Feeding the 5,000

On Sunday I got to preach from one of my favorite passages – Luke 9:10-17, the miraculous multiplication of bread. I’m still living in that story and I wanted to share some additional thoughts with you. This will be hodgepodge collection of nuggets rather than a formal post – hopefully you can follow along. 🙂

Jesus doesn’t despise weakness.

  • The prelude to this story is that Jesus has spent the last several months raising up a second tier of leadership while the Twelve have been away. He has been preaching and teaching, modeling and investing. He has been the sole minister while his team is away. On top of that, just as the Apostles return, Jesus gets word that his cousin, John (the Baptizer), has just been beheaded by Herod. Jesus and John were undoubtedly close – John was the only person (other than Mary) who really knew who Jesus was. What is more, a couple chapters back, in Luke 7, Jesus basically told John that he wasn’t coming to rescue him, that John would die in prison. Tired, grieving and looking forward to reconnecting with his friends, Jesus decides to slip away for some R&R.
  • The crowd, however, gets wind of Jesus’s intentions and quite literally runs around the lake to meet him. As Jesus and his disciples get to their destination, Jesus, tired and grieving, looks over the bow of the ship and sees a huge crowd pressed up against the shore – 10,000 people with their emotional vacuums pointed straight at him.
  • How does Jesus respond? His heart doesn’t sink, he doesn’t curse them in his heart or despise their neediness. Instead, the Bible says that he looked on them with compassion, like sheep without a shepherd. It says that he graciously welcomed them, taught them and healed them.
  • I love how compassionate Jesus is. I love that he can see beneath the surface, to what is really going on. These people were desperate for hope, they were aching to hear words of Life about Our Father. Jesus didn’t hold their sin, their neediness or their selfishness against them. Instead, he gave and taught and healed. He cared for them the way he wished they would have cared for him. Absolutely beautiful.

Bread from Heaven is far superior

  • I’m fascinated that, at some point in time, this entire crowd decided that it was better and more important to listen to Jesus than to go get dinner or find a room for the night. As long as Jesus was willing to speak, they were willing to listen. How good does a sermon need to be for people to be willing to override their legitimate human needs and choose something superior? I don’t know, I lose people about 10 minutes in.
  • What Jesus had to offer brought thousands upon thousands of people into the middle of nowhere. There was no shelter, there were no provisions, yet they came out in droves. Why doesn’t the world do that anymore? We have the same message, the same mission and the same Spirit… don’t we?

The Insignificant and Unworthy were the Seed of a miracle

  • In the original texts, only the men were counted. Women and children were considered insignificant, second class, less than. Yet it was a little boy, not the Apostles, who had something to offer. The Apostles, for all their spiritual power and ministry knowhow, hadn’t thought to bring anything to eat. But a young boy (more likely his mother) had. The boy was willing to give what he had, regardless of how small it was and that is what fed the multitude.
  • No matter how unworthy you feel or how insignificant you are in the eyes of the world, you are a miracle waiting to happen. What you have to give is valuable and, in the hands of Jesus, just might change the world.
  • The disciples really biffed it in Luke’s telling of the story. We know from John’s Gospel that the boy was the one with the food, but in Luke, the Apostles try to make it seem like they were the ones who had thought to bring some extra. It is an age old human tendency – we often try to make ourselves look better by taking credit for someone else’s idea. I think our challenge as followers of Jesus is to receive from “the least of these” in a way that broadly honors their contribution.

Expectancy is Key

  • When Jesus ordered the crowd to sit in groups of fifties, there had been no miracle. There was no mountain of food, no catering table. But the crowd obeyed. Even though they didn’t see the food, they acted with expectancy on a promise. The Master had said to sit and get ready for a meal. They didn’t know where the food was coming from, but they trusted it would show up.
  • I wonder how many miracles are waiting for the People of God to act on a promise? What would it look like for us to take Jesus at his word – to actually believe him?

Hoarding would have killed the miracle

  • When Jesus took the bread and blessed it, bread didn’t fall from Heaven like manna in the wilderness. It wasn’t as though thousands of loaves suddenly appeared for the Apostles to distribute. No. Instead, Jesus ripped apart a loaf and gave a chunk to Peter and said, “Go feed that group of fifty over there.” He gave another to Andrew and James and John and all the disciples, each with the same message.
  • When Peter got to his first group, I imagine his instructions to the first guy were, “Tear off some and pass it on down the line.” I think this is HUGE!!!! If they guy had looked around and said, “This is all there is, I’m keeping it” the miracle would have died. The miracle happened because each person shared what they had. They took a chunk and then passed it on.. and kept passing when it came around again. No one hoarded it. Instead, they shared freely.
  • But what if someone had hoarded it? Not only would the miracle have ceased to progress, but they would have still been hungry. The bread multiplied in the giving, not in the eating. Assuming each group of 50 got roughly half a loaf, that would not have been enough to fill one person up. Selfishness and greed would have resulted in no miracle and an unsatisfying meal for one person.
  • Think about the spiritual implication of this. Are you regularly sharing your faith, the life of Christ within you, the Bread from Heaven that made you a new creation? If not, then I’m assuming you’re not seeing miracles on a regular basis and that you are spiritually hungry. I’m guessing that hunger looks like:
  1. you’re dissatisfied with your current church because the music sucks, the preaching is lousy or the fellowship is superficial and you think some other place will “feed you”,
  2. you feel disillusioned because it seems like the Gospel isn’t quite as good as people claim it is,
  3. you feel like God doesn’t hear your prayers,
  4. you’ve compromised yourself morally because sinning seems like more fun and God loves you anyway,
  5. reading the Bible seems dull and irrelevant to your life
  • If any of those symptoms fits you, it is likely you’re fault – not your church’s fault, not your pastor’s fault and not God’s fault. You are hoarding what you’ve been commanded to share. The Dead Sea is dead because water flows into it but can’t flow out of it; therefore, it stagnates. Clear up the blockage, start sharing, start being life-giving to those around you and you’ll be surprised how quickly things turn around. The best part about things being your fault is that you have the power to change them. 🙂
  • Also, at the end of the story, once everyone has eaten their fill, the disciples collect the leftovers – twelve baskets full. They ended with more than they started with. Selah.

