In the Beginning…

Central Christian Church

Genesis 1.1 – 2.3

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by the disparity between what the world says about the origins of life and what God says, and the implications for the question of purpose. Whether it’s the Egyptians view of a battle between the gods, or the atheistic evolutionary view that we are a cosmic accident…the result of time and chance, the resulting impact on the way we view ourselves, each other and planet earth is the same…negligible, forgettable, expendable.

I shared a tweet this past week, “Genesis presents a better, higher view of the world we live in…a world that reflects the creative genius of its benevolent Creator.” Several years ago, there was a movie that came out called “Contact”. Jodie Foster is the main character. As a little girl, looking through her first telescope, she was blown away by the enormity of the universe…

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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 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.

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.

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.

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.