ReKnewing the Church 2 – Acts 1:12-26

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Called under God’s rule and reign to know we are all one in Christ Jesus

So there it was on the magazine rack:  a special edition of Newsweek magazine all about SPIRITUALITY.  I pick it up and it’s about all sorts of mystical eastern religions and new age teachings etc.:  experiences to participate in, books to read, spiritual teachers to follow.  The real zinger?  Not a single word about Christianity and our own very real and ancient spiritual traditions.  My point is that it wasn’t so much about what was written in the magazine as what wasn’t written in the magazine.  One of the things you begin to interpret life with greater maturity and experience is there’s usually a story within the story.  Case in point:  “Eastern mystical religions are spiritual”.  But the story within the story is that Christianity is not spiritual, it’s in a total different category of religion of ‘words and books’.  For some reason, Christianity is not known for our candles, prayers, spiritual readings (or incense or chanting) OR even most importantly, knowing the loving God who created the universe!

Again, if you’re interpreting life well, there’s usually a story within the story.  Which is exactly what’s going on with today’s passage from Acts 1:12-26.  On the surface it appears to simply be about prayer and the selection of a substitute to take Judas’ place.

However, the author of Luke, also has written a story within this story that was meant to grab the attention of the original ancient Middle Eastern readers.   Obviously in Acts 1, Luke was not writing a doctrinally prescriptive passage, “This is how it shall be, thus saith the Lord”.  Instead, Luke was writing a story within a story that was meant to be descriptive of Christianity in way that was totally different than the upside down world in which they were living.  As the original Middle Eastern inhabitants read Acts 1, the passage was written so they would slam on their reading brakes and exclaim, “What did I just read?  That’s impossible!  No way!

First in vs. 14, the men AND the women were together with a single focus on prayer. Additionally the phrase translated “and His brothers” really means Jesus’ brothers and sisters.  If you look at the notes in your ESV Bibles, you’ll also see the mixed company in vs. 15 when it was time to select a replacement for Judas – it was the men and the women together who were involved in the process, NOT just the men.

Maybe it seems like nothing to some since the 1970’s, but this narrative in Acts 1 depicts the fact that originally women were a vital, important part of the Church. They prayed together and were also part of the administration of the early Christian community in Jerusalem and all throughout the Empire.  It’s the story within the story here in Acts 1, part of the Reknewing of the Church, that women were no longer to be ignored or devalued or separated from the men or just supposed to take care of the children and be silent.  In Acts 1, women were depicted as involved and just as well-regarded as the men!

You see, Acts 1 ties back into OUR future because too many folks still think Biblical Christianity is anti-women.  Today, I want you see that’s so far from the Biblical record, that all women and men were/are valuable in the Kingdom of God.  Only later on was this distorted into a false loyalty for one’s own gender as a power move to keep some from being used by God in the later medieval ages forward.

Understand, at this point of Acts 1 in Judaism of the Second Temple Period, men and women typically did not pray together!  So for Jews of this period to read this description in Acts 1 just blew their minds.  The background in Judaism was “men who spend too much time talking with women, even one’s wife, neglects the study of Torah and will at last inherit Gehenna (Talmud Mish Aboth 1:5.)  And what’s the most famous example of gender separation at this time for the Jews?  The Second Temple of the NT era with its inner court for all the Jewish men to worship and pray…but the women were only allowed into the court of the women, separated by a wall from the men.  Just as the Gentile converts were only allowed so far into the temple, so were the women.  Even in the Jewish synagogues, women were separated from the men by a screen and allowed no part in the Sabbath service, except, at most, on one occasion yearly, to read one of the lessons.

Understanding then for a Jew of this time to read or listen to Acts 1 must have left them staggered that the women and men prayed together and ran the church together, because that’s just how you don’t do things!

The most dominant force of religion and state was the Roman Empire and they didn’t treat women any better.  Unfortunately, the overriding force in the Roman Empire was still that of the patriarch male.  As men ran the various institutions in the Empire it was because of social position, age or wealth not because of the appropriate qualities.  Life in the Roman Empire was divided in a way that God never intended life to be divided.  In documentaries, we hear about how the Romans lived in their colonial cities in their villas, with markets full of food, household slaves, private bathing facilities and physicians to care for them. YET it was the common folk who lived everyday lives cramped in small apartments without water or sanitary conditions; everything opposite of the wealthy.  Everyday folk were rarely clean, frequently ill and subject to all sorts of stress, disease, and violence.  It was a world of structured dominance, meaning that unlike the Titanic, women and children came last, not first.  In fact, women and children were equals.  Sadly, the average woman was defined by her position as either wife, mother, slave, or concubine.  First women served their fathers and then later their husbands.  Women barely had an elementary education and were married off by the ages of 12 to 14.  Men had all the power, even down to the point of enforcing abortions or deciding which of the newborn infants to keep (as most of the girls or the deformed were set aside for “disposal”).  Everything about being a woman was regulated and therefore they were barely treated as human.  Women weren’t even thought of as worthy to testify in a court or legal setting.

SO as any of the 1st century citizens of the Empire heard Acts 1, they immediately heard the story behind the story.  The 1st and 2nd century listeners immediately recognized the difference between the rest of the world and the Christians.  The Christians obviously valued women and treated them as equals in the Church.  The pagan women immediately wanted in on this in order to have a higher status in life, exactly as God intended.

