdom. Jesus is the fulfillment of this psalm. He is ultimately the one that the Lord installed as king on Zion, the Son of God. Unlike earthly kingdoms that are established in destruction, destroying other nations in order to grow, the Kingdom of God is established in love, humility, forgiveness, serving, and radical self-sacrifice.

Now in Psalm 2, these earthly leaders were trying to rule out of their own power, destroy other nations, rebel against God. God responded by announcing the installment of his king, his earthly representative, and also by showing that God is sovereign. So, how are these earthly leaders to respond to this? How are we to respond to this?  Well, following this decree of the king, we hear a warning to these rulers of the earth. Starting at verse 10, “Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.” Leaders are called to serve God. This service to God is not slavery though, there is freedom in serving God. However, serving does not come naturally to most leaders. It seems almost like a contradiction. Although, I would argue that the best leaders are those who serve the people they lead.

I tried to think of examples of this, and I really couldn’t find any better than the World’s Best Boss, Michael Scott! {Character from TV show “The Office.”}  Just kidding.  The perfect example of this, of servant leadership, is Jesus. One of my favorite pictures of his servant leadership is in John 13 when he washes his disciples’ feet. Feet can be pretty disgusting, especially when you’re walking around the desert with sandals on. I went to Israel last year and wore my Chacos basically every day, and let me tell you, my feet got pretty nasty! Normally a servant would wash everyone’s feet when they come into a house, but this time, Jesus, the King of Kings, humbled himself and washed his disciples feet.  Jesus, the true World’s Best Boss, showed how leaders are to serve.

The author here is saying that these leaders need to realize they are not on the top of the totem pole, that in the chain of command, God is at the top and they are to serve him. God is the sovereign King. Because God is the sovereign King, we should serve him.  Verse 11 says to “Serve the Lord with fear.” Fearing God, like wrath, is another thing we don’t often talk about, but all throughout Scripture, we are told to fear God. This fear is not just being scared or afraid of God. It is recognizing his authority and that he is all-powerful and sovereign, and responding with fear, awe, reverence, deep respect. God is so great and so holy and we must remember that. But he isn’t a tyrant or an evil dictator that we are to be afraid of. He is the sovereign, loving, holy, all-powerful, compassionate King. We are to fear God, stand in awe of who he is, and respond to him with reverence and deep respect.   Along with serving the Lord with fear, leaders are also called to celebrate his rule with trembling. These are parallel statements, reinforcing how these earthly leaders, and we, should respond to God’s rule. That fear and awe is combined with celebration and joy. Worship of God is characterized by both awe and joy, fear and celebration. These things are not exclusive, they are complementary. If you truly understand how good God is, your natural response would be worship.  We are not only called to serve God because he is the sovereign King, but because God is the sovereign King, we should fear him. The psalmist here is telling these earthly leaders that they are to recognize that God is King and live and lead in light of that reality—to serve him with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.

Even though we aren’t kings or queens, or presidents, or governors, we are all leaders, even if you don’t see yourself as a leader. We are leaders in our work places, church, families, friend groups, and whatever other places you find yourself in. This psalm should serve as a warning to us too.  Warnings aren’t necessarily bad, they can be very good things. We are not the boss. We report to a good, sovereign king who is much greater than us, one who we are to serve with fear, with awe and reverence. This is good news! God is the ruler of all things! If we truly believe that, how would that change the way we lead and live? Maybe it would mean bringing your plans, your hopes, your desires before God and seeing what he will do with them, instead of trying to make them happen out of your own power. Or maybe you would experience the freedom of knowing that everything is not dependent on you, or what you do or do not do. The pressure that we so often put on ourselves is not real. There is freedom knowing that God is in charge, he is in control, he is sovereign. We can surrender these areas that are causing so much anxiety and stress in our lives—wondering if you’ll be able to make your next rent payment, worrying about the choices your son or daughter are making, your desire for marriage or for children, or hoping you’ll get that promotion at work, or a part in the musical, or make it on the team. Part of that fear and reverence of God is conceding the need to control our lives. True freedom comes from acknowledging that God is good and sovereign. How would knowing that we serve a good, sovereign king, change the way we lead and live?

We are also told in verse 12 to “kiss his son.” This seems like an odd statement to us. But back then, kissing was a sign of honor and submission. With this call to submission, the psalmist warns the leaders of what will happen if they don’t submit and serve God. “Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment.” Now, this wording is important here. It says YOUR way will lead to YOUR destruction. It does not say, “Kiss his son, or he will be angry with you and he will lead you to destruction.” No, not at all! God knows what is best for humanity, and if they go against his good plan, they will be met with destruction, but it’s their own doing, not God’s. These earthly leaders’ ways are not as good as God’s way. It’s like a parent telling their child not to touch the stove or they’ll get burned. God knows what’s good and he wants to protect his children.

A few weeks ago, we took a group of forty-some students up to the mountains for our fall retreat. Over the weekend, we went through different passages in 1 Corinthians. The first night, Josh talked about 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Verse 6 says, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” When talking about this verse, he said, “Maybe love is not letting everyone do whatever they want.” This kind of love is tough love, it’s the kind of love that might sting in the moment, it might hurt, it might not be what a person wants, but it is done out of love, knowing what’s best for them in the end. I think that God was showing some tough love to the leaders of the earth here in the form of the warning to serve and submit or else they’ll have to face the consequences. He is addressing those who lead others, those who have influence on others’ lives. So often, we hear stories of people in positions of authority abusing their power, I mean just look at the #MeToo movement the past couple years. Leaders have authority, and God doesn’t want them to abuse their power. Here, we see that God confronts these leaders’ sin, their rebellion, in hopes that they will submit to him and have life, instead of death and destruction.

Now, you may have noticed that there’s one more sentence in verse 12. Psalm 2 concludes with this, “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” That’s a beautiful statement, but where in the world did it come from?! I feel like I get whiplash when I read this psalm. Rebellion, anger, wrath, warning, destruction, more anger, more wrath, blessed are all who take refuge in him. Wait, what? I thought about skipping the rest of the psalm and just preaching on this last sentence. But this sentence is an essential part of this psalm. Blessed are all, ALL, who take refuge in God. This directly contrasts those who rebel against God, who try to lead out of their own power and not serve and submit to God. Those people will have to face God’s wrath and anger. But all who serve God and submit to him will find refuge in him. They’ll find safety, protection, and provision in God. Because God is the sovereign King, we should find refuge in him.

In preparing for this sermon, I spent some time looking through adorable pictures of mama birds caring for their little baby birds. There were so many pictures of these baby birds just resting under their mothers’ wings. Under those wings, they found shelter, protection, warmth, love, and peace. The baby birds trusted their mothers as they rested under their wings. Just like a baby bird, we are to take refuge under God’s wings, we are to rest in his presence.

What would that look like for us? Maybe just spending some time simply sitting in his presence, or reading and meditating on Scripture, or worshiping him with music, going on a walk and enjoying his beautiful creation, or just telling him how we’re feeling. As we take refuge in God, we get to enjoy his presence. The more we sit with God and spend time in his presence, the more we learn from him. Whether it’s a few minutes, or a few hours a day, or once a week, let your time in God’s presence form and shape you. God wants us to spend time with him because he loves us. Imagine if we were a church who took this seriously. If we pursued God’s presence. What if people could just tell that we’ve been with him, by what we say and do, the way we live, the way we love? By living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  We are able to find our refuge in God because he is a good king. We are to fearfully serve the Lord as King and take refuge under his wings.

Last week we looked at Psalm 1. This psalm paints a picture of what it looks to delight in the Lord, in his law–they’ll be like a tree planted by streams of water. Psalm 2 reveals what happens when we choose our own way, and don’t submit to or serve God as king. The result is destruction and wrath. Which one is a picture of where you are today? Are you delighting in the Lord, taking refuge in him? Or are your own boss, trying to be in control? Where are you now? Where do you want to be? It’s your choice.

At the beginning of this year, I was coming out of a pretty rough season. One day, I was in a counseling session, talking about how I felt the need to be perfect in every area of my life, school, work, friendship. Friendship is a big one for me. I felt like I needed to be the perfect friend, which meant always being available, leaving my phone on at night in case anyone needed me, and loving people the best I could all the time, even at the expense of myself and my own needs. Then, my counselor asked, “Do you think someone would love you if you didn’t do anything for them?” To which I said, “No. I don’t know why anyone would love me if I didn’t do anything for them.” I was shocked when I heard those words come out of my mouth. I realized that this wasn’t just true in my friendships, but it was true of my relationship with God as well. Growing up as a pastor’s kid, I felt this pressure to be perfect, to do everything right. After a while though, I started to view God as king and I was his servant. This is true, but I don’t think I viewed God’s kingship as a loving leadership. My job was to serve him, and I did that really well; I was really good at doing things for God. Deep down, I thought that the more I did for him, the more God would love me, but let me tell you, that’s not the way God’s love works. We cannot earn his love. Even though I knew God was good and loving, I wasn’t fully living out of that reality. I didn’t know how to take refuge in God. I didn’t know how to sit in his presence and not DO anything. I struggled to believe that God loves me for who I am, not for what I do, but thankfully this past year, God has been reminding me again and again of that truth. God loves me for who I am and not what I do; and he loves you for who you are, not for what you do. We can take refuge in him, enjoy his presence, simply because he loves us, and we are his children. God is the sovereign King and we are able to trust him with our lives and rest knowing that God has it under control. Remember to both fearfully serve the Lord as King AND take refuge under his wings.  Let’s pray.

God, we praise you this morning for who you are.  God, we thank you that you are in control and that we get to serve a good, loving King.  God, I pray that you would help us this morning to take these truths and not only get them in our head, but God, I pray that you would move them to our hearts; that we would realize that you love us for who we are and not for what we do.  God, I pray that you would help us to rest in your presence this week.  God, help us to pursue you.  God, we love you so much.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Expedition | World’s Best Boss | Psalm 2 | Week 22020-08-19T15:49:37-06:00

Expedition | Blessed is the One… | Psalm 1 | Week 1


EXPEDITION: Blessed is the one…   Psalm 1   Dr. Scott Wenig   (1st)

{Manuscript–View video for complete content}  Glad to see you all here today.  We’re going to do a short series on some Psalms, the next three weeks.  This is going to build a pathway toward our time as we prepare ourselves for Advent.  This morning, we’re going to be looking at the very first of the Psalms, Psalm 1.  Before we look at the Word of God, I’m going to invite us to bow briefly in prayer.  Father, thanks so much for the privilege we have to worship you and to gather together.  Lord, today, we just want to surrender our lives to you.  Lord, you are a gracious and kind and compassionate God who loves us and is calling us into a deeper walk with you.  I pray now, as we look into your word, that you would use this time and this text to encourage and teach us.  We pray all of this in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

As many of you may know, the largest city in the U.S. is New York which has about 8 ½ million people.  But what you may not know is that there are approximately 10 million cats and 12 million dogs who also live there.  When your pet dies in New York City, you can’t just go out and bury it in the backyard since most of the city is concrete, so the city authorities passed an ordinance that they’ll come by, pick up your deceased pet, and dispose of it for $75.   Well, a few years back, a lady came up with an enterprising idea to make some money.  She advertised that she would dispose of your pet for only $35 dollars.  What she’d do is buy a $2 suitcase at the local Salvation Army thrift store.  She’d then go and pick up the dead animal and put it in the suitcase and then hop on the subway.  Now, if you’ve ever been on the subway in New York City you know it’s really, really crowded…..and theft is a huge problem.  So the lady would set down the suitcase, intentionally look away, and wait for someone to steal it, and then she’d cry out….‘Wait…stop…thief!’  The authorities finally caught on to her scheme, but what do you charge her with?  And what about the thieves? How did they react when they finally opened the stolen suitcase only to discover that it contained something they hadn’t planned on?

