The Ultimate Christmas Story

Revelation 22.1-17

In Genesis 1 & 2, we’re told that God created a perfect world, where heaven and earth were one, a good world where there was no sin and no death. No crime. No hatred or animosity. No need for escape. It was paradise. Sounds a lot like what we just read. But that good world was fractured when we chose to rebel against our Creator, heaven and earth were divided, and now sin and death are a part of our experience on this planet. And if that were the end of the story, it would be a sad tale indeed. Not a movie we would want to see. A sad and hopeless tale full of despair. Maybe that’s where some of you are today. You look around and see a broken world and wonder, “What’s the point?” You are desperately looking for meaning, something that gives purpose to life. You totally get the fractured world part, but the notion of paradise seems like a fairy tale. Surely there’s something more.

There is. You see, even in the midst of our rebellion, God provided hope. A Promise. One day He would send a Hero to heal the fracture caused by our rebellion and to rescue us from sin and death…and not only us, but all of creation. And as history unfolded, God’s people clung to that promise as prophesies of the coming Hero created a fuller, richer picture of who He would be and what He would do. A King, a Priest, the Suffering Servant, a Sacrificial Lamb, the Conqueror of death and the Son of Man.

The good news is: the Hero has come. First Advent. Jesus came as a seemingly helpless Baby in a manager, as Andi read for us in Luke 2. The angels alert us that this is no ordinary Baby, but is in fact, the Hero we’ve been waiting for…the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus, God’s Son. He is the One destined to bring peace on earth…peace with God and men. And not only peace, but also joy and love. He is the One in whom we hope.

However since His First Advent, life on planet earth has continued seemingly uninterrupted, sin and death are still a part of our experience…yet something incredibly significant has changed. The reconciliation of heaven and earth has begun…by believing the truth of God’s Word, we can have true hope, peace, joy and love despite the chaos we live in.

Now flash forward to the end of the Story here in Revelation 22. John opens with this beautiful scene…imagery that reminds of the garden in Genesis 1 & 2. A crystal clear river flowing with living water. The tree of life. The removal of the curse. God’s presence. Seeing Him face to face (Matthew 5; Numbers 6). Realizing the purpose for which God created us…to rule and to reign with Him forever. It’s a picture of paradise, a return to Eden. Perfect peace. Unimaginable joy. Basking in the radiance of God’s love. The consummation of our hope. The end is like the beginning, only better. Our return to the garden is not by going back, but going forward. So paradise lost in Genesis 3 is regained here in Revelation 22.

The imagery of a throne reminds us who is in charge…who has the right to rule. The battle for planet earth will be won…the head of the serpent who deceived the hearts of men will be decisively crushed. The throne of God and the Lamb is a picture of the kingdom of God realized on planet earth…(Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven). Heaven and earth become one again, they are reconciled, the spiritual and physical reunited. Satan & His effects, nowhere to be found. And did you hear what John said? There will be no need for a light of any kind…God is the light and in Him there is no darkness at all. His perfect reign over a restored creation. It really is an incredible picture. God’s purpose for His creation being fulfilled.

After giving us a vision of this return to paradise, John warns us…only those prepared will enter. The time is short and only those who take seriously the return of Jesus, His Second Advent will be prepared. How? By believing that Jesus is the promised Hero who in His first Advent came and lived a perfect life…,and out of His great love for us, He died a bloody, horrible death…the death we deserved, but was raised again to life the third day, conquering both sin and death so that we could have life… eternal life forever, eternal life that begins the moment you trust Him, a life lived on this earth not for selfish gain, but for His purposes. A life lived out of love for your Savior and those He created. That’s the gospel. And when you believe that, death no longer brings fear, but hope…hope that we will see Jesus, our Hero face to face, that we will be united with Him in paradise.

Don’t give up, don’t give in, Jesus wins Jesus’ triumphant return is once again good news of great joy for the clean-robed ones, the ones who have trusted in Him; they will eat from the tree of life…and reign forever with Jesus.

But for those who have not trusted in Jesus it is a warning, paradise will be closed. Come to the waters. Jesus is…the Morning Star who signals the end of darkness and the coming of eternal Light, the Alpha and the Omega, the Hero of our story…only those who have washed their robes may enter the eternal city, only those who have trusted in Jesus. Through John’s vision God says to us “come”. Let the one who is thirsty come. Let the one who wishes take God’s life giving water without cost. Come. If you haven’t trusted in Jesus, I hope you will reconsider. His invitation is simple and straightforward…Come to the waters. By believing that Jesus did come as the promised Hero, in His first Advent to offer Himself as the Lamb, the perfect sacrifice for our sin,,our rebellion against our Creator God, and by believing that He is coming again as the Conquering King to rule and to reign, you can receive the greatest gift of all…eternal life. Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. All wrapped into one. In the present, the ability to view the circumstances of your life from a different perspective, from an eternal one, as opportunities to love others and bring glory to Him. In the future, paradise forever with Creator God.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on our Genesis series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on twitter: @ccclancaster

In the Beginning…

Central Christian Church

Genesis 1.1 – 2.3

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by the disparity between what the world says about the origins of life and what God says, and the implications for the question of purpose. Whether it’s the Egyptians view of a battle between the gods, or the atheistic evolutionary view that we are a cosmic accident…the result of time and chance, the resulting impact on the way we view ourselves, each other and planet earth is the same…negligible, forgettable, expendable.

I shared a tweet this past week, “Genesis presents a better, higher view of the world we live in…a world that reflects the creative genius of its benevolent Creator.” Several years ago, there was a movie that came out called “Contact”. Jodie Foster is the main character. As a little girl, looking through her first telescope, she was blown away by the enormity of the universe…

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Unbelievable Joy

Advent 2013…Joy: Isaiah 35.1-10

As I reflected this passage, I was struck by this overwhelming picture of great joy that Isaiah paints for us. It’s a joy that in many ways is incomprehensible where all of creation can’t help but shout over the salvation that the LORD brings. Nothing on earth can compare…sporting event, concert, celebration of any kind…all pale in comparison.

I shared a tweet this past week, “The pursuit of happiness is a far cry from the everlasting joy of the kingdom…only the latter truly satisfies the longing of our souls.” As the guys and I talked about the sermon, the question was asked, “What’s the difference between happiness and joy?” Great question. Happiness has a lot to do with circumstances. It tends to be more momentary, more fleeting. It’s rooted in the physical. That’s why the pursuit of happiness is a vain pursuit…it never lasts and is always fleeting. It tends to focus on self…building my own earthly kingdom.

But joy, the joy that Isaiah talks about, true kingdom-joy, like kingdom-peace, goes down to the soul. It is lasting and mostly independent, but not totally separate from current circumstances. Positive circumstances may cause you to reflect on that joy (return of exiles to Zion, believer being baptized, unbeliever finally trusting in Christ), but the presence of that joy can be felt and experienced even in the midst of suffering (very negative circumstance).

Where does that joy come from? What causes creation to rejoice with joyful shouting? The movement from death to life. What causes those returning to Zion on the Highway of Holiness, the redeemed and ransomed, to rejoice with everlasting joy? Again, the movement from death to life.

And I think the experience of our joy is tied to our experience of the kingdom. The Israelites in Isaiah’s prophecy rejoice greatly because they have come from death to life, from captivity to freedom, from darkness and despair to hope and light. Our experience of joy is tied to the degree to which we see the gospel as good news. When we think less of our sin, grace really isn’t that big a deal, but when we see the enormity of our transgression against God, then grace is an occasion of great joy, joy that allows us to rejoice in suffering, that gives us that deep settledness that all is well with my soul. It’s the joy of Jesus…a joy that is independent of circumstance.

This story challenges us to pursue true joy…the joy of the kingdom, the joy that comes from knowing that we have been rescued by the King. And as we learn to recognize more and more fully God’s saving grace and the reality of His kingdom, then we experience more and more fully joy even in the midst of the trials, pain and suffering of this life.

My prayer for us this week is that we might more fully realize Unbelievable Joy because of our Unbelievable Savior.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear an mp3 of this sermon, visit us at: http://www.centralchristian.org. You can also follow us on twitter: @mattdumas1969.

Unbelievable Peace

Advent 2013…Peace: Isaiah 40.1-11

As I reflected on this passage, the season of peace is one of the most stressful times of the year for most of us. Gifts to be bought, family to entertain, parties to be attended, too much food to be eaten, painful memories to be relived… we, like the exiled Jews, feel beat down, abused, worn out. We proclaim a peace that we desperately long to experience for ourselves.

I shared a tweet this past week, “The peace the world offers is a peace of avoidance, a peace of denial, a temporary, fragile peace…don’t you long for something more?” It reminds me of what Hezekiah said when Isaiah revealed that the Babylonians would come and ransack Jerusalem… “The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good.” For he a thought, “For there will be peace and truth in my days.”

The peace of Hezekiah is too often the only peace we know…fleeting, empty, selfish. We get so distracted by trying to maintain our own peace now.  If I can make it through the holidays, If I can make it to payday, I can retire when…, if I can get my kids through college,  if I can keep my spouse happy.  A peace like Hezekiah’s – “at least I’ll know peace”. The only problem is, maintaining peace is hard work.  If you find yourself always trying to keep the peace, know that you don’t have it.

But the peace that the coming Davidic King would bring is as everlasting/eternal as the word of the LORD, never fading, never failing. Isaiah paints a landscape where all war has ended.  Peace has been established.  And that is true, our peace has come.  Our peace is here – here and now, in this moment, today. And our peace is coming, advancing every moment, we are anticipating our bridegroom. And again, to be clear, Jesus is the Davidic King who came to bring that peace. It is the peace of the kingdom…peace with God and peace with our neighbor.

The relationship between peace with God and peace with men parallels the relationship between loving God and loving your neighbor. You can only love people when you are loving God. When you are loving God, you can’t help but love people. We saw that in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus said that loving your neighbor as yourself is the law and the prophets. So also, you can only be at peace with people when you are at peace with God. When you are at peace with God, you can’t help but be at peace with people.

Where is our peace today?  As I read these verses, Isaiah seems to offer comfort to the Jewish refugees returning from Babylon by reminding them who they were, or maybe better, whose they were.  They were God’s – the Lords’ – The Lord God’s – Zion – Jerusalem.  When people under Babylonian captivity, in the distant future, would read these words, they would recall whose they were.  The present realities of suffering could not be ignored, but neither could the fact that they were God’s chosen people whom He loved, whom He had made a covenant with.  I think that is our comfort.  We are His.  He chose us, died for us, lives for us.  Paul prayed that his readers might know peace by understanding the depths of God’s love for them.

This story challenges us to pursue true peace…the peace of the kingdom. Knowing that we have peace with God frees us up to pursue peace with others. And as we learn to live more and more fully in God’s perfect peace, then we experience more and more fully peace with others.

My prayer for us this week is that we might more fully realize Unbelievable Peace because we have an Unbelievable Savior.

Until next time…stay salty.

Unbelievable Hope

1st Sunday of Advent. Isaiah 11.1-10.

As I reflected on the passage this week, I thought about how often Israel placed their hope in things other than the LORD. Even though they had seen Him do clearly miraculous things like the ten plagues and parting the sea, of leading them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, of providing manna in the wilderness, of conquering enemies more numerous and powerful than them…yet they continually looked to other gods or other kings or to themselves. Running their own universes was leading them to epic failure. That’s what made guys like Abraham, Moses and David so great…their hope was clearly in the LORD, and they trusted Him to deliver them. They knew that only He could save and that only He could bring about all that He had promised concerning them, Israel and the nations.

And Jesus is the hoped for Davidic King who can bring in the true kingdom. Not an earthly kingdom that is destined to crumble and fade away, but an everlasting heavenly kingdom that encompasses both heaven and earth. He is the One who will restore not only Israel, but all of creation. He is the One who provides life…true life that is eternal and reflects perfectly the Creator. He is the One who brings reconciliation so that we can be adopted into God’s family, that we can sons and daughters of the King.

I shared a tweet last week, “Our hope is resurrection…for that all creation awaits.” Israel does not have a corner on the market of hoping in things that only bring disappointment. We, who have seen God work miracles in our own lives, of rescuing us from the kingdom of darkness and transferring us to the kingdom of His beloved Son…we too tend to hope in the things of this world that cannot bring about the desired effect. Our confidence is in our own abilities to make things happen, to provide for ourselves…

As I thought about my own life, I realized how often I set my hope on people or events that only disappoint. I’m too busy trying to create the perfect life here, refusing to admit that the world in its current state is destined for destruction. This world and the things of it are doomed to disappear…yet I sometimes find myself clinging to it as if my life depended on it. I forget that my hope is resurrection…it’s the kingdom life that is available now and lasts into eternity. It’s true peace, joy and love. Not the counterfeit version that this world can only offer. I am a sojourner here.

There is (or should be) a difference between the way the world hopes and the way a believer does. The hope the world is always uncertain, flaky and always ultimately disappoints. For the things hoped for in this present world are doomed to fade away. But the believers hope is a confident anticipation based on the sure promises of God. It does not disappoint.

What about you? What are you hoping in? Who are you hoping in? Is your confidence in people or things that are destined to disappoint? Are you so busy building an earthly kingdom that you have forgotten that as a believer this world, in its present state, is not your home?

My prayer for us this advent season is that we would discover anew our unbelievable Savior so that we might know an unbelievable hope.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear an mp3 of this sermon, visit us at: http://www.centralchristian.org. You can also follow us on twitter: @mattdumas1969.

A Life Founded on the Rock

Matthew 7.13-29

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by Jesus’ straightforward invitation to experience life in His kingdom. The choice is clear. He only presents two kingdoms, two ways, two kinds of fruit, two foundations… So how do we take Jesus up on His invitation? How do we enter into the kingdom life that He invites us to experience?

There of course is the initial entrance that comes when we trust in Him for eternal life. It’s a free gift available to all who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He came and lived a perfect life, died a horrible death on our behalf, paying the penalty for our sins, was raised again the third day and ascended to the Father. And that through His death and resurrection we have peace with God, we’ve been reconciled and adopted into His family, becoming sons and daughters of the King.

But then what? I shared a tweet this past week, “Maybe living a kingdom life is so difficult because we fail to approach it intentionally.” In Dallas Willard’s, Divine Conspiracy, he touches on this when he says that discipleship is not something that just happens, but it’s something that we have to intend to do. Living life in the kingdom, following Jesus, doesn’t just happen. It is something we have to intend to do…we have to make the choice. Jesus says things like, “Ask, seek, knock…Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” All speak of intentionality, of cultivating this secret inner life with the Father. And our failure to make that choice may explain why we are so inadequate at kingdom living. And even when we make the choice to live a kingdom life, we should expect that being a disciple of Jesus is a life-long process…a process that requires us to get to know Him. And the only way we get to know Him is through His Word…and prayer and fellowship with His family.

As we mentioned a few weeks back, I believe another reason that we struggle is that we don’t think Jesus knows what He’s talking about…or maybe He just doesn’t understand what life is like today. I mean 21st century America is a far cry from 1st century Israel. How can we be expected to live Jesus’ life today? We’re not. Jesus lived His life and did a perfect job of doing it. We’re to live our lives, but we are to live our lives as Jesus would live them. That means that life in the kingdom doesn’t require that we quit our jobs and become itinerant preachers. On the contrary, it requires us to see our jobs, whether that’s in the office, the home or the classroom, as places of kingdom-living, opportunities for discipleship and ministry.

We always need to keep it before us that practicing righteousness does not make us righteous…but having been made righteous by the King, then our practice of righteousness is simply letting our light shine, of bearing good fruit, that brings glory to the Father.

But what about you? Have you trusted in Jesus for eternal life? If not, will you make that choice today to enter into life…the eternal, kingdom life that He wants for you? If you have trusted in Jesus, have you made the conscious decision to be His disciple…to follow Him and learn from Him so that you might experience all the fullness of the kingdom life He’s called you to?

This story challenges us to choose life, to make following Jesus and living in the kingdom our intention.

My prayer for us this week that we would continue to build upon the Rock, so that come what may we may stand together as a community of kingdom citizens experiencing the fullness of life in the kingdom.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear an mp3 of this sermon, visit us at: http://www.centralchristian.org, or follow us on twitter: @mattdumas1969.

The Golden Rule

Matthew 7.1-12

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by the brilliance of Jesus. He is a master Teacher who is able to silence His opponents with a word and expose the futile attempts at a pretend righteousness. How many of us have attempted the Golden Rule, only to find it frustratingly impossible? We’re too busy treating ourselves the way we want to be treated…we don’t have the time or the inclination to treat others that well. That would mean less for me.

The way we judge others is a revealing measure of our progress in kingdom living. It is a good indication of whether or not we are treating others the way we want to be treated. And treating others the way we want to be treated starts with recognizing that they exist and are worthy of the same undeserved love that we have received from the Father. We have to view them as fellow image bearers. Then it means loving them, whether we think them worthy or not. That is impossible for someone who is pretending…whose righteousness is only for show.

I shared a tweet this past week, “The undeserved love of the Father is the good news of the kingdom for heirs (sons and daughters of the King), but pearls before swine for pretenders.” But in saying that, I believe that we have to make the assessment that anyone fits the category of swine very carefully, or we may quickly find ourselves making judgments void of the mercy that Jesus has shown us. And that doesn’t turn out well.

As I thought about my own life, I have a ways to go in this area. Far from loving others, showing undeserved love, as a default position, I tend to make snap judgments. It generally shows up in the way I expect the worst from others rather than the best. And to my continued shame, I’m wrong most of the time.

But what about you? How is your progress in kingdom living? Do you find yourself judging others or legitimately concerned for their progress in the kingdom? Do you show the same kind of undeserved love toward them that you long for yourself, the love you’ve received from the Father, or do you find yourself withholding love because of their failure to measure up? If not, ask, seek, knock.

This story challenges us to keep asking, seeking and knocking for kingdom perspective and the ability to live the life that Jesus calls us to. Imagine how different our relationships would be if we did.

