Sermons

Finding Our Place

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THIS MESSY LIFE: ADOLESCENCE - PART 1

FINDING OUR PLACE
Sunday, October 13, 2019
Ruth 1:1-17, Mark 3:33-35

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”

Ruth 1:16

“During the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land” (Ruth 1:1). The days when the judges ruled are days repeatedly characterized by the common refrain, “In those days there was no king and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”

This season in Israel’s life is what I am identifying as a shift into adolescence. They have learned the basics of what it means to be God’s people. They have been set free from slavery in Egypt. They received the law at Mt. Sinai. They struggled through the wilderness and eventually settled in the land God promised to them. Like a 5th grader who has navigated all of elementary school and feels like they are the king of the mountain, so Israel has now become a big fish in a small pond. They have conquered. They are in control. But for all they think they know, they are not very good at using their power and privilege responsibly. The book of Judges shows us time and time again how far Israel strays from the lessons they learned in their childhood. As they shift into adolescence, they are not yet a fully developed nation. There is no king and they struggle to fully recognize the authority of God as their king. Just like children at this age think they have outgrown their parents, so Israel thinks they are ready to handle things on their own. By the time we get to the end of Judges, it is clear, they haven’t learned much at all.

During this time, we read, there was a great famine in the land. The crisis had gotten so bad that families some families had to leave their inherited land behind and move to Moab, a pagan land that had often been at war with Israel. And yet it is here among foreigners that we find one woman who shows us what it truly means to live as a child in God’s household. She, her sister-in-law, and her mother-in-law are all left as widows. She has nothing left. Her sister-in-law Orpah makes the sensible decision to go back to her mother’s household but Ruth refuses to return home. In one of the greatest statements of family solidarity in scripture, Ruth declares to her mother-in-law Naomi that she will stay with her no matter what. “Your people will be my people,” she says, “and your God will be my God.”

There was no obligation on her part to make such a commitment and no guarantees that they would even survive, let alone thrive as a family of widows in the wilderness. Through this act of faith and loyalty, God not only redeems Naomi and Ruth, but through her, God raises up a son named Jesse and a grandson named David. The rest is history. When God’s children had gotten so low they were forced to abandon their land and find refuge among the foreigners, God raised up a foreigner to show them once again what it meant to be part of God’s family, and through her and the line of her grandson David, the doors of our Father’s household were opened to every tribe, tongue and nation for all time. We were all foreigners and strangers, gleaning and struggling to survive on the margins of God’s household, but God sent his firstborn son out into the fields like Boaz to invite us into a home we never knew.

Credit for the excerpt on Ruth goes to Dr. Sandra Richter. You can watch her extended video on Redemption here:

First Things First

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THIS MESSY LIFE: CHILDHOOD - PART 4

First Things First
Sunday, October 6, 2019
Deuteronomy 4:1-40, 5:1-21, 6:4-9, Mark 12:28-31

The Lord said: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Deuteronomy 5:6

It never ceases to amaze me how much attention the Ten Commandments get in the media today, particularly from Christians who are determined to have them posted in every public space they can, as if the mere presence of these ancient laws will somehow inspire to world to repent of their sins and live good moral lives. It is ironic that many who make such arguments about the importance of the Ten Commandments are also the same people who resist the passage of laws on issues like gun control because “criminals don’t obey the laws anyway.” I’m not making any political arguments here. Rather, I simply want to draw our attention to the inconsistency when on one hand we claim “laws don’t work because the problem is in the hearts of the people” but on the other hand we demand laws to be posted which enforce our particular religious and moral code.

It is true that the Ten Commandments form the basis for many of our nation’s laws and indeed many law codes around the world. Restrictions against murder, adultery, stealing, false witness and coveting are valuable in any society as a means of keeping order and minimizing violence and harm toward one another.

The first few commandments, however, are not quite so broad. They are specific to those who have been set free from slavery by God. Look at the prologue in Deuteronomy 5:6 (or Exodus 20:1).