I’d like to suggest that the thieves who stole those suitcases function as a metaphor for a lot of people in our society.  They’ve grabbed onto something thinking it will provide them with happiness, significance and fulfillment only to discover that it’s not so.  We live in the greatest civilization the world has ever seen and is known the world over for its technology, its affluence, and its mobility.  Yet I’m not sure that a majority of our citizens would say they’re really satisfied with life.  I know some people would say that it’s simply not possible to find fulfillment, contentment and satisfaction in a world filled with so much brokenness, misery, and suffering.

But Scripture seems to suggest that despite the presence of pain in our broken and fallen world, it is possible to find fulfillment, to find satisfaction, but that takes focus, dedication and perseverance over the long haul of life. That’s what the Holy Spirit wants to teach us in Psalm 1.  Look at the first phrase—Blessed is the one…

Literally the word ‘blessed’ means ‘to be happy;’ in the original text it’s ashre.  But it doesn’t mean happy the way most Americans would define it.  I don’t want to over-generalize, but I think that in our culture we think of happiness in terms of bigger houses, nicer cars, more exclusive vacations, comfortable retirements and excellent health with a minimum of pains and problems, for this you can Check out to find the best supplements for this purpose.  But ashre is different than that:  it does not mean having a problem-free life or getting to do whatever we want, when we want with no hassles or headaches or heartbreaks.  Ashre literally means to be satisfied, to be whole, and to be blessed.  It could be mostly accurately described as having a sense success, a feeling of fulfillment.

I think all of us in this room have felt that way at certain points in our lives.  You probably felt that way when you worked really hard and finally completed a degree program at college or grad school.  Maybe you felt that way after you finished a long term project at work and it came off really, really well.  Maybe you felt that way after you did a long-term remodel of your home and it turned out exactly how you wanted.

Melanie and I have some friends and a couple of years back, they successfully launched their oldest son off to college.  They felt success, they felt fulfillment, so after they dropped him off, they went to a restaurant and then posted this picture on Facebook.    They entitled it “Heartbroken!”  Well, that’s the blessedness, friends, that the psalmist is describing here in Psalm 1; feeling complete, satisfied, and fulfilled. Men and women are intrinsically wired to seek that out.

The psalmist affirms that search; he says it is possible to find that but we have to do TWO things, the first of which he describes in the rest of verse 1 — Blessed is the one who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the path of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.   First of all, the psalmist tells us that what we need to do is boundary the bad.  We need to put up some guardrails in our life against the wrong kinds of influence.  When we were growing up, most of our parents rightly told us to be careful who we made friends with because those friends would influence us.  Well, the psalmist is pretty much doing the same thing.  He’s instructing us to be careful with who and what we let into our hearts and our minds and our lives.

To reinforce that, he describes a downward progression of bad influences.  It starts with the counsel of the wicked, and then it moves to the path of sinners, and then it ends up in the seat of mockers. Let me translate this for us and put it in the vernacular.  It begins with the UNDUE influence of ungodly information, which over time, if we allow that into our lives, leads to a series of immoral choices, which ultimately leads to the stubborn habits of opposing God and rejecting everything that His kingdom represents.  Now I think sometimes, in church world, it’s tempting for us here to think this downward progression only describes really nasty people like drug lords, dictators, or gang members.  But the psalmist is using these phrases, friends, to refer to ideas, people, and practices that reject God and oppose His truth. Collectively, I like to describe this and put it under the label of Practical Atheism.  It’s the belief and philosophy that life can be interpreted and then lived without any reference to God and the way He’s created reality.  In other words, God is just not part of the picture.

We all know that one of the most powerful forces in our lives and our culture today is the media.  It reaches all the way from Hollywood and New York to network TV to the information we download on our phones. There are exceptions to this so I don’t want to overstate it.  Generally speaking, friends, in our culture the media never lets God into the room.  I really like the show “Elementary.”  It’s basically a TV show about these detectives that solve murders; I like Sherlock and I like Joan and I like Captain Gregson and I like Marcus, but God is never, ever a part of their worldview.  He’s never, ever a part of their life.  God simply is never in the room.  While I like the show, I have to be careful to think that through.  What’s probably closest to reality in that show is that no one in that show ever smiles very much.  They don’t seem to be very joyful or fulfilled.  Maybe only for a brief moment when they catch a bad guy.

I know there are some folks who would argue that we should withdraw from the culture in order to avoid that kind of thinking and living.  But the psalmist doesn’t say we can structure our lives in such a way that we never encounter those kinds of people, practices and ideas; that wasn’t possible in ancient Israel, in the era of the early church, and it’s certainly not possible in 21st century America.  What the psalmist is telling you and me is that if we want to find fulfillment and satisfaction in life, the first thing we have to do is to boundary the bad.  The second thing though, and this is even more important, is we need to grab the good.  Look what he says here:  Blessed is the one (blessed is the man…blessed is the woman)….who delights in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

The word that’s used here in this context for ‘law’ originally meant all of the Old Testament scripture, from Genesis up to Malachi.  But from the perspective of the New Testament, we would need to interpret it as ALL of scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.  The psalmist is telling you and me that the blessed person—the person who finds success, the person who get fulfillment in life—is someone who takes this book—they LOVE this book, they READ this book, they STUDY and MEDITATE on this book.  In other words, the psalmist is saying that for the blessed person, God’s word and the study of God’s word and thinking about God’s word, is the foundation of their lives.  As the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16:  All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in right living so that the man and woman of God may be adequately equipped for every good work.

G.K. Chesterton was one of most articulate and thoughtful Christian writers in the first half of the 20th century.  On one occasion someone asked him, “If you were marooned on a desert island and could have only one book with you, what would you choose?”  Naturally, everyone thought that he would say the Bible, but he didn’t. Chesterton said that if he were marooned on a desert island the one book he would want is “Thomas’ Guide to Practical Ship Building”.  That makes sense, doesn’t it?  If we’re trapped on an island, we’d want a book that will help us get off the island. We don’t want to be entertained or just informed, we want a book that will show us how to be saved.

Friends, we have a fallen nature and we live in a fallen world, so we need a book that’s going to point us to the Savior, Jesus.  He’s the one who saves us.  We need a book then that tells us here’s how you want to live if you want fulfillment, if you want satisfaction, if you want some success in life. And that book’s the Bible.  If we delight in it, if we study it, and we meditate on it, over time it will change our lives because it points directly to our Savior, and shows how to live in a way that leads to satisfaction.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to make a couple of suggestions for us as we study the Scripture.  These are just suggestions, if they’re not helpful to you, you can disregard them.  Here’s what I’d like to suggest—when reading the Scriptures, first of all, do so at your best time. Some of us are morning people, some of us are evening people.  Some of us get our mojo from noon to one, whatever it might be.  Friends, I want to suggest that you find your best time of the day and take a little bit of time to read the Scripture during your best time.  I’m a morning person.  I need to read the Bible in the morning; if I try to read the Bible at night, I guarantee you I’m going to fall asleep, that’s not just a good time for me.  Find your best time.

Secondly, I’d like to suggest that as we read the Scriptures we go slower and we go deeper. I know some folks want to encourage us to read the whole Bible in a year and that works for some people.  Most of us, I’d like to suggest, are much better served by going slower and deeper.  I like the way 17th century writer Madame Guyon put it:  “If you read quickly it will benefit you little.  You will be like a bee that merely skims the surface of a flower.  Instead, in this new way of reading with prayer, you must become as the bee who penetrates into the depths of the flower.  You plunge deeply within to remove its deepest nectar.”

Friends, let’s pause here for a moment and let’s review.  In these first two verses the psalmist has argued that if we want to find fulfillment in life we need to boundary the bad and then grab the good.  He’s saying we need to guard against the influence of practical atheism and then build our lives on the Bible.  And yet, in all honesty, that approach strikes us—at least sometimes—as naïve at best and as untrue at worst.  Let’s be honest, we look around and see sports stars, music celebrities, hedge-fund managers and politicians, and they could give a rip about God.  They mock Jesus and yet they’re prospering like crazy.  On the other hand, there are thousands of our brothers and sisters around the world today who are suffering pain and persecution.  In fact, in your life right now, you may have a neighbor, or co-worker, or somebody you sit next to in school who wants nothing to do with God and yet they appear to be healthy, wealthy and happy.  And so, while we may not voice it in Churchworld, deep down we wonder if the psalmist was deluded or if he was living in some kind of spiritual bubble.

The reality is that sometimes God’s people do really suffer and the ungodly do prosper; you’ve seen that and so have I.  But over the long haul of life those results are almost always reversed and that’s why the psalmist tells us to build our lives on God’s Word.  Look what he says in verse 3:  That person (the person who builds their life on the Bible) is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.

The psalmist uses an agricultural metaphor to prove his point.  He says that the person who builds his or her life on Scripture will be like a tree planted by streams of water; it nourishes and refreshes their life.  He lived out in the Judean desert and it was completely dry there, so any kind of a stream of water was viewed as a source of life.  Any of us who live here in Denver realize that this is a high desert as well, so we love water.  You need water to nourish trees.  And sticking with the metaphor, you know that trees require lots of water and even with lots of water they always take TIME to grow.  And let’s remember that fruit trees—whether its oranges, peaches or apples—only bear fruit in their season.  Friends, the psalmist uses this picture to let us know that we will have a positive impact on our family, friends, and communities, and we will find fulfillment, success and satisfaction, but always, always, always takes time.