My prayer for us this week is that the Father would give us the desire and the ability to truly treat others the way we want to be treated, not as pretenders but as true kingdom citizens.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear an mp3 of this and other sermons based on the Sermon on the Mount (series titled Life in the Kingdom), visit our website at: http://www.centralchristian.org. You can follow us on twitter: @mattdumas1969.

A Tale of Two Kingdoms

Matthew 6.19-34

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by the contrast that Jesus makes between the two kingdoms…and the exclusivity of the two. We either pursue an earthly kingdom where we are the hero…everything is geared toward our own glory, or we pursue the kingdom that Jesus came to bring where He is the Hero…everything is geared toward bringing glory to the Father. There is no middle ground. Why are we so stressed out? Because we are busy building a kingdom…running our own universe, and if we are honest, life in the kingdom rarely crosses our minds.

And while Jesus primarily addresses a religious audience, He also mentions the Gentiles, who were running their own kingdoms as well. You don’t have to be religious to court the favor of people. The desire to build our own kingdoms has plagued us since our first parents decided that being image bearers wasn’t enough…they wanted to be their own gods. And we’ve been building earthly kingdoms ever since.

I shared a tweet this past week, “Why is kingdom-living so hard? Maybe we’re serving another master? Kingdom living requires singleness of purpose, sole devotion to the King…” This seems to be particularly hard in a culture that has made it “all about me”. The American Dream has made earthly kingdom-building a virtue. But the problem is, we don’t believe Jesus. Many of us have fooled ourselves into thinking we can pursue both kingdoms. We fail to see the impossibility of pursuing our own agenda, our own kingdom, while at the same time claiming citizenry in the kingdom that Jesus came to bring. We compartmentalize our lives so that God gets Sunday morning, maybe a night during the week for youth group or small group, but then the rest is ours. And we build our own earthly kingdoms. A quick glance at our calendars or our checkbooks is a pretty good indication of where and what kingdom we’re investing in. Our stress level is also a great barometer.

As I thought about my own life, I still struggle with this. Some days I think I’m getting closer to a single focus on the kingdom, but then evidences of my own earthly kingdom building activities come to light. I find myself looking out for my own glory and wanting the approval of men. And at those times, I notice my stress level rising as I try to run my own universe. It never turns out well.

But what about you? What kingdom are you investing in? You can’t pursue both…eventually your true loyalties will become clear. As kingdom citizens, Jesus wants us to live worry-free lives, but that’s only possible as we learn to make pursuit of His kingdom our highest priority…as we train our eyes to value that which is truly beautiful, that which is truly worth our worship and we allow that to capture our hearts. Kingdom investing looks different for each one of us, but all of us have investments to make with our time, our relationships, our resources… Some of us have been entrusted with more than others. How are you investing what He’s given you? Tozer once said, As base a thing as money often is, it yet can be transmitted into everlasting treasure. It can be converted into food for the hungry and clothing for the poor; it can keep a missionary actively winning lost men to the light of the gospel and thus transmute itself into heavenly values. Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touch with immortality.” (A.W. Tozer, “The Transmutation of Wealth”Born After Midnight, (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1959), 107.)

This story challenges us to consider the kingdom we’re investing in. Are we building a kingdom for ourselves destined to disappoint, or are we investing in the true kingdom that brings with it eternal rewards?

My prayer for us this week is that we boldly and courageously invest in the kingdom work that God has given us to do, letting our light shine so that folks might glorify our Father who is in heaven.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear an mp3 of this sermon, go to: http://www.centralchristian.org. Follow us on twitter: @mattdumas1969 or @cccsotm.

Through the Lens of Prayer

Matthew 6.1-18

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by the centrality of prayer to this section. In the middle of these three examples, giving to the poor, praying, and fasting, He stops to give instruction on prayer. But why? What is prayer? How vital would you say it is to your Christian walk? Does your practice of prayer reflect it?

I’m afraid that for most of us, prayer is an optional exercise with no real power. We pray because we feel like we should…or maybe we feel like praying will change God’s mind and get Him to see things our way. But that’s not real prayer. The prayer that Jesus talks about has the power of rending the veil between the temporal and the eternal. It allows us to see more clearly the reality of the kingdom. It is practicing the presence of God…recognizing our Father who is always near.

I was also struck by the contrast between the true righteousness of the kingdom citizen and the righteousness of the pretenders, and how easy it is to slip into a righteousness of show…attempting to impress others with our own piety. Trace evidence of our desire to run our own universe and receive our own praise. But we as kingdom citizens must cultivate the inner life of the spirit, learning the secret life that the Father calls us to. And as we cultivate the inner life, we begin to live in the true righteousness of the kingdom. Cultivating the inner life depends on the change of perspective that only prayer can bring.

I shared a tweet this past week, “Prayer is the lens through which we truly begin to see life in the kingdom…” Prayer brings the temporal and eternal together. When we enter prayer, we bring our cares and worries to the One who infinitely cares about us. And He gives kingdom perspective to our day-to-day lives. The inner life of prayer nourishes our soul.

As I thought about my own life, I couldn’t help but reflect on my first ministry job. I was tasked with teaching a class on the spiritual life…should have been easy for someone who just graduated from seminary, right? But I felt so far from God. My righteousness began to stink of the pretend kind, and I was desperate for something more. I wanted to experience the abundant life, the kingdom life that Jesus promised. So I went on a six month quest to discover that life. I began to focus on the inner life of the spirit…combining meditating on the Word with extended times of prayer and silence. I also sought to remove distractions like wasted time in front of a screen. And it was amazing the changes that God wrought during that time. I truly began to enjoy life in the kingdom, and my perspective on others changed. I went from being “cerebral” to being a pastor. For the first time in a long time, I was able to let my light shine…

But what about you? What do you do with this? I want to be clear. Jesus isn’t creating a new Law, but showing us the character qualities of kingdom citizens. The pretenders of righteousness want folks to see their good deeds. The possessors of kingdom righteousness are unaware of others watching. They are too busy being wholesalers of grace…showing mercy, expressing underserved love for those God brings in their path.

For you who are kingdom citizens, are you living like it? Are you practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them? How is that working out for you? My guess is…forgiveness is difficult because you don’t recognize your own need of forgiveness. Those of us who have a low view of our own sin, have an equally low view of God’s grace. Amazing grace? It’s not that amazing… We fail to see our spiritual bankruptcy and any real need for mercy. Pretend righteousness always results in one of two things: pride or self-loathing. Neither characterizes life in the kingdom.

This story challenges us toward a greater dependence on the Father in prayer. And it challenges us to examine our motives…do we let our light shine so that the Father will be glorified, or do we practice a pretend righteousness before men so that we may be glorified?

My prayer for us this week is we would know the true righteousness of the kingdom, that we would cultivate the inner life of the spirit, and that kingdom life will naturally flow out in all our actions this week.

Until next time…stay salty.

For an mp3 of this sermon, go to: http://www.centralchristian.org, or follow us on twitter: @mattdumas1969.

 

Beyond the Rules

Matthew 5.17-48

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by how quickly Jesus dismantles the rule-based system of the Pharisees. To be sure, He doesn’t abolish the Law, but He shows very clearly that keeping the rules, if it doesn’t flow from a transformed character, will never accomplish kingdom righteousness. That is very freeing, and very scary. It’s a life of being first and foremost that then naturally leads to a life of doing.

I was also struck by the fact that the five examples that Jesus uses to illustrate our need for a heart transplant all have to do with interpersonal relationships. That our failure in so many of these areas to “keep the Law”, to even do the externals, is a natural consequence of our failure to love. We expect it of the Pharisees, but what about those of us who claim to be kingdom citizens? If life in the kingdom is characterized by love…love for God and love for others, what causes the break-down in our love? Remember when we talked about the Great Commandment…loving God and loving others is impossible when we are busy running our own universe. Life in the kingdom forces a change in perspective, a renewing of our mind so that we can see the beauty and wonder of our Creator and others as His image-bearers.

I shared a tweet this past week, “Righteousness that surpasses manmade constructs can only come from that which is outside of man…” Life in the kingdom can only be experienced fully as we learn to allow the character of the King to permeate all of our lives…breaking down the walls, seeing that life in the kingdom, being a son or daughter of the King, goes far beyond Sunday morning…and asking Him to continually renew our mind, so that we can live in the reality of the kingdom. It’s only as we experience the freedom of being so completely loved by Jesus that we can truly love in turn. And then we can live unexplainable lives…lives that reflect the character of our King; and as the world looks on, they won’t understand how we can live with such freedom and such love. It will force a response…they either persecute us or glorify God. If we are truly living a kingdom life, there is no middle ground.

As I thought about my own life, I realized how easy it is to slip into an external righteousness, a me-centered view of the world, where anger, lust, honesty, revenge and enemies present real challenges. I soon forget that I’m a son of the King who has a new heart, and I fail to act out of that reality. Instead, I fight for my own rights and leave broken relationships in the wake, all the while wondering why I’m not experiencing life in the kingdom. But there are those moments, when I glimpse it, when loving others seems almost effortless…and those are the moments that I long for.

But what about you? What do you do with this? Last week I made the statement that I wanted to be absolutely clear that the beatitudes were not a how-to list for kingdom entry. They represent characteristics of kingdom citizens. The same is true for our talk today. Even by focusing on the internal attitudes along with the external actions, you can’t achieve the righteousness of the kingdom. Let me say it as clearly as I can… If you are like the Pharisees and are counting on your good works or “law keeping” to get into the kingdom, Jesus is telling you that you are out of luck. His standards are too high. You need a new heart. And you need the righteousness of the King. Only His will do.

This is an important idea and makes me think about people today doing Christian things thinking it makes them Christians. Same problem as the original hearers of this sermon, kingdom behaviors will not impact righteousness, but intrinsic righteousness through faith  in Christ should result in kingdom behaviors. Church, baptism, sacraments, are not how to’s of Christianity, they are reflections of heart change and spiritual realities. But we still want to tell non Christians that their behavior should match ours as if the behavior alone has some kind of power to change the heart.

For you who are kingdom citizens, are you living like it? Are you loving others, even your enemies? If not, why not? What would it look like for you to “leave your offering at the altar and be reconciled” to them?

As a friend of mine and I talked about this this week, he had an amazing observation… Jesus is challenging us to a different kind of love…an undeserved love. Seen in this light:

  • Anger – I might have every right to be angry with my brother. Do I show undeserved love in that situation? Or do I call him a fool and be dismissive?
  • Lust – I’m not sure you could use this… What’s the issue for us married guys? “Well, I don’t have THAT at home.” Love your wife well even though she isn’t THAT. Ouch!
  • Honesty – As long as you hold up your end of the bargain, I’ll hold up mine. Undeserved love – I’ll keep my oath even when you break yours.
  • Revenge – I’ve been hurt by this person. Undeserved love – I’m going to continue to love this person even if it means that I might get hurt again.
  • Enemy – I don’t have to love this person, they are bad. Undeserved love – I’m going to take God’s view. Infinite value as image bearer. His desire is for reconciliation with all men.

Flip it around, and we’ve all been on the other side of it too, the ones receiving the undeserved love from the Father.

  • Anger – God pursues His people through His anger and judgment, Israel, us
  • Lust – If God was always looking for the bigger better deal, or to trade up, where would that leave us?
  • Honesty – How often do we hold up our end? Does that impact His faithfulness?
  • Revenge – We don’t want to go there. The Bible is clear about what we deserve.
  • Enemy – The story of the Bible is man becoming enemies of God and God’s plan for reconciliation. Such undeserved love is only possible as we live life in the kingdom, reflecting more and more the character of the King.

This story challenges us toward a more authentic life of faith…life in the kingdom, less focused on doing the right things and more on becoming the right people and the right things will come. My prayer for us this week is live life in the kingdom, loving others and showing off the family resemblance.

Until next time…stay salty.

BTW to hear an mp3 of this sermon, go to: http://www.centralchristian.org. To keep up on twitter: @mattdumas1969, or follow our conversation about Life in the Kingdom (aka the Sermon on the Mount): @cccsotm.

A Dangerous Idea of Blessedness

Matthew 5.1-16

Some friends of mine and I started working our way through the Sermon on the Mount, wanting to see what Jesus had to say about living life in the kingdom. As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by Jesus’ list of kingdom characteristics of those who are citizens of the kingdom, of those who are blessed. It’s probably not the things we would have picked. They are certainly not characteristics that the world values. Those possessing these characteristics would not seem like “winners” from an earthy perspective, or to the spiritually elite, the I’ve-got-it-all-together crowd, the my-universe-is-running-just-fine-thank-you crew. But the kingdom belongs to those who recognize their desperate need for God and long for the reconciliation of heaven and earth.

As I shared on Sunday, the beatitudes are not a “how-to” list of instructions for entrance into the kingdom. They don’t tell you how to get to heaven. But much like the fruits of the Spirit, these are characteristics of folks who are already in the kingdom. They are produced by our connection to the King. And also like the fruit of the Spirit, these characteristics are produced in us and not by us…God produces the fruit as we submit to the process.

I shared a tweet this week, “Jesus has a dangerous idea of blessedness.” Following the unfolding of the beatitudes, there seems to be a progression…poor in spirit, mourning for sin, gentle, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker…that leads inexorably to persecution. Alignment with the King is a dangerous proposition. It could even cost us our life. And why does the persecution come hot and heavy? Because of the undeniability of those who embody kingdom characteristics. The difference in us is going to be obvious to the whole world. Instead of being tasteless salt on some “french fries”, as a friend of mine described it, or a light under a basket, we will be noticeable. We will be a light on a hill. By doing that, by embodying those qualities and living that way, we are bearing the image of God brightly. Pointing people to Him and bringing Him glory. Said another way, if we embody the beatitudes, we will force a response from those around us. Some will persecute us and others with give glory to the Father. Both are good things!

As I thought about my own life, I’ve wrestled with my own saltiness at times and the times where it’s been easier to hide the light than face the consequences of following Jesus openly. As a recent college graduate, I often found it easier to blend in with my co-workers and not to be one of those “Jesus freaks”. But my life was miserable because although I had trusted in Jesus and so was a kingdom citizen, I was not living life in the kingdom. Finally when I had had enough, it was amazing the changes that God wrought in my life…I’m far from perfect, but I started enjoying the benefits of the present kingdom, persecution and all. And it has been worth it.

But what about you? What do you do with this? Some of you are not yet kingdom citizens, you don’t know what it means to be a son or daughter of the King. The beatitudes are not a how to manual for kingdom membership. They reflect the internal qualities that characterize those in the kingdom. It starts with the recognition of your need for Jesus. I would love to talk to you.

For the rest of us, we are in process of realizing more of the kingdom in our lives – all aspects of it. Last week I talked about the boxes we create that neatly divide our lives and keep us from experiencing the kingdom life that Jesus has for us. It is only as we blow up the boxes and allow the character of the kingdom to permeate all aspects of our lives that we truly begin to experience the abundant life…and yes, complete with persecution.

This story challenges us toward a change of perspective. Jesus definition of blessedness is dangerous…but it is true blessedness. It’ living life in the kingdom now. It’s being image-bearers of the King.

My prayer for us this week is that we live in the kingdom…learning more and more what it means to be sons and daughters of the King, and may we see His kingdom expanded.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear this week’s sermon, visit us at: http://www.centralchristian.org. You can also follow me on twitter or facebook at: mattdumas1969.

Equip the Saints

Ephesians 4.1-16.

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by the idea of equipping the saints for the work of service/ministry. Paul makes a big deal about the unity that we have in the body (the church – one body, one Spirit, etc.). Somehow this one body is given gifted leaders and brought together for a purpose…for a mission…and that is the work of service/ministry. So who are the works of service directed toward? And within the body, who is responsible for carrying them out? When we say we are an equipping church, what does that mean?

I shared two tweets this past week about this topic… “Equipping the saints is helping believers see life as ministry” and “Equipping the saints is preparing the troops for warfare in the trenches.” Both tweets are variations on the same theme. You see, Paul says here that gifted leaders equip the saints…who are the saints? Well, if you have trusted in Jesus, then you are in the saint category. And what are we being equipped for? Works of service. OK. What does that mean?

Often when this passage is taught, the idea is propagated that we need to train children’s workers to work with children, small group leaders to lead small groups, outreach folks to share the gospel, etc. And those things are all definitely a part of equipping as we work toward the goal of maturity, but I would say many of those functions have an internal focus. They are an integral part of building up the body. Those are good things, and we need folks serving in those areas…but those are also equipping ministries. What are they equipping for? Works of service. But let me challenge you. Who receives those works of service? Is it believers only. I hope not. Paul includes evangelists in the list. Let me propose that our primary ministry is outside the walls of a building at a particular address. It’s in the marketplace and in the schoolyard. It’s with our families and our friends. It’s when we walk outside these doors. Being an equipping church means that we are like the gym. You come to the church to train…to prepare for the fight, to get ready for the big race. And after doing your bag work, the speed and agility drills, maybe a little foot work…once you walk out those doors, ministry starts. Too often we limit our concept of ministry to a church campus. We come to church to be fed…and then what. We check off the church box and head out for lunch. During the week we have our work or school boxes, our family boxes, our alone time boxes, etc. Each separate. Ministry happens when I’m at church or in small group or doing a service project. It doesn’t bleed into any other area of our lives. It shouldn’t be that way. We have to blow up our boxes. We need to see all of life as ministry. Opportunities abound to share the gospel, to enter into another person’s story, to minister to their needs, and to introduce them to the Story.

But the works of service are a communal project. It’s as the body works together using its gifts that it matures. See the idea of the body being built up includes both internal and external growth. And we keep working at it until Jesus comes back. Two other things that struck me from this passage…the importance of the truth, the faith to the health of the body (children tossed here and there…remember the friendly fire we talked about last week from those within the body who want their ears tickled) and the centrality of love. They are tied together. Truth – sound doctrine – and love. It’s the only way to have biblical unity. Without truth, without the one faith, there is nothing that unites us. Without love, we cannot reflect Jesus. Love is the main apologetic. It’s also the goal of unity and maturity.