This story is the Gospel in miniature

  • I’m fairly certain that this story is the absolute apex of the Gospel narrative. Why? Because it is told in every Gospel and within a page or two after it is told (in Luke it is immediately after), Jesus talks to his disciples about his coming sacrifice for the very first time. It is almost as those the Apostles needed the object lesson in order to understand what Jesus was really about – he is the bread from Heaven, broken for the needs of the world. Jesus may have done “cooler” things, like walking on water, but nothing demonstrated his mission better.
  • Think about it this way: a son offers up everything he has so that it can be broken to satisfy the needs of many. That sure sounds like a Gospel presentation to me.
  • Jesus was broken so that we could be put back together. The Father rejected Jesus so that he would never have to reject us. God said “No.” to Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane so he could say “Yes!” to us at Calvary. One man, blessed and broken, is what was needed for a new creation.

I’ll end this post with some notes I didn’t get to share yesterday. These are the promises I see contained in this passage for us as individuals and as a community. I know some of them may be redundant, but I trust you’ll bear with me. Thanks for reading friends.

Promises

  • The Promise to the Giver – What you have, no matter how small it appears, is enough in the hands of God. These stories abound in the Bible. It is a recurring theme in Scripture that if you will offer what little you have in service to God it will be enough to satisfy the needs of the day. And as long as you keep doing it, God’s provision will go on indefinitely. Most of the time, however, you will never appear “full.” The widow’s jar of flour was never overflowing, but every time she reached into the jar there was always enough for one more day’s worth of bread.
  • The Promise to the Receiver – Did you notice that the crowds sat down in anticipation of a meal before Jesus had broken the bread. There was no catering table being set up, there was no physical evidence that food was coming. But the crowd had an instruction from the Master, “Sit down in groups of fifty and get ready to eat.” So they did. They may have grumbled. They may have looked around and been confused. They may have said, “Well, it sure doesn’t make sense to me, but OK.” Who knows what they were thinking at the time. And remember, this isn’t a small group of people, this would be like the city of Waverly getting together in some farmer’s field and expecting a meal. The promise to the receiver is simple – do what he says and you’ll get what he promised. We don’t have to understand. We don’t even have to agree. We just have to obey. Simple acts of obedience are profoundly freeing when we approach them with an expectant heart.
  • The Promise to the Hungry – You can’t buy enough to satisfy your hunger. No amount of food, no amount of drink, no amount of sex, no amount of entertainment, no amount of stuff, no amount of anything will ever be enough to satisfy your spiritual hunger. Nothing except Jesus. Life will always feel shallow and pointless until you submit your life to Jesus. This passage is a major turning point. Shortly after this passage appears in each of the Gospels, Jesus begins to talk to his disciples about his betrayal and crucifixion. The symbolism is clear, the bread is Jesus’s body. The bread was broken to satisfy their physical hunger, but that satisfaction was short lived. Jesus’s body was broken to satisfy the wrath of God and to open for us the way to Everlasting Life, and that is eternal. Life finds meaning and purpose in Jesus. Suffering and pain find purpose in Jesus. He is the Master at taking the broken and making it beautiful.
  • The Promise to the Broken, the Abused and the Insignificant – You are a miracle waiting to happen. It wasn’t the Apostles who were so thoughtful and wise so as to bring along some extra food. It was a child. It might have been the lunch his mother packed for him, it might have been something he thought of himself, either way, it was all he had and he gave it freely. He gave it freely even when the disciples tried to take credit for it. Without that little bit of generosity this miracle would have never happened. The promise to all of you who feel hurt, wounded, insignificant, unwanted, unloved, broken, abused or otherwise unworthy is that you have something to offer and that something is valuable. What you have to give might never become a miracle recorded in a book or blog, but it will change the world. Furthermore, God sees you. He sees you as you are and he sees you as you will one day be. If you can learn to see yourself the way God sees you, you won’t want to be anybody else. Your story isn’t over. God isn’t finished with you yet.
  • The Promise to the Community – The Gospel is for everyone. Jesus didn’t just miraculously feed himself, his disciples or a select group of followers. He saw the needs of the group. He saw that everyone needed something to eat and he commissioned his disciples to be the ones to meet those needs in a systematic and sacrificial way. Church, if we believe what the Bible says, then we have what the world needs. We have the Bread of Life, the Living Water, we have every spiritual blessing, all power and all authority. We have everything we need to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. Said a little differently and specifically, we have the capacity to make Waverly an outpost of the Kingdom of God on the earth. There don’t have to be hungry people in Waverly. There don’t have to be poor people in Waverly. There don’t have to be sick people in Waverly. There certainly don’t have to be people destined for Hell in Waverly. The answers to all of those problems are locked up in the Church – in us! If that sounds extreme, hard to believe, even a little “out there” then I submit that maybe our God is a little too small and our Devil a little too big. For real guys, if what the Bible says is true, then we have the Spirit of the Living God inside of us and we are promised that every time the Kingdom of Heaven collides with the kingdom of this world our side will win. Why are we not running into everything!? The promise to our community is transformation. It is the promise that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, within our reach, if we will only stretch out our hands and lay hold of it.