I think there’s another reason we tend to dismiss this kind of teaching, when it comes to the Scriptures, because we all live in a society with tons of technology and everything happens NOW!  Years ago, when I was in grad school, I worked part time for Dominos Pizza and that was when they promised 30-minute delivery. They even had an ad campaign that said, “We don’t sell pizza, we sell delivery!”  And if you’ve ever eaten Dominos pizza you know that’s true!  That was a long time ago.  Our society is far more fast-paced and impatient now than it was then.  Think about it, you order something from Amazon and it’s here in one day.  You go to Starbucks and it’s up for you in one minute.  You Google something and it’s…..NOW!

So, from the perspective of American culture, it’s hard for us to wait and see the Lord bring fruit into our lives, but my experience and observations over the years tells me that the Psalmist is right—it always takes time. One of the wisest, most productive people I ever met in my life is a woman in her late 80s in a senior care center.  She came from a hard background; never knew her mother who died when she was a little girl.  She was raised by her dad and uncle, in poverty.  She eventually climbed her way out and got her undergraduate degree and also a couple graduate degrees. She went into ministry and counseling.  She was one of the wisest people I’ve ever met. I asked her one time,  “How did you gain such wisdom?”  And she said, “I’ve been studying two things for over 40 years:  people and the Scripture, and when you study those two things for that long, you learn a lot.”

One of my mentors was raised in poverty.  His mom died when he was young. He tried to navigate life and it was challenging, but he eventually became known as a very great Bible scholar and preacher.  But along the way he had horrible charges against his character.  It was very wounding to him.  Before he died, just a couple years ago, he had literally blessed thousands and thousands and thousands of people through his ministry of teaching in the Scriptures.

Men and women like that are illustrations of what the psalmist describes here:  their leaf does not wither. That doesn’t mean that circumstances don’t affect them; they do—just like moving from summer to fall to winter affects the leaves on a tree.   Those leaves will fall off, but in the spring they always come back.  Those kind of men and women have built their lives on the Word of God and they’ve set up some guardrails against the bad influences.  There’s a sense of stability and satisfaction and peace in their lives because they know that the Lord is with them.

The psalmist goes on and says whatever they do prospers.  He’s NOT saying that if we just read the Bible we’ll eventually get rich. He’s not saying that at all.  What he’s saying is if we study the Scripture, and we think about the Scripture, and we meditate on the Scripture, and, by the grace of God, in time we will become the men and women He has called us to be.  Men and women who are filled with satisfaction, fulfilled with the life that God has called us to.

A while back I heard about man who was doing a road trip across the country.  He stopped in the middle of Kansas to stay with his friends overnight; his friends were farmers.   As they chatted over dinner, the visitor asked his farmer friends about their two sons, each of whom was serving in the U.S. Navy—one on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, the other on an intelligence gathering destroyer stationed in the South China Sea.  And the parents said both boys were doing really well and loved their lives in the Navy.  Upon hearing that, the man who was visiting asked this couple how it was possible to raise two sons in the middle of Kansas who now love serving on ships in the U.S. Navy, thousands of miles out at sea.  And the couple smiled, laughed and said, “We’ve asked ourselves that same question a thousand times.” Well, the next morning, at breakfast, the visitor said to his hosts, “You know last night when you said you weren’t sure how it was possible for you to raise two sons who left here to go to the Navy?  Well, I think I have a possible answer for you.”   He took them upstairs to the bedroom he had slept in, which years before had been bedroom of those two sons and which the parents pretty much had left as it was when the boys lived there.  As they walked in the room, the visitor pointed to the ceiling, which had this huge poster of a Navy battle group sailing at sea.  And then they walked in the bathroom, which had a poster from the movie “Top Gun” with an F-14 taking off from that aircraft carrier.  Almost the first thing those boys saw every morning and the last thing they saw before they went to sleep at night were the pictures of those Navy ships sailing out at sea and that F-14 launching off that carrier.  If every single day you see ships at sea, and think about ships at sea, and reflect on the ships at sea, over time, you may become a sailor.

If you think about the Scripture, and you meditate on the Scripture, and, by the grace of God, you try to live out the teachings of the Scripture, over a long period of time you might become a saint.  But that’s not true of those who go the other direction.  Over the long haul those who live a life of practical atheism end up in a bad place.  Look what the psalmist says here:  Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.  

Once again, the psalmist draws a picture from the agricultural setting he lived in. This is a reference to a threshing floor of a barn at harvest time.  In ancient Israel, the sheaves of grain were brought into the barn, laid on the floor, and a large wooden sled, like a big rolling pin, was rolled back and forth across the sheaves breaking open the grain.  Then the sheaves were tossed into the air by farmers with pitchforks and the grain fell to the floor.  And the wind caught the chaff of the remains of the empty stalks and blew them away like dust.  The psalmist wants you and me to know that people who leave God out the equation—who live lives of practical atheism—will become exactly like that. They were created to serve God, love Him, and help others, but they decided to serve themselves so over time, as life draws to a close, it becomes apparent that much of what they’ve done and accomplished is nothing more than a colossal waste of time and talent and treasure.  As the rock group Kansas sang years ago, “They’re just dust in the wind.”

Friends, you don’t have to be a drug addict, or a bum on Skid Row, or member of a drug cartel to waste your life. I’ve seen people, I’ve known people who were decent folks and had careers, raised families, and paid their bills, but God was never part of the equation.  When retirement came, they played golf, they played bridge, they played shuffleboard, and began to ask over and over, “Is this what life is all about?”  And the answer to that is NO, because someday judgment will come and all of us will be evaluated on whether or not we knew Jesus and what we did with what God entrusted to us, whether large or small. Those who lived lives of practical atheism will see their lives as chaff and that’s why they won’t, as the psalmist says here, stand in the judgment or in the assembly of the righteous, those who have been made righteous by Christ.

But those who have professed faith in Christ, trusted in His grace, and then built their lives on the Bible—they’re part that enormous crowd of righteous men, women, and children, who are happy, satisfied, and fulfilled. They’re visualized for us in the book of Revelation, and they will be filled with joy and wonder and satisfaction for all eternity.  See, if you want fulfillment NOW and you want heaven THEN, you need to trust the Incarnate Word of God, who is Jesus, and then build your life on the written Word of God, which is the Bible.

Now, neither Jesus nor the rest of Scripture ever promise that we’ll have an easy path.  They both tell us that our Heavenly Father will provide His Providential Protection as we build our lives on that foundation.  We see that in Psalm 1:6 —  For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction. The psalmist drives home the point he’s been making through this entire Psalm: there are two roads in life, two paths people take which over time lead to two very different destinations.  One road is built on the spiritual and moral independence of people who foolishly leave God out of the equation because think they’re the masters of their own fate, the captains of their ship, the shapers of their own destiny, but that’s a dead end road leads to destruction.  Jesus said the same thing.  But the other road is built on the love of Christ.  He’s the one who makes us righteous.  And it’s built on trying to live by His grace according to the truth of His Word.  The psalmist says if we do that the Lord, in His mercy, will watch over us who choose that path.  He will give us fulfillment and over time He will change us into the people that He’s called us to be.

Friends, I don’t know where you’re at today in terms of a personal relationship with Christ.  I don’t know where you’re at in terms of your own personal commitment to building your life on His Word, but I do know it’s never too late to move those directions. Today might be the day that you give your heart to Jesus and you submit to Jesus and you surrender everything to Jesus.  Or maybe, maybe, maybe you’ve known the Lord a long time and today the Holy Spirit is whispering to you, “Build your life on My Word, study My Word, commit yourself to becoming a meditator on My Word.”  Friends, if we do that, over time, Christ will be at work in our lives and we will be blessed!

Christian author and speaker Tony Campolo told about a friend of his who pastored a small church in downtown New York City back in the 1980s. The AIDS crisis had broken out and one day two young gay men showed up at this man’s church and asked him to lead a memorial service for a friend of theirs who had just died of AIDS.  So, they planned the service, which they wanted held at the graveside.  It was to have a couple of songs and a short homily and a prayer by the pastor.  When the day came there were about 25 gay men and some family members who attended.  After the service, almost everyone was crying, so the pastor asked, “Is there anything I can do to help you?”  One of the men said, “When I was little my mom took me to church and they always read Psalm 23.  Would you read that please?”  So he did.  After that another man said, “I know there’s a saying somewhere in the Bible about ‘nothing can separate us from the love of God.’ Would you read that?” So, the pastor read Romans 8:28-32.  And for the next half-hour the pastor read Scripture after Scripture after Scripture to them.  A few days later those two men showed up again at the pastor’s door and said they wanted to hear more about Jesus and His Word, so he started to meet with them every week to study the Scriptures.  Eventually they gave their lives to Jesus and, over time, they started to align their lives with His Word.  Friends, if you want fulfillment now and heaven then, we need to do the exact same thing those two men did. We need to give our lives to Jesus, and then we need to make a full heartfelt commitment to building our lives on His Word.

We’ve looked at the Word of God, now we’re going to participate in the Table of God.  Let me pray for us as we prepare ourselves to do that.  Holy Spirit, you know where we’re all at today; may you reach deep, deep, deep down into our hearts and our lives.  Draw us close to you because you love us so much.  Help us to understand and know and experience that.  We pray that in Jesus’s name.  Amen.

Expedition | Blessed is the One… | Psalm 1 | Week 12020-08-20T18:36:32-06:00

TRANSFORMED | Transformed: Families | Matthew 5:3-12 | Week 9


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TRANSFORMED: Families    Guest Speaker Mark Scandrette    (1st Service)

{Guest Mark (Lisa) Scandrette from San Francisco.} Lisa and I work with an organization we co-founded twenty years ago called ReImagine.  It’s inspired by Jesus’s message of the kingdom.  Basically, we’re very passionate about helping people integrate the teachings of Christ into everyday life.  Our work started in San Francisco, but over the last few years it’s taken a global turn.  I spend time each year in the U.K., Australia, Bangladesh, and East Africa; I’ll be headed to Scandinavia tomorrow.  When I got here this weekend, I realized there’s a lot in common with South Fellowship’s language and some of my passions; I wrote a book called Practicing the Way of Jesus. Maybe this is what’s brewing right now, this longing among God’s people to say we want to not just believe in Jesus, but also walk in his way.  Some of what I’m going to be sharing this morning comes from a couple of books I wrote that are available here today.  

Yesterday we got to spend time with moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, and kids talking about family thriving and exploring that topic.  We had an amazing time sharing hearts and doing activities and looking at God’s vision on how we can be transformed in our family life.  What I’m going to be sharing this morning is a little taste of the depth we explored yesterday.  

Let me just say before we go on, when we think about transformed families, I want you to have in mind the various kinds of family relationships that you’ve experienced.  Think about the family of origin, the family you were born into or the people you grew up with.  You might think about the family you helped create or have been a part of.  You also may want to think about the broader picture of what family and community looks like, including your faith family relationships as well. 

