Luke 2:1-20 Sermon Notes

I’m preaching through the Gospel of Luke this year. For anyone who wants to follow along with our study, I will be posting my sermon notes and the link to each message. Thanks for joining us in our study of Luke!

Sermon Outline for Jan. 25, 2015

1. Text: Luke 2:1-20

2. Context/Theology:
Where are we in redemptive history?
* Jesus has just been born.

* The Kingdom of God (the Age to Come) has just broken into This Present Evil Age.

* The Messiah, in fulfillment of the Prophetic Scriptures, has come.

What do we need to know to understand this passage?
* With the huge influx of people to register for the census, there weren’t any guest rooms available, even for a pregnant, laboring woman.

* Mary gave birth in a barn, surrounded by traveling animals and livestock – perhaps the most humiliating place for a woman to give birth. Fitting then, that Mary gave birth to the Lamb of God.

* The strips of cloth (or swaddling clothes) Mary wrapped Jesus in are much debated.
– One theory is that this was just a normal word for diapers.
– Another theory contests that these were clothes own only by wealthy families and that they link Jesus with Solomon, the Son of David. It would have been unusual to see a baby wrapped in such fine cloths lying in a feeding trough surrounded by livestock.
– Yet another theory, the one I personally buy into, is that these strips of cloth would be the same or similar to what would be wrapped around a dead body (see John 11:44). The sign, then, was that Jesus was the only person ever born who was supposed to die. Even at Christmas we see the prelude to Easter.
– Regardless of what these strips of cloth signified, they were the sign that identified Jesus as the Messiah to the shepherds.

What principles or theological truths do we encounter in this passage?
God can and does intervene in human history.
* Mary and Joseph were living in Nazareth when Gabriel announced that Mary would become pregnant and give birth to the Messiah.

* However, even after such an amazing pronouncement, they didn’t move to Bethlehem which is where the Messiah was supposed to be born.

* So God had Caesar call a census. This made Joseph and Mary move.

* We could have a very interesting conversation about acting on prophetic words at this point. Mary may not have had to give birth in a barn if they had moved earlier. Regardless, the point is that God can and does intervene in human history to bring about the fulfillment of His Word.

Inaugurated Eschatology
* This phrase comes from George Eldon Ladd’s theological masterpiece “The Gospel of the Kingdom.”

* Inaugurated eschatology is the belief in Christian theology that the end times were inaugurated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and thus there are both “already” and “not yet” aspects to the Kingdom of God.

* We live in this time between the times. God’s Kingdom has broken in to this Present Evil Age, but it isn’t yet here in its fullness. Jesus hasn’t fully “taken over.” While Satan and his regime still exercise significant control over world events, their rule is passing away.

* This is similar to D-Day and VE-Day in World War 2.
– D-Day is seen as the decisive turning point in the war, when the Allies gained the upper hand and the end of Hitler’s reign was apparent.
– However, the final victory took almost another year.
– The Nazi’s didn’t just surrender, they tried to do as much damage as they could until they were defeated.
– So it is now. Satan knows his time is short and he wants to do as much damage to humanity as he can until he is finally overcome at Jesus’s return.
– Even though Satan rages, we don’t have to stand back and watch. We can and should resist.

* As Christians, we have the privilege of partnering with Jesus to see the Kingdom of Heaven come to earth. We can press in and lay hold of the Kingdom, living in Kingdom Reality now, even though it technically isn’t time. This is what spiritual violence is all about.

* Jesus’s birth was the ultimate act of warfare on Satan’s reign of terror. Is it any wonder that the armies of heaven filled the sky over Bethlehem?

The Gospel is that God came to rescue us.
* Speaking to the shepherds, the angel announces to them “the most joyous news the world has ever heard! Today, in Bethlehem, a rescuer was born for you” (v. 10)

* This is Good News only if we believe we are in need of rescue, which the Bible repeatedly stresses we are.

* The Bible’s stance is that humans are hopelessly enslaved to sin – a lifestyle of rebellion and defiance against God. Because we can never submit to God, serve Him or love Him of our own accord we were unfit to live in His Kingdom and the punishment for our treason was Hell.

* HOWEVER, even though we didn’t love God, He loved us. Erasing Hell was not an option, but redeeming us was. Therefore, God sent His son to take on flesh and be born of a woman. God’s son, Jesus, would live as a man, enduring every temptation without sin and bearing every burden without complaint. He suffered in his body the just punishment of sin so that God could extend mercy to us in his name.

* Jesus rescued us from sin, he posted our bail, he died in our place. He did what no one else could do – that is why the angel says this is Good News.

3. Worship:
How does this text reveal God’s true character and destroy lies we’ve believed?
* Some view God as distant and/or unconcerned with our lives here on earth. Nothing could be further from the Truth! God is primarily concerned with us.
– This doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen. We are still living in the Present Evil Age, waiting for the Kingdom of God to come in its fullness.
– Until Jesus comes back to establish the Kingdom, evil will continue to get worse.
– However, we don’t need to embrace this in a fatalistic way. God’s Kingdom has broken into this world, death is defeated and the Holy Spirit has been made available to us. The question is, “What are we doing with it?”

