Unbelievable Christ

Advent 2013…Christ: Isaiah 9.2-7

Merry Christmas!

As I’ve reflected on our advent series, I’ve been overwhelmed by the gifts of hope, peace, joy and love that the people of God in Isaiah’s day could only look forward to with anticipation as they awaited the coming of their Messiah, but that is available to us in a much fuller sense because Jesus has come. It really is unbelievable.

I shared a tweet this past week, “You are infinitely valuable in God’s eyes. Not only are you His image-bearer, but He also entered time and space to rescue you. That’s love.” Isaiah pictures a time of good news for a group of people who desperately needed it. They were under oppression by the enemy. They were defeated. They were without hope. But God hadn’t forgotten them. Light was coming. God Himself would rend the veil of time and space and come down to the earth He had created in the Person of Jesus. He would rescue them. He would save them from sin and death by sacrificing Himself in their place. He would die that they might live. He would provide the way back to Father God. He would establish a kingdom where they could live and reign with Him forever.

For some of us, it’s a familiar story because we have been rescued. For us, Christmas is a time to celebrate the salvation that Jesus has brought. It’s also a time for us to look forward to the time when He will return and make all things right.

But for others, it’s a new story. Maybe you are feeling lost and alone. Jesus wants to rescue you. Maybe you are feeling beat down by the world. Jesus wants to rescue you. Maybe you feel helpless and hopeless. Jesus wants to rescue you. And the good news is…He not only wants to rescue you, but He has the power to rescue you…and He is the only One who can.

The world offers a lot of counterfeits, but only Jesus can satisfy the longing of your soul. And without Him, the people are truly in a land of darkness longing for the appearance of The Great Light. The only hope that the world can offer is as unsure as a smoldering wick…the only peace is as fragile as a flickering flame…the only joy as momentary as a desert rain…the only love as fickle as the seasons that change.

But Christ has come! And so we have the unbelievable hope that we have the confident anticipation that what He has promised…real life with Him in His kingdom…can be experienced both now and in the future. We have unbelievable peace, a true lasting peace, the peace of the kingdom…peace with God and man, that allows us to experience a settled well-being even in a chaotic world. We have the unbelievable joy of knowing that we have been rescued…have been brought from death to life. And we have an unbelievable love…a love based not on our efforts or our just deserts, but a love based in a God who continually pursues us, who entered time and space to rescue us, so that we might be brought from death to life.

Jesus is the unbelievable Christ.  He came to give all of this now and promise it for eternity.  Our Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love in Him will never end.

Until next time…stay salty.

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

Unbelievable Love

Advent 2013…Love: Psalm 89.1-4, 19-29

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by the picture that the Bible paints of God’s amazing love…a love that truly does transcend both time and space, a love that is enduring. It is the perfect love of the Father. A love that pursues, a love that sacrifices, the Creator-of-the-Universe-enters-time-and-space-to-rescue-you kind of love.

I shared a tweet this past week, “My experience of God’s love is in direct proportion to my perception of my need for His love/mercy. He who has been forgiven much loves much.” Do you believe that God loves you? I think there are a few things that keep us from believing and/or experiencing the love that God has for us. The tweet hits on one of them. If I don’t recognize my desperate need to be rescued…to be brought from life to death, from captivity to sin to the freedom of the cross, from being an enemy of God to being His beloved child…then I’m not going to think a lot of His love. If my life is working out just fine without Him, then why do I need Him? Ask Norman.

The second thing that I think keeps us from experiencing the love that God has for us is the overwhelming circumstances that we often find ourselves in. How can you say God loves me if… you fill in the blank with your life’s tragedy. The psalmist asks the question when he sees the scepter hit the dust and the king hauled off to Egypt. Another way the question is asked is, “How can a loving God allow…” Question of evil in the world that goes all the way back to the garden when we chose to rebel against our Creator. Because the reality is, how can a loving God allow the rebellion that deeply marks our lives?

But God demonstrates His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. God fulfills the promise He made to David by sending His own Son to intersect time and space…the eternal Son of God enters the world He created as a baby in a manager. He walks among us and lives a perfect life. He dies an undeserved, bloody, horrible death, but is raised again the third day and ascended to the Father. God steps in in the Person of Jesus to do what we could not do ourselves…provide the way back to our heavenly Father.

The third thing…we don’t think that God could possibly love us.  We’ve messed up too badly, sinned too much for too long. How could God love me? is the question that echoes in our ears…lies of the enemy as old as the garden questioning God’s perfect love. But He does love you and has proved it over and over…the most poignant example is sending His own Son to provide the way back. Ask Sydney.

What’s keeping you from experiencing God’s love for you this Christmas season? Is it a low view of your sin? Is it your ignorance of your need? Is it tragedy that has struck? Is it fear that you are beyond His reach? God’s eternal enduring loyal love lasts forever. No beginning. No end. And it was proved in the most unbelievable way when He sent His only son to die so that the object of His love might be redeemed and restored to eternal fellowship. He did what He did because we matter…you matter… He is a God who pursues. He’s been pursuing us since the garden.

I’m amazed as I think about how Jesus’ existence confirms that we are loved by a God we cannot adequately love in return.  I don’t experience God’s love because I make His love about me.  But His love has everything do with Him.  God loves me.  Jesus loves me.  That is truly an unbelievable love.

This story challenges us to bask in the love of the LORD, the amazing, beautiful, undeserved love of the Father, and to delight in His Son, Jesus, who has provided the way for us to know, not just know about, but to really know the love of the Father.

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

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear an mp3 of this sermon, visit us at: http://www.centralchristian.org. Follow us on twitter: @mattdumas1969. Read more about Sydney and Norman in Phil Vischer’s Sydney and Norman: A Tale of Two Pigs.

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.