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The Parables of Jesus | A Sharp Rebuke to a Foolish Interruption | Week 6


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The Parables of Jesus | A Sharp Rebuke to a Foolish Interruption | Week 62020-08-20T18:21:05-06:00

The Parables of Jesus | What Are You Living For? | Mark 7:15 | Week 5


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The Parables of Jesus | What Are You Living For? | Mark 7:15 | Week 52020-08-20T18:20:02-06:00

The Parables of Jesus | A Pattern of Pursuit | Luke 15:1-32 | Week 4


THE PARABLES OF JESUS: A Pattern of Pursuit   Luke 15:1-32   Billy Berglund

Good morning!  My name is Billy Berglund, and for the last four years, I’ve had the privilege of being on staff here at South Fellowship, working part-time with the students as I pursued my Masters from Denver Seminary.  It’s just been a real privilege to my wife Hannah and I.  We’ve had an eventful summer so far.  Our son Cooper joined us on May 31st.  He was born six weeks early, so he kind of surprised us.  He spent some time in the NICU, but he’s growing and is getting a little chunky now, which is awesome.  We feel real blessed to have Cooper with us.

Hannah and I celebrated our five year anniversary (which is coming up) with our last trip before Cooper came, along with celebrating finishing seminary.  We went to Phoenix in March.  We went to this Mexican restaurant, at the suggestion of Josh Suddath, our student pastor.  We walk up and it’s tiny.  The tables are an arm’s length apart from each other.  We walk in and felt out of place.  We’re way underdressed; everybody is really dressed up and the waiters are real fancy.  We sit down and they hand us the menu and the waiter says, “Can I get anything started for you?”  I said, “Yeah, we’ll take some chips and salsa.”  The waiter said, “Well, chef doesn’t do chips and salsa.”  What Mexican restaurant doesn’t do chips and salsa?!  We’re looking at the menu.  We can’t pronounce anything on the menu.  I look at the prices and thought, “Wow, Josh is playing a prank on us.” We found some food to eat.  Halfway through our meal, we see some commotion starting.  The waiters are frantically getting some tables put together.  They asked a couple to move to a different table.  They weren’t going to ask us to move because they didn’t give us chips and salsa, but….   A group came in; they were dressed up in suits and ties or dresses.  They came in kind of one by one and the last person to walk in was John Elway.  On this Tuesday night, in March, in Phoenix.  I don’t know how he heard I was in town, but he decided to come and be at the same place.  I even took a picture; he didn’t know that.  When he came in, my whole countenance changed.  This meal was kind of a disaster and we were going to have to take out a loan to pay for it, but once he came in, I was thrilled.  Our conversation stopped and I kept looking over at him.  For me, this was a big deal, but for her, she doesn’t care for retired pro-football stars or that the owner of the Broncos is sitting at the table.  She just wanted to be with me on our anniversary dinner. It turns out, we actually went to the wrong restaurant, so I can’t blame Josh, but we have a cool story that came from it.  I think about that story and in my upbringing and background, I loved football.  I followed football, so John Elway was a big deal.  He’s a legend.  For my wife, it wasn’t that big of a deal.

I think our experiences, background, and upbringing shape the way that we view people.  Whether that’s a relationship with a friend or a family member.  If we feel comfortable with them, we can just be ourselves, kind of live in this freedom.  If we’re anxious and nervous, we’re going to live tense and live out of fear.  I think the same thing happens in our relationship with God and the way that we view him.  A.W. Tozer, the pastor and theologian, said,  “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  Think about that for a second. I remember hearing that for the first time and thinking, I don’t know if that’s true. But over time, I’ve seen how this is true.  Everything we do is shaped by this.  The way that we view ourselves, the way that we view others, is shaped by our understanding of God.  Not only that, but the way that he views us.  If you were honest with yourself this morning and you thought about God and the way that he viewed you, what would the facial expression on his face be?  Would he be discouraged or disappointed?  Or frustrated or angry?  Or maybe happy or smiling or pleased?  I think the answer to that question really shapes how we live our lives.   We all bring our unique stories here today, our unique backgrounds, and something comes to mind and when we think about God and the way that He views us.  This morning, we’re going to come back to this idea that our understanding of how God views and pursues us will shape how we view and pursue others.

The last few weeks, we have been in a series on the Parables of Jesus. These stories that Jesus tells. He throws them right alongside reality. They would really connect with his listeners.  They were everyday things they could relate to.  He would have these truths come in that maybe you couldn’t see right away, but they draw us in and captivate us, like a TV show or a story or a good book, that just draws us in.  Jesus was this master storyteller, and he would tell stories about life in the kingdom, about God, about grace, and more.

In the past two weeks of the series, Ryan taught the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.  He said, “The way you see yourself shapes your approach to everything else.” Larry, in the Parable of the Talents, said, “Our theology of God will greatly impact how we experience God.”  This morning, we are going to keep building on those ideas as we look at our passage from Luke 15, if you will turn there with me.  I believe in our study of Scripture today that a pattern will emerge that can be seen throughout Jesus’ ministry and has importance for us today in the way we live our lives.  Here at South, our mission is to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus. What we learn and observe about Jesus and his ministry, we’re called to put into practice in the way that we view others.

With this in mind, we’re going to be in Luke 15, starting in verse 1.  Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”   This context is very crucial to understanding the series of three parables that Jesus will tell.  Jesus is speaking to two groups of people. As the master storyteller, Jesus will directly speak to both groups of people, and to us here today. He’s speaking to the lowly of society—the rejected, the outcasts, the tax collectors and sinners— who were despised and often dishonest. Instead of rejecting them, He often spent time with them; he ate meals with them.  As a result, they gathered around to hear him, as verse 1 tells us.  They were drawn to Him.  He showed love to them when most everybody else rejected them.   That’s important.  The second group of people—these Pharisees and teachers of the law—were the Jewish religious leaders. Outwardly, they appeared righteous, but inwardly it was a different story. They were so focused on doing the right things, but they are frustrated with Jesus.  Why would He spend time with these “unclean” people?  They missed his heart entirely. They are muttering about how Jesus is welcoming sinners and eating with them.   They thought if they spent time with these “unclean” people that they would become unclean.  Jesus flips this and shows how he can heal and cleanse them.  A little later in Luke 19:10, Jesus says about himself and his mission:  The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.  This is his mission and his heart. In this series of three parables, Jesus is going to encourage one group—the tax collectors and the sinners—and also challenge the Jewish religious leaders and their mindset.

So with this background in mind, let’s jump into the first parable, found in Luke 15:3-7 — Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”  

In this parable, we’re beginning to see Jesus’ heart for the lost and a desire to be in a relationship with them. In the story, a shepherd having a hundred sheep would have been a very common thing that would have taken place.  They would have counted them regularly.  To us, losing one may not seem like a huge deal. Sheep often stray and get lost, and after all, the shepherd still has 99 others. But this is a big deal. Jesus is challenging his hearers. He says that each sheep, each person, is valuable to Him.   Once found, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders. There is rejoicing and he calls together a party of celebration over this one lost sheep who was lost, but is now found. You may ask, and it’s a good question, what kind of shepherd would leave ninety-nine sheep all alone to go after one?  It doesn’t sound like a smart move.  But, the reality was at this time, if a sheep got lost, the head shepherd would go searching for the one sheep, while he made sure his helpers stayed with the ninety-nine to keep them safe.  God doesn’t just abandon his followers, but what the parable is showing is His passion for seeking the lost.

In verse 7, he says:   … in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.   Jesus is encouraging his audience and saying there is a place for you.  There’s a place for all of us at the table, we are welcome.  In Jesus, in a relationship with Him, you are not defined by the mistakes you make, but by the grace He gives.   Remember, He’s speaking to lowly outcasts who have been looked down upon for their whole life, and Jesus is saying, “You’re not defined by that.”  The key in this whole parable is this word “repent.” This is a key aspect of Jesus’ ministry.  He’s calling us to repentance, which literally means to change one’s mind.   A change of mind that leads to a change of action. To turn from our sins and turn to God. To be changed internally.  To repent and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, to believe in him, to place our faith in him. To change from rejecting to accepting Jesus. As this parable, and many other passages throughout the Gospels show, Jesus pursues people with that goal that they would repent and believe.  Repentance is only made possible through God’s grace and his drawing us, his pursuit of us. He takes the initiative. True repentance will lead to a changed life. This invitation is open to all and this is great news.

But for some, they see it differently.  As we saw in verse 2, the religious leaders are grumbling and muttering. They don’t want to welcome in some types of people. They see the community of believers as a special Country Club with reserved access, rather than open to all who would repent and believe in Jesus.  Jesus is challenging their mindset.  In the parable, Jesus is showing them that there will be a great party, a celebration in the community for anyone who turns to him!  But will they join in?  Will they share in his heart and join in the celebration?   Jesus further challenged them, with a bit of irony this time, with the line, “Ninety-nine righteous leaders who have no need to repent.” The religious leaders saw themselves as holy and with no need to repent, but they were wrong. Their self-understanding was warped. As we see throughout the Gospels and in Acts and the New Testament, there is a universal need for repentance. What Jesus is really saying is, “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who think they are righteous and have no need to repent.”  In this first parable, Jesus is highlighting how God views and pursues us. He has deep concern, love and mercy for each individual. We matter to God.

