Sunday, January 19, 2020
Yahweh gives us victory, so we can live for His glory.
Sunday, January 19, 2020
Yahweh gives us victory, so we can live for His glory.
Sometimes we overcomplicate it, don’t we?
Yes, what we believe is important. Yes, there are distinctives we hold to about God, Jesus, faith, sin and salvation. Sometimes, though, we need to just love somebody and tell them about Jesus. We worked on that yesterday.
What did you do yesterday? Yesterday we loved people. At least we tried. I’m not sure we always get it right.
Yesterday was our third I heart My Neighborhood event. This one was pretty simple. We got together at one of our members’ homes and knocked on doors asking three simple questions:
It’s always interesting to see what kind of response we will get. I’ve noticed that the nicer the house, the more likely the person who answers the door is going to be grumpy. I’ve also noticed that the number of people who answer their doors is inverse to the number of Ring doorbells on a street. And, people over 65 and under 35 are way more likely to answer the door and talk cordially with us. (Gen X-ers, what’s up with us?) And that’s all OK because we really just want to talk with people who want to talk with us. (Life’s just easier when mean people don’t answer their doors.)
What I’ve noticed as we have worked to just love somebody is that one great response makes it worth it! Yesterday, the group I was with got to meet a couple ladies who invited us into their house, talked with us about some needs in their neighborhood and let us pray for them. That was a lot of fun.
The other group met some people who thought it was really interesting that a church was knocking on doors. They found out as they talked with people that there were not many unmet needs in their block because their block takes care of one another! What?!? I want to move to that block! What a great place to live! (If you live in that block, I impressed! Keep it up! And let us know how we can help! We want to support neighbors caring for one another! Seriously, we want to be that kind of neighbor!)
You’ve probably noticed that loving someone always costs us something. Yesterday it cost us about two-and-a-half hours of our Saturday morning. Saturday morning is prime family time. That’s expensive.
Jesus told us that loving people is not cheap. In Luke 10, Jesus sent his followers out to prepare the way for his teaching. When they got back, he listened to their report. Then, he told the story of The Good Samaritan. You are probably familiar with the story, but let me give you a little refresher (You can read it for yourself here.)
Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along. (That’s putting it mildly.) A Jewish man was mugged on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. As he laid there on the side of the road, a couple good Jews walked by without helping him. Then, a Samaritan tended to his wounds, put him on the animal he had been riding and took him to the nearest inn to be cared for — in a world without CareNow, inns were the closest thing to urgent care. Then, the Samaritan paid the bill for the man’s stay and medical bill.
To be fair, the Samaritan was not a poor man. He had an animal with him. Feet were the cars of the day, so he probably had some wealth. But, he understood at least part of the purpose for his wealth was to help someone else. And he did. Generously! A lot!
It’s funny. Once you have met a real need in someone’s life, they will let you tell them about Jesus. Of course, you can’t be judgy or fake. You have to continue to love them. (Your love has to be the real thing. They will figure it out if it’s not.)
What do you tell them about Jesus? That’s pretty simple really. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul told us what our message should be:
Even though it’s not a tough message, sometimes it can be hard to share. But, you’ll find it’s a lot easier when you really love the person you are sharing it with (and they know it).
If you live near us and want to make our cities better places to live, you are invited to come love people with us. This time we were just knocking on doors. We often have people doing the work of loving people by doing odd jobs or small construction projects to meet real needs. You are welcome to send me a note and let me know you are interested.
How do you need to just love somebody this week?
Sunday, January 12, 2020
Christ is enough.
One of the questions I like to ask people who believe in Jesus is: “How have you seen the greatness of Christ this week?” How would you answer that question today?
It’s kind of funny really, but a lot of people who believe in Jesus and follow him have a lot of trouble answering that question. This morning at our church we will be taking a look at Joshua 24 together. In Joshua 24, Joshua began by spelling out all the great things God had done for his people. He started with Abraham and his family. He recounted the story of how the great God had chosen him and his descendants. Then, Joshua spelled out the challenges they faced and how God brought them through. (Sometimes, God gave his people’s enemies rest while they continued to struggle. What was he thinking?!?)
Joshua reminded God’s people how God led them to Egypt where they eventually become slaves. Then, he delivered them and gave them their own land. Their enemies couldn’t even curse them. When they tried, God turned the curses into blessings. And, God provided for them. He gave them cities they didn’t have to build and food they didn’t have to plant. Then, Joshua told them they had a decision to make.