Good Soil

Last week, Bill taught on the parable of the Good Soil out of Luke 8. I thought it was good enough to revisit this week. Here are my notes from yesterday, including 7 disciplines for keeping your heart soft and receptive towards Jesus.

Preparing My Heart to be Good Soil

Being receptive to God’s Word and bearing fruit are our top priorities as followers of Jesus. We want to be good soil. We do not want to be hard or calloused to God’s word, nor do we want to let the things of this world (anxiety, the love of money) choke out the life of Christ in us.
“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples,” John 15:8

Fruit is:

  • A transformed life that manifests the character attributes of Jesus described in Galatians 5:22 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.
  • Making disciples by proclaiming and demonstrating the Good News of Jesus’s death, resurrection and soon coming Kingdom.
  • Loving God as our top priority and loving others with the same sort of sacrificial love with which Jesus loved us.
  • Cleaning up your messes and Keeping Your Love On

Unless we deliberately choose to cultivate our hearts as good soil, we will default to oneof the other three types Jesus described in the parable:

(1) We will ignore God’s Word because we are hard hearted towards God and/or have no hunger for him.

(2) We will initially respond to the Gospel with joy, but only because we think it is a quick road to health and/or wealth. When persecution and hardship arise, our motivation to follow God quickly diminishes.

(3) We really want to follow God, but we keep getting distracted. Our family, our career, the love of money or other anxieties keep us from being as fully devoted to Jesus as we need to be in order to mature. 

Fighting our natural tendency towards apathy and lethargy requires discipline – which is where the word disciple comes from. The following disciplines have an amazingly disproportionate return for the time they require:

Seven Disciplines for Cultivating Good Soil

(1) Personal Private Worship – Worship God in your home (or office) on your own time, by yourself, being as expressive/creative as necessary. Worshipping together as a community is great, but it won’t have the same transformative effect. Do whatever works for you, but do it with the intent of worshipping God and connecting with him.

(2) Prayer – Pray the Lord’s Prayer or any of the Psalms in your own words. Using that as a template, expand or contract your prayers accordingly. Remember, Jesus taught us to pray in the plural – so prayer isn’t just about you; it is also about your family, congregation, city, state and nation. Pray through a list of the people you love. Journal your prayers. Prayer is primarily about finding out what God thinks about something and then agreeing with it. Prayer is secondarily about expressing your feelings and needs and finding God in the midst of them. 

(3) Bible Study – How healthy do you think you would be if you only ate one meal every week? That is how your soul feels if your only time spent in God’s Word is on Sunday morning. The Bible’s primary intent is to reveal the nature of God. Read it with the hope of finding out more of who he is, not as a “To Do” list. 

(4) Fast – Our culture has an unhealthy obsession with food – health food and junk food alike. Your life is about more than food, what you eat or what you don’t. A regular practice of fasting helps free you from the stranglehold food has on many of us. Not eating for a day won’t kill you. Seek medical advice if you are on significant medications or are diabetic. Fasting once a week is a good place to start.

(5) Tithe – The love of money is deceitful and it can quickly become your master. We exert our authority over money by refusing to define our self-worth by our net-worth. We put that intention into action by giving money away and making it serve other people. There really is something special about tithing, giving 10% of your income back to God. Lesser amounts don’t do it. The tithe is supremely effective at freeing us from the love of money. You don’t tithe for God or the Church, you tithe for you. 

(6) Small Group – Most of us are way too busy – our most important commodity is our time. But do the things we are “so busy” with really matter? Often, our schedules are filled up with voluntary commitments and obligations, not vital projects necessary for our survival. Getting together with other believers, people who will likely become dear friends, reminds us that we are a community – a family – and that other things can wait. If your goal is to be good soil, you will need the strength, encouragement and refreshment that being with other Christians brings. 

(7) Rest – Take one day off each week and only do the things you love to do. Sleep in, relax, recreate. This has a way of uncluttering your life and helping you to determine what is really important in life. 

One Way to Put it All Together

Because tithing has been, and continues to be, such a huge part of my life (and because I like round numbers), here are the goals I shoot for:

  • A tenth of my day (2 hours 24 minutes) in worship, prayer and Bible study (I get up at 4am most days of the week to make this happen)
  • A tenth of my week (16.8 hours or roughly one day of being awake) resting, relaxing, recreating or otherwise spending time with my family.
  • A tenth of my month spent with other Christians doing life together (1-2 nights each week)
  • A tenth of my year in fasting (the first 3 days of each month, Lent or some other combination)
  • A tenth of my income to the congregation and another tenth to missions (the missions portion is because Dani and I want to. It isn’t required, it is just fun. :D)

Again, these are my goals. I think they are achievable by almost everyone, but you ultimately need to work out your own goals for yourself.

This plan is intended to war against the common idols of our culture: self-indulgance, the love of money, pride, busyness and self-sufficiency. 

The Heart Behind it All

All of this will just be legalistic nonsense if it isn’t done from the proper heart posture. We don’t embrace these postures hoping to be good soil so that we can earn Father’s approval – we already have it. We embrace this rigorous approach to discipleship because we want to be a home for Holy Spirit and we want to give the life of Jesus inside of us the best possible chance of growing and maturing and, thereby, transforming us and making us new. It all boils down to love – we love God and want to be more like him. We want to bear fruit and share the Good News. Please be careful about picking and choosing from this list, it is about as distilled as it can get. If we are serious about being open and receptive to God’s Word in our lives, we will need a comprehensive plan to war against our default tendency towards apathy, lethargy and distraction. 

