SHARE THE BURDEN, LIGHTEN THE LOAD

share burden

No one in the church needs to face their struggles alone. Is your marriage difficult? Let your brothers and sisters and Christ know. Give them the chance to pray for you and encourage you. Maybe your burden is a wayward child, or a dead-end job or a troubled friendship. Allow your fellow believers to fulfill the law of love, by sharing your burden.

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Galatians #23 . Chapter 6:1-5

Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:1-2, HCSB)

With these verses, Paul gives some practical applications of what it means to walk by the Spirit. He mentions the case of someone caught in wrongdoing. “Caught” could mean that a person’s wrongdoing is discovered, or it could mean that the person was entrapped by sin; as in caught in a trap. I think the Greek favors the second meaning. I think common sense favors it as well. Otherwise, it sounds like, as long as you aren’t caught by other people, it’s OK to sin.

Paul says “you who are spiritual” should restore such a person. He’s just been talking about walking by the Spirit. I think he means, “You who are walking by the Spirit, help someone who is trapped in the ways of the flesh.”

By the way, I want to make this very clear. Our business in this case is with Christians who are in our own circle of friends, family and church. There’s no point in trying to get a stranger to shape up to your standards. And there is no point trying to get someone who is not a believer to stop sinning. Of course, in appropriate ways and moments, we should tell the truth about God and sin, but no one is going to shape up their behavior to conform to something they do not believe in the first place. With non-believers, we may need to talk about sin as we preach the gospel, but the message of the gospel is not “shape up.” It is: “You can’t shape up. You need Jesus for forgiveness and for transformation.”

Telling non-Christians to shape up and stop sinning is like telling people with the flu to stop having a fever. It is pointless, until the root problem has been addressed. Moreover, I am sure that most of them feel it is pointless also. Since they don’t share our core beliefs, it is unreasonable to expect them to live by our morality. With non-Christians, the first thing to talk about is who Jesus is. Lifestyle changes only come after they trust Jesus.

Paul, however, is talking about people that we personally know, and whom have put their trust in Jesus, and yet, fall back into sin. They haven’t abandoned their faith. There is war in their souls between the Spirit and the Flesh. Paul says we should help each other in this situation.

I hesitate to get more detailed, but I want us to have a defined idea of the kinds of situations Paul is talking about. First, I think Paul is implying that the Galatian leaders who were trying to lead the church astray were trapped in wrongdoing. Paul is saying, “restore them to the right faith.” So, some people are trapped by false teaching. Usually, some sort of straightforward conversation or intervention is needed to address the false teaching.

Second, I think Paul means this generally when someone in our church-family is trapped in sin. There are certain kinds of things I think of when I hear “trapped in sin.” Addictions and regular “binging” trap us. We keep on doing these things, and can’t seem to quit. I think this passage is applicable when Christians are caught by addictions and binging. Again, that is a situation where intervention is warranted. Another common sin-trap for Christians is an adulterous affair. That’s the kind of situation that often benefits from intervention by other mature Christians.

An additional kind of situation where we should get involved is when there is some kind of ongoing, major hypocrisy. Suppose you have a an elder or deacon, or some other sort of leader in the church. He professes faith in Jesus. He talks a great talk about Christianity and the Christian life. But then, you discover that he is dishonest in his business dealings, treats his employees poorly and shows no real evidence of his faith when he is not at church or around other members of the church. This is a big problem, because it means he is deceiving himself and others about his own standing with God, and what it means to follow Jesus.

These probably aren’t the only situations, but I won’t go on. The main thing, is that Paul is talking about serious situations, situations where either a Christian is following an ongoing pattern of the flesh, or a single failure that creates serious consequences (like adultery). I think especially if there is deception behind it (as there is in false teaching, addiction, adultery and major hypocrisy) it may be a situation that requires restoration.

Paul says that the Spirit-walking Christians should restore the person who was caught in sin; they should do it gently and they should do with humility, being aware that they are also susceptible to failing. I want to touch on each of these things.

The Greek word used for “restore” is the same word used of setting a broken bone, or putting a dislocated joint back in place. This is important, because it means our call is not just to tell people when they are wrong. It is to help them get rightly related to Jesus again. Paul does not have in mind that Christians should go around telling other Christians, “You’re sinning!” That may be required, if someone who claims to be a Christian doesn’t acknowledge their sin. But there is so much more to it than that. Paul says, there should be restoration.

Some churches do this with pastors who are caught in a serious sin. There might be a process that they go through. The sinning person needs to be repentant, to start with. He needs to submit to accountability. In other words, he needs to be willing for his life to be an open book, with no secrets. Those who are restoring him should have access to the details of his life, so they can know if he has truly turned away from the sin that caught him before. Part of the restoration, I think, should involve points along the way, where the person has opportunity to really feel and express that he has turned a corner. As the person proves trustworthy, there should be points along the way where greater trust is restored to him.

