Unbelievable Christ

Advent 2013…Christ: Isaiah 9.2-7

Merry Christmas!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…stay salty.

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

Unbelievable Love

Advent 2013…Love: Psalm 89.1-4, 19-29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…stay salty.

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

Unbelievable Peace

Advent 2013…Peace: Isaiah 40.1-11

As I reflected on this passage, the season of peace is one of the most stressful times of the year for most of us. Gifts to be bought, family to entertain, parties to be attended, too much food to be eaten, painful memories to be relived… we, like the exiled Jews, feel beat down, abused, worn out. We proclaim a peace that we desperately long to experience for ourselves.

I shared a tweet this past week, “The peace the world offers is a peace of avoidance, a peace of denial, a temporary, fragile peace…don’t you long for something more?” It reminds me of what Hezekiah said when Isaiah revealed that the Babylonians would come and ransack Jerusalem… “The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good.” For he a thought, “For there will be peace and truth in my days.”

The peace of Hezekiah is too often the only peace we know…fleeting, empty, selfish. We get so distracted by trying to maintain our own peace now.  If I can make it through the holidays, If I can make it to payday, I can retire when…, if I can get my kids through college,  if I can keep my spouse happy.  A peace like Hezekiah’s – “at least I’ll know peace”. The only problem is, maintaining peace is hard work.  If you find yourself always trying to keep the peace, know that you don’t have it.

But the peace that the coming Davidic King would bring is as everlasting/eternal as the word of the LORD, never fading, never failing. Isaiah paints a landscape where all war has ended.  Peace has been established.  And that is true, our peace has come.  Our peace is here – here and now, in this moment, today. And our peace is coming, advancing every moment, we are anticipating our bridegroom. And again, to be clear, Jesus is the Davidic King who came to bring that peace. It is the peace of the kingdom…peace with God and peace with our neighbor.

The relationship between peace with God and peace with men parallels the relationship between loving God and loving your neighbor. You can only love people when you are loving God. When you are loving God, you can’t help but love people. We saw that in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus said that loving your neighbor as yourself is the law and the prophets. So also, you can only be at peace with people when you are at peace with God. When you are at peace with God, you can’t help but be at peace with people.

Where is our peace today?  As I read these verses, Isaiah seems to offer comfort to the Jewish refugees returning from Babylon by reminding them who they were, or maybe better, whose they were.  They were God’s – the Lords’ – The Lord God’s – Zion – Jerusalem.  When people under Babylonian captivity, in the distant future, would read these words, they would recall whose they were.  The present realities of suffering could not be ignored, but neither could the fact that they were God’s chosen people whom He loved, whom He had made a covenant with.  I think that is our comfort.  We are His.  He chose us, died for us, lives for us.  Paul prayed that his readers might know peace by understanding the depths of God’s love for them.

This story challenges us to pursue true peace…the peace of the kingdom. Knowing that we have peace with God frees us up to pursue peace with others. And as we learn to live more and more fully in God’s perfect peace, then we experience more and more fully peace with others.

My prayer for us this week is that we might more fully realize Unbelievable Peace because we have an Unbelievable Savior.

Until next time…stay salty.

Unbelievable Hope

1st Sunday of Advent. Isaiah 11.1-10.

As I reflected on the passage this week, I thought about how often Israel placed their hope in things other than the LORD. Even though they had seen Him do clearly miraculous things like the ten plagues and parting the sea, of leading them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, of providing manna in the wilderness, of conquering enemies more numerous and powerful than them…yet they continually looked to other gods or other kings or to themselves. Running their own universes was leading them to epic failure. That’s what made guys like Abraham, Moses and David so great…their hope was clearly in the LORD, and they trusted Him to deliver them. They knew that only He could save and that only He could bring about all that He had promised concerning them, Israel and the nations.