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Apart from this act of unmerited grace on God’s part, the laws which follow have no weight. We cannot expect those who have not entered into a covenant with God to obey such commands anymore than we as American citizens could be expected to obey a British law about driving on the left hand side of the road. It just doesn’t make sense in our context. For someone who does not know God and has not been set free from the slavery of sin, laws against idolatry, using God’s name in vain, or even keeping the Sabbath make no sense.

These first several commands are primarily about establishing our identity as God’s chosen people. We get into trouble with this language when we view our “chosen status” or our “salvation” as a mark of privilege that somehow makes us better than those who do not follow God or those who may not even know God. God’s choosing of Israel and of the church does not elevate us above the world or make us judges of the world, but rather God called out a particular people in order to bless all nations by demonstrating the joy, peace and freedom of living in the ways God has modeled for us, not only in the commandments, but through the earthly life of Christ.

The next time we get angry about the challenge to some public display of ancient laws on a plaque, perhaps we should first ask ourselves if these laws actually make a difference in our lives.

  • Do we live as people who God has set free from the house of slavery?

  • Do we put God ahead of everything and everyone else in our lives?

  • Have we bowed down to the idols or even created idols of our own… money, politics, success, comfort, security, maybe even the Bible itself as the words on the page become more important than the living God whom the words point us to?

  • Do we honor the Sabbath, recognizing that God is enough and that we do not depend on our own efforts to provide manna for our families 7 days a week?

Let’s keep first things first. God brought us out of slavery and we didn’t do a think to deserve it.

How then shall we live in response to such amazing grace?

In Over Our Heads

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THIS MESSY LIFE: CHILDHOOD - PART 3

In Over Our Heads
Sunday, September 29, 2019
Exodus 1:8-14

Now a new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph

Exodus 1:8

It’s easy to look at Israel’s slavery in Egypt and see ourselves through the eyes of their eyes as victims of oppression. We too are “God’s people” and so we have a long history of seeing ourselves as the oppressed rather than the oppressor. Societies and governments do not typically bend toward a “Christian worldview” and in most places throughout history, God’s people have found themselves in the minority.

Over the last century in America, however, we have been living in what Gil Rendle calls “an aberrant time” (Rendle, Quietly Courageous). This period of Christian prosperity was not typical in light of the overall history of God’s people. Though that time is rapidly ending, most people over the age of 30 at least have a strong memory of a time when what we considered “Christian moral values” ruled the day. God’s people were thriving, until they were not.

And so it was with the people of God in Joseph’s day. Joseph held the second highest office in the land and as a result, his brothers flourished under Pharaoh and increased in number as the twelve tribes of Israel expanded. By the time we get to Exodus, however, we find a new King in power who did not know Joseph.

“The Israelite people are now larger in number and stronger than we are. Come on, let’s be smart and deal with them. Otherwise, they will only grow in number. And if ware breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us, and then escape from the land.”

- Exodus 1:8-10

It seems from this introduction that the enslaved Israelites are not the only ones “in over their heads.” In fact, the only reason they were enslaved to begin with is because the Egyptians felt threatened by the presence of so many foreigners in their land. The new Pharaoh inherited what he considered to be a serious immigration problem. His solution, put them in slavery for Egypt’s benefit and discard (i.e. kill) those who are no longer useful to us. What empires may view as a sign of political strength, scripture interprets as Pharaoh’s weakness and eventual downfall. Egypt was in over their heads in how to deal with the Israelites, not because God’s people posed a genuine threat, but because they were overwhelmed by fear of “the other.”

Yes, we must always empathize with those who like Israel, find themselves oppressed and enslaved. We must always stand with Moses who, by God’s guidance and strength, leads the people out of slavery to a land of promise.

Yet we must also be very careful, for history has a way not only of repeating itself, but also turning things on their heads. The oppressed, if not careful, may themselves become the oppressors. Later in Israel’s history we will see how they build armies of chariots, marry for the sake of political alliances, worship idols, and even enslave others. They would become the very people they once despised, and the consequences would be detrimental.