As I thought about my own life, it reminded me of when Jack and I decided to try tae kwon do. The first day we entered the dojo, it was clear that the goal was for us to be black belts. Even thought there were a number of them present, the sensei didn’t consider his job done until we all crossed the finished line. Until we all attained to the unity of the…chi??? The idea in this passage is very similar…it’s not about one us making it to maturity. It’s a group project. The job’s not done until we all attain to the unity of the faith…

But what about you? What do you do with this? You have listened to the messages thus far and have believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that through believing you have life in His name. You have realized that the whole of scripture is about loving God and loving people. You are excited about becoming a disciple of Christ and making disciples as the Word of God takes root in your life. You see its power to transform and guide your life. Now comes the hard part. You realize that the earthly expression of God’s truth in this present age is the church, and God has placed you here. You have to join these other strangers, some of whom just seem strange, standing around you in this place and somehow become one cohesive body, so that together we can storm the gates of hell and rescue the captives as sons and daughters of the King, who ourselves have been rescued.

This story challenges us toward unity within the body, marked by truth in love. Interestingly enough, the body only works properly as each member does its part. It also challenges us toward loving and ministering to those outside the body. So how about it? Will you come with me and race toward the finish line together?

My prayer for us this week is that we take seriously loving God and loving others, making disciples of all nations, proclaiming the truth, and doing the work of ministry.

Until next time…stay salty.

For an mp3 of this sermon, visit us online at: http://www.centralchristian.org. You can follow me on facebook or twitter: mattdumas1969.

 

Preach the Word

2 Timothy 3.10-4.5. As I reflected on this passage, I was blown away by Paul’s desperate appeal to Timothy to stay true to the Word. The last words of a dying man. So I have a question, What is truth? And what does it have to do with preaching the Word? And what does that have to do with me?

I shared a tweet this week… “Truth is relevant, not relative.” For me, that is why fidelity to the truth, the biblical story is so important. Because like we said last week, ever since the fall, our natural orientation is very earthy and self-centered. We tend to ask, “What’s in it for me?” It’s our time, our finances, our resources. We are too busy running our own universe to give loving God, much less loving people, a second thought.

Adam and Eve in the garden. Tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What knowledge did Adam and Eve gain when they ate of the fruit…the serpent promises that they would be like God, knowing good and evil. But didn’t they already know what was good? Wasn’t that God’s assessment of creation? Didn’t they know that God was good and the Definer of the good? So what did they gain? They gained the ability to define the good for themselves. Now they could determine what was good and evil, what was right and wrong, what was true, apart from what God had revealed. In becoming their own gods, they also became their own barometers of truth. And so truth would seemingly become relative. But the truth has never been relative. When heaven and earth split apart in the fall, it was those who looked to the things above, to the heavenly realities who followed God and were willing/able to see the truth as truth. Those focused on earthy realities continued to define truth according to their own image, according to their own sliding scale.

When we first trust in Jesus, the Bible says that we are new creatures; but our perspective isn’t automatically realigned. The noetic effects of sin, vestiges of the flesh and a culture hell-bent on dragging us away from God tend to keep us very earthy and self-centered. And we continue to look like the world around us. We see truth as relative. And that’s why fidelity to the Scriptures and preaching the Word has to be foundational.

Last week we said discipleship is the process of learning to think and act differently. To reorient our perspective so that we begin to see the world through God’s eyes and to respond to others the way He would. It’s not an automatic process, but a change in lifestyle. Paul calls it “being transformed by the renewing of the mind.” And that only happens as we become immersed in the Story, as we remind ourselves who we are and what God is calling us to. It’s learning to see my resources – my time, my money, my relationships, my life – through God’s eyes.

As I thought about my own life, I had made the decision long ago that the Bible was true. I don’t remember consciously saying it. And I don’t remember anyone telling me that. It’s just the way I’ve approached it for as long as I can remember. I’ve never had a problem with a six day creation, a worldwide flood, the walls of Jericho falling at a trumpet blast, the sun standing still for Joshua or the shadow moving back up the stairs for Hezekiah. I’ve never questioned the reality of angels or demons or the resurrection from the dead. The Bible said it, and I believed it.

I remember being in college at a “Christian” university when a professor began to teach that the Bible really wasn’t true. That it was good for moral instruction, but not really reliable historically, that science had already debunked the creation myth and the flood account. The world was surely the result of an evolutionary process that took hundreds of millions of years. It disturbed me greatly that he could/would take that stance. I listened to his arguments, but never wavered. I don’t know why I didn’t. Untrained, undiscipled, and not really walking with the Lord at that time. Now I’m even more convinced that the Bible is God’s Word…and that it is true. And my commitment is to teach the truth and to say the hard things even if they are not popular because that’s what I know to do. I’ve seen too many churches that have strayed from making the Word central and have wandered into dangerous territory. I don’t want that to be me. I don’t want that to be us.

One of the scariest things for me in this passage is the fact that the challenges to the truth come from within the church. If we do not have a strong commitment as a church to the truth of the Scriptures and sound doctrine, then we as a church will be in danger of falling into error. We all have to be committed. Because false doctrine may seem to start innocently enough with an applicational thought, “This is what this means to me…” which become a deadly disease that spreads throughout the body. And it generally happens when we let culture define truth. It may influence application, but it must not define truth. And the church disintegrates from the inside. It’s insidious – you need to be happy (back to fall, you are the center – the Eve story) … Right and wrong isn’t my opinion, but what Scriptures say.

But what about you? Does culture define truth? Or does God’s Word? Is right and wrong a matter of opinion, or clearly laid out in Scripture? A friend of mine issued a healthy challenge to me on this passage. He said, “You’ve convinced me that sound doctrine is important. You’ve convinced me that truth is not relative. So what? What do I do? Now that I am convinced of this, how is it going to change my life? What does it look like for me, Joe audience member with no formal training and a fear of speaking? Or me, high school sophomore in a public school for the first time?” Paul writes to Timothy. I’m not Timothy. I’m not leading a church. I’m not a preacher. So I must be off the hook. Not quite. Paul says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction…”

Two things: First, hold fast to the conviction that the Word is true in your own life. Keep reminding yourself of the Story and where and how you fit into it. Don’t let culture define truth. Leave that to the Bible. Second, the word that Paul uses for preach can also be translated proclaim. Proclaim God’s truth, His Word in your relationships. Proclaim it to your family – believing or unbelieving. Proclaim it in the workplace. Proclaim it at school. Proclaim it when it’s popular and when it’s not. Don’t waver in your conviction. You will be tested. You will be persecuted. You will be counter-cultural. But you will also experience the peace of God and more confidence in your walk with Him.

This story challenges us to move away from the cultural trend to define truth as relative and to redouble our commitment to God’s Word. To boldly proclaim the faith that we hold to and introduce others to the Story. We expect attacks from the outside, but I pray that it doesn’t come from within.

My prayer this week is that we will take seriously our commitment to stay true to God’s Word even when it isn’t popular and even when it may cost us, that we would keep preaching the Word central.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear an mp3 of this sermon, visit us online at: http://www.centralchristian.org.

 

Making Disciples

Matthew 28.18-20. As I reflected on this passage, and the “Great Commission”… Jesus’ call to make disciples of all the nations, I couldn’t help but think how well it fits with the “Great Commandment”, loving God and loving people. The natural out working of our love for others is sharing with them the hope that we have, pointing them to way back to Father God through Jesus. Often when this passage is shared, the focus is on evangelism…sharing the gospel, and that fits the going and baptizing aspects of the Great Commission. But what about discipleship? Why is discipleship so important?

I shared a tweet this week… “Discipleship is a change in perspective…learning to see and engage the world like the Master.” For me, that is why discipleship is so important. Ever since the fall, our natural orientation is very earthy and self-centered. We tend to ask, “What’s in it for me?” It’s our time, our finances, our resources. We are too busy running our own universe to give loving God, much less loving people, a second thought.

When we first trust in Jesus, the Bible says that we are new creatures; but our perspective isn’t automatically realigned. Vestiges of the flesh and a culture hell-bent on dragging us away from God tend to keep us very earthy and self-centered. And we continue to look like the world around us. Discipleship is the process of learning to think and act differently. To reorient our perspective so that we begin to see the world through God’s eyes and to respond to others the way He would. It’s not an automatic process, but a change in lifestyle. And like learning a new skill, a new sport, starting a new diet…there is a period of disorientation before we truly begin to realign ourselves to the new reality. It’s learning to see my resources – my time, my money, my relationships – through God’s eyes.

The process of discipleship is intentional, and while it can and should involve some individual spiritual disciplines like time in the Word and prayer, it only truly happens in community, as we gather around the Word with fellow believers and encourage, instruct, rebuke, correct and point each other back to Jesus. I know of no other more effective means of discipleship. We see hints of community even in the baptismal formula. God lives in eternal community – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And He calls us to the same experience of life together.

As I thought about my own life, the greatest periods of growth have always come as I’ve wrestled through a given passage with a group of guys on a Tuesday morning. Because as we’ve wrestled with the Word, the implications for our lives bubbled to the surface. The times in my life that I’ve been the furthest from God as a believer have been those times when I’ve isolated myself from others…those are periods of time when sin festered. And why is that? Because I can easily fool myself into thinking that I’m growing in maturity while it’s just me, my Bible and a cup of coffee. But when I run into someone else, then I find out my real struggles in loving others…

But what about you? When you think about the Great Commission, are you excited or terrified? If discipleship is a group process, what is your responsibility as an individual? To go (pursue) and to initiate conversations where you share the hope that you have. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict and to woo, but we have to engage. And then invite them into your community where they can begin to grow.

This story challenges us to join God’s mission to reconcile the world to Himself. It’s an exciting and somewhat daunting task, but the rewards are worth it. It reminds me of the Mission Impossible movies…our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to change the world one person at a time.

My prayer for us this week is that we would take seriously our job of both being and making disciples we look for opportunities with those one or two folks in our circles who don’t know Jesus to engage them in gospel saturated conversations to point them to the hope we have in Jesus, so that we might make going and making disciples central.

Until next time…stay salty. BTW you can listen to an mp3 of this sermon entitled: “Fulfill the Great Commission” in our “What is Central?” series at: http://www.centralchristian.org.

Loving God, Loving Others

Matthew 22.34 But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 35One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38This is the great and b foremost commandment. 39The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

As I reflected on this passage, I wondered why loving God was considered the great commandment, I mean why must we be told to love God. Doesn’t that come naturally, or shouldn’t it? And if not, why doesn’t it? And why is it so hard to love other people?

And as I talked to some friends of mine this week about this passage, it hit me why I must be told…no scratch that…commanded to love God with all that I am. Genesis 3. You see in Genesis 1 & 2 we have this beautiful story of creation, where all of the universe is the work of a benevolent Creator who lovingly fashions a world that He describes as good, even very good. He makes a man and woman, our first parents, in His own image from dust of the ground and breathes into their nostrils the breath of life, and they become living beings. And He gives them charge over all the earth. Think of it. A perfect world with no death, no corruption, no hatred, no ugliness of any kind. A perfect relationship with God and with each other.

Enter the serpent in Genesis 3. Through deceit and manipulation he convinces our first parents that being image bearers is not enough. Having dominion over the earth is not enough. No, they really want to be their own gods. And they fall for the lies of the enemy and forgetting the benevolence of their loving Creator and not being content to simply be image bearers and stewards of creation, they seek to be their own gods. And all of creation suffers the repercussions of their betrayal as perfection becomes deeply marred and the image of God tainted. Sin enters the world and death through sin. And now the love of God is no longer innate, love of self would become predominate and competition with others a part of the legacy of the fall.

So what was once natural…loving God and loving people…has become very unnatural. And frankly, impossible, given our fallen state. But even in the midst of our rebellion, God provided for our redemption…hope for a way back. It was a risky proposition. It would cost Him everything. His own Son would have to die, but in so doing He would redeem the world that He had made, and so He gave them the promise of Genesis 3:15, the Head-Crushing, Seed of the Woman, who would one day ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, cleanse the temple, face down the political and religious elite, be beaten and crucified, then buried; three days later He would rise from the dead and ascend to the right hand of the Father awaiting the day when He would once again ride into Jerusalem, this time on a white horse… In the meantime, having accomplished redemption and having provided the way back to the Father, His Spirit is at work building His kingdom, rescuing one person at a time.

As I thought about my own life, examples of my failure to love God as evidenced by my failure to love others are multiplied. It’s evident in my selfish attitude toward my family (just ask them). It’s obvious when I look down on others or begin to judge their motives, which happens more often than I would care to admit. It’s plain to see when I’m too busy to be interrupted. But there are flashes of obedience when I see the pain of others and my heart is broken. When I become angry at the injustices done to others. When I share the gospel because I know that it’s the only hope that we have.

But what about you? Where are challenged to love others more? Are you spending time with the Lord, seeking to love Him with all that you are?

This story challenges us not to be like the Pharisees who have made the love of God a game of trivial pursuit, who have made loving others an optional exercise, but to be more like our Savior who made loving God and loving people central, who demonstrated His love for His Father by loving us who were made in His image.

My prayer for us is that we would grow in our love and devotion to God and that that would become evident as we look for opportunities with our classmates, with our neighbors, with our friends, with our family, with our co-workers to love others in very real and practical ways, to point them to the hope we have in Jesus, so that we might make loving God and loving people central.

Until next time…stay salty.

You can listened to an mp3 of this sermon online at: http://www.centralchristian.org.

 

Unexpected Rescue

Mark 5.1-20 has become one of my favorite passages. It’s the story of Jesus’ healing of the Gerasene demoniac. As I thought about the passage, I wondered why it was so important for Mark. All three of the Synoptic Gospels include the story of the demoniac, but Mark, whose narrative tends to be the most terse spends more space than either Matthew or Luke on this account. Mark found something extremely valuable in this tale. Something in it captured Jesus’ ministry for him.

Having just calmed a violent storm at sea, Jesus meets a man with an equally violent storm raging within him. In both cases Jesus is able to squash the chaos with a word. It would be easy to come to the conclusion that Mark is showcasing Jesus’ power or authority over both the natural and supernatural worlds. And it does that, but I think Mark is driving us to something even more powerful…Jesus crosses a violent, storm-tossed sea, faces down the forces of hell and is willing to sacrifice 2,000 pigs for one man! Did you get that? Jesus crosses a violent, storm-tossed sea, faces down the forces of hell and is willing to sacrifice 2,000 pigs for one man! And having rescued him, He sends him on mission to share his story – of “how much the Lord had done for him and how he had mercy on him.” Now that’s incredible!

So how do we relate to someone like the demoniac?

The message of this story hits us at multiple levels: It is a message for those who, like the demoniac, find themselves lost and as far from God as they can possibly imagine. Think about it. What hope does the demoniac have. He’s a Gentile in the Gentile Decapolis, living among the tombs, with a legion of demons holding sway over his soul. What hope does he have? None. And then he hears a voice…faintly at first and then it becomes stronger and he has his first encounter with Jesus who rescues him and sends the demons away. An incredible story of rescue and of God’s mercy. Some of us are longing to hear Jesus’ voice and to be rescued by Him. We want desperately that story of rescue.

It’s also a message those who have been rescued by Jesus, but now are in need of hope in a time of trial or torment. You’ve trusted in Him, but somewhere along the way you’ve forgotten how he’s rescued you and doubt whether He can today. We need to be reminded of what Jesus did for the demoniac, and realize He’s gone to equally great lengths for us. We were not all as bad as the demoniac, but we were all as bad off as he was. Jesus had to snatch us out of the horrors of hell just as much as He had to for the former demoniac.

But I also believe that Mark includes this story for a third group.

The townsfolk in Mark’s story are unbelievers…but is there a rebuke there for us when we fail to see people because of their problems? When we tend to hide folks away or marginalize them because we no longer see the person, but the problem?

Jesus is still on a rescue mission, pulling folks out of the fires of hell.

My prayer for us this week is that we would be a part of Jesus’ rescue party, reaching out to our friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, etc. with our own story of rescue and the gospel.

Until next time…stay salty.

Check out the sermon at: http://www.centralchristian.org

Second Chances

John 21. As I reflected on this passage, I wondered why John concludes his Gospel with this episode. None of the other Gospel writers include it. This particular story is unique to John. So why include it? In verse 14, John reminds us that this is the third time that Jesus has made Himself known to the disciples. Two prior occasions, He had a purpose in mind…calming the fears and commissioning a group of the disciples, breathing on them the Holy Spirit and giving them life; and then a special encore presentation for Thomas. This episode also has a very focused purpose…the restoration of Peter. You see, after his denial, we as the readers are left wondering, “So whatever happened to Peter?”

Peter had blatantly denied and turned his back on Jesus. There was no getting around it. After all of the boasting, after all of the posturing, in the end he had failed miserably. And all of his closest friends knew it. Fear might have been involved, although given Peter’s boldness in confronting the soldiers that seems less likely. Frustration? Probably. Doubts? Sure. But Peter was supposed to be their fearless leader. Not so. Would he ever be useful again?

And now, miraculously Peter is given a second chance. Jesus shows up and takes him aside, and with the reminder of both his failure (charcoal fire…same as denial) and his calling in mind (Simon, son of John…mirrors his calling in chapter 1), he’s given another opportunity to follow Jesus. But following Him this go round would not end well from an earthly standpoint. It would involve a cross. Three years later…knowing all that he had been through and would yet go through, would he still sign up? Knowing that the journey would be a lonely one, with no guarantees that anyone else would accompany him, would he still follow Jesus?

The encouraging thing for me from Peter’s story is that Jesus makes a special trip to offer him his second chance. And not only a second chance, but also a bright new future chock full of opportunity to continue to pursue Jesus…and to fail, but also to change the world. He and this rag-tag group of Jesus-followers will take the Roman world by storm…not leading a military campaign, but waging spiritual warfare nonetheless. We are here today because of his ministry. Eusebius tells us that Jesus’ prophecy concerning Peter was fulfilled when he is fastened to his own cross upside down by Nero in Rome at the same time as Paul. According to Clement of Rome (c. a.d. 96), Peter suffered martyrdom under Nero (a.d. 54–68; 1 Clem. 5.4), probably during the final years of Nero’s reign (c. a.d. 64–66). Even knowing that following Jesus was a death sentence, Peter still signed up. And it was the adventure of a life-time.