*God chooses to work through the cooperation of His people. Occasionally God intervenes in history in a completely Sovereign way, but most of the time He governs through partnership with those that love Him.

*God is Supremely Humble. He could have made sure Jesus was born in a palace, surrounded by luxury and the most influential people. Instead, God chooses to identify with the poor, the lonely and the mistreated. He chose to have His son grow up with the social stigma of being a bastard child. None of that mattered. Jesus didn’t come for the smug and self-satisfied, he came to help those who couldn’t help themselves. Jesus is a King who came to redeem us AND establish his Kingdom on the Earth.

4. Praxis:
How does this revelation of God’s character call us to live differently?
* We are living in the time when the old order of things is passing away and God’s Kingdom Reality is beginning to manifest. We can either partner with this new Reality or not. It is my belief that, as followers of King Jesus, our responsibility is to transform out society even as we are transformed individually. Learning how to partner with Holy Spirit to advance God’s Kingdom is our top priority.

* We must learn to live in the tension of the “now and not yet”. In many ways, God’s superior Reality is available if we will learn to partner with Him to release it. Yet it is still our experience that God’s Kingdom is not yet here in its fullness and we need to learn how to wisely and compassionately deal with sin, sickness, disease and death until those enemies are completely destroyed.

Are there any practical skills we need to teach or resources we need to make available?
* Partnering with Holy Spirit to release the Kingdom of God can take any number of forms. What we primarily see in the life of Jesus is him triumphing over the work of the devil through physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.

* Alexander Venter’s book “Doing Healing” is the most powerful book I’ve ever read in learning how to minister the healing power of God.

* The 5 step prayer model
Step 1 – Contact
Someone has either asked you for prayer or it is someone you approach because you want to pray for them.

Step 2 – Interview
What is the problem? What do they want God to do for them?

Step 3 – Pray
Keep your eyes open – it allows you to remain focused on the person
Lay your hands on them if it is appropriate – God’s Holy Spirit is in you. Our hands serve as a contact point where we become a conduit of God’s presence and power.
Dial up the risk – move from general prayers to specific prayers. Take risk, be bold.
Dial down the hype – Remember that the volume of your voice is not a gauge of authority and you don’t need to use “special” language to be heard by God. Also, don’t forget, you are practicing. If you hear something that doesn’t resonate with the person, no big deal.

Step 4 – Asses (and pray again if necessary)
How are they feeling? If their pain/disease was a 10 before, where is it now? Did they have any thoughts or feelings during the prayer time?
If they aren’t completely healed, pray again. If Jesus had to pray for a blind person twice, we get at least 30 shots at it.

Step 5 – Closure
Care for them and encourage them with the Truths of Scripture, especially if they didn’t subjectively feel anything. Our senses are not always accurate indicators of God’s presence or work in our lives. If you have any wisdom or instructions for going ahead, share them at this time. It is absolutely essential that people walk away feeling loved and cared for. We don’t control if someone gets healed. We do control how we interact with them.

5. Ministry Time:
How is God calling us to respond RIGHT NOW?
* If you feel like God is uninterested in you or doesn’t hear you, I’d like our ministry team to be able to pray for you, bless you and speak into your life. God sees you, hears you and is interested in you – those are things we believe and receive by faith. But sometimes we need a reminder, and that is what we’re going to ask God for this morning – a little reminder that He sees us, hears us and knows us.

What does God want to give us to help us live this out?
* I believe God has two things for us this morning: an additional measure of faith and passion to see His Kingdom come. The faith is to believe that He does see us, know us and love us and the passion is to live our daily lives in a more focused way – looking for opportunities to partner with Holy Spirit to love, serve, heal and share the Gospel.

Burning Bright

Many of you joined with me last year in praying for peace and salvation for the men and women of Northern Iraq. We did a 6 week Prayer Trigger, Prayer Target challenge asking God to break through in power in the Islamic State.

Since that time, IS has continued to expand. The Church is responding. Please take a few minutes to read through the link below. It is nice to see the Church being mobilized in such a powerful way.

http://www.burn24-7.com/articles/operation-light-a-candle#.VMEgV4m9LCR

Could you help me out?

Hi friends, a short one for you today.

Yesterday’s post generated a lot of traffic, like 3x what I normally get on a daily basis. I got a few Facebook comments and text messages letting me know you all liked the post (which I love to hear btw), but it got me to wondering. Would you mind taking a minute to answer a couple questions in the comments below? It benefits me as a writer and pastor to know what is helpful for you in your daily walk with Jesus. Thanks!

Some questions for you

* What did you find helpful about yesterday’s post (or any of the posts you read here)?

* What kinds of issues or topics are you interested in reading about?

* Why do you choose to visit my blog and read what I write as opposed to going somewhere else?

Thanks in advance for taking a few minutes to respond to those questions. I know you make a choice to come here and read what I write and I want you to know that I appreciate that. I also want to offer you material that is useful and applicable to your life, so any help you can give me in that regard would be excellent.

Thanks for reading friends!