No matter how much we may want to see ourselves as the victim in need of God’s salvation through a religious and political hero like Moses, perhaps we must first consider why we feel that we are in over our heads. Are we truly being oppressed, or are we perhaps more like Pharaoh, overwhelmed by how much everything is changing around us and afraid of those who are different? If this is the case, perhaps our call is not to vengeance and war, but to humility and peace, lest we too inflict harm against the “sheep of other flocks” (John 10:16) whom God loves and ourselves become enemies of the very God we claim to love.

May we not become so arrogant in identifying ourselves among God’s chosen that we forget God’s promise to Israel’s enemies… to Egypt and to Assyria:

On that Day, there will be a place of worship to God in the center of Egypt and a monument to God at its border. It will show how the God-of-the-Angel-Armies has helped the Egyptians. When they cry out in prayer to God because of oppressors, he’ll send them help, a savior who will keep them safe and take care of them. God will openly show himself to the Egyptians and they’ll get to know him on that Day. They’ll worship him seriously with sacrifices and burnt offerings. They’ll make vows and keep them. God will wound Egypt, first hit and then heal. Egypt will come back to God, and God will listen to their prayers and heal them, heal them from head to toe.

On that Day, there will be a highway all the way from Egypt to Assyria: Assyrians will have free range in Egypt and Egyptians in Assyria. No longer rivals, they’ll worship together, Egyptians and Assyrians!

On that Day, Israel will take its place alongside Egypt and Assyria, sharing the blessing from the center. God-of-the-Angel-Armies, who blessed Israel, will generously bless them all: “Blessed be Egypt, my people! . . . Blessed be Assyria, work of my hands! . . . Blessed be Israel, my heritage!”

Isaiah 19:19-25 (The Message)

When God Let's Us Win

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THIS MESSY LIFE: CHILDHOOD - PART 2

When God Let’s Us Win
Sunday, September 22, 2019
Genesis 32:22-30

Then he said, “Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel, because you struggled with God and with men and won.”

Genesis 32:28

“You win some, you lose some.” That’s just the reality of life. Every one of us needs to learn how to be both a good loser and a good winner. Our ability to enjoy the game regardless of the outcome without crying or gloating all boils down to good sportsmanship.

Parents generally let their kids win at just about everything when they are young. It builds confidence and minimizes discouragement for children who do not yet have the emotional capacity to process failure. At a certain age, we start allowing them to lose. While building confidence is important, they must also learn to deal with the reality of defeat which will come far more often in life than any of us would like.

The same is true when it comes to behavior. When a child is simply learning what is right and wrong, mercy, understanding, and teaching should outweigh the consequences. At some point, however, they will “know better,” at which point consequences become more serious. We cannot and should not always protect them from the outcomes of their own poor decisions.

As God’s children, I believe we have a heavenly parent who trains us in much the same way. Jacob’s life is clearly filled with mistakes and poor choices, some out of immaturity and some out of blatant defiance. At some point Jacob’s struggle against the world and against his own nature turns into what seems like a physical wrestling match with God.

At this point we might think Jacob should know better. It’s time for Dad to put this spoiled kid in his place. He needs to learn that he can’t always manipulate others to get what he wants. For once in his life, Jacob needs to learn how to lose.

“Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel, because you struggled with God and with men and won.”

- Genesis 32:28

What? After all Jacob has done, God let’s him win. Granted, not without a limp from his torn thigh, not to mention a severely bruised ego. Nevertheless, Jacob wrestles with God and his life is spared. God’s blessing is greater than God’s punishment.

Maybe Jacob needed a different lesson that day. What if it wasn’t about winning or losing at all? What if it was simply a reminder that God’s love toward him had nothing to do with winning or losing? Jacob didn’t have to manipulate or control others in order to gain favor. He didn’t have to “win” in life in order to receive God’s blessing.