Paul says we should be gentle with each other as we do this. We aren’t meant to be watching over each other, so we can jump from around a corner and shout “Aha! Gotcha!” every time someone screws up. But when someone gets trapped in a sin or has been deceptive, we have their best interests at heart. We initiate restoration out of love and hope, not anger, frustration or the desire to put someone down. Matthew Henry wrote about these verse:

“[Jesus] bears with us under our weaknesses and follies, he is touched with a fellow-feeling of our infirmities; and therefore there is good reason why we should maintain the same temper towards one another.”

Paul also says that we should watch ourselves, so that we don’t caught in the same way. In other words, we maintain a healthy dose of humility. We don’t need to live in fear and self-doubt, but we should realize that no one is immune to temptation. We can look at the person whom needs restoration, and say, “There, but for the grace of God, am I.”

Paul adds this beautiful and significant thought:

Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:2, HCSB)

In other words, no one in the church needs to face their struggles alone. Without a doubt Paul sees the struggle against sin, and the process of restoration as part of carrying each other’s burdens. I think it also goes beyond that. Is your marriage difficult? Let your brothers and sisters and Christ know. Give them the chance to pray for you and encourage you. Are you having financial troubles? Let your church family come alongside you with encouragement and prayer. Give them a chance to ask the Lord if they should give toward your need. Maybe your burden is a wayward child, or a dead-end job or a troubled friendship. Are you sick? James tells the sick person directly to ask for prayer.

Others cannot help you bear your burdens if you will not be honest and open about them. This too, requires humility and vulnerability. But think of it this way. Paul says right here that bearing each other’s burdens fulfills the law of Christ. It is the practical application of what Jesus meant when he said:

“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, HCSB)

If we refuse to be humble and honest with each other about our struggles, we are denying each other the chance to practice love. Jesus’ call to love each other can’t be fulfilled without honesty and vulnerability.

For those of us in the Life Together Churches network, this is a tremendous affirmation of house churches and house church networks. It’s difficult to bear each other’s burdens if we only see our fellow-believers as we sit, facing the front on Sunday morning, and for ten minutes of coffee after the service. It can happen, but only really accidentally. If we bear one another’s burdens as a result of being in a choir, it is only accidental. The same is true of Sunday school, committee meetings and almost any program you care to name.

We need some context where we can get to know each other and be safe as we are humble and vulnerable. That is one reason that in our house churches we don’t share, outside the group, what other people say in the group, unless we have permission from them.

I’m not saying that house-church or cell-church is the only way to do things. I know many of you who read this are not part of a house church or cell church. But a committed, regular small group is a tremendously effective context for sharing our burdens with each other. Before I move on, I want to offer a quick reminder. When someone shares a burden in church (small group), it is easy to become a therapy group. But our groups are not for therapy. They are for Jesus. The thing to do when someone shares a burden is to turn to Jesus with them. That may mean sharing a scripture that comes to your mind, or a thought or picture that the Lord seemed to put in your head. It definitely means going to the Lord together in prayer, maybe laying hands on the person as you pray, to be Jesus’ hands, touching them. We don’t have the answers. Jesus does, and he is revealed in the bible and manifested in the work of the Holy Spirit.

Paul goes on:

For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else. For each person will have to carry his own load. (Galatians 6:3-5)

Once again, Paul is encouraging the Galatians (and us) to be humble. This reminds me of a verse from Romans:

For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one. Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts. (Rom 12:3-6, HCSB)

Paul doesn’t want the business of restoration, and bearing each other’s burdens to become an opportunity for people to judge each other, or to boast. If someone has an affair and goes through restoration, it might be easy for a person who never failed in that way to feel superior. Paul says, it is not. You aren’t judged based on how someone else struggles. That means there is no place to feel that you are better than someone else. As it says elsewhere:

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Rom 14:4, ESV2011)

We are called to share our struggles and bear each other’s burdens. At the same time, each person has his or her own relationship with Jesus. Our burdens can be shared. We must also take responsibility for ourselves. We can’t take spiritual responsibility for someone else, and others cannot do that for us. The sharing of burdens is not an excuse to give up responsibility, nor an opportunity to look down on others for how they struggle.

This passage gives us some tremendous helpful insight into how we interact in Christian community. Ask the Lord to make it real to you right now. Listen to what he has to say to you.

AN INVITATION!

group hands

My first title for this post was: “Give us Money and You’ll get a Special Place in Heaven.” Some people did not think that was as funny as I did. So it has been renamed. It really is an invitation to partner with us in prayer and in giving.

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We’re just kidding about the place in heaven of course. But we do want to make you aware of a real need.

For the past several years, this website and these podcasts have been offered, free of charge, as a ministry of New Joy Fellowship and me, Pastor Tom Hilpert. We will continue to offer them freely.