The second parable is found in Luke 15:8-10:  Jesus continues — Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?  And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.”  In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.  This second parable is very similar to the first and it reinforces the points that Jesus made in the first parable. Yet the situation now is slightly different. There’s ten coins that the woman has and she loses one.  We don’t know if she was poor or widowed, so each coin would have mattered a lot to her.  Each coin was worth about a day’s wage at that time.  Some scholars have suggested that the coin would have had more than just monetary value; it could have had sentimental value, like part of a 10-piece set that was like a ring, so it was very valuable to her.  We don’t know exactly the details, but what we do see is the great value placed on finding that coin. Once found, the woman again gathers her friends and neighbors together for a celebration. They celebrate and rejoice together.  In verse 10, Jesus concludes the parable by saying:  In the same way, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

These two parables together are very intentional. Jesus shows that God is merciful. Each and every individual is precious and important in his sight. He has deep love for each person. We matter to God. He wants to be in a relationship with us and there is rejoicing when even one person repents and turns to him.  Throughout these two parables, Jesus is contrasting a communal response of rejoicing and celebration in the community of faith, with the Pharisees’ grumbling and muttering; they don’t want to welcome in these people.

As I thought of these two parables, with the theme of lost and found, in my own life, stories have a way of drawing us in. Jesus even says, “Wouldn’t you go looking for that sheep?  Wouldn’t you go looking for the coin?”  So, a few years back—quite a few years back now—when I was a young boy, I had a best friend.  We did everything together. Everywhere I went, he went.   He was loyal.  He was faithful. His name was Simba. Simba was a stuffed animal, but he was the best. The timing is kind of funny for this sermon because the new Lion King movie just came to theaters this weekend.  But as a young boy, I hung out with Simba all the time.  I took him everywhere.  I was probably too old for stuffed animals, but are you ever too old for stuffed animals? I took him everywhere. One summer, our family was vacationing up in Keystone, here in Colorado. We were standing around Keystone lake and I had my Simba. There was a high railing and the water down below. Well, I proceeded to drop Simba into the lake. My family still talks about this event to this day. I lost it.  I was wailing and shrieking.  I was inconsolable.  I had to get my Simba back.  If I didn’t get him back, I’d have to make real friends and that was going to be a problem.  We tried everything to try and get him. Finally, we asked a worker at a nearby shop and she had a giant net and was able to scoop out sopping wet, smelly Simba. My joy was restored. There was great rejoicing in the Berglund household that day.

When we lose something that has great value to us, we will go to great lengths to find it, to retrieve it. I think these parables give us a glimpse into God’s heart for us. We matter to him and we are important to him. We are worth pursuing. Have you ever thought of that? God pursues you, because you are worth pursuing. You matter to Him.  You are made in His image, you are loved and known by Him.  You are not just some sheep or some coin, but you hold deep importance in the way you are uniquely and wonderfully made.

Through these first two parables we are seeing how God views and pursues us.  But He doesn’t stop at these two parables. I think that’s really important.  Jesus is now building and he’s coming to kind of this main event,  this third parable. He has told the parable of the lost sheep, then the parable of the lost coin, and now he’s going to tell the parable of the lost son (or prodigal son.) This story may be very familiar to you. In fact, two years ago here at South, we did a six week series called “Freeway,” through the parable of the prodigal son. There is so much to see in this story. This morning, I want to encourage you to enter into this story, even if it’s familiar to you, as if you’re hearing it for the first time. Imagine yourself as a part of Jesus’s original audience and what you would have been seeing and feeling.  I truly believe this story has shaped my understanding of God more than any other. I think it’s really powerful.

Let’s read together now, keeping in mind the context and the two parables Jesus told before this one.  It starts in Luke 15, verse 11-16.  Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’  So he divided his property between them.   Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.   So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.   He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

So we can already see some differences emerging in this parable as opposed to the two previous ones. There are two sons in the story and that is important.  The first son willfully chooses to go.  He basically goes up to his father—Jesus is identifying himself with the father in this story—and he says, “I don’t even want to be in a relationship with you. I’d rather have your stuff and I’m going to go.”  This would have been seen as very disrespectful and frowned upon at the time.  In a stunning move, the father gives it to him.  He allows the son to make the choice and to go on his way.  It doesn’t work out so well.  The younger son is not only unfaithful to his father but to his people as he goes off into a distant country. He then proceeds to spend everything he has before a famine comes. He comes to the lowest possible point at rock bottom, longing to eat the pods the pigs were eating.  Maybe you find yourself here today.  Perhaps not exactly what this younger son experienced, but you find yourself at a place you never expected. Through a series of decisions or habits or trials, you feel far away from God. You may feel like there is no way God could forgive you or no way you could turn back. If that’s you this morning, be encouraged, because this story is far from done.

Let’s jump back in now in verse 17:   “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.   I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.”   At the lowest possible point, the younger son comes to his senses. He realizes his sin is not only against his earthly father, but against his heavenly father as well.  He is repentant.  He makes this change of mind that leads to a change in action.  He makes a turn in his heart and he sets out to go back to his father. But he cannot imagine that his father will accept him as a son, perhaps as a servant, but never as a son.  Maybe for a meal, but never as a member of the family.  After all, he’s brought so much shame and disgrace upon his family with his reckless living.  It’s also possible he won’t even make it home, as the community might go out on the road to meet him and reject him before he gets home. So with fear and nerves, he sets out for home, not knowing what to expect when he returns.

Let’s finish verse 20.  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.    I love this verse. God has used this verse in my own life in powerful ways that really caused me to rethink the way that He views me. God is not disappointed in me.  For so long I felt like I was not good enough, that I didn’t measure up.  I have a great earthly father, but between coaches and the pressures that I felt, I felt I was never measuring up.  That God was disappointed in me.  But this story began to change that, that he actually delights in me. He runs to me. At this time, the father running would have been completely unexpected and against cultural norms. But look what happens: The father sees his son, which implies he was looking for him, day after day, longing for his son to come home.  He feels compassion for his son, not disgust. He loves him dearly.  He runs to embrace him; I imagine this giant bear hug.  The father ignores social norms; he brought shame upon himself and acts undignified, but he doesn’t care about that. He cares about his son. His son is home, and his son is forgiven and loved.

The son begins his planned speech to his father.  The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”  {He gets through the first two lines, but the father interrupts him. The younger son is genuinely repentant. He acknowledges his sin and knows he is not worthy of being his son, but before he can ask to be made like a hired servant….}   But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”   So they began to celebrate.

This is so amazing that the younger son will not be a made like a hired servant. Far from it. Instead, he is given a robe, a ring, sandals, and the fattened calf is killed for celebration. Each of these symbolize his being welcomed fully back to the family. He is reconciled completely to his father. Not only that, but he is treated as a guest of honor. They are going to have a community-wide celebration to show he is a deeply loved child and he is fully accepted. Note that the father doesn’t say, “Go clean up and then I can love and accept you.” He probably smelled bad, living with the pigs, but his father embraces and accepts him back.  He forgives him and welcomes him back to the family. There’s a community-wide rejoicing and celebration; this is a wonderful day.

You can imagine the shock on the face of Jesus’ original hearers as they heard this story.  How could this happen?   I think, for us, we can get so familiar sometimes with certain stories from Scripture that we can just read on over this.  We’ve heard it before.  “Yep, the father runs….   I know that.”  But imagine hearing this for the first time.  Imagine truly believing this over your own life:  That God is waiting with open arms; that He wants you to come home; that He is running to you; that He delights in you; He loves you, imperfections and all.  By faith, we are part of His family and there’s a celebration for us.  We belong.  We are his children, sons and daughters of God.  Paul puts it this way in Romans 8:14-16:  For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.   Like the song says, “I am no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.”

I have the privilege of working with students, here at South in the student ministry, now as a full-time teacher and coach. It is one of the greatest joys of my life. I am so excited for this next generation and I am encouraged by their faith.  But I believe one of the most important issues for students AND adults alike is identity.  It’s so important for us to know that our deepest and truest identity is not in our performance, our popularity, or our earthly success, what we can achieve, but as a child of God.  Our identity is not in what we have done, but in what Jesus has done for us. We can live from approval, not for approval. From this place of acceptance, not for acceptance. We are His children and we can walk in freedom and newness of life.   I just love the picture that Jesus paints of the father running.  My hope is that this begins to be the image that comes to mind when you think about God and the way that He views you; that He delights in you that you’re home with Him.

But let’s return now to the passage in Luke 15. The younger son has just come home, the father embraces him, welcomes him back to the family, there is a great celebration, the lost is found, and everyone is happy.  Well, not quite. Jesus could have ended the parable at the end of verse 24.  That’s how the first two parables end, right? There’s a celebration and rejoicing. But there’s also another question that I have wondered about this chapter of the Bible. As you look at the first two parables, the shepherd and the woman go out looking for what is lost: the sheep and the coin. But in this parable, the father lets his son go and he does not go out after him. He certainly is waiting and he runs to him and embraces him with grace, but it is different than the first two parables. Why is that?  Well, culturally, it was the older brother’s job to go out after the younger brother. To his original hearers, they would have immediately known this. That’s when it clicked for me, that when we put it together, we see Jesus is challenging these religious leaders to live in his way with his heart. To pursue the lost and to welcome them. We see this pattern all throughout the Old Testament, too. Jesus is inviting his people to live on mission with him, to share his heart for the lost, and to pursue them in the way that He has pursued us.  To understand his love and then pursue others in the same way.   Recall our big idea from today:  Our understanding of how God views and pursues us will shape how we view and pursue others.

These Pharisees and religious leaders, they didn’t get it.  They didn’t understand God’s heart and the way that he viewed them. They were missing out on this life-giving relationship.  They’re represented by the older brother in the story, so let’s finish this story together in Luke 15:25-32:  Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.   “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.”  The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.   But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”  “My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.   But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

The older brother is upset and angry. He won’t even acknowledge his younger brother, he calls him “this son of yours.” He is upset at the father for even welcoming him back.  He’s missing God’s heart. He spent his whole life trying to earn the Father’s affection. He was living in fear and was completely focused on himself. He didn’t care much for others because his whole world revolved around him.  Jesus is just masterful in the way he tells this story as he speaks so clearly to them.