Maybe the lesson we all need right now is more than simply how to win and lose, but to learn to see ourselves as truly loved and blessed by God regardless of how much we win or lose in life. God’s blessing does not depend on our actions or accomplishments, only on grace, undeserved.

Just Getting Started

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THIS MESSY LIFE: CHILDHOOD - PART 1

Just Getting Started
Sunday, September 15, 2019
Genesis 18:1-15

He looked up and suddenly saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from his tent entrance to greet them and bowed deeply. He said, “Sirs, if you would be so kind, don’t just pass by your servant.

Genesis 18:2-3

A pastor once shared with me that he found his particular rural community unsafe for door to door evangelism. Unlike suburban or urban neighborhoods where people gather regularly in public spaces, out in their yards or on the streets, people in this community kept to themselves, hidden among acres upon acres of farmland that separated them from one another. He recalled several incidents when he pulled into someone’s long gravel or dirt driveways, and assuming the gate was actually open, drove up to the house only to be met with the click of a shotgun.

From locked gates to “no trespassing” and “beware of dog” signs to the blatant motion of a double barrel directing him to turn around, the message was clear. “Private property. Keep out.” In other words, “You are not welcome here.”

They did not know he was a pastor, but it did not matter. In fairness, I have personally experienced similar “welcomes” in urban areas as well. Our first time in Brooklyn, NY we could tell everyone on the block was closely watching our unfamiliar car with Kentucky tags as we parked in front of our friend’s building. When we called, she told us she was down the road at the store but also warned us to stay in the car for a minute until she got back. Once she arrived and the neighbors saw her welcome us, they knew we were OK. Now we belonged. Walking around that neighborhood the rest of the week, we never once felt unsafe.

Though God has spoken to Abraham on several occasions, the story of God’s people essentially begins with a group of three strangers at the Oaks of Mamre, where Abraham sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. These strangers found Abraham, along with all the men of his household in a weakened state as they recovered from their circumcisions taken as a mark of their covenant with God. They were vulnerable and there is no early evidence as to the intentions of these three men.

Yet Abraham does something that would be unheard of in our modern culture of isolation and self-protective natures. He completely ignores his physical pain and the vulnerable state of his family and runs out to greet these strangers. He does not ask why they are there or question their motives. He does not call for help. He does not fear for his own safety. Instead, he invites them into his home as honored guests.

The writer goes out of his way to show the elaborate measures Abraham took to show hospitality to these strangers, and in this case, it turns out the strangers just happened to be the incarnate presence of the Triune God. At some point, Abraham clearly recognizes this truth, but there is no certain evidence that he knew this when they stood at a distance. The narrator, in hindsight, tells us that it was indeed the Lord who appeared to Abraham, but Abraham himself simply greets them as human beings. “Sirs, if you would be so kind, don’t just pass by your servant.” Servant here is likely not a recognition of their divinity, but rather a submissive posture taken by one who desires to serve them by showing hospitality, as was the custom of his day. Nevertheless, Abraham’s hospitality extends far beyond what mere custom demands.

Throughout this fall season, we will journey with the people of God called “Israel” from this surprising beginning in the promise of a son and we will grow with them as they learn what it means to be God’s children, as they rebel in their adolescence, and as they mature by examining their lives as adults. We too must follow such a pattern of growth in our own life as God’s beloved children.

It all begins with one question: “How will we welcome the presence of the Lord, whether we recognize it or not?”

The Lord has a way of showing up when we least expect it, often when we are vulnerable, and often through strangers. If we are too busy or self-absorbed, it is quite possible our journey of faith may never really begin at all.

Fish Out of Water

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FISHING WITH JESUS - PART 3

Fish Out of Water
Sunday, September 1, 2019
Luke 5:1-11

When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.”

Luke 5:4


Imagine this: You grew up going to church. Your best friends were in youth group. Then you went to a Christian college where you met your Christian spouse. The bridesmaids and groomsmen in your wedding were Christian friends.