I find, when you bring up the topic of family at a dinner party or in a conversation, it often stirs up a couple of almost contradictory emotions.  For some of us, when we think about our family and community and church, there’s these warm feelings of closeness, this reminiscence about cherished times in the past, and hopefully, even if that wasn’t your family experience, you can look back and find a few instances where you felt that goodness of being close with other human beings.  The other thing that often comes up is some more difficult emotions about family relationships being a bit more conflicted and complicated; also, church relationships that feel the same way, where wow! I’m connected to these people but they don’t always make me feel good, I don’t always feel close, so we feel the pain and disappointment in what we hoped for in family.  Maybe all of us, to some extent, have experienced trauma in our closest relationships, that in order to really thrive in our walk with God and our flourishing and connections with others, we need to work through and process.  

I also want to put a context out there and say that our culture tends to create idols around family.  For thousand of years, human beings have said, “Family first,” and put the people that they’re related to, by blood and marriage, over the needs of others.  MY tribe, MY family, MY people, and if you’re not one of us, you’re over there.  We can take your land, we can misuse you, it’s only us first.  One interesting cultural example of this is “Breaking Bad.”  One of the characters in this series is called Walter White, a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher, who finds out he has cancer.  He wants to take care of his family, but he gets a taste of some excitement and power and he ends up becoming a methamphetamine kingpin.  He keeps this from his wife and his children, but at a certain point, his wife becomes aware of something sinister going on and confronts him about it.  He, in their argument about this, says, “Whatever I did, I did for the family.”  It was sort of a mic-drop moment.  Like, if you say you’re doing it for your family, you can kill people, do illegal activities, ignore them, be emotionally absent, because you’re a provider.  I hope you’re hearing, along with me, that the gospel invites us into something more whole and good than these less-than versions of tribalism that can sometimes happen in our culture about family.  

The Bible has some interesting things to say about family.  Quick survey of what we see as examples of family life in Scripture.  Let’s start with the first family mentioned.  Adam and Eve whose first two children were Cain and Able.  One of their sons killed the other son.  So if no siblings in your family have killed each other, you are part of a healthier family than the first family on planet earth.  I hope that’s encouraging to you.  We go on to Abraham’s family.  As he’s traveling, his wife is very beautiful and he’s afraid the rulers of the places they visit might steal his wife from him, so he tells them all, “This is my sister.”  I’m pretty sure Abraham spent a lot of time sleeping on the couch after doing those things.  His sons learned the same habits.  We get to King David’s family; one of his sons rapes his sister.  Another one of his sons kills the brother who raped the sister.  Even Jesus had struggles in his family of origin.  What I get from this is that Scripture is realistic about the pain that we can experience in our closest relationships.  

I hope to convince you this morning that Scripture is also hopeful about the possibilities.  With the coming of the Messiah and Jesus’s announcement of the kingdom, it invites the possibility that there’s a whole new way of being a human being.  Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation, so we can expect that as we journey further into the way of Jesus we can see healing and wholeness come to our family and community relationships.  There’s even a prophecy about this in the book of Malachi, where it says when Elijah returns and Messiah comes, he will turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of children to their parents. (Malachi 4:6) 

I want to focus on one portion of Scripture this morning that probably is what we know most about Jesus and his relationship with his family.  Jesus is doing his ministry with his disciples.  He’s healing and he’s teaching.  His mother and brothers show up and think Jesus has lost his mind; He’s not even stopping to eat because his life is so full. It says — When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21)  So if you’ve ever been misunderstood by people in your family, you’re in good company with Jesus.  It’s not only that, but Jesus’s faith community also thought he’d gone crazy and even said he was demon possessed.  And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” (Mark 3:22)  So when Jesus’ mother and brothers show up, someone comes to Jesus and whispers to him, “Your mother and brothers are here.”  Jesus stops and looks around and says—“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.  Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35)  

So Jesus, in a sense, is redefining what family is.  It’s not just the people we are related to by blood or by marriage or ancestry.  He’s inviting us into the new family of the kingdom of God, and that’s why I love it.  Sometimes, in faith culture, when we greet someone we say, “Hey, brother, how’s it going today?”  “Hey, sister, good morning!”  That’s a reminder to us that we have become part of a new family together.  

At the same time Jesus was redefining family, he didn’t say, “Well, forget about it.  I don’t have to care about those people I’m related to by blood anymore.”  The picture we get of this comes from John 19:25-27, where Jesus is up on the cross and about to give his life out of love for all of us.  He looks down and as the oldest son it’s his responsibility, in this culture, to care for his aging mother.  Apparently that family had some trauma because after the time Jesus is twelve, Joseph isn’t mentioned again, so maybe he wasn’t part of the picture anymore.  Jesus looks down and thinks, “I’m not going to be able to care for my aging mother.”   So he looks to his friend John and essentially says, “John, take care of my mom.”  Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”  From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.  

One thing I like to say about all this is whatever your family and community experience has been, up to this point, it’s not the end of the story.  We have a lifetime to work out our relationships with those we’re related to and those we love, and seek God’s healing and wholeness in those relationships.  Over and over and again I like collecting stories of people who started out with pretty painful family experiences.  One of the people we wrote about in our book, Belonging & Becoming, is a friend of ours that we met when she was 11 years old.  She was part of a family that was low income and had a lot of struggle from generational abuse and poverty.  When she was thirteen, her father physically assaulted her.  As a result, she and her siblings were removed from the home.  That was her story about family.  In her mid-thirties, as she was raising two children of her own who were on the Autism Spectrum, her father got into recovery, reconnected in his relationship with God.  She said, “My father has become my primary spiritual and emotional support.  He’s becoming the father that I never had.”  I love that no matter what our experience has been we can hope for and work towards seeing newness come in our family and community relationships.

There’s a wonderful text from the Psalms about family (Ps. 68:6) that says — God sets the lonely in families.  I had a friend who said one time, “I really celebrate my framily.”  I said, “Wait, what are you talking about?”  She said, “I’m talking about friends who are like family.”  Maybe that’s another way of talking about the new community of the family of God that we’re all a part of.  Often when I travel and listen to people talking about their questions of relationship, I hear some interesting things.  From a community like this, I hear a single person, or a widowed person, or a divorced person say, “I feel on the outside of what’s happening in the community.”  It seems like everybody else has relationships and somebody to go have lunch with.  I think we can do a better job, in our faith communities, in recognizing the variety of life experiences that people have.  Each person in this community should have a place to go on holidays, for meals, and for community, to learn to create that new kind of family together.    I’ve had people who are older than me who have been like mothers and fathers to me and I’m very grateful for that.  They were able to care for me in ways my family of origin wasn’t able to care for me.  So if you’re an older person in this congregation, you might look around and see if there is someone who might benefit from a positive parental experience if they did not have one.  The irony is if you talk to family people—married people or people with children—in a faith community, they will say, “I also feel lonely.  I remember a time before children when I could get together with others for coffee or small groups.  I have no bandwidth for that anymore.”  Maybe we can have empathy to say that every person in this room has a longing for connection, so how can we reach out to each other?  Part of that is putting yourself out, instead of saying, “Why aren’t people being more friendly with me?”  That’s not a good posture to start from.  Proverbs tells us if you want a friend, be a friend.  Be open-hearted with other people in this community, express your need.  

Anybody ever gotten a picture like this?  {Child’s drawing of herself and dad with “I love yous” on it.} I get them from nieces and nephews and little boys who are my neighbors.  Kids are trying to figure out who they are connected to in life.  I want to give you a definition of what I think a thriving community and family might be—A thriving, transformed family or community is a place of belonging and becoming, where each person feels safe, cared for and loved, and supported to develop who they are for the good of the world.  What I want to note is the kind of inward-outward trajectory of this.  Each of us as human beings need spaces where we feel safe, cared for, and loved, and we can be that for one another.  But it doesn’t end there.  We long for that and as we experience it, it empowers us to not be selfish about it, to not be inward looking, but to say instead how can I seek the thriving of all families and people on earth, so it’s not just about me and mine.  This is the invitation of the gospel, that we’re being invited into the healing and restoring work that Jesus called the kingdom of God, to see the renewal of all things.  That’s an exciting thing for us to be a part of together.

I think Jesus has the way for us to experience that kind of transformed relationship that we long for.  I love how the Apostle Paul says it in Eugene Peterson’s The Message — Parents, don’t frustrate your kids, but take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.  Jesus has a way of life for us that I think the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount give us a picture of those life-giving ways that will transform us.  It’s a little known fact that somebody by the name of Mahatma Gandhi, who led a very important liberation movement in South Africa and his home country of India.  He didn’t identify as a Christian, but every morning he read the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount.  A missionary to India (E. Stanley Jones), who was friends with Mahatma Gandhi, made this comment and said, “A little man in a loin cloth in India picks out from the Sermon on the Mount one of its central principles, applies it as a method for gaining human freedom, and the world, challenged and charmed, bends over to catch the significance of that sight.  It is a portent of what would happen if we would take the whole of the Sermon on the Mount and apply it to the whole of life.  It would renew our Christianity; it would renew our world.”  In other words, if a person who doesn’t even identify as a Christian would pay attention to what Jesus said, imagine what would happen if those of us who have said, “We want to follow your way,” would take Him as seriously, and what that would do to transform our families, our communities, and our world.

This morning, I want to point you towards three things from the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount that might help us practice to follow the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  The first one is “blessed are the merciful.”  {Mark Scandrette takes a moment to explain that there will be some standing and interaction during this part and asks that the congregation takes a bit of a risk.  The interaction/engagement helps to remember the message and carry its teaching with us.}  Mercy is not our default position in our relationships.  We have this instinct when we look at other people to look with eyes of judging.  I want you to put your hand up like this {shows fingers measuring something}.  Is that a good person or a bad person?  Am I a good boy or a bad boy?  Who’s doing what’s right and who’s agreeing with what I think?   Our minds are fixed and some would say it’s how we develop a moral compass—making assessments and judgments about people.  I want you to take a minute and scan the room in this posture of judging.  Measuring other people.  It might be necessary to do this, but it becomes toxic, so I want you to slap down your hand.  Sermon on the Mount says, “Stop judging.  With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  So the heart transformation the gospel invites us into is instead of looking with eyes of judgment, we switch to eyes of compassion.  

I’m going to ask you to stand up and make the shape of a heart with your hands.  I want to remind you that when the Creator of the universe looks at you, He’s not measuring or judging you.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.  Your Creator sees the truest thing about you.  The truest thing about you is not that you failed, not that you’re a sinner, but that you are beloved.  We often need help to remember this.  I want you to find someone, make the shape of a heart, and look them in the eyes and remember who you’re looking at.  I am looking at someone who is made in God’s image.  Formed fearfully and preciously in their mother’s womb.  The one who the Creator of the universe calls beloved.  Maybe think in your mind, “Child of God, may you be well.”  Pay attention to what it feels like in your heart, to look at that person with eyes of compassion.  Pay attention to what it feels like in your heart knowing that this person is looking at you thinking you’re beloved, acknowledging that.  Let that sink in.  You’re a beloved child of God.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.  Okay, you can put your hands down, and if you need to hug it out.  