Dealing with wolves

Every so often, a Wolf wanders through the doors of my church. At first, they look a lot like Sheep. They talk like Sheep, they act like Sheep, but they aren’t Sheep.

My first indication that this “sheep” is not what it appears is when they want to talk with me about my sermon – on their first visit. Now, I love talking to guests, and if they want to talk about the sermon, fine. But when a first time guest approaches me to talk about my sermon, my Pastoral Spider Sense goes off. Then, when they want to nit-pick Bible verses and try to convince me that we should still be following the Law, I know I’ve got a live one.

Characteristics of Wolves
Wolves feast on freedom – they want to kill it and devour it wherever its found. For that reason, Wolves love the Law. Wolves can quote all kinds of Scripture, far more than me, but it is largely Old Covenant. For people who claim to follow Jesus, they know very little of what HE said, but they’ll go all day with Moses or the few commands that Paul gives to the Church.

Wolves also tend to have a pet doctrine – keeping the Sabbath on a particular day, eating Kosher, obeying the 10 Commandments, following the Jewish Feast Days, etc. In all honesty, God has probably given them legitimate insight into the importance of those things, but their Old way of thinking steals all the joy out of it. Sabbath is supposed to be a joy. Kosher is a great way to eat healthy and honor life. The 10 Commandments (or, as the Jews understand them, the 5 relational principles) are tremendously important and save us from all kinds of trouble. But to make these things requirements to pleasing God? No. Wolves miss the whole point of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. We humans can’t keep the Law – for if we break one part of it we are guilty of breaking the whole of it. If you choose to live under the Law, you can’t pick and choose which parts of it you want to follow. It is an all or nothing deal.

Wolves are also very evangelistic about their pet doctrine. I’d have to say, some of the most passionate, energetic and charismatic communicators I know are Wolves. They are absolutely convinced that their particular insight is what is needed to change the Church, please God, or bring about the Lord’s return. If someone isn’t well grounded in the Realities of the New Covenant, it is easy for them to fall prey to these messages, for the Wolves’s passion is quite convincing.

How I deal with Wolves
For this reason, I like to handle Wolves personally. And I will freely confess, I’ve not always done it well – sometimes very poorly! The apologist in me freaks out on heretics who belittle the Cross of Christ. I rarely lose my temper, but when I do it is usually talking to a Wolf.

What I’d like to do is what Paul counsels Timothy to do with the false teachers in Ephesus.

“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguements, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone [Jesus help me!], able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:23-26

A few thoughts:

1) I’m dealing with a captive.
Somehow, in some way that I don’t comprehend, the devil has ensnared the mind of my brother. They now see the world, God and the Bible through Satan’s eyes, not Jesus’s, so it isn’t any wonder that they see the Law as a good thing and Grace as something scary or uncertain. Therefore, I have to enter the conversation with the hope of setting them free and the intent to love them, for they really don’t know what they are doing.

2) Don’t engage in stupid or foolish arguements.
Don’t engage their pet doctrine. Instead, be interested in them. Ask about their story. Try to be sincerely interested in them as a person. Most likely, they are there with an agenda and will try to turn every statement or question to their pet doctrine – don’t rise to the bait. Redirect the conversation to where you want it to go (this is super hard for me by the way). If they get frustrated, that is their deal.

We have to realize that we aren’t going to change their mind on this issue by a logical presentation of facts. If they are truly under Satan’s influence, they are incapable of rational thought. We aren’t going to “win” by going toe-to-toe with them in a Scripture verse battle. We are going to win by bringing them into an encounter with the Living God and that is impossible to do unless we focus on loving them well.

3) Gently instruct them
This is an art more than a science. It requires me to be in a place of love – not frustration, anxiety or impatience – and that is challenging in these conversations. It also requires me to sum up the heart of God for them in a nutshell, because they can’t listen to me instruct them line upon line. So Holy Spirit has to help me find a time bomb, a phrase that will bypass their initial defenses and impact them later. I don’t always get one, but I hunger for the kinds of words and phrases Jesus used – questions and comments that struck at the heart of the matter and exposed everyone’s motivations and intentions.

Closing Thoughts
I don’t go out of my way to pastor Wolves, I’m far more interested in talking to unbelievers who don’t have that sort of religious baggage. However, in writing this, I realize that there is a huge need for someone to minister to them. So, if that is you, I bless you! And please let me know how you do it.

In my experience, Wolves don’t tend to stick around long if they sense resistance in the leadership. But I want to do more than just endure them, I want to find some way to win them back, to set them free. If any of you have some ideas I’d love to hear them.

As always, thanks for reading.

Luke 1:39-80 Sermon Notes

I’m preaching through the Gospel of Luke this year. For anyone who wants to follow along with our study, I will be posting my sermon notes and the link to each message. Thanks for joining us in our study of Luke!

[This one was jam packed. Sorry for the information overload! I’ll work on taking smaller bites going forward.]

Sermon Outline for Jan. 18, 2015

1. Text: Luke 1:39-80

2. Context/Theology:
Where are we in redemptive history?
* Mary is staying with Elizabeth and Zechariah.
* John is about to be born, but before this happens Elizabeth, Mary and Zechariah all prophesy about God’s intent to honor His covenantal promises.
* Jesus, the Messiah, has just become incarnate.