At the same time, we want to make you aware of the fact that right now, our ministry is in a time of transition, and quite frankly, we are in a place of financial need.

We thought about telling you that you would have a special place in heaven if you sent us some money. Another idea we floated, was to tell you that you might go to hell if you didn’t send a gift.

As attractive as those ideas are, we decided instead, to say this: would you please pray about giving to this ministry? If you visit this website very often, chances are, the Lord has blessed you through these messages. The truth is, he blesses a lot of others through them as well. More than 200 unique people visit this blog site each week. Almost 400 people are subscribed to receive new posts through email.

Over the years these messages have gone out all over the United States, and overseas to places like Finland, Brazil, India and the U.K. The only person who ever offered to send us money was a pastor in India, and at that time, we said no.

But we have come to a point where the blog/podcast audience is much bigger than our little church, New Joy Fellowship. Our church is going through some tough times, and they haven’t been able to pay me (Pastor Tom) my normal salary (which was not extravagant to begin with).

We’d like to ask you to consider three things:

1. (and this really is number one): Please pray for us. Pray for our church, and for our family, that we will receive what we need.

2. Pray about and consider giving a one-time gift

3. Pray about and consider sending us monthly support.

If the Lord leads you to give, there are two ways. You can scroll down a little, and on the right hand side of the page is a “Paypal donate” button. You can donate through that with a credit card, bank account or your own paypal account. This gift goes directly to me; therefore it is not tax deductible.

The second way to give is to send a check to

New Joy Fellowship

3029 Kelly Lynn Court

Lebanon, TN 37090

Your gift sent in this way is tax deductible. Just write “Clear Bible” in the memo for our records.

Thank you for your prayers and support!

THE RACE

marathon

Jesus has done everything for us. But being Christian is not really just about agreeing to the fact that Jesus has done it all. It is about personally trusting Jesus. It isn’t about a fact, it is about a person. We aren’t saved by facts; we are saved by Jesus himself.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Galatians Part 16

Galatians # 16 . Chapter 5:7-12

You were running well. Who prevented you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from the One who called you.

Paul says that up until this point, the Galatians had been running well. I want to talk about that word-picture he uses: running. The Christian life is not a one-time ticket-purchase. It is a race. And I will add that it is not a sprint, but a marathon. There are several places where Paul makes this analogy, and the writer of Hebrews also uses it.

Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away. Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1Cor 9:24-27, HCSB)

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us. (Heb 12:1, HCSB)

Too many “Christians” look at Christianity like life-insurance. Their attitude is, “Sure, it’s something you need, but you don’t really benefit until you die.” So they get baptized, or “make a decision” or get “confirmed” or something like that, and then they ignore Jesus for the rest of their lives, unless, of course, they get into trouble and need his help. Some of these folks think that “going to church” is part of the ticket price, so they may go to church too, but it doesn’t affect how they live here and now. Incidentally, it is those people, and their typical pattern of behavior, who are mostly responsible for giving Christians such a bad name.

But Paul says, “No, that’s not how it is. This is a race we have entered.” We are supposed to remain in the race, committed to, and focused on the goal. It isn’t a little side-part of our lives. It is our life. It isn’t life insurance. It isn’t something we do when the mood strikes us. Yes, we still go to work and pay our bills and take vacations, but all these things now come under the context of the marathon, the race we are running toward heaven. As Paul says, we don’t live aimlessly any more. We aren’t running for no purpose. Marathon runners are not people who just get up on day and say, “I feel like running twenty-six miles today.” They train. They focus. No real marathon runner starts the race, and then, half a mile later, says, “I’m stopping for coffee. Maybe I’ll get back in the race later on.” No, once they are in the race, they don’t stop until they cross the finish line.

That is what it is like to become a Christian. We have entered something. We are engaged upon a lifelong quest. We don’t embark upon it lightly, and we don’t abandon it lightly.

We Christians have sometimes mixed up the gospel. Becoming a Christian is not primarily about agreeing to a certain set of facts. You’ll meet people who present it this way. If you believe A, B, and C, and utter prayer D, then you are a Christian. I remember in college, getting some training in evangelism. That’s how they trained us. We were supposed to share certain facts with people, support the facts with bible verses, and ask for their agreement:

A. The bible says that all people, including you, have sinned (Rom 3:23).

B. Our sin means we are under condemnation from God (Rom 6:23). We can’t fix it ourselves (Eph 2:8-9)

C. God took it upon himself to restore us to him, by coming as Jesus the Son (John 3:16).

D. Everyone who believes in Jesus is saved from their sins and will have eternal life (1 John 5:11-12; Rom 10:8-13).

E. Do you believe this? If so, say this prayer with me….

These things are all true. But the way I first learned to present them might very well have given someone the impression that all they had to do was agree with the facts, say the prayer, and then get on with life.