You moved to a new city to start a family. You made your first friends at church and put your kids in a Christian preschool. You now work 50+ hours a week and don’t have much free time. When you do, you’re volunteering at church.

The reason that your church is only reaching Christians could be as simple as this: You don’t know anyone who isn’t already a Christian.

- Fresh Expressions US

In all of our well-intended attempts to make “church” a priority in our lives, is it possible that we have so isolated ourselves from the world that we no longer have any redemptive influence among those beyond our walls? Is our light washed out by the Sunday morning glow of stained glass? Has our salt lost its value because we spend all our time in the “Dead Sea” of Christendom where the supply of salt never runs out while the world sits at our banks dying of thirst for just a sip of fresh living water?

If Jesus wanted to create a new religion, or even reform a dying religious institution, he would have started with religious people. Instead, we find early on in Jesus’ ministry a radical shift from “religious leaders” to ordinary people.

Jesus knew the “fish” were not waiting around in synagogue and the temple to be caught. That’s why he went where the fish were. That’s why he called people who were already there, living and working among the ordinary people who needed to know that they were immensely valuable to God. The church may teach us how to fish, but as a fishing hole, the church is tapped out. Jesus tells us to go out into deeper waters. If you want to fish, you have to go where the fish are.

Jesus has come into the world to reveal God and to redeem the cosmos. But he is known to us only through the witness of his apostles. The call of the first disciples marks the beginning of a movement that culminates in the founding of the church. The church did not come into existence through a group of persons who wanted to start a good, even benevolent, organization.

Arland J. Hultgren


If the disciples did church the way we do today, would the world still know about Jesus?


Jesus is about to ask them to re-imagine what it means for them to be fishers - and to re-imagine who "fish" might be. So the moral of this story is NOT, "Let's keep doing what we have always done before and trust that one day God will fill our nets." If anything, the moral is, "Let's stop fishing the way we have always done it. Let's re-imagine who we are and how we are and what we are called to do now. Let's be fish out of water!"

Rev. Dr. George Hermanson

Come and See

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FISHING WITH JESUS - PART 2

Come and See
Sunday, August 25, 2019
John 1:35-51

Nathaniel responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?”

Philip said, “Come and see.”

John 1:46

In her most recent book, “Inspired”, Rachel Held Evans describes her earliest memories of Jesus. She, like many of us, learned to pray around the dinner table. “Thank you Jesus for my mommy and daddy, my sister and my food.” “The first thing I knew about Jesus,” she says, “ is that he was responsible for the existence of my parents, my sister, me, and my food. That seemed like good enough news for me.”

When asked as a teenager to share how she “came to Jesus,” she responded with confusion. There had never been a time in her life when she did not know Jesus, but she never “came to him.” Rather, Jesus had always come to her. Jesus had simply “always been there.”

We spend a lot of time and energy in churches trying to figure out the latest and greatest strategies to get more members and more money in the offering plate. On the whole, the church has become quite proficient at mass producing Vacation Bible Schools, Community Meals, polished worship services, and countless other programs and events in hopes to “draw people in.” We try hard to be “seeker sensitive.” There’s only one problem. There are fewer and fewer “seekers” to be sensitive too. People are not looking for a church. They have no need for church, no matter how impressive it’s programs and ministries, or at least that’s the general perception for so many valid reasons.

Somewhere along the way, in our desperation to “get back to the good old days” when church stood at the center of our community, we have lost our ability to introduce people to what they really need… the Good News of Jesus. Yes, people may meet Jesus in church, but more often than not, Jesus did not meet people in the synagogues or at the temple. He met them in the marketplace, at their jobs, in their homes, on the streets, in the leper colony, among the sick, at funerals, at weddings and parties and feasts.