Thanks for reading friends. 

Eternal Rewards

Yesterday, Erik taught out of Luke 6:20-26, Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount. One of the ideas that Erik touched on was “living for a reward.” I wanted to expand on that idea a little more here.

Several places in the New Testament, we encounter this theme of heavenly, or eternal, rewards and we’ll get to those passages in just a minute. First, I’d like to discuss the idea of a “reward.” What does it mean and is it right to persue them?

Defining Reward

Merriam-Wester defines reward as “giving money or some other form of payment to someone for something good that has been done.” This is pretty much how the New Testament uses the word, but it also uses it in a negative sense (i.e. punishment). Reward simply means “wages” or “the fruit of one’s actions”, good or bad.

What rewards mean for you

The whole idea of eternal rewards implies that God sees and takes into account the things you do in this life and repays you for them in eternity. 

Now, the ultimate eternal reward is salvation – life with God in his Kingdom forever. The action that secures this reward is submitting your life to Jesus, acknowledging him as your Lord and Savior. Of course, the truth of that decision is played out over time as you “bear fruit in keeping with reptentance” to use John the Baptizer’s phrase. Choosing solidarity with Jesus in his life mission, love for God, love for people and identifying with him in suffering and persecution results in his confession on Judgement Day “This one belongs to me.” What Jesus says about you in that Day is the most crucial thing you can imagine – eternal salvation or damnation is in his hands.

In light of such immense consequences, one might be tempted to think of any other rewards as petty, even inconsequential. In many ways, that is correct. And yet, over and over again, God holds out this promise of reward.

For many of us, the decision to follow Jesus comes well before our death. What do we do with that time? Do we sit idly by, secure in the knowledge of our salvation? Do we continue on as before – doing some good things and some bad things and not really concerning ourselves too much one way or the other? Or, do we embrace the idea of loving and sacrificial service, realizing that we were made to do good works and that those good works have both temporal AND eternal rewards. One this side of the Judgement Seat, eternal rewards seem petty. However, on the other side they will mean a whole lot more.

Let’s look at one passage and then move on.

1 Corinthians 3

In this passage, Paul is talking about the life we live after choosing to love and follow Jesus. He uses the analogy of a building a house with Christ as the foundation. Then judgement comes, a house fire. Here is the passage:

12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

The time we have between our confession of Jesus as Lord and our death is all the time we have to “build our house.” Obviously, the younger you are when you begin to follow Jesus, the more time you have… theoretically. Many times, people who grow up in Christian homes don’t live with the passion and zeal one would expect – it is almost as though they have been innoculated against the Gospel. Conversely, people who come to faith later in life realize their time is short and their singleminded determination to live differently oftentimes allows them to make a far greater impact in the world than someone who has been following Jesus for much longer. The point is, it doesn’t matter when you choose to follow God, there is ample time to make your life meaningful now and in eternity.

Paul likens Judgement Day to a house fire – will what you’ve built remain? The things you did in life, did you do them for yourself, for others, for God? With all the time God gave you, how much of it was used doing things that really matter and how much of it was spent frivolously? I am NOT saying that following Jesus is joyless drudgery – quite the opposite! Interacting with the Living Gd on a daily basis is invigorating and fun. Knowing that he is taking all this into account and is going to reward me for it later is simply over the top.

Verse 15 is a verse that haunts me (in the best way possible), “If anyone’s work is burned up [meaning it can be, not everything I do garners reward], he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

I don’t want to enter eternity smelling like smoke. I don’t want to look back on my life at Judgement Day and see it all burn away to ash. I don’t want to live my entire life on the earth and have nothing to show for it in eternity. That is tragedy, THAT is loss. Yet it will be the case for some people – they themselves will be saved for they were in fact followers of Jesus, but they will feel the pain of loss keenly as they look back on their life and wish they could have lived it differently.

The idea of receiving a reward for your efforts is not unspiritual, rather, it is what makes long term effectiveness and faithfulness possible. Living with an eye on our eternal reward is what keeps us from becoming apathetic, lethargic and sleepy. Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Your heart is designed to follow after treasure, to follow after reward. If you are not purposefully trying to store up treasure in heaven, if you are only trying to fully fund your retirement and investment acconts, what hope do you have of actually loving God? “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God…” “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your [only] consolation.” It isn’t bad to want to retire or have wealth. It IS bad to pursue that as your main goal to the neglect of your eternal destiny. 

Living for a reward is crucial to a life of faith

Unless you have a clear understanding and desire for eternal rewards, you will not live life without regret. What is  even more sobering is that we can’t please God unless we live for eternal rewards. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” 

Faith stands on two legs – (1) that God exists and (2) that God is Good. We can’t draw near to God if we don’t think he is there – that much is easy. But how do we draw near? Tentatively? Fearfully? No! Confidently we come before the throne because of Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf. We trust that God is Good, that he lavishes rewards on those who seek to know him, love him and obey him. We believe that God is kind and generous. We believe that every command is for our benefit. 

Let’s face it, very few of us actually do the things God asks us to do because we’re just such good people. Case in point – evangelism. The Great Commission is pretty much the only task Jesus gave to his Church. To paraphrase, “Make disciples – it is the most important thing for this time. It is the main thing I want you to do once you start following me.” … and how many of us do it? It is really our only job, yet we’ve developed tremendous theologies to excuse ourselves from the need of it. I put very little stock in my willingness to do what Jesus commands unless I see a significant benefit to myself for doing so. I don’t have any youthful illusions of my own magnanimous nature, passion or zeal.

