Last Sunday evening we watched a bit of the movie The Preacher's Wife with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. I remember us liking that movie a lot when it came out in 1996 and we watched it numerous times as a family. We own a copy of the movie on VHS but haven't watched it in years. So when I came across it on TV, we watched for a while. But after about twenty minutes we turned it off because now the movie seems shallow to me, a little too cute; too sugary sweet.
I wonder if something like that is what happens to some who find themselves wandering back to church around Christmas time. Like our watching of that old movie, perhaps that person is reaching back to something mostly forgotten, hoping it would generate the same sense of wonder that it did before. But if they hear only a shallow retelling of shepherds and wise men, angels and stars, and an impossibly sanitized barn, maybe that's why they don't come back the rest of the year. Perhaps they conclude it has nothing to do with their real life. Perhaps they further conclude, it seems like God has abandoned me, that God has abandoned the world, and so I'm going to abandon God and his church.
I've heard my share of Christmas sermons and Christmas musicals, and I've led and preached my share. Some of them may have come off about as appetizing as warmed over turkey five days after Thanksgiving. No wonder sometimes people say, "I'm going to look for something else to eat."
If we isolate the barest details of the first Christmas night and retell them over and over, we fail to recognize that the Christmas story is couched in the grandest story of all. That's like watching a scene from a great movie over and over so that we eventually wrench it out of the larger story that makes the small story great in the first place. In the interest of working to tell a part of that bigger story, this Christmas I'm going to preach through part of the backstory of Christmas. It will help us see that far from a syrupy sweet story that ignores the gaping hurt in the world, the coming of Jesus was for the very purpose of offering hope in the midst of the world's greatest pain.
To do this we are going to trace the story of one of the shortest books of the Old Testament. The book tells the story of how a young outcast, despised by many ended up in Jesus' family tree. The story shows how God was working, long before stories of shepherds and wise men to welcome outcasts like you and me to himself.
Here's the schedule: I hope to see you here
Not Abandoned: Christmas Backstory
December 14, 11:00 AM: Facing Despair, Ruth 1
December 21, 11:00 AM: Finding Hope, Ruth 2
December 24, 5:00 PM: Daring Boldly, Ruth 3
December 28, 11:00 AM: Checkmate: Ruth 4
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Saturday, November 29, 2014
Don’t Be Like This Me: A Thanksgiving Message
1. Accept fully what you can’t live without
Hebrews 12:25 (ESV)
25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.
2. Hold loosely what you can’t keep
Hebrews 12:26–27 (ESV)
26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.
3. Practice gratitude for what you can’t lose
Hebrews 12:28–29 (ESV)
28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.
Saturday, November 8, 2014
From How Far is Too Far
How can we experience assurance that God cares and that God is with us when we feel trapped?
We need God to shape our hearts and minds so we know He is near in our darkest moments.
Get an honest assessment
Judges 6:6 (ESV)
6 And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.
Judges 6:8–10 (ESV) the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. 9 And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”
Encounter God’s character
Judges 6:21–22 (ESV)
21 Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes. And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. 22 Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the Lord. And Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.”
Philippians 2:8–11 (ESV) 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Friday, October 31, 2014
Trust God and Question Yourself
From How Far is Too Far
How can we learn to stop putting ultimate confidence in spiritual leaders or our own opinions and trust God directly instead?
1. Look past the temporary to the eternal
Judges 4:1–3 (ESV) 4 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud died. 2 And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. 3 Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, for he had 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years.
2. Trust and obey
Judges 4:4–16 (ESV)4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. 6 She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. 7 And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” 8 Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 9 And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 And Barak called out Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him.
11 Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the Kenites, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh.
12 When Sisera was told that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera called out all his chariots, 900 chariots of iron, and all the men who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. 14 And Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. 15 And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.
3. Distinguish between what scripture reports and recommends
Judges 4:17–24 (ESV)17 But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. 18 And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19 And he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. 20 And he said to her, “Stand at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’ ” 21 But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. 22 And behold, as Barak was pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple.
23 So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel. 24 And the hand of the people of Israel pressed harder and harder against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
My text this morning included this verse: Judges 3:7-11 (ESV) And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.
I spent a good bit of time talking about the results of forgetting God both personally and as a culture and emphasized strongly the need for repentance instead of trying to make deals with God. But I had also wanted to spend some on what it would mean to "remember God" since the danger comes from "forgetting God."
We have far more resources than the ancient Israelites did for remembering. For instance, we have all their stories of how God revealed himself to them through those stories. But we also have the life of Jesus himself, providing us with rich material to ponder. Independent of this weeks sermon work, I've been thinking and praying through the incident of Jesus' arrest as its recorded in Matthew 26. I want to share with you what I prayed/wrote regarding this verse early Friday morning:
Matthew 26:50 (ESV) Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you came to do." Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.