What if the church itself has become our idol? Just like the golden calf, church has come to function like a mediator between us and God so we don’t have to climb the mountain in the cloud of thunder and lightning where God’s Holy Presence may consume us. Instead, we are content to sit at the base of the mountain saying, “This church is the god who brought you out of Egypt.” So long as we are in the church, we feel comfortable and safe. We have “come to Jesus” by building walls between us and the rest of the world. We want to leave each Sunday morning feeling good about ourselves, having been encouraged and inspired in worship, but not challenged or convicted. We want just enough of “Jesus” to fill up our Spiritual gas tank for the week, but we are not overly comfortable with the thought that he might just walk out the door with us. Like the imaginary ghosts in Disney’s Haunted Mansion, Jesus may just follow you home, or to the restaurant or the bar, or to work, or anywhere else you may go.

In John 1:46, Nathaniel wonders, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” In truth, there are many people in our world to day who might ask us, “Can anything good come from the church?”

Philip did not reply by inviting Nathaniel to Nazareth. He didn’t talk about how great the town was, about all the hidden gems there that nobody noticed. He didn’t tell him about all the great meals and fellowship opportunities or the amazing entertainment that was available. Nazareth was not the point. Philip didn’t need to defend the goodness of Nazareth. He wanted Nathaniel to meet Jesus.

What would it look like if we stopped trying to defend and promote our churches and instead just invited people to meet Jesus? They may come to your church or they may not, but in the end, attending a service or an event at church is not the point. The Good News is not that the church came into the world. The Good News is that God came into the world, wrapped in flesh, to dwell among us.

When we invite people to “Come and see,”, what exactly are we inviting them to? Do we want them to come see our beautiful sanctuary, our inspiring choir, our brilliant Sunday school teacher, our new preacher, or our fall-off-the-bone BBQ? Or might we simply invite them to Jesus.

“Can anything good come out of church?”

I don’t know. God can make beautiful things out of the dust, so surely he can bring something good out of Nazareth or the church. But that’s not the point. It’s not about Nazareth. It’s not about the church.

It’s about Jesus. Come and see him for yourself. Come and see the God who has stepped out of heaven to find you.

Come and see.

The Time is Now

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FISHING WITH JESUS - PART 1

The Time is Now
Sunday, August 18, 2019
Mark 1:14-20, Matthew 4:18-22, Matthew 28:19-20

“Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.”

Mark 1:17


Whose job is it to make disciples? The prophets? The preachers? The Sunday School Teachers?

We are quick to read between the lines in Mark 1 and Matthew 4 as Simon, Andrew, James and John leave their nets and follow Jesus like a group of children who have nothing better to do than join in a playground game of follow-the-leader. We struggle to find ways to excuse ourselves from such unreasonable demands. We have jobs and mortgages and kids and aging parents and pets. We have responsibilities that in our minds, are far more crucial than the lowly fishing business these early disciples walked out on. What exactly does it look like to “Come and follow Jesus,” in our day? The story is so brief it hardly does justice to the level of sacrifice these “ordinary fishermen” truly made. If we’re truly honest, most of us tend to think it was a much easier decision for them than for us.

There are much larger implications, however, when we consider the timing of this call. “After John was arrested…” (Mark 1:14, Matthew 4:12).

John was the prophet of the day. John was the mouthpiece of God. John was the first person in nearly 400 years to hold such a crucial religious position. No one alive at the time had ever heard the voice of God so directly and neither had their parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents. “Prepare the way of the Lord,” he declared, and then he is arrested.

In steps Jesus, picking up right where John leaves off, except he is not just another prophet. He is something much more. He is the very presence of God in the flesh. And what’s more, God is not hanging out in the synagogues or even with the prophet’s followers in the wilderness. He is hanging out in the marketplace around the Sea of Galilee. He is eating and drinking and laughing with the tax collectors, the occupying Roman soldiers, the sick and the lame, the women and the children, and yes, even the lowly hard working fishermen.

“I’ll show you how to fish for people,” he says (Mark 1:17).

