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.

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.

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

On trial

Ever gotten in trouble for something you didn’t do? I have. I was in the second grade. It was early Monday morning. After breakfast, Dad began, “Son, I heard that some kids were throwing rocks (it was gravel) at each other yesterday evening at church and hit several cars. Do you know anything about it?” “No, Dad,” was my immediate response. “Are you sure, because someone said that they saw you out there with them?” I replied a little more apprehensively this time, “I saw the kids, but I wasn’t throwing rocks.” “Son, I think you’re lying to me.” Growing terror now, “No, Dad, I wasn’t throwing rocks!” Several swats later with tears streaming down my face, just as my dad was starting to believe me, “Yes, Dad, I threw rocks, too.” Three more swats for lying. To this day, I still don’t think I threw rocks, but I wanted to bring an end to the spanking.

Acts 24-26, Paul can relate to being falsely accused. Three different trials, three different Gentile authorities, three declarations of innocence (at least of anything worthy of death). With Felix, the Jewish leaders bring in the big guns, the lawyer Tertullus. Quickly Paul goes from being accused of bringing a Gentile into the Temple precincts to being accused of starting riots, introducing a new religion to the empire and desecrating the Temple. A guilty verdict on any one of the three charges could easily mean the death penalty. Rome did not tolerate insurrectionists, introducing a new religion was a capital offense, and the Romans had given the Jews permission to kill any Gentile who violated the Temple. It looks like Paul is in big trouble, but you wouldn’t suspect that from his cool demeanor (unlike this scared 7 year old boy). Instead he calmly addresses the court, refuting the charges of insurrection and of defiling the Temple. And then he spends a great deal of time explaining that the primary issue was Jesus, as it had always been. He was on trial for the hope of the resurrection…a hope that he shared with his Jewish brethren. Since the time of Abraham and the beginnings of the Jewish nation and even all the way back to Adam, the people of God had been looking for the Genesis 3:15 Seed of the Woman, the Messiah, the Davidic King who would crush the head of the serpent and redeem all of creation along with every person who believes. Paul said Jesus was and is the Guy…He is the First of the Resurrected, the Jews disagreed. That was the crux of the argument. Although Felix informally dismisses the charges against Paul, he nevertheless keeps Paul in prison for the next two years, frequently visiting him, hoping to receive a bribe, but instead receiving the gospel, which cuts him to the quick.

At the end of Felix’s term, Festus takes over as governor. Festus is ready to clean up Felix’s mess and so looks into the charges against Paul. There doesn’t seem to be anything to the charges, but in an effort to please the Jews, he asks Paul if he is willing to be tried in Jerusalem. Paul, knowing that Jerusalem would be a death sentence, appeals to Caesar. Festus acquiesces. King Agrippa happens to be in town, and aware of his intimate knowledge of the Jews, Festus asks him to hear Paul’s case. Agrippa agrees, and Paul defends himself yet again. This time he describes his life before conversion, his conversion experience on the Damascus road, and his commission to preach the gospel to both Jew and Gentile. At the conclusion of his defense, he is once again declared innocent, but as he has appealed to Caesar, Paul now must go to Rome.

It’s easy to blow past these three chapters on the way to finish the book of Acts, and I even considered not writing on them; but I was struck with the similarity between Paul’s experience and Jesus’ experience with the mock trials and declarations of innocence from Gentile authorities and the vitriolic hatred and rejection by those who do not believe. Jesus said the same would happen to those who follow Him. So what about you? Are you ready to be falsely accused, to be misunderstood, to be mistreated and persecuted and rejected for the sake of the Name? I have a feeling that those times are not far off my friend. But may we face those times with courage and grace, fiercely trusting in Jesus and leaning into the Holy Spirit for the strength to finish well, proclaiming the gospel until our time on earth is done.

Until next time…stay salty.

A Fierce Faith

Our youngest son is fearless. Maybe it’s being the youngest of three boys, maybe its genetics, but there is nothing that he won’t try at least once. And he generally succeeds in his attempts. One of the drawbacks to his confident approach to life is the tendency to be a bit cocky and very competitive. Great for sports, but not so great when it becomes a hammer that crushes his opponents into dust. Humility is our key word when praying for him. And while having an aggressive personality can be challenging, it can also be advantageous. He is well-known and well-liked by most of the kids in his school, including friends of his older brothers, much to their chagrin.