Joshua told them to serve the LORD, or decide who they were going to serve. The problem we all face is that Christ is never the god we choose.
In Dale Ralph Davis’ commentary on Joshua, he points out that when Joshua asked God’s people to choose who they would serve, he gave them two choices. He told them to make the conservative choice of the gods of their ancestors before God chose Abraham or the progressive decision to worship the gods they found in the land God had given them.
One of the crazy realities about our faith is that we don’t choose the God of the Bible! When we choose a god, we always choose a conservative, traditional god who maintains the status quo. Or, we choose a progressive god who is into all our new ideas. There’s only one way we serve the God of the Bible…
In John 15:16, Jesus told his disciples:
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide… (ESV)
We don’t cast our vote for Jesus. Our god always looks more like us. The god we choose likes our friends. He (or she) listens to our music. He votes for our candidates and supports our ideas and truth claims. Really, we never choose Jesus, but in his mercy, he chooses us. Then, everything changes.
It’s kind of weird, but if you have been chosen by Jesus, you don’t choose him. You just serve him. Your life becomes about the business of bearing fruit for Jesus and his kingdom. You realize he is what this is all about, and you make all you do about him. Paul described it this way:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1 ESV)
You use your life — yes, your life in your physical body — to make the name of Christ great! Then, something crazy begins to happen: you see the greatness of Christ!
Are you chosen by God? Then, make Christ’s name great this week! Let what you believe about Jesus drive you to serve him. Let the everyday tasks that could feel like a grind be about Jesus’ greatness! Let your relationships demonstrate his love — especially for the unlovable. Because Jesus has brought God’s mercy, remind yourself with every breath who that breath is for, and spend that breath for the greatness of Jesus’ name. And, make disciples. Help the people around you follow Jesus. Encourage other believers around you to keep following and serving Christ. And, offer eternal life to someone who has not believed in Jesus yet.
If God has chosen you, look for ways to answer the question, “How have you seen the greatness of Christ this week?” I promise you won’t be disappointed!
One of the most important take-aways from the Christmas story in the gospel of Luke is that yes, what you believe matters.
This past Sunday, I finished up my Christmas series from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2. There in my church with very few people over the age of 45 and a rock band, I got to teach about the hypostatic union. Wait! Don’t leave! This is important!
Don’t worry, we’re not going too far into the theological weeds, but the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology describes the Hypostatic Union this way:
In the incarnation of the Son of God, a human nature was inseparably united forever with the divine nature in the one person of Jesus Christ, yet with the two natures remaining distinct, whole, and unchanged, without mixture or confusion, so that the one person, Jesus Christ, is truly God and truly man.
I taught about Jesus’ trip at the temple at age 12. In that story, we see that from the time Jesus was a boy, he knew his place with his heavenly Father.
After a trip to Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus’ family headed home to Nazareth. At the end of their first day of travel, they realized Jesus was missing. Luke describes three days (Yes, parents, THREE DAYS!) of searching before they found Jesus. He was in the temple.
When Mary and Joseph found Jesus, Mary asked him how he could do this to them! Jesus’ simple reply was:
“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 ESV)
Pretty simple question, right? But, it has HUGE implications. From twelve years old, Jesus understood who his Father is. In his question, Jesus implied that he understood his deity — he understood himself to be God!
Even though Jesus was not considered an adult at twelve years old, his family was devout enough he would have understood that to claim God to be his Father was a claim that he, himself, is God. In John 5:17-18, John writes about Jesus:
But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him… he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (ESV)
One of the misunderstandings many people have about Jesus is that he didn’t become God or understand his God-ness until much later in life. (Most people point to his baptism when God spoke from heaven and the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove.) I recently saw a cable program — sorry, I can’t remember what show or network — where John the Baptist had to talk Jesus into believing he was the Christ at his baptism.
Instead, we see here in Luke 2 that Jesus knew who his Father is and, subsequently, his own God-ness nearly eighteen years before his baptism. We also see in Luke 2 that his God-ness is not simply an idea his parents had taught him along the way. Jesus’ understanding amazed everyone as he was being taught in the temple. (Yes, the religious leaders taught him.)
