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.

Advertisements

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.

 

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.

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.