I don’t want us to get confused in the series on Galatians. Jesus has done everything for us. But being Christian is not really just about agreeing that Jesus has done it all. It is about personally trusting Jesus. It isn’t about a fact, it is about a person. Because it is about a person, it is about personal trust and personal relationship with the One who has saved us. Don’t get me wrong: the things that I preach about Jesus are factually true. But we aren’t saved by facts; we are saved by Jesus himself.

The goal of all we have been learning so far in Galatians is not to get people to say, “Great! I agree that Jesus took care of all it for me. Now I’m off to do my own thing.” No. The goal is for all of us learn to trust and love Jesus. If we already do, it is to increase our trust and love for him. The facts should be inspiration and motivation to do that.

So Paul says that the Galatians were in the race, running well. He goes on:

Who prevented you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from the One who called you. A little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough. I have confidence in the Lord you will not accept any other view. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. (Gal 5:7-10, HCSB)

When he was with them, it seemed that they got it. But now suddenly someone has cut them off, changed their conviction. Paul says that the persuasion that is changing their minds is not from Jesus. He then quotes a proverb that Jesus himself said: “a little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough.” We make bread in much the same way that people did in New Testament times. You combine, flour, water, oil, honey salt and yeast. In a 1kilo (2 pound) lump of dough, you use about 10 grams of yeast (1 tablespoon). By weight, that means the yeast makes up about 1% of all the bread. And yet it profoundly affects every bit of the dough, changing it dramatically. Both Jesus and Paul meant two things by turning this into a proverb:

First, like yeast, false teaching tends to spread and have a much wider influence than you might expect. It only takes a little bit of false teaching to start affecting a lot of people.

Second, I think this comparison shows that many times, false teaching might be just a little bit of lie combined with a lot of good truth. This is one of the favorite tricks of the devil. When he came to Adam and Eve, he said: “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’? ” Of course, God said they couldn’t eat from just one tree, that was true. But he insinuated the lie that God had forbidden all trees. Then he said,

“No! You will not die,” the serpent said to the woman. “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4-5, HCSB)

That’s true, in a way. Once they sinned, suddenly they knew about evil in a way that they never did before. They had a greater understanding. But it wasn’t the kind of understanding that the devil led them to believe it was. It was a half-truth. False teaching and temptation often work like this.

One of the most prevalent false teachings in America now is the “prosperity gospel.” It comes in several different forms, but basically it goes like this: “God loves you, and wants to bless you. If you get right with him, and have the right attitude of faith, if you claim what is yours in faith, he will bless you financially.” Subtler forms of this message might end instead with he will heal you; or, he will give you what you want; or, he will make your life easy. There are many different things people add in there. Now, in many ways, a lot of this is true. God does love us. He does want to bless us. We should approach him in faith. There are just two small lies here. The first lie is that if you simply do your part by having enough faith, or the right kind of faith, or testifying to your faith in the right way, God will always do what you want him to. That’s not true. Faith is not lever that we pull to manipulate God. It is the abandonment of ourselves to the One we trust.

The second small lie is that the blessings we want to have are exactly the same as the blessings that God wants to give us. Many times, we want things that, for reasons we may never understand, are not what God wants to do for us right now.

In any case, the point is, false teaching – whatever the specific lie – is very dangerous and powerful. It is often just a few small lies combined with a lot of truth. Paul says those who are doing this – leading the Galatians astray – will pay the penalty. He doesn’t specify what the penalty is, but we can assume it isn’t good.

Paul goes on,

Now brothers, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. (Gal 5:11, HCSB)

The doctrine of the cross of Christ is offensive. To the Jews, it was offensive to say that the law was irrelevant, that you could be saved through trusting Jesus rather than doing the law. It took away the power and influence of the leaders of Jewish religion. In fact, it was a fundamental change.

But it is offensive to others in other ways too. For some people, it is offensive to say that Jesus is the only way to God and to eternal life. We covered that in more depth last week, if you want to go back and read it. Another offensive idea is this: there is something fundamental in each one of us that deserves crucifixion. The cross shows us how evil and ugly sin is. In fact, the cross was the physical judgment of sin, so in the cross sin is judged to be sinful. When we tell people that their favorite, self-serving or sinful activities need the forgiveness brought by Jesus’ death, they often get offended. A lot of folks are willing to acknowledge some petty little sin, or something they don’t mind not doing, or giving up. But if the cross shows up the sinfulness of their lifestyle or of a cherished activity, watch out! It is offensive.

Paul is entirely willing to suffer persecution for the sake of Jesus. That doesn’t stop him from being a human person who was irritated with those who oppose him. His final thought of these verses deserves mention:

I wish those who are disturbing you might also get themselves castrated! (Gal 5:12, HCSB)

With that pleasant thought, let’s pause and listen to what the Holy Spirit may be saying to us.

