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.

Advertisements

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.

 

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.

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.

 

Church in Transition

Have you ever tried to imagine what it must have been like for the disciples? They had grown up with the expectation that one day messiah would come and destroy the Romans, returning Jerusalem and the Jews to their former glory. They were looking for their nation to be returned to a place of prominence. Jesus shows up and blows up all of their categories. He’s so much more than a political leader and military hero. He does incredible, magical, powerful things that only God can do. Who is this Man? He challenges the religious establishment, recklessly and shamelessly pursues the outcasts, and then starts talking about His impending death – a death that is necessary to carry out His rescue mission. They hear rumors that He’s been resurrected and then they see Him. And they dare to hope. They dare to believe. Then He’s taken up into the clouds, and they are left behind.

What do we do now? Is this the time that the kingdom thing comes about? But they are told to wait…to wait for the power of God, the Holy Spirit, to come upon them so that they may be witnesses to this Messiah, to Jesus throughout the whole world. It’s the beginning of their mission…their part of the rescue mission that Jesus came to planet earth and laid the foundation for. Some friends and I are studying the book of Acts together. We just finished chapter 1. Can’t wait to see what God does with this group.

Until next time…stay salty.