First, the older brother refuses to go in to the party. So what does the father do? Verse 28—He “went out” to the older brother. He calls him “my son.” He is still pursuing him, just like the father went running to the younger son, he is still pursuing the older son. He is still inviting him to the party. He’s saying it’s not too late to join in on my mission.  Jesus is saying this to the religious leaders, calling them to change, to join in, and to live with Jesus’ heart.

Second, in verse 31, the father says, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” I truly believe this was a foreign idea to the older brother. He could not get his mind around this idea of living in the freedom and love that was offered to him as a son. He even says, “All these years I’ve been slaving for you. I’ve been working for you.” He’s been trying to earn the father’s affection.  But he’s missing the point.  He was so focused on earning, and striving, and keeping score, and comparing, that he was bitter and mad.

Lastly, it is ironic how this parable ends.  It’s known as “The Parable of the Lost Son” or “the Prodigal Son.” I prefer the title of “The Parable of the Surprisingly Good Father.” Both of the other two titles refer to the younger son. But which son is truly lost in this story? Jesus flips it. The older brother is the one missing out and missing the point. Whereas the younger son was lost in his rebellion and he comes home, the older son was lost in his religion and the story ends without knowing what will happen next. The younger brother repents and just hoped to be accepted as a slave or a servant, but he is welcomed as a son. The older brother is already accepted as a son, he is with him, but he is living as a slave. He is not living from his father’s approval and love, but he is striving to earn it.  Yet in both cases, the father goes out to each brother.  Each and every person matters.  God is still pursuing them.

As I reflect on these three parables, I really believe that God has used them to really change my perspective.  This idea of God pursuing me, almost seemed radical. A huge part of this journey came from my very first Sunday at South: August 9, 2015, four years ago. My wife and I moved here the day before, not knowing anyone. I was going to start at Seminary in a few weeks.   We sat in the back and heard Pastor Ryan speak. In that message, I will never forget Ryan’s words.  At the end of the sermon, he said a line that has stuck with me. It really sparked a new trajectory for me and my understanding of who God is and how he views me. He said, “God pursues relentlessly, loves always, and refuses to give up on you. He is relentless to the end.”  For some reason, this just felt new to me that the God of the Universe pursues me, imperfections and all.  He loves me deeply, he is not disappointed, but he delights in me. These parables bring out these wonderful truths so clearly.

So what do we do with all of this? How do we put this into practice in our daily lives? We are invited into this journey together with Jesus. We are meant to do this together. Our faith is not a solo act, but a team sport, we need each other.  As each parable shows, celebration occurs in community among the people of faith, so this mission needs to be our heartbeat. So what does it look like?  If you have your bulletins, you may have noticed I titled this message “A Pattern of Pursuit” and I have left a blank for three lines.  You might have been wondering what that is or why I titled it that way.  The reality is, I have read this story many times, and taught on it, and heard it taught many times.  You can get so familiar with it, but awhile back, I was struck with something. It occurs back in verse 20.  The younger son has gone out and now he’s coming home.  This is what we see:  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.   It struck me because it sounded familiar. I thought about this pattern that is seen all throughout the gospels.  In Jesus’s ministry, this pattern is seen at numerous times. I don’t think that’s a pure coincidence either, when we find a pattern. Jesus sees people, he feels compassion for them, and then moves toward them in love.

Let’s look at a couple of these examples.  In Luke 7:12-15, Jesus raises a widow’s son  — And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”  Then he camp up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still.  And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”   He saw the woman, he had compassion on her, he moved towards her in love, and he heals her son.  In the story of the feeding of the 5,000, which is recorded in Matthew 14:13-16 as well as in Mark 6, we see this pattern as well.  The disciples are tired and want to withdraw by themselves.  Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.  But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.  When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.  Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”  But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”   And Jesus feeds the five thousand.  Jesus sees people, he feels compassion for them, and then he moves toward them in love, through healing, through teaching, through giving them food to eat.

But it doesn’t stop there.  It’s not just in Jesus’s ministry that we see this example, but in his teaching for us.  In Matthew 9:35-38 there’s a similar type passage — Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”   Jesus is calling us to send us out, to go out, to live on mission with him.

Perhaps the strongest example of all is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, another well known parable, Luke 10:25-37 — An expert in the Law stands up to test Jesus. He notes he should love God and love his neighbor, but to justify himself, he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus has this answer.  Check it out with this pattern in mind.  Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest {Who should have helped him.} was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, {Who should have helped him.} when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, {The last person you would have thought of to help him.  Culturally, it was unthinkable.} as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.  Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’   Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”  And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”   This is the pattern of seeing people, feeling compassion, and moving towards them in love.

Following Jesus’ pattern of pursuit, the first thing we’re called to is to truly see others.  Everyone that we know and everyone that we see bears God’s image.  Seeing others as God sees them starts with knowing how God sees us. Every person you meet has a story. Instead of quickly judging or ignoring others, what if we started noticing them? Think about how much that means to you when someone takes the time to notice you. I think through my story and the men who have noticed me, and pursued me. My volunteer basketball coach Scott in high school.  The Senior captain on the basketball team in college named John.  Pastor Rob in Minnesota while I was finishing college.  Pastor Ryan here at South who was my mentor for three years.  Or Russ Smith at Denver Christian.  These are guys who took notice of me and cared about me.  I think of Kevin Perdew here at South, one of our leaders with the students. He notices and talks to each and every student, he reaches out to the new students, including the students who are quiet and shy. What if we each did this not only here at church, but in our workplaces, neighborhoods, schools, sports teams, and in our community?

Secondly, cultivating compassion for others, following this pattern from Jesus.  How do we get to a place where we feel compassion for others on their journey?  It starts with listening to their story.  Everybody has a story and is on a journey.   Build a relationship with them, engage with them, slow down.   See conversations and relationships, not as interruptions, but as invitations and opportunities.   Ask God to help cultivate this in us, the more we do it, the more we grow and develop it.   To slow down and listen, rather than just rushing on with our own agendas.  Another of our student volunteers, Kevin Rayl, does this so well. He cares so deeply for our students and has a heart of gold. He goes out of his way to build up our students, to pray for them, to follow up with them. He has done that with Hannah and I from day one here at South. It may not seem like a lot, but it matters so much to others.

Lastly, moving toward others in love. Jesus did this over and over and it wasn’t always the same way.  Sometimes it was healing or teaching or feeding or raising a son to life.  But what does it look like for us as we move towards others in love?  Building a relationship.  Meeting a pressing need with the resources that God has entrusted to us.  Extending love and care for people.  Extending forgiveness, maybe to a family member or a friend that we have a difficult relationship with.  Inviting others into community.  All these parables shared the same theme of doing this together in community. Today is our Local Ministry Partner Sunday. This could be a great way to get plugged in and move towards others in love. There are tables in the lobby right after this service to learn about various organizations that South partners with and hear about the work they’re doing right here in our community. Their areas of ministry range from supporting the homeless, ending human trafficking, fighting hunger, tutoring kids, and more. This could be a great opportunity to get plugged in and serving.  If we’re committed to living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, then we’re called to do that together as a community in our community.  1 John 4:19: We love because he first loved us.

Putting it altogether: We see how God deeply loves and pursues us. He values us, being made in His image and pursues us. He invites us into a life with Him, as we love and pursue others.

As we end this morning, I have asked Aaron to come up and close with a song. I have left a spot at the end of your bulletin for “My Next Step.”  I want to encourage us to be thinking about what is one next step that we could take from what we have heard today. I love this song, its called “By Your Side” by Tenth Avenue North. Perhaps God did something in your heart, whether you connected with the younger son, or the older son.  Or maybe the way that you view God or the way He views you was challenged or changed today.  This song speaks to us, as we always remember that God pursues relentlessly, He loves always, and He refuses to give up on you.  Let’s sing.

The Parables of Jesus | A Pattern of Pursuit | Luke 15:1-32 | Week 42020-09-21T11:27:47-06:00

The Parables of Jesus | The Parable of the Talents | Matthew 25:14-30 | Week 3

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THE PARABLES OF JESUS: The Parable of the Talents  Matthew 25:14-30

We’ve been in a series the last couple of weeks where we are studying the Parables of Jesus. I have to admit,  parables can be difficult. They aren’t explicit in the way a simple story is.  Jesus at one time said, “I spoke in parables so that you would get this and others wouldn’t get it.”  They can be a little bit tricky to interpret. Parables are stories with a meaning, often to jar a listener into learning something new about the economy of the kingdom of God.  They were a bit jarring to the original listeners —remember, they heard them first—because they challenged conventional wisdom at the time.  Most of them have a twist or an ‘aha’ moment of some kind that turned that thinking on its head. So to understand parables, we have to understand the culture and dominant thinking they were birthed into, and try to find the principle within it and bring it forward into our day and age. Because they can be a bit difficult, I’ve pored over the parables and tried to find the easiest one, and that’s what I’m going to talk about today. No, I’m kidding.  Today, I’m going to walk through a parable that’s considered a complex parable.  There are four characters that we see, but they’re treated as three.  And there is a surprise twist at the end.

We are going to walk through the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25, so go ahead and turn there in your bibles or navigate in your bible app. The parable of the talents is part of a series of three parables that have themes of waiting for the arrival of someone special—a master or whoever it might be—and also a picture of what the appropriate behavior of the characters while they wait looks like, and all three finish with a strong depiction of judgment. And I’ll be honest and say these parables are fascinating and amazing to read until we get to the very last part.  I remember when I knew I was going to do this parable and I reread it and……oh, I really like it….oh, this is interesting….uh oh!  The very end is this harsh judgment part. It would be a lot easier to teach without that, but I think there is an important lesson in the judgment that we don’t want to gloss over. So what I want to today is to walk verse-by-verse through this parable, point out some things we can learn from it along the way, and then end with some practical things we can do to apply this to our own lives as we seek to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus. Sound good?