The description in Acts 1 IS the way God the Creator meant for things to be like for all time!  Remember, who were the first witnesses and evangelists of the resurrection?  Women.  This is actually one of the reasons historians are so intrigued by the Gospels.  If women  weren’t meant to testify in court, why would the Gospel writers use them as the first witnesses of the resurrection….unless it really did happen that way!  No ancient writer would ever have fictionally used a woman in that role because their book would have been considered a sham instead of historical fact.  (What do you think story is behind the story?  In God’s realm, we believe and trust women’s words)

Luke continued this theme in Acts chapter 1.  The women weren’t kept separate at prayer time.  Everyone prayed together seeking God’s rule and reign and trying to figure out the coming promise of the Holy Spirit.  The women were involved just as equally in the selection of Matthias to replace Judas.  Both of these ideas went completely against the stream of ancient Roman and Palestinian culture.  (Again, what’s the story behind the story?  We need women to pray and seek God as our equal partners)

All throughout the rest of the narrative of Acts we see Luke highlighting the valued service and ministry of women.  It wasn’t flaunted, but women were simply involved in working for God’s Kingdom as He directed them and called them to live out their callings and ministries.  Need something to do this afternoon?  Go home and study Romans 16 and look at the women the Apostle Paul commended for their ministry in the church.  It wasn’t just nursery or Sunday School, it was very real service, up front in the church, right alongside the men.  Unfortunately, I can tell you from the very specifically controlling translation of the KJV forward, some of the Rom. 16 ministry words have not been translated as literally as possible.  Paul in 16:1 didn’t just call Phoebe “a servant of the church”, even the ESV in its textual notes from the Greek calls her a deaconess, a female deacon serving right there in the Church with the male deacons, no separation.  The same with verse 7 where Paul also has very good words for Junia as well.

The point is, Romans 16 also constitute a story within a story.  Paul doesn’t turn ch. 16 into a doctrinal statement on how to do church or how not to do church.  Instead, more carefully, St. Paul just lays out his belief, trust, and confidence in the ministry of women in a way that runs totally contrary to the way women were treated in Judaism or the Roman Empire.

Why?  Because all of these stories within the story are simply the way God intended things to be, going back to creation and the idea of it all in Galatians 3:28 –  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  Meaning we’re not all the same or have the same callings or capabilities in life.  But the story within the story of Scripture is that behind it all, we are ONE in Christ Jesus and the dividing walls that exist are created by humanity in hunger for power in our seeking to dominate one another.  And that’s not good news, that’s bad news!

App time – what does this mean for us today in our thinking and our working for God’s Kingdom?  Like I said already, we often have to interpret the story within the story.  And all of these texts refute the lousy treatment that women have received in culture or even in the name of God.  Acts was written by Luke for many reasons.  One of the reasons was to say, we don’t appreciate the way women are treated in our temple and synagogues AND we don’t appreciate the way women are treated in the perspective of the Roman Empire.

Instead, we believe all are welcome here, women and men; and all are welcome to serve as God has called them and as we see God’s calling in them.  This is not about opinions or idols of power but valuing ALL of God’s creation.  I love how in the book of Acts we see God reknewing His people and breaking down all humanly created or enhanced barriers.

 

ReKnewing the Church 1 – Acts 1:1-11

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We are here as the people of God in order to advance the Kingdom in the power of the Spirit

Ever seen Back to the Future?  People love that movie as Michael J Fox/Marty McFly seems like he’s stuck in the 1950’s until Doc Brown (Great Scott!) helps him get Back to the Future.  In fact, our New Testament book, the book of Acts is a great Back to the Future kind of book because we live in a culture and society very much like the early Christians encountered:  poly-religious with a definite lack of absolutes.  Their pre-Christian culture (antagonistic towards the advancement of the faith plus mired in the Roman Empire) was very much like our own post-modern, post-Christian culture (antagonistic towards the Christian faith and mired in a technological, ideological empire)

Acts helps us to “reknew” the church by looking back to able to look forward to our own times.

In fact, we can call any study of the past like this a Back to the Future kind of trip because as we go back in time for observation, we can see what it’s going to be like in the future (2017).  Therefore:  to get a better grasp on how to navigate a boat in the waters of our own culture, we ought to go back and look at the early Church’s notes on how they navigated the Roman Empire.  The parallels are really amazing!  Why?  Because if you put on cable and think it’s rough out there today, it was even rougher navigating the Empire when the early church was being constantly persecuted and oppressed.

One other interesting point for today is that Acts chapter 1 falls right in the same calendar framework as we do today.  Acts 1:1-11 took place in the 40 days following the Easter Resurrection leading up to what we call Ascension (one of the step-child church holidays).  So right away, what do we see?  Jesus invested those 40 days in explaining what the cross and resurrection were FOR (not just what we were saved from) – the advancing revolution of the Kingdom of God.  In  the beginning though, it seems like the disciples must have slept more than actually listening to Jesus!!!

Remember the story of Rip Van Winkle?  Good old Rip attempts to take a nap in the woods to escape life’s responsibilities, ends up napping for 20 years, and awakes to discover the world had changed.  Once the colonies supported King George III and now George Washington was president.  He slept and missed the revolution.  No matter what he tried, Rip couldn’t bring back the past, it was gone.

I wonder what that story says about the church in our own cultural situation today.

This is why Jesus was investing quite heavily in His followers, preparing them for a world that would receive the Christian message with great hostility.  He wanted the people of God to know why they existed:  to advance the Kingdom of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It was out of the Easter resurrection revolution that we can identify with and proclaim: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  (1 Peter 2:9-10, ESV)

Why do we read and study the book of Acts in 2017?  Because it’s meant to reknew the people of God (US) in crazy kooky times like ours.  Acts is meant to reknew us with God’s knowledge that even though culture is rapidly changing and moving from modernity into post-modernity, God is still in charge and our faith needs to be in Him, not in culture, society or political leaders and their temporary agendas.