Have you been looking at following Jesus as sort of ticket that you bought for heaven, or a kind of part time hobby that you do when you feel like it? Let the Holy Spirit correct you and speak to you about that. Let him also speak forgiveness and restoration to you. Trust Jesus, personally.

Are you in danger of believing a lie because it sounds good, or because at least part of it is true? Let the Lord protect you and speak to you about that too.

Finally, are you prepared for the fact that the cross of Christ is offensive to people? Are you ready to run the race, in spite of the scorn and anger of others?

Above all, remember, all this is not about a set of facts, it is about a person, Jesus Christ, who love you, who gave up his life to save you and so that you could be with him.

SELF-JUSTIFICATION, OR JESUS-JUSTIFICATION?

what-is-justification-by-faith-part-5-21502697

Only Jesus can satisfy the demands of the law. Only Jesus can make you holy. Only he can make you good. You don’t have to try any more.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Galatians Part 15

GALATIANS #15

Galatians Chapter 5:2-6

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (Gal 5:2-4, ESV2011)

Before all you ladies quit reading, I want to make it clear that these verses have to do with some timeless and important principles. It isn’t really about the male anatomy at all. Remember, the situation in Galatia is that some false teachers have come in and are saying that although Jesus is the Messiah, in order to be right with God and be truly saved, you must follow Jewish law. For men, that meant that they must be circumcised. Some of these folks were in Jerusalem with Paul at one time:

But some of the believers from the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses! ” (Acts 15:5, HCSB)

Now, let’s be clear. Paul himself was circumcised. At one point, he had his helper, Timothy, circumcised, so that he could stay the houses of non-Christian Jews (Acts 16:3). So clearly, Paul did not view circumcision itself as evil or always wrong. The problem was, the Galatians were starting to believe that circumcision was necessary (for men) to get right with God. For both men and women, they felt it was necessary to follow Jewish law.

Paul is saying this: “We are saved by Jesus plus nothing. If you want to count circumcision or the Jewish Law toward your salvation, then you can’t count Jesus. If you want to follow the law, you have to follow the whole thing perfectly, your entire life.” Jesus presents us with an either/or proposition. Either we receive him, and him alone as our only hope, or we try and get right with God through our own efforts. But we can’t do both.

If you think anything other than the death and resurrection of Jesus will get you right with God, then you are on your own. If you say, “well, God needs to let my aunt into heaven because she was so kind and generous,” you are really claiming that one way to get right with God is kindness and generosity. Paul, Jesus and entire New Testament disagree.

You can come to God through Jesus, have no other claim or hope; or, you can come to God with anything else you want, but not Jesus. Jesus is exclusive. Martin Luther, writing about these verses, put it this way:

“This teaching is the touchstone by which we can judge most surely and freely about all doctrines, works, forms of worship, and ceremonies of men. Whoever (whether he be a papist, a Jew, a Turk, or a sectarian) teaches that anything beyond the Gospel of Christ is to necessary to attain salvation; whoever establishes any work or form of worship; whoever observes any rule, tradition or ceremony with the opinion that thereby he will obtain the forgiveness of sins, righteousness and eternal life – will hear the judgment of the Holy Spirit pronounced against him here by the apostle: that Christ is of no advantage to him at all.” (Martin Luther).

People these days do not like the idea that there is only one way to God, and therefore only one way to heaven. According to the Bible, there is only one way to God, and that is through Jesus Christ. Jesus said it himself:

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6).

“Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it. (Matt 7:13-14, HCSB)

The apostles all reiterated this teaching of Jesus. John wrote:

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. (1John 5:11-12, HCSB)

The reason Jesus is the only way, is because it is only through his life, death and resurrection that God’s holy standard is satisfied. God is holy. Holiness destroys sin. If we come into God’s presence with sin in us, we will be destroyed. Jesus embodied both the holiness of God the flesh of sinful humanity. Because of who he was, his life, death and resurrection satisfied the holy standards of God’s nature. He was the only one who could do that. As we trust him, he includes us in what he has done. But if we try and justify ourselves in any way, Jesus is useless to us. The Galatians were trying to do it through Jewish law. Let me share a few ways I’ve heard people these days try to justify themselves apart from Jesus:

“Well, I’m basically a good person.”

“I’m no saint, but I’m no worse than anyone else.”

“I’m no saint, but at least I’m not a hypocrite.”

“I’ve gone to church all my life.”

“I take care of the people around me. The bible says to love your neighbor, and I do that, probably better than a lot of church people.”

Folks, this is all self-justification. These statements are all about getting into heaven by your own merit, or at least your own merit compared to other people (but not compared to God’s Holy Standard). This is living by law. In terms of relating to God, it is no different from insisting upon following Jewish law. It is up to you to be good enough, or to be at least no worse than others, or to behave religiously. Paul says that if you rely on such things, Jesus Christ is of no value to you.