We got a taste of the heart of Jesus there and if we’re going to see transformation happen in our closest relationships, we need to look at one another with that heart.  Most of us have been hurt by people in our lives and it can be very difficult when we think of them or when we’re with them, to see them in that same way that we were trying to experience there.  It came as a surprise to me that the people who have hurt me most have identified as Christians, for one thing, and they’ve often been the people who I’ve been closest to, who I’ve trusted and thought would treat me better.  My first reaction when I feel that ‘why didn’t you love me?’ ‘why did you say that to me?’ ‘why did you treat me like that?’ the rage and resentment come up.  One of our great tasks in our growth and development is to develop compassion towards your parents, siblings, ex-spouse, children, people in your faith community who’ve misunderstood or hurt you, and move from that eye of judgment to a heart of compassion towards them.  

You may have heard this before—I find it really speaks the truth about things—resentment is like drinking poison and hoping somebody else gets sick and dies.  It exhausts our bodies.  It wears us out.  It steals our joy.  One of the ways of Jesus that will help us experience more satisfaction in our relationships is if we can work through that process of letting go.

Earlier this year, I was in aboriginal Australia, way up in a very arid, dry area.  I got to be with an aboriginal church family and we spent a Sunday reflecting on the way of compassion from the gospel.  At the end of the gathering, people in that community who were related by blood and had been in church together for many years, felt conviction, felt invited, and said, “I’ve got to make things right,” and they got up and walked across the room, with tears streaming down their cheeks and said, “I’ve been wrong all these years” or “I’ve been holding resentment towards you.  Will you forgive me?”  They reconciled with each other and saw some healing happen.  Maybe today there is someone you are the process of letting go of or maybe you’ve wronged somebody and it would be powerful for you to go to them and say, “I want to apologize for the ways I wasn’t helpful to you or I was hurtful in your life.”  It takes a lot of courage but you can be part of their healing by doing that.  I’ve done it with my children and my wife, because I could look back and say, “I didn’t love you in the way you deserve to be loved and I want to name that and I don’t want that to be between us anymore.”  Is this making sense?  So practicing letting go.  

Where are you in the process of understanding and forgiving parents, siblings, exes, and others for their mistakes and limitations?  I’m convinced that our parents did the best they could to love us, but they had limits and they had wounds that affected their ability to be present to us, so it’s powerful to let go.  Two things that have helped me with this—one is the kind of speech I practice.  I realize that at times I practice resentment by how I talk.  If I make a commitment to practice positive speech, it makes it easier to let go of resentment.  Second thing is I pray for the person I feel resentment towards.  If I’m struggling with that….if their name comes up in conversation, if I see a picture of them and I start to feel that tightening, then I tell myself to pray for them the next seven days.  I can’t pray for their good and be resentful at the same time.  

A second thing from the Beatitudes that helps us with being transformed in our relationships is where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness or justice.”  The reason I put up this slide is I think often when we look at the injustice in our world and the struggles in our own lives the default tendency is to go, “The world can’t be any different than it is.  It’s really broken and corrupt and I’m broken and corrupt and I can’t be any different than I am.”  We throw our hands up in the air and we conveniently pick Scriptures that justify this.  The world’s going to get worse.  I’m just a miserable sinner.   This is not an accurate telling of what Scripture says about you and I.  Psalm 8:5 says you were made a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned with glory and honor.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said YOU are the light of the world.  We are powerful beings who shape the world by our choices.  We’re not helpless and we’re not hopeless and we’re not trying to do this alone.  The power of the resurrection is available to us and part of our journey is learning to live and access that power and cooperate with what God’s trying to do in us.

Years ago, there was a stranger that used to come to my apartment in San Francisco, walk right in the door without even knocking and start being mean to my family.  Pick up that backpack!  Why are these dishes here? What are you doing?  You’re suppose to be doing your homework right now!    My family, all of us, would be like, “Who is this stranger? Why do they think they can come into our house and wreck the vibe like this?”  It happened enough that my kids nicknamed the stranger “Crabby Dad.”  I’m Crabby Dad, I’m the stranger.  I would get like this…..just furious, raging.  Even in the moment I didn’t want to be like that.  I would shout, “Serenity now!”  God, I don’t want to be like this.  Help me to be a loving spouse and parent.  My prayer was never immediately or magically answered.  I was disappointed.  Around that time, I was spending a lot of time with somebody named Dallas Willard, who has written a lot on how does transformation happen.  What he suggested was that we sometimes get caught in an ‘all or nothing’ way of thinking about our transformation.  That it’s all God and we’re just sitting back going, “God, make me a loving parent and partner.  I can’t do it because I’m helpless and hopeless,” and just wait for it to come.  Scripture says in Philippians—Continue to work out your salvation because it’s God who works in you to will and to act according to God’s good purpose.  (Phil. 2:12-13)  

I was in a group where we were working on our struggles and the question was “Where do you feel stuck? What are you responsible for that’s causing pain in your relationships?”  For me, it’s Crabby Dad.  The group asked, “What could you do to surrender your mind and your body back to God,” according to Romans 12:1-2, which is the theme verse for this series, so that you can experience the wholeness and transformation that God desires for you?  I had to look back through my life to discover when Crabby Dad shows up.  I realized it’s not an accident.  Dallas Willard would say, “You’ve trained your whole life to become the kind of person you are.”  You’ve planned and practiced for the life that you have.  You’ve rehearsed thoughts—maybe false thoughts, maybe distorted thoughts—and you’ve developed habits in your body and your brain and the basal ganglia remembered those things.  I looked back and asked, “What are the choices I’m making in the two weeks before Crabby Dad shows up?”  On reflection I realized that it’s when Mark Scandrette works too many hours a day, too many days a week, doesn’t take a Sabbath.  He gets into this pattern out of that fatigue where at the end of the day he’s exhausted so he needs some salty snacks, he needs some sugar, he needs to veg out for a while so he stays up late binge watching something. He doesn’t get up on time to spend time with God or exercise.  He fuels on coffee and sugar all day.  Pretty soon, if Mark Scandrette does that long enough, he is going to go into rage and impatience.  Why is he working all the time?  What’s driving him?  A false belief and thinking that says, “You’re only significant because of what you can earn or achieve.”  I realized that if I didn’t want to be Crabby Dad anymore, if I wanted to cooperate with God’s work in me, that I would need to develop some new habits of thought and some new habits of body.  So I made a commitment to get up every day and go for a walk and remind myself, “I’m God’s child.  He loves me.  God is pleased with me so I don’t have to run around to prove myself to the world.”  Then I made a commitment to lower caffeine, lower sugar, and a commitment to exercise, and to take a Sabbath day.  Gradually, but dramatically, Crabby Dad stopped showing up in our house.  In fact, my kids were like, “We haven’t seen that guy in a long time.  We don’t miss him, but it’s cool that he’s not here anymore.”  I involved my family in that and this can be a powerful practice for the people you live with or love, where you are honest about your struggles.  You say you don’t want to keep doing that, but want to surrender yourself to the process of transformation of your mind and body and take on practices that will be life giving.  I’m not going to say Crabby Dad never ever shows up anymore, but he very rarely makes an appearance.  It marked a real shift in our family life, where our kids look back and say, “We remember a raging dad and we saw that our dad owned his struggle and took steps to experience transformation.

Last Beatitude — Blessed are the poor in spirit.  What does it mean to be poor?  Poverty is when you don’t have enough or you FEEL like you don’t have enough, something’s lacking.  I think we started this experience of feeling like we didn’t have enough right when we came out of our mother’s body into the world.  You come out and it’s cold!  You’re having to suck oxygen for the first time.  You feel distant from what’s comforting, so most babies clench their fists and they scream, “Aaahhhhh!” out of this sense of not enough, something’s missing.  We maybe needed to feel that so that we’d suck air in, and search for food, and long for the comfort of mother. But if we stay in this posture of clenched fists, it drives us away from community and wholeness.  I want you to clench your fists as tight as you can and hold it for a little while.  I call this the posture of scarcity.  Something is lacking and we grab desperately for what we hope will fill us up or satisfy us.  It’s the cause of great inequity in our world.  It’s the mentality of more, bigger, better that is driving our culture.  It exhausts us and it takes us away from the community we so desperately long for.  

I’m going to now invite you to relax your hands.  The shift into the kingdom of God is if we can learn to go from that posture of scarcity to a posture of trust; to receive what we need from our Creator with thanks; to ask, seek, and knock for what we lack; and to share with one another.  I’m convinced that if we don’t make conscious choices about how we relate to time and money, the forces of a consumeristic and materialistic culture will make most of our decisions for us.  

Yesterday in the workshop, I asked the question, “What are the challenges for family and community relationships in the Denver area?”  First thing that comes up is man, it’s expensive and there’s a drive towards more and bigger and better that’s pulling families apart, that’s making it hard to connect. People are too busy to be in a relationship.  We need to wrestle with finding a kingdom rhythm about our relationship with time and money and stuff.  How you spend your time is how you spend your life.  How you spend your life is shaped by economic choices.  The question for us as kingdom seekers seeking the way of Jesus is what’s a right-sized life?  Instead of thinking in our hearts more-bigger-better, instead we think, “I’m content, I’m satisfied, and I have time and resources to share with others.”  There  is a right-sized life that can take us out of the hurry and busyness and striving that’s epidemic in the culture we’re part of.  This Beatitude is inviting us into a posture—put your hands out, palms up—of contentment and trust in the abundance that the Creator provides.  It invites us to live and pray this prayer:  Lead us in the way of trust. This Beatitude is inviting us into a posture—put your hands out, palms up—of contentment and trust in the abundance that the Creator provides.  It invites us to live and pray this prayer:  Lead us in the way of trust.

In conclusion, family is the place where we get our first picture of what love is and who God is.  But that first picture of what love is was a bit distorted, and that first picture of who God is was distorted.  No matter how much love a parent or a community can give that love is never enough.  This is my precious daughter Hailey.  She came out of her mother’s body; I held her in my arms.  I didn’t even know that such a depth of love existed. It wasn’t more than a year or two before I could see her heart closing even when my heart was open.  It actually made me think back to my family and I thought, “Maybe the same thing happened to me.”  My parents sincerely wanted to love me, but because of my own brokenness I wasn’t always able to even receive the love that they had to give to me.  Our family and community experiences put us on the journey and search for a true parent and true home.  No matter how much we try to love each other in this community, in our families, we still have this hole, because no other human being can fill that hole of love and belonging that we so desperately need.  The trajectory is for us to finally move towards true parent and true home.  The only being who can satisfy that longing that we have for belonging is the Creator of the universe.  That’s what we’re designed for.  This is why in John 15 Jesus said, “Live in me.  Make your home in me.”  And why Moses, thinking about his parents and grandparents and ancestors and his own people said, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in every generation.”