I imagine Saul had a similar personality. I bet he didn’t lose much growing up. And I bet his adversaries both feared and respected him. We get a glimpse of his zeal as a Pharisee persecuting the Way before his conversion at the stoning of Stephen and as he relentlessly pursues believers to throw them into prison. But after his encounter with Jesus…watch out! Everywhere Saul (now Paul) goes, trouble follows. He has to be snuck out of Damascus in a basket at night  to save his life (I bet he didn’t like running away from a fight!). The church in Jerusalem sends him away to Tarsus because of the trouble he’s stirring up for the church there. When Barnabas picks him up as a travelling companion and fellow missionary, Paul’s consistently the one whose beat up, stoned and run out of town. Yet he refuses to back down. He has a fierce faith.

Acts 21-23. Paul’s on his way back to Jerusalem to deliver the offering that the Gentile churches have raised to support their poor Jewish brethren. But even then, he becomes the center of controversy, first with the church and then with the non-Christian religious leaders. With the church because he’s accused of steering Jewish believers away from following the Law, and with the religious leaders because he’s accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple, thus defiling it. Neither charge is true, but ironically, Paul’s mission is to share the gospel which includes the good news that Jews and Gentiles are co-heirs of the kingdom through Jesus, that there is no longer a dividing wall of separation.

Paul’s story begins to look eerily like Jesus’ own story as he is arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin for a mock trial. They call for his blood, while the Roman commander Lysias, pronounces him innocent. Sound familiar? Being made aware of a plot against Paul’s life, Lysias sends Paul with an escort of 470 soldiers to governor Felix.

Paul can’t seem to help getting into trouble. Riots and violence nip at his heels at every turn. But he’s in trouble for the gospel. He refuses to compromise. Bonheoffer in The Cost of Discipleship  writes, “Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men.” The fierceness of Paul’s faith is evidence of his total lack of fear of man. He had a vision for the kingdom to come and was on mission to share that with the world.

I pray that my son is like Paul. Until next time…stay salty.

Family Feud

It’s a familiar scene. Younger brother runs in crying. “Dave hit me in the back!” And the rejoinder from Dave, “But he started it!” And back and forth it goes until finally a parent steps in and sorts out the details. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” A question that has been asked by every big brother in a variety of ways from the beginning of time…or at least from the time of the first big brother-little brother episode in the Bible. Abel’s a keeper of flocks while Cain is a tiller of the soil. Two brothers. Both bring an offering to the LORD. The older brings an offering of fruit – he’s a farmer. The younger brings an offering from the flock – he’s a shepherd. So far the story is pretty straight forward. But then the unexpected happens. Cain’s offering is rejected. And worse yet, Abel’s is accepted. And still worse yet, God says, “Hey Cain, why so glum? If you do what’s right, then you will be accepted. But beware if you don’t, sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you”, which Cain interprets as, “Why can’t you just be like your younger brother? If you were more like him, then we would all be happy.” Talk about salt in a wound. So Cain visits his brother Abel in the field and then, another shocking twist, Cain rises up and kills Abel. Cain is quickly found out when God shows up and says, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain lies and responds as if he doesn’t know, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” totally expecting a negative response. But God has different expectations and confronts him, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground…” And then God pronounces sentence; however, in a move similar to Genesis 3, God shows mercy in the midst of judgment.

On the surface it sure looks like Cain may have gotten a bad rap. How was he to know what kind of sacrifice to bring? He brought what he had. Shouldn’t that have been enough? Maybe, if the story started in Genesis 4.1. But the story begins in Genesis 1.1. And in Genesis 3.15, God revealed that the innocent Seed of the Woman would give His life crushing the head of the serpent to deliver folks from death, and that there would be constant enmity/warfare between those who follow God (seed of the woman) and those who follow the enemy (seed of the serpent). The animal skins provided by God to cover Adam and his wife after the fall illustrate the former, while the story of Cain and Abel illustrate the latter.

Now to the offerings. The two offerings reflect two different approaches to God. Cain brought fruit…his parents covered themselves with fig leaves. In both cases the respondents were coming to God on their terms. They did what was right in their own eyes. But then God corrects the parents through Genesis 3.15 and provided for their covering through an animal sacrifice. The blood of the innocent to cover the sin of the guilty. Now of course, the blood of animals cannot take away sin. But the picture of the death of the innocent was a reminder that the wages of sin is death. It was faith in God’s promise in Genesis 3.15 that took away sin and restored the relationship with God. Abel got it. He offered a blood sacrifice. He exhibited faith in God’s promise by employing the same picture that God had used to illustrate Genesis 3.15.

And going forward…you shall love your neighbor as yourself is the second highest commandment behind loving God with all that you are. So I guess we are our brother’s keeper.

Until next time…stay salty.