The nature of following Jesus and “fishing for people” looks different for everyone. Some may leave everything behind and others are needed to proclaim the Good News right where they are. Regardless of what shape our call takes or where Jesus leads, the point is that Jesus is leading “us”. He’s not training people for the office of “prophet” to replace John. He’s not offering a continuing education course or a doctoral program for Pharisees and Sadducee's so they they can update their methods and theology to fit the changing times. He is not saying everyone has to quit their jobs and go into full-time ministry, though that may be true for some.

Jesus calls you and me, ordinary people, to “fish for people,” to take up the mantle of the prophet and proclaim the Word of God not only in the wilderness, but in the marketplace, at our jobs, in our schools, at the restaurant, in the public square, with our friends and neighbors, in our homes and our families, and yes, even in our churches.

The more we try to plan out exactly how we will follow Jesus, the more we will find Jesus changing our plans. We are not Jesus’ GPS to make sure everything he calls us to do just happens to be on our route. If we stop to think about it too much, we will likely be overcome with anticipation and anxiety about the unknown. We might remember that John was just arrested and wonder if the same might happen to us. Our fear may get the better of us. We will surely come up with a million other things we have to do “first.”

Where our culture says, “trust yourself, trust your instincts, your intelligence, your abilities, your wealth, your plans, etc.” Jesus simply says, “Trust me. Step out of the boat. Drop your nets. Let’s go.”

The time is now!

? Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin ?

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HALF TRUTHS - PART 5

? Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin ?
Sunday, July 28, 2019
Matthew 7:1-5, Matthew 9:9-13, Romans 14:4-13, Acts 11:2-18

Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you. Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye?

Matthew 7:1-3

Of all the “half-truths” or statements of “Bumper Sticker Christianity” we have talked about, this one feels the most right.

God hates sin. God loves sinners. So why shouldn’t we do the same?

Unfortunately it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Let’s take the statement apart piece by piece.


1. Hate the Sin.

Yes, of course we must hate sin… all sin. Sin breaks God’s heart and leads to destruction. Sin causes harm to ourselves and to others. There is nothing good about sin. The problem is that we rarely use this statement as a declaration against the sin in our own lives. Paul writes that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23) and countless scriptures warn us about judging others because we cannot see clearly with the log of sin in our own eye (Matthew 7:4-5).

Generally this is a statement we use to justify our judgment of people who “sin differently than we do.” We will not say we “hate the sin” of the gluttonous person who eats four desserts at a church potluck, but we are quick to “hate the sin” of the homosexual teenager who never comes to church anymore because everybody glares at him with holier-than-thou stares, which we see as perfectly justified.

Yes, we should hate sin, but we must always begin with our own. Do we truly hate the sinful attitudes and behaviors and habits in our own lives? Do we hate the times we sleep in when we don’t feel like going to church? Do we hate the countless excuses we use for avoiding Bible study or times of prayer? Do we hate the ways we avoid difficult conversations about God with people who need to hear the Good News of the gospel? Do we hate the lustful thoughts that pop in our minds out of nowhere? Do we hate the anger and resentment that fills our heart toward that person we just can’t forgive because “they hurt us so deeply?”

Until we hate the sin in our own hearts enough to repent and change, we have no business calling out the sin in others who sin in ways that may not be a temptation for us.

2. Love the Sinner

The problem here is that it is not our place to decide who is a “sinner” and who is not. As we’ve already seen, we are all sinners. At best, this statement is simply redundant. Love the sinner = love everyone because everyone is a sinner. Why not simply say it the way Jesus said it… Love your neighbor (the fact that they are a sinner is irrelevant to the way we are called to love them). When we say “sinner”, we usually have a specific person or specific characteristic in mind. If we are all “sinners,” we have no business singling out people who struggle with specific types of sin.

Secondly, Jesus never actually called anyone a “sinner.” He called people to repent of their sins, and the sins that most angered him were the sins of the religious crowd who should have known better. But remember, it was the Pharisees and Sadducee's who condemned him for “eating with tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus simply saw them as people who God loved that happened to be caught up in sin. He offered them forgiveness and a fresh start. He loved them even before they “repented” or cleaned up their act. He loved them even when they walked away and refused to repent. Their sin did not have any impact whatsoever on his love for them.