I’m going to invite you to stand with me.  If we go back to that thought that we come into the world with clenched hands, desperate for love and safety and security, and then remember the gospel invites us to move from that to opening our hands to receive the love that God has for us.  Open your hands, close your eyes and I want to remind you that this is a safe universe to live in.  Nothing can separate you from the eternal love of the Creator of the universe.  Not loss.  Not mental health issues.  Not even death can separate you from that love.  Your Creator is here with you now and will be with you through whatever comes.  Your true eternal parent.  Lord, teach us to live as your children in the fullness of your love as our true parent and our true home.  Amen. 

TRANSFORMED | Transformed: Families | Matthew 5:3-12 | Week 92020-08-20T18:24:53-06:00

Transformed | Transformed Vocation | Ephesians 2:8-10 | Week 8


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TRANSFORMED: Vocation  Ephesians 2:8-10   Pastor Larry Boatright   (2nd)

{Manuscript–View video for complete content}   I want you all to know that in a few weeks it’s my birthday.  I wanted to give you time to get presents.  And it’s the big one — 42nd!  A couple years ago, I turned 40, and as most of us do when we hit a milestone, we spend time reflecting.  I started looking at what I had accomplished, how God had used me.  A question that most of us ask at certain milestones of our lives — Am I where I thought I’d be at this point in my life?   I wanted my forties to be an awesome decade, so I decided to attend a TED conference—TedX: Mile High.  I grabbed some friends and I was excited. The theme was “Wonder.”  My hope was to be inspired and to reflect and to dream about the next decade or two about my life and dream about the next season.

Wouldn’t we like to experience “Wonder” on a regular basis?  I liked that the program had speaker profiles.  Then I started looking at the speaker list:

  • Tamika Mallory – one of four organizers of the Woman’s March on DC and civil rights activist
  • Dick Durrance – famous photographer/journalist – pics of Vietnam – National Geographic
  • James Orsulak – owns an asteroid mining company and title is Space Entrepreneur
  • Doug Vakoch – Runs an organization “dedicated to transmitting intentional signals to nearby stars and fostering the sustainability of human civilization on multi-generational timescales, a project that could take centuries or millennia to succeed.”   What are you working on?? I had to ask myself, “Where were those things on the list of possible vocations when I was in high school?”  I never saw space entrepreneur or interstellar correspondent on the list or I would have been the first to sign up!

So, I went to TedX to be inspired, and in truth I was inspired, but I also saw this list of people doing incredible things, and it made me really look at my life and ask, “What have I accomplished?”  Have you ever looked at someone else and asked yourself that question?  Think about it, there’s an interstellar correspondent.  There is a space entrepreneur.  There’s a Women’s March Organizer.

And then there’s me — Larry Boatright – Religious Worker.   If I’m being honest, a lot of self-doubt crept in, and when I look at the work God has allowed me to do in my life, I can’t help but compare myself to other people, especially at an event like that.   And it left me wondering, “Does what I do even matter?

My guess is that I’m not alone in asking that question.   All of us, at some point, look at what we do, and what we’ve accomplished so far, and wonder, “What is my unique contribution to this world? Is who I am worth anything? Does what I do even matter?”  Think about the most common question we ask children: What do you want to be when you grow up?  As adults, when we meet someone new, one of the first questions we ask is, “What do you do?”  For me as a kid, I wanted to be a doctor, a brain surgeon.  Then I wanted to be a motocross racer, and I actually got to do that and it was a lot of fun.  Then I wanted to be a rock star, but that didn’t pan out.

Most of us, when we are little, dream pretty big; the world hasn’t told us we can’t do things yet.  We still believe we’re creative and we’re passionate about life and can do anything we really want to do.  But if we scrape below the surface, what we really want to do is make a difference.  We wanted to be somebody.  We wanted to be good at something, to be who God created us to be.  But all too often, as adults, we feel like we’re either spinning our wheels or completely missing the mark.

We’re in the next to last week of this “Transformed” series, and we’re talking about transforming our vocation.  Some of you got excited for a second because you thought I said “Vacation.”  The question we’ve been wrestling with in this series is, “What would happen if the gospel permeated and impacted every area of our lives?”  Today I want to explore what it would look like if the gospel had a radical impact and completely transformed your perspective on your vocation.

Maybe a good place to start is to ask, “What IS your vocation?”  For most of us, when we hear the word vocation, we think about the work that we do, don’t we?  We think about our J-O-B.  And that’s a challenge, because in 23 years of ministry, I can’t tell you how many people have complained to me about their job.  If you look at your Facebook feed on Monday morning, how many people do you see posting complaints about having to get up and go to work again?  Have you ever felt that way? Like your job stinks? Like it’s draining? Like you’d rather live in a van down by the river than do what you do? Guess what, you’re not alone.  Studies show that nearly half of American workers are dissatisfied with their jobs.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics did a long-term study of baby boomers and found that, on average, people held 11.7 jobs between age 18 and 48. Twenty-seven percent of those baby boomers changed jobs more than fifteen times. I know lots of people who have most of their identity in what they do—what their career is, what kind of work they do.  I have to admit, but that’s probably me as well; I identify my vocation as the thing that I do and my identity is there.

In 2008, there was a recession and I was pastoring in Chicago and a ton of people in my church were hit really hard with the economic downturn.

  • Some were laid off
  • Some were forced to retire early and their job given to a young person fresh out of school
  • Some were in a company that downsized and they were forced to acquire even more work for the same pay to compensate for it.  One thing I noticed that was really interesting in that season in our country’s history, at least with the people I interacted with, is that so many people felt such a sense of loss of their identity because their job changed.  The media reported story after story of people who took their own life because they lost their jobs, and therefore, their identity.

I have to wonder if the reason why people hate their jobs, bounce from their jobs, and lose themselves in their jobs, is because they don’t really understand what their vocation is supposed to be all about.  For most of us, when we are asked the question, “What’s your vocation?” we pair it with our job and that’s understandable. But I need you to hear me today, your vocation is not your job. Your job is a part of, but not equal to, your vocation. I want to propose that who you are becoming is just as important as what you are doing.  I want to walk through the big idea and I’m going to say it over and over and drill it into our heads:  Vocation is becoming who God created you to be, and doing what God created you to do.  Your vocation is becoming the person that God designed and created you to be and doing the work that God created you to do.  That means your vocation is so much more than your J-O-B, the work that you do.   I want to help us see that our vocation is more than a job that pays the bills and puts food on the table.  It should be us being completely on mission with God.

Fortunately, the Scriptures give us a lot of insight into what our vocations should be about.  We’re going to unpack Ephesians 2:8-10 together.   For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.   Even though it’s only three verses, this actually is a significant piece of Scripture, with HUGE implications for how we see our God, ourselves, our work, and our vocation.

Before we get too far into trying to figure out what a transformed vocation is supposed to look like, I want to frame it up by looking at a foundational concept.  Verses 8 and 9 — 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.  It’s really interesting how Paul sets up this passage, isn’t it?    Instead of just diving into an explanation of how God created us and gave us things to do, he framed it with a reminder that it’s ALL God’s work.  In case we think that WE somehow can do something to earn God’s favor, Paul reminds us that salvation is God’s work, not ours.   He’s not saying works are bad, in fact, he’s actually saying they are good and that God laid out good works for us to do, but he’s contrasting works that earn favor with God and works that honor God and fall into God’s plan for the kingdom.  Listen, that’s really easy to get messed up.  So many people think they need to work to earn favor with God—that they must DO stuff to be okay with God.  Instead of seeing that their work (the things that they do) flows out of the God’s work in them and for them.

Maybe that’s you.

In Chicago, we had a Saturday night service.  We called it the “recovering Catholic service” because about 80% of the people in there were Catholics. I remember being thrown off when we moved from the Bible Belt to Chicago and someone asked, “What time does mass start?”  I was taken aback.  Many of those people had difficulty understanding this concept, because in their mind it was well, I’ve got to do this and I’ve got to attend this and I have to give this and do all these things, and IF I do all those things, maybe, just maybe, I can have favor with God.

It’s so important that we understand the difference between salvation—a free gift from God—and serving Jesus, which is a response to that free gift of God.  This is one of the key issues of the Reformation: stating that our standing before God has nothing to do with us doing a bunch of things and earning favor with God.  Our salvation is a free gift of grace.  Paul says, “Not of yourself” and “not by works, so no one can boast.”  You can’t go around saying, “I saved myself!”  So Paul is making sure we get the picture here, before we dive too much into what God’s done in us and through us and wants to do to use us, he wants to clearly distinguish the difference between that and salvation, that it is from grace alone that we receive salvation.

But I think we’ll also see that it’s God’s grace, God’s desire, God’s heart, to partner with us in his creation.  Look at verse 10:  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  I want to start at that very first part:  For we are God’s handiwork…  I want to camp out there for a second.  The NIV says we are God’s handiwork; the ESV says we are his workmanship.  The Greek word used here is the word poiema.  What word does that sound like?  Poem.  In fact, as I was trying to write my notes for preaching, my computer wanted to autocorrect that word to poem.  But it’s a similar idea.

I love poetry. When I was a kid studying poetry in literature, I thought it was so amazing that someone could sit down with a blank piece of paper and flow out poetry.  Poems are the works of a creative artist, and guess what, so are you! Poiema is sort of saying that an artist skillfully knit you together, just as you are.  The Psalmist makes this clear in Psalm 139:13—For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  That sounds like a craftsman to me.  How about you?  At night, when I’m bored and need something to watch, I inevitably go to the documentary category.  Some of my favorite documentaries to watch are people who create things.  There’s an amazing one called “The Birth of Sake,” about people who give half of their year to creating sake.  It’s so cinematic and beautiful.  “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” — I love that documentary. I love watching people take a raw piece of wood and just carve it and shape it and put it together and stain it and make something beautiful out of that.  I love when I get a latte and they do really cool latte art.  There’s a Japanese restaurant in Boulder I went to that’s very traditional.  You take your shoes off at the door and go sit at the bar and an artisan chef makes it right in front of you.  I’m not talking hibachi, I’m talking beautifully carved cucumbers and carrots and creates this one-of-a-kind, unique thing and sits it right in front of you.  I think of my friend Steve, who you’re going to meet in a few minutes, and how he uses his hands to craft bread.