Let’s pray. Lord, today, our hearts are tender for you to speak to us.  Thank you for the Scriptures.  God, I would pray that, Holy Spirit, you would speak through your Scriptures to us that we might continue to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  In Jesus’s name.  Amen.

Okay, let’s dive in.  Matthew 25:14-15 —  Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.  It was pretty common in the ancient Near East for a wealthy person to travel abroad, and when they did, they would designate someone to be a caretaker over their wealth. So we see this man pull together three servants, and entrust his wealth to them. In v15, we see that he gave five bags of gold to one, two bags to another, and one to the last.  Some translations use the word talents.  Many scholars believe a talent was equivalent to 20 years of a day laborer’s wages.    So let’s do some math.  Sir, how much do you make per year? Just kidding!  The point really isn’t exactly how much money it was, it was just saying it was a lot of money, a huge amount of money and resources.

Look at verse 15 again.   …each according to his own ability.

The Greek word used for ability is the word “dunamis.”  What word does that sound like?  Dynamite! One of the definitions for dunamis is explosive power. Think about it this way, dynamite has latent explosive potential, doesn’t it?  If you hold a stick of dynamite in your hand and you light the wick, what happens?  BOOM!  The word dunamis is translated a number of different ways:  talents, abilities, explosive potential. It’s like the Master here was looking at the servants for their potential, their latent explosive ability to do something with what he entrusted them with. Here’s the truth: God looks at every person not just at who they are today, but for the potential He created in them to have. The bottom line is that God’s kingdom is expanding and at work, and He invites all of us to partner with Him in this, and expects us to leverage who we are for his good work.

Because we’re human, it’s pretty easy to look at someone else and the things they’ve been entrusted with, and to compare.  He has better hair than me.  She sings better than me.  He makes more money, he has more stuff than I do.  Or this sentence:  I wish I were more like….fill in the blank.  Who’s with me? We can get so caught up in the comparison game that we focus more on what we don’t have than being faithful with what God has given to us.

The other thing I think is really interesting is that the master gave them portions of wealth, entrusting it to them according to their own ability, and then he told them exactly what to do with it, didn’t he?  No, he didn’t.  I’ve never really thought about that before. He didn’t give them money and then give them a checklist and a lengthy, “Do this, do that” with it, did he? No, he simply gave them the money, and then he got out of town. Why? I believe it’s because he trusted that the servants knew him.  They knew his heart.  They knew how he operated in the world and that they would use the money accordingly to continue his good work. I don’t know about you, but God doesn’t always give me an explicit list of what He wants me to do with the resources He’s entrusted me with. Sometimes God does say do this, but a lot of times, God entrusts us with everything that we have.  That’s why when we give back we say, “Every good gift comes from the Father.”  God gifts us everything and that’s why we return a portion of that back as a symbol that everything we have is God’s.  But God doesn’t always say exactly, explicitly what to do with it.  But, I will say, the Scriptures are pretty clear about the basics, aren’t they?  Feed the hungry—We should do that.  We should clothe the poor.  We should take care of the widow and the orphan.  We should meet the needs of one another.

But what if we aren’t exactly clear how to manage all that God has entrusted us? I was struck by this provocative statement by Dallas Willard: “In many cases, our need to wonder about or be told what God wants in a certain situation is nothing short of a clear indication of how little we are engaged in His work.”  Wow, that’s a painful indictment. But beyond that, think about it this way: We should know the way and heart of Jesus so deeply that managing His resources well is second nature. If you’re not sure what to do with what God has given you for God’s work, press in to Jesus, His way, and His heart. Get to know the master and you’ll discover exactly what to do with what God entrusts you with.

Now let’s see what each person did with their money (v16):  The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more.  But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.   I have to admit that, as a kid when I read this, I thought, “That third guy has the right idea.” Why? Because it was safe.  I know people who lived through the Great Depression, and hiding money was a surefire way to keep it safe…unless the house burned down, of course. How many of you have heard those stories of people who buy a house and do some renovation and find a bunch of money in the walls? I just want to say if that’s you, don’t forget to tithe. Just kidding. The reason they did that is because it was safer than banks.

Seriously, though, it seems kind of risky for the first two guys to take the money and do something with it. You might even say it seemed a little bit frivolous. The Greek here implies that they may have invested in the marketplace. I don’t know if they started a business of some sort, or maybe they were on the ground floor at Facebook, or what, I don’t know exactly what they did.  Somehow, they put the money to work. First century listeners would probably have responded exactly like I did, thinking the guy that buried the money was the prudent one, the one that did the wise thing. The banking system in the first century was relatively new and there was great distrust of it. Some people believed you shouldn’t be putting stuff into the bank, so most hearers probably heard this story and rolled their eyes at the first two guys, and affirmed the guy who played it safe,

But remember, parables were designed to challenge conventional wisdom, to flip the thinking of world on its head, and for Jesus to introduce the economy of the Kingdom, so in a bit, we’ll start seeing how conventional wisdom was flipped on its head. Verse 19:  After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.  We don’t know how long this was, but I will say this, after an exhausting study of the Greek here, I’ve discerned that long time means……a long time.  A fair chunk of time. So the master returned and basically asked for an account of what they had done with his money. At first, we see the one with five bags and the one with two bags of gold report out.

This is interesting that those two characters really serve as one character in the story.  They did the same thing and the response from the master was the same. Look at verse 20:  The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. “Master,” he said, ‘”you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.” His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” The man with two bags of gold also came.  “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.” His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

The master entrusted his things to these people to manage well, and they doubled the resources given to them. They leveraged their ability, that dunamis power, their potential, their understanding of the heart and way of the master, to double the impact of his resources. And so the master rewarded them in a couple of ways. First of all, he probably had a huge party, and they were his guests of honor. Who doesn’t like a great party? But catch this, he also noticed that they had been faithful to manage his resources well with what they had been given, so the master put them in charge of more.

The MESSAGE paraphrase (by Eugene Peterson) says, “From now on, be my partner.”  The Lukan account of this essentially says, “You’ve been faithful with ten cities, now rule over an entire region.”  Are you getting the picture?  I gave you just a little bit and you did well with it, and now I’m going to give you more responsibility, more ability to do that, because he trusted that their heart was rooted as his heart and they doubled their resources for the good of his kingdom.  There are areas of my life that I think sometimes, “God, why won’t you give me xyz to manage? I want more.”  I want more of this thing—like this car.  I’ll manage this car really well.  Or this kind of house or whatever it might be.  It especially happens when I see others around me having more than I do, and I find myself sometimes feeling jealous of what they get to do or manage.  If we’re honest, I think all of us have been there at some point in our life.   If I’m honest, I can point to areas of my life where God hasn’t entrusted me with as much as someone else, and when I reflect upon that, I realize I haven’t managed the small amount I do have well, why on earth would I expect God to give me more? It’s important that we learn here and do an inventory of our own lives. If you want more, if you want to manage more, then manage what you have well and stop comparing what you have with what God has entrusted to someone else.

Several years ago I was in Bangkok, working with a church there, and I had the privilege of touring the slums. They were on a small strip of land the King had allotted to very poor people. It was filled with tiny little lean-to shacks. I felt so sad that people had to live this way. Kids were playing with sticks in the dirt, that’s all they had. But the jarring thing was, as I navigated through, I saw people that had essentially nothing who were happier than most people I know, myself included! I saw how they cared for one another; how their life wasn’t all about how much stuff they had, it was about the community they lived in. They weren’t all about stuff that they had, they were about who they had, the resources among them, and they were leveraging that for the good of this tiny, little, beautiful community. It wasn’t a situation of, “Lord, why couldn’t you give me more like that rich white person there?”  It was them being faithful with what they had, including hospitality and kindness, and it left an indelible mark on my soul.  I think we should all ask the question,  “How am I doing with managing what God has given to me?”  I’m going to encourage you to write that down and to spend some honest time with Jesus, asking, “Lord, how am I doing with managing what God has given to me?”

Hopefully by now its clear that we have a responsibility to leverage the potential, the power, the resources that God has given us for the good of God’s kingdom.  But now let’s pivot a little bit and look at the third guy, starting in verse 24:  Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”    Wow.  It’s really interesting, if you pull back a little bit, to see the perspective of this third person and how different his perspective of the master is from the first two. Did you catch that?  He believed the master to be a hard man who harvested where he didn’t sow and gathered where he didn’t scatter seed. His perspective of the master was completely different than the others. You’d sure think the other two, if they saw the master the same way, would have been far more careful with the money they were entrusted with. Does that make sense?  It’s like they viewed the master in a way that gave them the freedom to invest his resources.  Maybe they felt safe with him.  Or maybe they felt like he really trusted them.  Or maybe they felt like he really wanted the best for them.  Maybe they felt like they knew his heart so well that they knew exactly what to do with the resources given to them. It’s clear from the Scriptures that this third man viewed the master to be harsh, unethical, and mean, so his experience of the master was birthed out of the way he saw the master.

I have a lot of friends who grew up thinking God was angry with them.   And that meant that their experience of God was that of an angry God, always out to get them. The hammer’s about to drop.  Maybe you can relate. Last week Ryan shared, “The way you see yourself shapes everything else.”  I agree with that 100%.  And I want to expound upon that, because, make no mistake here, friends, our theology of God will greatly impact how we experience God. Our theology of God—what we believe to be true about God—will greatly impact how we experience God.  If the Gospel is simply, “God is angry and wrathful towards us because we are sinners, unless we pray a sinner’s prayer and accept Jesus, it’s easy to form an opinion that “God is an angry God.” That presupposition can greatly influence how we read all of the Scriptures, especially the Old Testament. When you see people saying the Old Testament God was really, really angry, but Jesus came and now God can be nice, because of Jesus, that came from their perspective of who God is.  Does that make sense?