For a long time, I believed Jesus was teaching the religious leaders in the temple. However, Luke very clearly described the religious leaders teaching and Jesus listening and asking questions. Jesus learned from the religious leaders. Just a few verses later Luke wrapped up the second chapter of his gospel by writing:
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52 ESV)
Jesus learned. Jesus grew up. Jesus’ life displayed not only his God-ness but his human-ness as well. So, it’s also important for us to understand Jesus’ humanity. He experienced everything we experience. Jesus felt, hurt, laughed and loved. He understood what if felt like to bring his parents joy as well as frustration. With the exception of sin, Jesus lived as we live. That’s why the writer of Hebrews could write about him:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15 ESV)
Then, of course, he died. I don’t know about you, but dying kind of scares me to death. When I think about exhaling my last breath, I get a little weak in the knees. Jesus knows that feeling. But, he also knows the feeling of what comes next. After Jesus died like we will all die, he experienced resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul wrote about Jesus’ resurrection. He told us that because Jesus rose, everyone who trusts in Jesus’ death and resurrection will share in his resurrection:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? …But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:12-20 ESV)
So, believers, Jesus understands you. He feels what you are feeling. He knows what dreams and fears feel like. Jesus even knows what it feels like to draw his last breath. He also knows what it will feel like to draw the next resurrected breath.
We serve an incredible God. He came to earth and became human — while remaining completely God — for us. He understands our humanity. And, when we trust in him, we share in the victory his death purchased for us. We receive the gift of eternal life by believing he died on the cross in our place and rose from the grave. Then, we follow him who purchased salvation for us.
So, yes, what you believe matters!
If you are ready to trust in Jesus, send me a note. I would love to talk with you about it!
Sunday, January 5, 2020
We trust in the human Savior who has always been God.
Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been reading from 1 Corinthians — a letter from the Apostle Paul to a church in the First Century that was divided by all kinds of problems. It has really hit home because our world seems so divided right now. As I have read, this question just keeps running through my mind: “Is your God big enough?”
Paul opens 1 Corinthians talking about calling. God called him to be an Apostle. God set us apart to be holy, called us to be saints. And, God blesses us with grace and peace that comes from God and Christ himself. But do we look like a people called together and blessed with grace and peace?
Then, Paul expresses his gratitude to God for the grace and gifts God gives us through faith in Jesus. He writes about how God enriched their speech and knowledge. He encourages them that Christ is the one who will sustain them until the end because the God who called them is faithful.
This introduction to Paul’s letter led me to ask some big questions about the God I believe in — or, maybe, my belief in God. In spite of these great claims about God’s work, the church in Corinth divided itself over the very blessings Paul wrote to them about. They fought over sin and spiritual gifts and even Communion. What in the world would make a church so blessed by God so divided?
Their God wasn’t big enough. The rest of the letter Paul points out the shortcomings in their attitudes and behaviors that reveal what they truly believed about God.
I’m afraid we don’t do much better. We divide ourselves over everything from baptism to politics. Although we claim to serve the God who created the universe and gave his only Son to save us, we struggle to believe he is bigger than our pet ideas and preconceptions. Let’s decide to change that. Let’s find the God who called us to work together to make his name great. Let’s answer the question, “Is your God big enough?” by working together to bring his kingdom of love and life to hurting people around us.
What can you do today to make sure your faith is in the God who is big enough?
What do you do when the Bible is hard to understand?
This week — actually for the past 2 weeks — I’ve been working on writing a lesson for Daniel 9. Daniel 9 is a chapter that contains some prophecies that make it kind of tricky to understand. As I worked on this lesson this week, I thought I would share 3 tips with you to help you understand the Bible when it gets hard to understand.
The most important overarching principle of reading the Bible is that it’s all about Jesus. All of the Bible — both Old and New Testaments — tell us about Christ. The Old Testament tells us why we need Christ an what he will be like when he comes.