We are called to be His possession,  In order to proclaim His excellencies, not ours, Because He called us out of the darkness into His marvellous light through the resurrection.

It’s all part of not just what we are saved FROM, but what we are saved FOR.  As Jesus instructed the disciples, His words secondarily apply to us as well:  CALLED to live under the rule and reign of God (the Kingdom of God) (vs. 3)  CALLED to live in the power of the Holy Spirit (vs. 8)  CALLED to serve humanity, to be God’s witnesses (vs. 8).

You see, if all you believe is Jesus died and rose again just so you can go to heaven, you’re missing out on God’s bigger picture of life.  God’s hand created you to be you and put you right we you are in life on purpose.  Everything you do in life matters and is vitally important in terms of God’s revolution.  Satan and his squad were broken in power and impeached through the work of the cross. Col. 2:15

We can sleep through what this means for God’s earth OR we can be woke and understand that All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.  (2 Cor. 5:18, ESV)

Over and over again in the book of Acts we’re going to see these same 3 principles

CALLED to live under the rule and reign of God (the Kingdom of God) (vs. 3)  At some point the disciples must have complained and said “Jesus can’t you talk about anything else?”  All you ever talk about it is the Kingdom of God!

But Jesus talked about the Kingdom 40 days non-stop.  Why?  Because the disciples needed a complete mind-flush that God’s revolution had started!  Geographically the disciples lived in Judea and Galilee, but culturally in govt./politics, the disciples lived under the Roman Empire.  Caesar was lord and meant to be worshipped!

Jesus was saying:  Hey guys, wake up! (#bewoke)  Meaning God’s Kingdom revolution was not physical or geographical nor political or morally philosophical.  Instead it was the rule and reign of God; that God’s reign was meant to permeate every aspect of their lives, not Caesar’s.   {The slogan was soon to come – Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not.}  Back to the Future:  Whose rule are you living under?

What are the idols in your life, claiming you as their citizen, expecting you to obey?

CALLED to live in the power of the Holy Spirit (vs. 8)  You might say that sounds like a pretty heavy task, choosing to live under the reign of God!  Good because you can’t do it on your own!  Instead, God means to live through you in the power of His Holy Spirit.  This is our second theme from Acts:  you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.

What took down the Roman Empire?  There’s all sorts of reasons:  unending wars, all sorts of vices, plagues, corruption, and a lack of government discipline.  But really it was a group of every day followers of Jesus, women and men of all backgrounds, professions and jobs and education levels, all filled and empowered with God’s Holy Spirit.  How?  Because God the Father had started a revolution by raising His Son from the dead and then filling each follower of Jesus with His own personal Holy Spirit just like the prophets promised IN ORDER that His Glory (and not Caesar’s!) would fill the earth!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Back to the Future:  Whose power or spirit is empowering you through life?  It might be Red Bull or coffee or greed or relationships; someone/thing is empowering you.

CALLED to serve humanity, to be God’s witnesses (vs. 8)  The third theme we’re going to see from the book of Acts is that as the early Christians lived under God’s rule in the enabling of His Holy Spirit, they served humanity.  Why?  Because God really loves this planet and its people!  We then in turn are called to be testimonies of God’s love and demonstrate His love to those who aren’t yet reconciled back with the God who loves them

God calls this Earth good.  God sent His Son to die for its people and make all things new. The awesome thing is, you don’t need to go overseas to be a servant, just live out LOVE and HOPE where ever you already live.  Historically, the Romans figured out you can’t fight LOVE!  I wish I could remember the source of this quote – one of the number one indicators of how you are living in God’s Kingdom is how much you love other people.  Respect.  Dignity.  Acceptance.  Treating them better than they treat you.  Alleviating the suffering.

Back to the Future:  Just who are you serving in this life?  Scripture – Blessed is the one who considers the poor, the weak, the helpless because that’s who we all are outside of God’s merciful love and grace!

Let me conclude with one of the craziest images ever recorded in the Scriptures – Jesus spends the 40 days discussing, reviewing and teaching again and again the resurrection and the Kingdom.  He promises the Spirit and ascends into sky.

And what do we see the disciples doing in response?  They just keep on standing there looking up into the sky after Jesus is long gone.  So much so that the Lord had to send 2 angels to sort of God-smack them back to reality….  You Galileans, why are you standing here staring up into the sky?  {Even after 40 days, they forgot God’s revolution had started!!}

One last Back to the Future:  Just how different are we?  YES, in the power of the Holy Spirit and not just your own self,  Are you looking up in the sky for Jesus or are you already working with Jesus all around you?  The early church learned to quit staring into the sky and to get busy serving God and people.  They didn’t complain about Roman persecution, they knew God was greater!

We need that kind of reknewal type knowledge as well:  to recognize culture has changed, but God has NOT.  And just as He advanced His Kingdom before in the power of the Spirit, He desires to do the same through all of us, the people of God.  Let’s stop staring at the sky and in the power of His Spirit make His world a better place.

A Sermon on Baptism: Romans 6:1-14

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Baptism reminds us who we belong to in order that we would not listen to the lies of the enemy.

