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.

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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.

Preach the Word

2 Timothy 3.10-4.5. As I reflected on this passage, I was blown away by Paul’s desperate appeal to Timothy to stay true to the Word. The last words of a dying man. So I have a question, What is truth? And what does it have to do with preaching the Word? And what does that have to do with me?

I shared a tweet this week… “Truth is relevant, not relative.” For me, that is why fidelity to the truth, the biblical story is so important. Because like we said last week, 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.

Adam and Eve in the garden. Tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What knowledge did Adam and Eve gain when they ate of the fruit…the serpent promises that they would be like God, knowing good and evil. But didn’t they already know what was good? Wasn’t that God’s assessment of creation? Didn’t they know that God was good and the Definer of the good? So what did they gain? They gained the ability to define the good for themselves. Now they could determine what was good and evil, what was right and wrong, what was true, apart from what God had revealed. In becoming their own gods, they also became their own barometers of truth. And so truth would seemingly become relative. But the truth has never been relative. When heaven and earth split apart in the fall, it was those who looked to the things above, to the heavenly realities who followed God and were willing/able to see the truth as truth. Those focused on earthy realities continued to define truth according to their own image, according to their own sliding scale.

When we first trust in Jesus, the Bible says that we are new creatures; but our perspective isn’t automatically realigned. The noetic effects of sin, 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. We see truth as relative. And that’s why fidelity to the Scriptures and preaching the Word has to be foundational.

Last week we said 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. Paul calls it “being transformed by the renewing of the mind.” And that only happens as we become immersed in the Story, as we remind ourselves who we are and what God is calling us to. It’s learning to see my resources – my time, my money, my relationships, my life – through God’s eyes.

As I thought about my own life, I had made the decision long ago that the Bible was true. I don’t remember consciously saying it. And I don’t remember anyone telling me that. It’s just the way I’ve approached it for as long as I can remember. I’ve never had a problem with a six day creation, a worldwide flood, the walls of Jericho falling at a trumpet blast, the sun standing still for Joshua or the shadow moving back up the stairs for Hezekiah. I’ve never questioned the reality of angels or demons or the resurrection from the dead. The Bible said it, and I believed it.

I remember being in college at a “Christian” university when a professor began to teach that the Bible really wasn’t true. That it was good for moral instruction, but not really reliable historically, that science had already debunked the creation myth and the flood account. The world was surely the result of an evolutionary process that took hundreds of millions of years. It disturbed me greatly that he could/would take that stance. I listened to his arguments, but never wavered. I don’t know why I didn’t. Untrained, undiscipled, and not really walking with the Lord at that time. Now I’m even more convinced that the Bible is God’s Word…and that it is true. And my commitment is to teach the truth and to say the hard things even if they are not popular because that’s what I know to do. I’ve seen too many churches that have strayed from making the Word central and have wandered into dangerous territory. I don’t want that to be me. I don’t want that to be us.

One of the scariest things for me in this passage is the fact that the challenges to the truth come from within the church. If we do not have a strong commitment as a church to the truth of the Scriptures and sound doctrine, then we as a church will be in danger of falling into error. We all have to be committed. Because false doctrine may seem to start innocently enough with an applicational thought, “This is what this means to me…” which become a deadly disease that spreads throughout the body. And it generally happens when we let culture define truth. It may influence application, but it must not define truth. And the church disintegrates from the inside. It’s insidious – you need to be happy (back to fall, you are the center – the Eve story) … Right and wrong isn’t my opinion, but what Scriptures say.