Simply put, I won’t do what Jesus tells me to do unless I get a reward for it. 

I know that sounds harsh. I know it sounds childish, foolish and ungrateful. I know that in saying it, I wish it were different… but it isn’t. That is the truth of my heart. AND GOD KNOWS IT. He doesn’t know it and react with disgust. He knows it and appeals to it – how wild is that?  ‘You don’t want to pray, I get that, but if you do I’ll reward you.’ ‘You don’t want to fast, but if you do and don’t make a big deal out of it, I will heap blessings into your lap.’ ‘I know money is tight, but if you will trust me and tithe and give some away to those who have even greater needs than you do, I will increase your buying power far beyond anything you can imagine. You will be better off finacially with 90% blessed by me than if you kept the whole lot.’ Those are the kinds of offers God gives us. In case you think I made them up, read through Matthew 6 very carefully.

Those that think they can live a fruitful, effective and pleasing life to God without living for an eternal reward are kidding themselves. It may be a well intentioned delusion, but it is fantasy none the less. Living for a reward is not unspiritual, it is the key to mature spirituality. Even Jesus didn’t embrace the cross selflessly. Even he was looking for a result, a reward. He was looking to ransom people from death. He was looking forward to the joy of being the firstborn of many brothers. Isaiah, prophesying about Jesus says, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied… I will give him a portion among the great.” Because Jesus was willing to set aside his Godhood and embrace the role of a servant, he has received a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord. If eternal rewards helped to steady Jesus in his life and mission, how much more do we need them? 

Sabbath

I’ve written elsewhere about how Jesus interacted with different aspects of the Law. I’d like to revisit that topic and dig a little deeper into the issue of Sabbath, the day of rest, and how Jesus reinterpreted and revealed it.

A little history

We first encounter the idea of a day of rest in Genesis 2:2. After spending 6 days creating the world, God took a day off. He wasn’t tired, but he decided that a day spent leisurely enjoying his creation would be a good thing. God thought this was such a great idea that he blessed the seventh day, making it holy.

While it was God’s model to rest on the seventh day, we don’t have any indication that anyone observed it from Adam to Moses. The Patriarchs seemed to treat each weekday alike, though they did have a few festivals and holy days they observed. The Sabbath, as we know it, was codified by Moses in Exodus 20:8-11

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

After 400 years in slavery, working hard all day every day, God liberated his people. Sabbath was a deliverence of their souls as much as the exodus was a deliverence of their bodies. God commanded his people to celebrate freedom and to trust in his ability to provide. The Israelites were freed from having their identities wrapped up in how hard they worked or how much they could produce. They were forced to reckon with a God who provided for them abundantly – no longer were they living hand to mouth, paycheck to paycheck. Sabbath was a celebration of freedom and prosperity.

Sabbath is about rest and freedom

Sabbath was a gift God gave to his children and to everyone who was a part of the nation. No one could work on the Sabbath day – wives couldn’t cook or clean, slaves couldn’t serve, even animals had to stay in their stalls. Even foreigners in Israel were required to rest, they couldn’t buy or sell or conduct any business in the nation. 

Sabbath was intended to lead the nation of Israel into increasing freedom. It was supposed to help them enjoy God, his creation and one another. It was supposed to remind them of their captivity and how they had been set free. It was supposed to remind them that there are far more important things than earning a paycheck. Most importantly, Sabbath was supposed to get the people thinking about God — God didn’t need to rest after creating the world, he is Almighty after all, so why did he? Jesus gives us a hint – “sabbath was made for man,” Mark 2:27. Sabbath was God’s gift to humanity, to set us free, to keep our spirits alive and vibrant. But it quickly got turned into a tool to manipulate and control. The true meaning of Sabbath was lost and it became a dead ritual.

Sabbath is about setting other people free

In Luke 6, we see Jesus beautifully reinterpret Sabbath law in two instances.

First, Jesus and his disciples are walking through a wheat field and the disciples, presumably hungry, pick some of the grains of wheat and eat them. This greatly offended the religious elite, for harvesting grain was forbidden on the sabbath. In turn, Jesus tells a story from 1 Samuel, when David was on the run and took the Bread of the Presence off of the altar and ate it. His point in sharing this story was to say that, if ever human need and religious observance collide, human need comes out on top. It doesn’t rightly represent God to let someone go hungry so that you can “follow the rules.” Jewish rabbis have often asked the question: If someone is drowning at the time of prayer, what do you do? You go and help that person – they need your help, God does not. Jesus stands in this tradition.

The second instance is when Jesus comes to synagogue and sees a man with a withered hand sitting there. Since it is illegal to do work on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders were watching Jesus to see what he would do. If he healed the man, he would be breaking the law and, therefore, could not possibly be from God.

Knowing their hearts, Jesus calls the man to the front of the room and asks the congregation a question, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good, or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” Jesus looks each person straight in the eye and proceeds to heal the man. The religious leaders are furious and begin to plot Jesus’s death.

Jesus says that doing good is lawful on the Sabbath. He also implies that not helping someone, when it is well within your power to do so, is evil. The reason for this is simple: Sabbath is about setting other people free – free from hurt, hunger, homelessness, oppression and injustice. Jesus stands in the prophetic tradition of Isaiah 58, reinterpretting Sabbath to mean freedom just as Isaiah reinterpreted fasting to mean justice. 