I love the way The Voice translation renders this verse:  For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives.  That’s talking about us.  It’s not talking about this mysterious, other people.  It’s talking about you and I.  For many of us, it’s pretty hard to get our minds wrapped around the fact that God has uniquely made us, and that he uniquely created unique things for us to do.  So often we fail to see our own worth in Christ.  For many of us, we see ourselves as generic, vanilla, average, or ordinary.  Out of that place, we see our work, our impact potential, the way we interact in the world through the same lens. If you want to transform your vocation, I would propose that the first step is to think about who you are and who you are becoming.

At some point I’m going to get a long, family-style dining room table.  I can go to IKEA and get that.  It will look good for a while….unless I move it. Annette and I love to have people over and gather around the table with a meal.  Love to cook, love to host.  But if I buy this dining room table from IKEA, and you come sit at my table, I’m not going to be super jazzed about telling you the origin or the genesis of the table.  This is an IKEA piece and was made in a factory.  Millions of other people have this same table.  NO!  I’m not going to say that.  Now, I have a friend named Kieley, who was in my youth group at my very first church.  He’s now an adult and creates this unbelievable dining room furniture, with his hands.  I hope someday to have one of his tables in my home.  If I have a table that’s unique like that, handcrafted by an artisan, when you come have a meal with me at my house, we’re going to sit down at this table and I’m going to tell you about the origin of this table.  Do you see where I’m going with this?  That is you.  You are not IKEA!  There are billions of people in this planet, but you are fearfully and wonderfully made by a Master Craftsman.  That means you have a unique set of natural abilities, a unique voice and something to say, and unique things to do, and a unique personality, and a unique perspective on this earth.  You are unique!

Remember, your vocation is becoming who God created you to be, and doing what God created you to do. This starts with understanding that God created you to be something unique. And that means that you inherently have worth.  And I know there are people in this room who need to hear this, because maybe, as a kid, you were told you weren’t good enough.  Maybe as an adult you’ve played the comparison game for the majority of your adulthood.  Maybe you’re a young adult and you’re living in a world with your friends and comparing yourself to them.  You start to wonder, “Am I a mistake?”  I want to tell you, you are a masterpiece, not a mistake.   If you could move out of your self-doubt, those voices that say you stink and you’re not good enough and all that, and start to embrace the fact that you are a masterpiece, not a mistake, you’re well on your way to partnering with God in your vocation.

The Scripture goes on to say:  Created in Christ Jesus to do good works.  So we are God’s masterpiece, a unique creation, and we’re told that we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works.  I can remember being 13 or 14, and my dad made me go do some hard work on the farm.  I think my dad told me to help build a fence and I was having a hard time.  We were using a type of wood that was really hard, and I was trying to put barbed wire on the fence and it kept ricocheting off into the field.  I started to get progressively angry.  Finally, out of frustration, I exploded, and I cursed Adam and Eve for making me work.  You’re laughing because you’ve done this too.  If it weren’t for you guys, I wouldn’t have to be doing this!  Because we all know that if the Fall had never happened  we wouldn’t have to work, right?  Not exactly.  See, for some of us, we blame Adam and Eve for having to work, not realizing that the Scriptures are clear that work has always been a part of God’s design, and I believe it will continue to always be a part of God’s design.

If we start the gospel narrative in Genesis chapter 3, it’s easy to see how work is a curse.  But if we, correctly, start the gospel narrative in Genesis 1 and 2, we’ll see that God’s design has always been to partner with us through our work.  So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Gen 1:27-28)   Now, don’t tune out because you’re heard this passage a bazillion times.  Listen, God gave some very specific instructions:

  • Be fruitful and multiply (Most humans like this kind of work!)
  • Fill the earth
  • Subdue it – this means to bring it under control, to bring order to it.
  • Rule over it–RADAH–to rule over and to dominate.   That all sounds like work to me.

Genesis 2:15, 19-20 says:  The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it…..So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 

God easily could have given Adam and Eve a fully-baked creation, with an owner’s manual to help them manage it.  But instead, God created a bunch of things, including humankind, and tasked them with the work of continuing to shape it, to subdue it, to bring it into order.  God allowed Adam to name the animals, to tend to vegetation, to work. Remember, this is pre-fall before sin entered the equation.  Then we fast forward to the end of the book in Revelation and see that Jesus comes to the earth.  What does he do?  God comes among his people and they will be his people and they will be their God.  We will be continuing that work of shaping, and moving, and doing things with God for all of eternity.  So in the beginning of the story and the end of the story, we see the Scriptures saying we will partner with Him in ruling and reigning, and working.

So to transform your vocation, first you might want to consider that you are a masterpiece, that you are hand-crafted.  No one looks under an IKEA table to see who the manufacturer is, but if you say this is an artisan thing….typically an artist writes his name.  Guess what?  God has written his imprint on you.  The imago dei inside you.  You’re unique and fearfully and wonderfully made.

But secondly, we might want to embrace that God has created you to work, to partner with Him in the renewal of all things.  So your vocation is becoming who God created you to be, embracing that you’re a masterpiece, but also doing good works.  Why?  Because God has designed you to do good works.  Because of grace, because of the Reformation, some people don’t like using the language “good works,” but the Scriptures are filled with that.  God desires for us to do good works. No matter what situation you find yourself in, this is what vocation is all about.  Not just that little job we happen to occupy at this stage of our lives, or not just retirement, or not just being in between jobs, or whatever position we’re in, it’s by God’s work that we are created as a masterpiece and that we are gifted the best gift, which is our salvation, but we’re designed, as the overflow of that, to do good works.  So good works are a result of truly knowing and following Jesus.  If you know Jesus and you’ve accepted that He’s made you unique, the natural overflow of your heart is to do good things for Him.  So look at your life.  Would your life say that you know Jesus?  Or are you a cranky, mean person?   If you embraced this idea that you are a masterpiece, hand-crafted, that God cares about who you are becoming, and that He has called you to do good works for the sake of the Kingdom, it might re-frame what you see about at your job tomorrow, or in your interactions with others at home, or the grocery store, or whatever it might be.  If you truly see that God’s made you unique and wants to use you to partner with Him in the kingdom for the sake of others, your attitude toward working in a cube or whatever you do, might be just a little bit different.

Finally—Which God prepared in advance for us to do…  That’s kind of intimidating, because that means God has some kind of plan, and I like to know what the plan is, how about you?  For me, part of the Christian journey is learning to be present to what the Spirit is doing in the moment, just trying to listen.  I remember as a kid, my parents worked a half hour or so away in a factory, so they were gone from early in the morning until 6 at night or so.  They did what most parents do and gave me a list of stuff to do when they left, like feed the cows, chickens, and hogs.  Mow the grass.  Maybe I had to build or repair some fence.  And then the thing every kid loves to hear from their parents:  Clean your room.   And so, I did what most teenage boys do—I messed around all day doing whatever I wanted until about 4 pm.  Then I crammed in all the work they gave me to do and got it done just as they pulled into the driveway and sat back on the couch like I’d been sitting there for hours.

I’m convinced that God has laid out work for us to do.  But part of formation as a follower of Jesus is partnering with God to figure out what that is.  For most of us, it’s not “do exactly this or that,” so I want to give you two parts of vocation that I think will shape you and help you see what you’re suppose to be about in this life.  The first part is what I’m going to call foundational vocation.  The bottom line: To know Jesus and to make Him known.  What is our foundational vocation? The thing ALL of us have been created for? Our primary vocation is to know Jesus and to make Him known.

At the beginning of this series we looked at 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 and I want to read that again for us —  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; {That’s our job.}  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

It’s easy to make our work or our career an idol, isn’t it?   To make IT the thing that our identity is wrapped up in.  To think the work that I do, the profession that I’m in, the thing I went to school for is my idol, my highest calling.  But honestly, the Scriptures are clear that the foundational calling, of everyone who claims to follow Jesus, is to know Christ and to make Him known.  If you’re here today and you’re not following Jesus yet, that’s not your mandate, but God desires it for you.  But if you do follow Jesus, you need to know Him and make Him known, to be an ambassador for Christ, to live out the ministry of reconciliation. So whether you work in a cubicle or a nice cushy office, or you’re retired, or you’re between jobs, a significant part of your vocation is the same as the rest of us: to represent Jesus, to be an ambassador of Christ, to show people what living in His way with His heart looks like.  That’s your foundational vocation.  All of us.

Then I would ask:  Does God want to leverage who He’s uniquely made you to be?  If my job is to know Christ and to make Him known, what about the unique skills God has given me?  What about the unique abilities God has given me?  What about the uniqueness God has put inside of me?  The unique desires and passions?  Well, I’m going to call that our specific vocation.  Our specific vocation is gifting yourself to the Kingdom of God for the sake of others.  This is the one time it’s ok to regift something!  Who God made you to be.  It’s a gift FROM God that you are who you are, and a gift FOR God to give who you are to the Kingdom of God for the sake of others.  I love what David Benner, psychologist and author, has to say: “Our vocation is always a response to a Divine call to take our place in the Kingdom of God. {Not just the job that I have, it’s taking my place in the Kingdom of God.  This is why we talk about kingdom so much.  The gospel is kingdom.  Jesus said, “Repent the Kingdom is near.”  Kingdom. Kingdom. Kingdom.  So we have a role to play in this Kingdom.} Our vocation is a call to serve God and our fellow humans in the distinctive way that fits the shape of our being. In one way or another, Christian calling will always involve the care of God’s creation and people.”

You might be saying, “Gift myself to the Kingdom of God?”  That sounds a little bit pretentious, doesn’t it?  It’s not pretentious, it’s obedience.  All of us have a specific vocation.  I think God desires for us to know the person He’s created us to be and to leverage it for the sake of others.  All of us.  We don’t transform our vocation, or our relationships, or our resources, or our bodies, or our minds and hearts, into the wholeness of Christ so that we can feel good about ourselves.  No, no, no.  We allow the Spirit to transform to the wholeness of Christ for the sake of others.  So it’s good to know how you’re wired and what God has birthed in you.  What your natural strengths and abilities are.  It’s good to know what your life experiences are, even if they aren’t good ones.  God uses the not good experiences to shape us, just as much as the good ones.  Also, what your passions and desires are.  If you were to go, “What’s my specific vocation?” and you took the three areas of your natural abilities and life experiences, and you paired it with your passions and desires, and then added in the needs of others, you’d start getting a clue about what God’s specific vocation is for you.

I’ve learned that as you journey through assessments and things like this, it might be kind of painful, but there’s also a lot of joy, to start scraping the surface and go, “Oh, I see the diamond in the rough.”  This is one of the reasons why we’re committed to formation here at South.  It’s one of the reasons we have an Enneagram class, so you can sign up and journey with other people and take some assessments and have some honest conversation to find out a little bit more about how God has uniquely wired you.  You could also talk to people who know you well and have an “I see in you” conversation.  What do you see in me?  How am I wired?  What do you think I’m good at?  How have you seen God use me through my own natural giftings and abilities?  That’s a powerful conversation.