Some people look for justification in other religions. They may say that all religions lead to the same goal. I always find that idea kind of humorous, because the one thing all religions seem to agree upon is that the other ones are wrong. Islam claims to be the one right way. Jesus himself excluded any other way but himself. That means you can follow other religions if you want, but you won’t have anything to do with Jesus. Even Hinduism and Buddhism, which many people think are so inclusive, are not really that way. They might be willing to includes Jesus as another one of their thousands of Deities, but they absolutely refuse to let him claim the exclusivity that he claims. In other words, they are inclusive only if you accept their way of looking at things, which of course, means they aren’t that inclusive.

There is one more thing people do to justify themselves. They simply change the standard. Listen carefully here, because it doesn’t sound like living by law, but it is. The ten commandments command us to put God first, to not make or worship idols, to not take the name of the Lord in vain and to observe a day set aside for rest and worship. They tell us we should honor our parents. They say we should not murder, commit adultery, steal, lie or covet. Jesus said they were all summed up by these two ideas: Love God, and Love your Neighbor.

So our current culture says “It’s all about love. As long as you act ‘loving,’ you are a good person.” So, you can cheat and steal and lie as long as you do it to the government or a large corporation, where no one (that you know about) gets personally hurt. You’ll still be a good person. You can have sex with someone you aren’t married to, as long as it is loving. You can have greed and envy and hatred in your heart, as long you don’t hurt anyone. You can gossip, or get drunk, or lie to your boss about why you weren’t there. Our culture has reduced holiness to innocuousness.

Now, all this is still self-justification. We aren’t putting our hope in Jesus to forgive us and make us good from the inside out. We are changing the standard of goodness and holiness so that it describes the way we prefer to behave. We are trying to make ourselves righteous by changing what righteousness is. This isn’t putting our hope in Christ – it is putting our hope in the fact that we can, through our own efforts, meet the reduced standards. If this is our approach to God, we are trying to be right with him so other way than Jesus. Paul says, if that is so, we are cut off from Christ.

Now, again, circumcision in itself is not the problem. Paul writes:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love. (Gal 5:6, HCSB)

The issue is self-justification. Circumcision might be a good thing for hygiene or even something that helps some people remember they belong to God. But it can’t be a law, or a means to get right with God.

There are many things like circumcision. Fasting can be helpful to focus our hearts and minds upon the Lord. Certain forms of worship and spiritual disciplines can really help us grow closer to the Lord. But if you ever find yourself thinking “If I just do this, I’ll be OK with God,” watch out! The devil is lying to you. If you think, “Only people who do this activity, or observe this ceremony, are real Christians,” you are in deep spiritual danger!

Let me be even more clear. Not even keeping the ten commandments will get you right with God. First, if you are old enough to read these words, you have already failed to keep the ten commandments. It’s already over – you haven’t kept the whole law perfectly for your whole life. You aren’t holy enough to come into the presence of God. You never will be. It’s good to follow the ten commandments – the Holy Spirit, living inside Christians, wants to do them. But if you are trying to follow the ten commandments in order to keep God from smiting you, you are out of luck. The smiting is coming, unless you are in Jesus.

Only Jesus can satisfy the demands of the law. Only Jesus can make you holy. Only he can make you good.

When you are in Jesus, as you submit to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, you will start to look a little more holy, because he wants to live his holy life through you. But it won’t be you trying to be good in order to please God or get to heaven. It will be Jesus in you, being good, as you. And you won’t trust your own goodness or worry if your own goodness is enough – because the goodness of Jesus is enough for you.

I know you screw up, because I know I screw up. I know that even though Jesus has made me good, I don’t always act like it. Paul knew this about himself too. And that is why he wrote verse 5:

For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. (Gal 5:5, HCSB)

The Greek word there for “eagerly wait,” frequently refers to waiting for the fulfillment of something that has been promised, but hasn’t happened yet. We have this righteousness through Jesus, and yet it isn’t fully complete at this time. So we anticipate it eagerly. Paul wrote about this in 1 Corinthians 1:7; Philippians 3:20 and Hebrews 9:28. He wrote this to the Christians in Rome:

For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility — not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it — in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits — we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience. (Rom 8:19-25, HCSB)

So what does all this mean for us now? Paul talked about freedom in verse 1. What freedom it is to be done with justifying yourself! You aren’t letting yourself off the hook – you are admitting that you can’t get off the hook and you need Jesus to save you. You are admitting you cannot do it. There is great freedom in that.

There is a warning here, too. If you think you can add to what Jesus had done for you, or if you think you have a part to play in saving yourself, you are in grave spiritual danger. And there is a warning also, to not make good things into necessary things.