“Us” and “Our”

Jesus taught his disciples a radical understanding of community in the Disciple’s Prayer, he taught them to pray in the plural. “Our Father… give us today our daily bread…” In community, I can’t truly be full if someone else is hungry, I can’t really be warm if someone else is without clothing or shelter and I certainly can’t rest when  someone else is oppressed or enslaved. There is no “me/my” in Jesus’s model prayer, there is only “us/our” and the yearning to see God’s Kingdom manifest on the earth. 

As followers of Jesus, we are called to live with this wonderfully reinterpreted understanding of Sabbath. Should we each take a day off each week for leisure and enjoyment? Absolutely! We should also understand that Sabbath, setting people free from the tyranny of sin, sickness, demons, death and worldly systems of oppression, is a lifestyle to be engaged in every day, not just talked about once a week.

Jesus, our Lord, is Lord over the Sabbath. He is our Jubilee, the cancelation of our debts, the restoration of our inheritance and the power we need to overcome every work of the enemy. May God bless you with good success in your efforts to set people free this week.

Thanks for reading friends.

Holiness

Holiness = separate, set apart, cut off from the world

Luke 5:17 introduces us to a group of people who end up being one of Jesus’s main antagonists in the Gospels, they are known as “the Pharisees.” “Pharisee” means “to be separate” or “set apart.” Interestingly, we use that same definition for the word “holy.” I don’t think this is by accident.

The Pharisees were the holy ones of Israel. They were fastidious about obeying the minutest command of the Law and extremely zealous for their own personal holiness. They were the strictest sect one could belong to in Judaism. The Pharisees’s zeal stemmed from a noble belief, the belief that if everyone in Israel would obey the Law for just a single day, that would be enough to usher in the reign of God on the earth. Therefore, they were outspoken advocates for obeying the Law and outrightly shunned those who were lax in their devotion.

The Pharisees correctly understood the Old Covenant concept of holiness. In the Old Covenant, holiness was a commodity, a resource one could gain or lose depending on certain actions. This is where many of the Ceremonial (clean/unclean) Laws came from. Interestingly, the only way to gain holiness in the Old Covenant was by abstention. Every vow available to the Israelites to increase holiness required them to abstain from certain things: like drinking alcohol, cutting their hair, being in the presence of a dead body, etc. This led to the idea that holiness was all about seperating oneself from the world, abstaining, staying pure.

Holiness was a fragile reality on the Old Covenant. Eating something on accident, someone having a heart attack in your presence or countless other things would negate any holiness you had aquired, for you had become ceremonially unclean. Thus, you would have to do whatever was necessary to become ceremonially clean again and start all over. So you can understand why the Pharisees were so freaked out by Jesus and so offended at the things he did. Jesus broke all of their rules. He lived by a different understanding of holiness.

Holiness = attached to God

When Jesus came and inaugurated the Kingdom of Heaven on the Earth, he brought with him a different understanding of holiness. By default, everything in Heaven is holy. Why? Because everyone there lives in ever present awareness and worship of God. The one time someone (satan) consciously chose to cut themselves off from that awareness they were booted out of Heaven.

Jesus brought the holiness of Heaven to earth. He lived with an ever present awareness of Immanuel, the God who is with us, and made his home in our Father’s love. Jesus taught us that the holiness of the New Covenant is radically different than the holiness of the Old Covenant. Holiness in the New Covenant starts with being attached to God in loving relationship and results in loving attachment (relationship) to others. Furthermore, the holiness of the New Covenant is never lost because it never gets dirty. Holiness in the New Covenant is simply undefilable. In the New Covenant, when the holy and unholy meet, the dirty get clean and the sick get healed, not the other way around.

The Jesus brand of holiness breaks all the rules. No longer is holiness defined by what you don’t do – instead, holiness is all about manifesting the love of God by loving others. Holiness is where the awareness of a loving God touches human need.

Every time Jesus broke the rules it was to show love to someone in need. Hungry disciples and hurting people trumped Sabbath restriction. The desire to restore someone to wholeness overrode the social taboos concerning sickness, disease or the proper interactions between a man and a woman. Love for sinners led Jesus into situations that pricked the religious sensitivities of those in power. In all of these situations, Jesus demonstrated that holiness doesn’t get dirty, doesn’t seperate us from those in need and doesn’t bow to social pressure.

Holiness is fun

At one point in time, Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard (Luke 7:34). Evidently, Jesus partied so much with the wrong crowd that he gained a reputation for corrupt character. Of course, Jesus was neither of those things (drunkeness is condemned all throughout Scripture), but it is interesting that he had gained that reputation in religious circles.

Imagine if you read in the paper that a pastor in your city routinely hung out with prostitutes and drug addicts and was also seen carrying a keg into a frat house known for its wild parties. What do you think the tone of that article would be? What do you think the response of the Christian community in that city would be? What would YOU personally think? Talk about scandal, right? Yet this is who Jesus was.

I think we have an outdated view of holiness in the America. We’ve held on to the Old Covenant style of holiness and failed to embrace the New. As Paul says, “Such things have an appearance of godliness, but deny its power.” Abstaining from certain things (like drinking alcohol) sure seems holy, but it really does nothing to change your interior life. Only a vibrant relationship with God can do that.

Holiness based on seperation from the world will never bring about the righteousness God desires because we are called to love the world. It is only by bringing the limitless resources of God’s affection into the depths of human need that we begin to see what holiness is all about. Holiness sets people free through love, kindness and compassion. Holiness eradicates sin through Spirit empowered self-sacrifice. Holiness touches the untouchable and breaks all the rules. Holiness elevates human need above religious observance.