But what about you? Does culture define truth? Or does God’s Word? Is right and wrong a matter of opinion, or clearly laid out in Scripture? A friend of mine issued a healthy challenge to me on this passage. He said, “You’ve convinced me that sound doctrine is important. You’ve convinced me that truth is not relative. So what? What do I do? Now that I am convinced of this, how is it going to change my life? What does it look like for me, Joe audience member with no formal training and a fear of speaking? Or me, high school sophomore in a public school for the first time?” Paul writes to Timothy. I’m not Timothy. I’m not leading a church. I’m not a preacher. So I must be off the hook. Not quite. Paul says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction…”

Two things: First, hold fast to the conviction that the Word is true in your own life. Keep reminding yourself of the Story and where and how you fit into it. Don’t let culture define truth. Leave that to the Bible. Second, the word that Paul uses for preach can also be translated proclaim. Proclaim God’s truth, His Word in your relationships. Proclaim it to your family – believing or unbelieving. Proclaim it in the workplace. Proclaim it at school. Proclaim it when it’s popular and when it’s not. Don’t waver in your conviction. You will be tested. You will be persecuted. You will be counter-cultural. But you will also experience the peace of God and more confidence in your walk with Him.

This story challenges us to move away from the cultural trend to define truth as relative and to redouble our commitment to God’s Word. To boldly proclaim the faith that we hold to and introduce others to the Story. We expect attacks from the outside, but I pray that it doesn’t come from within.

My prayer this week is that we will take seriously our commitment to stay true to God’s Word even when it isn’t popular and even when it may cost us, that we would keep preaching the Word central.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear an mp3 of this sermon, visit us online at: http://www.centralchristian.org.

 

Unexpected Rescue

Mark 5.1-20 has become one of my favorite passages. It’s the story of Jesus’ healing of the Gerasene demoniac. As I thought about the passage, I wondered why it was so important for Mark. All three of the Synoptic Gospels include the story of the demoniac, but Mark, whose narrative tends to be the most terse spends more space than either Matthew or Luke on this account. Mark found something extremely valuable in this tale. Something in it captured Jesus’ ministry for him.

Having just calmed a violent storm at sea, Jesus meets a man with an equally violent storm raging within him. In both cases Jesus is able to squash the chaos with a word. It would be easy to come to the conclusion that Mark is showcasing Jesus’ power or authority over both the natural and supernatural worlds. And it does that, but I think Mark is driving us to something even more powerful…Jesus crosses a violent, storm-tossed sea, faces down the forces of hell and is willing to sacrifice 2,000 pigs for one man! Did you get that? Jesus crosses a violent, storm-tossed sea, faces down the forces of hell and is willing to sacrifice 2,000 pigs for one man! And having rescued him, He sends him on mission to share his story – of “how much the Lord had done for him and how he had mercy on him.” Now that’s incredible!

So how do we relate to someone like the demoniac?

The message of this story hits us at multiple levels: It is a message for those who, like the demoniac, find themselves lost and as far from God as they can possibly imagine. Think about it. What hope does the demoniac have. He’s a Gentile in the Gentile Decapolis, living among the tombs, with a legion of demons holding sway over his soul. What hope does he have? None. And then he hears a voice…faintly at first and then it becomes stronger and he has his first encounter with Jesus who rescues him and sends the demons away. An incredible story of rescue and of God’s mercy. Some of us are longing to hear Jesus’ voice and to be rescued by Him. We want desperately that story of rescue.

It’s also a message those who have been rescued by Jesus, but now are in need of hope in a time of trial or torment. You’ve trusted in Him, but somewhere along the way you’ve forgotten how he’s rescued you and doubt whether He can today. We need to be reminded of what Jesus did for the demoniac, and realize He’s gone to equally great lengths for us. We were not all as bad as the demoniac, but we were all as bad off as he was. Jesus had to snatch us out of the horrors of hell just as much as He had to for the former demoniac.

But I also believe that Mark includes this story for a third group.

The townsfolk in Mark’s story are unbelievers…but is there a rebuke there for us when we fail to see people because of their problems? When we tend to hide folks away or marginalize them because we no longer see the person, but the problem?

Jesus is still on a rescue mission, pulling folks out of the fires of hell.

My prayer for us this week is that we would be a part of Jesus’ rescue party, reaching out to our friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, etc. with our own story of rescue and the gospel.

Until next time…stay salty.