What do we need to know to understand this passage?
* It was the case for John and Jesus that even before they were conceived they had a name and a destiny. Our destinies aren’t as “set in stone” as theirs, but I do believe that God has a unique purpose for our life.
* John, as a 6 month old fetus, had the spiritual capacity to recognize Jesus, the Messiah, who was little more than a zygote at the time.
* Biblically, a child is a person with physical, emotional and spiritual capacity, a name and destiny even from conception.

Issue of Abortion, Adoption and Foster Care
* If we take this text seriously, it means that every fetus, from the time of conception, is a baby with a destiny.
* We can only be anti-abortion to the extent we are pro-adoption and pro-compassionate care for moms.
* To tell a pregnant mom that it is immoral to have an abortion and then not help her is like James 2:14-17 – dead and worthless religion.
* If ever there is a time for the Church to be gracious, merciful and tender it is with moms who have unplanned or unwanted pregnancies.
* God loves babies! And God loves mothers and fathers of babies!

Are there any words or phrases that carry special significance?
* Before Elizabeth and Zechariah prophesy, they are “filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit.”
* All gifts are part of the “overflow” of God within us.
* Until we “overflow” with God, we can’t supernaturally benefit anyone.
* Havdalah cup – at the end of every Sabbath, the Jews perform the Havdalah ceremony where they pour wine into a cup until it overflows into the saucer beneath the cup. This indicates their intention to work to meet their own needs (the cup) and then continue working to meet the needs of others (the saucer).
– It is necessary but insufficient to focus on our needs first.
– This includes spiritual resources too. You can’t give what you don’t have.

3. Worship:
How does this text reveal God’s true character and destroy lies we’ve believed?
* God is a Master Craftsman. Even before you were born, God knew who and what you would become. He created you for a purpose. You carry a unique expression of His character. You have a destiny. God doesn’t make junk.
* God can’t help but show mercy. God never stays angry at His people, He always restores and redeems – and that is the Old way of relating to us. How much more can we count on His mercy and grace now that He promises to look upon us with the same love and affection He has for Jesus?
* God is faithful. He never forgets a promise and never fails to keep His word.
* He is the Abundantly Available God. There is always enough of Him to fill us full to overflowing. He isn’t stingy or fickle. God freely offers Himself to us.
– Sometimes we feel like bottomless pits of need. He is the only One with the capacity to fill us, let alone overflow us.
– He is ALWAYS abundantly available. We need to learn to position ourselves to receive Him.
– John Wimber’s Honeycomb Vision

How can we thank, praise and worship God from this text?
* God fulfilled His covenantal promises with Abraham and David though they were made a thousand to two thousand years before.
* He will fulfill His covenantal promises to us: He will return to establish His Kingdom in fullness on the earth, He will make us complete and perfect, we will live with Him forever.
* He is always with us and His mercy and grace is forever dripping from Heaven, offering peace, life and salvation to all who receive Him.

4. Praxis:
How does this revelation of God’s character call us to live differently?
* We have to take seriously the issue of advocating for the unborn. We must insist upon their personhood even as we show compassion, concern and care for their moms.
* We can rest in His promises. We don’t have to strive to “make things happen.” We do what we can to be faithful and obedient in the moment and trust that He will work things out. The Christian life shouldn’t be full of pressure and anxiety to “make” the Word of the Lord come to pass.
* When we see how merciful and gracious God was in the Old Covenant it is meant to spur us on in our faith. God is far more loving, kind, gracious and merciful than we can possibly imagine. He promises to treat us with tenderness and give us everything we need.
* God is more than able to meet our every need, but that requires us to know and articulate what we need. Taking time to slow down and do some deep processing will help tremendously in instances of recurring temptation or frustration. Start asking yourself and God, “What do I need? What is this temptation or frustration meant to show me about how You made me?”

How can I put this into practice tomorrow?
* Start praying about becoming a foster parent or someone who supports foster and adoptive families.
* Consider volunteering or supporting an organization like Alternatives.
* If you know any moms struggling with their pregnancy, bring them here. We want to love them well, support them and take away and fears they might have. We want to help them in any way we can.
* If feeling God’s Presence is difficult for you. Try stopping 5 times a day and asking yourself these questions:
– What am I thinking?
– What am I feeling emotionally? Physically?
– How have I seen God at work in my life so far today?

Like I wrote at the beginning, we covered a lot of ground this morning. Thanks for sticking with me! And thanks to those who served on our ministry team and to everyone who came to receive prayer. We love you guys!

Abortion, Adoption and where we fit.

My Biblical Conviction
As I was reading through my text for Sunday, Luke 1: 39-80, I was struck by verses 39-41.

“Afterward, Mary arose and hurried off to the hill country of Judea, to the village where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. Arriving at their home, Mary entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the moment she heard Mary’s voice, the baby within Elizabeth’s womb jumped and kicked. And suddenly, Elizabeth was filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit!”