We often forget that people of Bible or church history were not monuments of stone or marble  but were real people of flesh and blood, just like us.  Noah? – After the ark, goes out, gets drunk on wine (Gen. 9)  David? – Old/advanced in years, couldn’t get warm; put a beautiful young woman Abishag in bed with him, he didn’t put any moves on her, so they knew he was dying (1Kings 1)  Peter? – Turns from perfect recognition of identity of Jesus ever to being called “Satan” (Mt 16)  Martin Luther? – A life full of father issues/seeking approval of male role models/ a life full of anxiety and depression!  At the Diet of Worms, Luther was famous for his “Here I stand bound by Scripture” – but in reality full of anxiety, worry, had trouble defining what he believed.  Now I can’t tell you how Noah, David, and Peter recovered from their famous fumbles,  BUT I can tell you a bit about our friend Martin Luther.

After the Diet of Worms, Luther was hiding out in the Castle at Wartburg.   Isolated from Wittenberg University and was translating the NT from Greek into German.  Whatever you think of yourself or what you’re processing in your life, Luther was just like us.  Horrible time of doubt and discouragement; believed he was under demonic oppression.  It was a time where Luther was heard to be shouting back at the devil, “I am baptized!”  In other words, I am baptized, therefore I belong to Jesus and I am marked as belonging to Him.

Luther could have yelled a lot of things in his discouragement or at the demonic at work in him.  Swearing and cursing obscenities at the devil: he could have attempted a Linda Blair self-exorcism in own authority or Luther could have gone to nonbelieving psychoanalyst who told him his God-troubles all self-invented.

What was he doing in choosing to yell “I am baptized”?  Well, Luther was yelling at the devil (so to speak); Luther was yelling at HIMSELF,  Luther was reminding himself of his true identity because he didn’t yell it in the past tense,  “I was baptized” – Luther yelled it in the present tense, I AM baptized, it’s my true identity,  I belong to Jesus NOW; therefore I am not going to give into the other identity in my head!

Who’s your other secret/true identity?  Behind Clark Kent is Superman; behind Peter Parker is Spiderman; behind Bruce Wayne is Batman.  Who are you behind the glasses/disguise?  If we could hear your thoughts, what identity are you living and yelling at yourself?  Stupid?  Fatty?  Idiot?  Porn Addict?  Loser?  Lousy husband?  Worst wife ever?  Why not the ultimate truth of all (if applicable):  I AM BAPTIZED, I BELONG TO CHRIST!

Let’s back up to our preaching passage, Romans 6.  Romans 1-5 sets out the problem of the essence of idolatry; how God heals us of that bondage.  Romans 6 asks the questions, what do we do when sin or our ‘bad self’ etc. keeps hassling us?  So the questions rises up for the Roman believers, what is our self-worth or self-identity?

How do we understand who we really are in life when the past is shouting in our ears louder than present reality is whispering the truth of who we have become in Jesus?  Do we continue to be addicted to the false idols of life just so God can keep on forgiving us?  NO……  As Pastor Eugene Peterson translates the idea, if we’ve left the old nation where idolatry and sin still rules the country, why would you keep on going back there to live?……

Instead, our Christian identity, self-worth, Xian self-belief, self-image, the Xian script in our head, the voice in our brain or the Xian tape playing on a continuous loop in our head must be  the pre-baptized version of me, ‘my-name 1.0‘ is baptized/drowned into the death of Jesus; in order that the post-baptized version of me, ‘my-name 2.0′, can walk in the newness of life.

What does the “newness of life” mean in baptism?  It means that we now belong to Jesus instead of enslaved/in bondage to the idols of life.  This does not mean that the idolatry of sin is not going to continue to whisper in our ear in order to try to entice us to come back and live in the old country, because it does, 24 hrs / 7 days wk.  But because we belong to Christ in baptism, it means we pull out our identity card or driver’s license or passport and double check our address and say “Sorry, don’t live there anymore.”

I am baptized.                         I now live in Jesus.  In fact, my forwarding address is called “newness of life, take that”

As believers, as Christians, as followers of Jesus this HAS or MUST be our new way of thinking.  A great translation of Romans 6:11 is from the Voice –  So here is how to picture yourself now that you have been [baptized] into Jesus the Anointed: you are dead to sin’s power and influence, but you are alive to God’s rule

THEN why are so many in Western churches entrapped in anxiety, worry, and depression?  Trust me lots of very physical, bio-chemical important reasons, true true true  But also as so many believers are looking at the idols of life for their identity rather than Jesus.  As an example there is no such thing as perfect parent or perfect employee or perfect spouse or perfect anything.  Our identity must be I am baptized, I belong to Jesus, He is my self-worth and self-identity.  In fact, I have to STOP trying to be the perfect adult child or perfect anything.  (The was only 1 perfect person ever, so that job’s taken already.) (look for a different job)

What’s Luther’s take on all of this?  Small Catechism – “Baptism grants the forgiveness of sins; the redemption from death and the Satan; and eternal salvation to all who believe it”  For this paradigm of life to work, therefore you must have faith and believe Jesus is on your side.  You have to believe it, no one can believe it for you, nor is HE a mindless barcode on your neck.  (just like wearing a cross necklace will drive off vampires or turn you into a little Jesus robot).

Every day, we need to wake up and remind ourselves, I belong to Jesus, I am baptized.  Baptism is not a religious magic trick.  It’s not a Willy Wonka Golden Ticket.  Rather as you mature, there has to be an acceptance or a confirming of what Jesus did in you at baptism  and a trust in His life narrative rather than the lies of landlords in your old country.