Holiness is the polar opposite of Pharisee. Where Pharisees push away, Jesus embraces. Where Pharisees shun, Jesus loves. Where Pharisees are concerned about what God thinks about them, Jesus is concerned with what God thinks about others. Jesus lived with an intense awareness of God’s Presence and character. This allowed him to interact with others in a way that revealed God as Love, this is the essense of holiness. No matter how strict our outward observance, if we don’t represent God as Love then we have missed the boat.

Holiness is not conformity to the world

Some take the message of holiness, love and grace too far and advocate for outright immorality – such was the case with the Corinthians. They were so amazed at the message of grace and tolerance that they celebrated the fact that someone in their congregation was having sex with his father’s wife. They wrote to Paul thinking that he would be overjoyed with how loving, accepting, and tolerant they were. Here is Paul’s response:

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: a man is sleeping with his father’s wife! And you are proud? Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?

Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, that you may be a new unleavened batch — as you really are.”

1 Corinthians 5:1-2,6 emphasis mine

There is such a thing as sin and it can ruin your life and the lives of others if left unchecked. Holiness does not celebrate or condone sin in ourselves or others, but neither does it fear sin. Holiness enters into a dark situation and sheds light. Holiness tenderly touches disease and dysfunction in order to bring healing. In order to bring light, there must be darkness. In order to bring healing, there must be disease. It isn’t wrong to admit that.

Jesus never embraced the sinful lifestyles of the people he befriended, yet they never felt judged, condemned or looked down upon. In fact, it seems like they had so much respect for this miracle working Rabbi that they ended up changing their own behaviors as they followed him. Jesus didn’t condemn sinners, but he did encourage them to leave their livestyles of sin.

Our chief concern as Christians is to represent God well. In order to do that, we must know who He is! We must know his character, his likes and dislikes and what he says is or is not appropriate in the lives of people, ourselves included. Many of the things we think God is concerned about, he really isn’t. And other things we think are insignificant are actually huge issues in his sight. I can’t tell you what those things are in your life, but he can.

I believe holiness needs to be radically redefined in most people’s minds. Holiness is primarily about representing and manifesting the character of God. Holiness is fun, God conscious and enjoys meeting human need in extravagant displays of love. New Covenant holiness goes far beyond seperation and detachment from the world – it goes on to attachment with God for the sake of the world.

Thanks for reading friends.

“But I want you to know…”

Luke 5:17-26, the story of Jesus forgiving and healing a paralyzed man, is a really difficult story for me. Here is the story from the ESV:

17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.[d] 18 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. 20 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 25 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. 26 And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

When Jesus sees the paraplegic man dangling in front of him, the first thing he does is forgive him his sins. This troubles the religious leaders because it goes against God’s word – only God could forgive sins and that happened only after a specific sacrifice was offered. When Jesus speaks forgiveness he effectively asserts that he is greater than the Law, even greater than the Temple – he makes himself equal to God. Of course, to us as Christians, this makes total sense. But to the Jews of Jesus’s day it was blasphemy.

Jesus addresses the religious leaders and their unbelief and then offers the most troubling part of the passage, “‘I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” so he said to the man who was paralyzed, “rise up, pick up your mat and go home.'” Why do I find this troubling? Because Jesus never required people to believe in his ability to forgive sins on faith alone – he always offered them proof through signs, wonders and miracles. In this passage Jesus directly links his authority to forgive with his ability to heal.

My Struggle

This troubles me as a Christian, and especially as a pastor, because Jesus is my model for life and ministry. If Jesus didn’t require people to receive forgiveness of their sins by faith, then neither should I. But that is about the only thing I can ask people to do because I live a largely powerless life as a Christian. I can’t say to people with any confidence, “I want you to know that Jesus has the ability to forgive your sins, therefore, be healed! Know that what Jesus just did for your body he can do for your whole life – he is the only one who can make you right with God.” I WANT to say that, but I’m really afraid to. Putting someone’s faith and salvation on the line in that way terrifies me and seems amazingly irresponsible.

Yet Jesus did it. (John 10:37)

In John 14:11 Jesus appeals to the miracles he performed as proof of his unique relationship with God. He said that even if someone didn’t believe his words, they could at least look at his miracles to see proof of his claim to be God’s son, to be the perfect representation of the Father.  In John 15:24 Jesus acknowledges that the miracles he performed revealed the character of God (healer, redeemer, restorer) and says, “If I hadn’t done among them what no one else did, they wouldn’t be guilty of sin…” Jesus argues that it was his demonstration of the Gospel that brought condemnation and guilt on those who persisted in unbelief. Words are cheap, and it is hard to prove actual spiritual change has occured using them – so Jesus appealed to miracles as proof that what he had said actually happened. That floors me.

My Desire

I want to be able to proclaim and demonstrate the Good News of the Kingdom just like Jesus did. I want people to have absolute confidence in Jesus’s invisible work in their hearts/spirits because they have witnessed Jesus’s visible work in their body, soul or mind. If someone comes to salvation and faith in Jesus by words alone, then they have tremendous faith and will be greatly blessed (John 20:29), but if I can’t also demonstrate the Realities I speak of, then something is really, really wrong.

The burden of proof

How is anyone to trust in Jesus without proof? The claims of Christianity are off the charts. We believe that a man died on a cross 2,000 years ago, was raised from the dead and levitated into Heaven to sit on the Throne of an invisible, yet all-powerful God. We believe this man is still alive 2,000 years later and is some day soon going to descend out of Heaven to establish a literal Kingdom on the earth. We believe that this man’s sacrifice, death and resurrection secured for us eternal life and an extravagant inheritance if only we will submit ourselves to him and take up his life as our own. We believe that we will reign with him on the earth forever

Friends, believing in something that outlandish without proof takes great faith – and some people have it! But we shouldn’t be surprised if others (atheists) require some sort of proof from us. The burden of proof isn’t on them – it is on us who bear the name of Christ. I don’t look for proof of unicorns because I don’t believe they exist. If someone in my life insists that unicorns are real, they are going to have to show me some proof in real life – photoshopped images or stories of other people who have seen unicorns won’t cut it. Why should it be any different with atheists and God?