Likewise, someone else’s sin should not be a factor in how we treat them and how we love them.


There is really only one part of this statement that needs to be said.

LOVE.

Period.

Nothing else matters. We are all sinners and we are all loved by God.

While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people. It isn’t often that someone will die for a righteous person, though maybe someone might dare to die for a good person. But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

Stop worrying about whether you think somebody is a “sinner”. Just love.



? God Helps Those Who Help Themselves ?

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HALF TRUTHS - PART 4

? God Helps Those Who Help Themselves ?
Sunday, July 21, 2019
Psalm 18:6, 16-17, Psalm 121:1-2, Philippians 2:12-14, Ephesians 2:4-10

However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace!

Ephesians 2:4-5

“God helps those who help themselves.”

Odds are you have probably said or heard this exhortation at some point in your life. Most Americans believe it is found in the Bible, though no such Scripture exists. In truth, the source is unknown, although it is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin who popularized the phrase in the 1730’s.

At first glance, it seems to express good Biblical truth even if it is not directly quoted from Scripture. Surely God doesn’t want us to just sit back and do nothing. As James writes, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). Likewise, Paul writes to the Philippians to “carry out (or work out) your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12-13)

Anyone working for social justice knows that one of the most important tasks is to help people stand on their own, to break the cycles of poverty, addiction, crime, or whatever else holds them back from being productive members of society who live with a sense of purpose and dignity. We “teach people to fish” rather than simply giving them an endless stream of free handouts.

Honestly, this is all good and true. We should encourage hard work and discipline both in life and in our journey of faith. We do have to “practice what we preach”. We must live out our salvation by fulfilling our baptismal covenant through our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. When we pray, God empowers us and guides us into action. Adam Hamilton writes, “Those who fought for civil writes did not simply pray at church. They prayed and then marched, knowing they were likely to be beaten and arrested and that God would somehow see them through.”

So what’s wrong with saying “God helps those who help themselves,” even if it’s not directly quoted from the Bible?

The trouble comes at two key points… when someone cannot help themselves, or when we cannot help ourselves.

We often see others in need and respond by saying that if they work hard and “help themselves,” God will help them out of whatever pit they find themselves in. In some ways, however, this says far more about our cultural work ethic and rugged individualism than it says about God. After all, if we could truly help ourselves, what need have we for God? Why pray at all if we could simply work harder and help ourselves solve whatever dilemma presses in?

More than that, it often becomes an excuse not to help others. Scripture consistently calls us to care for the poor, the orphan, the stranger, the widow, and the needy. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that whatever we have done for the least among us, we have done for him, and likewise whatever aid we have refused to others, we have refused for him. Rather than seeing those in need as people who should “pick themselves up by their own bootstraps”, we are called to see in them the face of Christ struggling under the weight of his own cross, and like Simon of Cyrene, perhaps God is calling us to help him carry it for awhile by bearing the burden of others (Matthew 27:32).

Challenging this well worn cliché is not a blanket affirmation of sloth or laziness. Rather it is a recognition that no matter how hard we work, there are times when we simply cannot help ourselves. Despite popular belief, not everyone was born with the same opportunities, abilities or connections. This is why God uses others to answer the cry of the needy, to help them when they don’t have a leg to stand on.

In the end, God helps those who CANNOT help themselves.

God is the God of the hopeless, the God who walks with us even in the valley of the shadow of death. This is grace, amazing grace, that saved even a blind wretch like me who could never save myself from the shackles of sin. When it comes to our salvation, not one of us can help ourselves.

Rather than condemning the helpless, perhaps it would do us well to sing that great hymn again… remembering that we were all lost and helpless, but God rescued us from the pit that we might sing His glorious and “Amazing Grace” all the more.