Paul also uses the verbs in this sense from Romans 6:12 –  Don’t invite that insufferable tyrant of sin back into your mortal body so you won’t become obedient to its destructive desires.  What is Paul saying?  Why does it sound so familiar?  I am baptized!  We need to pay more attention to who we are NOW as baptized and trust that reasoning and live it out BY FAITH, rather than inviting lies to live in our head defining who we really aren’t.

In response to the evils in life around me and in my neighborhood, I can believe all day long I am Bruce Wayne and Batman is hiding in me, but that’s not reality.  It’s an escapist lie.  I can practice a golf swing all week long and believe I’m Rickie Fowler/Sergio Garcia, but out on the golf course, I’m still stinky old me, that’s not reality.  It’s an escapist lie.  I can tell myself all day long I’m a citizen of Canada, but unless I emigrate there and process through becoming an official Canadian citizen, I’m still an American, eh?  Escapist lie.+++++++

I can listen to the stories of the past, voices of parents/teachers/bullies/coaches/bad preachers and keep on living in the Matrix super-computer encoded dream world as an escapist lie

OR

I can and must consider the old me has died and was buried in the waters of baptism in accordance with the Scriptures, then Jesus raised me up to be alive to God in the Messiah Jesus in order to live in His newness of life in me.

A Sermon from the Second Sunday of Easter: John 20:19-31

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As the Father has sent the Son so He sends us to be commercials for His reconciling love

Whether it’s been on the job or at home, I’m sure we’ve all encountered the same scenario – (either as a parent, a manager of employees; family members or an employee in general):  You explain the situation/expectations again and again, this is what needs to be happen. (Yard work, products manufactured, contracts signed, clients contacted, dishwasher loaded)  You explain you need to step away but will return momentarily and will check on things.  However, when you return, not much has been accomplished, but lots of excuses are ready!

For example, I can remember being 18 years old and being asked to take care of a yard while a family was away for a few weeks.  No biggie except that it rained off and on during that time and so every time I thought about mowing I decided the grass was ‘too wet’….until the home owner returned and found me furiously mowing his lawn and not caring too much for my excuses!

All of this leads into John 20 and the Easter resurrection concepts we talked about last week.  Everything about Good Friday and Easter Sunday is more about what we’re saved FOR rather than simply what we’re saved FROM.  In other words, Jesus didn’t just die/rise again to save us FROM sin death and hell (though true).  He died/rose again to rescue us and bring us back to the Father to live under the Lord’s rule and reign and to participate in making this world a better place.  In a way, it was step 1 of turning the entire earth back into a Garden of Eden.

Last week we used the phrase God has rescued us to be ‘commercials for Jesus’, as living examples of how God is in the business of healing lives and making all things new!

Do you remember the overall narrative of the Scriptures by which God is making all things new?  God created this world, calls it good and is madly in love with it, every part, every molecule.  Sin entered the world and it descended into brokenness and the worship of false gods.  But God promised to bless the entire world, beginning with Abraham’s descendants.  Which resulted in Israel and the promise of King David’s descendants serving forever.  Which brings us to Jesus as the Son of David, God’s Messiah King, being raised from the dead!

That’s why it makes little sense that as Jesus stepped away from the office to attend to some other huge task (wonder what that was?!?) – only to find the staff hunkered down drinking Kosher Coffee instead of out attending to the family business!  They should have KNOWN that God had a plan and had already been working that plan since creation of the universe!

IT’S EASY TO SEE THEIR REASONING WHY THEY LOCKED THEMSELVES INSIDE THEIR APT  (obviously they were simply inside their apt, all hunkered down binging on House of Cards or whatever their favorite Netflix show was, it was all totally innocent) – nope!!

1st, they were hiding for fear of the Jews – vs. 19.
In other words, “If this is what they did to Jesus, man, what are they going to do with us?”  The major reason for Jesus’ execution as coordinated with the Romans was blasphemy and heresy.  The disciples thought about they could easily be brought up on the same charges for having been with Jesus and probably influenced by Him and having drank His Kool-Aid.

The disciples were afraid because some of the Jewish religious leaders at this time were extremely zealous in the way the leaders were protecting the one true faith.  Just fast-forward a bit and maybe you’ve heard of Saul arresting and persecuting the earliest of Christians by having them committed to prison.  That’s the kind of treatment the disciples expected.

2nd, some of them were in hiding because they had their doubts re:  the risen Lord – vs. 24-25.  You think we have issues with ‘fake news’ now?  Fake news and planted stories have always been around.  Thomas heard the stories about the resurrected, risen Jesus and look at what he said, “I will never believe”.   It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in A resurrection.  Jesus might be raised at the end of time/resurrection day, but it certainly not now!

So rather than the disciples going out and about confidently living as commercials for the risen Lord, they were in hiding.  The disciples were behind locked doors afraid; some were doubting.  Either way they weren’t out and about confidently letting their little lights shine!

The disciples had forgotten God’s over-arching narrative that what happened to Jesus as Messiah was already part of God’s plan.  Nothing had taken the Lord by surprise, at the least the crucifixion of Jesus!  Rather He was taking the world by surprise Himself, raising Jesus from the dead and freeing the world from its broken system of bondage to idolatry.

GOD HAS NOT CREATED US TO SURVIVE IN HIDING, BUT TO THRIVE OUT IN THE SONSHINE!!  Notice that when Jesus showed up, He countered all of their reasons for not working the Father’s long-term plan that the Father had written from all of history.

1st, Jesus offered them peace.  Jesus’ point was to counter their fears and doubts and to encourage them to be out and about in society living as His commercials rather than cowering in hiding.  Only the peace that truly emanates from Jesus could motivate any of us to truly be His agents in a world desperately needing rescuing!  Biblically it was meant as a calming reminder the Lord is in complete control.