Luke 1:39-41 The Passion Translation

As I was meditating on this passage, a couple things stuck out to me:

1) Even before John and Jesus are conceived, they have names and destinies. John and Jesus, their lives and mission, existed in the mind of God well before they came to live in their mother’s wombs.

2) John, 6 months old and still on the inside, has the spiritual, emotional and physical capacity to recognize Jesus who is, at this point in time, little more than a zygote. Jesus, under 2 weeks old, is recognizable as the personal fulfillment of Divine prophecy.

If I take this text seriously, it means that at the moment of conception that fertilized ovum is now a person with a name and destiny. It also means that zygote is a fully intact personality with the capacity to think, feel and respond. That is wild.

Personal Stories
It got me thinking about two friends of mine. Both of these women were raped which resulted in pregnancy and subsequent abortions. I didn’t know any of this at the time, but as I processed the most recent story with Dani we both decided that, had the mother been willing to carry full term, we would have adopted and raised that child as our own.

This isn’t meant to be a “hurray for the Daus” deal in any regard. It is simply my conviction that we can only be anti-abortion to the extent that we are pro-adoption and pro-compassionate care for women. I don’t fault my friends, or any woman for that matter, for the choice they made to have an abortion. It is an ugly reality in a broken world.

So where do we as the Church fit in?

First, we realize, teach and insist upon the personhood of each fetus from the moment of conception. This isn’t scientifically provable (yet), but it is a spiritual reality we see in Scripture.

Second, we realize that not everyone is going to understand, appreciate and believe our point of view. Arguing with people and/or demonizing their behavior isn’t going to help them. For every person that is bullied into not having an abortion there is another who becomes all the more resolute. In my experience, sin is like a nail and the Bible like a hammer. Whenever we hit sin head on we drive it deeper, but whenever we come up under it with mercy and grace we are able to pry it out of people’s hearts.

Third, regardless of the choice people made (and wether we agree with it or not), they are going to need our support. Some women (and their male counterparts) have an abortion and seem to suffer no ill effects. But it has more often been the case in my experience as a pastor that women (and their male counterparts) who have had abortions deal with tremendous amount of guilt and shame. What they do NOT need in that circumstance is a self-righteous Christian telling them “I told you so.” What they DO need is someone who is going to speak words of life, forgiveness and freedom over them. Trust me, if you’ve ever cared for someone processing at this level of repentance you don’t need to worry that they will ever do it again.

One of my most profound revelations of last year came from Isaiah 61, that Jesus came to set prisoners free. Prisoners are those who are suffering in the present for their past choices… and Jesus came to set them free. Jesus is our Jubliee, our cancellation of sin, our freedom and new lease on life.

Fourth, we need to be ready to adopt, foster or otherwise care for these women and children. To tell a woman it is sin to have an abortion and then leave her without support is like James 2:14-17, dead and worthless religion. Again, if we are going to be anti-abortion then we need to be even more pro-adoption and pro-compassionate care for women.

Not a political debate
This is not a partisan or political debate for me for I put no stock in man’s ability to legislate morality effectively. This is an issue of representing the heart of our King to every man, woman and child we meet. Even if we closed every abortion clinic in the U.S. women would still try to terminate their unwanted pregnancies because closing a clinic doesn’t deal with the root issue of fear – fear of the loss of freedom, fear of financial stress, fear of a child with issues/disorders, fear of an inability to parent. As Christians, we know the answer – perfect Love drives out fear.

If I were a betting man I’d bet that a church community committed to loving pregnant mothers would save more babies than any amount of legislation AND it would have the additional benefit of exposing the mother, father and child to the Good News of salvation that is found only in Jesus.

Your Thoughts
I realize that the issues of abortion, adoption and the correct Christian response are much grander than what I was able to touch on here. I also know that my knowledge of these subjects only goes so far. SO, I’d love to hear from you.

How do you and your communities care for pregnant women considering abortions?

How do you bring healing to women (and men) suffering from the physical/emotional/spiritual effects of having had an abortion?

What language do you use to talk about abortion? (I’ve found “pro-life” and “women’s rights” to be terms that make otherwise intelligent people into party line bullies.)

As always, thanks for reading.

Family is Revival

On Sunday I mentioned a phrase that Dani and I really like a lot, “family is revival.” I think I first heard it in an IRIS Nashville podcast, or from Jonathan David Helser, but whoever coined the phrase is brilliant. Family (intergenerational connectedness and care) is revival (the Kingdom coming in a powerfully manifest way).

When God wanted to reveal Himself as “Father” to His people, He sent His son. But before Jesus came on scene, God sent John the Baptizer to “turn the hearts of the fathers in tenderness to their children.” A physical restoration of family and fatherhood preceded the greatest revelation of God’s character in history – unity was a necessary prerequisite for the Lord’s appearing. That is pretty heavy.

But here is the point of this post – family isn’t restricted to biology. I know lots of great moms who have never physically birthed children (and aren’t even married). Who cares? They are life-giving, nurturing, loving women who take care of people well – that counts as “mom” in my book. Then there are the foster/adoptive families – they may not be genetically related, but they are still family.