My grandma gave me a bible when I was 10 or 11, and I sat in my room and I read it, because I’m a nerd, from cover to cover.  I wasn’t going to church regularly, I just read the Scriptures.  From reading it, I formed the idea that God was loving and loved me unconditionally, and that He was inviting me into relationship with Him, into the family of God, so to speak. I didn’t know until much later, when I started attending church regularly, that I started hearing how mad God was, and hearing how much God hated sin, and hated sinners.  That was some of the language I heard, and it was perplexing to me.  It wasn’t until years later, as I’ve been a pastor for almost 23 years, listening to story after story from people whose image of God is of one who’s against them.  I want you to look at this popular meme that’s been posted:   Knock, knock.  Who’s there?  It’s Jesus, let me in.  Why?   I have to save you.  From what?  From what I’m going to do to you if you don’t let me in.   This is how so many people see God.  It’s funny, but it’s sad.

If the Gospel for people is simply a “get out of hell” card versus an invitation to the beauty of God’s kingdom, no wonder they have a short-sided view of their responsibility within the kingdom of God. I’m going to say it one more time:  Our theology of God will greatly impact how we experience God.  Some of my charismatic friends seem to have this insanely intimate experience of God.  How many of you know someone who is a charismatic person, or maybe you are?  I have so many other friends that judge those people for them being all about the experience of God.  But I’ve often wondered if the reason we don’t experience God fully is because our theology of God is so limited.   For those who experience God more fully as a loving, generous God, it’s because that is their view of God.

The first two people clearly viewed the master differently than the third, and their view of the master defined their actions.  They took risks and were rewarded. The last one played it safe, and let’s turn and see what happened.  This is where the twist happens.  Now remember how I said parables often had a twist that rattled people and shifted their perspective from the economy of the world to the economy of the kingdom? Now we’re at the point in the story where we see the twist. I mean, listeners would probably have been surprised that the risk takers were rewarded so heavily.  And then it really gets crazy!   Let’s look at the master’s response, starting in verse 26:  His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?  Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.” 

Holy cow! What a response.  This is the verse that when I got to it, I went, “I don’t want to preach this!”  I love how Eugene Peterson, in The Message, words this.  He has this poetic way of unpacking this and I think it’s a great way to see it.  I’m going to reread this from The Message paraphrase:  The master was furious. “That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.”    Do you see it? The master never says, “You’re right, I’m a terrible person.” In Luke’s version of this, he doesn’t say that either. The master doesn’t say, “I’m the horrible villain you say I am.”   He simply piggybacks off of what the third person believed about him.  The master is essentially saying, “If you really believed I was that way, why didn’t you try to get some kind of safe results with what I gave you?  You knew I would want some sort of return, why wouldn’t you operate that way?” The third person’s view of the master was so limited, so skewed, that he chose to play it safe—to not live out the economy of the kingdom, but to live with scarcity thinking—and that caused him to be punished for it.

People with a ton of baggage, and we all have baggage, we all have pain, we all have child/family-origin stuff, we have all these things that influence how we see our master.  When we have that and we don’t deal with that, we view the world through the lenses of our stuff.  Someone once said, “If you don’t transform your pain, you’ll transmit it.”  Often we project onto others and we vilify other people.   I’ve seen people play the constant victim because they aren’t being honest about how the condition of their heart influences the way they see others, and they unfairly vilify other people, because of the lens they’re seeing people through.   We do this to God too, don’t we? Often, we make God in our own image of God instead of seeing God for who God really is.  Seeing God incorrectly can lead to a really miserable, empty, scarcity-oriented life.

Look at what the master said about this in verse 28: So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.  For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.   This is some of the hardest, harshest language we see from Jesus. He’s essentially saying, “My will will be accomplished one way or another. The kingdom economy will be established.  The good news of the shalom of the kingdom IS going to happen.  Those who manage the resources that I entrust to them, I’ll give more to them.  But the one who lives with a scarcity mentality won’t receive the best of the kingdom and will be judged accordingly.”   Again, Eugene Peterson’s translation of this is brilliant:  Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.

It’s clear to me that God’s economy of grace, of the kingdom, is quite different than the world’s economy.  Hopefully you’re seeing that by now.  Read Ephesians 5.  Ephesians 5 is a beautiful passage of Scripture and Paul sort of gives instructions on how to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, in a dark and hurting world.   He uses this language of “make the most of every opportunity, because the days are dark.”  He’s calling us as followers of Jesus to leverage everything we have to push back darkness and to bring the kingdom down here as it is up there.

So, I want to end today by unpacking FOUR things to chew on in order to be who God created us to be, and to live out the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  I want to encourage you to write these down and put them in your heart and process these in the week to come.  The first thing I want to challenge us to do is:  Make sure our view of God is healthy.   If to you God is the angry, mean taskmaster, I’d love to invite you to consider another way of looking at God, and the best picture we have of God is what? JESUS!  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)    What happened?  Jesus moved into the neighborhood.  Jesus is the best image we have.  I love how Pastor Brian Zahnd says this:  “God is like Jesus.
God has always been like Jesus.
  There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.
  We have not always known what God is like, but now we do.”   What if we were the kind of Church that was so immersed in the life and teaching of Jesus, so familiar with his way and his heart, that we read all of Scripture through that lens?  What if we allowed the words and teaching of Jesus and his character to define our image of who God is and what God is like? For some of us, reorienting our heart in the way of the kingdom starts by changing our view of who God is.

The second thing might feel a little bit uncomfortable: Get to know who God made you to be.  I took a personality profile ten years ago that changed my life.  I always felt I was wired a little bit different than other people, and that people sort of put me in a box, and that drove me bananas.  I always wished I could just go to some kind of psychologist and they’d print out this report:  This is you.  I wanted to know how am I wired, and how do I see the world and why, and how can I best contribute to God’s kingdom?  Taking that test opened the door for me for some massive self discovery of what I was good at, what I wasn’t good at, how I could bring the best value, and what gave me the most joy. As I was reading it, I went, “Wow, this is crazy!”  So I started learning a lot about myself.  Fast forward a couple years.  I was in a season in my life where I was really into screenwriting. I was in screenwriting and film making and entering competitions and writing sit-com pilots and doing all sort of crazy things.  I had a friend of mine who was making this film, and he called me and asked, “Would you like to come to the set of this film, for three weeks, and be sort of our social media/documentarian?  Post on Twitter and Facebook about this and keep people in the loop.”  Behind the scenes, on the set, taking pictures and posting and getting people excited.  It sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?  Two, three years before that I would have been…hook, line, and sinker into this. But the thing is, I had spent so much time discovering who I was, and how I was wired, that I knew that if I accepted this, we’d both be disappointed. I hadn’t even updated my own blog in months. So I didn’t have to think about the right thing to do, I knew instantly it wasn’t a fit.

I’m still discovering who I am, but I consider it a part of learning to live in the way of Jesus with His heart, to do the hard work of self discovery, to do as Jesus would do if Jesus were YOU! I love the words in Ephesians 2:10 — For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago. This means you are beautifully made to do God’s good work in the Kingdom of Heaven, and I so want you to get to know who God made you to be so you can accomplish the good works God arranged for you long ago.  It’s clear to me that God’s desire is that we know the heart of Jesus and the way of Jesus so intimately, and how God has wired us so intimately, that making decisions about what to do with our time, and our money, and our finances, and our energy, and all that sort of stuff would be absolutely obvious.

Some of us have a lot of work to do to get to know the heart and way of Jesus and to get to know ourselves enough to make those decisions pretty easily.  I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years who have no clue who they are.  “I don’t know who I am.”  “I don’t know what I’m good at.”   “I don’t know why I’m here.”  Maybe you can relate.    Maybe, for you, you should take something like the Enneagram, or Myers-Briggs, or maybe getting a spiritual director or a coach.   I will tell you that our team, here at South, is really committed to doing our part to help everyone in this room and everyone that’s a part of our tribe become aware of who God created them to be.  We’ve been working really hard behind the scenes on some things that we’ll roll out this fall that I am losing-my-mind excited about that I think is going to help people discover who God made them to be, so they can partner in the very best way with God’s mission here at South.  Who’s excited about that?

So we should reframe how we see God.  We should learn to see ourselves.  The third thing is:  We should put our faith into practice  Years ago, I went through a bit of an obsessive time reading the Scriptures.  I listened to all kinds of verse-by-verse teaching.  I bought a ton of commentaries.  I did exhaustive studies of books of the Bible. I could unpack the Hebrew and the Greek and all this sort of stuff.  I knew a LOT!  One day, one of my friends took me to lunch.  He looked me right in the eye and said, “Larry, you’re getting spiritually fat.” As you can imagine, I was a bit taken aback.  He went on to tell me that he’d been observing this process and that I knew a ton, but that it was time for me to leverage what I knew into action—into allowing God to use me for His glory.  I will say that that conversation changed my life.  It helped me realize that just showing up and listening to great sermons and reading the Bible all day isn’t all that following Jesus is about.

Just like in the earlier parables, the person who’s hard at work when the master comes, who put in the effort, is the one who is rewarded. I firmly believe that the economy of the kingdom is one that seeks to leverage God’s resources for maximum impact, and to put our faith into action. So, Church, look at me. If God’s blessed you with a little, then use the little you have for God’s glory and for his kingdom. If God’s blessed you with a LOT, then use the lot that you have for God’s glory and His kingdom.  It’s not enough to just know a lot about the Bible. It’s not enough to just say all the things about God, or to just attend church. Following Jesus—living in His way with His heart—requires that we put our faith into action.   That we love one another, that we serve one another, that we put others before ourselves, that we stand up for one another, that we’re a voice for people who don’t have a voice, that we are generous and kind with one another, and that we seek to bring God’s shalom into every facet of creation for God’s glory and the benefit of every single person. That is us on mission with God.