And Jesus is the hoped for Davidic King who can bring in the true kingdom. Not an earthly kingdom that is destined to crumble and fade away, but an everlasting heavenly kingdom that encompasses both heaven and earth. He is the One who will restore not only Israel, but all of creation. He is the One who provides life…true life that is eternal and reflects perfectly the Creator. He is the One who brings reconciliation so that we can be adopted into God’s family, that we can sons and daughters of the King.

I shared a tweet last week, “Our hope is resurrection…for that all creation awaits.” Israel does not have a corner on the market of hoping in things that only bring disappointment. We, who have seen God work miracles in our own lives, of rescuing us from the kingdom of darkness and transferring us to the kingdom of His beloved Son…we too tend to hope in the things of this world that cannot bring about the desired effect. Our confidence is in our own abilities to make things happen, to provide for ourselves…

As I thought about my own life, I realized how often I set my hope on people or events that only disappoint. I’m too busy trying to create the perfect life here, refusing to admit that the world in its current state is destined for destruction. This world and the things of it are doomed to disappear…yet I sometimes find myself clinging to it as if my life depended on it. I forget that my hope is resurrection…it’s the kingdom life that is available now and lasts into eternity. It’s true peace, joy and love. Not the counterfeit version that this world can only offer. I am a sojourner here.

There is (or should be) a difference between the way the world hopes and the way a believer does. The hope the world is always uncertain, flaky and always ultimately disappoints. For the things hoped for in this present world are doomed to fade away. But the believers hope is a confident anticipation based on the sure promises of God. It does not disappoint.

What about you? What are you hoping in? Who are you hoping in? Is your confidence in people or things that are destined to disappoint? Are you so busy building an earthly kingdom that you have forgotten that as a believer this world, in its present state, is not your home?

My prayer for us this advent season is that we would discover anew our unbelievable Savior so that we might know an unbelievable hope.

Until next time…stay salty.

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

A Life Founded on the Rock

Matthew 7.13-29

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by Jesus’ straightforward invitation to experience life in His kingdom. The choice is clear. He only presents two kingdoms, two ways, two kinds of fruit, two foundations… So how do we take Jesus up on His invitation? How do we enter into the kingdom life that He invites us to experience?

There of course is the initial entrance that comes when we trust in Him for eternal life. It’s a free gift available to all who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He came and lived a perfect life, died a horrible death on our behalf, paying the penalty for our sins, was raised again the third day and ascended to the Father. And that through His death and resurrection we have peace with God, we’ve been reconciled and adopted into His family, becoming sons and daughters of the King.

But then what? I shared a tweet this past week, “Maybe living a kingdom life is so difficult because we fail to approach it intentionally.” In Dallas Willard’s, Divine Conspiracy, he touches on this when he says that discipleship is not something that just happens, but it’s something that we have to intend to do. Living life in the kingdom, following Jesus, doesn’t just happen. It is something we have to intend to do…we have to make the choice. Jesus says things like, “Ask, seek, knock…Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” All speak of intentionality, of cultivating this secret inner life with the Father. And our failure to make that choice may explain why we are so inadequate at kingdom living. And even when we make the choice to live a kingdom life, we should expect that being a disciple of Jesus is a life-long process…a process that requires us to get to know Him. And the only way we get to know Him is through His Word…and prayer and fellowship with His family.

As we mentioned a few weeks back, I believe another reason that we struggle is that we don’t think Jesus knows what He’s talking about…or maybe He just doesn’t understand what life is like today. I mean 21st century America is a far cry from 1st century Israel. How can we be expected to live Jesus’ life today? We’re not. Jesus lived His life and did a perfect job of doing it. We’re to live our lives, but we are to live our lives as Jesus would live them. That means that life in the kingdom doesn’t require that we quit our jobs and become itinerant preachers. On the contrary, it requires us to see our jobs, whether that’s in the office, the home or the classroom, as places of kingdom-living, opportunities for discipleship and ministry.

We always need to keep it before us that practicing righteousness does not make us righteous…but having been made righteous by the King, then our practice of righteousness is simply letting our light shine, of bearing good fruit, that brings glory to the Father.