In the Kingdom, “family” is a much bigger and more glorious concept than what we’ve typically believed it to be in the States. Family is all generations, all ethnicities, and all backgrounds loving one another the way Jesus loves us. That sort of selfless, sacrificial, barrier-destroying love is what the Kingdom of Our Father is all about. It is a love that heals, redeems and purifies.

Family is revival. When the Church starts caring for itself as a family things will shift in powerful ways. Moms and dads, brothers and sisters, parents and children don’t always agree, but disagreement should never squelch affection or threaten connection. Thank God family isn’t based on agreement!

What would it looks like for the Church to love itself like it did in the book of Acts? What would it look like for those with multiple homes to sell them and lay the proceeds at the feet of the leadership and say, “This is for anyone in our community who has need”? What would it look like for the Church to bear one another’s financial burdens and help each member work themselves out of debt? What would it look like for the Church to commit to fostering and adopting every child who needed it, no questions asked? That sounds radical and big, almost too much to imagine, but what sort of witness would that be to the world?

If we claim God is Our Father, why do we act like orphans so often? Why do we bicker and squabble? Why do we tear one another down? Why do we think someone else has to fail so we can succeed? Why do we fear there will never be enough? Why do we think we need to police and punish instead of Dad?

What if…

What if unity actually is a prerequisite to a move of God? Not the namby pamby sort of unity based on doctrinal belief and dogmatic association, but the nitty gritty devotion of covenantal love?

What if God has millions of people on the verge of salvation, but He is waiting to bring them in until He knows they will be loving cared for and thoughtfully placed into families?

What if?

My desire is to see the Church (and specifically my congregation) grow increasingly diverse in every sense. God is the Father of a huge blended family, wouldn’t it be neat if each pocket of believers reflected that?

As far as I can tell, the world doesn’t have good answers for the problems of racial tension, bridging socio-economic gaps, curing injustice or eliminating poverty – but at least they are trying. What if we showed them a different Way – the Way of Jesus? If the Church Transformed and filled with Love can’t offer better solutions to these problems than the world can… then shoot, I think we’re kidding ourselves and the Gospel of God’s Kingdom Come isn’t such good news after all.

I have no master plan for sweeping national changes – I don’t trust such plans in any case. Transformation, true and long lasting transformation, always begins at home – in this case, literally. Loving one another well – that is my goal, that is what I want to see the Church do. Let’s make that our first step and see what happens – we’ll probably be surprised with the result.

Luke 1:5-38 Sermon Notes

I’m preaching through the Gospel of Luke this year. For anyone who wants to follow along with our study, I will be posting my sermon notes and the link to each message. Thanks for joining us in our study of Luke!

Sermon Outline for Jan. 11, 2015

1. Text: Luke 1:5-38

2. Context/Theology:
Where are we in redemptive history?
* Just coming out of the 400 years of silence.
* The last words of the Old Testament were, “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse,” Mal. 4:5,6
* Now God is bringing that promise to fulfillment.

What do we need to know to understand this passage?
* This is Zechariah’s once in a lifetime chance to enter the Holy Place and offer incense – symbolizing the prayers of the people. Just behind the altar, on the other side of the curtain, is the Holy of Holies – God’s Throne.
* Then the angel Gabriel shows up. According to Church history, Gabriel is one of the three arch angels along with Michael and Lucifer. Gabriel has shown up one time before, when he gave revelation to Daniel about the end of the age.
* Gabriel tells Zechariah that he will have a son and is to name him John. John is to be a Nazarite (see Numbers 6) someone set apart for special service to God.
* Gabriel causes Zechariah to be mute because of his unbelief. Zechariah was a descendant of Abraham, a man remembered for his faith and belief that God could give him a son in his old age.

Are there any words or phrases that carry special significance?
* Gabriel says that John will “go before the Lord in the power and spirit of Elijah.”
* As far as we know, John performed no miracles. That fascinates me because he was supposed to operate in “the spirit and power of Elijah.” Elijah doesn’t get much air time in the Scriptures, just a few chapters really, but those few chapters are overflowing with the miraculous: withholding rain for three years, the flour and oil that never ran out, raising the widow’s son, the confrontation with the prophets of Baal, supernatural sustenance by the brook, encountering the manifest presence of God and so on. All of that points to the power of Elijah’s ministry, but one event points to his spirit – raising up a young man named Elisha to take his place and succeed him as prophet.
* The spirit of Elijah is the Fathering Spirit – the desire to see our sons and daughters surpass us. The spirit of Elijah is wanting our children to inherit a double portion, for our ceiling to become their floor. It is the desire to see our children equipped for every good work, spared from our mistakes and secure in their identities. Fascinating that just before God reveals Himself as Father to Israel, He raised up a messenger to go before Him to “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the disobedient children to the wisdom of their righteous fathers.” First the physical restoration of fatherhood, then the spiritual revelation of God the Father.