But what about you? What’s your story of denial? How have you blown it? Have you come out the other side? What does life look like? Do you believe that Jesus can still use you, that He wants to use you? He made a special trip for Peter after a very public ministry failure…He wants to do the same for you. But how will you respond when He says, “Follow Me!”

It strikes me that Peter’s story would likely have had a very different ending had I been the one whom he had denied. And for some of us, we are in the position of being the betrayed. What about you? Have you restored the one who failed you? Have you forgiven them? Any second chances? Would you trust them with an even greater level of responsibility? Or would you do what I can be so quick to do, and write them off?

Peter’s story challenges us at so many levels: Do we believe that Jesus still can and wants to use us, no matter our failures? Are we willing to follow Him, no matter the cost? Are we willing to forgive and restore others when they fail us?

My prayer for you is that you grasp how long and high and wide and deep is the love of Jesus for you…that you may rest in His grace…that you may learn to love and forgive like Him and that you would do that exceedingly well this week.

Until next time…stay salty.

You can hear this sermon at: http://www.centralchristian.org/media

A Resurrected Jesus

John 20. John’ account of the resurrection. As I reflected on the sermon this week, I wondered why John includes this episode. The Synoptics seemed to have it covered, so John must have a theological purpose in including it. Somehow it must be vital to the story. We’ve pointed out some of those things like the fact that the relationship between the disciples and Jesus has changed from that of friend to brother…as believers we have a familial relationship with Father God. We also noted that the disciples were given new life when Jesus breathed the Spirit on them. And Thomas’ statement, “My Lord and My God” points to Jesus as both human and divine. Three extremely important theological reasons to include this episode which will be further developed by Paul. But John wraps those truths in a story that includes characters who respond in very different ways to Jesus’ death and the possibility of resurrection.

A few questions that come to mind…What if Jesus really was raised from the dead? What if Jesus really is alive? In other words, what is the significance of a resurrected Jesus? Besides having a major holiday commemorating it, what difference does a resurrection make? If Jesus’ death on the cross allows for the forgiveness of sins, do we really need a resurrection?

There are four characters in the story. All four had believed in Jesus as the Messiah. His death paid the penalty for sin. At that moment we could say they were all Old Testament saints much like Abraham or David. But they had yet to pass from Old Testament saints to New Testament believers. Mary Magdalene is totally focused on her grief…let’s call it the circumstances she finds herself in. Her situation has so consumed her that she is unable to recognize resurrected Jesus even though He is right there in front of her. Peter is confused. The evidence is inconsistent with a grave robbing, but resurrection isn’t on his radar. The disciples are fearful. They are meeting behind locked doors. They gambled everything to follow Jesus. They went all in…and now it looks like they may have lost. Their expectation of Messiah has gone through some serious revisions and now a major disappointment. When Jesus shows up, twice He speaks peace over them to calm their nerves. The resurrection is unanticipated. Thomas refuses to believe resurrection with out seeing the evidence for himself. His doubt is representative of where all the disciples were prior to Jesus’ appearing.

A couple of observations…First off, all of these guys totally miss it. Resurrection is not even a consideration. They are totally focused on earthly realities…the heavenly has not entered their field of vision. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Secondly, they all respond with joy when they encounter the resurrected Jesus. Distraught, confused, fearful, and doubting to rejoicing…not a bad trade. But in order to get there they had to meet Jesus…the real Jesus…the resurrected Jesus who was fully God and fully Man. Finally, and my favorite, Jesus meets each of them where they are. He patiently waits for Mary to recognize Him. He speaks peace over the disciples who are fearful. He even returns to allow Thomas to “see” the evidence.

As I thought about the resurrection question, there were some truths that came to mind: The resurrection is God’s “YES”, His stamp of approval on everything Jesus said and did. Jesus truly is all that He claimed to be. The resurrection is also proof that Jesus “freakin’ crushed sin and death for all eternity” (as a friend of mine put it).  Jesus’ death pays the penalty for sin. However, if we stopped there, we might be forgiven; but where’s the empowerment for life? It is the life of Jesus that allows us to experience life today…real, abundant life.

And while I readily affirm those truths today, many times I practically live like Jesus remained in the tomb…I know I’m forgiven, but I still tend to be totally consumed by the circumstances – broken-hearted, confused, fearful, and even doubting that Jesus can/will bring me out of the current situation. John says that he wrote “these things that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and that believing we might have life in His name.” While Mary and the disciples had believed in Jesus…their experience of a crucified Jesus hadn’t brought life (fear, doubt, distress, confusion). Although Jesus was alive and although He had crushed sin and death, they were not experiencing the victory. That comes only with resurrection.

But what about you? “Think back this week, is there a worry, fear or circumstance in your life that drew your attention away from Jesus? Financial uncertainty, marital conflict, illness… ” a time where you were so focused on protecting, preserving, and ultimate investing in the “life” that you have “created” for yourself here on earth, that you don’t, can’t and fail to even think about investing in the “TRUE LIFE” that He has created for you through His resurrection, the eternal kingdom that will not pass away.

Some of us are believers…we’ve believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins but we are not experiencing the life of Jesus that is ours by birthright through His resurrection. Maybe we are like Mary…distraught and broken-hearted, focused on our circumstances and having a hard time seeing Jesus. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Maybe we are like Peter…confused and unable to put it together. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Maybe we are like the disciples…fearful, betting on Jesus but feeling like you are on the losing side. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Maybe we are like Thomas…doubting, needing evidence that Jesus can help us in our present predicament. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. For those of us who are Mary’s or Peter’s or disciples, or Thomas’…we need to be reminded of the truth of the resurrection. Jesus is alive. He died and rose again to give us life.

Some of you reading this post would not put yourself in the believing camp. You are somewhere on the road of your spiritual journey. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Jesus is patient with us and not afraid our questions and doubts.

For those of you who are experiencing the resurrected life of Jesus today, praise God! These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Strengthen and encourage your brothers and sisters.

My prayer for all of us is that we live like Jesus really is alive, that we may truly experience life in His name…a life that radically impacts the way we love others this week.

Until next time…stay salty.

The Rock Gets Rocked

John 18.15-18, 25-27. Peter’s denial. Two disciples follow Jesus and the crowd from the Mount of Olives. We know that one of them is Peter…John tells us that. The other is most likely John himself. We’re not sure about John’s relationship to the high priest, but apparently he has enough pull to get Peter in. From the response of the slave-girl when she asks, “You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?”, John’s relationship to Jesus as one of His disciples, seems to be well-known, at least to the help. Now it’s difficult to know what the slave-girl’s opinion was of Jesus…but we can take a guess. The way the question is framed, a negative response is assumed. In other words, she expects Peter to say “no”. Maybe because she assumes Jesus is a criminal based on the soldiers accompanying Him, or maybe she has bought into the negative propaganda of the religious elite. Either way, she doesn’t expect Peter to claim allegiance to Jesus…and Peter does not disappoint.

In stark contrast to the “I AM” of Jesus, Peter simply answers, “I am not.” But that one simple phrase speaks volumes. Peter, the first of the disciples to identify Jesus as the Christ of God, arguably the chief disciple, the one who was willing to take on a cohort of Roman soldiers with little more than a pocketknife, the Rock who would become a pillar of the church…gets rocked, and is seemingly cowed by a servant-girl.

As the scene continues to unfold, Peter is warming himself by the fire with a group of slaves and soldiers, when the question comes up for the second time, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” Again, a negative response is assumed. And Peter again responds, “I am not.” Starting to see a pattern here?

And before Peter can make a break for it, one of Malchus’ relatives, Peter’s victim in the garden, recognizes him. “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” For the third time, Peter denies knowing Jesus, and immediately a rooster crows. And Jesus’ prediction in the upper room becomes a shocking and painful reality.

So the obvious question is, “Why does Peter deny Jesus?” And although, “Because Jesus said he would” is technically a correct answer, let’s dig a little deeper to see if we can identify what brings Peter to this disastrous outcome.

First off, it’s been a hard day for Peter…first Jesus informs him that Satan has demanded permission to sift him like wheat, then he’s told that he would deny his Master, he’s rebuked for trying to “save” Jesus from washing his feet, he’s told that Jesus is going to betrayed and murdered and then told that he is to follow Jesus’ example, and then he’s rebuked again when he attempts to defend Jesus in the garden… his expectations have not only been unmet, they’ve been utterly destroyed. You see, Peter was looking for Messiah. But he was expecting a Warrior-King who would overthrow the power of Rome and establish the messianic kingdom. He wasn’t looking for the Suffering Servant coming to die; he was looking for the White Horse Rider of Revelation 19 riding out to crush His enemies. And although Jesus has worked to correct Peter’s expectations, he has simply refused to let go of his version of Messiah – footwashing, talk of “laying down His life”, allowing Himself to be arrested and coming to the defense of those who were taking Him… Peter was ready to fight for Him. He was willing to die for Him. If Peter were asked, “Whom do you seek?” The answer would have been clear… “The bloody Warrior-King of Psalm 2 and 110 who would demolish His enemies and crush the head of the serpent!” He was looking for a Messiah who acted, well, more like him. And this Jesus wasn’t it.

So I’m not sure that Peter’s denials are based purely on his fear of death. First of all, last week Peter was ready to give his life for the cause. Even though Jesus flattened His enemies with a Word, 200 to 1 is still pretty long odds, so when he draws his sword (maybe dagger), he was prepared to die. And secondly, John goes into the courtyard of the high priest with Jesus and he sends for Peter. John isn’t “captured”, so Peter could see that John, a known associate of Jesus, is safe. It doesn’t appear that at this point he has any reason to fear for his life.

But if it isn’t fear of death, what is it? A couple of options come to mind…maybe Peter thinks he is on the wrong side, maybe he’s beginning to doubt, maybe it’s the pain of unmet expectations. The rules have changed. Winning now looks like losing. How conflicted he must have been. A Jew who grew up believing that winning looks like winning. No one told him that the rules changed. He could very well be embarrassed and ashamed of his association with this “Criminal”, this “Want-to-be-Messiah”. Maybe it comes down to the fact that it’s easier to pick a side and go all-in, knowing that the consequence is imminent death than it is to say “Yes” hour after hour, day after day, year after year…the grueling task of “laying down your life”.

As I reflected on this passage, I wondered why John includes this episode with Peter. Peter had to be one of his closest friends, his brother-in-arms, his travelling buddy, a fellow disciple of Jesus…and yet John calls him out. And it couldn’t have been easy for John. How does this fit with John’s purpose of writing so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that by believing we may have life in His name? Simply put: We all need Jesus. Peter needed a Savior…not the Jesus he wanted, but he needed Jesus because only Jesus can save.

We are all deniers. Since the garden, it’s been hardwired into our DNA. But Jesus came to bring restoration and healing. He came to make all things new, but even in that process we are prone to lash out when our expectations are unmet, when Jesus doesn’t conform to our image of Him.

Peter was looking for the Jesus whom he thought could save him…but that Jesus couldn’t. Only Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God, the I AM, the Word made flesh could truly save. And He’s the only One who can truly save us today. Granted that salvation doesn’t always look like we may want it to, but we must trust that we have a loving and benevolent Creator and Savior who is in the process of reconciling the world to Himself and conforming us to His image. That is often a painful process, but well worth it in the end.

We see Peter’s response to his expectations, but what about you? Think about an expectation, a hope, a desire in your life that currently isn’t being met. What’s your response? What does your denial look like? Anger? Frustration? Depression? Escape? Apathy? My prayer for all of us is that in the face of unmet expectations, we would be able to die to them, lay down our lives, and embrace Jesus for who He is an not who we want him to be.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

“Whom Do You Seek?”

John 18.1-11. Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ arrest. Judas leads a group of Roman soldiers (200-600) to arrest Jesus. The soldiers are in for more than they bargained for as Jesus asks, “Whom do you seek?” The soldiers respond, “Jesus the Nazarene.” Jesus comes back with, “I AM.” With that the soldiers fall back to the ground. I AM is the divine name with which God identified Himself to Moses in the burning bush way back in Exodus 3. You are probably more familiar with the Hebrew pronunciation, “Yahweh”. John has used I AM statements throughout his Gospel to reinforce both Jesus’ Messianic and Divine roles (7 I AM’s: Bread of Life; Light of World; Gate; Good Shepherd; Resurrection and Life, Way, Truth and Life; and Vine; not to mention John 8.58). And I believe he’s doing the same thing here. This is confirmed by the soldiers’ reaction: they draw back and fall to the ground. The Word made flesh, the One who spoke creation into existence, and the One from whom the sharp sword will come out of His mouth to slay His enemies at His return, now speaks a word and the bravest of men fall back. Now we see the crux of the difference between John’s account of the betrayal and the Synoptics: the Synoptics highlight Jesus’ humanity and focus on the betrayal, whereas John highlights Jesus’ deity and focuses on the Betrayed. It shouldn’t surprise us because John’s Gospel is the most theological of the four Gospel narratives. In the early church, when controversy swirled around the question of Jesus, the early church fathers looked to the Gospel of John for support for their argument that Jesus was both fully God and fully Man. The purpose statement of John’s Gospel is: “these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” Everything John includes and excludes goes to that purpose. The soldiers had come out looking for a man, an insurrectionist, a rogue, want-to-be king, but they came face-to-face with the Son of God. Jesus is constantly challenging folks’ perceptions and expectations of who He is. Belief is used over 90 times in the book of John, but there is an evolution of belief as the book progresses as Jesus reveals more of who He is. At one point, He even asks the 12 if they also wanted to leave…constantly challenging and expanding their category of who and what Messiah would be. 

As I reflected on the passage, I was struck by Jesus’ question: “Whom do you seek?” And I began to think about how different folks viewed Jesus in John’s Gospel. Peter’s view of/response to Jesus was one of action. This final scene where he cuts off Malchus’ ear is a great illustration. He’s constantly looking for Jesus to lead His followers into battle and establish the kingdom. He’s not a fan of the Lamb-before-the-Lion approach to the kingdom. Some of us are like Peter and can’t understand why God doesn’t act sooner or in some cases doesn’t seem to act at all, especially with the injustices in the world that threaten to overwhelm us.

Judas’ view of/response to Jesus was: what’s in it for me? Judas always seemed to be working an angle and was willing to follow Jesus as long as there was a perceived benefit for himself. A good example is his rebuke of the woman who poured costly perfume on Jesus’ feet, not because he cared about the poor (as John tells us), but because he was a thief. And if we are honest with our selves, some of us are like Judas. We are willing to follow Jesus as long as there is a perceived immediate benefit for ourselves…better life (job, marriage, kids, etc.). But should that perceived benefit fail to materialize and actual suffering become the reality of life, we are quick to fall away.

The Pharisees’ view of/response to Jesus was: what about us? We are told that the Pharisees wanted to silence Jesus because they were afraid that they would lose their status in the community. Some of us are like the Pharisees and are more concerned about status and appearances and the favor of men, so following Jesus will only work if it doesn’t cost me social capital with my peers.

The crowd’s view of/response to Jesus was: show us something new. The crowd who followed Jesus was extremely fickle. At one point they seemingly hang on every word, and then suddenly are abandoning Him when the miracles cease to amaze or the teaching becomes too hard. Some of us are like the crowd. We follow Jesus when it’s popular to do so, but when the tides of public opinion change, we are quick to abandon Him.

Reflecting on these responses, I realized that each of them was not so different than that of the soldiers response to Jesus…you see Jesus the Nazarene is the prototypical Jesus of our imagination. He’s who we have made Jesus out to be based on our own expectations and desires. And when He doesn’t live up to our expectations, we walk away. We want to come to Jesus on our terms and to make Him in our image. But Jesus’ answer is irrefutable: I AM. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe and the Rescuer of our souls. And He bids us come and follow Him…not the Jesus we have made up in our own minds, not Jesus the Nazarene, but the I AM. He wants us to follow Him, but we must come to Him on His terms and not ours. We must be conformed to His image, and not He to ours.

So how do we work on our view of Jesus? How do we go about seeing Him as He really is? How do we conform? How do we submit? How do we walk in His footsteps? I really believe that happens best in the context of community. God is in the process of redeeming a people…sure He calls us individually, but He calls us into a body…into the body of Christ. And it’s to the people of God, to a body of believers that the Scriptures are written. There is no effective lone ranger Christianity. “It’s not about you, your Bible, and a cup of coffee” – but it’s about discovering and living out the truths of the Bible with other believers. That’s what discipleship is all about. It’s easy for me to become self-deceived, but when my life is bumping up against others who are also looking to follow Jesus, it’s harder to hide my sin and thereby deceive myself. The truth of the Scriptures are then able to penetrate at a deep level, so that when you are asked, “Whom do you seek?” you can confidently say, “I’m seeking Jesus.”

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Black and white

The battle lines are clearly drawn. Receive the mark of the beast and life continues seemingly undisturbed – buy, sell, trade, etc. Refuse the mark and life becomes increasingly more difficult. If life is viewed from a purely earthly perspective, then the choice seems pretty clear. Viewed from a heavenly perspective the choice is likewise obvious. But gaining that celestial perspective while rooted on terra firma is a challenging task.

Revelation 14. We’re reminded that while things appear bleak for the followers of God on earth, it is the pursuers of the beast who are in real danger. They will experience God’s divine wrath poured out in full strength. Follow the beast or follow God. Those who trail the beast will live today, only to die eternally. Those who chase after God may die today, but will live eternally. Two reapings. One to eternal life. The other to eternal torment.