When the religious leaders were trying to entrap and kill Jesus he told them:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me
John 5:39 ESV
From the very beginning of the Bible we see foreshadowing of Jesus. Following Adam and Eve’s first sin, God told serpent:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
Genesis 3:15 ESV
Then, he covered the first family’s nakedness by executing an animal and covering them with its skin. This anticipates the principle from Hebrews 9:22:
…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Hebrews 9:22 ESV
It also demonstrates that the failure of the man and woman to cover their nakedness with the clothing they tried to make from fig leaves was because they needed a covering for their sin that came from the sacrifice just as our righteousness is the gift of God purchased by the sacrifice of Jesus:
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…
Isaiah 61:10 ESV
This thread of Christ and his deliverance is echoed throughout the Old Testament. For instance, when the nation of Israel needed a hero, David arrived on the scene and killed the giant while the other warriors cowered nearby. Jesus is the Savior who slew the giants of sin and death when all we could do was cower on the sidelines.
The challenge we face as 21st Century readers is that we often try to find ourselves, rather than Jesus, as we read the Bible. The Bible is about Jesus. He is the main character of the Bible. Every story in the Bible primarily teaches us about him. Every other character in the Bible was a supporting Character whose arc was devised to tell us about Jesus. We have a similar role in redemptive history. Our own stories are brief interactions with Jesus that continue to show him and his glory to others.
Always begin reading the Bible by looking for Jesus.
We all read different types of books, but we don’t read them all the same way. Great fiction authors and historians are both trying to teach us something about our world, but they do it very differently.
Some people talk about reading the Bible literally. That’s exactly how the Bible should be read if, by literally, you mean according to a passage’s type of literature. Different books and passages from the Bible have to be understood differently.
Much of the Bible is narrative. God uses joy and heartbreak in the lives of his people to show us what he is like. Some of the Bible is poetry that proclaims the greatness of God. It often uses metaphors and allusions to show us who God is and how he has revealed himself to us. Some of the Bible is wisdom literature full of insights how to live in a way that allows our lives to point to Jesus. Some of the Bible teaches us very directly who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Much of the Apostles’ writings clearly tell us who Jesus was and what he was like.
Always try to understand what genre you are reading when you read the Bible.
When many people think of God’s law, they think of The Ten Commandments or the first five books of the Old Testament. Those are full of God’s law, but there’s more to it than that. When many people think of the gospel, they think of the first four books of the New Testament or the passages in the New Testament letters that tell us about how Jesus died receiving the punishment for our sin and rose from the grave. That, of course, is the gospel. But, did you know that you can use the law and gospel as a tool for understanding all of the Bible?
When you read the Bible, always keep your eyes open for commands. Commands or imperatives are the law of God in both the Old and New Testaments. When Moses or David or Jesus or Paul or Peter gives us a command, that command is law. Law usually pretty easy to identify because it has a verb that involves doing something like: “Thou shalt,” “you must,” “you should,” “do this,” or “do that.” Back in the 16th Century theologians understood that these commands that make up the law of God exist for three big reasons (I used Ligonier Ministries web site to refresh my memory on these):
What about the gospel? Whenever you see in the Bible a statement that tells you who you are in Christ, you are reading an announcement of who God has made you in Christ. Throughout the Bible, we see statements about us that tell us we are healed, resurrected, forgiven, righteous and children of God among many, many other promises in Christ. All of these promises find their “yes” in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20).
No, I’m not talking about prosperity gospel because the fulfillment of these promises is in our resurrection in Christ — the completion of which we will not experience in this life. But, we do receive the firstfruits of our resurrection in this life as the Holy Spirit dwells in every believer as the seal of our salvation as well as Christ’s presence with us in the Spirit as we go about the task of making disciples.
So, as you read the Bible always keep your eye open for commands and promises that teach us our shortcomings and God’s will for our obedience as well as God’s promises to us in Christ.
Well, I guess it’s time for me to finish my lesson on Daniel 9. Say a prayer for me that I get it right. That leads me to the last tool we have when we need to know what the Bible says: commentaries.
Just about any time I write a lesson or a sermon, I find a good commentary to help me correctly understand the passage I am teaching. I like to think of commentaries like having another believer (who is way smarter than I am) to guide me through the text I am teaching.
When I’m reading a passage in order to teach through it, I often have insights that bring the passage to life. Those are really exciting moments because I know the people I will be teaching will be wowed by something about God or what he has done for us. Commentaries are very important to me in these moments because I want to make sure that insight is not something new.