3. Worship:
How does this text reveal God’s true character and destroy lies we’ve believed?
* He is the God who hears and answers our prayer, even the ones we don’t pray any more. (Luke 1:13)
– Sometimes we think God doesn’t hear us, that is untrue. God always hears us with a sympathetic ear.
– God’s timing is often different than ours. Zechariah and Elizabeth both wanted to have kids – God wanted that too. They thought their dream had died with old age, but God was waiting to fulfill their desire at the perfect moment.
– Whenever you get a “no” from God it is because a better “YES!” is coming. Your prayers are “gaining interest” and your character is being strengthened to stand up under His blessing.

* He is the God who looks with kindness on His people and moves to take away their shame and disgrace. (Luke 1:25)
– In that day and age, for a woman not to have children was shameful. The thinking of the day was that there was something wrong with the woman – hidden sin, faulty character, or something like that. Elizabeth probably felt like a third-class citizen, since women were already looked down upon.
– God sees this and vindicates her, because that is the kind of God He is. Not only does she bear a son, it is a miracle birth – everyone who previously looked down on her now wonders, “If a miracle brought his birth, what will this child become?” (Luke 1:66)
– Staying faithful, tender hearted and not defending yourself in the face of accusation or disappointment is called “meekness” in the Bible. God loves to vindicate and elevate the meek in the presence of their accusers.
– God is not up in Heaven with a wooden spoon, ready to whack us when we do something wrong. God is with us, feeling our hurts and sharing our burdens. God is the One who has come to set us free, not put us into bondage through guilt and shame.

* God is a good Father.
– Jesus primarily revealed God as “Father,” a concept that is still hard to receive for those of us whose dads were harsh, distant or unloving.
– So, in order to give people the best possible chance to receive Jesus’s ministry, God set a super holy, super anointed prophet to restore tenderness and right relationship in families.
– Love and devotion between the generations was a necessary prerequisite for the Lord’s appearing.
– God doesn’t just want us to relate to Him spiritually, He wants to heal our home life too.

How can we thank, praise and worship God from this text?
* God is the God who always hears us.
* God is the God who answers.
* God is the God who bears our burdens.
* God is the God who sets us free and raises us up at just the right time.
* God is a Good Father. He loves us, He likes us, and He delights in us.
* God is in a good mood.

4. Praxis:
How does this revelation of God’s character call us to live differently?
* We keep praying, trusting that God hears us. We may not get the answer when we want it, but God will answer.
* If God doesn’t seem to be answering, it is because a better answer is coming. This may require us to change the way we think or reexamine what it is we think we need.
* How the generations relate to one another is super important – FAMILY IS REVIVAL.

Are there any resources to help?
* The best book I know of for relational skills and communication is “Keep Your Love On,” by Danny Silk.
* If your marriage is in a difficult place right now, in addition to KYLO, we have found “Love and Respect,” by Emerson Eggerichs to be helpful.

How can I put this into practice tomorrow?
* Take an index card, put the date on it and write out your heart’s desire. Put that card somewhere you will see it every day. Pray for it as often as you see it or think about it. Don’t let off of that one thing until you get an answer.
* Get and read (or reread) “Keep Your Love On.”
* Find a mentor and/or a mentee. We need both in our lives. Ask someone you like or respect to mentor you. Pray about who you could offer to mentor. If “mentoring” in problematic language for you, who can you “do life” with? These relationships are not one-way streets by any means.

5. Ministry:
* What prayers have you given up praying? God wants to resurrect hope in your heart for those things. God always hears us. Your better YES is coming.
* Many of us carry hurts from our dads that need to be addressed in order for us to relate to God as Father in a helpful way. This doesn’t mean your dad was wicked! In fact, hurts from nice dads are sometimes the hardest to work through — they were so great in so many ways and it STILL wasn’t enough. If you haven’t already, take some time to dialogue with Holy Spirit and see if there is any history preventing you from embracing God as the Father who loves you, likes you and delights in you.

The Fathering Spirit of Elijah

As far as we know, John the Baptizer performed no miracles. That fascinates me because he was supposed to operate in “the spirit and power of Elijah,” Luke 1. Elijah doesn’t get much air time in the Scriptures, just a few chapters really, but those few chapters are overflowing with the miraculous: withholding rain, the flour and oil that never ran out, raising the widow’s son, the confrontation with the prophets of Baal, supernatural sustenance by the brook, encountering the manifest presence of God and so on. All of that points to the power of Elijah’s ministry, but one event points to his spirit – raising up a young man to take his place.

The spirit of Elijah is the Fathering Spirit – the desire to see our sons and daughters surpass us. The spirit of Elijah is wanting our children to inherit a double portion, for our ceiling to become their floor. It is the desire to see our children equipped for every good work, spared from our mistakes and secure in their identities. Fascinating that just before God reveals Himself as Father to Israel He raised up a messenger to go before Him to “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the [disobedient] children to the wisdom of their [righteous] fathers,” Luke 1. First the physical restoration of fatherhood, then the spiritual revelation of God the Father.

Every leader must carry the spirit of Elijah. Leadership is based on call, sacrifice and service and not on gifting, knowledge or even maturity. If leadership were based on the later, then everyone who is more highly gifted, more highly educated or more mature becomes a threat to our leadership and we will cut them off. That is anti-Christ. Jesus, our head and leader, serves as our platform. He says, “you will do even greater things than me.” Presumably, this is because his leadership accelerates our progress.