Jesus had already offered this peace once before to the disciples (John 14:27)  My peace is the legacy I leave to you. I don’t give gifts like those of this world. Do not let your heart be troubled or fearful.

2nd, Jesus sent them as He had already been sent:  to serve as evidence of the goodness of GodI love this little plan in John 20:21, because it’s the kind of simple plan we can all handle:  In the same way the Father sent Me, I am now sending you.

First, Jesus is sending them – like in the sense of “You people aren’t doing me any good sitting around here in an apt just surviving.  I need you to be out there; thriving; living for Me!”  And that applies to us, doesn’t it?  Active discipleship isn’t meant to be lived in a pew/seat.

To actively live out your faith in love means living your life at home, on the job, in the community.  Just as even God can’t steer a parked car, real Christian faith happens out there in society.  Out there is where real life happens and resurrection principles are applied!  To be a disciple is to apply mercy and grace to relationships not reading books about it all!

How about if I tried to play golf just by looking at and admiring this little golf ball all day?  But that’s not how one plays golf, is it?  You have to actually tee the ball, drive it down the fairway, take an iron and smack it up on or by the green.  You have to take a wedge and chip it up on the green and then finally putt the ball into the cup.  If all the ball does is hide in a pocket in my golf bag, it’s not really out there doing what it was created for.  It’s not really playing the game.

The Real Beauty of the Moment Is………….  All that I’m doing in playing that golf ball is ‘sending’ the ball to do just what it was created for.  That’s all that’s being required of it.I’m not asking a golf ball to be a soccer ball or rugby ball or a baseball or a hockey puck even.  I’m not asking it to move to a totally different stadium or field of play or arena.All that I’m asking of that golf ball is that it be a ‘commercial’ for me – I belong to Tim and that I’m playing that ball and using it in my round of golf that day, so no one better try to claim it for their round of golf instead.

I’m praying you can see the applications and correlations to our own day.  So Jesus comes back to us after His resurrection and where is He going to find us?

Living our basic lives as He created us to be – commercials for His goodness and mercy?  Would He find us living out His love, acceptance and forgiveness towards all?  Or would He find us sitting in our churches, in our pews, hiding from the ways of His Kingdom?  Would He find us sitting on our hands or using them to serve others, faith active in love?

You see folks, the Christian faith isn’t just about YOU believing in Jesus,  it’s also about JESUS believing in you to be the person He’s created you to be.  The person He’s created you to be in your home, neighborhood, on the job, at school, wherever your life takes you.  He just wants you to be YOU – that’s your vocation in life, Spirit-empowered.

The disciples weren’t doing much good for the Kingdom hiding in their apartments.  Nor can golf balls do much good hiding in the golf bag.  And we as disciples can’t do much good hiding in our churches in our fears and doubts either.  Therefore we need to be living like He’s risen in the power of His enablement and sharing that Good News of love and healing with a world that desperately needs it.  As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you.  AMEN.

 

 

An Easter Sermon for 2017

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Acts 10:34-43/Col. 3:1-4/Mt. 28:1-10The resurrection is for more than believing, the resurrection is for doing

There’s a lot of self-imposed pressure when one preaches the resurrection on Easter!  In a sense, I feel like I have to deliver the most perfectly crafted defense of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, so that when all of you leave, you’re shaking your head in amazement, believing in the historical, physical resurrection like never before.

I’ve been putting all of the emphasis on this ‘believing’ – which is Scriptural and proper – Romans 10:9 – So if you believe deep in your heart that God raised Jesus from the pit of death and if you voice your allegiance by confessing the truth that “Jesus is Lord,” then you will be saved!  (from the translation, the Voice)  There is a strong Scriptural emphasis on the point of believing in the resurrection of Christ!

Yet, what I’ve discovered over the years is that most folks who come into church Easter Sunday morning (and allegedly re-affirm their belief in the validity of the resurrection) leave following service no different than when they came in.  In case no one ever told you, your belief in the resurrection is meant to change how you behave.  When we’re not changed deep in our hearts and therefore in how we think and act in our lives, our belief in the resurrection is more of a denial than a life changing affirming belief!

We know what we’re saved FROM, but most likely we don’t know what we saved FOR.  And what’s the difference between FROM and FOR?  One little letter, “M” – meaning, we need to “get the M outta here” and start believing in what the resurrection is FOR and not just what it’s FROM and keep on living like the resurrection never even happened; hiding in our basement with Netflix and macaroni and cheese; crying about the condition of the world!

Easter Resurrection Sunday is meant to be a game changer.   Easter Sunday is not a get dressed up in your Easter church clothes and just go on home to your stuffed hams, beers, or your Welch’s sparkling grape juice!

Easter Sunday is meant to rock your world and wake you up to the fact God IS and has an amazing plan for this planet Earth and is calling all of us to participate in His plan with Him.

THE RESURRECTION EFFECT  As some of you may or may not know, my wife is the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of our family.  She’s the go-to person in our house.  Every year, right after Memorial Day she packs up and leaves me for a week and heads out to Chicago for the annual convention of ASCO, the American Society of Clinical Oncology.  It’s also the time of year where the United States stock market gets hit by the ASCO effect, because at the convention ASCO announces all the latest cancer research and what new cancer drugs work and therefore will make money for the pharmaceuticals and investors, so everyone runs right out and invests and the stock market goes crazy!  Google it, it’s called the ASCO effect on the market, no joke.