Finally, there is this business of eagerly waiting. I see a lot of people who call themselves Christians who do not seem interested, let alone eager, in Jesus bringing his righteousness into their lives. It makes me wonder how much room he really has in their hearts. We don’t need to be perfect. We don’t need to strive to make ourselves good. But we should eagerly anticipate the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to do those things. We can be looking for it, praying for it, ready to respond right away as the Spirit prompts us to do something, or refrain from doing something else. We are not supposed to wander off and say, “Well, let Jesus make me righteous if he can, I’m off to do my own thing. Good luck to him.” No, Paul says that we who are in Jesus should be anticipating his work in us, eager to see it come about.

What is the Spirit saying to you today?

WHEN TRADITION HURTS FAITH

traditions

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GALATIANS #11 . Chapter #4:8-11

8 But in the past, when you didn’t know God, you were enslaved to things3 that by nature are not gods. 9 But now, since you know God, or rather have become known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and bankrupt elemental forces? Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again? 10 You observe special days, months, seasons, and years. 11 I am fearful for you, that perhaps my labor for you has been wasted.

The Galatians probably worshipped the Roman/Greek pagan gods, and this is mostly likely what Paul is referring to when he refers to their past. But this makes it an interesting statement. The Galatians are not trying to go back and worship pagan gods – they are trying to follow Jewish Laws and earn something from the true God. But Paul says, this would be just the same as going back to the pagan gods. He says “How can you go back again to these bankrupt elemental principles?” Elemental principles is that word “stoikeon,” which we talked about last time. It is the idea that one thing necessarily follows another; the idea that you earn what you get, and you get what you deserve. Although many things in the universe do generally operate this way, Paul explained last time that this is not how God operates spiritually with those who are in Jesus Christ. Last time we saw that what God says to us is this: “Stoikeon doesn’t work for you, because you aren’t able to do anything of real value to me. So instead, we’ll let Jesus do all the work, and through Him, I’ll adopt you as my dearly beloved children. Let’s have no more of this ‘you do something for me, and in return I’ll do something for you.’ Instead, through Jesus, I’ll treat you as my kids, and you treat me as your daddy.”

Paul says here that going back to that idea of trying to do something for God in order to get him to do something for us, is the same as going back to the old pagan worship that the Galatians used to practice. Even if they are following Jewish Law, they are doing it with the same attitude and relationship with God that is exhibited in their old pagan worship. Pagan worship was all about “stoikeon” or “sequential principles.” If you wanted the help of a god, then you made some sort of sacrifice or vow to the deity you need to please, and you got his or her help in return. Usually in pagan worship, you had to follow the rituals of worship precisely. You had to do and say the right things at the right time in order to get the desired result.

Paul says that when they seek to follow the Jewish law, the Galatians are doing exactly the same kind of thing. They are attempting to do things for God so he will do things for them. Jewish Law emphasizes following certain rituals, and doing things the right way. Paul says, “You observe special days, months, seasons and years.” And he says that the fact that they do this scares him. It makes him think they are losing their faith.

What were the special days and seasons they were observing? The entire letter was written because the Galatians were starting to believe that in addition to believing in Jesus, they had to follow the Jewish law. We need to understand a little bit about Jewish law. The Old Testament, of course, contains many rituals and laws that Jews were supposed to keep. But there is more to it than that. Over the years, Jewish rabbis taught extensively about the Old Testament, and their teachings were passed down orally from one generation to the next. These teachings, or commentaries on the Old Testament, came to be seen as an essential part of Jewish doctrine. Eventually, these commentaries were written down and collected, and today they are called “the Talmud.” So Jewish law came to mean much more than even just the Old Testament. Paul himself, before converting to Christianity, was a rising star in the Talmudic tradition of Hillel.

Though the Talmud was still in development during New Testament times, many of its teachings were already established at that time. So, for instance, the Old Testament commands us to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Over the centuries, the Jews grappled with what exactly that means, in practical terms. By the time of Jesus, most Jews accepted to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, there were “sub-rules,” you had to follow, rules found in Talmudic teaching. For instance, you could only take a certain number of steps, or carry certain things.

I suspect that the Galatians were following both Old Testament commands, and also commands and rituals that were part of the Talmudic tradition. They probably followed a strict Talmudic interpretation of the Sabbath, and celebrated the Jewish events like New Moon, the first and seventh month and the Feasts of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and the festival of Booths. Paul writes about these things more specifically to the Colossians:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Col 2:16-17, ESV2011)

Now, it isn’t that these things are bad in and of themselves. Our church, New Joy Fellowship, celebrates the Jewish Feast of Passover every year. But there are two important things to remember, and this is what Paul is getting at:

  1. Such things, in and of themselves do not contribute to our salvation or worth in God’s eyes. Celebrate the Passover, or don’t. Eat Pork, or not – it doesn’t matter, spiritually. You won’t be more holy if you do these things; you won’t be less holy if you do. Following laws and traditions will not get God to love you more, and they won’t manipulate God into blessing you. God doesn’t relate to us according to sequential principles.
  2. Such things are shadows; the substance is Christ. Sometimes they are helpful, but they are only helpful if they point us to the real thing, which is Christ. Tradition is nothing, Christ is everything. Tradition is great if it points us to Christ, it is inherently spiritually dangerous if it does anything other than that.