Check out the sermon at: http://www.centralchristian.org

Second Chances

John 21. As I reflected on this passage, I wondered why John concludes his Gospel with this episode. None of the other Gospel writers include it. This particular story is unique to John. So why include it? In verse 14, John reminds us that this is the third time that Jesus has made Himself known to the disciples. Two prior occasions, He had a purpose in mind…calming the fears and commissioning a group of the disciples, breathing on them the Holy Spirit and giving them life; and then a special encore presentation for Thomas. This episode also has a very focused purpose…the restoration of Peter. You see, after his denial, we as the readers are left wondering, “So whatever happened to Peter?”

Peter had blatantly denied and turned his back on Jesus. There was no getting around it. After all of the boasting, after all of the posturing, in the end he had failed miserably. And all of his closest friends knew it. Fear might have been involved, although given Peter’s boldness in confronting the soldiers that seems less likely. Frustration? Probably. Doubts? Sure. But Peter was supposed to be their fearless leader. Not so. Would he ever be useful again?

And now, miraculously Peter is given a second chance. Jesus shows up and takes him aside, and with the reminder of both his failure (charcoal fire…same as denial) and his calling in mind (Simon, son of John…mirrors his calling in chapter 1), he’s given another opportunity to follow Jesus. But following Him this go round would not end well from an earthly standpoint. It would involve a cross. Three years later…knowing all that he had been through and would yet go through, would he still sign up? Knowing that the journey would be a lonely one, with no guarantees that anyone else would accompany him, would he still follow Jesus?

The encouraging thing for me from Peter’s story is that Jesus makes a special trip to offer him his second chance. And not only a second chance, but also a bright new future chock full of opportunity to continue to pursue Jesus…and to fail, but also to change the world. He and this rag-tag group of Jesus-followers will take the Roman world by storm…not leading a military campaign, but waging spiritual warfare nonetheless. We are here today because of his ministry. Eusebius tells us that Jesus’ prophecy concerning Peter was fulfilled when he is fastened to his own cross upside down by Nero in Rome at the same time as Paul. According to Clement of Rome (c. a.d. 96), Peter suffered martyrdom under Nero (a.d. 54–68; 1 Clem. 5.4), probably during the final years of Nero’s reign (c. a.d. 64–66). Even knowing that following Jesus was a death sentence, Peter still signed up. And it was the adventure of a life-time.

But what about you? What’s your story of denial? How have you blown it? Have you come out the other side? What does life look like? Do you believe that Jesus can still use you, that He wants to use you? He made a special trip for Peter after a very public ministry failure…He wants to do the same for you. But how will you respond when He says, “Follow Me!”

It strikes me that Peter’s story would likely have had a very different ending had I been the one whom he had denied. And for some of us, we are in the position of being the betrayed. What about you? Have you restored the one who failed you? Have you forgiven them? Any second chances? Would you trust them with an even greater level of responsibility? Or would you do what I can be so quick to do, and write them off?

Peter’s story challenges us at so many levels: Do we believe that Jesus still can and wants to use us, no matter our failures? Are we willing to follow Him, no matter the cost? Are we willing to forgive and restore others when they fail us?

My prayer for you is that you grasp how long and high and wide and deep is the love of Jesus for you…that you may rest in His grace…that you may learn to love and forgive like Him and that you would do that exceedingly well this week.

Until next time…stay salty.

You can hear this sermon at: http://www.centralchristian.org/media

A Resurrected Jesus

John 20. John’ account of the resurrection. As I reflected on the sermon this week, I wondered why John includes this episode. The Synoptics seemed to have it covered, so John must have a theological purpose in including it. Somehow it must be vital to the story. We’ve pointed out some of those things like the fact that the relationship between the disciples and Jesus has changed from that of friend to brother…as believers we have a familial relationship with Father God. We also noted that the disciples were given new life when Jesus breathed the Spirit on them. And Thomas’ statement, “My Lord and My God” points to Jesus as both human and divine. Three extremely important theological reasons to include this episode which will be further developed by Paul. But John wraps those truths in a story that includes characters who respond in very different ways to Jesus’ death and the possibility of resurrection.

A few questions that come to mind…What if Jesus really was raised from the dead? What if Jesus really is alive? In other words, what is the significance of a resurrected Jesus? Besides having a major holiday commemorating it, what difference does a resurrection make? If Jesus’ death on the cross allows for the forgiveness of sins, do we really need a resurrection?