God has His own ASCO effect, it’s called the Resurrection Effect.  Just like some stocks see 200% growth after the ASCO convention , the Kingdom is supposed to see a spike in activity and interest and movement and hustle because of the realization Jesus has been raised from the dead and God’s world will never be the same.

Did you know the Jews of the Older Testament believed in the resurrection from the dead?  The Jews were expecting everyone to be raised at the end of time:  some to God and some to fire.  But no one expected Jesus to be raised from the dead in the middle of history NOW.   It changed the world.  (Listen to the Apostle Paul’s own words in Romans 1)   All of this good news is about His Son: who was (from a human perspective) born of David’s royal line and ultimately designated to be the true Son of God with power upon His resurrection from the dead by the Spirit of holiness. I am speaking of Jesus, the Anointed One, our Lord. (the Voice).  Back then, the Jews were like – Wha?!?  Jesus was raised NOW?!?  He MUST be the Son of God!!!

Which is why Acts 10 in the lessons said, God raised Him up and now we tell the Story.  Or Col. 3, if we believe in the raising of Christ, set your mind (values and behavior) on where He is and behave like Jesus was really raised from the dead in order to impact and change your life.

The resurrection was meant more for than a belief or a creed or a confession or Bible study.  The resurrection was meant as proof God IS and is in CONTROL and the resurrection is meant to have an impact on how we live and therefore impact all of the world around us!  After the ASCO convention, folks nudge each other, “So what did you do with the news?  How much money did you make on the new Rx drug stock?”  After Resurrection Sunday we ought to be asking “So what did you do with the news?  How have you helped to change the world around you?”

THE RESURRECTION PLAN  Again, Easter Sunday is meant to rock your world and wake you up to the fact God IS and has an amazing plan for this planet Earth and is calling all of us to participate in His plan with Him, nudge nudge, wink wink, so no more!

God’s plan to get for all of us is to get focused on what Jesus was raised FOR as found in the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth – 5:14-15:  For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised. (the Voice)

One thing all of us have in common this morning is that there’s at least one controlling force in our lives – for some it’s money or sex or power (or me being done with the sermon).  It’s true for all of us.  But Paul is saying our love for Jesus ought to really be controlling us like a Holy Ghost automatic pilot of sorts that we would not live for ourselves but for Jesus instead.  For a good chunk of life, most folks think money, sex, or power are the greatest things going!  But sooner or later they just aren’t as fulfilling as they initially appeared to be.  Apparently on the “60 Minutes” news program, Tom Brady admitted even after winning the Super Bowls, the wins left him just as empty as everything else – so what’s next?!?!

What’s next for all of us is living in the realm of God’s love and treating everyone with respect, dignity and honor, because love for Jesus ought to be daily rebuilding our lives into the best possible commercials for Jesus that He can ever make us be:  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  (2 Cor. 5:18-20).  (the Voice)

Why am I here?  What’s my purpose for living?  What’s the meaning of my life?  One, to keep on living just where I am in life {husband and father, friend and neighbor, etc.}  But two, wherever God puts me in life to also be a resurrection ambassador/commercial that God in the death and resurrection of Jesus has recaptured the world back to Himself:  So be reconciled to God people, cause God loves you!  You see, this is MORE than what we are saved FROM, this is what we are saved FOR!  The question is, what are you doing about what God saved you FOR?  Everything you do in life ought to be the best possible you, because YOU are called to be a commercial for God’s love to the rest of the world!

If you’re here this morning to celebrate the fact Jesus has been raised from the dead, everything about your life ought to be different since you learned about His resurrection.

The way you treat your families, relatives, and friends.  The way you act at the store.  The way you behave when you drive.  The way you act at the doctor’s office.  The way you act at the recycling centers.  The way you act at school and university.  The way you act at work.  The way you act when you’re eating a meal at a restaurant or simply having a cup of coffee or tea.  The way you act at the post office.  The way you act when getting a haircut or getting your hair done.  The way you act at weddings, parties, celebrations, and galas.  The way you act at the bank.  The way you act at concerts.  The way you act at the swimming pool, on the river or at a golf course!

WHY?  Not because God’s looking to ruin your day and putting a bunch of rules in front of you!!!  But because God is calling you to live in the way of LOVE as a commercial of Him reconciling the world back to Himself in His death and resurrection.

Please hear me.  You want to demonstrate your belief in the resurrection?  Don’t amaze them with historical facts, truths, and details all about how Jesus MUST have been raised from the dead.  Woo them by the way you live with God’s love.

A Good Friday Sermon

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Good Friday 2017

John 18 – 19:  Good Friday reminds us what we are saved from

“Why does the cross matter?”  Culturally, the cross is everywhere – not just at church, but it’s on our rock and rap stars; tattooed on our athletes; and our global celebrities wear it as a fashion accessory.

In that sense, the cross is hidden in plain sight because while the cross may seem to exist everywhere, they fail to realize what the cross really means.  Think of the outrage if an NBA player was tattooed with an electric chair.  Think of the outrage if a rap star was wearing a hangman’s noose around their neck.  Or if a Kardashian had a golden lethal injection syringes as earrings.

The cross was never meant to be “cool” and turned into an image of beauty.  Instead the cross was meant to remind Christians of how Jesus took our place in one of the most brutal, sadistic, horrific forms of execution ever.  The cross was so disgusting the ‘proper’ people rarely talked about it as a form of punishment, preferring a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach that somehow pretended this Roman form of execution did not even exist.