But what about you? Have you trusted in Jesus for eternal life? If not, will you make that choice today to enter into life…the eternal, kingdom life that He wants for you? If you have trusted in Jesus, have you made the conscious decision to be His disciple…to follow Him and learn from Him so that you might experience all the fullness of the kingdom life He’s called you to?

This story challenges us to choose life, to make following Jesus and living in the kingdom our intention.

My prayer for us this week that we would continue to build upon the Rock, so that come what may we may stand together as a community of kingdom citizens experiencing the fullness of life in the kingdom.

Until next time…stay salty.

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

A Tale of Two Kingdoms

Matthew 6.19-34

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by the contrast that Jesus makes between the two kingdoms…and the exclusivity of the two. We either pursue an earthly kingdom where we are the hero…everything is geared toward our own glory, or we pursue the kingdom that Jesus came to bring where He is the Hero…everything is geared toward bringing glory to the Father. There is no middle ground. Why are we so stressed out? Because we are busy building a kingdom…running our own universe, and if we are honest, life in the kingdom rarely crosses our minds.

And while Jesus primarily addresses a religious audience, He also mentions the Gentiles, who were running their own kingdoms as well. You don’t have to be religious to court the favor of people. The desire to build our own kingdoms has plagued us since our first parents decided that being image bearers wasn’t enough…they wanted to be their own gods. And we’ve been building earthly kingdoms ever since.

I shared a tweet this past week, “Why is kingdom-living so hard? Maybe we’re serving another master? Kingdom living requires singleness of purpose, sole devotion to the King…” This seems to be particularly hard in a culture that has made it “all about me”. The American Dream has made earthly kingdom-building a virtue. But the problem is, we don’t believe Jesus. Many of us have fooled ourselves into thinking we can pursue both kingdoms. We fail to see the impossibility of pursuing our own agenda, our own kingdom, while at the same time claiming citizenry in the kingdom that Jesus came to bring. We compartmentalize our lives so that God gets Sunday morning, maybe a night during the week for youth group or small group, but then the rest is ours. And we build our own earthly kingdoms. A quick glance at our calendars or our checkbooks is a pretty good indication of where and what kingdom we’re investing in. Our stress level is also a great barometer.

As I thought about my own life, I still struggle with this. Some days I think I’m getting closer to a single focus on the kingdom, but then evidences of my own earthly kingdom building activities come to light. I find myself looking out for my own glory and wanting the approval of men. And at those times, I notice my stress level rising as I try to run my own universe. It never turns out well.

But what about you? What kingdom are you investing in? You can’t pursue both…eventually your true loyalties will become clear. As kingdom citizens, Jesus wants us to live worry-free lives, but that’s only possible as we learn to make pursuit of His kingdom our highest priority…as we train our eyes to value that which is truly beautiful, that which is truly worth our worship and we allow that to capture our hearts. Kingdom investing looks different for each one of us, but all of us have investments to make with our time, our relationships, our resources… Some of us have been entrusted with more than others. How are you investing what He’s given you? Tozer once said, As base a thing as money often is, it yet can be transmitted into everlasting treasure. It can be converted into food for the hungry and clothing for the poor; it can keep a missionary actively winning lost men to the light of the gospel and thus transmute itself into heavenly values. Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touch with immortality.” (A.W. Tozer, “The Transmutation of Wealth”Born After Midnight, (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1959), 107.)

This story challenges us to consider the kingdom we’re investing in. Are we building a kingdom for ourselves destined to disappoint, or are we investing in the true kingdom that brings with it eternal rewards?

My prayer for us this week is that we boldly and courageously invest in the kingdom work that God has given us to do, letting our light shine so that folks might glorify our Father who is in heaven.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear an mp3 of this sermon, go to: http://www.centralchristian.org. Follow us on twitter: @mattdumas1969 or @cccsotm.

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.