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.

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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.

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 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.

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.

 

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.