But what about the third group? Those who have signed up to follow God, they’ve trusted in Jesus, but are unwillingly to lay down their lives. They live in-between kind of lives. They want to enjoy the benefits of the peaceful life promised by the beast here on planet earth, while still anticipating a future home in heaven…they long for the best of both worlds. However, John doesn’t seem to have a category for the inbetweeners, believers who are unwilling to persevere (who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus). So what does that mean for us today? The church today seems to subsist in compromise, especially the American church. And that can’t make God very happy. It should be one or the other. You are for Him, or against Him. Being for Him doesn’t mean that you won’t still make bad choices at times, but it means that you are making the conscious decision to follow Him no matter the cost. That takes courage and a great deal of trust. May God give us a greater ability to see life from His perspective and courage to follow Him.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

A Scary Pair

Two beasts. One from the sea and one from the land. One terrifying agenda: wipe out all opposition. Leave no survivors. All must convert or die.

Revelation 13. The scene opens with the dragon standing on the seashore. The first beast appears, 7 heads and 10 horns, who is like a leopard, and his feet are like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gives him his power and his throne and great authority. One of the heads appears to have received a fatal wound, but the wound has been healed. And the whole earth is amazed and follows after the beast; they worship the dragon because he gives his authority to the beast; and they worship the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” (Remember this is the guy who slew the two witnesses in chapter 11, who appeared to be unstoppable. His ability to slay the two witnesses made him somewhat of a hero, especially since it would have been easy to see the two witnesses as responsible for the judgments that had occurred thus far in the tribulation.) The beast will speak arrogant words and blasphemies against God and against heaven. He will make war with the saints and overcome them, and everyone who lives on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.

Using bestial imagery reminiscent of Daniel, John describes the man who will be empowered by satan with the trappings of the four beasts from Daniel’s vision of the Times of the Gentiles from Daniel 7. Based on John’s description, it is unlikely that he will be Jewish. His ability to slay the two witnesses and seemingly survive a fatal wound catapult him into instant star status…he is even worshipped as a god. No one will stand in his way, none can resist him. He slays the saints (overcoming them in the world’s eyes), and all those who are not God-fearers will worship him.

The second beast will come up out of the earth; and he will have two horns like a lamb and will speak as a dragon. He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes everyone worship the first beast. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it will be given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast. And it will be given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. And he causes all to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. The number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.

The second beast appears to be Jewish (from the land, lamb, false prophet). His job is to cause folks to worship the first beast. The false miracles that this guy performs mirror that of the two witnesses, and taken together, these two beasts form a diabolical duo who are the anti-two witnesses attempting to cause the world to follow after the dragon where the two witnesses call the nation of Israel to follow God.

The imagery in this section of Revelation would make for a great block-buster movie. Dragons, beasts, war, angels, end of the world…and while the fantastic pictures may cause us to want to ignore or dismiss the underlying reality of these terrifying images, it’s important for us to be reminded of the real spiritual battle that rages around us that will one day come to a culmination when heaven and earth begin to crash together, and the physical and the spiritual are again one. How then should we live? When the earth and the heavens are being shaken, we need to remember that we are residents of a kingdom that cannot be shaken. And our job is to invite others into that kingdom by sharing the good news of the gospel of reconciliation with God through faith in Jesus.

Until next time…stay salty.

Rattlin’ Cages

Some folks would swear I ask questions just to rattle cages. And…they’re right. When it comes to digging in to God’s Word, I’ve found that most, if not all, of us approach it with blinders on. Our preconceived notions of what a particular passage says based on what we’ve heard from this or that preacher or teacher clouds our ability to really see the Word for ourselves, and therefore we miss so much of the beauty and wonder, the mystery and sometimes mystical nature of the Bible. So I like to challenge folks to think outside the box, to take God’s Word at face value and dare to believe.

Revelation 11. Two witnesses show up. John has taken us back to the beginning of the tribulation. The first time through he used a wide-angle lens to capture the effects of the seal and trumpet judgments on a global scale. And now he zooms in on the events taking place in Jerusalem. During the breaking of the seals and the beginning of the trumpets, these two guys are prophesying in the city, calling down fire, shutting up the sky, turning water to blood, all for one purpose…to bring the Jewish nation to repentance. The two appear to be unstoppable until the beast shows up and slays them both and leaves their dead bodies in the streets of Jerusalem for 3 1/2 days. Then the two witnesses or caught up to heaven and a severe earthquake takes place…and the people repent. Israel becomes a believing nation once again.

Revelation 12. Using imagery from Joseph’s dream, John describes converted Israel as the mother of Messiah. Strong allusions to Genesis 3.15 permeate this section as the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and satan seeks to devour the child (aka Seed of the woman). Being unsuccessful, he pursues the rest of her offspring (aka seed of the woman). A battle is waged in heaven and the dragon is cast out. (When does this occur? How does satan have access to heaven? Notice particularly that he is described as the accuser of the brethren who accuses them before God day and night.) Knowing he only has a short time, satan begins to persecute the Jews in earnest, attempting to wipe them completely out.

The Christian life is definitely a battlefield. That is nowhere more apparent than in the shocking scenes from the book of Revelation. The hero of the book is the overcomer, who we find defined in this last chapter…they overcame by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony and they did not love their lives even unto death. Overcoming by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony can be difficult enough, but not loving our lives even unto death…that’s all together different. My prayer is that God gives us the courage and the insight to live our lives in such a way that we do fear death, that we see beyond the physical to the spiritual world, and that we lay hold of that which is life indeed, each one realizing what it means to be a knight of faith.

Until next time…stay salty.

The Beginning of Woes

Trumpet judgments. The first four trumpets are poured out on creation itself – the waters and the land. The effects are devastating on both the earth and mankind. The nature of the calamities is reminiscent of the plagues on Pharaoh back in Exodus, but instead of one nation suffering, it’s worldwide chaos.

Revelation 9-10. The woes begin. The first woe is an angel falling from heaven with a key to the abyss. The fact that the angel is falling, tells us he’s probably not a good guy. That coupled with the realization that he is about to let loose the demons of hell, and I think we have a decent idea of who this angel is. As demons are released, thick, black smoke billows out and some pretty horrific creatures appear…locusts that don’t look like a normal locust and that don’t act like a normal locust. These guys attack the inhabitants of the earth – all those without the mark of God. The scary thing is that folks don’t repent.

The second woe is the release of angels who are bound…probably not good guys either since they are imprisoned…to prepare the way for Armageddon.

Then another angel shows up. A giant angel with one foot on the sea and one on the land. He has a scroll that John is commanded to eat. Tastes sweet as honey, but leaves him bitter. It’s time to re-prophesy. Back to the beginning of the tribulation.

As we mentioned before, the book of Revelation records the crashing together of heaven and earth. And as the veil between the spiritual and physical worlds is ripped asunder. Fantastical creatures appear and all hell breaks loose…shouldn’t surprise us. It’s interesting that the word repent shows up here. The last time we saw it was in Revelation 2-3 with the churches. So who is John seeing here? Definitely unbelievers…but maybe some believers? John doesn’t write the book of Revelation to make us comfortable, but to spur the church on to be the church. May we take seriously the calling to which we have been called and engage the spiritual warfare that rages around us, may we build ourselves up on our most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keeping ourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. May we have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Heroes

Everybody wants to be the hero. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who would choose not to be the hero in the story if given the chance. There’s something about our make-up that longs for a battle to fight, a quest to undertake or a damsel to rescue. We might think of Indiana Jones or Iron Man or Jack Reacher, but the success of the Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games showed us that even the least likely of characters can be heroic. One of the things we enjoy about heroes is their ability to save the day. Rarely do they die in the process. And if they do, it makes for a very sad tale indeed. But as we continue in the story of Revelation, we find a surprising twist to the plot. The heroes of the story follow the example of the Hero of the Story…they give their lives for the sake of the cause.

Revelation 7-8. After the devastating effects of the seal judgments, John records a brief pause in heaven. First an angel is sent to seal, 144,000 Jews (likely converts during the ministry of the 2 witnesses around the middle of the tribulation) so that they will survive through the end of the tribulation (more on that in a later post). But then we get a celestial view from the end of the tribulation of multitudes of folks from every tribe and tongue and people and nation surrounding the throne and worshiping God and the Lamb. These folks are holding palm branches (a symbol of victory) and wearing white robes…the same robes that were given to the martyrs in the previous chapter. And now we see the full number of their brethren whose faith was forged in the fires of tribulation, who overcame by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony and who did not love their lives even unto death. And these heroes of the story have a front row seat to see the remainder of the drama played out.

And then the trumpets. In the Old Testament, the trumpet was a symbol of war (think of Jericho, Gideon, David…when the trumpet sounded the battle was engaged). And now the trumpets will signal the turn of focus from Israel’s repentance to the judgment on the nations. And we will see destruction that starts with creation and has a ruinous effect on mankind.

So what does this mean for us. John writes the book of Revelation to believers, and repent is a key term. In the midst of a culture that is constantly telling us to give up or give in, John reminds us that the fate of the world truly is at stake. There is a war raging for the souls of men. He wants to shake us out of our complacency and ignite within us a desire, a burning desire, a faith that is worth dying for and so surely is worth living for. A faith that impacts not only the way we live contrary to the culture, but a faith that can transform the culture. Are you with me? Who’s in?

Until next time…stay salty.

 

On earth as it is in heaven

Revelation 4-5. The scene in heaven is a sharp contrast to the condition of the churches in 2-3. If the churches represent God’s hold on planet earth, that hold appears to be tenuous at best. But in heaven…in heaven God’s rule is unquestioned. The imagery and mood of John’s writing fill the reader with dread. Although the heavenly vision pictures the holiness and transcendence of God, of Him who sits on the throne, it’s a holiness and transcendence that is foreign to us. And like John in chapter 1, we feel compelled to fall as dead men before this vision. And although the scene fills us with dread, it truly is an amazingly hope-filled story. It’s the reconciling of heaven and earth. It’s “Thy will being done on earth as it is in heaven”. Shouldn’t surprise us that this collision will result in major collateral damage.

The opening of the seals in Revelation 6 mark the beginning of the process of reconciliation. Jesus appears as the white horse rider coming out conquering and to conquer (the white horse rider bookends the tribulation…here at the beginning in chapter 6 and at the end in chapter 19. The tribulation then is His conquering.). Judgments representing the curses of the covenant designed to bring Israel to repentance follow with the red, black and pale horse riders. The martyrs under the throne (tribulation saints most likely) long for the process of God’s rule being realized on earth as it is in heaven to reach fulfillment. The martyrs are the heroes in the book of Revelation, the overcomers who overcome “because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” And in the sixth seal the undoing of the work really begins as cataclysmic destruction rocks the earth.

Terrifying visions. Final judgment. Cosmic wreckage. What do we do with it? In a world increasingly similar to the overwhelming chaos that the early church was plunged into, we do the same thing the early church did. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Know for certain that Jesus wins.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

So long Danny boy!

What a ride! Twelve weeks in the book of Daniel. Terrifying visions, steadfast faith, incredible courage, unwavering commitment, a new chapter. The rules have changed during the Times of the Gentiles. Up is down, and down is up. Doing right brings punishment, while conforming to the world brings comfort. Following God will not be easy, but for those with insight and the courage to persevere, their inheritance is secure. As the divine messenger says, “Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” In the midst of a world seemingly out of control, Daniel is reminded (and reminds us) that God is still in control…”For wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him.”

A good friend of mine shared a lesson learned from Daniel that has rocked him. He used to ask the “why?” question when it came to suffering. Why, if he was following God, was he having to go through this or that trial. Then he came to expect suffering as part of the life of the believer…he became, as Kierkegaard labels it, a knight of resignation. But Daniel has helped him see that suffering doesn’t have to be faced with resignation…suffering is part and parcel to following Jesus, but that suffering can be faced with hope and even joy…not in the pain itself, but in the identification that we have with Jesus. It doesn’t mean that we won’t grieve. Quite the contrary. We’re called to grieve, but not as those who have no hope. He’s learning what it means to be Kierkegaard’s knight of faith. May God give us the courage and steadfastness of Daniel to face life in the fourth kingdom, and may we do it with an undying hope

Until next time…stay salty.

Intimidating assessment

I recently started taking classes again at a local university. It’s been awhile since I’ve sat through a college class, and this is my first introduction to philosophy. One thing I’ve discovered through this experience…you never get over the fear of taking a test. I’m 43 years old, and I’ve lived through a lot of tense situations, including a 60ft all down the side of Long’s Peak. I should “know” better. There are lots of things in life to be anxious about…marriage, kids, jobs, etc. But tests still scare me. So I can’t imagine the hopeful terror of having Jesus evaluate my church. Welcome to Revelation 2-3.

Seven churches. Seven different evaluations, but all following a similar path: characteristic of Jesus, something the church is doing well, something the church is not doing so well, warning about failed improvement, and reward for overcoming. Of the seven churches, two (Smyrna and Philadelphia) are entirely positive evaluations (positive is a relative term when you consider that both of these churches are facing significant persecution); and one of the seven (Laodicea) is lacking any affirmative commendation. The overall condition of the church is questionable. To this group of churches, John writes this letter (on behalf of Jesus) as a very strong exhortation. He is writing to spur believers on to greater perseverance, to be overcomers. He is not writing to assure weak believers of their salvation. The battle is real, and he is calling everyone to be all in.

Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Jesus wins. That’s what the book of Revelation is all about. The temptation of the early church, for these seven churches, and for the church today is to look at the world we find ourselves in and to either withdraw from the world or be conformed to it. Revelation offers a third way. Engage it. Head on. Run after Jesus.

Until next time…stay salty.

Something old, something new

Not again. The visions come back more vivid and haunting each time. It was hard enough seeing Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of the statue.  Now I’m starting round 4 of my own visions of the future and kingdoms to come. And each vision adds more detail and yet becomes more obscure, more opaque. I’m frightened, puzzled and perplexed. I know God’s in control of the events unfolding on the world’s stage, but these visions terrify me!

Daniel 11. This is now Daniel’s 4th pass through the prophetic events of the coming Gentile kingdoms. This time in Daniel’s prophecy there is a combination of events that are now historical for us (still future for Daniel) and events that are still yet to come. Without a scorecard or a grasp of Ancient History, it’s difficult to follow what’s going on in this chapter. The first 35 verses are historical for us. Verses 36-45 appear to be still future. The first section narrows in pretty quickly to the civil wars between the Seleucids (North – Syria) and the Ptolemies (South – Egypt) post Alexander’s death in 333 B.C. Each dynasty has approximately 5 kings, and the political intrigue surrounding their reigns is summed up by Daniel (- approximately 200-300 years before the events take place!). These two warring factions are targeted because their battleground was primarily in Palestine, directly impacting the Jews in Jerusalem. The king of most interest is the final “king of the North” listed in this section, the Seleucid sovereign Antiochus IV (Epiphanes). He was the one who wreaked havoc on the Jews, forcing Hellenization on them and setting up the abomination of desolation (altar of Zeus in the temple). He will be the prototype for the future king spoken of in 36-45, the antichrist.

But why do we care? All this future stuff has to do with Israel and the Jews, right? So why do I, as a Gentile believer, care about what happens to the Jews? Because of Genesis 12. God promises Abraham that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed. Blessing comes through the nation of Israel. They are the root. They are the mother of Messiah from Revelation 12. We care about this stuff because our future is interwoven with theirs. We rise and fall with them in the end. If they don’t win, we don’t win. And if God is not faithful to Israel in the end, why do we think He will be faithful to us?

Until next time…stay salty.

Continued amazement

The seventy years of Babylonian captivity had finally ended (somewhat). The decree had gone out to rebuild the temple and folks were headed back to Jerusalem. It was a hopeful time, yet Daniel was distressed. Once again he was plagued by future visions of conflict, so he fasted and mourned and waited. And then…he showed up. Daniel said, “I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, there was a certain man dressed in linen, whose waist was girded with a belt of pure gold of Uphaz. His body also was like beryl, his face had the appearance of lightning, his eyes were like flaming torches, his arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a tumult.” Not like any man I’ve ever seen. And then we find out, that this “man” had been opposed by the prince of Persia for twenty-one days until the “man” called Michael for help. The “man”, or better, angel came to strengthen Daniel for understanding the revelation that would follow…and then he was back off to fight the prince of Persia while the prince of Greece prepared to come.

Daniel 10. Spiritual warfare. This is probably the clearest reference that we have to spiritual conflict in the OT. Angels fighting demons. The fate of the ancient world in the balance…sounds like it would make for a great movie. But this is no movie. What was happening to Daniel was real. And the spiritual conflict is no less real today, although we’ve convinced ourselves it doesn’t exist. In some ways, I think it’s easier to believe in God than the devil…most are functioning atheists when it comes to the dark side and its minions. And I believe that’s why many of us are defeated and enslaved by sin so easily. Not fun to think about, but…the good news is, greater is He who is in you…if you have trusted in Jesus. He’s already defeated the strong man and plundered his house. And now we wait, as Daniel did, for His return.

Until next time…stay salty.

Terrifying Encounter

Three years I spent with Him. Three years of amazing, jaw-dropping ministry, seeing everything from the dead being raised to demons being cast out, the lame walking, the blind seeing, the sick healed, the feeding of a great multitude, Him walking on the water…and then, the beatings, the mocking, the persecution, the flogging, the crucifixion, His death…and then His resurrection, His commission, His ascension. It was an incredible three years. And even afterwards with Peter and the guys in Jerusalem, seeing the gospel spread out to the Gentiles, the death of my brother James… I wrote down my experiences, telling the story of Jesus. The most amazing thing to me was His love for me. I never got over it. I spent some time in Ephesus and wrote a few letters to the flock there. But after a lifetime of ministry, nothing prepared me for that encounter…

Revelation 1. John the disciple whom Jesus loved thought he had seen it all, and as he begins his account of Revelation, he is reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice and His great love. He also exhorts his readers, reminding them that they had been called to be a kingdom of priests, the same charge that Moses had given to the children of Israel in Exodus 19. So far, so good. And then John sees Jesus…and falls like a dead man. Here’s how John describes the scene: “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.” This was not the carpenter from Galilee…This was the All Powerful Son of God, and John was terrified. And from this opening chapter in the book, there is no doubt who this story is about and who is in control!