Here is what I wrote:
Jesus you replied to him so simply and yet so graciously. At this point you have prayed (in the garden). Here at this point, you are in full control. In the garden and praying, it seems you were not quite so together and then later in that unspeakably horrendous moment from the cross when you cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." But here you are so gracious to Judas even as he is perpetuating such treachery. You called him friend. You called him friend. You called him friend! You knew precisely why he was there. You knew about his evil collaboration. You knew that his heart was never with you, but now he is going public. You knew that he had a very close up seat to see all that you had done and yet his heart remained cold and distant. Yet right here you say, "Friend," (friend!) "Do what you came for." "Carry it out." "This is going to happen." Was this an invitation to Judas even in the doing of it, that he could still come home? There was no more for him to do. Matthew records no other words or actions from Judas. Rather, those who are with Judas come up at this point, now that Judas has already identified you, and they lay their hands on you and they seize you. Surely this was rough and intimidating. I've not given much thought to this before. Surely this wasn't a compassionate act either. The word "seize" communicates that it was with some force, if not violence that they did this. They seized you, who by your very spoken word created the heavens. You are the one of whom the writer of Hebrews said:
Hebrews 1:1-4 (ESV) Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
So Jesus, I worship you. I worship you for your poise and your brilliance in what you endured in this moment. I give you praise for what you did in this moment of living through the betrayal of Judas, of enduring the brief and perhaps gentle contact between you and him. Probably such a gretting had happened many times, but never so momentously. It was in these moments the first of so many ways in which they put their hands on you with mocking and murderous intent. Jesus, you set your face like flint toward all this. You knew this was coming. I'm up late right now because I cannot sleep, but you were awake all night for us and experienced deeply brutal treatment beyond our imagination. And so Jesus, I want to worship you. i want to be amazed by you. I want to look to the cross in just this way so that I may fully know you and that i may have both the courage and the compassion to move into serving this family and this culture.
You may be thinking, "I don't see all that in that short verse." And you don't need to. But I'm hoping it will help you see a practical way to remember Jesus and to think more deeply about who he is. It is this kind of remembering that works in our hearts to draw our hearts to Him in such a way that conviction is formed so that we have the passion and the courage to obey.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
How can we pass along the gospel of Jesus Christ to the next generation? What do we need to do? What adjustments need to be made? What conversations do we need to have? And if the changes needed were clear to us, would we not seek to make them?
There is a haunting incident recorded in Judges 2. The people of Israel had relied on Moses and then Joshua for many years to be their spiritual leader. The people stayed faithful to God through Joshua’s lifetime and those of his contemporaries who outlived him. But then a slow growing tragedy become increasingly evident over time. Judges 2:10 says:
And all (Joshua’s generation) were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.
The rest of the book of Judges lays out the carnage that resulted from the next generation not knowing God.
This was not just a problem of education. In other words, there was no way they were completely ignorant of God or of how he had worked on their behalf. Rather, they failed to see its importance, they did not value it, they didn’t get it, and they didn’t see how it was relevant to their lives.
Every church in America faces this precise dilemma. We need to ask some tough questions. We need to have some hard conversations. According to 1 Corinthians 10 such passages are recorded for us so we can learn from their mistakes:
1 Corinthians 10:11 (ESV) 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
We can’t make lasting change on our own. Lasting change requires an encounter with God’s grace that reorients our view of God, ourselves, and the world.
To the Bethany Place family:
Judges 2 is a case study in how real faith in God is lost in the handoff from one generation to the next. It provides clear clues to how we should respond to see that we are faithfully making disciples that make disciples prepared for the real challenges the world presents to following Jesus. Tomorrow’s message in the series How Far is Too Far is called Making Change Stick. The message of this book is profoundly relevant to the challenges of living by faith in this culture at this time. I look forward to seeing you there.
Making Change Stick
How Far is Too Far?
How can we understand and experience the kind of transformation required in us so we can effectively pass along the gospel of Jesus Christ to the next generation?
Lasting change requires an encounter with God’s grace that reorients our view of God, the world, and ourselves.
To make change stick we need to . . .
1. Grieve God’s absence
Judges 2:1–5 (ESV) Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2 and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? 3 So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” 4 As soon as the angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept. 5 And they called the name of that place Bochim. And they sacrificed there to the LORD.
2. Expose the cost of our idolatry
Judges 2:7-8, 10-15 The people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel. 8 And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of 110 years . . . 10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.
And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. 13 They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.
3. Run to the rescuer
Judges 2:16-23 Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. 17 Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the LORD, and they did not do so. 18 Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 19 But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. 20 So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, 21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, 22 in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the LORD as their fathers did, or not.” 23 So the LORD left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua.