This is Us: Church as Voice – 1 Peter: 2-10

1 Peter 2:9-10

“Go and tell more people about Jesus.”

Over the past few weeks we have been working our way through the “This is Us” series and the past two weeks our focus has been the church.  We looked at the church as family. We are a family, not a perfect family this side of heaven, but we are a family and last week we looked at the church as a body. As a body with different parts that make up the whole; we all have a role in serving. Today, we are going to be looking at the church as voice.

“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” It’s a saying that is often taught to children to stand against name calling when it being to poor down on them. Words like fatty, ugly, shorty or shrimp, skinny, dummy, weird, four eyes or idiot. And on the other end of this is a child that deep within their hearts recite this phrase over and over, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Then they might shout it out and run away, but when they get home they often run to their rooms, curl up in bed and cry. Because they know it’s not true.  All of us desperately want to believe that “words can never hurt me,” but we all know it’s not true, because everyone of us in here have been on the receiving end of this or the giving end of this.

Words are the most powerful way of expressing who we are and what we most believe in and the effects they have on us or others can crush one’s life and destroy relationships. They can cause one to lose hope, lose confidence or lose faith or even drive someone to doubt life has any purpose. They can also uplift, empower people to do things you never thought possible. Bring truth into one’s life that changes everything about them and they have the potential to change the world.

In the Oxford English Dictionary we have 171,476 words recorded, but most believe that there are actually over 1 million English words that could be used for the positive or negative.


“The tongue has no bones, but is strong enough to break a heart. So be careful with your words.” Unknown

The Bible has a few things to say about how we use words in both the positive or negative and the power that comes through words.

“Pleasant words are a honeycomb: sweet to the taste and health to the body.” Proverbs 16:24

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). King Solomon

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). Apostle Paul

“Let your conversations be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).
Here is the point…Our words have the power to change lives.

Peter was a man who understood the power of words and the influence they have to either uplift ones spirit or mess things up. Words often got him in trouble. We can think of the time he rebuked Jesus for speaking of his death (Mt. 16). We know how well that ended up for him. “Get behind me, Satan.” There was also the time he denied knowing the Lord three times. Not just denying him, but cursing and swearing an oath that he didn’t know Him. “Do you love me?” Peter had a lot of growing pains. But as he went through this, God would transform his life and use his voice to be the “rock” and “pillar” of the early church that Jesus knew he would become. He stood boldly on the day of Pentecost and preaching to the crowds in Jerusalem. He was the first to proclaim Christ to the Gentiles.  And even though he would be arrested, beaten, and over and over told to never proclaim the resurrection of Jesus, none of that stopped him.

The Church

At the time of this writing which was probably near the end of his life, he, and Christians throughout in the Roman Empire, found them surrounded with first massive scale of horrifying persecution that the church had ever seen.

Nero was the emperor of Rome

  • Re-create Rome (100 acre Palace)
    • July 18th, 64 A.D. Rome burned
      • 9 days 14 districts burned down
    • Rumors – he needed an out.
      • Nero falsely blamed the Christians
        • Ordered the brutal persecution of them
          • It was easy for Rome to turn on Christians at this time because most people didn’t like them because they were “different” and lies about Christian beliefs were everywhere.
        • Men and women throughout the Roman Empire would be falsely imprisoned and many other would be slaughtered like animals.

Here is the church, many of them were already disowned by their families and own people, because they became Christians and now they were also being hunted down like animals under the ruling government. What do you do?  What do you do when the world has turned against you and your identity, who you once where, is completely gone.

Peter, through the hand of Silas (his penman), writes. He uses words to encourage them and let them know that their identity is not lost, because what they are now is more than they could have ever been before because now, they are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession” (1 Peter 2:9).

Four points of change in identity.

All four are Old Testament terms for Israel, but now directly associated with the church. It’s a beautiful and extremely powerful way of expressing that what God began to do through the line of Abraham (as the blessing for all nations) was being fulfilled in the church. They no longer were welcome into the race or the nation they were born into and looked at as outcasts by the world around them, but Peter reminds them that what God has done for them is so much more. He began to unpack this for them in chapter 1:3-5 when he reminded them when and how this all happened.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a NEW BIRTH into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”

By God’s great mercy, their salvation was sealed in this “new birth” they received through the “living hope” of Jesus Christ and their inheritance is of an eternal reward, not something that will be given and taken away because it’s protected by God.

Four points of changed identity that came through this “new birth”

  • A “new birth” into a Chosen Race (or family)
    • They haven’t lost their family, this, the church, is their family. And it’s made up of Christians from all over the world.Ryan, in this focus on the church as the body, pointed to what this looks like when we looked into the writings of Revelation and we saw that one day there will be “every tribe and language and people and nation” gathered to worship in the glory of God.
    • The church is part of a global family of every tribe, language, people and nations that is….
      • Chosen to be made alive together in Christ.
    • They have a “new birth” into a Royal Priesthood
      • The kings and priests of the Old Testament, when working together, were serving in God’s royal Kingdom to point the nations to the one true God, but this didn’t happen a lot.But now, Peter is saying that this responsibility and privilege, which was often abused and neglected in Old Testament times, is now given over to the body of the church.
      • The church is part of a Royal Priesthood that is…
        • Called to serve and reign with Jesus in his Kingdom work.
      • They have “new birth” into Holy Nation
        • The national identity of the church is Christ. And because of what Christ has done this nation, unlike others, is…
          • Set apart from sin for God’s glory.
        • Peter knows this and it is why he can tell them to “rid yourself of all wickedness, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1).The church is something special, unlike anything else the world has ever seen. As nations turn toward sin the Holy Nation of the church, because of what God has done, turns away.And the world hates it, because the church isn’t like them!The world has little value, if any, for the church, but the beauty in all of this, especially for them, is learning that as everything seems to be crashing down around them, Peter reminds them, that they are extremely valued by the one that matters most.

          All of this was given to them because they are…

      • A People for His Possession (The Prized Possession of God.)
        • The world might not value the church, but in God’s eyes the church is everything.

To think though the history of what God was building towards in bringing the church into this family, into this body, into this holy nation is amazing and for those hearing this during such hardships in their lives it must have been such a blessing and encouragement to keep moving forward. This is who you are. You’re not forgotten. Your identity is not lost. You have a “living hope,” not in a false god or in idolizing humanity, but the God of mercy who gave you a “new birth” through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You’re part of something greater than anything the world could ever offer. You can almost hear Peter asking if they can see what has happened. In the simplest way he could put it he says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s People; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10).

What are they to do?

This is where we would think that Peter is going to call them to take up “sticks and stones” because it is time to retaliate and go to battle. Young Peter would have done this and he was ready to start a physical war, but not at this stage of his life because he realized better. He says, “Proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

It’s mindboggling to think that these words came from Peter. He doesn’t call them to use weapons of war, but words and not in the way we might think…

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).

“But set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Makes you wonder if he remembered the words of Jesus when he said,

“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-44).

Peter understood that words are the most powerful weapon we have and so he tells them to use your words to pierce the hearts of your enemies with the marvelous light of Jesus Christ, but do so with words of blessing, gentleness and respect. He never looked at telling others of what God has done, even in the harshest conditions, as a burden or as a way to bash others. Because he knew that it’s a privilege to proclaim what God has done.

The Church Today

Here’s the kicker; everything that Peter spoke of to this church at this time is true of the church today. This is who they were and this is who we are….

  • We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a prized possession of God. We are “God’s people.”
  • And God wants us to use our voice, just as He did with the early church, to proclaim the praises of the One who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light.

I don’t believe that within my lifetime, there has been a better opportunity than we have now to stand and point people to that light. But I often wonder how the world hears our voice?

We have two connection points with the world. First, are those in direct contact with us (family, friends, work colleagues, etc.). When they think of us and our proclamation of the light that brought us out of the darkness is it like this? The second connection point with the word are with those typically outside direct contact (old friends, random people, the world) and we often use this to reach them. How do they hear our voice?

Before, during and after the election…..


Hope for Tomorrow by Rodney Pennington

On November 8, 2016 the eyes of the world watched as America began the final process of electing the new President of the United States. One man or one woman would be appointed the next leader of this great nation and all eyes were keen to see who would stand and lead America into the future.

On November 9, 2016 the world awakened to witness millions of people in celebration, praise and relief while millions of others were in anger, grief and confusion. The next President of the U.S. was chosen and the reaction throughout the world, particularly in America, has exposed a sad reality of the true focus for where most people find hope.

One individual with a special title, for many, has become the hope of tomorrow and at their feet (doesn’t matter who this person is) is where people’s dreams have either come alive or have come to die. Many celebrate in the hope of their “victor” while others weep in the lost hope of theirs. And at its core is the revelation of the painful illumination of what the human heart truly idolizes.

News, social media, radio, etc., have given the world an opportunity to witness what the human heart often tries to conceal. Its shameful reality of the idols that we believe in because of what we think they can or could have offered us. On display is the truth of who we really are. We expose the reality that our faith and hopes for tomorrow has been given to one person or lost in the other. In our pursuit of an idol, humanity has become lost in the wilderness of worldly endeavors and our ability to see light in the darkness is fading away. Our ears are no longer listening for truth. Our passions revolve around only what brings personal achievement and pleasure.

One man or one woman is believed to hold the keys to the future and today you might believe that future is bright, or you might believe that future is gone. If your hope truly rests at the feet of one human with a special title then I want to invite you to rethink this dangerous path you are walking. No matter who won or lost, placing your hope in a human idol will ultimately lead to the surrender of everything you are meant to be.

Someone once said, “The two greatest days of your life are the day you were born and the day you found out why.” You were born for something more than casting your faith at the feet of idols. You have a greater purpose in life that goes beyond what any human, by lying and manipulating their way to worldly power, can offer you. You are special in a way that goes beyond your skin color, culture, language, etc., because you are the child of the King of kings!

To my unbelieving friends, I beg you to consider your life and where your hopes rest. I know the message of Christ is foolishness to you because I was once with you. There was a time that I lived for myself and my desires dictated my life. I, too, would have easily placed my hope at the feet of an individual who I believed held my future because deep down I truly believed that they would fulfill my tomorrow. However, every time that happened I found nothing but disappointment, because even when they won, and I thought I did as well, they failed me and left me behind. They walked away with my dreams and crushed my hopes under their feet. However, all that changed when I stopped to realize the pointlessness of my actions and the pain that comes in placing faith in humanity. In one incredible moment, my eyes and ears were opened and for the first time I could see and hear truth. It changed everything.

My faith, hopes and dreams are no longer shackled to an individual who will make promises they can’t fulfill. I have been set free from this pain and this is why it ultimately didn’t matter to me who would assume the title of President because “as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

One of the most incredible things about the life of Jesus was the dedication he had to reaching out and loving those who did not believe. He lived with them, fed them, taught them, healed them and ultimately gave his life for them. Why? Because “in the beginning was the Word (Jesus), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. Life was in him and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1-5). That “light” that shines in the darkness is for you. To lead you through the wilderness of worldly endeavors, free you from false idols and guide you to the one and only hope for humanity. You have a victor and he can set you free!

For many of my Christian brothers and sisters, I also beg you to consider your life and where your hopes rest. Many of you have also fallen into the trap of elevating an idol to sit at the right hand of the one seated on the throne. You have placed your ultimate hopes and dreams at the feet of a false idol. You have forgotten your fist love and have used things like social media to express this truth in ways that are shameful to the name of Christ. You call yourself a Christian (follower of Christ) and yet your words would not reflect the nature of Jesus. You are called to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” and yet many could assume you are anything but that.

The Apostle John cried out to the church, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” He said, “Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world – the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

Please listen to me – I am not claiming perfection in my own life in any way. I make mistakes. I’m a sinner and I admit that. This message is as much for you as it is for me. However, some of the things that I have seen and continue to see break my heart because, by God’s grace, I haven’t fallen into the trap of elevating humanity over God and, by God’s grace, I never will. In all my imperfections I love Jesus Christ above all. I know that no matter who carries the title that offers great worldly power, Christ is the King of kings and all of us who carry his name must live as lights in the darkness. “A city on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for ALL who are in the house. In the same way, LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE BEFORE MEN, so that they might SEE your good works and GIVE GLORY to YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN” (Matt. 5:14-16).

In the book of Revelation, John read the letter to the church in Ephesus and I think that for many of us the words written in this letter speak a powerful truth for us today. “I have this against you: you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent” (Rev. 2:2-5).

I believe that there are many out there who need to repent as they have lost their way in the pursuit of an idol. An individual with a special title has become your hope for tomorrow and at this persons feet your dreams rest. Little Children, it is time to come home. It is time to guard yourselves from idols and be who you were created to be.


Listen and, again, I’m preaching to myself here as well, whether it’s the words that we use with our spouse, our children, our family, friends, work colleagues or something like social media; those words have power and they can’t be taken back. They could be the poison that kills ones soul or the median that heals. The living situations, culture and political landscape from Peter’s original audience was vastly different then what we see today in our country, very similar in other countries, but the implications of who we are and what we are called to do hasn’t changed. We must know our identity and we must tell people about the light.

Closing Thoughts

Where the church must be the voice:

  • Proclaim the truth to yourself.
    • Daily remind yourself who you are as a child of God not of this world. You have been given a “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”And you are part of a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” and you are a prized possession of God. “God’s people,” not the worlds.
  • Proclaim the truth to those you have direct contact with (family, friends, neighborhood, work, etc.).
    • In love
      • It’s not always about winning the argument, but loving people and showing them the hope you have in Christ.
        • “If you speak the truth of God, but you communicate it without the love of God, then it ceases to be the truth.” Dr. Shane Wood
      • How?
        • Start a conversation
        • Ask questions about their life
          • Get to know them
        • Listen to them
          • “My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, or man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness” (James 1:19-20).
          • Don’t feel like you have to have all the answers.
            • “I don’t know.”
          • Tell them about the hope you have in Christ
          • Pray for them
        • Proclaim the truth to the world.
          • Missions
          • International students
          • Refugees
          • Social Media
        • What could daddy do to be a better dad?
          • “Go and tell more people about Jesus.” Eden (5yrs)
            • Go and tell more people about Jesus. Tell them of the mercy of God; tell them of His marvelous light.

This is Us: Church as Voice – 1 Peter: 2-102020-08-21T11:19:04-06:00

THIS IS US: Life Beyond Me 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

THIS IS US: Life Beyond Me 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

God’s divine sense of humor seems to have followed me, along with His goodness and love, every day of my life. Part of that humor was in giving me a job, after my freshman year of college, as a framer of houses. That’s humor if you’ve ever seen me swing a hammer, or be around a construction site, or do anything that requires some sort of knowledge of…redoing a home, building a home, anything like that. I’m ridiculous, friends. So I went to Home Depot the night before I started. I was poised for productivity. I bought a bag and put in on. I bought a brand new hammer, shiny waffle-head. It was awesome. I got out of my CJ7-Jeep ready to dominate the world. Knowing also, in the back of my mind, that I had no business stepping onto this site and no clue as to what I was doing. I went and introduced myself and said, “I’m here and ready to work.” They said, “Great. Would you take off those bags, put down that hammer, pick up this broom because what you’re going to be doing today is cleaning up our job site. What we want you to do is move that 3/4″ stack of plywood from one side of the house to the other.” This is how my time as a framer went on. I use that term very loosely; I’ve seen people frame and that’s not what I did….I helped. I noticed that what I mostly swept up and cleaned up on the job site was sawdust and nails. I started to notice that most of the nails….{You got a nail when you walked in. Will you grab it for me?}….that were on the ground were not after having been used, but having fallen out of a bag or having gotten discarded for one reason or another, but they were perfectly good nails that people didn’t want to pick up. I started to notice that the reason the nail was created, the reason that is was on the job site, the reason it was there in the first place was so that it could be driven into a piece of wood and attached to something greater than itself. But it was on the ground, discarded.

I started to think that our lives are a little bit like that. We have a design that’s over our lives. We know it on a very, central, core level of our humanity, that we were designed to be connected to other things, to other people, to movements. Yet, so many of us live lives disconnected and wrestle with the question, “God, what am I here on earth to do? What am I to be a part of?” We have this choice—every single one of us sitting in this room—of what we’re going to do with the nail of our life. Are we going to drive the nail of our life into something bigger than ourselves, or are we going to remain an individual nail? Before you answer that question, I need you to know that there’s some weight that goes along with the question. The way that I framed it, you might go, “Of course, I want to be a part of something bigger.” My question back to you is, “Are you sure?” Because when we decide we want to be part of something bigger and we drive the nail of our life into a house, or a family, or a body, there’s some things that we give up, aren’t there? There’s some individuality that we lose. There’s some freedom that we forfeit. There’s some things that we used to do that maybe we can’t do anymore. There’s a cost in saying, “I’m going to take the nail of my life and connect it to the community of faith, connect it to the movement of God, connect it to the family, the church.” There’s some things we give up, aren’t there?

In 1877, the French painter Gustave Caillebotte painted a now-famous painting called Paris Street, Rainy Day. Paris is often referred to as the first modern city. You can read that when people went to this city for the very first time, what struck them as different (Paris) from any other city that they had gone to (before this time) is that it was marked by a rugged individualism. Where things were readily accessible apart from community before, they weren’t accessible apart from community. It was a new dawn, a new day, in the late 19th century, when modernity started to flourish and individualism took root. What you may notice about this painting is that it is beautifully mathematic. The cobblestone street has every stone equidistant apart. It is a brilliant piece of art. A mathematician would look at it and say that the people are spaced out fairly perfectly by design. What you notice about the painting is that each person is sorting of doing their own thing. What Gustave wanted you to know about Paris is that this was a city now marked by modernity and marked by individuality and individualism, so much so that even the couples aren’t talking any longer. Everybody has their own method of keeping the rain off of them and they’re sort of protected by the bubble that we would call “the world around us” in a significant way. If Gustave Caillebotte would have done his painting today, I think you would see a couple in a café, sitting across from each other, and each of them would have their phone out texting somebody else.

Individualism is the air that we breathe. It’s the zeitgeist of our day. When we talk about leveraging the nail, the one nail of our life, for something bigger than ourselves, we’re talking about forfeiting something that is central to our humanity—our individuality. And our freedom. Mark Sayers, the author and pastor, writes it like this: “We fear committing, worrying that by doing so we will reduce our freedom, and cut ourselves off from the myriad of choices that constantly entice us.” And to that I say….AMEN! That is our world, is it not? I’m not sure I want to commit, because when I commit, I limit myself from the choices I could have made if I would have just held off a little bit longer.

We’re in this series that we’re calling “This is Us.” We’re exploring what it means to be human. We’ve said that what it means to be human is that you and I were created as individuals, unique creations, by God. There’s nobody else on the face of the planet like you. You were wired to work. You were formed for friendship. Those are all things that are part of the nature and character of God that’s placed inside of you. You bear His image. Over the last few weeks, we’ve started to zoom out, saying, “We’re not just individuals. And we’re designed uniquely by God to walk through life with each other.” We looked at “This is Us” in relationships, in families, in marriage. We zoomed out and said “This is Us” in family uniquely. We zoomed out and said “This is Us” as a church and as a church we’re not an organization, we’re not a business, we’re not a corporation, but we’re a family. Today, I want to give you the Scriptures’ second metaphor or analogy, picture of what it means to be the church. But here’s the question at the center of it all: What are you going to do with the nail of your life? Is it going to just be yours, or will you drive it in and attach it to something bigger than yourself?

1 Corinthians 12:12-13. This is where the Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, tells us a little bit more about what it means to be US, what it means to be human. He’s writing to the about their gathering together. Here’s what he says: For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. Here’s what Paul’s saying….you just have to look at your body to get a picture of the way the church was designed to work and designed to function. You have different elements of your body. You have different body parts: head, shoulders, knees, and toes. Eyes and ears and mouth and nose. We have different parts, but it’s all part of one body. It’s the same truth that overrides and is the umbrella that we gather under as the church.

Here’s how we’ll say it this morning: Life beyond me…a life that’s bigger than me… We all know that if life is sort of like a nail that it was designed to be attached to something bigger and greater. Life beyond me is shaped by embracing the church as body. The pinnacle of my life cannot be me! You were designed, I was designed, we as people were designed to be a part of something that lasts longer than the 80 years we may get on the face of the earth. That is bigger than the accomplishments that we, ourselves, will achieve. The story that started before we were born and will go on for all of eternity….that’s what you were designed to be a part of. Friends, the story of your life will not be determined by the accomplishments that you make, the resumé that you have, or the bank account that you sit on. The story of your life will be determined by the things that you connect your life to. By the people that you connect your life to. What the Scriptures will invite us to do is to connect our lives to His body that he calls the church.

My invitation this morning is to move beyond viewing church as just an observer, but to step into it as a participant. To move beyond consumption to contribution. To move beyond criticism to construction. To move beyond mere association to connection. And. There. Is. A. Difference. Association says, “I go to church.” Connection says, “I’m a part of the church.” Association says, “We have shared interests and shared beliefs.” Connection says, “We have shared lives.” Association says, “I can be critical from the outside.” Connection says, “I’ll work towards contribution from the inside.” Association says, “I know.” Connection says, “I love and I’m committed.”

What connects us together as the Church? If you look, Paul writes and says listen, I know this is a huge step, I know, to decide what you’re going to do with your one life and what you’re going to connect it to. I get it, Paul says. It may seem crazy, on the outside, to connect your life to some people that are a little bit crazy. That don’t have it all together. Yeah, why in the world would we do that?? Here’s how Paul answers that, “For one thing, we all have the same Spirit inside of us.” The same Holy Spirit that cries out, “Abba, Father,” in YOU, is the same Spirit that cries out, “Abba, Father,” in the person sitting next to you. That connects us together uniquely. He says that we were all baptized into one body. We have had this experience whereby which we met Jesus, he redeemed us from our sin, he showered us with his grace, and we are new creations and new people in Him. Before I’m a pastor, before I’m a Paulson, before I’m a husband or a father, I’m a Christian, I’m a follower of the way of Jesus. Not only that, the Scriptures will say that we have Christ as our head. Notice the body imagery that weaves it’s way all throughout the Scriptures. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Col. 1:18) Especially in His body, the church. As an elder board, we take this very seriously. Not only is Christ the head theologically, but our desire, our longing, our ardent prayer is that Christ is the head practically. That He would lead us. That He would guide us. That He would speak to us collectively and show us what He wants us to do. We’ve had to give up the singular nail of our life and say that we’re attached to something way, way bigger than just our lives and ourselves. That’s the way the body works. You’ve seen this when a racer crosses the finish line at the Olympics and wins a gold medal. Somebody sticks a microphone in their face and here’s what you NEVER hear, “I’d like to thank my legs today, because my legs killed it. I’d like to thank my lungs, too. They were on point. My hands had a little bit of an off day, but…..” No, you never hear that. Why? Because they view themselves holistically. It’s the same way that the church is designed to function. One body, many parts.

Listen to the way the Apostle Paul continues, because if we say alright, God, I’m willing to, and I’m submitting to, and I’m surrendering the nail of my life to connect it to this story that you’re telling and the body that you’re building through your church…if we do that, there’s some things that start to come alive in us like they never have before. Look at the way the Apostle Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 12:14-20 — For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. If all of us were the same, how monotone and how boring would we be? If all of us had the same gifts, we would be unable to reach the world, to show the love, to care for the body, to do the things that God’s called us to do in the way that He’s called us to do them. Listen, I love the way that our worship team leads worship. They are wonderful! But I’m really glad not all of you are worship leaders. Right? I’m glad that not all of you are programmed and wired the exact same way. Why? Because God’s design is not uniformity. In fact, when we start to see the church as body, we move beyond forced uniformity to embrace unity. We’re different from each other, friends. We have different skills. We have different giftings. We have different passions. We have different things that we want to see, different hopes, and different dreams. We all need each other, because being different is actually God’s design.

Notice that when the Apostle Paul writes we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free….here’s what he’s not saying. What he’s not saying is that people lose their Jewishness or their Greekness when they become a part of the body of Christ. They keep that so that we can be a more full picture of the manifold glory of our great God. And that truth holds up, not just in the church as it is now. Whether it’s color of skin, language that we speak, culture that we come from…those differences are beautiful. Here’s how we know God appreciates, loves, and designed it that way: They don’t disappear in eternity! Revelation 7:9-10 paints this picture of the throne room of God. Listen to it: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, {These are different people, different cultures, different colors of skin, different languages in redeemed glory worshipping God.} standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, {Here’s the thing that connects people who are different language, different culture, different people, and it connects them for all of eternity…} “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” The same anthem rises up for all of eternity in different languages, in different tongues, from different people. HE is the thing that holds them together.

So, we can’t view church as uniformity. You don’t have to look like us, talk like us, think like us in order to be a part. We need your differences. Scot McKnight, pastor and theologian, says: “The church God wants is one brimming with difference.” Here’s the beautiful part of that. When we start to appreciate the different nature and character and gifting of people in the body, we actually become way more effective to accomplish the mission that God’s given us. We’d be horribly ineffective if we all had the same gifting and were designed in the same way with the same passions, yes? We would be like the Broncos this season—one dimensional. They only had a defense, no offense, and it hurt them. It was a really good defense but it couldn’t carry them. It actually allows us to be effective.

The second thing differentiation does is it KILLS comparison. If we expect that people will be different than us, we stop expecting them to be like us and we create space for them to be uniquely who God has created them to be and a part of the community of faith. When I expect that everyone’s going to be like me, I measure their effectiveness against me. But when I expect people to be different, I actually create room for embrace, and I create room to receive from people who are unlike me. Can I press that on you a little bit today? When was the last time you received from somebody who didn’t think like you? Who had different skills, different passions, different personality, different wiring? Where you expected differentiation, invited it, and were better because of it? I think many of us have a sort of “middle school” hold-over, where we were only friends with people who had the exact same interests as us, right? Like, if you like football, I like football, we’re in together, right? That’s the thing that unites us, but as we mature, the intention is that we would surround ourselves with people who aren’t exactly like us and we’ll grow from it and be better because of it. Same is true for us as a church.

Here’s the way the Apostle Paul continues (1 Cor. 12:21-24): The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it. There are two words in this passage that grate against our individualism. First word: NEED. I have no need for them. Paul pushes back on that and says well no, the body needs every part. The foot can’t say to the hand, “Well, because you’re not a foot, we don’t need you.” No, you do! That’s the only way you can give high fives! We all need each other. That’s his point. First word is NEED. Second word: Indispensable. We can’t do it without you. Every time we have a new members class, every time we have a “Meet the Staff” reception after one of our services, I’ll tell people, “If you sink your roots down here at South Fellowship and you call this church home, I’m asking you to figure out what your gifts are and to get involved in the life of the church.” If you aren’t who you are called uniquely to be by God, we will be a shadow of who God has designed US to be by God. If every person doesn’t do the part that they are wired and called to play, we will not be the church that God is calling us to be. When we say with the nail of our life….instead of “I’m going to embrace an individualistic idea of the world and outlook”….when we say, “I’m attaching it to the life of the body,” we move beyond just an acknowledged benefit to an admitted need. Which is a little bit scary, is it not? When people let us down, when people fail us, when people don’t live up to the high calling of living in a manner worthy of the calling that they’ve received by God, it effects us and it sometimes effects us very deeply. So a lot of us have said, “I’m not going to get hurt like that. I’m not driving my nail in like that. I’m not going to trust people like that.” In doing so we’ve missed out on the potential and the beauty of what it means to be a part of His church.

Some of the gifts are easy to see, aren’t they? This coming from a guy who has a microphone taped to his face. I get that. Some gifts are easy to see. Others aren’t quite as visible. That’s Paul’s point. Others aren’t quite as visible but they’re just as necessary. On October 2, 1996, a plane took off from Lima, Peru, flight 603. As it took off in the evening, a storm had set in. It went over the ocean and it started to have trouble. All the dials on the board of this plane just went absolutely crazy! The pilot had no clue where he was until he and his copilot decided to turn around. Because the dials were so messed up on his dashboard, as he turned around his wing clipped the Pacific Ocean and the plane went to the bottom! Seventy people lost their lives that day. A few days later, a group of divers went down and started to recover pieces from this plane. They found that the malfunction that happened was really a small oversight. They found a small piece of duct tape that was over an air-intake valve. It messed up every dial on the dashboard. I thought about that because that’s a small thing that had a huge impact, yes?

You may think that your “job” at South is small, but I want to rebuke that lie this morning and call it what it is. It’s a lie. You may think that the role that God’s called you to play here is insignificant. I want to tell you that NO role is insignificant, every role is needed and every role is indispensable, and if you don’t do it, we will never be the church that God has called us to be together. So, the small role in stopping gossip from spreading….it may seem small, but it changes the life of a church body. The couples that say, “I’m willing to mentor couples that are on the brink of divorce,” and will sit across the table from them and say, “We’ve been there too and God’s seen us through,” may seem small, it may seem insignificant at the time…it shapes the life of a church body. The texts that you send, the email that you send, the phone call that you make, the visit of just dropping by that you do, the time that you give to encourage somebody who’s in need, or to connect somebody who feels disconnected, may seem small. It may seem like a little tiny piece of duct tape, it changes everything. The person who invites people to come with them, who’s invited every single one of their neighbors and their family and their friends…..you are indispensable for us. The person that holds the baby that spits up on them in the nursery, rocks them and whispers in their ear that Jesus loves them…..you are indispensable. The people who gather every Wednesday night and pray….holding up this church….our Watchmen Prayer ministry—the unseen backbone of South….you are indispensable. The people who help write daily devotions every single Wednesday—it may seem small….you are indispensable for the life and the body of this church. People may never see you, but they will know if you don’t do what God’s called you to do. So what’s your part? Every part is needed, what’s your part? I want to tell you that we can’t do what God’s called us to do or become what God’s calling us to become without you.

Paul’s using this imagery all throughout of feet, of eyes, of ears, and they’re all metaphors for the spiritual gifts that we’ve been given. If you’re a follower of Jesus, you have a gift, you have something to contribute. In 1 Corinthians 12:7, he says: To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit {That’s a spiritual gift.} for the common good. For the building up of the body. 1 Peter 4:10 says it like this: As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. The reason you’re given a gift is to use it to build up the body of Christ and to make it different for God’s kingdom around the world. That’s a joy to do, it really is, but it’s also a service that we offer and perform. An offering back to God. When we see that our lives are connected, that we move beyond association to actual connection with one another, we move beyond mutual enjoyment (as in this is fun to gather and it serves my needs) to shared mission. We are heading somewhere. We are doing something together that we could never do alone.

Here’s the thing with gifts and service….if you use your gifts often, here’s what you know: It is an absolute joy but it’s also a sacrifice. It’s a sacrifice. It’s a giving of time, energy, and focus that the rest of the body might be encouraged and might be built up. That’s number one. It’s birthed from a place of love. When you use your gifts in a way that God designed you to use them, you know it’s coming from a place of yes, it cost me, but I love these people and I want to see them grow in Christ. It’s birthed in love. And it’s the way that we connect our lives to God’s vision.

I was thinking about just a Sunday morning and what it takes to do a service on a Sunday morning. I tried to think through every single thing that needs to be done in order for us to gather here together on a Sunday morning. This week there were people who came into the church office and help print and stuff the bulletins. Somebody perforated the tear-off on the bulletin….her name is Liz Cooley and she comes in faithfully every single Thursday and perforates our bulletin to the glory of God. Someone comes in and cleans the fridge, cleans the sink, cleans the kitchens, every single week…thank you, Bea. Someone gets all the music slides ready and edits out Aaron and my mistakes, every single week, praise Jesus. Erich Schmitt, Carolyn Schmitt, James Hart, Sharon Motzner—every single week faithfully makes sure that the lights are on, that the slides are up, that the music sounds decent, and that God is worshipped and praised in the light not in the dark. We could not do what we do without them. They’re amazing and we only notice them when things go wrong. That’s the nature of lighting. You don’t notice it when it’s on, you only notice it when it’s not and it should be. They are amazing. There were parking lot attendants that greeted you in the parking lot. People who held the door and welcomed you. There was warm-ish coffee and a decent donut waiting for you, to the glory of God. There were people who handed out bulletins, gave you a nail today. People at the welcome desk ready to answer any questions that you have. There were people working at the desk that helped you checked your kids in when they were headed back to the kids ministry. There were people in classrooms rocking and burping babies. There were people sitting in circles with kids telling them about Jesus, holding them on their lap and telling them there is a good God that loves them and is for them. Right now there are people leading small groups of high schoolers and middle schoolers, teaching them what it looks like to walk with Jesus. There’s a team of security people that help keep us safe, especially our kids because that’s really important to us. There are people who teach classes about the Scriptures, about the Creeds, about leadership, because they want to help you and us grow in Christ. There were people here at 7:00 Thursday evening and didn’t leave until 9:30, worshipping and practicing so that they could lead us, collectively, to the throne of God. They listen to music and practice throughout the week so that they could do it well and lead you into His presence. There are people clicking through slides. There are people running sound. There are people keeping the lights on. There are people who are videoing the sermon so that you can see them online, share them with a friend, or catchup if you miss a week. There are people who parked in the back parking lot, because they wanted there to be a space up front for someone who’s a guest that was coming in. There are people who will help clean up afterwards. You know those little communion glasses that we use and you stick in the chair in front of you? Those don’t magically disappear; somebody actually comes through and cleans them up and throws them away. Sixty-seven percent (67%) of people who call South Fellowship Church home serve in some way, shape, or form. That’s awesome! And I didn’t design it this way, but we just happen to be having a volunteer appreciation thank you tonight. I want to tell you that it’s in our heart to say that. It’s in our heart to say thank you, because we recognize the unique and special thing that God is doing in our midst. It wouldn’t be possible without you. As we link arms and hearts together for the sake of the kingdom, it is a beautiful thing to see the way that God works through all of us. I was reminded standing in a circle of people praying this morning—people who work in the sound booth and people who help lead us in worship—that I was incapable of doing ANY of their jobs that they had this morning. And I love that. If you’re look for a way to serve, Family Promise is a great way. Jump in!

Paul’s continuing (verse 25): That there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. {Notice, the way we combat division is through care.} If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Here’s the invitation: When you drive the nail of your life into Jesus’s body, the church and say I’m committed, I’m moving beyond just association to connection, we move beyond an insignificant acknowledgement of people to an intentional care for them. Paul says hey, that looks like mourning with people when they’re mourning. Here’s what that looks like, you guys, if you’re in mourning, you need to raise your hand and you need to let people know they can’t enter in if they don’t know. And that we rejoice with people who rejoice, and that takes us saying, “God, we want to see the people around us flourish. We want to see them grow. We want them blessed and when your hand of blessing is on them, our hand of rejoicing will be on their shoulder as well.” We move beyond just acknowledgement to care.

Friends, when you and I, when we start to embrace the reality that church is we and not me, we drive our nail into God’s design, what He’s created us for. We say, I want to serve, I want to care, I want to grow, I want to walk with people, I want people to know me, and I want to be known….when we do that we step into the joy that he designed us to walk in. {Slide reads: When we recognize church is we instead of me, we start to experience deeper joy.}

{Ryan closes the service praying for Josh and Jen Billings.}

THIS IS US: Life Beyond Me 1 Corinthians 12:12-262020-08-21T11:20:22-06:00

This is Us – It’s a Family Thing

THIS IS US: It’s A Family Thing      Ephesians 2:11-22 & Hebrews 10:24-25

It was one of those conversations that he walked away from on his way home, trying to rush to get their in time for dinner.  The conversation just spun around in his head.  I don’t know if you’ve ever had a conversation like that — it just turns everything upside down.  You open your eyes up after hearing it and the entire world just looks a little bit different.  He had a chance to sit in on a teaching of Jesus.  This teaching of Jesus was very different than the other teachings Jesus did.  He’d certainly talked about the Kingdom of God as was his normal method.  He’d talked about his pending death and resurrection.  Then he said something that just struck this man to his very core.  As he walked along, he knew it would definitively change the rest of his life.  Jesus, as was his custom, was teaching and his mom and his brother were outside.  They sent a messenger in saying, “We just need a word with my son,” Mary said.  The runner with the message came in and said to Jesus, “Jesus, your mom wants to talk to you.”  Everybody saw it happen and everybody heard the words.  Jesus’s response is what captured this man’s mind.  What Jesus said was:  Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?   A little bit rude, if you can hear what he’s saying.  He’s saying, “Certainly she’s important, but she’s no more important than the rest of these people?”  He goes on to say:  And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  (Matthew 12:48-50)

You have to understand for a moment that this man had grown up in the “church.”  He’d grown up going to temple.  He’d grown up worshiping Yahweh, the One True God.  Every single time he went into the temple, he’d walk passed a little plaque on the wall that said:  If any Gentiles, non-Jews, enter pass this point, they take their own life into their hands.  Their death is only to be blamed on them.  That’s a pretty strict way of operating socially as a community of faith, is it not?  {We don’t have the same plaque on our door!}  He went in and he would go to his side every time and his wife would go to the other side (with the other females).  When Jesus says, “Listen, who are my brothers.  Who is my mother?” the entire community of faith is now not just a community of faith, but they’re actually a family???  These are my brothers, these are my…..not just fellow believers, but these people are my family.  If you were in THAT crowd, at THAT point, and heard THAT teaching, it would have turned your world upside down.  So I’m going to put all my cards on the table today.  My hope is that we would hear the same teaching with the same weight.  That maybe, just maybe, we would walk out of this space today, allowing the King of kings and the Lord of lords to redefine for us what it means to gather as a “church.”

There are a number of different ways to view church.  There are a number of different ways to view what we do together on a Sunday morning.  Some people view church as an organization.  It has a certain hierarchical structure — there’s leadership.  Certainly, church has leadership structure, that’s a good thing, that’s a biblical thing, that’s a necessary thing.  Some people view church as a business.  They own property, they have assets — church functions as business or a corporation.  Or maybe church is primarily an event.  It’s something you come to on a Sunday morning.  But when Jesus looks at this crowd and says, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers and who is my sister? the answer is WHOEVER.  Whoever is by faith in relationship with God….whoever lives in the way of Jesus….THESE are my brothers and my sisters.  Jesus EXPLODES every single category for church that we’ve ever created!  And he paints a more beautiful, more compelling picture of what it means to be church.  Here’s how we’ll say it this morning:  God calls us out of the world to call us to a family of faith.

The word that we translate in our English translations of the Bible “church” is a Greek word “ecclesia.”  It’s two words put together (compound word).  One is “ek” or “out of.”  The other is a derivative of the word that means “to call.”  So, to call out of.  The beautiful thing is that Jesus doesn’t call you out of the world to create an organization out of you.  He doesn’t call you out of the world to go to an event.  Let’s be honest for a second — If church was ONLY about Sunday morning, if being a follower of Jesus was only about what we do on a Sunday morning, that would be pretty lame.  Right?  No, he doesn’t call you out of the world to say you should go to an event, he calls you out of the world to say you’re part of something much bigger, much grander, far more beautiful than you can ever imagine….you are now part of a FAMILY of faith.  Paul would echo this in our main text today; turn to Ephesians 2:19.  Apostle Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus; this church in this multi-cultural melting pot area right on the coast, filled with both Jews and Gentiles.  He says this: So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.  He’s painting a far different picture.

When he says “household,” he’s inviting you to say this is my family and in my family I find protection.  In my family I find security.  In my family I find love.  In my family I find hope.  The truth of the matter is, friends, if we are “adopted” by the same Father then we are now family.  For generations, followers of Jesus had this term of endearment — they called each other brother and sister.  That’s been all throughout the ages of Christianity — brother and sister.  Why?  Because when we stepped into faith, we stepped into family.  New birth = New family.  That’s what God is doing as he calls you out of the world and living in the way of the world.  He calls you out of that and into His family.  NT Wright, the great New Testament scholar, said it like this:  “The fact of widespread persecution is powerful evidence of the sort of thing Christianity was, and was perceived to be.  It was a new family, a third ‘race,’ neither Jew nor Gentile but ‘in Christ.’  From baptism onwards, one’s basic family consisted of one’s fellow-Christians.”

We struggle with that don’t we?  In a culture where there’s a lot of different options “church.”  There’s a number of churches within walking distance of THIS church.  When that happens when that’s our culture—and I’m not bashing that, necessarily.  I think that’s a great thing; I think we need more churches.  What can start to happen to US is we start to view church as something we consume rather than something we become a part of.  You see this in the reasons people sometimes give for leaving a church.  A pastor compiled a number of different reasons that he’d gotten over the years or that he’d heard from other pastors, of reasons people left churches.  Here’s a few of them:  1) Pastor, we’re leaving the church because we need, and you don’t have, a small group for cat lovers.  I’d love to start a small group for cat lovers.  You know what that’s called?  Our next church plant. Gather them together and send them out!  We are praying for you….    2) Pastor, we’re leaving because we don’t like the sound of your voice.  3) Pastor, we’re leaving because we’re starting to serve too expensive of coffee and it’s attracting too many hipsters.  4) Pastor, we’re leaving because your socks are distracting.  5) Pastor, we’re leaving because preachers who don’t wear suits and ties aren’t saved.  It’s in the Bible.  Which as a pastor makes you question what you’ve been teaching the entire time.  6) Pastor, we’re leaving because you make people leave the youth group after they graduate from high school.  Which is basically a terminology issue, isn’t it, because if we don’t make them leave don’t we just call this youth group and everybody’s happy, right?  7) Pastor, we’re leaving because we need to start attracting more normal people at this church.  If you say that to me as pastor, I’ll probably say back to you that your departure will probably help us in that. 8) Pastor, I’ve developed cancer because you don’t preach from the King James Version of the Bible.  That’s a real one!  I didn’t know there were carcinogens in the NIV or ESV but evidently there are.  9) Pastor, we’re leaving because you don’t preach on Tim Tebow.  WHAT??!!   We view it as consumer and product, don’t we, oftentimes? The fact that the Scriptures say we are a household of faith, that we are a family together, is something that we struggle with, and if we admit it at the onset, I think it will actually help us engage this topic with more honesty and more fortitude.  What God wants to do in our midst today, I think, is paint a different, more compelling, more beautiful picture of what it means to gather together and be a church.  You don’t COME to church, you ARE the church.

In this series we’ve been exploring what it means to be human.  The title of the series is “This is Us,” and we’ve started off by looking at us as individuals.  We zoomed out and said how do we function as human beings in relationship with other human beings.  Last week, we said that one of God’s unique designs for human beings is that they would operate and thrive in family units.  What I want to do today is zoom out one more level and say that part of God’s design for you and for me is that He would call us out of the world and to each other to live as a family of faith together.  I want to answer two questions:  1) How do we become family together?  2) What do we do as family together?

Ephesians 2:13-17.  Paul’s writing to the church at Ephesus.  It’s a multi-cultural melting-pot church where there’s people from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different languages, different skin colors, and they’re all gathering together in households declaring that Jesus is Lord, in light of being in the empire of Caesar.  This was a death threat for many of them.  Here’s what the Apostle Paul writes back to this church that he loves, that he planted, that he helped start.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  {That’s very illustrative language.  It’s meant to have a visceral effect on us as we read it—that he KILLED hostility.}  And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 

BUT NOW, church….  There’s something different that’s gone on amongst all of us.  Mainly, the blood of Christ has been shed.  What a beautiful truth.  Did you know that the church is the most inclusive, exclusive group you can be a part of?  It’s inclusive in that it is for whoever.  Whoever will come.  Whoever wants to come is invited to the table.  Whoever wants to come can come, but they only come by one way.  We only come, all of us, by his blood.  We only come because he said I’m giving my life you, as a sacrifice for you, that you might be called OUT of the world and into my family.  We have that in common.  We have this peace in common.  Peace with God.  Certainly.  By his blood he’s made peace.  Did you know that if you’re a follower of Jesus, God has zero animosity towards you.  If there’s a disconnect between you and God, I want to assure you this morning, it’s on your part not God’s.  He’s good with you, because He sees Christ’s righteousness all over you.  And he (Paul) says this:  He reconciled, he called all of us together by His goodness and by His grace.

What makes us family?  The first thing that makes us family according to this passage of Scripture is that we have been united together by Jesus’s blood shed for us.  That’s our anthem, that’s our song.  All throughout eternity, our anthem will be: Why should I gain from his reward, I do not have an answer / But this I know with all my heart, His wounds have paid my ransom.  We’ll never get tired of singing it.  The truth of the matter is, friends, we’re united by his blood.  The blood that Christ shed for us is as significant as the blood that flows through us.  Friends, the blood that runs through our veins makes human.  The blood that flows from Calvary’s hill makes us Christian.  And it is the most significant, the most true, most beautiful thing about us.

As followers of Jesus in the first century, they would have entered into a home where they would gather for worship.  It would have been definitively different from gathering in a synagogue or in a temple for worship, or even in a pagan temple, it would have been very different.  Why?  Because the ground was level in the community of faith in Jesus Christ.  Neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male or female, all were one in Jesus.  Why?  Because they gathered around the truth that His blood shed for them was as significant as the blood that flowed through them.  It completely redefined the way that they looked at life and at faith.  He, by His death on the cross, KILLED hostility between believers.  Praise the Lord!  But we know it’s not that easy, right? {It’s not rainbows and gumdrops and wonderful all the time.}  There’s times where we need to, because of the blood of Jesus over us, choose to forgive the people that wrong us.  And we do so because we sense the beautiful weight of the fact that we stand before the throne holy, spotless, pure, and blameless.

Anyone is welcome, but there’s only one way you enter and it’s through His blood.  Paul goes on and here’s what he says:  For through him we both {Jews and Gentiles} have access {Just a quick timeout.  That word in the Greek is this picture of a road; we’re walking the same road together.} in one Spirit to the Father.  The first thing that makes us family is the blood that was shed for us.  The second thing that makes us family is the Spirit that dwells within us.  The same Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, if you’re a follower of Jesus, lives in you AND in the person who’s sitting right next to you and is also a follower of Jesus.  The same Spirit lives inside of you.  So we’ll say it like this this morning:  The Spirit that dwells within us is greater than the sin that seeks to divide us.  Certainly there is some sin that seeks to divide us, is there not?  There always will be.  It’s true in marriages.  It’s true in families.  It’s true in churches.

As we talked about last week, family carries with it this magnificent weight—that none of us leave unaffected by our family.  It either shapes us for beautiful things, or it’s one of the deeper wounds or pains that we end up carrying throughout our life.  The same is true of church, friends.  Did you know you will never find the perfect church?  If you do, don’t go to it, you’ll ruin it!  If you think this is the perfect church, welcome, we’re glad you’re here.  You must be new with us.  We’ll pop that bubble for you; we’ll let you down.  It’s not intentional, I promise you.  We want to serve you wholeheartedly with everything we have, but we are imperfect people….every single one of us.  What the Spirit inside of us does is it reminds us, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer so eloquently put in his book Life Together, that true community actually begins when the ideal community dies! We really start living life together when we let each other down and choose to stick together instead of separating.  That we really start to realize what it means to be part of a community when we completely fail one another and grace, or love, covers the multitude of sins.  That’s actually when real community begins.

What Paul says is that we are not only covered by a mutual shedding of His blood, but we are connected by the Spirit that indwells us.  Let me give you a picture of what that Spirit in you is doing right now!  As you think about what it’s doing in you, would you imagine Him doing this in every follower of Jesus?  He is right now confirming that you are a son or daughter of the Most High God.  He is right now calling you out of rhythms of fear that you have embraced into courage of living in the sonship of the Father by faith. (Rom 8:15-16)  The Spirit is inside of you, right now, confirming that you are lavished with the love of your Father.  He is right now advocating for you, and the person sitting next to you, before the throne of God; pointing at Jesus, your chief defender, who says, “My blood covers their sin, their wrong, their guilt, their shame.  They’re with me.”  (John 14:16)  The Spirit’s inside of you, right now the Scriptures say, teaching you, revealing Jesus to you, and being a comfort for you.  The same Spirit who’s doing that in you is doing that in every follower of Jesus across the globe!  That’s epic!  That’s amazing!  That’s really good news!  Shared intimacy with God should always lead us to a mutual love for other believers.

Paul says listen, we have the same Spirit.  It’s part of what makes us family.  We have the same blood that was shed for us.  It’s part of what makes us family.  Finally he says this: We’re built on the same foundation.  This is where we all stand.  As followers of Jesus the Messiah:  …built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph. 2:20-22)  This truth that the foundation of our lives is not only the God who created us and spoke us into existence, but our foundation is the teaching of the apostles and the prophets.  It’s their way of talking about the sacred Scriptures, that from the get-go, followers of Jesus were saying listen, we don’t worship the Bible, but we worship the God who is revealed in the Bible.  It’s our guide, and it’s our light, and it’s our plumb-line. In an ever-changing culture and a milieu of different options, this will be the thing we stand on and the thing that we say, even with all the things that we may disagree on, we will agree on what the words of Jesus invite us to build our life on—His death, his life, his resurrection, his kingdom, his call to love God, to love others, and to go and make disciples…teaching people how to love God and live in His way.  So we’ll say it like this this morning:  That we are not only united by His blood, connected by His Spirit, but we’re built on this mutual foundation and the foundation we stand upon is greater than any of the issues that seek to divide us.

Building a new skyscraper in Manhattan Island — If you see a skyscraper that’s 100-stories tall, if you scanned beneath the surface of the earth, you would see 25 stories worth of what they call “piles” that they drive deep down into the center of the earth.  Why?  Because they know that if this structure is going to stand, it’s foundation must be firm.  What the Scriptures tell us is that the “piles” that God has driven into our soul, as a community of faith, as a family of faith, the foundation that we stand on, are the Scriptures that He’s graciously given.  The teaching that has been passed down from age to age to age.  It’s centered around that Jesus is the cornerstone.  What the Scriptures are saying is that if you were to take him out of the equation, this whole thing would crumble and fall.  Praise the Lord!

That’s how we grow:  We are growing numerically, in maturity, in faith, as we grow together not independently of one another.  It says:  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Look up at me for just a moment.  If you want to experience the Spirit of God, you must give your life to God’s church.  It’s where His Spirit dwells.  It’s where His Spirit finds its home.  It’s where it’s manifest and where it grows into fruition.  We are a dwelling place for God, in a unique way, giving glory to His name.

So that’s how we’re family.  United by His blood.  Connected by His Spirit.  Built on His mutual foundation.  You may be saying to me, Paulson, that’s wonderful and that’s great, but what do we do as a family together?  Thank you for asking.  Before we go there, here’s what I want you to do:  I want you to think about going to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day.  When you go to a restaurant, there’s a number of things that you do.  You probably make a reservation.   When you call and make a reservation, you talk to somebody on the phone and set up a time.  You try to arrive a little before the reservation time.  THEN they say to you, “It’s going to be about ten minutes before we’re able to get you seated.”  I decide I’ll hold off on my Yelp review at this point, and base it on what the service looks like and how good the food is.  If you’re at a restaurant, when you sit down you’re paying attention to the waiter or waitress that comes to your table and offers you some water and takes your order.  When the food comes, you’re looking at your food.  If you’re anything like me, you’re sizing up your food — sort of a cost/benefit ratio that you have working in your head.  You’re figuring out if you’re going to return based on how quick the service was, how good the food was, how inexpensive it was.  You eat your food and then afterwards you decide, listen, that was a pretty good meal.  It tasted good.  The service was good.  I think I might come back, and I’ll hold off on posting that Yelp review.

Now, if you go over to a family’s house for dinner, my guess is your approach is very different.  If it’s not, you may not have been invited over to your family’s house in a while.  When you go over to a family’s house, here’s what you typically do.  You ask if you can bring anything.  When you walk in the door, you ask if there’s anything that still needs help.  Is there anything that needs to be sliced or diced?  My guess is you don’t sit down at the table waiting for somebody to bring you a glass of water and taking notes on whether they’re smiling when they do.  Going to a family’s house is a lot different than going to a restaurant for dinner, is it not? So, is going to church, coming to church, is it more like coming to enjoy a family meal or is it more like going to a restaurant? I’d like to propose that it’s far more akin to going to a family’s house for dinner than to a restaurant.  When you go to a family’s house for dinner, the goal is relationship, not the product of the meal. My guess is you’ve never walked away from a family dinner going, “Listen, unless the steak was really rare, that could have been a little bit better.”  My guess is you walk away either celebrating or lamenting the fact that you were together as family.

So here’s my proposal then I want to unpack it:  Being a part of a family of faith DEMANDS that we move beyond observation and into participation.  It DEMANDS that we move beyond consumption to a place of contribution. It DEMANDS that we move beyond criticism to a place of construction. Here’s how it looks in the Scriptures — Hebrews 10:24-25.  We’re going to say, really practically, what it means to be part of a family of faith.  If God calls out of the world to create a new family, what does it look like to live as family?  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  Here’s the first thing:  If we’re going to live as a family of faith together, we’ve got to be committed to meeting together.  That we would gather together consistently.  That’s part of the ethos of people who live with church as family.

I’m going to put all my cards on the table — I get it! It’s hard!  It’s hard to say, “We’re going to make Sunday morning a priority.  There’s nothing else that gets on our calendar from 9 AM to 12 PM.”  I get it, it’s hard to say that.  We’re facing, as our kids get older and older, the reality that sports are going to start to happen on a Sunday and we’re going to have some choices to make.  Here’s what I’ll say to you:  That if we don’t prioritize the gathering together as a community of faith, we’ll never realize the beauty of being a part of a family.  My goal, in ZERO way, shape or form, is to induce guilt.  I just want to push on you gently to ask you to pray whether this is a priority, whether it’s a big rock in your life, or whether you do this if you have additional time. You make the time for the things that are important.  Here’s my goal as your pastor:  I never want coming to church to feel like duty.  I want you to feel, when you walk in these doors, like we’ve thought about you.  That as a staff, we’ve prayed for you.  That we have pored blood, sweat, and tears into preparing something that would feed your soul, and that when you walk out of this place, you go, “Alright, Jesus, I see you differently.  I see you fresh.  I see you new and I’m ready, with the community of faith, to walk with you.”  That’s our goal. We don’t want it to just be duty.  In fact, Joseph Hellerman in his book, When the Church Was a Family, says: “The idea of salvation cannot be reduced to a personal relationship with Jesus.  God’s plan is much more encompassing.  God intends for salvation to be a community-creating event.”   It’s true.  That’s beautiful.

So practically, what does that look like?  Let me just give you a few ideas.  Come early.  I get it, I know!  It’s not easy.  Come early, stay late.  Hang out in the lobby.  Talk with people.  Pursue people.  If you are a young couple in this church, I want to plead with you to be on the lookout for couples who have walked the journey of life and faith, who have raised kids and have done it in a godly way, who you look up to, that you will tap on the shoulder and say, “I need you to walk with us.”  For the young moms, I would say the same thing; for moms wondering if you’re going to survive life, you need to do the same thing.  Be on the lookout for people who you can say, “I want you to walk with me,” and then pursue them.  Invite people to go out to lunch with you after church.  Invite people to come over to your house.  Take the initiative.  If everyone of us took the initiative to do the things we wish other people did for us, this church would transform the world!  Let’s pursue each other. Hang out at the table.  Drink coffee to the glory of God.  Become a greeter.  Become one of our people that welcomes other people at the door.  Become an usher.  Serve in kids’ ministry—one of the greatest ways to get connected to other people is to serve alongside of them.  Hang out afterwards.  I get it, you have places to go. My family was always the last family to leave any church we were ever a part of.  Ironically, it was God’s way of preparing me for the life He had in store.  Outside of Sunday — Join a life group.  This is family and there’s some gifts that you have that can’t be used on a Sunday morning.  Does that mean they’re not important? Absolutely not!  Because the gathering, or the event, of Sunday morning is not the only time we live together as family.

If I were you, I’d be asking, “Okay, so we gather together.  What should we be doing when we are together?” Great question.  Hebrews 10:24 — Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good deeds.   This word “consider” in the Greek literally means “gives head space to,” “think about intentionally,” “fix your thoughts on,” or even “obsess about a little bit.”  So, put that in the context — Give head space to, fix your thoughts on, obsess about how you can spur or stir or jab, in the original, other people towards love and good deeds.  When you walk through these doors on a Sunday morning, when you interact with people from your church family throughout the week, is your desire to say to them, “God has more in store for you than you’re currently tasting?”  Is your desire to speak a word over their life about their gifting and the way that God might use them for their joy and for his glory in his world?  Are you thinking about, dreaming about, praying about words you can speak into other people’s lives that will spur them on, stir them up, and call them forth?

In Galatians 6:10 it says:  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.  One of the ways we operate in this way, one of the ways we live this out corporately is by our benevolence offering we take on the very first Sunday of every month.  I love the fact that there’s a number of you that give to that.  This month, you’ve helped people with their rent.  You’ve helped people with their utility bill, that may not have been able to keep the lights on without the gifts that you gave. You’ve helped people by paying for their utilities.  You’ve helped people who are broken, hurting, and in pain get into counseling to become healed and whole.  I love that.  Let’s spur one another on towards love and good deeds.  Let’s create a culture that empowers each other to say, “God has a way he wants to use your life, for your joy and for His glory.”  Will you speak that into somebody’s life this week?  You never know, there may be somebody who you encounter that really desperately needs it.

Encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. What do we do as church family? Well, we gather together.  We think about each other and how we can spur each other on to love Jesus and the people around us.  Then we encourage one another.  I love the way Dale Carnegie is his great book How to Win Friends and Influence People put it:  “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interest in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”  If you’re having trouble connecting with people; if you feel disconnected and don’t feel like anyone knows you — which is a reality in a church our size — can I give you some really practical advice?  Encourage people.  Build into people.  Notice things in people.  Compliment them.  Admire them.  To encourage is to “call alongside of.”  If you do that with people, I can guarantee you that you will find yourself a part of a beautiful community that Jesus is a center of.

Encourage others regularly.  Practically, what does this mean?  It means you pray for people.  If you’re not a part of our weekly prayer email that gets sent out and want to be, will you send our office an email this week? I will get you on that email.  I would love for you to pray for the people in your church body, in your aisle, who are hurting.  Pray for one another.  Send a text, send a note, send an email when people are hurting or sick. Reach out.  Pursue.  If somebody’s sick, or has a baby, or loses a loved one, volunteer to bring a meal.  If we don’t have a meal train set up, please set one up.  Other people would love to get involved; sometimes we just need someone to take the initiative who knows what’s going on.  But encourage one another.  Mentor — I’ve already talked about that a little bit.  Extend yourself to be a mentor for other people.  This isn’t an organization, this isn’t an event, this isn’t a corporation, this isn’t a business….this is FAMILY.  It’s who we are and we need you to take initiative.

Finally, that we would encourage one another, and all the more as we see the Day approaching.  Part of what we get the chance to do as family is to remember that we have a good Father.  And to remember that our Messiah, Jesus, says He’s coming back.  So we gather together, we inspire each other, we encourage each other, and we anticipate eternity on a regular basis.  We get the chance to say to each other, “I get it!  I get it!  But “these light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all!” (2 Cor. 4:16)  Friends, before His throne, every tribe, every tongue, every nation…that is the destiny of people who follow the way of Jesus.  Worshipping and declaring that there is none above and none beside Him, but He is King of it all.  What we get to do on a weekly basis and throughout the week is remind each other of the deepest realities….He reigns! He’s coming back! He’s good and He loves us!

Will you stand with me and we’re going to close our time together in a little bit of a different way.  I’m going to ask you to hold hands with the person right next to you.  I want us to end our time by reminding ourselves that in the end, this is our posture.  That we’re gathered together around the throne of God declaring the praise of God, remembering that it’s only by His blood.  Remembering that we’re bound together by His Spirit.  And remembering that we stand together on the foundation that He laid before the foundation of the world.  And we will gather and in one voice declare the one name that stands above it all.  So, as you hold that hand of that person next to you, remember, they’re part of not just your church, but they’re part of your family.  God has a great, beautiful design for His church.  Not as an event.  Not as a corporation.  Not as an organization.  Not as a business.  But as a family.  So Jesus, together we come to posture ourselves before you and say, “In so many ways we don’t know how to do this, but we want you to teach us.”  Teach us how to live together as family. Teach us how to stir one another up.  Teach us how to encourage each other.  Teach us how to dream together and anticipate together.  Teach us how to be family together.  We pray in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  It’s in his name that we pray.  Amen.

This is Us – It’s a Family Thing2020-08-21T11:21:34-06:00

THIS IS US: Shema and the Shaping of Lives Deuteronomy 6:1-9

THIS IS US: Shema and the Shaping of Lives Deuteronomy 6:1-9

I want to take a straw poll survey — Raise your hand if either of the following statements apply to you. Raise your hand if family—what I mean is either the biological nuclear family that you were born into, the family that adopted you, foster family, or the family you created by marriage—has been either a source of one of your deepest joys in life, or a source of some of your deepest pain in life. If family has been one of the two of those or BOTH, will you raise your hand? Before you put your hand down, look around. I want to make a proposal to you—-that what you see is NOT a coincidence. We didn’t just so happen to have a random sampling of people who live in the U.S. and we’re unique in that family has had a significant role in either our deepest joys or our deepest pains. What you just saw was, what we would call, design. It’s the design of your Maker. There’s a reason that family plays such a significant role in our lives. There’s nobody who escapes that. For some of you, the role that family played was significant and beautiful and good, and for some of you the role that family played was some pain and it shaped you in some ways that you would rather forget and move forward from. Regardless of how it shaped you, it did.

Over the last few weeks we’ve been studying the series we’re calling “This is Us.” We started off by talking about what it means to be human on an individual level. We zoomed out and looked at what it means to be human on a communal level, on a relationship level, in marriages. What does it mean to be human in friendships and relationships? I want to zoom out one more level today and talk about what it means to be human in family. I want you to say this after me, “Family has had a significant effect on my life.” It has! The story of family is all around us. I started thinking this week about the way family is portrayed and what I noticed is that my favorite book over the last two months, my favorite movie over the last two months, and my favorite TV show over the last two months, all have one thing in common — They are all about…..FAMILY! A few months ago I read John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, all about a family and their journey over generations. Over Christmas break we saw the really happy movie Manchester by the Sea. It’s a beautiful portrayal of grief, and grief set in the context of a family. One of our favorite TV shows over this last season is This is Us. It’s all about a family.

God’s design is that family would be for our formation, that it would help shape us, and it would be for our flourishing. That it would help us grow and become the type of people that he’s designed us to become. But we all know that there’s times when that works and it works really well and it’s exciting and it’s joyful; and there’s times when family lets us down, and there’s times when family’s difficult, and there’s times where family is something we may rather run from than run to. I can prove that to you just by showing you a cursory sample of a few family reunion T-shirts. Official Survivor of the Crockett Family Reunion. I shook my family tree and a bunch of nuts fell out. One Reunion, Many Paths—Psychopaths, Sociopaths, and More Psychopaths. Trying to Relate to the People I’m Related To. My Family is Temperamental—Half Temper, Half Mental. Family Reunion Spin the Bottle Champion. If we didn’t argue, we wouldn’t have anything to talk about. We can relate maybe.

The story of family is if your family sort of went off the rails a little bit, if there’s some pain attached to your family unit and your family story, I just want you to know that you’re not alone. You don’t have to read too far in the Scriptures before you see family going a little bit awry. God creates family in Genesis 1 and 2 — Adam and Eve born in the garden; they create family; Genesis 3 we have the fall and sin enters the world. Genesis 4–Adam and Eve have kids. They have Cain and Abel and I don’t know if you’re familiar with the story, but their family unit did not turn out all that well. Cain kills Abel. I guess there’s a barometer that may make you think, “Well, we’re not doing too bad.” If no one in your family has killed each other than you’re doing okay! Better than the first family.

There are expectations around family. Here’s why — Because God has designed the family to carry weight. To have significant impact in your life for your flourishing, for your formation, for your good, and when that aligns and is operating in the way that God designed it to operate, there is nothing better. When it operates in a way that God didn’t design and where there’s pain attached to it, there’s potentially nothing worse. It has the potential to be really, really good or really, really difficult. Expectations within family and over family are innate. The question becomes how do we live in God’s design for family? What does that look like? Before we go any further in the message, I want to speak to a few people in this room. One, I want to speak to the parents and grandparents — This message is for you. I want to speak to the single people in this room. I want to speak to the people who aren’t a part of a family that has kids that you’re teaching or training right now. I want to speak to you also, because when writing this message I have you in mind also. I believe that God has a role for you to play in discipling the people around you and whether they are biological kids living in your household, whether they’re kids who have left your household, or whether they’re people you rub shoulders with and have influence in their lives, you have influence in the lives of the people around you. This message applies to us all.

The greatest resource, I believe, that God gave to the nation of Israel in the shaping of their families is that beautiful passage of Scripture that we recited in worship this morning called the “Shema.” The Israelite people would recite Shema every morning and every evening. It was the bookends of their day. They wanted to remind themselves of the things that were most significant as they started their day and as they ended their day. In his wonderful book Man’s Search for Meaning, author Viktor Frankl recounts his time in Auschwitz concentration camp. The Nazis had stripped him bare and a number of other men were in the same position. After they did a number of different things to them, they told them to go back and get their clothes. All the men went to the clothes and grabbed whatever was there lying on ground and put it on. When Viktor Frankl put on the new coat that he got, he stuck his hand in the pocket of the coat and felt a piece of paper in the pocket. On that little piece of paper was written Shema. What he said {in a book afterwards} as he walked through this unbelievably difficult time in Auschwitz concentration camp was: “If you know your ‘why’ in life, you can survive any ‘how.'” THIS was Viktor Frankl’s why.

Would you stand as we read God’s Holy Scripture together? As I read it, let it just wash over you. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 — Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. This is the word of God. Thanks be to God.

What was the intention of this passage of Scripture? Why was it so significant to the Jewish people? For the Jewish person, this was their creed, this was their anthem, this was their song. Why was it such a big deal? There’s two reasons: 1) You had a community of people, every single day, when they rose up in the morning and when they laid down at night, they were reminding themselves of one central truth. They reminded themselves as they read that they were not individual floating around people in God’s vast universe, but they were part of a community of faith that circled around THIS truth and reminded themselves on a daily basis. 2) It not only gives definition to a community, but it gives clarity to a life. Since the beginning of time humanity has asked a question: What’s our purpose in life? What are we created for? What’s our chief end? The Shema answers it with one word. Here’s the reason you were created, here’s your purpose; you want to know what God wants from you, what God’s beckoning of you, what his desire is for you…..look no further. Shema answers it. Here’s why you were created……..TO LOVE. And to love God. And to love God, he says, with everything that you have. With your heart, with your soul, and with your might. Now, there’s been a number of wonderful, theological works that have dissected each of those components that we are suppose to submit to the love of God — the heart, the soul, and the might. I want to say that there’s some value in that, but I think the bigger value is recognizing that we are called as God’s people to submit our whole selves to his love. We are called to submit our intellect. We are called to submit our emotions. We are called to surrender our desires, our thoughts. All of that would be encompassed under this one command — Love the Lord your God with everything that you have. Don’t you love it that that is our God? That the command is well, give me your lives because I’m going to give my life for you. That’s the goal, that’s the central call of the life that’s surrendered to this God, this Yahweh, this covenantal steadfast God.

So that’s the goal, but the question becomes HOW? If you read a little deeper into this passage, you start to see how God intends for this to play out. Let me show you three significant passages that help draw this point out. It says in Deuteronomy 6:2 — That you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son. So this is family. Deuteronomy 6:7 — You shall teach them diligently to your children…. This is something that’s being communicated from parent to child. Deuteronomy 6:20–When your son asks you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?” then you shall say to your son….. This is happening, this teaching of Shema, not just in synagogues or churches, but in homes. We went around and raised our hand and said yeah, family has had a significant weight and role in our lives, either for our joy or for our pain or some of us said both. God would say absolutely yes and amen, family plays a significant role, therefore, family is where we want the formation of our faith to first take root and to first take place and to start to sprout and to start to grow. Friends, the life of love—-this love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength—-takes root in the home of faith. Here’s the problem and here’s the challenge—-Many of us would say yes and amen we’ve experienced that, or yes and amen we’ve wanted to experience that and it’s been elusive for us. If you’re a parent in this room today, you know the challenge with that. The challenge with that is we’re busy people. Right?

In 2010 there was a survey done by the Journal of Marriage and Family. They charted how many hours a week parents spent with their kids. {Ryan shows graph.} You may expect in a sermon like this to hear, “You don’t spend enough time with your kids.” My goal is not to make anybody feel guilty here. My goal is to say that there is a HUGE impact waiting to be had and you may not be able to, with your schedule, spend anymore time together as a family. I think you probably can, but that’s not my goal today. My goal is to say how you use the time that you DO have makes a huge difference. Here’s the good news — Since 1975, the number of how much time parents spend with their kids is on the rise. On average, the average mom spends 13.7 hours a week with their kids. The average dad spends 7.2 hours a week with their kids. That’s just the reality. Some people see this number and go yeah, that’s why we decided to homeschool our kids, because we want more time with our kids. Or, that’s why we send our kids to a Christian school, because we want them to be taught Shema principles all throughout the day. Those are good reasons; those aren’t the decisions Kelly and I have made for our family, but those may be the decisions that you’ve made for your family and that’s wonderful. The goal is to say today — How do we make the most of the time that we do have, because God’s calling on family is huge. It’s huge! And I’ll add anecdotally, that the people who will give an account for how they shepherd and disciple their kids, before the throne of God, are the parents. Now, what we do in Sunday School here is amazing and I love it. As a parent, I am so grateful for it. {If you volunteer in the kids ministry, will you just raise your hand? Thank you.} But it’s one hour a week and so the weight of discipling kids falls squarely on the shoulders of family and on the community of faith in general. The question becomes, as parents, as people called to have influence in the life of our kids, how do we do that and how do we do it well? This is us! We are people as individuals, we are people in community together, and we are people as family and God’s design for family is that it would be for nourishing and for flourishing. So how does that happen?

Deuteronomy 6:6-7, going further into this passage. The call has been given out — love God with everything you have…your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. {Don’t you love that this is our God? It’s not like hey, I want you to keep these in your head, and I want you to have it memorized, and I want your cognitive faculties to be absorbed in the goodness of God. Now that’s good and that’s true, but that’s not what this says. This says God wants it to be on our HEART. That our emotion, that our desire, that our thoughts would be captured with the love and the goodness of God.} You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You. Are. A. Teacher. Did you know that? Not just the people that have taken the spiritual gifts assessment and you scored teacher. Not just those people. Every single one of you in this room is a teacher. If you’re a parent, you are intended to be a teacher to your kids, whether you feel like you’re gifted with the gift of teaching or not! You know how I know that? You have kids….that’s how I know that. God’s call on your life is to be a teacher. One of the ways we start to instill this love of God (ethos and ethic) into our families is by teaching it consistently. Here’s the way the book of Colossians (3:16) would say it: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, {Isn’t that a beautiful picture? Allow the Scriptures to saturate your being.} teaching {So when that happens….when you let Christ’s word dwell in you richly, the natural thing to do is to talk about it. When you talk about it, you’re teaching.} teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. The Scriptures will command us to do this diligently as if to say you might need to teach something more than once. {Any parents want to say yes and amen to that?} OR, you may need to teach it every single moment of every single day!! Yeah, teach it diligently!

I love how ruthlessly honest the Scriptures are, because here’s what all the people in this room are thinking: I don’t have time for that. Are you kidding me? I don’t have time to run a seminary in my home. When am I suppose to carve out the time to teach the people around me? I’m glad you asked that because the Bible answers it. You shall teach it and you shall talk about it when you sit in your house. How many of you sat down in your house recently? So maybe over a meal. When you’re sitting down on the couch, when you’re hanging out building Legos or doing homework, or whatever….. When you’re just being a family unit in your home, that’s when it happens. OR, when you walk by the way. This was their way of saying when you’re in transit from one place to another…that’s when this teaching happens. How many of you guys have driven somewhere recently? Or walked somewhere? When you lie down. How many of you went to bed last night? When you rise. How many of you got up this morning? Don’t you love how everyday practical the Bible is? When do we teach the Scriptures to the people around us? Every day in every way. That we let it dwell in us in such a way that it comes out of us as we talk, or as we ride in the car together, or as we sit down over dinner together, or as we tuck our kids in bed at night, or as we say good night as they get a little older and won’t let us tuck them in anymore. That’s when we do it.

You may be asking what the message is. This Shema starts to teach us the message: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God…. The Lord, Yahweh. It’s this covenantal word for God. Underneath this word Yahweh is the idea that He will never, ever let you go. Underneath that word Yahweh is that He is a steadfast, faithful God that your failure does not extinguish His faithfulness. That’s what we teach our kids! I’ve fallen short. There’s been times where I haven’t added up. You know them well, children, right? But our God is good and our God is steadfast. The Lord our God, the Lord is one. He stands alone and we stand amazed. There is none like Him. He spoke it all into existence. He holds it all together by the very breath of His word. He lived for us. He died for us. He rose for us. He ascended on our behalf. He is our mediator. There is none like Him! There is only one. In the polytheistic world that they lived in that spoke volumes. It should speak volumes to us too. He stands alone! That’s the message that we give.

If you read further you see that the message has a different personal dynamic in each family. Deuteronomy 6:20-23 — When your son asks you in time to come, {If you live a gospel-centered, Shema-centered life, your kids are going to ask what the deal is. Why? You’re going to get the chance to speak into that.} ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. He goes on to say, “….and we are alive to this day because God is good on his promises.” So here’s what we teach — We teach the Scriptures. You don’t have to be a theologian in order to do that, you just have to spend time with God. Then, we teach out of our story. This is what God has done for me. This is what God has done for us. For the people who are younger than you, specifically in your sphere of influence, they need to hear your passion for the Scriptures and they need to hear your stories of the way that God has come through for you on a personal basis. When you sit and when you walk and when you rise and when you lie, these are the things that start to come out of us.

David Kraft was a great athlete and the Lord captured his heart at a young age. He ended up going to Denver Seminary. He was 6’2″, 200 pounds. After he got out of Denver Seminary, he served with an organization called Fellowship of Christian Athletes. At the age of 32 he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that the doctors told him was eventually going to take his life. Over the course of the next few months his health slowly deteriorated. He went from 6’2″,200 pounds to 6′, 80 pounds. His dad went to visit David in the hospital. As they hugged each other, they thought maybe for the last time, David grabbed his dad’s face and listen to these words he said to him, “Dad, thank you for building the kind of character into my life that can enable me to face even a moment like this.” Where did that fortitude, perseverance come from? It came from his home. It came from his family. How do we do this, you guys, because that’s the kind of faith I want to instill into my kids. That’s the kind of faith my dad instilled in me. How do we do that? We tell stories of God’s goodness, that’s how we do it. Because the stories we tell shape the lives that we live.

We tell stories of God’s goodness. We read Scripture together. If you’re a young family, I would suggest you get a Jesus Storybook Bible. They’re awesome. If you’re an older family, get a Jesus Storybook Bible. They’re awesome!! One of the things we did this last year as a family was read Chronicles of Narnia together. I love the way that C.S. Lewis paints such an illustrative picture of the kingdom of God, of Jesus, in the person and work of Aslan. I love that! It stirred my kids’ imagination. So that’s one. Tell stories, read the Scriptures. Do that together. You have time. Take the time that you have. If you’re a parent, I want to speak directly to you. Take your role as teacher seriously. Do it intentionally. Think about it. Pray about it. There may be no important task that you will ever be given in life. Then as a family, spend time to celebrate God’s consistent provision. When you pick up your kids from our wonderful kids’ ministry today, you’re going to get handed a Homefront Weekly. You’ll get it every week with the new curriculum that we’re using. Take that, use it as a platform for discussion around your dinner table….or as you walk, or as you rise, or as you lie. You. Can. Do. This. God would not have entrusted you with those kids if he didn’t think you could.

Deuteronomy 6:8-9 — You shall bind them (Shema) as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Notice this is hands and eyes. This is very personal. This is on our being on a daily basis. Doorposts — This is family. Surround your family with it. Saturate your family with it. Gates — The idea was marketplace, that this was a civic exchange place. So, it’s personal, it’s familial, and it’s public. So we teach consistently and then we surround ourselves with it intentionally. An Orthodox Jewish person, especially back in this day, but even some to this very day, will wear what they call “phylacteries.” {Shows a picture–little black box with Scripture.} The very front of his forehead—Shema. On his hand and arm—Shema. Can you imagine every single day putting these on as a Jewish man? It’s no wonder that when Jesus is asked, “What’s the greatest command?” he recites Shema. Love the Lord your God with everything you have. Well, what are they doing? They’re creating sacred space. They’re claiming their home as a place where God inhabits, where God dwells. As evangelicals we don’t do sacred space very well. We LOVE the Scriptures, and if you were to ask us, “How does spiritual formation happen?” we would say the Bible and that would be the end of the story. The only problem is the Bible goes further than that. The Bible would actually say that we’re visual people. We need reminders throughout our day of God’s faithful, of God’s goodness, of God’s love, and of God’s provision. Is the Bible good, necessary, and primary? Yes and amen! But we need to have reminders throughout our day, that God is present, that God is good, and that God loves us. The Hebrew people would create sacred space in their home. They’d create it on their gates. They would create it on themselves, reminding them that God is up to something in this world. He’s on the move.

Do you have those types of places in your home, in your life? We have this picture right as we walk out our door. It’s a picture taken in 2000 of Kelly and I in Mexico. It was a missions trip in Mexico before we were married when we were still dating. We had gone down with a large group of people; and both of us have a kid on our back and grins on our faces where God is just lighting us up. Every time I walk out that door, I see the verse (1 Corin. 13) that I burnt into the wood frame — Love is patient, love is kind…. For me, it’s this sacred space reminder that God has been faithful to our family. It’s this reminder that God’s love holds us together, and it’s a reminder of what we are on mission to do. Do you have sacred space in your life? Do you have reminders—physical, visible reminders? Here are two reasons you need this—1) We are visual people. We are stirred by the images we see and the stories we hear. We’re visual people. 2) We’re forgetful people. We need the reminder. Oh yeah, my purpose here is to love the Lord my God with my whole heart, with my whole soul, and with every piece of strength in me. That’s why I walk this little blue ball we call Earth. We need the reminders. You need the reminders. I need the reminders. What does that look like on a practical basis? It may look like setting up an ebenezer-type of memorial in your home somewhere. It doesn’t have to be weird, it doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be something that jogs your memory on a daily basis. Oh yeah, that’s why we’re here. Maybe it’s a background on your iPhone that you have. You’ve set it so that every time you open it it reminds you of something that invites you into the story that you are a part of. That’s what Israel’s doing, they’re reminding themselves they’re part of a bigger story. Every morning and every day. Maybe it’s a tattoo that you get that reminds you…. I don’t know! High schoolers, you’re welcome! College students, you’re welcome! Think about it though….how do you remind yourself in a practical way, surrounding yourself in the story of God. Sacred space matters. It helps shape us as people to be followers of the one true God.

We surround ourselves intentionally, we teach consistently, and finally, Deuteronomy 6:1-3 — Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. That you may DO them, KEEPING all the statutes and his commandments. Be careful to DO them. Do you notice that this isn’t just hey, think about these things? It’s not a nice suggestion to agree with the reality that the Lord your God, the Lord is one. No! This is an active invitation to a life that reflects the love of God. So, we teach it consistently, we surround ourselves with it intentionally, and then as James so eloquently puts it (James 2:17) that faith by itself that does not have any works, or any deeds, or any life change that goes with it isn’t actually really faith. And the calling is that we would live it out obediently. That we would teach it, that we would surround ourselves with it, and that we would live it. {Will you look up at me for just a moment?} There are people in your life that God is inviting you to have an influence on. You know this and I know this that the reality is that the things that we’ve learned in life we’ve learned not necessarily always by didactic teaching, but we’ve learned as we’ve watched people live. So much more is caught than taught. Absolutely. Here’s the deal — if you’re a parent, if you’re a grandparent, if you’re a Sunday School teacher, if you are a person who is in contact with another human being that you want to have influence on…..if you want to teach your kids to be generous people, do you know the best way to do it? Be a generous person. If you want to teach your kids to love the Scriptures, love the Scriptures. Let them see you reading them. Talk about them. Engage with them. If you want the people in the vicinity of influence to be servants, can I invite you to be a servant. If you want the people that you’re connected to….specifically, parents, if you want your kids to grow up and to be forgiving people, forgive them and invite them to forgive you when you wrong them. If you want your kids to love Jesus, do you know what the best thing you can do is? Love Jesus. Love Jesus and it will overflow into their lives. The reality is, friends, whatever comes out of our lives is flowing from what’s in our lives. Whatever captures our loves…..Hear, O Israel: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your strength, and your mind. Whatever captures our loves WILL determine the course of our lives.

And so, when you walk talk about this, surround yourself in this story. When you rise, invite the people who rise alongside of you to love this God with everything they have and everything they are. When you’re in between, in transit waiting in traffic, use it as a moment to deepen and instill THIS passage, THIS reality, THIS idea that God is great, He reigns above it all. When you gather around the table at dinner, take some time and remind yourselves of the story that you’re in. Because the stories you tell will determine the lives that you live.

And so Jesus takes his followers around a table to teach them, to surround them, and to live in front of them. He takes them to this table because a table is a family event. He takes them there and he teaches them that he’s lived the perfect life, that he’s going to die the atoning death that they might have life through him. He gives them bread, symbolizing his body. He takes them there to surround them, to tell them keep telling this story, because you need this reminder that your God is good, that he loves you, that he’s, by grace, paid the penalty that you could never pay on your own, and that he’s calling you to live in the same way. So as you come to this communion table, friend, would you come knowing that he wants to teach you how much he loves you? Would you come knowing that He is surrounding you in his goodness and his grace and the story that you are encompassed in? Would you come knowing that his invitation is not just to agree, but to go and live? The table’s open to any who are followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Let me pray and invite you to come and celebrate his life, death, burial, and resurrection.

Jesus, we remember this morning that you, O God, are one—Father, Son, and Spirit. We love you with our heart, with our soul, with our might. As we come to this table this morning, this family celebration of the faith that we hold in common, may your love be our anthem, may it be our song. May we remember, as we come this morning, that we are deeply loved; and would we remember this morning that we are called to love. Would you teach us once again, would you surround us once again, and would you invite us once again not just to hear it, but to live it out for the glory of your name. It’s in the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.

THIS IS US: Shema and the Shaping of Lives Deuteronomy 6:1-92020-08-21T11:22:52-06:00

This is Us: Picture Perfect – Genesis 2

THIS IS US: Picture Perfect   Genesis 2:18-25

If you’re new with us this morning, you’re jumping into a series we’ve been in for the last two weeks.  We’re exploring the question “What does it mean to be human?”  There’s a lot attached to that thread when you start to pull it.  The first week we said, on a fundamental level, there’s four things:  1) It means we are created beings. 2) We’re created in the image of God.  3) We’re a composite of both breath and dust, that we are spirit and flesh, body and soul.  4) We were created to commune with our Creator.  That was fundamentally what it meant to be human.  Last week we built off of that and said we have to do something when we get up in the morning.  We can’t just “BE.”  That’s the most important thing about us, but it’s not the ONLY thing about us.  We said that as human beings we carry the image of God and that meant three things:  1) We are created to create.  2) We are wired to work.  3) We were formed for friendship.  Today we’re going to dive a little bit deeper into this idea that we are formed for friendship.  We have relationships and marriage, that’s all a part of that piece of the pie that we’re going to explore today.

Kelly and I, like you, have a number of friends who send out Christmas cards.  One of our favorite things to do is to hang those cards up when they come in over the Christmas season, so we can catch up with old friends or at least see what they’re up to and pray for them.  My favorite thing when looking at those pictures is to try to imagine what’s behind the picture.  If you did any of those photo shoots like our family did, we got a number of good ones (thanks to our good photographer), but there was also a number of really bad ones, too.  For every good one you get…..I don’t know what the ratio is, but I’m going to say it’s about 50 to 1.  And it all depends….it’s a complicated equation…..it depends on how young your kids are and how good of a smile you want them to have…..  There’s 49 pictures that didn’t look quite as good as that one that was on your Christmas card.  We have this ability, don’t we, especially in our social media world to be able to put out the best pictures of us.  If you pick up a fashion magazine….did you know that 100% of the pictures in a fashion magazine are touched up or airbrushed, in some way, shape, or form?  That nobody looks like that!  Not even them!

I have first-hand experience in my modeling career of this happening to me.  A number of years ago, I woke up to friends sending me text messages and forwards of an email.  The deal was “Special Deal on Teeth Whitening San Diego.”  It was an Amazon-Local ad (sort of like Groupon).  It was a special they were running on teeth whitening.  I was like, “Listen, I know my teeth aren’t perfect, but this is a little bit strong of an intervention, you guys.”  I opened up the email.  The top picture was my dentist’s Amazon-Local ad that went out to tens of thousands of people around North San Diego County.  Here’s the thing:  He poached this (picture) off of my Facebook account!!!  Didn’t ask me!  {It’s a picture of Ryan and family.}  Not only that!  The bottom (picture) is the original; the top is his attempt at photoshopping our teeth whiter!  It’s a poor attempt at photoshop.  This is my launch into a modeling career…  I feel the pain.

This morning, the conversation we’re going to have is going to feel like an airbrushing.  It’s going to feel like a picture that you’re going to look at and go, “There’s no way.”  There’s no way that relationships can work like that.  There’s no way marriages can function like that.  That is too high of a bar.  We are all going to fall short. What I want to say at the onset is yep, we are.   We are.  BUT, unless we know the goal, unless we know what the perfect picture looks like, we will never fully chase after all that God has put in the hearts of us as being human beings.  Unless we know what God’s design is, we won’t chase after it wholeheartedly and ferociously like we were designed to do.  So, if you’re married this morning, my hope is that you take notes and that you walk away from this going, “That’s a high calling and I don’t think we’re there.”  Just so you know, we’re ALL going to have that same conversation on the way home.  None of us is going to look at each other in the car on the way home and go, “Well, I think we’ve nailed that; I think we’ve arrived.”  None of us are.  So my hope is that you take these pictures that we’re going to look at this morning……four pictures of the picture-perfect marriage….and you use them as a conversation starter to start to wrestle with God’s design for your marriage.

I always hesitate in speaking about a subject that I know is difficult for roughly half of the people in the congregation.  There’s people here who have walked through divorce and the pain and the hurt of that is very present.  Anytime we talk about marriage, those feelings rise to the surface.  I hear you.  There’s people in this room who have lost spouses recently.  To be reminded of the life that you had and that you no longer have is a really difficult thing.  There’s people in this room that are single, not by choice; you would love to find somebody to share your life with in this type of way.  To that whole group of people, I say:  1) I hear you and I planned this message with you in mind also. 2) My hope would be, as we jump into the Scriptures together and see God’s ideal design for not only marriages, but also in friendships and relationships, that we would have this picture held up, that our hearts would be captivated, and that it would, in the end, cause us to turn back to God and say thank you, regardless of whether we’re married, single, divorced, or widowed.

Genesis 2:18.  As we continue the series that we’re calling “This is Us,” an exploration of what it means to be human.  After God has created the heavens and the earth, he’s placed man in the garden to work it, to keep it, to have dominion over it, to tend it, the Scriptures say, we come across verse 18 in chapter 2.  Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.    If you’re fresh and new to the Scriptures and you had just read chapter 1 of Genesis and starting chapter 2, this statement would be shocking to you.  All that you know about the story of God up until this point is that God has created, He’s stepped back from his creation, and the Trinity has given each other a high five and said, “We did really good work here.”  “Very good” it says at the end of Genesis 1.  Nothing has changed in between the declaration from God, “It’s very good,” and where we find ourselves in chapter 2.  Sin hasn’t entered the world.  There’s no Fall yet; it’s that God observes and looks and sees it’s not good that man (humanity) should be alone.  That that’s not God’s design.  If you were writing a story, we would call this the “inciting incident.”  That something happens to turn the story a little bit, some drama is added.  The drama is God looking at his own creation and going, “Well, that’s incomplete.  That’s not the way that I designed this to work.”  Here’s the question: Is God caught off guard?  Is he looking at this going, “You know what, I never thought of that—that it should be man AND woman.  That never crossed my….”  No, no, no.  This is written in THIS way for OUR benefit.  The story is set.  The story is told to draw out a piece of what it means to be human that if we miss it, we miss the entire picture.  God is not surprised.  God is not caught off guard.  The passage communicates something deep about what it means to be human and here’s what it communicates:  Shared life is God’s design for abundant living.  You may have noticed that the series is entitled “This is US” not “This is ME.”  That’s intentional.  I love the way that Tim Keller, the great pastor and author, states it: “The Genesis narrative is implying that our intense relational capacity, created and given to us by God, was not fulfilled completely by our ‘vertical’ relationship with him.  {That God created you with the capacity that’s more than just what HE can fill.  Let that sink in on you for just a moment.  He created you with a capacity, a desire, that other people should be a part of your life also.  Listen to the way Keller continues.} God designed us to need ‘horizontal’ relationships with other human beings.”

Shared life is God’s design for abundant living.  Being human is not an individual sport, it’s a team sport.  You cannot be all that God has designed you to be alone.  In fact, I would say that isolation, according to the Genesis narrative, and loneliness is inhumane, it’s anti-design, it goes against the threads that God has wired into the fiber of our DNA.  McGill University did a study in 1951, where they wanted to try to identify the effects of solitary confinement on people.  They had a number of volunteers to be in solitary confinement. They had things that inhibited their ability to hear.  They had goggles they put on their eyes.  The experiment was set to last six weeks.  None of the people involved in the study lasted more than one week!  After one week, what they identified was that everybody involved was having psychiatric breaks, they were starting to go a little bit crazy and they were starting to hallucinate.  Why?  Because shared life is God’s design for abundant living. We actually NEED each other.  We can’t exist without one another.

In this passage of Scripture, the foundation is it is not good to be alone.  I want to give you four pictures of what life together is intended to be by the goodness and the grace of God.  Each one of these pictures is going to progress to a new and deeper level of intimacy that you and I were designed to experience under his good grace.  Here’s the way it starts.  It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.  You have to know the problem God is solving in the creation of both male and female.  The problem that God is solving is not an issue of procreation.  It’s an issue of relationship.  It’s an issue of loneliness.  Before God ever says to Adam and Eve, “It would be a good idea for you guys to make babies,”……the problem he’s solving is you need other people on this journey of life and this journey of faith with you.  Here’s the first picture…the first picture of marriage, the first picture of relationship, the first picture of friendship……is side by side —-> shared friendship.  Don’t you love that God is a God who cares about us so holistically?  It’s not just this ethereal, spiritual relationship—that’s good, that’s necessary, that’s important.  But that’s incomplete.  That God cares about us in a holistic manner and, in so doing, creates us with a capacity for friendship then fills that void with the “other.”  I love the way that C.S. Lewis so poignantly writes about friendship: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”  Where there’s struggle that’s shared and instead of casting stones there’s this declaration: Me too!  I wrestle with that too!

Did you know that, if you’re married, in your marriage you were created, you were designed, your marriage was forged in order that your friendship would be deepened?  Friendship is not a nice addition to a marriage.  It’s an essential element.  It’s part of the way God’s wired you.  It’s part of the way that God has designed you.  The question then becomes: What does it look like to really, truly be friends?  Are we talking about some trite sentimentality?  No, the Scriptures actually talk about that and I’ll give you two things that are really cursory level about being friends.  The author of Proverbs, Solomon, writes about this:  A friend loves at all time, and a brother is born for adversity. (Prov. 17:17)   So biblical friendship has this steadfastness associated with it. This last week I read a book called Same Kind of Different as Me.  It’s this great story of this African-American man who grew up poor and homeless and this wealthy, white art dealer.  It’s their story of coming together and becoming friends.  At the very beginning of their friendship, Denver, the African-American man, looks at Ron, this white Anglo art dealer, and says to him, “You white people, when you fish you do catch-and-release fishing. You catch something and then you let it go.  I don’t want to do friendship that way.  If we’re going to be friends, it’s going to be until the end.”  That’s not unique.  That’s the way any honest, true, biblical friendship is.  When things get hard, we hold on tighter.  We don’t tap out and let go.  That’s the picture Solomon’s painting.

The second characteristic is from Proverbs 27:5-6:  Better is open rebuke than hidden love.  Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.  Have you ever had a friend who told you something in honesty that really hurt and really stung?  This is a factor in being a friend with another person–speaking the truth in love, even when you know it’s going to sting and even when you know it’s going to hurt.  One of the things I love most about my wife is if I ask her, “Hey, am I being crazy?  Am I off my rocker?  Have I lost it?” she will say to me, “Yes!  You are.  You have.”  This is a part of biblical, genuine friendship that we speak into each other’s lives and it’s the way that God’s wired us, not just for friendships and relationships in general, but for marriage.  That’s a great part of a marriage.  Wounds of a friend who you know isn’t letting go.  I love the way Tim Keller puts it: “Christian friendship is not simply about going to concerts together or enjoying the same sporting event.  It is the deep oneness that develops as two people journey together toward the same destination.”  It’s not just shared interest, it’s deeper than that.  It’s friendship–I’m going to speak love and I’m not letting go.  So picture #1:  Side by side —-> Shared friendship.

Here’s picture #2 from Genesis 2:18-20 — It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.  Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them.  And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.  The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field.  But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.   I want all the guys, in unison, to let out an Amen for that!  Aren’t we glad that there was no helper found fit for Adam amongst the animals?!  We read the story and we glaze over it, but think of what’s behind the story.  What if there’s this negotiation going on between God and Adam and God’s like, “Listen, the rhino could work.  We could make…it’s not originally what I had in mind, but we could make this work with a few minor adj…..”  No, praise the Lord, that there was not a “helper” fit for him.  Now, we have done massive damage because we haven’t done due diligence in asking the question “What does this word ‘helper’ mean?”  In Hebrew it’s the word ‘ezer.’  Ezer is used 21 different times in the Old Testament.  Two of the times are in this passage alone.  Sixteen of those other times are used in reference to, not a female, not a woman….they are used in reference to God.  Exodus 18:4 — The God of my father was my (ezer) help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.  Deuteronomy 33:7 — And this he said of Judah: Hear, O Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him in to his people.  With your hands contend for him, and be a help against his adversaries.  Sixteen out of twenty-one times the word ‘helper’ is used in reference to God.  We’ve often viewed helper as somebody who comes alongside of Adam to make him coffee and do his laundry.  Which isn’t at all the way this picture in Genesis is being painted!  The picture in Genesis is of a co-equal coming alongside of another to fortify and to add strength.  When the Scriptures talk about a helper, they will sometimes use it as God being a helper and a shield or a protector.  Helper is also used in reference to military reinforcements.

So, you have ‘helper,’ which means somebody who comes alongside of and strengthens.  Then you have ‘suitable,’ a suitable helper.  Suitable is a little more difficult in the Hebrew.  It has this dynamic….a good direct translation would be “like opposite.”  So, you’re like me, you’re made of the same material, you’re made of the same stuff, but you’re not the exact same, you’re not a mirror image.  If you are to look back in chapters 1 and 2 of the Genesis narrative, you’d find that they’re looking for something specific when they’re looking for a helper.  It’s somebody who’s going to work alongside of Adam to subdue and have dominion over the sacred space that God has created.  They’re looking for somebody who’s going to help and keep, to tend the garden. Finally, they are looking for someone who would help procreate, that they would be fruitful and multiply together.  But before they ever procreate, they have a mission.  They are linking arms to do something with God, for God’s purposes, by God’s design.  So marriage, first, is side by side–>shared friendship.  Second, it’s arm in arm —-> a shared mission.

Now, as a point of clarification, please don’t hear me say that men and women have the exact same role and function.  That’s not what I’m saying at all.  In fact, I’m not even touching on role and function, we’re talking about essence.  We’re talking about who they are in God’s created design.  Are there different roles and different functions?  Absolutely!!  But the most important thing is that before there are different roles there’s a shared mission.  They have different things that they’re executing in regards to that mission, different ways that they’re ministering.  Certainly.  Sure.  And those vary based on couple.  But the mission is in front of them.  The mission is paramount.  You show me a marriage that’s lost its love, and I’ll show you, first, a marriage that lost its mission.  Because that always starts to erode first; before we ever fall out of love, we fall out of mission.

Here’s two brief reasons why shared mission is so good.  One, have you ever noticed you get more done together than you do alone?  Simple math, although it’s actually more than just math, it’s actually multiplication.  You get exponentially more done together than you get done alone.  So it’s part of God’s design in saying I want you to have a mission that’s worth chasing after with some veracity in your life.  Two, there’s more joy in doing it together, isn’t there?  Have you ever watched a comedy alone and thought, “Man, that was funny, but it sure would have been funnier to hear somebody else laughing with me?”  Or have you ever watched a sunset over the Pacific Ocean—just the sun dive into the edge of the sea?  Without somebody to share it with it’s not quite as enjoyable, it’s not quite as fun.  Whether it’s in marriage, relationships, or friendship, God’s design for togetherness is for our joy, it’s for our life. And we need a mission.  Let me speak to those who are married — Your marriage needs a mission.  Oftentimes what happens is our kids are our mission while they’re in our house (if we have them).  Then what happens to many couples as they’re empty-nesters is their kids leave the house and they’re left wondering, “What’s our mission now? This was the mission.”  So we have this new sociological phenomenon that they call “empty-nest divorce syndrome.”  Where many empty-nesters are saying, “The thing that held us together, the mission that we had because we need one, was our kids and now that’s gone.”  So, I’d encourage you—kids are a great mission—they can’t be the only one though.  If you’re married, how do you and your spouse serve together?  That’s part of God’s design for you.  That’s part of the way that he wired you in the fabric of your being, that you would link arms together to make a difference in God’s good world.  If you’re not married, one of the things that creates community most strongly is a shared mission.  You show me a strong church and I will show a church that has a strong mission.  You show me a church that’s fracturing, where community is difficult and where people are at odds with each other, I will show you a church that probably lost sight at some point in time of their mission, the reason God brought them together in the first place.  Mission has this way of creating community and unity and deepening friendships, relationships, and marriage.  It’s part of God’s design.

So, we have side by side, arm in arm.  Two pictures of relationships.  Let me give you a third one.  Gen. 2:21-22.   So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.  And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.   Just a quick note on this word ‘rib.’  In the Hebrew Scriptures, this word ‘rib’ is never used in our Old Testament anatomically.  It’s never used to describe an actual, physical rib.  It’s used to picture the ‘side’ of something.  It could be a rib of a house.  It could be a rib of a hill.  The picture that we have is God creating Eve out of Adam, or cutting him in half and making female, or making woman, out of him. Here’s the picture God is painting:  That men alone are not enough to embody and picture the image of God. It’s man plus woman that is the image of God.  Not man plus woman in marriage; man plus woman in general is the picture of what God has designed.  It’s what God has created. So in order to have a complete picture of humanity, you can’t just look at one gender—it’s incomplete and it’s insufficient.  Commenting on this section of Scripture, Saint Thomas Aquinas, in the 13th century, says this: “For since the woman should have ‘authority over the man’ (1 Tim. 2:12), it would not have been fitting for her to have been formed from his head, not since she is not to be despised by the man, as if she were his servile subject, would it have been fitting for her to be formed from his feet.”  This is a side-by-side shared mission creation from God.

{If this were a movie, at the end of verse 22 you would here the music slowing down and slow motion.  And as it says that she was brought to the man, it’s slow motion, wind blowing through Eve’s hair and Adam just going, “Thank you, God! I know you could have made the elephant work, but that would have been awkward!  She’s beautiful!!”}

And then you have verse 23.  Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”   It’s this word play in the Hebrew—she shall be called Woman (or ishshah), because she was taken out of Man.  It’s this beautiful poetic rendering.  Did you know that the first human words ever recorded in the Scriptures are a love poem?  That’s what this is.  It’s Adam seeing his soon-to-be wife Eve and going, “God, you’re amazing!  She’s like me, but she’s different than me, thank you.  She’s bone of my bone, she’s flesh of my flesh.  Jesus, thank you for not pairing me together with one of those animals.  I love you for that!”  He breaks into poetry, he breaks into song.  I mean, Adam in the garden turns into Casanova!  Which is ironic because he doesn’t have to woo her, right?  She’s presumably the only one…..and so is he!  He’s got a captive audience here!  And yet, he expresses something deep within us. We prefaced the offertory this morning by saying it’s a secular song, this is a love song and yet each love song you here on the radio should shout to you that there is a design deep within us as human beings to connect with other people.  That shared life is God’s design for abundant living, whether it’s in a relationship, in a friendship, or in a marriage.

Verse 24:  Therefore {In light of the fact that there is a helper suitable, a like-opposite…} a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.   They shall come together in way that’s unique.  This word ‘one’ in the Hebrew is the word ‘echad.’   When you combine (one) with flesh, it literally could mean that they are ‘glued together.’   There’s something that’s happening beneath just the mingling of bodies in this one flesh.  Certainly what they’re talking about here is sexual intimacy between a man and a woman, a husband and a wife, but there’s so much more going on than the just the physical coming together.  There’s this union.  So when we look at marriage specifically, we have this side-by-side picture, we have the arm-in-arm picture, then we have this body-to-body picture of what it means to live in unison, in union, with another person in the confines of marriage.  This word ‘echad’ is this graphic, weighty word.  It means glued together or fused together at the deepest levels.  When the Hebrew people would say the Shema in Deuteronomy 6, they would say, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one (echad).”   He’s fused together at the deepest levels.

Anecdotally, this is the only picture that we’re talking about today that’s reserved only for marriage.  This is God’s design is that it would be used only for marriage, that in this passage, implicitly, there’s this vast power, this vast energy, that’s attached to sexual union between a husband and a wife.  There’s a creation that happens when people come together physically, and it goes deeper than just the physical.  We live in a world where sexuality has come to be used in a number of different ways and we’ve lost God’s intent for it.  Unfortunately as a church, we haven’t done a great job of speaking to that either.  We’ve said things like, “Well, sex is sort of dirty, sex is sort of nasty, so you have to just save that for your husband or wife.”  Which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, right?  No, this is God’s beautiful, good design.  This is not a symptom of the fall.  This is gracious invitation from God…..that there’s a mingling of souls that happens when two people come together in physical intimacy that cannot be fabricated in any other way.  It happens every time people come together.  There’s no such thing as casual sex.  Our culture would love to teach that there is.  There’s no such thing.  It is a God-given unique that allows two people to become one.  Which is why Paul has such strong words for the church at Corinth, about the way that they shepherd and steward and use this gift of physical sexuality.  Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her?  For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” (1 Corin. 6:16)   It’s a gift He’s given to us for oneness, for unity.  It’s a gift He’s given to us for not only physical oneness, but spiritual unity and an emotional oneness, too.  It’s something He’s given us to enjoy.  The church has gone through phases where they would say, “Listen, sexual intimacy is specifically, or only, for the purpose of procreation.”  You know where you CAN’T find that?  In the Bible!  There’s an entire book devoted to the goodness and pleasure of sexual intimacy in a marriage.  It’s called “Song of Songs.”  Read it.  Check it out.  Try not to blush.

Look at how this intimacy in this union forms.  There’s three requirements for us to step into this union. Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother…  So there’s a severing of ties with what was, in order to step into a new life that is on the horizon.  When I do premarital/marriage counseling, when of the main things we see happening in our culture, in our day, and our time, is men or women who are unwilling to leave their family of origin in order to create something new.  That’s not an excuse to not call your parents, or not talk to them anymore, but the relationship with them needs to continue but it needs to change.  That’s what the Scriptures are saying.  There’s this leaving that’s involved in forming this new union.  The second thing is that the husband and wife hold fast to each other.  They are intentionally together.  Some translations say “cling.” They leave and then they cling to one another.  It’s this deepening process that each marriage needs to go through.  They hold fast.  3) Then there’s this covenant.  They become one flesh.  Something that can’t be un-done that happens.  Sex without commitment is anti-design.  It’s anti they way that God has wired the very fibers of our being.  God’s design is one man plus one woman for life.  Let’s clarify for a second before we get on our high horse and try to stand on our holy ground.  That goes pretty bad, pretty quick if you’ve read into a little bit further into Genesis…..that gets a little bit off track, right?   There’s polygamy and a number of other things.  But that is God’s original, good, gracious design—that we suck the most joy out of life as we live in his design.  That’s our conviction.

So, this invitation is to leaving, to forming and then to committing to one another.  I love the way GK Chesterton put it: “When we fall in love, we have the natural inclination not just to express it to each other, but to make promises to one another.”  For better or worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.  That’s the natural promise associated with intimacy in marriage.  If you’re married, maybe just maybe, one of your application points from this message is we need to be more active in having sex with each other.  Maybe on the way home you go, “Hey, I’d love to apply this message with you.  Usually I don’t care what Ryan says, but this time I’m really feeling the spirit move.”  You’re welcome!

Genesis 2:25 — And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.  They were both naked and not ashamed because you don’t have a few things introduced into the picture yet.  There’s no guilt.  There’s nothing that they want to hide from each other.  There’s nothing in the back of their mind going, “I wish I wouldn’t have….” or “If she only knew or if he only knew.”  There’s nothing that would inhibit a complete and total oneness.  They are vulnerable with each other, not just in their bodies but in their souls.  They are naked and unashamed.  The other reason they’re naked and unashamed is because there’s no chocolate yet, there’s no french fries yet.  They live in this vegan paradise where everything’s good, right?   Here’s the picture:  The passage is far less about physical intimacy and it’s far more about an emotional vulnerability and openness. There’s nothing to hide from you; I am fully known and you are fully loved.  That’s the picture.  So it’s side by side, arm in arm, body to body….heart to heart.  That’s the picture of God’s design in marriage.  There’s no greater gift that you can give to somebody when they open their soul to you, when they’re vulnerable and they lay it all out on the table, than to respond with love, to respond with care, to respond by actually hearing them, entering in and saying, “You are fully known and fully accepted exactly as you are.”  You may want to work on your union, but more than that can I encourage you, regardless of whether you’re married or unmarried, that we would be people who cultivate lives of vulnerability, who cultivate lives of openness, who invite other safe people in so that we’re fully known and also fully loved.

I would say, anecdotally, that this passage works like a funnel—you go deeper and deeper into intimacy and that actually being fully known is a more intimate position than actually physical connection or union.  You really know me; I’ve invited you in…..is the pinnacle of human connection.  That can happen whether you’re single, whether you’re married….anyone….you’re human and this is what you’re designed for.  It’s interesting because the Apostle Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus about marriage.  He’s writing about roles—different things that men and women are called to do inside of a marriage.  At the very end, he sort of Jesus-jukes us.  Ephesians 5:31-32 — Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. {Everyone of his original readers is going yeah, we expected that to follow an instruction about marriage.  As they’re nodding he goes….}  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.   They’re going WHAT??   He’s saying yeah, yeah, yeah, this is the picture of what you’re suppose to be as a church—-side by side, arm in arm, one body together declaring the goodness of our great God, and knowing each other.  Friends, we have a shared friendship, a shared mission, a shared union–His name is Jesus, and we want to have a shared intimacy because God’s design for abundant living is found in sharing life with one another.  Let’s pray.

My guess is, if you’re married, that that picture looks a little bit airbrushed, a little bit too perfect, maybe.  This is the picture before sin enters the world of what it looks like to walk with one another.  Unless we know what the goal is, unless we know what the trajectory is, we’ll never step into the fullness of God’s design.  Jesus, this morning, I want to pray specifically over the marriages in this room as we look at the way you created us and the deficiencies that we have within us.  May we be more inspired than we are discouraged to really push into you and each other and to really work on the areas that we’re lacking in.  Father, for each one of us I pray—for the single people, for the widowed, for the divorced, and for the married people—would you teach us more and more what it looks like to live with our lives open to each other.  That we would embrace a shared friendship, a shared mission, and a shared intimacy that would be to your glory and for our joy.  We pray this in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

This is Us: Picture Perfect – Genesis 22020-08-20T13:52:27-06:00

This is Us: Living Human – Genesis 1-2

THIS IS US: Living as Human  Genesis 1:26-2:24

Last Sunday we started a new series called This Is Us and we’re exploring the different dimensions and dynamics of what it means to be human.  Last week we asked the question “what does it mean to be human?” and we said there are a lot of things that are attached to how we answer that question.  We wanted to say that we’d just look at the Scriptures and read them and let’s see what God said about what it means to be human.  Last week we started in the book of Genesis and looked at Genesis 1 and 2.  We weren’t discussing the ‘how’ and the ‘when’ of God’s creation, but the ‘why’ and the ‘who.’  The ‘who’ created and the ‘why’ He created is the story Genesis is telling us.  It means four things to be human:  1) Recognizing that we are created beings.  2) Realizing we carry the image of God.  3) Coming to the awareness that we are both breath and dust, flesh and spirit, soul and body. Not one or the other but both.  4) We were designed to commune with the Creator.  We were designed to walk with God.  So we answered the question “what does it mean to be human?” sort of on a fundamental level, on a base level, but we didn’t answer the question “how do we LIVE as human beings?”  We created the platform to stand on, but this morning I want to talk about how we really walk in our designed humanity.  What are the things that we do?  What’s the meaning of life?

People have been asking THAT question for ages.  We certainly are human beings, but we also are human “do-ings.”  We DO things as people.  We wake up in the morning and we have to spend our time doing something.  And the doing reflects, just as much as the being, what it means to be human.  What it means to be a created-by-God person walking the planet.  I wanted to propose a question this morning: What’s the meaning of life?  In order to answer that, I did what every red-blooded American would do.  I googled it!  Actually, first, I asked Siri, my phone.  Here’s the way Siri answered it:  All the data that exists points to chocolate!  That’s the meaning of life. Here’s another one of Siri’s answers:  I can’t answer that right now, but give me some time to write a play which is about nothing.  She also answered by saying, “I think there’s an app for that.”  So when I googled it, I found a picture (a comic) with a man meeting with God and he says, “I want to know the meaning of life.”  God answers, “Have you tried googling it?”  That gets us into circular reasoning, does it not?  Right?  All that to say, it’s not exactly a simplistic question to answer, is it?

What is the meaning of life?  What should we do with however many years God gives us?  What should our days look like?  Is there a design for the way that we would use the time that God has given us?  I want to posit that there is and that we can find that answer in the first two chapters of the Scripture’s Book of Beginnings, or Genesis.  Genesis 1:26-27.  After creating the heavens and the earth, we’re on day six of this creation narrative, listen to what God says:  Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 

My mom had an ardent prayer that she used to tell me she prayed for me.  It wasn’t that I would find the girl of my dreams, anecdotally, I did.  It wasn’t that I would flourish in life, although I believe that I am.  Her prayer over me was that I would have a son that was like me!!  That was her prayer.  I want to tell you this morning, her prayer has been answered and he’s driving me crazy!  He’s exactly like me!  We go to meet with his teachers for parent-teacher conferences and all three years, different teachers but they say the same thing:  Ethan has a lot of energy, which is covert for “he’s out of control sometimes.”  That’s the teacher’s way of saying, “This kid has the ability to ruin my class somedays.”  He is—what you would like to call—strong-willed.  He’s Type A.  In our family this is what it means.  If we have a day where nothing’s planned, Ethan will plan the day for us.  It also means that if he doesn’t like the plan, he will propose a better one.  And he will do whatever he can to make sure his plan is executed.  You know who that reminds me of?  ME!  Not only that, but he looks like me. He’s got the same cowlick in his hair.  He’s got the same eyes.  The dude is a mini me!  He’s created in my image.  Here’s the thing:  You may or may not be created in your parents’ image, you’re certainly created in your God’s image.  The Scriptures are really clear.  Four times in the first chapter of Genesis, the Scriptures say that you’re created in the image of the Almighty God.  The question we have to answer is “what does that mean?”  It certainly does not mean that God has THIS part in his hair and this cowlick that sticks straight up, because God is spirit.  What DOES it mean to be created in the image of God?  I want to propose to you that the answer to that question is also the answer to the meaning of life.  Let that sit on you for a second.  That the way we answer ‘what does it mean to be created in the image of God’ is also the way that we answer ‘what does it mean to be human in the way we live and do.’

I’ll say it as strongly as this this morning, knowledge of the image of God in us leads to flourishing for us.  If we start to come to an awareness of God—this is what you’ve designed me to be like and this is your God-given, innate, soul-level calling on my life….if we come to a knowledge, or awareness, or a recognition of THIS image of God in us and all that it means for us, we are then positioned to flourish and to live.  It allows us to live with clarity.  It allows us to live with deep meaning and purpose.  It allows us to live in truth, or in alignment with the way that God has not only created us, but shaped and formed the world for our inhabiting.  All of these things are attached to what it means to be created in the image of God.  Mark Twain, the great author, said this: “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born, and the day that you find out why.” I want to at least give you the Bible’s answer for WHY this morning.

What does it mean to be created in the image of God?  I’m going to propose that Scriptures give us, in the first two chapters of Genesis, at least three things that it means.  In Genesis 1:26-27, we see that God has just created the heavens and the earth.  He’s created the sun and the moon.  He’s created the earth to give birth to plants, he calls them out of the earth.  Animals, creatures, all sorts of things.   And then what he says about humanity is you’ve been created in the image of God.  Reading through this text, the main thing we know about God thus far is that He is creative.  That’s at the base level.  If we just read along, He created stars and moon, heaven and earth, humanity, everything in the world.  The main thing we know about God when he tells us we’re created in his image is that he is a CREATIVE being.  You know one of the main thing it means to be created in the image of God is that you were created to CREATE.  It’s what it means to be created in God’s image.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that that statement about being created in his image follows a majestic retelling of God’s creative magnificence.  He places something similar in you.  Human beings aren’t massed produced.  You know that God doesn’t have an assembly line where he just cranks them out, one after the other, Model-T style.  No.  You are an individual, creative being of the Most High God and instilled within you is the desire to create in the same way that your God creates.

There’s some limiting factors to our creative prowess, certainly, that God does not have.  Mainly, God is able to create ex nihilo, which means ‘out of nothing.’  You may have noticed you don’t have that same ability.  So it’s not exactly like God, but it’s with the same desire and with the same longing to make something of the world that God has created.  If this is right, if this is true, if this is correct, we should be able to see someplace in this creation narrative humanity being called to be creative.  Flip over to Genesis 2:18-19.  This is God’s creation of Adam; Adam is in the garden and this is what it says:  Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them.  And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.   Notice what’s going on here.  God creates Adam, places him in this paradise-type garden, and He gives him the task…..Adam, I’m going to parade in front of you every being that I’ve created and I want you, Adam, to give it a name.  Here’s a question:  Could God have just named the animals?  Yes!  But he doesn’t do that.  God actually creates space for Adam to look at his creation and to name it.  To speak into the things God has created and to play a part, even though God could have done this a number of different ways.  God is creating space for humanity, his image-bearers, to begin to grow into the vast cosmic purpose that he has disclosed in Genesis 1.  He’s perfectly capable of doing this on his own, but He invites you to be a part of it.

Before we go further, let me ask you, “Does your view of who God is have space for your innately creative desires and capabilities?”  A lot of us have this cumbersome view of God.  Like He’s watching Adam name the animals and He’s in the background going, “Certainly wouldn’t have called it that!” or “Rhinoceros, that’s going to take a long time to write,” or “Giraffe–why in the world would you call it that, Adam?”  A lot of us have a view of God where He’s looking on going, “Wow,I wouldn’t have done that, but I guess since I gave you the calling to do it, I’m going to HAVE to go with that.”  I think God looks on and goes, “Huh, interesting!”  “Huh, brilliant!” “Huh, that’s what I created you for, Adam!”

What does it mean to be creative?  It means to live in God’s world in a way where we take the material that God has created, and we add to it our imagination, and our dreams, and our hopes, and our thoughts, and what pops out is a new way of imagining the world.  What pops out is creativity!  God’s resources + your imagination = creativity.  That’s exactly what Shari’s (Malott) doing to my left — she’s taking God’s resources and she’s taking HER thoughts and she’s putting it on a canvas.  That’s the creative act happening in front of us.  It’s a calling from God.  It’s an invitation from God.

You don’t have to continue to read too far before we see it start to develop at a more rapid pace in the book of Genesis 4:20-22.  These are descendants from Adam and Cain. Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. {We start to see this creative ability taking place and forming and shaping the way that human beings live.}  His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.  {So, Genesis 4, we see the creation of music.  It’s pretty early on, is it not?  God’s material + human imagination = the lyre and the pipe}  Zillah also bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron.  Genesis 4 — Creation of the way that we dwell together in community.  Incipient forms of music and art.  Then the way we eventually start to make tools and things out of the world that God has made.  All because God has placed deep inside of us the longing, the desire, or even the need, to be creative.

My wife and I occasionally watch this show Fixer Upper, where this couple will go into an old home and show another couple, whose the buyer, the home.  The home is not worth living in at that point in time.  This creative couple bring another couple into the home and paint a picture of what it could be like.  Sometimes the purchasing couple looks at the home and says, “I just can’t see it.”  Sometimes they look at it and go, “Oh yeah, I could see that taking place.”  The ability to “see it” is a creative act.  But I think a lot of humanity falls into the category of “I just can’t see it.”  Let me do a quick survey — How many of you look at what Shari is doing right now and think, “I could never do that!”  {Hands go up.}  I’m with you!  My kids, your kids—if they’re under the age of 10—would look at that painting and go, “Oh sure, I could do that!”  You’ve never met a second grader who didn’t think they were an artist.  Something happens to us as we “mature.”  Something happens to us as we grow and become more “developed.”  We lose this ability…..   Erwin McManus, pastor and author, says it like this: “I have come to realize, after over thirty years of studying human creativity, that the great divide is not between those who are artists and those who are not, but between those who understand that they are creative and those who have become convinced that they are not.”  Which category do you fall into?

I’m not just talking about creativity in art or music.  I’m talking about making something of the world that God has invited you to live in.  Here’s the problem.  Something happens to us at the end of elementary school—that’s a completely unscientific number, but somewhere around there.  {Fourth grade.  That’s scientific because it comes from Shari.}  Here’s four things that start to happen.  We start to compare.  We start to look at what somebody else does, and if we can’t do it as good as they can or in the same way that they can, the narrative we start to tell ourselves is if I can’t do it as good as them, I’m not good at it.  We start to compare and we start to shut down.  Secondly, the shame that many of us have deep within our souls, prevents us from inviting people in.  Creating is a deeply personal, intimate act.  Even as Shari paints on stage, she’s showing us something about who she is.  There’s this great book written a number of years ago called Art and Fear and it ties together these ideas that when we create we reveal the most intimate parts of who we are, which is why many of us shut down because we don’t want to be known.

The third thing is it’s so much easier—-and I owe this point to a preacher named Andy Stanley.  He says: “We are so adept at asking ‘how’ when people propose an idea, rather than saying ‘wow.'”  If we got better as the church…..people would say listen, I have this plan to eradicate world hunger…..   Our first question back is “How?”  Well, maybe we need to get better at saying, “Wow!” and creating space for people to work out the ‘how.’   In a rationalistic modernity, we’ve become so focused on the execution that we have killed some of the dreams.  It squelches creativity.

Here’s the fourth reason that many of us aren’t creative anymore.  It’s so much easier to be the critic than it is to be the creative.  Think of the way that even as followers of Jesus we interact with “culture.”  We’re known for lobbing grenades at culture.  We’re the most ardent critics of culture.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t be discerning, but what I’m saying is that instead of being critical in our discerning we should be creative.  Instead of saying that’s not a good way, we should be proposing a better way.

Isn’t that what the early church did?  The early church was beautifully creative.  Read through Acts 2:42-47. The early church is seen as saying “what if….?”  This is a dream, this is a canvas that certainly there’s something on, but they were grabbing a new paintbrush.  What if we created a way of living and being in the empire of Caesar that did not bow the knee to Caesar?  What if we created the culture where everybody had enough?  What if instead of bowing the knee to Caesar we bowed the knee to Jesus and we developed this rhythm of gathering together in homes and celebrating life, and breaking bread, and eating together, and praying what if, what if, what if?  The early church is a spirit-driven creative act that God invites you and I to walk into.

I think one of the questions as we realize we were created to create is “what are the things that stir YOUR heart?”  What are the problems in the world that keep you up at night?  What are the things that God would ask you to speak into?  Your words are one of the most creatively powerful tools that you hold.  Your words can create a different marriage.  Your words can create a different relationship with your kids.  Your words can create different rhythms and meaning with your friends and the peer groups that you have.  You have creative power even in the words that you say.  What’s the dream God’s placed in your heart?  What stirs your heart?  You were created to create.  What’s the material God’s placed in front of you?  What’s the dream that God has put within you?  And then…..CREATE with it!  It’s one of the most humane things you can do.  But wait….there’s more.

Genesis 1:28.  And God blessed them.  And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it,  {Reign over it is what ‘have dominion’ means.  Subdue it means to keep it under control.}  and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”   {God repeats this same calling to Adam in Genesis 2:15.}  The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. From the very beginning, we see humanity created to create and we see humanity wired to work.  Certainly in the creation narratives that were present during the time of the writing of Genesis, they would have had an understanding that human beings were created in order to work, but a very different understanding than the way that Genesis portrays this.  For example, in the Enuma Elish, which was around at this time, human beings were created by the “god Marduk.”  Marduk created human beings in order to work so that the gods could rest.  As if the gods are up in heaven going, “Man, I’m really exhausted here.  I need someone to change a channel on the TV for me.  I need somebody to get me an iced tea.  We should create human beings so that they can do that kind of stuff for us.”  Which isn’t at all the way that Genesis proposes we are invited to work.  Our invitation to work is to link arms and partner with God.  Not in the ex nihilo creation that He is doing in this act of creation in Genesis 1, but in the making something of the world that God has made.  Look at Psalms 8:3-6.  It’s sort of a parallel passage to Genesis 1 and 2.  David, the psalmist, says: When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you care for him?  {That’s a great question, isn’t it?  God, you created it all.  God, you spoke it all into existence, why would you care about us? Oftentimes that is where the conversation ends.  We’re so small; God’s big.  To that I say yes and amen.}  Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.  You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet. 

This “dominion” word is the calling to both work and to keep.  Yes, you were created to create.  You were also wired to work.  Which goes very contrary to the way that we often operate and the world, does it not?  Work is often seen as a necessary evil, rather than a divine blessing.  I’ll give you a statistic that backs that up.  They did a ten-year study in Scotland a number of years ago.  What they found was that you are 20% more likely to have a heart attack on one day of the week than you are on any other day.  Any guesses on what day you’re more likely to have a heart attack on?  MONDAY!  Why is that?  We’ve lost the connection between the God-given design to work as part of his image that’s placed inside of us.  Let me give you two God-given reasons you work:  1) To provide.  That’s a really good, healthy thing.  It’s not the same as it was for Adam.  Now there are thorns and thistles and work is difficult, but it’s not evil, it’s not sinful, and it’s not wrong.  Work is the way that you provide for the people around you.  If you’re an electrician, work is the way you provide for your family.  If you’re a teacher, work is the way you make enough money to help sustain life.  If you’re a stay-at-home mom, your work is the way you provide nurture and character for the kids that God has called you to raise.  Work is the way that we provide.  If you are out of work, that’s one of the reasons it’s most difficult, because you have this desire to provide for the people you love, for yourself.

Provision is reason number one.  Production is number two.  It’s one of the things that makes work meaningful; that we produce things that are ultimately for the common good.  Martin Luther, I would propose is one of the best authors on this, because he realized that the Scriptures say that God feeds us, that He provides the bread. Martin Luther asked the question — That bread, last time I checked, does not fall out of the sky.  That bread has a process that’s attached to it.  There’s a farmer that tills the field. There’s a farmer that scatters seed and waters.  There’s somebody that goes and picks the grain.  There’s somebody who takes the grain and delivers it to the baker.  There’s the baker who does their job and makes great bread.  There’s somebody who takes the bread either to a person to purchase or to a store.  {Will you look up at me for a second.}  Every single one of those jobs is attached to God providing bread.  We could do that with every single industry that there is.  The divide that we have conjured up between the sacred and the secular—some jobs are holy, some jobs are not, some jobs are sacred….being a pastor, a missionary, is a sacred job, but being an electrician or a teacher or you name it is a secular job.  I want to tell you that you can’t find that anywhere in here (Scripture).  All of life is sacred.  I want to tell you…..the plumber that we had unclog our sink this week…   Praise Jesus for the sacred calling that he has on his life!!  Because it all contributes to life being lived in the way that God has called us to.  We not only provide, but we produce, so therefore, our wire-to-work-ness within us, this nature or character or image of God within us, it’s not so that we can be great or that we can be powerful or that we can achieve.  It’s participation in the common good for all of humanity.  That’s why we work.  You can come tell me your job, afterwards, and we can dream about how it’s connected to the common good that everyone benefits from, because I guarantee you it is in some way.

The question then remains:  How should we work?  We answered why:  provision/production.  The question is how?  Let me give you three ways how we should work.  We should work hard.  Scriptures (Col. 3:23-24) say we should work in a way that reflects that we realize we’re working as part of God’s design and God’s common good, not just for the good of our boss, or the good of our stockholders, or the good of our other employees.  We’re working for God.  If you don’t have a good ethic, please, please, please, please, please, don’t tell people at your workplace that you’re a Christian.  I’m serious!  Don’t!  If you’re a terrible worker and you want to flaunt the name of Jesus and “preach” the gospel, I want to tell you, those two things are bumping heads with each other. You were designed to work in a way that reflects that you know you’re working for God.  Work hard and then tell people that you’re a follower of Jesus.  Don’t do it and be late every day.  Work hard.  Second, strive for excellence.  Someone once asked Martin Luther how the Christian shoemaker should do their job.  He asked, “Should the Christian shoemaker put little crosses on all of the shoes?”  That’s typically the way we think about being a Christian in the workplace, right?  He says, “No! The Christian shoemaker should do their job by making really good shoes!”  You want to know how a Christian pilot should do his job?  Land the plane!!  That’s the best thing you could do as a follower of Jesus is you’re a pilot.  Land it safely.

So, we work hard, we strive for excellence and third, we work with rhythm.  This is built in to the Genesis narrative that as human beings we need both work and we need rest.  We need to strive and we need to sleep. Harvard Business Review, a number of years ago, did a study on sleep deprivation in the workplace, and they named it as one of THE main productivity killers in your job place.  For some of you, the best thing you could do for your work life is…..get some sleep!  Serious!  Studies are showing this.  We were created….built into the fabric of creation is the need for both, striving and sleeping.  A rhythm…..of rest and work and taking time—as the book of Ecclesiastes (5:18-19) will invite us to—to celebrate all that God has done.    Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.   You’re not going to avoid work, but you CAN take time to step back and taste of the fruit of your labor.  And you should.  That’s God-given and it’s placed in front of you.  See, being created to create asks the question: What will I make?  Being wired for work asks the question: What will I contribute?  How will I be a part of the story that God is telling, through all of humanity in this progress from the garden to the city, that the whole meta-narrative of Scripture is found within?

Finally: Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  This is one of the passages that I think we sometimes glaze over from a theological stand point.  Notice what’s going on here.  Notice the scene and the setting.  Adam, created by God perfectly, set in the Garden of Eden to walk with God intimately.  This is before sin enters the world, this is before the Fall.  God looks at Adam and he looks at all the things that He’s created—the heavens, the earth, the stars, the trees, the animals—and He goes, “Adam, even with all of that, even with…ME, you are alone.”  So here’s the equation in Genesis….this is going to sound heretical but you’ve got to lay it over the text:  You + God = Not Enough.  We sing songs like “Christ is Enough for Me.”  Right?  Great song.  I’m starting to question if it’s good theology. Certainly anything without God is never enough.  Ever.  But there’s something about being human that says we need relationships.  God didn’t create you to just go live on the top of a mountain and commune with Him. Certainly, communion with Him is essential to what it means to be human, we talked about that last week.  You were created to commune with your Creator.  That’s distinctly and deeply ingrained in the fabric of what it means to be human, but it’s not enough.  God creates Adam.  He creates Eve, so they can have relationship with one another.  Because we all know the words of Simon and Garfunkel, while they make great poetry and a good song, they just don’t ring true: I am a Rock…  I’ve built walls / A fortress, steep 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.   And that is a lie!!  Because you were created to create; you were wired for work; you were formed for friendship.

We’re going to look at this formed for friendship, formed for relationship, formed for love, over the next few weeks.  We’re going to branch off our study and just zoom in on this.  It’s really what the second half of Genesis 2 is made up of and Genesis 3.  What I want to say about it today is that being a carrier of the image of God distinctly means being a communal being, because the image that we carry is that of a communal God.  Let US make man in our image.  Father, Son, and Spirit inviting humanity into the dance that they have been doing before creation was even a blip on the radar.  We are invited into the Godhead, not to BE gods, but to partake of the divine nature.  Deep within us is this need for other people.  Why?  Because God, in His very nature, is a communal being.  God. Is. Love.  This perfect relationship between the Father, Son, and the Spirit has existed before even time did.

Maybe we walk away from this answering the question: What am I called to make?  What am I called to contribute?  Who am I called to love and to walk with?  You know what’s hard about this one—formed for friendship?  It takes time.  It takes margin.  It takes pursuit.  It takes forgiveness, because this just in, we’re going to wrong each other.  It takes being able to see things from another point of view, or at least being willing to forgive people for not seeing yours.  All of those are embodied in what it means to be formed for friendship, relationship, connection with other people.  This is my ten-second Life Group plug.  Life Groups aren’t just a good idea, they’re a God idea.  You were created to walk with people, not just in isolation with God.  I encourage you to sign up today.

So we started by saying that knowledge of the image of God in us leads to flourishing for us.  All of these are held in both tension and in recognition of the nature that God’s placed inside of us.  We’re created to create. We’re wired to work.  We’re formed for friendship.  Those are all really, really good things.  Here’s the danger: If we do not recognize that we carry of God and that it’s attached to every single one of these things, we will turn one of those things into a god for us!  Look at what’s on the board and you tell me are these connected to some of the most drastic and fundamental idolatry that we have seen since the dawn of creation.  I will find my worth in what I create so I make a name for myself.  I’ll be different.  I’ll make things so that people will know me.  I’ll find my worth and my identity in what I produce and the way that I work. I’ll gain wealth and I will be either a workaholic or go the other direction and be sloth.  Love.  Romance.    We turn this into an idol, do we not?  These are the things we see people building an identity on.  When I don’t realize I carry the image of God, I will turn the image of God into a god and I’ll bow down and I’ll worship it.  If knowledge of the image of God leads to flourishing of humanity, a lack of knowledge is a WEIGHT that humanity simply cannot bear, because we have to make meaning of the life that God has given us.  I’m not going to elaborate on these at all, but I will give you a few application points as we close our time together today.

What does it mean to walk in the image of God?  1) To live fully we must dream passionately.  What are the things that God’s put into your heart?  What are the hopes that you have?  Maybe it’s hope of a future for your family, for you as an individual, maybe it’s hope for this nation that we live in.  As we enter into tomorrow…..come on, you guys, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a creative mind….I. Have. A. DREAM!  That it doesn’t have to continue to go this way.  He says maybe my kids can be known by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin!  That is a creative, not-yet dream that Martin Luther King prays and speaks and works towards and that is a beautiful divine thing.  What are the dreams he’s placed inside of you? To live fully we must dream passionately.  2) To live fully we must contribute positively.  A word to the retired — You may no longer be working vocationally, but that doesn’t mean that you are no longer called to contribute positively.  Let that sit there.  3) To live fully we must love sincerely.

So, if this is what it means to be human, the litmus test should be “Well, how did Jesus do?”  Because if He fails our test of what it means to be human, we should be probably come up with different answers or different tests, yes?  To dream passionately…..oh man, are you kidding me?  To have a love that conquers fear; to have a love that defeats hate.  That is a creative act.  To contribute positively….Yes and Amen!  In His life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension….I would argue that Jesus contributed more positively to the develop of society than anybody that has ever walked the face of the earth.  To live fully you must love sincerely.  Does He fit the bill of what it means to live as a human??  YES!! So, friends, let’s live in his way. Let’s live with his heart.  Let’s receive the joy that he invites us to as we do that for his glory and for the good of his world that he dearly loves.  Let’s pray.

Jesus, this morning I would ask for the person who’s in this space and they’re struggling with that question of meaning, purpose, design, would you speak really clearly into their lives.  Would you remind us all today, Father, that you made us in such a way where we’re created to create, we’re wired for work, and we’re formed for friendship.  As human beings, with you at the center of it all, your image inside of us, as we walk with you, would you allow us to take up the mantle of our God-given calling, to both reflect you and to represent you in your great world.  It’s in the name of Jesus that we pray.  Amen.

This is Us: Living Human – Genesis 1-22020-08-20T13:53:48-06:00

This is Us – Becoming Human – Genesis 1, 2

THIS IS US: Becoming Human  Genesis 1:26-2:7

What does it mean to be human?  Have you ever tried to come up with an answer to that?  My wife and I love this new TV show “This is Us.”  The title of that show got me thinking, “What does it mean to be us?  What does it mean to be human?”  I decided I wanted to teach on that subject and I sort of started to pull that thread and I realized shortly in that there’s a lot attached to that thread.  If we were to go around and ask what it means to be human, we could all probably come up with a little bit of a different aspect of what it means to be human. If you were to ask a geneticist—somebody who studies us on a molecular, on a gene, level—they would tell you it means to be human if you have a certain molecular DNA structure.  AGCT repeating over and over in you. It’s your DNA and different chemical compounds attached in certain ways or what it means to be human, but still the chemicals are important they serve to manufacture products,  and you can find providers as the Zinc Carbonate Supplier in Thailand that help with chemicals to create products as rubber or cosmetics which we use to improve our looks, and to make us feel better, and that’s why we ask what is the best whitening cream for face and body? and look for resources to answer these questions for us, while also using other treatments such as fat sculpting to improve the looks of the body.  Do you know you have 3.2 billion letters of DNA in you that define what it means to be you, in many ways?  If you were to write down every single one of those letters, it would take up 800 dictionaries to define who you are!! We’re just sort of scratching the surface now in the genome project and trying to understand what it means to be human.

If you were to ask a biologist, they would tell you a number of things about what it means to be human.  They’d tell you that as a species of mammal, you have, as a human being, a homo sapien, one of the largest brains compared to the ratio of your body weight.  That’s part of what it means to be human.  You have a very developed brain.  You have nerves that travel in your brain at 170 miles per hour…..after coffee!  Did you know that your brain could hold five times the amount of information as an Encyclopedia Britannica set?  Just your brain.  A biologist might also try to describe you based on your body.  Did you know that your heart has a strong enough pumping mechanism that if you were to open up your chest, your heart could shoot blood thirty feet?! Don’t try it!  Did you know that the acid in your stomach is strong enough to dissolve a razor blade?  Wow!  Did you know that you have an estimated sixty-thousand miles worth of blood vessels in your body?  Just for frame of reference, the distance around the earth is twenty-five thousand miles.  In your body, you have over two times that amount of blood vessels, if you were to line them all up.  Your feet have 500 thousand sweat glands in them.  Which could explain some things.  It helps us understand why certain parts of the body smell different than other parts of the body.  Did you know that over the course of your life, you will create enough saliva to fill two full swimming pools?!  Yeah, biologists could answer what it means to be human in a lot of different ways.

An existential philosopher might say something that the fact that you are “thinking” defines what it means to be human.  You think, therefore, you are.  The very “being” is in itself defining what it means to be human.  What do you say?  How do you define what it means to be human…..because we all know that while those definitions are true, they’re hauntingly incomplete.  They are the sum of many of the parts, but the sum of the parts don’t get to the essence of what it means to be human, do they?  We could talk about us on a cellular and molecular level, and that’s interesting.  We could talk about us on a biological level; we could talk about us on an existential level, but we all know that there’s more to being human than just the sum of all of our parts.  In fact, Charles Darwin wrote this towards the end of his life: “I have said that in one respect my mind has changed over the last twenty or thirty years.  Formerly, pictures gave me considerable, and music, a great delight.  But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry.  I have tried lately to read Shakespeare and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. {He sounds like a sophomore guy.}  I have almost lost my taste for pictures of music.  Music generally sets me thinking too energetically on what I have been working on instead of giving me pleasure.  I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did.  {Listen to his conclusion….} My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive.  If I had to live my life again, I would have made it a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use.”  Here’s what he’s getting to:  It’s impossible to define what it means to be human based on just dissecting the sum of our parts.  There’s something deeper.  There’s something more.  There’s something in every single one of us that cries out, “I know that maybe I have 3.2 billion pieces or repeating DNA in me, but that’s not who I AM.  I’m so much more than that. I have an appreciation for beauty; I have a desire for love; I have a thirst for meaning; I need my life to count and to matter.”  All of us would say that on some level, even if it can’t define it specifically or put our finger on it exactly, what it means to be human is more than just a sum of dividing up the parts.  In fact, I’m going to say throughout this entire series that the way that we define what it means to be human will determine the way that we live.  So, it’s not an inconsequential question: What does it mean to be human?  In fact, it’s the very ground that we stand on as people.  To define our existence, to define why we’re here.

Over the next few weeks, I want to dive deeper into this question and I want to propose to you that in the first few chapters in the “Book of Beginnings,” the book of Genesis in the sacred Scriptures, that God tells humanity why they were created. He tells us what it means to be human.  Over the next eight weeks, we’re going to pull this thread and see that it’s attached to all sorts of different things.  Things that really matter to every single life in this room.  If you have your Bible, turn with me to Genesis 1:26 as we begin this exploration of what it means to be human.  You may be aware that there are a few debates about the book of Genesis.  Specifically, about the first few chapters of Genesis.  There may be no more debated passages of Scripture than these passages of Scripture.  So I want to be really clear this morning. {Will you look up at me for just a moment?}  What I want to talk about as we explore this book of Genesis is the “why” and the “who” of Genesis.  I’m not interested—because I don’t think the Scriptures are—in the “how” and the “when” of Genesis.  So we’re not going to talk about the age of the earth.  We’re not going to be talking about how God created….   There’s space for you in this church if you want to differ with other people.  I hope we have a loving enough community for different views, questions, and honesty.  What I DO want to talk about in the book of Genesis is the “why” and the “who.”  I do think that that’s clear.

Genesis 1:26-27.    This is after God creating, speaking into existence, on the sixth day, the heavens and the earth.  You can read about it in the first 25 verses.  Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.    He created.  He created.  He…..CREATED.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that there’s a theme.  Part of what it means to be human.  If we’re going to define what that means then we need to start at the most fundamental level and that’s what we’re going to do today.  We’re going to talk about this sort of philosophically, theologically, and then next week we’re going to get more practical in this same subject, but…..  What does it mean to be human?  To be human means that we are created beings.  From the very beginning, Genesis is telling us that before we know who we are, we must come to terms with whose we are.  We often start further down the road than just saying, “Okay, the fact that we exist is an intentional, creative, act by a creator.” From the very beginning, the Scriptures say, you were not an accident.  That’s beautiful and really, really good news.

Now, if you’re not an accident then here are a few things that are true about you:  1) There’s a design behind who you are.  Have you ever noticed that your bodies work pretty well most of the time?  They work in sync with themselves.  As we get older, as we get injured, we start to realize more and more that that’s a really nice thing when the body works correctly.  The more they study it, the more intricately they see that this is a designed mechanism that has the fingerprints of God all over it.  Humans are not just the most highly evolved mammal at the top of the food chain.  We aren’t simply a complex machine that accidentally arose out of some primordial soup.  That’s not to say that you can’t believe in theistic evolution.  You have to see the hand of God behind it all, if that’s the position you’re going to take; that God is at work in and through his creation to create human beings—you and I—that have a specific design to them.  If they have a design…..they have a purpose. Part of what it means to be a created being is to have a purpose.  The third thing that we see in this Genesis account—if you read through chapters one and two—that this giving birth to humanity that God does is an overflow of His character and His nature.  It’s an act of divine love.  The psalmist reflects on this:  For you (God) formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. {Quick timeout.  When was the last time you allowed your soul to just SIT in the absolutely astounding truth that the Creator wove you together? The psalmist is going to say that that does something to you.}  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written every one of them, the days that were formed were me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalms 139:13-16)  

So let’s chat for a second.  Will you look up at me?  If you are a created being…..yes, there’s a design behind you, there’s a purpose for you, there’s a love over you, but maybe even more than that, there’s the invitation to step back and recognize that all of life is a gift.  It’s a gift.  One of the most humane things you can do is cultivate a life of gratitude.  You want to step more fully into what it means to be human?  Become grateful. Recognize that God’s fingerprints are all over you, that this isn’t an accident, that this didn’t just happen by happenstance, but that the Creator of it all is behind it, moving in it and we have to, friends, create rhythms and an ethic of gratitude in our lives as we reflect on the fact that God, you created me and the breath in my lungs are a gift from you.  Maybe this year you start to do that.

Let’s look at the second thing that the narrator of Genesis talks about the meaning of being human.  Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.   One of the things it means to be human is to be a created being.  The second thing it means is to be created as a carrier of the image of God.  That phrase is loaded!  We could spend the next 300 weeks on it and we wouldn’t plumb the depths of it.  I want to take a 30,000 foot view of what it means to be created in the image of God today.  Richard Middleton, in his great book Liberating the Image, which I can’t recommend highly enough, suggests that the term “image of god” would have been understood both by the Egyptian and Mesopotamia cultures that were around during the writing of this account in Genesis.  Both of those cultures would have had an understanding of that word when it was written.  They had seen temples created.  They had seen temples built.  The image of the god who was to be worshipped in a temple or given area was represented by a king.  A king was the carrier of the image.  They would set up images of the king in the temple or in an area in the empire where they were ruling where they couldn’t physically be.  When an early reader of this text heard “image of god” they thought royalty.  They thought of the king and his image.  Think about how the narrator/poet of the book of Genesis is pushing back against the predominate mindset of the day.  Instead of one king carrying the image of the divine, you have all of humanity carrying the image!  Here’s what he’s saying—that you, that I, that we are royalty, representing to the rest of creation what God is like.  {Look up at me for just a second.  You’ve gotta get this!}  This is a REVOLUTION in thought in this day and this time……that every person created is a picture of what God is like. Not a picture of his physical appearance, but a picture of his attributes, a picture of his nature.  We, as image bearers, do two things:  1) We reflect God.  Walter Brueggemann, the great Old Testament author/scholar, says this: “There is one way in which God is imaged in the world and only one way: human-ness!”  Humans are dazzlingly unique among God’s creation.

The heavens declare God’s glory, his weight, his beauty, his splendor, his majesty!  The heavens declare the glory of God, but, friends, humanity carries His image.  Have you ever though about that?  That’s an unbelievably, earth-shattering, life-defining truth.  We reflect God.  The second thing it means to carry the image of God is that we represent Him.  Adam and Eve, in this creation account that we’ll get into in just a moment in Genesis 2, are created in the image of God to work alongside of God.  If creation is, as author John Walton suggests, God creating a temple, then Adam and Eve are the original priests that step into the temple to work alongside of God to execute God’s purposes, to partner with Him in what He’s doing in the world.  We reflect Him and we represent Him.  It’s why the nation of Israel is considered a nation of priests.  It’s why the church is considered a royal priesthood, a chosen generation.  When we recognize that we carry the image of God, we stop having to have our lives consumed and defined by the approval of men.  When we don’t understand that we’re created in God’s image, we need everybody else’s approval, but when we understand we carry His image, whose approval do we really need if that’s the place that we sit?

If you’re into theology and you’re going, “Okay, Paulson, I get it.  Adam and Eve….created in the image of God. But we aren’t.”  Sin entered the world.  Are we still created in the image of God?  Or has sin completely fractured that, has sin broken that?  I look around the world and people seem to act in a way that’s anti-creation, anti-humanity.  Do people still carry the image of God?  That’s a great question.  In 1500, Michelangelo completed one of his most famous sculptures Pieta.  From 1500 to 1972, Pieta sat in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome as one of the crowning sculptures and achievements.  People went to visit it for those 400+ years.  It sat untouched and perfect.  In 1972, somebody broke in with a hammer and hit—I believe, it’s Mary—it on the shoulder and fractured part of her shoulder.  Does she still reflect Mary?  Is it still the Pieta?  Sure.  You know what they did?  They invited a group of artists to come in for a year and they slowly, but surely, repaired this sculpture.  It’s the same thing that’s happened with humanity.  Do we still carry the image?  Yes!  I want to be as clear as I can with that, because if we miss that, it leads to a place that we don’t want to get as human beings (and I’ll talk about that in just a second).  Yes, we do carry the image.  Is the image fractured?  Not beyond recognition.  It’s broken, but even in the midst of its brokenness, there’s good news.  God has sent his son, Jesus the Messiah, to step into humanity to be—what Scriptures would say—“the second Adam.”   Jesus is restoring his creation, restoring what it means to be human, and giving us not only a picture, but healing the broken image within us, to restore it to the wholeness of what God has designed it for.  Jesus comes and restores humanity to the fullness of the image of God that were designed to carry.  That’s what salvation is!  Salvation is a healing of the image that we were originally designed to be carriers of….and still ARE carriers of.

We often get Jesus wrong.  We think of Jesus as the least human person to ever live.  We could never be like Jesus.  He’s sort of the ultra, the uber, the hyper-human.  But I want to tell you, Jesus is the MOST human person to ever live.  Not the least human person.  Jesus is the picture not only of what God is like, but the picture of what humanity is designed to be like.  The only way to be truly human is to know the only one who was truly human.  His name is Jesus.  So, when we talk about being “born again” or we talk about being a “new creation,” we’re talking about the healing and the restoration of being created in the image of God.  The image of God and the mission of God begin with Adam, but it finds its culmination in Jesus.  This is what it means to be saved.  Listen to the way the Apostle Paul puts it in his letter to the church at Colossae:  …and have put on the new self, {the new humanity, the new creation.  If you think I’m just sort of reading that into the text, just wait.} which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Col. 3:10)  What does it mean to put on the new self?  It’s to step into the new humanity that Jesus purchased on our behalf.  That’s what it means to be human.  We carry the image of God.

Skip over to Genesis 2:7.  …then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.   You have normal dust + divine breath = humanity.  We are created beings. We are carriers of the image.  We are a composite.  A combination of very normal material and divine breath and life.  There was a heresy in the early church called “gnostic dualism.” The proposition of gnostic dualism was that humanity, while both body and spirit, both dust and breath…..that dust part of us, that body part of us was evil.  It was to be rejected.  The spiritual part good, the body part bad. You can read about it in Paul’s and John’s writings.  The early church adamantly, vehemently pushed back against that.  No, part of the what it means to be human is to have both body and spirit, have both flesh and soul, be both dust and breath.  You can’t be human with only one or the other.  Having a body doesn’t make us human, but we can’t be human without one.  {Chew on that for a while.}  Man doesn’t live by bread alone, but man can’t live without bread.  Right?  Dust in the Scriptures signifies mortality; that one day, we were taken from dust and to dust we shall return.  We have a very physical being.  But Scriptures paint this picture of humanity: God breathed and Adam is this archetype of all of creation….that God breathed into him and breathed into US with the breath of life.  Which means that every single person walking the face of the planet, in some way, shape or form, has the breath of God within them.  If they’re living, walking, breathing, talking, thinking, He has breathed into their lungs and woken them to life.  C.S. Lewis said it like this: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

Genesis 2:1-3.  Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.  And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he done in creation.  The question we have to wrestle with is what’s going on in this passage.  Is God tired?  No! What’s God doing in resting?  Two things primarily: 1) He’s setting up a rhythm for us of what it means to live in His creation.  It means both work and rest.  I think there’s a bigger picture of what’s going on with God resting. John Walton, in his great book The Lost World of Genesis 1&2, says that when everybody reading this account in the first days of its authorship would have known that God resting would mean that God enters into the thing that he has just created.  It’s not him stepping back and going, “Wow, that’s great.”   It’s him entering in to be a part of, to rule and to reign from within.  It’s at this point that Adam and Eve are woken to this creation that God has made, but more than that, the creation that God is IN.  Part of what it means to be human, yes, is to be a created being, to carry the image, to be a composite of both body and soul, breath and dust, but implicit with being created human is that we are in relationship with the creator.  It’s one of the distinct differences in this creation account from any other creation account in this day.  God is inviting humanity to be a part of what He is doing in the world.  I’ll say it like this:  Union with God is the purpose behind all of creation.  Paul will say in his discussion in the Areopagus, quoting from a poet that’s not even a follower of Yahweh (Acts 17:28): In him we live and  move and have our being; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’  He’s all over this thing.  {Will you look up at me for a second.}  You are most human when you walk with God.  You’re most human when you’re in relationship with the divine.  You’re most like Jesus then.  Jesus is the ultimate human.  You are most human when you walk with God.

I want to spend the next five minutes putting some flesh on this.  What do we do with this?  If every human being is created by God and in God’s image, then ALL of humanity and human life is sacred and to be valued. All of it!  You’ve never laid eyes on somebody who is not valuable in the eyes of the Almighty Creator God and if they are, he is, she is, created in His image, created by Him, valued by Him, then please, people, they’ve got to be valued by us.  If we don’t appreciate the image of the Creator in every part of His creation, then it leads to some pretty desperate places.  Let me read you some of the process of Adolf Hitler.  Adolf Hitler, as part of developing his approach to the weaker members of society in his 1927 book Mein Kampf, identified the stronger members of society as those created in the “image of the Lord” and contrasted them to the weaker members who are mere “deformities” of what the image ought to be and therefore, should be “cleansed” from society. This is where this goes naturally.  Dietrich von Hildebrand, who was a German theologian at the same time and one of relatively few Germans who spoke against Hitler, was required to leave the country.  von Hildebrand stated this in 1933:  “All of Western Christian civilization stands and falls with the words of Genesis, ‘God made man in His image.'”

So, as we look out on the world and we see racism, and we see sexism, and we see abuse, and we see the poor, and we see the immigrant, the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow, as followers of God, our hearts have to be stirred by that.  They must!  These are people created in the image of God.  I know we see it on National Geographic, you guys, but it’s so much more than just a picture in a magazine, it’s the heartbeat of the Creator. How do we wrestle with this?  How do we step into this?  You’ve never laid eyes on somebody that isn’t valued by the Creator and therefore, valuable PERIOD.  As followers of Jesus, it’s not enough for us to just affirm that things are wrong.  We have to find ways to step into them.  We have to!  We must!  Our humanity depends on it!

Second, Adam and Eve were created to be caretakers, to be stewards, to be priests in the garden (they’re the archetype), and all of humanity is created for the same purpose.  All human beings are called to be stewards over God’s good creation.  This means we take care of our ‘dust,’ right?  One of the applications might be to go on a walk every once in a while.  Or go on a run.  I should be a steward of my own body, of my own spirit, of my own self….that’s part of what it means to be a steward.  Christians should be the most ardent environmentalists, we’re the original environmentalists!  Adam and Eve were.  We should care about God’s creation.  We should care about others.

Finally, it’s His breath in our lungs, so we cry out to him that all human beings are spiritual.  There’s a yearning inside everybody that walks the face of the earth.  Eternity has been placed in their, in our hearts and they were, you were, we are designed to live with God.  While every square inch of his globe is furnished with and drenched in His glory, you and I know that there’s certain rhythms of life that tune our heart to see His grace. So I want to encourage you as we begin this new year, what does it look like for you to cultivate your spiritual life in a new and deep and fresh way?  Maybe it’s taking one of these classes we’re offering—the Apostles’ Creed one would be great.  Leadership class would be great if you’re looking at what does it look like to be a steward, to be a caretaker, an investor in the places that God has called you to “reign” over or to have influence over. Maybe you decide that this is the year to download the YouVersion App and read through the Bible in a year. All to create an awareness of a rhythm of a realization of “it’s His breath in our lungs, so we cry out to him.”  What does it mean to be human?  You’re a created being.  You’re a carrier of His image.  You are dust and breath. You were designed to be in relationship with the Almighty God.  You are most human when you walk with God.  “Every ant knows the formula of its ant-hill, every bee knows the formula of its beehive.  They know it in their own way, not in ours.  Only humankind does not know its formula.” (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)  Let’s learn our formula together and then let’s practice what it means to be fully human.   Let’s pray.

Jesus, in the quietness of this moment, we want to ask you to drill deeper in to few of the things you want us to walk away with.  Father, for the person in this room who is struggling with self-worth, I pray they would hear clearly, this morning, that regardless of what their resumé looks like, or their bank account looks like, or their past looks like, or they think their future’s going to look like, that they are created in your image, by You, with design, with purpose and out of love.  I pray, Lord, that you would just impress on all of us this morning, but especially on that person that’s wrestling, purpose and meaning and hope.  Jesus, I pray that you would raise up a church that wouldn’t just say that things are wrong or that things are bad, but that would step in to make a difference, affirming that you love, designed, and care for your creation, Lord.  May we re-take up that mantle in a way of love, in a way of caring, in a way of goodness.  Lord, would you teach us what it looks like.  To not just sit on the sidelines, but to play the part in caring for your creation that you designed us to play.  Father, most of all, we pray, that through Jesus, would you teach us what it looks like and what it means to be fully human.  We pray in His name.  Amen.

This is Us – Becoming Human – Genesis 1, 22020-08-20T13:55:00-06:00
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