Revelation is one of my favorite books to walk through. It would be easy to conclude that a book that deals predominantly with future things has little value for us today, but that could not be further from the truth. Revelation is the consummation of the story that began in Genesis. It is the conclusion of the cosmic battle between good and evil that has be waged for millennia. And we care who wins because our fate is tied up with the people of God throughout the ages. I hope you can journey with us through this terribly wonderful book!

Until next time…stay salty.

Answered Prayer?

Sixty-six years. Daniel had been in captivity for sixty-six years. He had come to Babylon as a young man and now was quite old. Most of his friends were gone…they had died somewhere along the way. Yet Daniel was unwavering in his hope that God would restore the nation. Reading the prophet Jeremiah, he came across the passage where God had mentioned the Jews being in captivity in Babylon for 70 years before judgment came upon the Babylonians. And now the time was near, or so it seemed. So Daniel began to pray, confessing the sins of the nation and asking God to restore them just as Moses had instructed in Deuteronomy. And suddenly an angel appeared, Gabriel in fact. And Daniel’s prayer was answered in a most surprising way.

Daniel 9. First Daniel’s told that 70 7’s had been decreed for his people and the holy city, “to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.” It turns out that the 7’s are years, so 70 7’s would be 490 years. According to the following verse, 69 of those 7’s (483 years) would span the time from the rebuilding of the city (time of Nehemiah) to the appearance of the Messiah (Jesus’ triumphal entry). But then Messiah would be cut off by the same folks who would also destroy the city. In the final 7 (tribulation) there would be a covenant made and then broken by a mysterious figure, a prince of these folks, who would then be destroyed.

Good news for Daniel: the righteous rule of God would be established. Bad news: not anytime soon. We are still in the time between the 69th and 70th 7. We’re waiting for the end of transgression and sin, the entrance of everlasting righteousness and the sealing up of prophecy. In some ways these things have been accomplished…in Jesus who is the “Stone cut without hands” and the “Son of Man” who comes up to the Ancient of Days. In His first coming, He made atonement for sin and paved the way for everlasting righteousness for all who believe in Him. But still we wait. We wait for the final revelation of the Son as the White Horse Rider and the ultimate end of sin, death, pain, sorrow, etc. And as we wait, like Daniel, may God find us just as faithful to impact our culture and point others to Him.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Genesis Musings

I love road trips. I love going new places and seeing new things. I also enjoy going to familiar spots and getting reacquainted. I love the focused conversations and times of quiet reflection. And although the journey can be trying, the destination makes it worthwhile. Genesis has been just such an excursion.

Creation. Fall. Redemption. Blessing. Hope. A Future. Imago dei. Genesis 3.15. The beginning of the Nation. Love. Mercy. Judgment. A familiar story with lots of twists and turns. The revealing of God’s character and man’s purpose. An amazing landscape and a world of possibility. Genesis remains one of my favorite books. One of the biggest takeaways for me this go round is that God is not in a hurry…He will accomplish His purposes in His timing, and He can work through the most unlikely of circumstances and people…Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah.

But another challenging learning along the way came from reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, where he examines Genesis 22 and Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. Kierkegaard contrasts two kinds of knights and two potential approaches that Abraham could have taken to God’s request. The knight of resignation is willing to obey and sacrifice his joy and resign himself to a dismal, joyless existence because that’s what God’s asked him to do. The knight of faith believes the absurd…he is willing to obey, but does so not expecting to give up his joy, but receive it back in fuller measure. Abraham was the latter of the two. Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed the absurd, that he knew that God could bring Isaac back even from the dead…Abraham had no doubt that he would bring Isaac back down the mountain with him. It’s challenged me in my own thinking and my approach to ministry. Am I a knight of faith or resignation? Do I look at obedience as the death of joy, or the door to experiencing joy at an even deeper level? Do I live like a believe that God is for me, and wants what’s good for me (conformity to His Son), even when it may not seem like it at the time?

Coming to the end of a journey is always bittersweet. There are points along the path that all I’m hoping for is to be done, but then there’s that glimpse of something truly amazing that takes my breath away; I wish that the journey would never end. Our next road trip will be the book of Revelation (another favorite).

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Dark Days Ahead

The outlook was not good. Not good at all. The kingdom of the ram was challenging enough as it crushed all opposition. But on the horizon, the kingdom of the goat. It quickly gained momentum as it devoured the ram’s kingdom, finally defeating the ram itself thus making it officially the time of the goat. But shortly after establishing his throne, the goat-king died and his kingdom was divided up among his four generals. And while there was some coherence to the kingdom, there was also much infighting, until another king arose. He came to power through political intrigue, killing his predecessor and ascending the throne. After defeating his counterpart in the region to the south, he set his sights on the Beautiful Land. It would be a jewel in his crown and provide a buffer zone between his kingdom and that of the emerging kingdom of the beast. He set himself up as the king of the Beautiful Land, trampled underfoot its citizens and defiled their place of worship, forcing them to take part in his apostasy on pain of death. Only then he would be killed, but not by human agency… then Daniel awoke. Daniel 8.

The vision in itself was terrifying to Daniel and unintelligible. It occurred to him while he was still living in Babylon a short time before the kingdom was overthrown by the Persians. We are told that the vision relates to the next two kingdoms during the Times of the Gentiles, namely Medo-Persia (the ram) and Greece (the goat), and from world history we can piece together with surprising accuracy the vision that was so confounding to Daniel. We know the first goat-king as Alexander the Great who defeated the Persians and then died shortly afterwards. His kingdom was divided between his four generals. The four generals became kings of their respective regions while maintaining the overall kingdom of Greece. There was a great deal of infighting among each of these dynasties as they sought to expand their individual domains. After a time, a king rose up in the Seleucid dynasty, and, killing his predecessor, he ascended the throne. That king was Antiochus Epiphanies. After defeating Ptolemy VI and taking over Egypt, he set his sights on Jerusalem. He attacked the city and set himself up as king. He set up an altar to Zeus in the temple and forced the Israelites to offer swine on the altar and eat its flesh…a thing that was abhorrent to the Jews. This prompted the Maccabean revolt led by Judas Maccabees. Antiochus was forced out of Jerusalem and died a short time later as a madman (making prophetic the title given him by the Jews, Antiochus Epimanes “Madman”).

This vision of Daniel’s is different than the two before (statue and beasts). Each of those ended with God setting up an eternal kingdom, but here all Daniel sees is the people of God being trampled and killed. It sure looked like they were losing. It troubled him. It should trouble us. During this time when we live in the shadow of the fourth kingdom, we shouldn’t expect to see God’s people winning from a human perspective. In fact, it looks like they chose the wrong side. But the story doesn’t end there…

Until next time…stay salty.

Journey’s End

Jacob came to the end of his life and had the daunting and somewhat unenviable task of “blessing” his sons, of foretelling their futures (or better the futures of their respective clans) based in part on the forth-telling of their characters. There was Reuben, the firstborn, who sought to secure his birthright through an indiscretion with Bilhah, Rachel’s maid. Simeon and Levi slaughtered a town in retaliation for their baby sister’s rape. Dan, whose tribe would become infamous for introducing idolatry to Israel. Benjamin whose family would be all but wiped out for siding with a group in their midst who committed a heinous evil. Then there was Joseph who received the longest and most elaborate blessing…who was not only his father’s favorite, but also the one whom God used to deliver the family and all of Egypt from the famine. And Judah, the one through whom the Genesis 3:15 Messiah would come.

For Jacob it must have been a bitter-sweet time. A reminder of his own shortcomings as a father and the sins of his sons, but also the prospective future of his boys. I wonder if that’s what prompts him to say, “For Your salvation I wait, O LORD.” In effect, when I look at the future of the nation from a human perspective, all I can see is pain and disappointment, frustration and brokenness. But when I look through the LORD’s eyes, I see the hope of Genesis 3:15, deliverance from sin, salvation of the faithful and the reparation of the deep, deep fracture caused by the fall. Jacob finished his life still looking for that hope and so made Joseph swear to bury him back in the land.

Jacob’s hope is our hope. Except we know the Genesis 3:15 Deliverer is Jesus. And He is our Salvation, our Redeemer and the Restorer of all that has been broken. He is the One who takes an uncertain physical future, and infuses it with power to prepare for the radiant splendor of both a spiritual future and a present reality. And one day He will right the wrongs and crush the head of the serpent.

Until next time…stay salty.

Wicked Nightmare

What a wickedly vivid nightmare! Four fantastical beasts, each one, in some ways, more terrifying than the one before. A lion with the wings of an eagle. A bear leaning to one side with three ribs in its mouth. A four-headed leopard with four wings. A horrific beast with iron teeth and bronze claws, having a number of horns, that bites and tears and devours. But then a radiant throne and the Ancient of Days sitting in judgment. And finally one like a Son of Man riding a cloud and coming up to the Ancient of Days to receive authority and a kingdom. Such was Daniel’s dream. And it deeply troubled him.

Daniel 7. When Daniel asked for the interpretation, he was told that the four beasts represented four successive kingdoms…much like Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2. Like the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, the lion with the wings of an eagle represented Babylon. That much Daniel could be sure of. But at the time of the dream, he was still living in the time of Babylon’s rule so the identity of the remaining kingdoms would have been a mystery. From world history, we know that the kingdoms that followed Babylon were Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. But the curious thing is…Rome never actually fell to another world power. For sure the city was sacked by the Visigoths and the Vandals from the north in the fourth century AD, but the kingdom itself faded into the background and became the European states that we know today.

The interesting thing for us in this vision is the fact that the final kingdom falls to the “One like a Son of Man” by whom the little horn that speaks out blasphemies against the Most High is cast into burning fire. This hasn’t happened yet. The little horn is also predicted to make war with the saints and overpower them – probably what terrifies Daniel…evil winning and good guys loosing. This we may think we have seen, but not to this extent. And so we wait. While it looks like following God is losing, we wait. While persecution intensifies, we wait. While our physical lives are seemingly thrown away like so much garbage, we wait. We wait for the eternal kingdom. But we also seek to engage the cultural now. We fight back the darkness and make it harder to go to hell. The Judge is coming, and when He arrives it will be too late for those who are His enemies. So we wait and we work and we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Round Two

Sixty some-odd years ago Daniel arrived in Babylon as one of the captive exiles from Jerusalem. At that time, Nebuchadnezzar sat at the helm of the mighty Babylonian empire. Daniel distinguished himself early on in his career as a man of integrity and an uncompromising worshiper of the true God; and he enjoyed favor with both God and Nebuchadnezzar, rising to dizzying heights within the governmental administration.

Decades later, Daniel found himself in a similar role, a rising star, but in a different kingdom. The Medo-Persians had stepped on the world stage as the new conquering kingdom. Daniel was one of three high government officials, and Darius planned on making him the number two guy in the kingdom. Not good news for Daniel’s competitors. Not that Daniel had it out for them at all, but they did not like the idea of this Hebrew ruling over them. So they devised a plot. I’m not sure what it says about government officials today, but at that time these guys thought for sure they would be able to find some “dirt” on Daniel, political or otherwise. But he was above reproach. Eighty + years old and they could find nothing against him. What a testimony to his character. Their only shot was to try to entrap him in regards to the worship of his God. His reputation as a God-follower must have been well-know. They hatched the plot, Darius signed the decree, and worship of God (any god) was forbidden for thirty days. Once the decree was signed, they had Daniel. They knew that he would not compromise, and Darius would therefore be forced to carry out the death sentence – one-way trip to the lions’ den to be mauled by lions. Things seemed to go according to plan, except the king was unusually worried about Daniel’s welfare, and then the unthinkable…Daniel survived the ordeal! That did not bode well for the conspirators, and their lives were forfeited for their treachery. The story ends in much the same way that Daniel and his three friends other encounters with the king end…with the king acknowledging the greatness of God.

So why does Daniel include this story, especially since it highlights many of the same lessons that we’ve already seen in the book (i.e., God’s sovereignty, God’s protection, Daniel, et al. ‘s faithfulness/integrity, etc.)? I believe it has something to do with this being the second of the kingdoms (round two, if you will) that God revealed would rule over the Jews. Babylon was the first. The Persians were the second. God protected a remnant in the first kingdom, and now He’s protecting that same remnant in the second kingdom. For the Jews reading the story, it would be a strong encouragement that God would look out for them in the ensuing kingdoms during the Times of the Gentiles until He sets up His eternal kingdom. The same encouragement is there for us today as God-followers. Even though following God looks many times like losing rather than winning, we can be assured that the kingdoms of this world are temporary and that their power comes only at God’s discretion. He is still sovereign, and He still continues to work in history to bring about His divine purposes. He will establish His kingdom.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

A Backward Glance

Twenty years. Joseph had been separated from his family for twenty years. And after a masterfully played round of psychological terrorism (see prior post), he was now ready to reveal himself to his brothers. What would their reaction be? Clearly they had evidenced remorse over their prior treatment of him, but would they rejoice with him now that they were reunited? Or would they be driven to make excuses and pass the blame?

Genesis 45-46. Understandably, the brothers first response on hearing Joseph’s surprise unveiling was stunned silence, followed quickly by visible dismay. Having succumbed to Joseph’s mental attack, they were surely ready to face his retribution for their crime; but surprisingly it didn’t come. Instead Joseph received them warmly, falling on them and weeping on their necks. Joseph was truly glad to see them…but how? After all that they had put him through – murderous threats, throwing him into a pit, selling him to slave traders, which resulted in slavery, false accusations, prison, forgotten assistance…and then, ascendancy to the top spot in Pharaoh’s cabinet, marriage and two sons, deliverance for not only the Egyptians but also for the surrounding lands through the famine. Joseph’s declaration to his brothers gives us the “how”. He said, “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God…”

Joseph was able to look back on the events of his life and interpret them in light of the dreams that God had revealed to him twenty years earlier as a teenage boy. At any point along the path, it would have been difficult if not impossible for Joseph to predict exactly how the story would end. No doubt he trusted God to work out the details, but there would have been questions along the way… It’s only in the rearview mirror, the backward glance, that Joseph was able to see God’s hand at work so clearly. The same is true for us. It is hard at times to believe that God has a plan for us…the details of everyday life and tough circumstances have a way of clouding our vision. But when we take time to look back over the landscape of our lives, the path seems less arbitrary and more defined as God has been working to get us to this point and will continue to lead us to the destiny He has for us. He only asks that we remain faithful with what he’s laid in our path today and follow where He leads.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Belshazzar’s Fatal Mistake

Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful man on the planet. His kingdom was one of the wonders of the ancient world. His word was law, and he decided the fate of many a people. But Nebuchadnezzar also learned a lesson that radically changed the trajectory of his life…the God of the Hebrews was God, the eternal God who was Most High over the kingdoms of the earth. He proclaimed, “For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” And Nebuchadnezzar became a believer in the one true God.

Daniel 5. Several years later, a new king sat on the throne of Babylon…well maybe more of a co-regent since his father was still technically king. His name was Belshazzar. The fall of Babylon was imminent. The Medes and Persians were literally right outside the gates. And young Belshazzar decided to throw a feast, likely in honor of the constellation of The Scales (today known as Libra). During the feast, he commanded a curious thing: that his servants “bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God which was in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.” Subsequently a hand appeared and wrote a mysterious message on the wall. All of the king’s wise men were called in, but none could interpret the message. Finally Daniel was summoned, and after giving a brief history lesson, he gave the interpretation. “Now this is the inscription that was written out: ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.’ This is the interpretation of the message: ‘MENE’—God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it.  ‘TEKEL’—you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient [ironic in view of the festival they were celebrating]. ‘PERES’—your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.” That night Belshazzar died.

What was Belshazzar’s sin? And how was it different than Nebuchadnezzar’s? Didn’t Nebuchadnezzar worship idols and force others to do the same? Wasn’t he also proud? So why was one spared (Nebuchadnezzar) and the other destroyed (Belshazzar)? No doubt before his conversion Nebuchadnezzar was proud and idolatrous, and God patiently pursued him. But we have to remember that before Daniel’s arrival, the God of the Hebrews was the local deity of yet another kingdom Nebuchadnezzar had conquered. The fact that he defeated the Jews in battle proved that his gods were greater than theirs. And so God introduced Himself to Nebuchadnezzar, and he responded. In each instance, Nebuchadnezzar recognized God’s power and ultimately recognized His sovereignty. And Daniel told Belshazzar, “Yet you, his son, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven.” Belshazzar knew who God was, but chose to dishonor Him all the same. Belshazzar had sinned with a high hand…open rebellion against both God and Nebuchadnezzar who worshiped Him. And God brought swift judgment.

While God was punishing His people for their infidelity, He would still protect the faithful during this time of judgment. We are still living during these “Times of the Gentiles”, so it’s imperative for us to remember that God is sovereign over the nations and kingdoms of the world. He establishes kings and pulls down kings. He sets the times and the epochs. And He will judge, but He will also deliver those who have trusted in Him. We can rest in that.

Until next time…stay salty.

Surprising Plot Twist

I love a good mystery. Something about the twists and turns in the plot and the surprise of the final “who-dun-it” gets me every time. The great mystery stories are always unpredictable, much like life. And Genesis is like that. In the Genesis story, the focus has been on Joseph now for several chapters. In fact his episode accounts for more real estate than any of the other patriarchs, and more than both his father (Jacob) and grandfather’s (Isaac) narratives combined. Joseph was given dreams that indicated he would rule over his brothers and even his entire family. His experience in Egypt had borne this out, as he was promoted to the highest possible position, number 2 behind Pharaoh. As we’ve been looking for the Genesis 3:15 Seed of the Woman, Joseph seems like the most likely candidate to carry on the line that began with Adam and went through folks like Seth, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…but then a sleeper candidate appeared on the scene.

In our first encounter with Judah, he appeared as the ring-leader of his siblings with a plan for making a quick shekel, while at the same time ridding both he and his other brothers of their none-too-loved younger brother, Joseph, by selling him into slavery.

Our next encounter found Judah marrying a Canaanite woman, and having three sons, two of whom are killed by the LORD for their wickedness…probably not a good decision on Judah’s part to intermarry (ala Genesis 6). The third son was seemingly spared the fate of his older brothers, but because of Judah’s unwillingness to fulfill the promise he had made to his daughter-in-law, she tricked him into fathering two more sons who ended up being both his sons and grandsons…talk about a twisted plot. But then we come to our next two encounters with Judah.

Genesis 43-44. In order to return to Egypt to buy more grain, Judah pledged before his father, Jacob, to be surety for his youngest brother, Benjamin. Surprising because Benjamin, like Joseph, was not only the son of Jacob’s favored wife, Rachel, he, along with Joseph, were clearly loved by their father more than any of their other siblings. Judah and company made the trip to Egypt, had a seemingly pleasant dinner with Joseph, and started back to Canaan. Then as Joseph’s final act of psychological terrorism reached its climax with Benjamin being falsely accused of stealing Joseph’s divining cup and facing a life sentence as a slave [Joseph creates a near perfect replica of the circumstances of his own demise at the hands of his brothers through deception, preferential treatment and false accusation. What would they do this time? Had they learned their lesson?] Judah reappears once again. This time instead of being the one to sell his brother into slavery, he begged permission to take his place, even though he might very well have believed that Benjamin was guilty. And so innocent (relatively) Judah was willing to take the place of guilty (apparently) Benjamin. Sound familiar? Genesis 3.15. So while Joseph would deliver his family (burgeoning nation of Israel) through the famine, Judah’s willingness to sacrifice his own life for the sake of another wins him the top spot. And so, as we will see later, the line of the Seed will pass through Judah (not Joseph).

The encouraging thing about this particular story is that Judah would never have been picked for his role if it were up to us…up to me. But I guess neither would Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. And if we fast forward to Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1, we see a host of characters that would not have made the list…murderers, prostitutes, adulterers, idolaters, etc., etc., etc. That gives me hope that God can use me as well. He can use you, too. And that, my friends, is the most surprising plot twist of all.

Until next time…stay salty.

Exiled in Egypt

It’s been twenty years. Over half his life spent hundreds of miles away from home. And now the folks responsible for his exile are within his grasp, standing before him, the second most powerful man in all of Egypt. What will he do? What would you do? Genesis 41-42.

Joseph had two incredible dreams that defined his destiny. One foreshadowed the then current famine in Egypt, and both pictured Joseph in a position of power within his family. Sharing the dreams with his brothers proved to be a mistake, but his dad considered what these things might mean. Thirteen years of slavery and imprisonment, and what seemed like a lifetime later, the full meaning of the dreams began to take shape when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and was promoted to the second highest office in the land, second only to Pharaoh. It hints at the importance that the interpretation of dreams played in ancient Egypt when a prisoner and one time slave is promoted to such high standing. And not only that, his marriage to Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On would showcase his new-found status.

With Joseph’s meteoric rise to power and his seeming success at every turn, it would be easy to see him as totally content and even better off in Egypt. But when he names his two sons, we get a peek at the heretofore unpublicized anguish of Joseph. We’re told he named his firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” He named his second son Ephraim, “For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” It shows his faithfulness during this time to be all the more outstanding…he never seemed to waver in unbelief or to doubt God’s hand at work directing him towards his destiny. Even in some extremely difficult circumstances.

Now his brothers, who were the catalyst of the pain Joseph had endured the past twenty years when they sold him into slavery, were standing before him requesting help. He had the power to end them. And at first, it seems that he might be looking for a little revenge when he accused them of being spies and had them thrown into prison; but upon further reflection it appears that he was testing them in some way. In order for his dream to be fulfilled, Joseph not only had to be in a position of authority, he needed to be in a position of authority over his family which meant that they needed to be in Egypt. In order for Joseph to deliver/save his family, they would have to leave Canaan and come to him. And so began the process of seeing whether or not their character had changed and of bringing them down to Egypt.

This section of Joseph’s story is challenging. We get our first glimpse behind the curtain to his emotions and the incredible pain he’s suffered that we could only guess at before. His steadfastness of faith and willingness to fully engage in the “little things”, giving his all to the task at hand especially during this time is all the more impressive and encouraging. I pray that God would find us as faithful.

Until next time…stay salty.

The Long View

This was not what Joseph expected his life to be like. The favorite son of a wealthy man, things were supposed to come easy. He even dreamed that his brothers would bow down to him. He was voted most likely to succeed. And now here he sits in prison. Waiting. Let’s back up. Genesis 39-40.

Joseph is the eldest son of Jacob’s most loved wife, Rachel. And Jacob made it painfully clear that Joseph was his favorite, even giving Joseph a multi-colored tunic to distinguish his place of honor in the family. The LORD gave Joseph a series of dreams confirming that he would one day have prominence within the family, a prominence that would be recognized by all. He proves to be the faithful, obedient son going beyond Jacob’s express directions to find his brothers. His reward for obedience? Hijacked by his brothers and sold into slavery to traders on their way to Egypt. Not what he expected.

In Egypt, Joseph is sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard. Joseph once again proves to be faithful and obedient, now as a slave. And we’re told that God blesses Potiphar on account of Joseph, and Joseph finds favor with him. He works hard for his master, and Potiphar prospers. His reward for obedience? Falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of attempted rape…thrown into prison, awaiting punishment. Not what he expected, but God protects his life.

In prison, Joseph once again distinguishes himself as faithful and obedient, now as a prisoner. And God blesses the jailer on account of Joseph, and Joseph once again finds favor with his master. His reward for obedience? Forgotten and left for another two years in prison. Definitely not what he expected. But in every circumstance the one thing the reader can’t miss is: God’s presence, provision and protection of Joseph. He has not been left alone. And although making the right decision seems to have yielded the wrong consequence these three times, Joseph held on to his integrity. He continued to trust God. Even when life didn’t turn out the way he expected…in fact the exact opposite. Instead of ruling, he was both a prisoner and a slave seemingly forgotten. But God had not forgotten him.

That’s the lesson for us…for me. It would have been easy for Joseph to give up, to blame God, to choose a different path; but he did not waver, and suffering prepared Joseph to be the leader that God desired him to be…a deliverer who would rescue his people. It also strikes me that Joseph was not content to just sit and wait for his destiny to be fulfilled, he was faithful in the situations that God put him in. He gave himself fully to serve, and God rewarded him for it.

I believe that God has a purpose for each one of us. Some will realize it sooner than others…Abraham waited twenty-five years, Moses forty…and some will never realize it because of the choices they’ve made along the way. But what God calls us to is the long view, to be faithful in the circumstances He’s placed us in right now, so that we are ready when the moment of destiny comes. I pray that He finds us faithful my friends.

Until next time…stay salty.

Sign of the Times

The king had a dream. A very disturbing, seemingly ominous dream. The dread that he felt upon awaking only confirmed the magnanimity of the omen. So he called in his wise men – astrologers, magicians, practioners of the arcane arts – seeking to discover the meaning of the dream. The assembly was brought together, and then a very peculiar request was made. “Tell me the dream and its interpretation,” demanded the king. The sages stood dumbfounded. Such a request had never been made before. Sure they had been asked to interpret dreams, but never to rehearse the dream itself before hearing it. But the king’s word was law, and his resolve was firm. Tell the dream and its interpretation or die! The wise men astutely answer that the giving of dreams and revealing of mysteries was beyond mortal man. Nevertheless the king pronounced the death sentence. Daniel 2

The first that Daniel heard of the king’s decree was at the moment that the guards show up for him. Apparently he wasn’t invited to participate with the others although we are told that he surpassed them all in wisdom and knowledge. Daniel asked for time from the king and asked his friends to pray that God would grant the interpretation. God graciously revealed the dream to Daniel. And then Daniel made a profound statement about God – “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him. To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, For You have given me wisdom and power; Even now You have made known to me what we requested of You, For You have made known to us the king’s matter.”

Daniel reported to the king. In the dream, Nebuchadnezzar saw a huge statue – head of gold, arms and chest of silver, trunk of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay. He also saw a huge stone cut without hands that crushed the statue and filled the earth. “You are the head of gold,” Daniel told the king. Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom would be followed by a series of successive kingdoms, each one inferior to the one before until the kingdom set up by God was established which would supersede them all. Nebuchadnezzar was ecstatic and gave gifts to Daniel and made this amazing statement: “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.”

Both Daniel and, more importantly, Nebuchadnezzar recognized that God is sovereign…very significant considering that in chapter 1 the king’s actions symbolically show the defeat of the God of Israel by Marduk, the Babylonian god. The importance of this story for the Jews is two-fold. One, it sets expectations as the Times of the Gentiles formally begin. Israel should not look for a king on the throne until God sets up His kingdom…a kingdom which is very physical (“crushes” all the others). Two, those who follow God are to be faithful during this time. God has not forgotten His people even though following God may look like losing, especially from the world’s perspective. Hold the course. Keep the faith.

Until next time…stay salty.

I Had a Dream…

Joseph came from a long line of dreamers. Abraham had a vision of God passing through severed animals as a smoking oven and a flaming torch. Isaac was told not to go down to Egypt. Jacob saw a ladder with its top in the heavens and angels ascending and descending upon it. And now Joseph is given a dream. Well actually two dreams. Gen 37

We should probably back up a bit. Joseph is the eldest son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. He’s the youngest in the clan next to his brother Benjamin (also Rachel’s son) who is born some time later. As the son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Joseph always had a special place in his dad’s heart; and Jacob was none too discreet about it. In fact, Jacob (now Israel) had an elaborate coat made for Joseph to highlight his status within the family. It appears that Israel’s intent is to give Joseph the right of the firstborn and his blessing. This does not sit well with his brothers who would all be passed over, and so they hated Joseph. And then Joseph has a dream.

In Joseph’s dream, he sees eleven sheaves of grain bowing down to his sheaf. He can’t wait to share the good news with his brothers…they are all going to one day bow down to him! Probably not a good idea given their hostile disposition toward him. Then he has a second dream: the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing down to him. Somehow Israel and Joseph’s mother are included in this sign of obeisance (although Rachel is gone). Joseph once again is compelled to share his dream, and once again the brothers are angered. This time Israel rebukes Joseph, although he keeps the matter in mind. You see Israel, too, has a had dreams in the past where God had made fantastic promises.

So, what are these two dreams? The first dream looks to be the first hint at the famine that will come upon Egypt and the circumstances under which the brothers will come and bow down to Joseph. The second dream is a little trickier. It’s not clear who the woman is who represents the moon. Could be Rachel, but she has already died. Maybe Leah or one of the maids? It’s interesting that John picks up the same imagery in Revelation 12 when he writes, “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she *cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail *swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.  And she gave birth to a son, a male child…” Could it be that Joseph is given a vision of the ultimate Seed of the Woman who will rule over Israel, making Joseph in this instance a type of Christ? It is interesting to consider that not only is there a promise of near-term deliverance through Joseph, but also far-term, final deliverance, not only for Jacob and his family, but for all Israel (and for all who would believe) through Jesus. Something to ponder.

And so God continues to carry out His plan of redemption. Although the road seems a bit winding and treacherous, and the end is not all too clear, God will be faithful to His promise and will deliver His people from bondage to sin and death through the Seed of the Woman, the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, the Conquering Warrior King of Revelation 19, Jesus of Nazareth.

Until next time…stay salty.

Game Changer

A group of friends and I started studying the book of Daniel last night. By way of introduction I referenced a sermon I preached on the book of Daniel called Resetting Expectations. What follows is a recap of that sermon written by a friend of mine and long-time missionary Betty Snell. Enjoy.

Last Sunday, Matt Dumas began his message “Resetting Expectations”, based on Daniel’s vision of the four beasts in Dan. 7, by asking: “What do you remember from the book of Daniel?” “The three guys in the fiery furnace.” “Daniel in the lions’ den.” Over on the far right a sweet little voice said very clearly: “Daniel and the giant.” The barest flicker of “How do I respond to this one” passed over Matt’s face but without missing a beat he said: “Right! The great big statue of gold the King made!”  None of us mentioned Daniel’s vision of the four beasts but that’s where we’re going right now!

So come in and have a seat over in the far right section of the Worship Center. As you see, it’s divided into four sections. Those folks over in the extreme left section under the banner of the winged lion are the ancient Babylonians whom God sent to conquer, kill and carry into captivity His chosen people. Move over to the section left of center where the Medes and Persians who conquered the Babylonians are gathered under the banner of the bear with the three ribs in its jaws. To the right of center under the banner of the leopard with four wings and four heads are the Greeks made most famous by Alexander the Great who conquered the known world and wept that there were no more kingdoms to conquer. And you and I, over here on the extreme right under the banner of the fourth beast “different from all the others”, are living among the leftovers of the mighty Roman empire which crushed and trampled and devoured the whole world but was never taken over by another power.

Now turn around and look up at the balcony.There, Daniel tells us, the Ancient of Days sits enthroned on high, his throne flaming with fire with thousands upon thousands attending him. “One like a son of man” approaches Him and is “given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worship him. His dominion [will be] an everlasting dominion that will not pass away and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” But it hasn’t happened yet!  And that’s why we’re still sitting here in our section of the broken world left crushed and trampled by the “beast different from all the others”

When the children of Israel lived in the land Yahweh had given to them, they lived under a theocratic rule. Things made sense. Do the right things and good things happen. Do the wrong things and bad things happen. It’s the whole premise of Deut. 28: blessings follow obedience; curses follow disobedience. Over here  where we’re sitting, things don’t make sense. Doing all the right things is no guarantee that good things will result. In fact, doing the wrong things often looks like a quick trip to prosperity. [Reminds one of Psalm 73!]  So why this vision to Daniel and why at this time in his life? Daniel had been used to living in a theocratic kingdom and now he’s living in a kingdom ruled by a beast. He had his own version of the American Dream. The 70 years of captivity were almost over and he’d get to go back to the land from which he’d been carried away. But God had to reset Daniel’s expectations. He had done all the right things and now he’s told he’ll die in captivity and never see Jerusalem again. That his hope lay only in a resurrection!

We have our own versions of “the dream”, too: Go to the right school > get the right job > marry the right person > have great kids > live in the right house and drive the right cars > have the world’s greatest grandkids > live happily ever after. We baptize it and call it Christianity. And when we’re crushed and trampled on we’re surprised! How could this happen to me? Why didn’t it work? Why does it all blow up in my face? What did I do wrong? We forget that we live under the dominion of the 4th beast!  Suffering is a part of the deal and the more we follow Jesus, the more intense the suffering. When we sign up to follow Him, we’re thinking we’re signing up for the party at the end! For winning the game! Daniel gives us a picture of what it means to follow Jesus!
1) Don’t give up! Even if we die, it’s worth it. The eternal Kingdom will last!! 2) Don’t give in! Daniel did not give in to the culture around him. Every time he and his friends did something right, they got punished for it—and God got praised! In the 4th kingdom, when your light shines, men are going to hate you! 3) God wins! When we look around at the 4th kingdom it looks like we’re losing but one day it’ll be evident to the whole world that Yahweh wins! Matt’s final Q.: “How is life going for you under the 4th beast?”

I came away with a most welcome perspective on the current world scene. (If it’s a mis-application, Matt or someone, please correct me!): a) Regardless of whether the economy is weak or strong, the so-called American Dream, properly understood, is a fantasy that never has been and never can be a reality in a 4th kingdom world. b) Properly exercising our right to vote, serving honorably in public office and seeking to use our influence for good (aka being salt and light) in our 4th kingdom world, just as Daniel did in his 1st kingdom world, are good things, but trying to use secular means to set up a theocratic climate in a 4th kingdom world is a mis-guided exercise in futility. To say nothing of expecting 4th kingdom subjects to act like subjects of the Ancient of Days until they, too, worship Him in spirit and in truth!  May you have a God-blessed weekend!  Betty

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Just a Reminder…

Gen 35.

Jacob’s life was a mess. Four wives, thirteen children, strained relations with family, a daughter who was raped, two sons who slaughtered an entire town…some of it inflicted upon him, but most the result of his own selfish, sinful choices. But there is one constant in Jacob’s life. God has been faithful to provide and take care of him and has even promised great things to come about through him and his progeny. He has brought Jacob back into the land and given him a new name: Israel, a reminder that God is the One who fights for him. Clearly God has blessed him…not for anything that Jacob has done, but because of who He is and His choice to bless. And although Jacob is back in the land and has built an altar and called God his God, he seems to forget his promise to return to Bethel, and instead buys a plot of land to settle in Shechem.

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but Jacob had promised on oath to return to Bethel. In narrative literature, the lesson is learned through the characters…by what happens to them and by the consequences of their actions. In the case of the trip to Shechem, Jacob’s daughter is raped and two of his sons commit mass murder. We find out also that Jacob’s clan has picked up foreign gods as a result of their excursion. Probably not a good decision to go to Shechem. Fleeing from there, the terror of God is on the inhabitants of the land (God fighting for Jacob). And God reminds Jacob to return to Bethel to fulfill his oath.

Seeing Jacob’s life displayed in all it’s tragic glory is…encouraging. You see, I’m a lot like Jacob in many ways. I too tend to want to take matters into my own hands, to “grab the heel” and gain the upper hand. I too have a hard time trusting that God will fight for me and remembering that He has done so in the past. I too face the consequences of selfish, sinful choices that I have made. But God, in His infinite wisdom, chooses to use broken vessels to accomplish His purposes. And I too am thankful for that.

Until next time…stay salty.

Retribution

One of my favorite “dad” books is called Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood by Robert Lewis. A phrase that was particularly meaningful for me that Lewis uses in defining authentic manhood using medieval imagery was, “A knight (man) rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, leads courageously, looking to the reward.” It was impactful and easy to remember. And although it’s been a couple of years since we’ve done our “knight’s training”, the boys still remember the phrase. It makes me wonder about Jacob and his sons.

Gen 33-34. After two decades of being absent, Jacob finally returns to the land. As he does so, Esau comes with a band of 400 men to meet him, and Jacob is afraid. Never mind that God continually reminds him that He is on his side, Jacob still tends to see the world from a very earthy perspective. The meeting with Esau is a non-event, and Jacob ends up settling in Shechem where Abraham first settled in the land.

Life seems normal enough at first as Jacob buys a piece of property to settle on, but the situation sours quickly when his daughter, Dinah, is raped by Shechem, the prince of the land. When Jacob hears about it, he’s silent, waiting for his sons to return from the field. Meanwhile, Hamor, Shechem’s father, approaches Jacob to negotiate a marriage proposal between Shechem and Dinah. Hamor attempts to convince Jacob that a wedding would create a favorable alliance for his family and give them access to the land. Jacob remains silent as his two sons, Simeon and Levi, present terms…all the male Shechemites must be circumcised. Hamor tries to convince the townsfolk that circumcision is a minor concession given that the Shechemites will have access to all of Jacob’s property. An agreement is made, and all of the males are circumcised. Three days later, Simeon and Levi wipe out every man in town and take the rest as spoil. Finally Jacob speaks and rebukes his sons for putting the family in a precarious place in regards to the surrounding peoples.

This story is disturbing. Not only for the rape and the ensuing slaughter, but also for the actions, or better the refusal to act by Jacob. In this story, he is the epitome of passivity. Strange for the “heel-grabber” who is constantly fighting for himself to refuse to fight for his daughter. Had he stepped in, the outcome may have been exactly the same…it’s unlikely that Hamor would have handed over his son, or that the inhabitants of Shechem would have allowed harm to befall their favored prince…but the means would have been different. Instead of deception and murder, Jacob might have had the opportunity to see God fight for him and through him, much like He did with Abraham against the four kings. But now his sons Simeon and Levi will have to realize the consequences of their hot anger and merciless retribution. Makes me wonder what I’m teaching my own boys through my activity and inactivity…

Until next time…stay salty.

A Close Encounter

It was an encounter that forever changed my life (Gen 31-32).

Ever since I can remember I’ve known that I was destined for greatness. When I was a kid, not a day went by that my mom didn’t remind me that God had marked me out for a special purpose. And while that purpose wasn’t entirely clear as a kid, I knew it had something to do with my grandfather and the legacy that he passed down to my dad. I also knew that it was not good news for my older brother…although we were twins, he still narrowly beat me out of the womb. And as the older brother, he had the obvious right to all that belonged to my grandfather and father through his birthright and the expected blessing that would be bestowed on him by my father, including this unbelievable covenant with God. That was going to be a problem. Somehow I had to get my hands on both the birthright and the blessing.

So as time went by, I waited and looked for opportunities to gain the advantage over my brother.  Now my brother was an excellent hunter; but he was never particularly bright, so acquiring the birthright was a snap. The blessing, however, was more difficult…mainly because it involved deceiving my dad.

The idea was actually my mom’s. She knew that my dad intended to bless my brother, and it looked like my chances of realizing the destiny that she had promised me were in jeopardy. A plan was hatched and pulled off to perfection, and I left my father’s tent with his blessing. Only when my older brother returned to meet with my dad did my dad find out that I had tricked him. I felt bad about it, but it would be a small price to pay for greatness.

My brother was fuming mad, so my mother sent me to stay with her brother and find a wife among her relatives. On the way there, I met the most beautiful girl I had ever seen and found out she was my cousin, my mother’s brother’s daughter! I fell in love, and agreed to work for my uncle for the right to marry her. Seven years seemed like only a few days, but then I learned something about my uncle that I had somewhat expected…he wrote the book on deception. He tricked me into marrying his eldest daughter, and then for another seven year stint, he allowed me to marry the girl of my dreams. Fourteen years. Then he asked me to stay on to tend his flocks. We determined my wages, and I turned the tables on him. Six years later I was the master of most of his livestock, and it was clearly time to go.

My family and I fled from my uncle, but he caught up to us. We had words, but parted in peace. Now it was time to reenter the land that had been promised to my family by God.  I remember when I left the land, I saw a vision of angels ascending and descending and called the place Bethel. Now as I neared the border, I again saw angels. Preparing to meet my brother, I sent a gift to try and dissuade him from taking retribution on me. I had planned to spend the night alone, but I encountered a stranger and wrestled through the night. As the day was dawning, he tried to pull away, but I wouldn’t let him. Then he touched my thigh, and all my strength left me. I clung to him and asked him to bless me. He asked my name…curious. I told him, and he gave me a new name, saying that I had wrestled with men and with God and had prevailed. What! At that moment, I knew that somehow the man I had been wrestling with was God! And I named the place Peniel (face of God) and limped away.

Reflecting back on that episode I realized something. That wrestling match was a metaphor for my life up to that point. Even though God had promised great things for me, I always felt the need to fight for myself. I had lived up to my name, “heel grabber” (Jacob). All my life I had been grabbing the heel of my brother, my father, my uncle and of God. But God changed my name, and my outlook changed as well. My new name was “God fights” (Israel). And now God would be the one who would fight for me. The ironic thing is, He had been fighting for me all along, but I never realized it. Twenty plus years of struggling to make things happen for myself…broken relationships, lies, deception…but now a new chapter. And my prayer for you this new year is that you will cease striving and recognize that God is the one who wants to fight for you. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have a role to play in the working out of His design, His destiny for your life. But it does mean that you need to trust Him with all your heart and not yourself, acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will direct your paths.

Until next time…stay salty.

The More the Merrier?!?

Can you ever have too much of a good thing? My son Luke would answer with a resounding, “Yes!” Luke loves sweets, and on more than one occasion when we’ve let our guard down, he’s eaten himself sick. Afterwards, it’s with the same resolve that he says, “I’ll never do that again!” only to stuff himself with ooey goodness once more. Ah well. Another guy who can testify to the demerits of overindulgence is Jacob. However his “sweet tooth” has nothing to do with candy.

Genesis 29-30. After conspiring with his mother, Rebekah, to deceive his father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing, Jacob has to run for his life as a hot-tempered Esau plots to kill him. He spends a night in the field where the LORD appears to him in a dream. Jacob sees a ladder with its top reaching into heaven and angels ascending and descending – access between the physical and spiritual planes (Jesus will use the same imagery with Nicodemus in John 1 to describe Himself as the bridge between heaven and earth – the only way to the Father). God officially pronounces the Abrahamic blessing over Jacob, making him the undisputed heir of the Covenant. The next morning Jacob departs for Haran.

Upon arrival in Haran, Jacob meets Rachel and falls…hard. His love for her is the stuff of legend, a romance writer’s dream. Laban, Jacob’s uncle and Rachel’s father, offers Jacob Rachel’s hand in marriage for seven years of service, a very steep price for a bride (more than double what would have been customary), but Jacob doesn’t seem put off at all. In fact, Moses tells us that the seven years seemed but a few days to Jacob because of his love for Rachel. And just when we thought that they would live happily ever after…there’s a wicked twist in the plot.

Jacob soon learns that he and his mother are not the only ones in the family skilled in the art of deception. He meets his match in Laban. Not only is Laban able to extract twice the bride price for Rachel, he switches out her sister Leah at the wedding feast. Jacob, who deceived his dad by pretending to be his brother, is deceived by Leah pretending to be her sister at the direction of her father. And then before Jacob can protest too profusely, Laban again offers Rachel…for another seven years.

So Jacob finds himself with two wives and a vicious rivalry ensues between them. Leah, the more fertile of the two, jumps out of the gate with four sons. The sad thing is that the names of the first three (Reuben, Simeon and Levi) all indicate her unrequited love for Jacob. It’s not until Judah is born that she is able to put her focus on the LORD. Meanwhile, Rachel, realizing that she is barren (barren and beautiful just like Sarah and Rebekah), resorts to the same remedy that Sarah did – she gives her maid, Bilhah, to Jacob as a surrogate bride. And she has two sons. Not to be outdone, Leah also gives her maid to Jacob; and two more sons are born. Then Leah has two more sons and a daughter of her own. And finally Rachel has a son of her own and names him Joseph, saying “May God give me another son.”

The competition in this section would be comical if it wasn’t so heartbreaking. For in the midst of all the “good” – wives that seem to love him and many, many sons – Jacob’s family is a mess. Seeking to accomplish God’s purposes using their own wiles has resulted in an absolute mess. Although the consequences would make for a riotous reality TV show, the lesson is not unique for Jacob and clan. It’s been a repeated pattern in the lives of the patriarchs. Operating according to their own understanding results in pain and confusion and frustration for themselves and those around them, but operating according to God’s direction results in the uncomplicated realization of His promises (I find a similar truth at work in my life.). But God will bless them in spite of themselves, and through their line all the families of the earth will be blessed.  May God give us the grace to trust Him more and more with all our hearts and not to lean on our own understanding, in all our ways acknowledging Him so that He may direct our steps.

Until next time…stay salty.

A Questionable Blessing

I’m the father of three boys. They are great fun and such a blessing to me. They truly are my pride and joy in many respects. But I don’t know that a day goes by that there isn’t at least one fight…usually multiple ones. It usually starts with a friendly (or not-so-friendly) competition that quickly devolves into an all-out brawl. It drives my wife crazy, especially when I tell her it’s normal for boys (I had five brothers, and we fought constantly). She’s convinced that we are doing something wrong as parents, but that much testosterone makes for a potent combination. When I talk to other dads, my suspicions are confirmed. Sibling rivalry is a part of our DNA.

Genesis 27-28. Esau has already given up his birthright. As the eldest son (even if only by a few moments), he had a right to a double portion of the family inheritance. The birthright was both a privilege and a responsibility. The double portion gave the eldest son the means to care for single women within his household, as well as to conduct the family business. In the case of Abraham’s clan, it would also theoretically identify the heir of the Abrahamic blessing, the one through whom the nations/families of the earth would be blessed. In trading his birthright for a bowl of stew, Esau takes himself out of the line of blessing. Jacob now has the birthright. And having secured the birthright, Jacob proceeds to acquire his father’s blessing as well.

Normally the birthright and the blessing went together, and both would have gone to the eldest son. But in this case, even though Esau had given up his birthright, he was still in line to receive his father Isaac’s blessing. The scenario in Genesis 27 is a curious look into the dysfunction of the family of promise. Before Esau and Jacob were born, Rebekah was told that Jacob would be the heir. It’s unclear from the narrative whether this information was shared with Isaac or not. If it was, Isaac’s decision to bless Esau would be in direct rebellion against what God had said, and Rebekah’s actions in orchestrating the deception are a direct response to safeguard God’s choice in light of Isaac’s rebellion. If not, then Isaac is oblivious to the prophecy, and Rebekah takes matters into her own hands to benefit her favorite son. Again, the narrative isn’t clear, but we are told that Esau was Isaac’s favorite, while Jacob was Rebekah’s.

It’s a familiar story. Isaac asks Esau to hunt game and prepare a meal for him so that he can bless him. When Esau heads out, Rebekah, having overheard the conversation, devises a scheme whereby Jacob, posing as Esau, will trick Isaac into giving him the blessing instead of Esau. The deception is quite elaborate, and a convincing disguise succeeds despite Isaac’s suspicions. Jacob receives the blessing seemingly in the nick of time as Esau comes in from the hunt. Esau is understandably upset when he learns that Jacob has stolen his blessing. Afterwards, learning of Esau’s murderous intents toward Jacob, Rebekah asks Isaac to send Jacob away to find a wife from her relatives. Isaac complies and repeats the Abrahamic blessing over Jacob, who is now the confirmed heir of the promise.

Looking back over the story, God’s purposes are accomplished…He had foretold that Jacob would be the heir…but at what cost. The carnage left behind in attempting to bring about God’s purposes in their own ways destroyed the family. Instead of trusting God, Rebekah trusts herself. Instead of obeying God (assuming Isaac is aware), he is ruled by his appetites. Thinking back to Abraham’s journey, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that deception and self-reliance are family traits. I would agree, but that I think that they are family traits that we can trace back to the garden. They are characteristics that infect us all. This story of Esau and Jacob reminds me that God can and does use dysfunctional, messed-up people to accomplish His perfect will. As one of those, I’m glad He does.

Until next time…stay salty.

Upper Room Discussions

Check out our latest post from Luke 22.24-38. This post is based on a sermon from our series in the book of Luke. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Central Christian Church

Luke 22.24-38

Jesus had come to the Upper Room with high hopes. Remember He said, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” And that He does. He reinterprets the bread and the cup to show them that He is the ultimate Passover Lamb and that His blood would establish the new covenant of Jeremiah 31.31-34. Yet in the background His death is looming. Within hours…Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial, the disciples arguing over who’s the greatest, and their continued misunderstanding of the coming of the kingdom…Jesus says, “Enough.” They just don’t get it.

We miss it sometimes too, don’t we? We too wrangle for position and self-promotion. Who wants to serve when you can be served? We too fail at the Christian life…probably more times than we like to admit. The “that will never happen to me” or “I would never do that” suddenly…

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Passover and Communion

Check out our latest post from Luke 22.1-23. This post is based on a sermon from our series in the book of Luke. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Central Christian Church

Luke 22.1-23

With Judas’ betrayal looming, Jesus celebrates Passover with the disciples and institutes the Lord’s Supper/Communion.

Jesus is the new Passover Lamb. He is the fulfillment of all that the Passover anticipated…the innocent dying for the guilty, forgiveness of sins, the new covenant…a new heart and the Spirit dwelling in all those who believe. If you think the Passover is a Jewish thing….you are right. If you think it’s not a Christian thing…not so much. Jesus is our Passover Lamb, too. He rescues us from sin and death. Because of His sacrifice we have true forgiveness of sins and eternal life. His Spirit dwells in us. We too celebrate Passover…we just call it Communion, and we celebrate it when we gather together.

Every time we take the bread and the cup, we remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us…His death and resurrection, His shed blood that covers our sins, and the…

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Signs of the Times Part 2

Check out our latest post from Luke 21.20-38. This post is based on a sermon from our series in the book of Luke. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Central Christian Church

Luke 21.20-38

Using a discussion about the temple as a starting point, Jesus foretells future events leading up to His Second Coming. While we wait, we are not to be deceived, afraid, ignorant or careless, but we are to be ready…faithfully, courageously, obediently, prayerfully and intentionally investing in the kingdom and anxiously awaiting the return of our King.

In the waiting, it’s easy to lose focus. It’s easy to allow the things of this world to take priority. Like the days of Noah…eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage (Luke 17.27). Life goes on and gradually we stop thinking about the kingdom. We no longer anticipate the return of our King. Bills to pay. Errands to run. Things to do. Our own lives to live…our own kingdom to build. Instead of being faithful stewards, we treat the resources He’s entrusted to us as our own private pile of loot…

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Signs of the Times Part 1

Check out our latest post from Luke 21.5-19. This post is based on a sermon from our series in the book of Luke. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Central Christian Church

Luke 21.5-19

Using a discussion about the temple as a starting point, Jesus foretells future events leading up to His Second Coming. While we wait, we are not to be deceived or afraid. We are to be ready…faithfully and courageously investing in the kingdom and anxiously awaiting the return of our King.

The world around us is shaking. We are experiencing major turbulence, but because of the resurrection and the hope we have in Jesus, it’s not a time to be deceived or afraid. It’s a time to be ready…a time to live on purpose. It’s a time to invest your mina in intentional, courageous and creative ways…a time to anticipate the return of the King. A time to live a life worthy of the calling with which we have been called…putting off the old self and putting on the new.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on…

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Questioning the Resurrection

Check out our latest post from Luke 20.27-21.4. This post is based on a sermon from our series in the book of Luke. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Central Christian Church

Luke 20.27-21.4

The Sadducees’ question about the resurrection backfires. Jesus says there’s no doubt there will be a resurrection. God is faithful and will fulfill all that He has promised. Jesus will sit at the right hand of the Father, He will rule over the kingdom and His enemies will be crushed beneath His feet.

What the Sadducees considered a trick question because of their own doubt and misunderstanding is the central question of Christianity…is the resurrection real? The resurrection is central to our faith, and is our hope as Christians. If there is no resurrection, then eat and drink for tomorrow we die. If there is no resurrection, this life is all we have. If there is no resurrection there is no future kingdom, and our hope is only a fleeting and fading one. If there is no resurrection all the promises that God has made…are false, and frankly, we…

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Authority Questioned

Check out our latest post from Luke 20.1-18. This post is based on a sermon from our series in the book of Luke. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Central Christian Church

Luke 20.1-18

Who’s in charge? By what authority do You do these things and who gave You the authority? The parable of the vine-growers is Jesus’ response to the question of authority. As the beloved Son of the Father, Jesus’ authority comes from God. Although He may be rejected by the religious leaders, Jesus is still the long-awaited King who brings the kingdom. And those who reject Him will face certain judgment.

The leaders didn’t want Jesus to be King. They questioned His authority. They rebelled against His sovereignty. But why? Why did they reject Jesus? If He is clearly the Hero they had been looking for all along, why didn’t they throw a big party and celebrate? Here’s my theory. Maybe they really didn’t want a King…maybe they didn’t want Someone messing with their stuff…maybe they liked being in charge. Sound familiar?

Jesus has all authority in heaven and…

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Entering Jerusalem

Check out our latest post from Luke 19.28-48. This post is based on a sermon from our series in the book of Luke. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Central Christian Church

Luke 19.28-48

Jesus enters Jerusalem, and His final week of ministry is underway. Some gladly accept Him as their King while others complain and reject Him as an imposter. The fig tree is about to be cut down.

None of the events of this final week will catch Jesus by surprise. Not one. He is in control of His destiny. He will lay down His life as a willing sacrifice. He’s not a victim. He’s not a bystander. He’s not “along for the ride.” He is the King. And He is in control. But have you given the King control of your life? Does He have final say over your relationships, your finances, your time…? Does He call the shots, or do you? Who is the King in your life? And what kind of kingdom do they bring?

I love the OT story of Joseph.Though things start out well for…

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