When we perceive Jesus on the cross it IS meant for us to do a double-take that the innocent took the place of the guilty, that we should be up there on the cross, not Him.

The cross is meant to shock, disturb, and disgust us.  The cross on Good Friday is meant to thoroughly intrude into our sensibilities and awaken us to the realm of all that God went through for us, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Part of the reasoning is that we live in an age of convenience and consumerism.  Therefore most of society simply can’t be bothered with what the cross was really all about and would rather ignore its existence and how Jesus spoke of the cross in His Kingdom mindset.

“Lay down my life and pick up the cross and follow Jesus into death?  Doesn’t Jesus know I have places to be and people to see and things to do?”

This is why most of society would rather treat the cross as an insignificant piece of jewelry than admit why the cross really existed:  a tool of God to save us FROM ourselves.

A TOOL OF GOD TO SAVE US FROM

Please bear with me as I share 3 basic images that cross saves us FROM in this life.  Let me share another Good Friday type passage with you from Romans 3 (vs. 21-26):  But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  (English Standard Version)

In this passage, we have three terms used by Paul describing the work of Jesus on the cross that Jesus saves us “FROM” – as in Jesus saved us from what could have happened to us in:

  1. The slave market – redemption – vs. 24
  2. The law court – justification – vs. 24
  3. The temples – propitiation – vs. 25

On the cross Jesus worked all three of these equally.  While one of these means might be our personal favorite, all three synthesize together describing the saving work of Jesus. All three stand against the consumerism and easy convenience of our age.

Jesus redeemed us – vs. 24  In other words, as born dead in our sin, we were also metaphorically born enslaved to that sin.  We might say we didn’t choose that bondage to sin and it’s not fair, but it’s much the same as a newborn baby addicted to the same drugs as its birth-mother.  The baby never chose that life!

By the work of the cross, Jesus redeemed us or purchased us from the powers of sin, death, and Satan’s kingdom.  There are many things at work here but Jesus in a metaphoric sense went to the slave market as we were being auctioned off to the highest idolatrous, demonic bidder and bought and redeemed us for Himself.

Jesus justified us – vs. 24  Another act of the cross is similar to standing next to Jesus as our defense attorney in God’s court.  The charges?  A life time of idolatrous sin of worshiping false idols and serving them instead of the Lord our God.  We hear the charges read against us and realize we totally deserve the death sentence the Judge reads out against us:  cursed to be hung upon a tree until dead.

Through His work on the cross however, Jesus reminds the Judge He took our place (sin) and in exchange gives us His perfect righteousness as one who never broke the Torah of God.  In the courts, the Judge declares us worthy of death, but Jesus as our defender declares us to be ‘just and righteous’ as if we never broke code at all.

Jesus was sacrificed for us (“propitiated”) – vs. 25   The other Biblical imagery prevalent in this Romans passage and readily understood in the lives of the ancients was the realm of sacrifice.  In other words, that the gods must be appeased or pleased.  Something or someone needed to be sacrificed on the temple altar.  Admittedly, it’s not imagery that we use much in our postmodern world.  However just because we think we understand the universe and the cosmos, does not mean we actually do.  God does exist and He must be satisfied and His honor must be set right.  Therefore, God does ask in the sense of who will satisfy His honor.

Enter Jesus’ work on the cross, that He was put forth by God Himself.  In other words in Jesus’ work on the cross, in all of this broken mess, God realized He was the only One who could ever step forward and be the perfect propitiating sacrifice.  And so “God” put Jesus “forward” as the One who would be sacrificed for us on that cross because we were never perfect enough to satisfy God’s honor and wrath.

Now you tell me, when the hip-hoppers and rock stars and the celebrities without talent and skill are flaunting their crosses, are they thinking of any of these things that Jesus saved us from?  But the fact Biblically remains, Jesus suffered one of the most tortuous deaths ever in order to save us from these three factors.  So when you ponder and wonder why does the cross matter, think on these things.

Think on the slave market, the law court, and the temples.  Think about how Jesus stepped in and took control of your future when you could not control it for yourself and were doomed to an eternity of punishment.

And the next time you’re hanging that cross over your big screen TV or on your rearview mirror or buying a 24karat gold cross encrusted with diamonds – don’t do so flippantly or easily, but recognize what Jesus really did upon that ‘form of execution’ to make it more than a symbol of empty worth.  Amen.

The Pressure of Blogging

To some, blogging may not seem that big of a deal.  In reality, it IS a big deal because there’s a huge amount of pressure that goes with making one’s writings public.

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to a lecture by New Testament professor John MG Barclay.  In his introduction he talked about the pressure of being a grad student in today’s world.  Compared to previous years, there’s so much perceived intense pressure to do everything and to do it well.  Meaning when you blog, you put yourself out there and everyone can read what you’ve written.  But it’s not just in a theological journal, it’s on the internet – it’s EVERYWHERE!!!  Some readers may feel nourished by what you’ve written, but others may way want to dissect and diagram the entire piece.  That’s pressure.

Because of the need to make it eternally perfect, it makes one hesitate before hitting the ‘publish’ button.  “Do I really want to put this out there?  Is it good enough?

My hope and prayer with The Emmaus Diner is to blast beyond that self-imposed pressure in order that this blog may be used to serve you, the reader, whoever and where ever you are.  There are many options for personal and spiritual growth in this world and it’s my prayer that The Emmaus Diner will be used by God to transform your life.  Just like on the actual road to Emmaus, I pray Jesus will use this blog to open up the Scriptures to all of us (Luke 24:32).