I know you’re probably thinking: “Wait a minute! Don’t you want to share something new?” Yes. I want to share an insight that is new to the people I am teaching. However, I don’t want to share a completely new idea. Because the Bible has been studied for over two thousand years, someone has had just about all the correct understandings of the Bible. Any new understanding I have about a biblical text is probably wrong. So, when I’m studying a passage, and I come up with an idea I can’t find in a commentary, I check another commentary. If I can’t find it after checking a couple, I move on. As much as I want to share new ideas with the people I teach, I want to get it right.
The problem for most people is that commentaries can be kind of expensive. Here are a couple solutions:
First, John Calvin has written commentaries on just about every book of the Bible. His commentaries are available online for free. They are not super easy to understand, but they are a great place to start if you don’t have another option available to you. You can find them here: https://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/commentaries.i.html
Warren Wiersbe has also written a commentary on just about every book of the Bible. These are available individually or together in two volumes. You can probably find them wherever your order books. Here is a link to the set at lifeway.com. The lifeway version comes with a CD ROM I assume is searchable:
Another great solution is to simply make sure the commentaries you are purchasing are worth having. Before I buy just about any commentary, I check bestcommentaries.com. There you can find a list of commentaries for every book of the Bible. Each commentary is rated with info on how helpful it is to people with different purposes.
Because the Bible is worth getting right, I would encourage you to begin investing in commentaries as you work to understand the Bible.
Oh yeah. And pray. Maybe, we should have started there. God’s Spirit who dwells inside every believer works in us, so we can understand God’s word. Jesus is God’s revelation to us — he is all the revelation we need (Hebrews 1:1-3). The Bible about 1,500 years of God-breathed words telling us about Jesus. God’s Spirit illuminates that revelation, so we can understand who Jesus is and how to follow him at the deepest part of who we are. So, anytime you open your Bible, pray. Ask God to cause his Spirit to use those words to change you at your very core, so you can be a disciple of Jesus and a disciple-maker.
And, as you pray, please pray for me. When I read the Bible God uses his words not just to instruct me, but to instruct hundreds of other people.
God’s word is rich. It is active in every believer by his Spirit, so read it, understand it and let God’s Spirit change you.
As we get ready to begin a new year at CrossRoads, we are going to take some time to reflect on the reality that God is great. Today, I want you to think about our challenge to being witnesses to his greatness: We are busy.
One of the questions I ask followers of Jesus all the time is: “How have you been a witness to the greatness of Christ this week?” Do you know what answer I usually get? “I don’t know.”
How can a follower of Jesus answer that question: “I don’t know”?!?
I think the answer is pretty simple: We are busy.
I don’t think there’s a single follower of Jesus who says to themselves: “I don’t want to be a witness to Jesus’ greatness today.” But, it’s hard to look back on a day, a week or a year and try to figure out how you have been a witness to the greatness of Christ. Seriously, most mornings I wake up, and yesterday is a blur. I can’t usually tell you what in the world I spent my time doing. I can remember a few important things I did, but the rest is just a spatter of activity. I even take time every morning to reflect on yesterday and think about what I have on my plate today, and I just can’t remember!
Over the past year, I’ve spent a lot of time working on how to be more productive. One of the productivity gurus I’ve been learning from is Michael Hyatt. He is a high-level performer. He knows how to get things done, and he’s great at helping other people how to get things done, too. You can find his resources at his website or on Amazon. As I have read Hyatt’s books and used his planner, there is one super-important principle I have found over and over again.
We are creatures who thrive on simplicity. In a world where God is great and we are busy, we need goals, objectives, systems and habits that simplify and declutter our lives.
One of the principles Hyatt teaches is to spend time each week and every day deciding what will be your Big Three: What are the three most important things you will get done? These are the three things that take us out of the rat race into the world of accomplishing something — and knowing what it is we accomplished! Every day you begin by consciously deciding what your Big Three will be. Every week, you spend some time thinking about what you want to accomplish this week and decide on a Big Three for the week as well. What Hyatt points out in his books and planner is that we often don’t get more than three things accomplished each day, so we should simplify our plan for each day to three big things that will make our day or week a success. That way, we can look back at yesterday or last week and celebrate that we really got something done to make our lives, our work, our families and the world a better place.
One of the keys to making sure we are being witnesses to the greatness of Christ every day is to make one of our Big Three items reflect that goal. Take a few minutes to reflect on these ideas as you think about life in a world where God is great and we are busy:
Sunday, December 29, 2019
God brought Jesus to you, so you can proclaim his salvation.