For those in this room who say it sounds a lot like “works,” I really appreciate that, and I’m going to go to Dallas Willard again, because he’s smarter than me.  Dallas Willard says,  “We might say, ‘This is dangerous because it could lead to works.’ Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.”  Our effort doesn’t earn favor with God; it’s not about because we did all this stuff salvation is now earned.  It is simply the outworking of our faith and it shows that we are choosing to partner with God’s mission in the earth.

Our mission at South is to help people live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus. We believe that if we are living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, we would consistently be growing in being with Jesus, spending time with Jesus.  We would consistently be growing in becoming like Jesus.  People would look and see us becoming like the Jesus that we see in the Scriptures.  We would consistently be growing and doing as Jesus did.  That’s the picture of what our mission statement looks like in your life.  We’re working hard and we’re excited to pour more gas on this to help you be very clear what it looks like to live in His way with His heart, to become like Jesus, to do as Jesus did, to live out our faith.  That’s the way of the kingdom!

Finally, the fourth thing is: Don’t be afraid to take a risk.  I’ve done all sorts of personality assessments and worked for a lot of other people, and there’s one ruling like what is your risk tolerance?  If you sit down with a financial advisor, one question they’ll ask is, “How risk adverse are you?”  This helps them determine where to put your money with investments.  One of the hard things about this set of parables is this idea that when the master returns, his subjects are asked to give an account of what they did with what they’ve been given, and they will be judged accordingly. And I think if we’re honest, some of us have squandered our opportunity to be used by God, because we were afraid, or because we weren’t willing to take a risk, or because we didn’t invest the time to get to know Jesus and His heart, and to partner with it. Or we simply don’t believe God can use us or that we can make any kind of impact.  One commentator said that the third character’s “timidity and lack of enterprise” is what caused him to be condemned.

Not everyone in this room is wired as an entrepreneur and I fully realize that.  We all have a different range of tolerance for risk.  But Jesus never preached, “Accept me into your heart.”  He DID speak an enormous amount about the kingdom of heaven being near, didn’t he?  And these parables were part of the way He illustrated what life in the Kingdom would be like, and it wasn’t a someday, maybe, kind of thing; it was a “the Kingdom is here”  kind of thing. Behold, the kingdom is near.  John the Baptist said it.  Jesus said it.  For a reason.  The kingdom is HERE, it’s happening.  It’s not someday Jesus comes back so we should just huddle and hide until Jesus comes back, that’s not what it is.  Jesus showed us His way, His heart, His kingdom, was different than the normal way of doing things. And for all of us, living in THAT way might ask us to do things that might seem like risky behavior to people who don’t get it.  Are you with me?

Some people are called to sell everything, move overseas, and minister to people around the globe.  God might ask you to do something crazy and get to know your neighbors.  God might ask some of us to befriend people that society deems unlovable.  God might ask you to go serve populations nobody else wants to serve.

I once left a church and an incredible situation to follow where I thought God was leading my family and I. It was a huge risk, and several people told me I was making the worst decision of my life.  But I will tell you, God showed up and did things in me I never imagined.  I love that there are people in this church that are uncommonly generous and kingdom-minded. I think of people in this community, like the Penningtons.  I admire you guys because you have done a lot of what is on this list actually.  They’ve moved overseas and have served selflessly, and now that they live here, they make their home available to people.  I’ve seen them mentoring other people, hosting block parties for their neighbors.   I think about people mentoring marriages and that investment into lives.  I think about Nicole and her team that give of their time every Tuesday night to journey with those with hurts, habits, and hang-ups.  Listen, friends, none of those things are convenient, but I’m convinced of this, God doesn’t always call us to convenience; He calls us to be consistent with the heartbeat of the kingdom.

So I want to say to you, South Fellowship Church, you’re going to hear from me and from others on this stage inviting you to bring your best self to this church,  and to this city, and to this world. And I’m going continue to ask you to align who you are, and what God has blessed you with, for the good of God’s beautiful kingdom—to leverage those things for the shalom, we have the joy of partnering with Jesus, to bring to a hurting, broken, world.

Imagine, if we were the kind of church that took seriously the call to get to know Jesus so intimately, to get to know who God’s made us to be so intimately, and to pay attention to a hurting, broken world around us so intimately that we leveraged every thing we had to be used by God and to let His kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  What if it wasn’t just the Lord’s Prayer that we said, what if we lived it as a church?  THAT, I think, is a beautiful picture of a healthy church on mission with God, and I believe that’s the kind of church God has been forming here and will continue to form.

So I’m just going to ask, what about you? Look at the four things we can do with this passage.  I want you to  ask yourself, “What is one step I can take this week to leverage what God has entrusted me with for His Kingdom?  What’s one thing I can do this week to leverage what God has entrusted me with for His glory, for His name, for the good of others?    Maybe it’s spending some time reading the gospels, seeing the character, the nature, the teaching of Jesus and reorienting yourself to who God really is.    Maybe it’s taking a personality test, or getting a life coach or spiritual director and doing some discovery of who you are and how God’s wired you and how God wants to use you.     Maybe it’s taking steps to put your faith into practice.    Maybe, for some of us, as scary as this might sound, it might be taking a risk.  Let’s pray.

Lord, I love that the Scriptures are so challenging sometimes, even though it’s scary.  I love that you invite us into something so compelling and so beautiful.  My prayer today, God, is that you would speak to this community about who you are, who we are, what you want us to do and how you might allow us to leverage everything we have for your good name, for the kingdom, for the hope of the world.  I pray you give people in this room wisdom.  Wisdom to know what steps to take, that they might see themselves through your eyes.  That the lenses that are smudged and seeing things incorrectly would be wiped clean.  That the economy of the kingdom, the economy of grace would be the economy we all submit to under your lordship, Jesus.  Lord, it’s our honor to serve you, to follow you.  We ask all these things in the strong and powerful name of Jesus.  This beautiful church, together, said….Amen.

The Parables of Jesus | The Parable of the Talents | Matthew 25:14-30 | Week 32021-08-15T13:50:21-06:00

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{Communion instructions}

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gift of Scarcity | Nirup Alphonse


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The Gift of Scarcity | Nirup Alphonse2020-08-20T16:58:43-06:00

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonah | Swallowing The Story | Jonah 4:6-11 | Week 6

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JONAH: Swallowing the Story    Jonah 4:5-11 

We’re jumping into Jonah 4, if you have your Bible, you can flip there, swipe there, click there, however you want to get there this morning.  It’s the final message in the series of Jonah as we continue to journey towards the cross and the resurrection.  We’ve been utilizing this book of Jonah to lead us to Easter.  We’ve been saying, throughout this series, that part of our goal has been to rescue Jonah from Veggie Tales and the flannel board.  We often view this as a kids’ story.   If you’ve been coming over the last few weeks, I hope you realize, by this point, this is certainly applicable to kids, but it’s no kids’ story, is it?  There’s a lot of depth, and a lot of beauty, and a lot of subtlety and nuance, and sort of hints and winks and nods in the book of Jonah.  It’s intended for adults.

The story of Jonah is the story of a resentful prophet who encounters a relentless God.  In week one, we said Jonah could be split in half.  The first half of Jonah gives us one message and the second half of Jonah builds on that and gives us another message.  In the first half of Jonah, Jonah shows us what it’s like to run from God through outright, willful disobedience, doesn’t he?  Jonah is a prophet of God and gets a call from God.  He’s told to go and preach against Nineveh, that their wickedness has risen up before God. God’s calling him to go to Nineveh, which is about 500 plus miles east of where he was.  Jonah hops on a ship and heads to Tarshish.  Jonah is outright disobedient and saying to God, “God, I know what you’ve asked me to do, but thanks but no thanks.”  You’ll remember that we were wondering throughout the entire first few chapters of Jonah, why is Jonah running, and the narrator strings us along and doesn’t give us the answer until we get to chapter 4.  Jonah said to God, “I knew it! I knew you were slow to anger.  I knew you’re merciful and abounding in steadfast love.  I knew it! My worst nightmare’s come true.  That’s what you’re like.”  In his disobedience, we see that God pursued Jonah through a storm, through a fish that vomited him out onto dry ground.

That’s one way to run from God, but there’s another way to run from God also.  You can run from God outside the walls of the church, say no thank you, God, I’ll do things my way.  Or you can run from God inside the walls of the church.  You can run from Him by saying, okay, God, here’s the deal.  If I do all the right things, and if I accomplish all the right religious duties, then you and I will be good, right?  And if we’re good that means you have to do what I say you should do.  For Jonah, in his disobedience he ran, but in his obedience he was running also.  We’re going to see that God doesn’t let him get off that easily.  He continues to pursue Jonah even in that disobedience—in the church, religious disobedience.  But instead of sending a fish and a storm, this time he sends a story.

Reminded me of a story I heard a while back about a guy by the name of Kyle MacDonald.  He did this experiment.  You may have done a similar experiment in Youth Group, called “Bigger, Better.”  You start with something small and go door-to-door in a neighborhood and you ask them….hey, I’ve got this pen, do you have anything bigger, better?  You get whatever they give you that’s bigger or better.  Eventually, we’ve had people come back with couches and washing machines and stuff like that.  Kyle MacDonald tried the same thing online.  He started with a red paperclip.  He traded that red paperclip for a fish pen, eventually, a year later, he traded a role in a movie, which someone had given him, for a house!  BIGGER.  BETTER.

Here’s the thing with “Bigger, Better.”  Whatever you’re trading you have to give up.  You can’t hold onto both. You can’t say I want the house AND the movie role.  You’ve got to give one up, in order to receive the bigger and the better.  I’m convinced that there are some things that you and I are holding onto this morning that Jesus says I’ve got something bigger and better for you.  I’ve got something that would transform your life, if you would receive it.  It’s the very same thing he wants Jonah to wrap his heart and his mind around.  I’ve got something bigger, better, but in order to get you to move in that direction, you’re going to have to open your hands.  In order to get Jonah to open his hands, God sends him a story.

Jonah 4.  We’re picking up in verse 5 and I’m going to read this entire section because it’s all one thought.  It’s one movement, it’s one story that God is going to tell through Jonah’s life.  He’s going to invite him into a situation.  Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there.  He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.  Now the Lord God appointed a plant {You’re going to see throughout this passage of Scripture, God’s going to appoint a plant, a worm, a wind, and He’s going to appoint a point.  He wants to make a point with Jonah.  He’s been appointing things all throughout the book of Jonah.  God appointed Jonah to go and share his message.  God appointed a wind that came up and a storm that raged.  God appointed a fish.  God’s been appointing all throughout the book of Jonah, and we’re going to see him continue to do that as he tells a story through Jonah’s life.}  …and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort.  So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.  But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered.  When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint.  And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”  But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”  And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”  {Ryan’s version was Jonah said, “You better be believe it!  I’m ticked off!}  And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night.  And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from the left, and also much cattle?”

So turn the page and keep going.  How many of you did?  Wait, what???  That’s the ending??  God giving a shout out to cattle?  That’s the ending.  That’s the point.  Remember we said back when we started the series that there’s a lot of debate as to whether or not Jonah is intended to be read as history or whether Jonah’s intended to be read as parable.  What we said at that point is that you can choose either way to read Jonah, but don’t miss this….don’t miss the fact that Jonah is clearly intended to be read as prophetic.  It throws the ball back in our court to say okay, what are we going to do with this story?  How are we going to wrestle with the Prophet Jonah?  What are we going to do with some of the things we hold onto that are just maybe a little bit too small?  What do we do with this invitation God gives us…..I’ve got something bigger and I’ve got something better.

What was too small for Jonah was the lens through which he viewed the world.  The way that he saw the story that God was telling.  The way that he saw the grace that God had.  The way that he saw the love that God had for the people around him.  For Jonah, and maybe for you and for me…..we’ve grown up in a context, haven’t we?  We’ve grown up and have had a certain view of life, probably for a lot of our life.  We were born into a certain family.  We were born with certain privileges.  We were born with certain things to our name.  Maybe we had two parents at home, maybe we didn’t, but we were all born with a set of circumstances {listen to me here} that shaped the way that we see the world around us.  Jonah was too.  What God is not so gently saying to Jonah is the perspective you have on the world, Jonah, is not quite accurate.  Ours might not be either, right?  Our perspective might be…I’ve worked hard for everything that I’ve had and people around me should work hard too.  If you’re suffering and you’re down a little bit, it’s because you’re not working hard enough.  Why can’t you be a little bit more like me?!  So we look at the world and it’s everybody’s fault if they’re not as good as we are.

Jonah looks at Nineveh and he sees people that are unlike him, completely unlike him.  Different god.  Different approach to life.  He can’t seem to step into a Ninevite’s shoes and walk a mile in them to see where they’re coming from.  He can’t imagine their upbringing.  He can’t imagine what their life might have been like.  He can’t imagine getting fed pagan religion from day one.  Will you look up at me for just a moment?  I’m pretty passionate about this.  I think it’s easy to look at people and come up with a story as to why they’re not in the same place that we are.  Whether it’s in their beliefs or in their economic situation.  You name it.  A ton of different ways.  What if we started to adopt this view:  If I had grown up the way they’d grown up, if I’d had the experiences they had, if I’d walked through the things they’d walked through, I’d probably do and believe exactly what they do and believe.  But what if we started there?

Jonah can’t start there, so God has to come and has to tell him a story.  The story is meant to make Jonah as uncomfortable as we might be right now.  It’s meant to paint him a picture of the very last thing that Jonah wants to see, and it’s this one big word….and the word is….are you ready for it?….t’s what this entire section is all about….the word is…..grace.  Jonah, your calling as a prophet?  Grace.  Jonah, your placement in Israel?  Grace.  Jonah, that storm that came?  Grace.  Jonah, the fish that swallowed you?  Grace.  Jonah, the second chance that you got?  Grace.  Jonah, the way I treated you in your disobedience?  Grace.  Jonah, the way that I love you?  Grace.  Jonah, the very breath that you just took?  Grace.  It’s ALL grace.  It’s all grace, from top to bottom.  I love the way that Dallas Willard said it: “Grace is God acting in our lives to accomplish what we cannot do on our own.”

Oftentimes we think that grace is simply what saves us and what gets us in the door of Christianity, but the truth of the matter is, friends, is that grace is the very thing that carries us the entire way.  Jonah can’t see it.  It’s often hard for us to see it too, because we have to admit that there are things that we cannot do on our own.  A lot of us assume that God’s grace is inactive in our lives, because we assume we’re way better than we actually are.  We think it’s us.  Lean in.  We forget that every good and perfect thing in our life is a gift from God. (James 1:17) EVERYTHING.

Jonah is blind to God’s blessing.  Here’s the truth of the matter, friends, you and I…whatever we end up putting into our life….the story we tell ourselves, is the story we tell.  Whatever we put into our lives eventually comes out of our life.  My mom used to have this saying that drove me crazy, because she wanted me to get rid of some music that she didn’t think aligned with the way of Jesus, and she was probably right.  Her saying was, “Garbage in, garbage out.”  I’d go, “Oh, I hate that, Mom, stop it!”  Garbage in, garbage out.  {Ryan used a gumball machine to illustrate.}  Gratitude in, gratitude out.  The narrative that I’ve got to perform in order to be loved…..so you start projecting on everyone around you.  I’ve made it on my own…..make it on your own.  I’m forgiven….forgive.  I’ve been given grace….I give grace.  You want to know what’s going in?  Look at what’s going out.  What God wants to say to Jonah is Jonah, if you (we) accept grace personally—and you should, because it’s all around you, it’s the very breath you took—-we must be willing to extend it universally.

Jesus tells a story of this king, this master, who has a servant that owes him $6 billion. (From Matthew 18:23-35)  The servant is unable to pay the master, imagine that?  The master comes to him and says, “I’m going to forgive all the debt that you owe me.  Go in peace.”  That same servant has a servant of his own, who owes him $12,000.  Which is more—$6 billion or $12,000?  The servant says to his servant, “If you can’t pay me back, you’re going to jail.  In fact, you’re going to jail until you’re able to pay me every last dime.”  Jesus tells this story and the punchline is this:  Then his master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant!  I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”  To get what you receive, you’ve got to be willing to give.

God is pressing on Jonah’s life about some ways that he’s out of line, about some ways that he doesn’t love justice and mercy and faithfulness—the very three things that Jesus would say, centuries later, are the weightier things of the law. (Mt. 23:23)  Jonah’s not there.  Jonah doesn’t love it.  So God starts to tell him this story, and he wants to give him a bigger and better….hey, Jonah, let me put something bigger, better in your life so that something bigger and better can come out of your life.  Let’s dig in just a little bit to see what that looks like in this passage.

Jonah 4:5 — Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city {There’s a subtle wink and nod from the narrator.  When we read east of the city, we’re probably intended to think oh, east of Eden, right?   East of paradise.  Jonah’s walked from the west, all the way through the city.  He’s east of the city, but not just geographically, but spiritually also.  He’s a little off.  A lot of bit off.}  and made a booth for himself there.  He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.  Question:  What’s he hoping becomes of the city?  Have you ever gotten early to a fireworks show and put down your blanket and got out your cooler and popcorn and you just waited?  That’s what Jonah’s doing.  He’s waiting for the same thing……fireworks!  He wants a front row seat for Nineveh getting absolutely demolished.  He wanted the same thing that the disciples suggested to Jesus after they walked through a Samaritan town.  The Samaritan town didn’t accept Jesus, didn’t invite him in.  The disciples said to him, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”  {They’re just echoing Elijah, right?  They’re going biblical on the city.  Jonah wants to see some Sodom and Gomorrah action.}  But he turned and rebuked them.  And they went on to another village. (Luke 9:51-56)   He’s like, boys, come on, that’s not our way.  That’s not who we are.  That’s not what we do.  What if we started to trust that our flourishing, your flourishing, is connected to the successof others, not to their demise.

Jonah has this narrative in his head, a really small narrative, a really tired narrative.  If my enemy loses, then I win.  There’s two ways for me to go up a few rungs on the ladder.   One is to actually go up a few rungs on the ladder; the other is for the person in front of me to slip back a little.  That’s what he believes and that’s what starts to come out of his life.  What if we started to have a different, better story?  What if we started to, along with the Apostle Paul, say, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood…” {Do you have an enemy?  Absolutely!  Yes, you do.  The powers of spiritual darkness that are very present in our world. But look up at me for just a second.  You have never laid eyes on a human enemy.  EVER!  At least according to the Scriptures.  You can decide if you want to be a disciple of the way of Jesus or not, but if you’re a disciple, you do not wrestle against flesh and blood.}  …but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)  

So, if we can get ahold of grace…..if that’s the story that gets in us and the story that eventually starts to get out of us, how might that free us from looking at people as the enemy and somebody to be jumped over, rather than saying, oh, I want your success?  How does that work?  Here’s the thing:  Grace puts us all in the same boat, doesn’t it?  The only entrance into the kingdom of God is a place of need, it’s a place of dependency.  No one beats their chest into the kingdom.  No!  We come saying: Lord, I need you, oh, I need You // Every hour I need You // My one defense, my righteousness // Oh God, how I need you.