There are four characters in the story. All four had believed in Jesus as the Messiah. His death paid the penalty for sin. At that moment we could say they were all Old Testament saints much like Abraham or David. But they had yet to pass from Old Testament saints to New Testament believers. Mary Magdalene is totally focused on her grief…let’s call it the circumstances she finds herself in. Her situation has so consumed her that she is unable to recognize resurrected Jesus even though He is right there in front of her. Peter is confused. The evidence is inconsistent with a grave robbing, but resurrection isn’t on his radar. The disciples are fearful. They are meeting behind locked doors. They gambled everything to follow Jesus. They went all in…and now it looks like they may have lost. Their expectation of Messiah has gone through some serious revisions and now a major disappointment. When Jesus shows up, twice He speaks peace over them to calm their nerves. The resurrection is unanticipated. Thomas refuses to believe resurrection with out seeing the evidence for himself. His doubt is representative of where all the disciples were prior to Jesus’ appearing.

A couple of observations…First off, all of these guys totally miss it. Resurrection is not even a consideration. They are totally focused on earthly realities…the heavenly has not entered their field of vision. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Secondly, they all respond with joy when they encounter the resurrected Jesus. Distraught, confused, fearful, and doubting to rejoicing…not a bad trade. But in order to get there they had to meet Jesus…the real Jesus…the resurrected Jesus who was fully God and fully Man. Finally, and my favorite, Jesus meets each of them where they are. He patiently waits for Mary to recognize Him. He speaks peace over the disciples who are fearful. He even returns to allow Thomas to “see” the evidence.

As I thought about the resurrection question, there were some truths that came to mind: The resurrection is God’s “YES”, His stamp of approval on everything Jesus said and did. Jesus truly is all that He claimed to be. The resurrection is also proof that Jesus “freakin’ crushed sin and death for all eternity” (as a friend of mine put it).  Jesus’ death pays the penalty for sin. However, if we stopped there, we might be forgiven; but where’s the empowerment for life? It is the life of Jesus that allows us to experience life today…real, abundant life.

And while I readily affirm those truths today, many times I practically live like Jesus remained in the tomb…I know I’m forgiven, but I still tend to be totally consumed by the circumstances – broken-hearted, confused, fearful, and even doubting that Jesus can/will bring me out of the current situation. John says that he wrote “these things that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and that believing we might have life in His name.” While Mary and the disciples had believed in Jesus…their experience of a crucified Jesus hadn’t brought life (fear, doubt, distress, confusion). Although Jesus was alive and although He had crushed sin and death, they were not experiencing the victory. That comes only with resurrection.

But what about you? “Think back this week, is there a worry, fear or circumstance in your life that drew your attention away from Jesus? Financial uncertainty, marital conflict, illness… ” a time where you were so focused on protecting, preserving, and ultimate investing in the “life” that you have “created” for yourself here on earth, that you don’t, can’t and fail to even think about investing in the “TRUE LIFE” that He has created for you through His resurrection, the eternal kingdom that will not pass away.

Some of us are believers…we’ve believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins but we are not experiencing the life of Jesus that is ours by birthright through His resurrection. Maybe we are like Mary…distraught and broken-hearted, focused on our circumstances and having a hard time seeing Jesus. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Maybe we are like Peter…confused and unable to put it together. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Maybe we are like the disciples…fearful, betting on Jesus but feeling like you are on the losing side. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Maybe we are like Thomas…doubting, needing evidence that Jesus can help us in our present predicament. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. For those of us who are Mary’s or Peter’s or disciples, or Thomas’…we need to be reminded of the truth of the resurrection. Jesus is alive. He died and rose again to give us life.

Some of you reading this post would not put yourself in the believing camp. You are somewhere on the road of your spiritual journey. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Jesus is patient with us and not afraid our questions and doubts.

For those of you who are experiencing the resurrected life of Jesus today, praise God! These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Strengthen and encourage your brothers and sisters.

My prayer for all of us is that we live like Jesus really is alive, that we may truly experience life in His name…a life that radically impacts the way we love others this week.

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.