I want you to hear me: even if don’t have a J-O-B, or you’re retired, or you’re in between jobs, you still have a vocation.  God’s not done with you yet.  My friend Carolyn is 77 years old. She doesn’t necessarily have a J-O-B, but she certainly has a vocation.  When I first met her, I observed how she interacted with people.  One thing I saw is that Carolyn is ubiquitous, she is everywhere at all times.  She’s mentoring everyone all the time.  One day I told her I figured out what she was:  she’s our chaplain.  She’s the chaplain of this Body.

The truth is, knowing your foundational vocation and your specific vocation can have a huge impact on which job you choose to work, and how you approach that job. Even if you feel you’re in a dead-end job, understanding that God wants to use you, could shift how you see that job.  It should also shift how you view your role at home, in your neighborhood, in your job, your vocation, in this city, and the world.  Why?  Because your vocation is becoming who God created you to be, and doing what God created you to do.  And that’s not dependent exclusively on your job.

Now I get it, there are times where we don’t know our specific vocation.  I just want you to hear me, that’s okay.  And maybe you’re in a situation where you’re agitated because you do have some specific abilities, but you don’t feel like God or others are using them, and you feel underutilized.

What if this week, you chose to not focus so much on living out every single ability you have and focused on not getting frustrated about what you know to be true about yourself not being known by others?  What if you decided to just put your ear to the ground and allow the Spirit to lead you? To be a student of the Artisan?

I can tell you there are plenty of times I felt underutilized or even confused about how I made a difference, but looking back I can see that in those times Jesus was my teacher.  He was using that circumstance to teach me how He wanted to use me for his kingdom.   And I Jesus wants to be your teacher as well.  So I want to challenge you to bloom where you’re planted.  Make following Jesus your foundation. Be available and hungry to learn and grow, and to be used however the Spirit calls you to be used, and see how Jesus might shape you.

One last thing I want to say about what it is that God’s calling you to do as you get farther and farther into being used by Jesus.  A lot of people would say, “I’ve fallen in love with Jesus.  I’m following hard after Jesus, so I’m just waiting so I can go work at a church.”  I want to tell you that working at a church is NOT the highest calling.  If you could find any other career other than being a pastor or working at a church, please do that.  It’s not for everyone.  There’s nothing magical about being a professional Christian.  Erwin McManus once said that when you tell people you’re a pastor, it’s like telling them that you’re a cannibal and inviting them over for dinner.  I’m sometimes envious of people who aren’t in the church who are making an impact in their neighborhood, in their community, because you don’t have that stigma.  You have a better opportunity to show people, in your day-to-day life, how to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus than I do.   The goal is not to be a professional Christian, it’s to bloom where you’re planted and let God use you to become who God created you to be and do what He called you to do, whether that’s an accountant, a plumber, a doctor, a lawyer, a stay-at-home mom….   Whatever you find yourself in, be who God created you to be.  You can often have far more an impact outside of these church walls than I can.

I want you to meet my friend Steve.  He’s an amazing person and I admire him very much, and I think he really gets it when it comes to vocation. {Video}

We probably had little to no idea of what we were getting into, honestly.  There have been those fun moments, but Penny and I have both said we’ve never worked harder in our lives.  So I’m Steve Shroeder.  We’ve been at South two-and-a-half years now.  It was in high school when I sensed God was inviting me to consider being a youth pastor.  Penny and I got married after she graduated and started the journey of being in full-time ministry, as in paid ministry with the church.  I was a youth pastor five years, then we went and planted a church in Bellingham, Washington.  I got to experience church planting—all the challenges and opportunities that come with that.  After about thirteen years we had a call from a church in Kansas for me to come and be their lead pastor.  Thirty-four years of straight pastoral ministry.  Penny and I began to have a conversation about what would I do in retirement and would I always be a pastor.  When Penny and I had this conversation, I was probably 58 or 59 so I started thinking, “If I only had a few years left, what would I want to do?”  Immediately we thought of our kids and grandkids who were living here in Denver.  I remember where I was standing in our kitchen when Penny said, “Well, what would you do if you weren’t a pastor?”  This idea came into my head—and I kind of think it was Jesus, I don’t know, but the idea was I would buy a Great Harvest Bread company and I would run the store!  Where did that come from?  We looked into it and sure enough, there was a store for sale, in Denver, right at that very time.  I had been intentionally working on my own spiritual growth and reading a lot of stuff from Dallas Willard and James Bryan Smith.  Jesus comes to heal from our diseases, and I think we all have diseases.  I don’t think I recognized, very clearly, what some of mine were.  The disease that I kind of figured out that God was showing me I had was this disease of seeking approval of people and living for their approval.  To be honest, being a pastor feeds that disease.  You’re in the limelight every Sunday.  When you’re done preaching, there’s a lineup of people that want to talk to you.  I think He was saying a couple things: one, I care more about who you’re becoming than what you’re doing.  And he pulled me out of the limelight, kind of into obscurity.  I work in the back of the bakery a lot and I go shopping and I deliver food.  I’m also learning that the workplace is probably His primary classroom for discipleship.  Like, this is where He wants us to grow, to learn about who we’re becoming, to learn to love our enemy.  When I get to deal with customers that are grumpy, Jesus will say to me, “Well, Steve, you’re grumpy too sometimes and look how I treat you.”  So it’s an opportunity to learn that.  I’m trying to learn from Jesus that I’m a child of His, created in His image.  I’m an eternal being with an eternal destiny and I live in the unshakable kingdom of God.  I’m here because it’s my new classroom.  I’m allowing that to shape my character, to become more like Him in this environment.  We need godly teachers and business people and repair people.  We need Jesus-kind of people in every aspect of business in the world.  We need them.  The highest calling isn’t what I can do for Jesus, but it’s who I can become IN Jesus, in Christ, who I am.  What’s I begin to see clearly that that’s what He wants—it’s not first of all my service or my profession—He wants me.  No matter what vocation you’re in, it’s a calling from God.  Often it’s a way of partnering with God in answering somebody’s prayer.  So there’s people out there praying, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and I’m working with seventeen people at the bakery making sure they get their daily bread.  I can see why He’s not calling everyone into professional, paid ministry.  We can all see our occupation, or vocation, as a calling from Him as an opportunity to learn from Him, in that environment, and to partner with Him in what He’s doing in the world.  

So I want to end today by asking this question I ask a lot:  What about you? Maybe you’re a young adult trying to figure out what you want to do with your life.  Maybe you’re a middle-aged adult and you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life.  Maybe you’re an older adult, and you’re convinced God’s not through with you yet.  Recently, I met with someone who’s in her 70’s and she heard one of these talks I gave in this series and she said, “What you just talked about, I want that.  I don’t know how much longer the Lord will give me on this earth, but I want it to count.”  And I thought, “Man, that is somebody Jesus is shaping and forming.”  Regardless of what age you are, Jesus is pulling you forward.  He wants to use you.  He wants to really get to know you, not the beaten down you with the lies you’ve believed all your life, but the real you.

I love how Steve said our vocation is often being the answer to some else’s prayer. What if you got up tomorrow, and whatever you set your intention to do, you framed it that perhaps Jesus wanted to use you to be the answer to someone else’s prayer?  Maybe it’s in that cube you’re working in, or maybe it’s in your home with your kids or your spouse, maybe it’s in the grocery line.  Maybe if we thought like this, God might actually use you to answer someone’s prayer.  What if instead of asking someone, “What do you do?” we looked at those God has put in our path and asked, “Who are you becoming?”  What if instead of measuring ourselves by what we do, that we are good because of our outputs, what if we asked the question, “Who am I becoming?”

Here at South, we don’t just want to have a sermon you hear, we want to give you practical things, practices and tools you can use to reflect and actually have movement in your life.  This is a part of your formation.  I want to give you three words to reflect on, to see where  you are, what movement might look like for you. The first word is ACCEPT.  For some of us, we haven’t accepted yet that we’re special.  We haven’t accepted that we’re a work of art, that we are God’s masterpiece.  For some of us here today, I know you need to hear that and I’m going to invite you to accept that.  Maybe some of you have not accepted Jesus as the Lord and Savior of your life.  I’d love for you to consider doing that today and I’d love to baptize you next week.  You need to accept that God made you unique and special and full of worth.

For all of us, we need to EMBRACE.  Embrace the season we’re in.  For some of us, that’s going to YOU University.  I’m going to learn about myself.  Or, I’m going to follow Jesus in the midst of my context.  For some of you, you need to embrace the fact that God wants to use you to be an answer to someone else’s prayer.  Even if you’re in a job you don’t especially care for.  Maybe for some of you, you need to embrace the fact that you KNOW who God’s made you to be and you KNOW what God’s calling you to do and you’re afraid to do it.  Have the courage to be the person God created you to be and do what God called you to do.

For all of us, I’d invite you to prayerfully ASK God’s spirit to begin to show you how you can be used to make a real difference in the Kingdom of God…at home, at your job, and beyond. Ask Jesus how you can make the most of your life, for His name and for His glory.  Remember, your vocation is becoming who God created you to be, and doing what God created you to do.

My prayer is that you’d accept the person God created you to be, you’d embrace the season you’re in, and you’d ask God’s spirit how He wants to use you for the sake of others.  And that tomorrow when you embrace your day, you wouldn’t live it out as a dead-end job or as simply a means to pay your bills and feed your family, but rather, as an opportunity to partner with God, to build His Kingdom, for the sake of others.

South Fellowship Church, hear me, imagine if we really were the kind of church committed to knowing Jesus and making Him known as our foundation.  Imagine if we were the kind of church filled with people committed to learning and practicing the way of Jesus in every season of life, even if it’s not perfect.  Imagine if we were the kind of church committed to helping people discover who God had created them to be, and then doing our very best to empower and equip them to do it.  Church, if we were like that kind of church, that’s a powerful church that turns communities upside down, that partners with God’s kingdom for the sake of others.  I’m convinced that’s the kind of church God is calling South Fellowship Church to be.

Would you bow your heads and we’ll go to the Lord in prayer?  Jesus, I am so grateful that you allow us to partner with you for your good work, for your Kingdom’s sake.  I pray that you would help us to become the people you created us to be and to do the things you’ve called us to do.  I pray that you would walk with us all the days of our lives, lead us into things that blow our minds, that we never could imagine.  Help us to sense the Father’s love today; for those in this room who are struggling to see that they are okay and that you love them as they are and that you’ve created them fearfully and wonderfully.  Lord, may we all sense your Spirit within us and become who you’ve created us to be and accept your great gift of salvation, forgiveness, and the person you’ve made us to be.  I ask all these things in the strong and powerful name of Jesus. Together this church said….Amen.

Transformed | Transformed Vocation | Ephesians 2:8-10 | Week 82020-08-20T18:27:45-06:00
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