What if we also had in our mind…..what if grace freed us to believe that if God is for us, who can be against us?  AND, if God is for us, who can we be against?  What if it was both?  What if those were two sides to the same coin?  If we accept grace for ourselves, we’ve got to be willing to give it to other people.  We’ve already said, “I didn’t get what I deserved, so why then should I want other people to get what they deserve?”  It doesn’t work that way.  If we accept grace personally, we must extend it universally.

I love the way this came out in the darkest of situations in June of 2015.  There was a man named Dylann Roof, a white supremacist filled with hate, who walked into an all-black church prayer meeting.  They welcomed him with opened arms.  He proceeded to shoot and kill nine of the congregation members.  It was shocking!  But what was more shocking was what followed.  You may have heard the story.  At his trial, family member after family member stood up and said, “We forgive you.  You’ve taken something dear to us, but we forgive you.”  One person was quoted—a sister of one of the people that was killed—as saying, “I acknowledge that I am very angry, but we have no room for hating, so we have to forgive.  I pray God for your soul.”  Forgiveness in, forgiveness out.

Our situation may not be that dire.  It may be.  You may have been abused.  You may have been taken advantage of and you’re just holding on to how can I get back at that person.   I can tell you, the way that that person keeps getting back at you is by you holding onto it.  What if grace started to free us?  What if grace started to free us from thinking how we could get back at that neighbor that just parks in front of our yard, every single time.  What if grace started to free us from thinking about how we could just edge that person along in the line at Starbucks or Solid Grounds…..Order a little bit quicker, please Jesus, right?  Did you just see the menu when you got up to the front?  What if grace started to free us from thinking about revenge for that ex that broke our heart and shoved it in our face?

What if our flourishing was connected to the success of others, rather than the demise?  I’ll tell you what would happen.  A scarcity mindset—there’s only so much to go around?  Gone!  Competition mindset?  Gone!  Comparison mindset?  Gone!  You know what starts to awaken in us when we receive this kind of grace?  We become people who are just passionate, ubiquitous encouragers.  I love that Teresa, in our Communications Team, put out this little picture on Instagram that said, “Take the next 60 seconds to pray for someone going through a tough time.”  Man, that hit me at exactly the right moment.  I looked at that and knew the person.  What if we became those kinds of encouragers?  Where we didn’t celebrate other people’s mishaps, and other people’s sin, and the way other people took a step back, but we actually came alongside and said, “My success is actually tied to yours; we’re in the same boat.”  If you get better, so do I.  So do WE.  I think Us vs. Them is pretty tired, don’t you?  What if this week you made it a point to encourage people?

Here’s how the story goes on (Jonah 4:6-9):  Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. {So Jonah’s like, hey, God, finally we’re on the same page.  God, finally you’re on my page!  I’m uncomfortable and you’ve appointed something to take away the discomfort.  Thank you!  Finally being all Yahweh-ish for me, right?} So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.  But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered.  When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind,  {God is breaking Jonah down physically, so that his eyes start to open spiritually.  He’s getting him to this place where he’s going to be willing to finally, finally, finally hear Yahweh.}  and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint.  And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”  But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”  {Does this sound familiar: Do you do well to be angry?  Last week, we talked about our misconceptions about who God is, that picture of God we have in our mind that often isn’t totally accurate or totally right.  Last week was about how Jonah was wrong about God, this week is about how Jonah is wrong about everyone around him.  But God’s question is still the same.  It’s pastoral.  It’s a counselor coming alongside him…..Jonah, how’s that working out for you?}  And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”  And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night.

How long did Jonah have the plant?  One day, essentially.  God’s saying to him:  Hey, Jonah, you’ve developed a co-dependent relationship on this plant.  You have an affection for this plant.  In one day.  There’s all these people, Jonah, that you can’t seem to gain an affection for.  Jonah, you knew that plant for one day, but how long, Jonah, have I known Nineveh?!  Jonah, let’s talk about what you did to make that plant grow.  Tell me about how you tilled the ground.  Tell me about how you put fertilizer on it.  Tell me about how you planted the seed.  Tell me about how you watered it.  Tell me about how you caused it to grow, Jonah, I’ll wait.  A lot of people wrestle with this plant growing up overnight.  It was Miracle-Gro, okay?  Jonah, tell me what you did.  Oh!  Nothing!  Jonah, tell me why that plant was so important to you.  It was hot, and it helped.

You can imagine God maybe saying to Jonah, okay, Jonah, now I get it.  The way that we determine whether or not something has value, is whether or not it’s beneficial to you.  Is that right?  Is that the way you want me to run the universe, Jonah?  If it has value to ME, then I keep it around, if not, the fire reigns down.  Jonah, is that how we should live?  Jonah, is that how we should do?  Jonah, even your own reasoning breaks down.  God says to him, like, hey, Jonah, that plant….you grew to love that plant in ONE day.  How much more valuable are animals than plants?  What about the cows?  And then….how much more valuable than the animals are the crown jewel of my creation?  God sort of pins him in.  Jonah’s affection is tied to productivity, it’s tied utility, it’s tied to being beneficial.  I think he probably thinks that about God, too, right?  What we put in—I’m beneficial if I produce—is what we get out.

I think God, not so subtly, wants to say to Jonah, what if….what if, Jonah….what if, South Fellowship, we affirm that the valueof people is based on inherent worth, not personal benefit.  What if the way that we viewed the world, the parts of it that we love and the parts of it that we lament, the people we agree with and the people we disagree with…..what if we had the truth in the back of our mind—that Jesus is life and his invitation to us is to hold out that life to every single person because you have never met somebody who doesn’t carry the image of God on their life!  Can you imagine Jonah going, “I’ve got a question about THIS.  Even Nineveh?  Even brutal Nineveh?  Even violent Nineveh?  Even socially unjust Nineveh?  Even they have worth to you, Yahweh? This is what I was worried about.”  You can just imagine God saying back to Jonah, “Even them.”

My son Reid loves to build these magnet towers, so he puts a number of magnets together.  He’ll stack them on our coffee table, then he’ll stand back and admire his work.  Luckily, this only happens every day.  One of his siblings will walk by and “accidentally” nudge the coffee table, and it just goes down.  I look at it and go, “It’s just some magnets.”  It’s just a Nineveh.  Who cares?  He does.  Why?  Because he built it.  He’s invested in it.  God’s looking at Jonah going, “I’m invested in it.”  Oh yeah, they don’t know their right hand from their left.  They are wrong.  They’re sinful.  They’re evil.  I have judged them.  I’m calling them to repentance.  I want them to let go of their violence, but in the midst of all of that, I love them and I’m for them.  What if when we embrace the kingdom of God, we realize that we have to get on board with what God views as his most valuable possession?  You know what that is?  People.  It’s His inheritance.  It’s who He gave his Son for, that we’ll celebrate next week.

What Jonah missed is that Israel wasn’t loved more than others, they were chosen to hold the love of God out to others!  Read Genesis 12.  It’s the story of God from the very beginning.  No one….no one….look up at me for a moment, friends…..NO ONE is expendable!  You’ve never laid eyes on a mere mortal, according to C.S. Lewis.  This should affect the way that we view the world.  It should affect the way that we view abortion.  It should affect the way that we view health care.  It should affect the way that we view immigration.  It should affect the way that we view education.  Because those just aren’t policies, there are people that are attached to those.  People are important to God.  If our relationship with Jesus doesn’t change our relationship with other people, can I just gently press on you and suggest that maybe, just maybe, we just don’t have a relationship with Jesus.

I don’t know what it looks like for you this week.  Maybe it looks like slowing down a little bit.  Maybe that’s your practice.  Maybe a practice for this week to affirm the value of all people is to look people in the eye—people that annoy you, people that are too slow for you, people that are in your way.  Maybe it’s to make a really awkward phone call, or text message, or an awkward visit to your neighbor to invite him to come to Resurrection Sunday with you.  It’s going to be a celebration.  You don’t want to miss it, and you don’t want them to miss it either.  I don’t know what it looks like for you, but will you ask Jesus, because I think he might have some ideas.

And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?   It ends and we go, man, God loves him some cattle!  Not a vegetarian evidently.  Should I not pity, should I not have compassion for Nineveh?  It’s like God was saying, I was only doing for Nineveh what you insisted what was right to do for the plant!  Like, Jonah, be consistent.  They don’t know their right hand from their left is similar to when the people are nailing the nails into Jesus’s hand and his prayer is:  Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)  They aren’t innocent, they’re ignorant.

In week one, I suggested that this book, the arch of this book, is compassionate irony.  That’s the point.  In verse 8, listen to what Jonah says:  It is better for me to die than to live.  I think, ironically, he’s right.  He’s right.  But what Jonah needs to die to is his pride.  What Jonah needs to die to is his privilege.  What Jonah needs to die to is his particularism.  What Jonah needs to die to is his perspective.  Jonah, it’s all grace and your view is way too small.  That’s what Jonah needs to die to.  Maybe, just maybe, that’s what we need to die to also.  Embracing God’s will……when we pray “Thy kingdom come, YOUR. WILL. BE. DONE…..that means we embody God’s compassion.

Yeah, this wasn’t a journey that ended with Jonah, was it?  It’s a journey that presses on us.  It’s a journey that Jesus called people to live out at every turn.  He got in trouble with hanging out with the Ninevite types, didn’t he?  And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  {Those are the people we’re trying to avoid.  That’s Nineveh!}  But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’  {Compassion, that we would look at the world differently.} For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Matthew 9:11-13)   Let’s go learn what that means.  Let’s swallow that story and let’s let it get out of us.

Jonah | Swallowing The Story | Jonah 4:6-11 | Week 62020-08-20T16:46:06-06:00
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