The burden of proof is only problematic if we don’t believe God will come through. Do we? Are we willing to take that risk? Reading through the book of Acts, it is striking how many times you will read “and the Lord confirmed his word through the signs that accompanied it.” How do we know it is his word if he isn’t confirming it?

I know I’m over-emphasizing miracles

I know I’m over-emphasizing miracles and I’m doing so for a reason. My intent is not to cast anyone into doubt or despair, but I do want to draw attention to a hole in our presentation of the Gospel. We are called to proclaim AND demonstrate the Gospel, just like Jesus did. Every time Jesus comissions his disciples/the Church it is for that purpose (Luke 9, Luke 11, Mark 16, Acts 2). We are in error if we know the word of God, but not his power (Matt. 22:29). 

My intent in this post is to share with you my journey in trying to live out the fullness of the Christian life and to convince you to join me in trying to do the same. I’ve tried to be transparent with my doubts and struggles, and I hope that hasn’t put you off. I am absolutely convinced that it was (and is) Jesus’s intention to pass on his miracle ministry to the Church so that we can do what he did – save sinners, represent the true nature of our Father and do what no one else can do so that those who persist in unbelief are rightfully condemned. 

Only in Jesus is there forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This is the most basic confession of the Christian faith. How people respond to that Truth will affect them for all of eternity, therefore, it is essential for us to present them with the most compelling presentation of the Gospel we can – clear arguments and a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.  I hope you will join me in trying to fill in this hole in our Gospel presentation because Jesus wants people to know that he has power and authority to forgive sins and change lives… and he wants to give  them that certainty by healing their bodies or the people they love.

Thanks for reading friends.

Kindness Leading to Repentance

Luke 5

I love the story in Luke 5 of Jesus, Peter and the miraculous catch of fish. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, please allow me to recap:

Jesus has become quite a popular teacher, so much so that crowds of people press around him, making it difficult for him to teach and for others to hear. One day, Jesus is walking by the lake and sees two fishing boats. He walks up to Simon Peter and asks him to row out a little from shore so that Jesus can teach the people without being crowded. Peter agrees, and after he is done teaching, Jesus says to Peter, “Row out a little further and put down your fishing net, you’re going to catch a great number of fish.” Now, Peter and his companions have been fishing all night and they were just cleaning up for the day when Jesus came up to them. A tired, cranky, mildly irritated Peter responds, “Look, your obviously not a fisherman. If you were, you’d know that the fish only come up to where we can catch them during the night. During the day they are too far down for our nets to reach. But I see that you are a teacher, a holy man, so because you say so, I will… again.” Sure enough, Peter catches enough fish that the net starts to break and the boat starts to sink. Peter’s response is absolutely priceless – “Get away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

Peter’s Response

Jesus doesn’t say anything about Peter’s character or behavior, Jesus doesn’t do anything but bless Peter with extravagent abundance. Jesus turned a fruitless evening into a bounteous affair. It is estimated that the number of fish they caught that day would have been the equivilent of two weeks worth of hard work. And here it is, almost jumping into their boat.

Peter could have expressed any number of emotions: elation, gratitude, joy. Instead, Peter is suddenly aware that he is in God’s crosshairs. He is moved to confess his sin, how he has fallen short.  God Almighty has turned his full attention onto Peter in order to bless him and he does so in the midst of Peter’s grumpiness. I think this is a timeless principle for evangelism and a beautiful representation of Father’s heart for his kids. 

God Delights in Showing Kindness and Compassion

Jesus chose to reveal to Peter our Father’s nature. He chose to show Peter how kind, gracious and good God was towards him. He chose to not call Peter out for his grumpiness and unbelief – instead, he chose to bless Peter in an extravagent and tangible way. And Peter, confronted with the goodness, kindness, and compassion of God, comes to a place of repentance. He realizes how far away he is from God and feels unworthy of this kind of Love. He understands that his life has not been lived in a way that honors God or responds to the Goodness he has been shown. Like Adam in the Garden, he wants to hide in guilt and shame from the Lover of his soul.

Kindness is part of who God is. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It is something that we as Christians should exhibit in growing measure as we go from glory to glory, being conformed and transformed into the character of Christ. Showing kindness to people, genuine and extravagent kindness, is a powerful way of re-presenting our Father to this orphaned planet. The kindness I’m speaking of goes far beyond generic good deeds – they are inspired acts of love. They are extravagent and they are specific. They might looks like roses or prophetic words. They might pop into your head or they might take awhile to plan. Whatever they are, intentional and extravagent acts of love carry with them the power of God to open up hearts to receive the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

I don’t want the kindness of God to be a secret we keep from the world. I want everyone, especially the people of my city, to understand that God is kind, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. I want them to know what is feels like to have God’s full attention fixed on them and to know that God isn’t angry with  them or disappointed in them. Instead, I want them to understand that He knows them AND loves them. I want them to know that they can’t escape from God’s goodness and mercy. I want them to be confronted with the outrageous extravagence of a God who loves them so much He was willing to die for them. That is the truth of who God is. It is Good News. They really should hear about it.

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.

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.