Every leader is a father or mother. That means that their desire must be to see the people under their leadership surpass them. A church doesn’t thrive when it can’t function without its leader. A church is thriving when everyone honors the leadership for how they have invested, served and sacrificed so that the “kids” can go places the parents never dreamed of.

The spirit of Elijah is the desire to father/mother, mentor, disciple and grow those under our care. It is a prerequisite for a manifestation and move of God.

Parenting, mentoring, discipleship, small groups – these are not small things. They are the tangible precursors to what God is doing in the Spirit. If we want to live to see the days of revival fire then we must take seriously our call to raise up a generation that can steward and grow what we have worked for.

Shameless Audacity

Luke 11

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his shameless audacity he will rise and give him whatever he needs. [emphasis mine] And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The Heart Posture of Prayer
When the Disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he not only taught them a model prayer, he also taught them the proper heart posture of prayer. The heart posture of shameless audacity and persistance.

Audacity, shamelessness, insolence, impudence, boldness to the point of being rude, indecency, immodesty – all this and more is bound up in the greek word anaideia which Jesus uses to describe the man asking his friend for bread in the middle of the night. That is the word, that is the heart posture, that Jesus instructs us to have in prayer.

I find that so fascinating. This isn’t a conference on prayer where the disciples come together to talk about what “works.” No human in their right mind would approach the Almighty Creator of the Universe in that way. We would choose awe, reverence, fear. Yet Jesus teaches us that effective prayer is like a man banging on his friend’s door, shouting for the whole neighborhood to hear or like a widow who nags to death the judge ruling on her case.

Now, God is not an unjust judge or a reluctant and lazy friend – those two characters are clearly contrasts to God’s generosity and extravagence. But that is how God wants us to approach Him. God wants us to wear Him out asking for the things we want, He wants us to come before Him with boldness, even rudeness, He wants us to make a scene.

I think of Hannah praying for a son and the priest, Eli, thinking she was drunk. I think of Phineas stalking through the Israelite camp to kill the man having sex with a foreign woman. I think of Elijah stretching himself out over the widow’s son and crying out to God for Him to raise the dead. There are obviously other stories as well, but those particular stories represent to me the extreme lengths people go to in order to get an answer to their prayers.

It occurs to me that we are too polite when we pray. Certainly, the kind of praying Jesus talks about here is uncomfortable and embarrassing to my Midwestern sensibilities. It also occurs to me that Jesus doesn’t give a rip. I am now a citizen of his Kingdom – I need to embrace the culture of that Kingdom, not live in it as a foreigner.

To bring this down to a practical level, let’s talk about praying for healing.

Praying for Healing
In the past, my prayers have often been along the lines of: “God, would you please heal __________. Let your Holy Spirit come, set wrong things right and heal their body. Amen.” My prayer is often a little more extended than that, but along the same lines.

Do you see how impotent that is? Would you… please…let your Spirit come… The whole posture of that prayer assumes God is reluctant, that He only doles out healing and Holy Spirit to those who ask most nicely, or grovel most effectively. Does Jesus pray anything like that in the Bible? No! The exception being “let this cup pass from me” and guess what? That prayer wasn’t answered either.

As I’ve been meditating on this passage and trying to internalize Jesus’s teaching I’ve been trying out different language. This past Sunday, praying for a man with a sore hip I said, “God, heal this hip! Spirit manifest Yourself in power. Your Kingdom is here and in your Kingdom there is no sickness or disease, so pain, leave now!” And guess what… nothing happened.

The man I was praying for didn’t walk away with any relief, but I am absolutely convinced that my prayer was more in line with Jesus’s teaching than ever before. Coming before God with anaideia is coming before God with the assumption, even presumption, that His Spirit is waiting to obey our command. Do we have any right to command God’s Spirit? Absolutely not! But Jesus’s death and resurrection secured for us an everlasting love.

Shameless Audacity is only possible because of the Cross
I think that Jesus teaches his disciples to pray in this way because it is only possible to embrace this heart posture if we really believe in the potency of the Cross. If we don’t believe God loves us like He loves Jesus, we will never pray with impudence, we’ll be too afraid. If we only see ourselves as servants, we will never issue commands.

Prayer was a battle of persistence even for Jesus. How much more so for us? If Jesus taught his disciples not just once, but twice, how important persistent and shameless audacity was in prayer then I think it is something we should pay attention to. It isn’t easy, it goes against everything I know, but it is what Jesus taught.

I want to learn how to pray the way that Jesus did. I want his level of intimacy, I want his level of breakthrough. Truth be told – I want more than what he had. There is an old saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” I’ll adjust that to say, “When in the Kingdom, pray like the King.” That is what proves our citizenship. That is what marks us as heirs. To do otherwise is not a sign of devotion, but of defection. We must allow ourselves to be governed by what God says, not by what we think is best.

Shameless audacity is not something that happens overnight. It takes time for us to adjust. But if we want to grow in prayer, if we want to be co-creators with God, people who release and advance God’s Kingdom, then it is absolutely essential.