I heard a great quote last week. A pastor at a conference said, “Tradition is the living faith of dead people, but traditionalism is the dead faith of living people.” Tradition can be good. When we remember how people who have gone before us lived their lives in faith and hope, it encourages hope and faith in us. We can use memories and repeated traditions to remind us of those faithful believers who have gone on to their reward. We can use traditions to keep pointing us toward the substance, which is Jesus Christ. But sometimes our faith becomes tied to the traditions. We start to feel that we must keep certain traditions, and if we don’t, we haven’t done it right. We sort of get the idea not that traditions is there to help encourage us, but rather, that certain traditions are a necessary part of our faith. This is what Paul is so concerned about.

Let me give a few examples of good traditions that can lead us astray when we think they are necessary. One of those is the altar call. That is a tradition in most Baptist churches. Sometimes it is helpful. But if you find yourself thinking that no worship service is truly complete without an altar call, you are in danger. If you think the only proper way to get saved is to come to the front of church during an altar call, you are in grave of becoming traditionalist, of confusing living faith with tradition. Lutherans have a lot of traditions in worship too. Some of them can be helpful at times. But if we get the idea that it isn’t really a worship service unless we say the Lord’s prayer, or stand for the reading of the gospel, we are in danger of confusing living faith with tradition.

Our church typically doesn’t fight over these kinds of things, but there are thousands of churches that do fight over traditions; things that are not necessary to true and living faith in Jesus Christ. The reason it becomes such a big deal is that people start thinking traditions are the same thing as faith. They are not. They are only there to aid it, and when they are not useful, they should not be used. The danger of relying too much on tradition is that some people end up with only tradition, and no real faith that is active and alive.

Picture a battery powered radio, the kind of thing we used to call a “boom box.” Imagine someone brought one of these radios to a remote village in Papua New Guinea where there was no electricity. Picture the villagers amazed and thrilled as they hear the music coming from the radio. Imagine the hours they spend, uplifted and made joyful by the music. Every evening at the same time, after they are done with their hard work, the villagers gather together around the radio to listen to the music. They call it “music time.”

But as time goes on, those batteries will die. Picture a time when the music starts to fade, and then imagine one day, it is gone. Now, what will those villagers do? If they are sensible, they will make their own music and enjoy it, and perhaps hope for a time when someone will bring new batteries to the village, so that the radio may be refreshed. But it is entirely possible that after a long time of gathering together every night to listen to the music, they may retain the habit, even after the batteries die. The radio is no longer bringing them music, but still they gather and look at it. Eventually, the villagers may even forget why they gather each night to look at the radio. It’s just what they do. If asked, many of them will say they do it because of music. As they forget, they have started to think of the evening time gathered around the radio as their “music time,” even though music has long ceased to be a part of it.

That is how some of us are with traditions. Tradition is there to bring us the “music” of faith. But tradition itself is not the same as faith. It can bring the music, but it is not music in itself. Sometimes we continue to follow traditions long after they have ceased to encourage our faith. Sometimes we get mixed up, and we forget that our faith is something greater and more alive than the traditions that once helped us in it. We even sometimes start to think that the traditions are faith, or at least an inseparable part of it.

So, we think we haven’t worshipped if we didn’t say a certain prayer or have an altar call or sing a certain song. We think it is isn’t a real church if it doesn’t have candles, or an altar, or a cross, or if it is in someone’s home, or…[you fill in the blank]. We start to think you have to have a guitar, or you can’t have a guitar and many other silly things.

Now, let me be clear. When tradition brings you closer to Jesus and makes you more open to the Holy Spirit, it is a wonderful and useful thing. There is nothing wrong with embracing those kinds of traditions. We need all the help we can get. But we need to be careful that we do not start to think that traditions are necessary to faith, or that they are the same thing as faith.

This is a normal, human tendency, and this is why Paul was so frightened when he heard about the Galatians mindlessly following the Jewish traditions. They were perverting the true gospel, adding on requirements, as if what Jesus did was not enough. They were confusing things that were designed to help faith, with the substance of faith itself.

DADDY TIME!

daddy&baby

 

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Galatians #10 . Chapter 4:1-7

1 Now I say that as long as the heir is a child, he differs in no way from a * slave, though he is the owner of everything. 2 Instead, he is under guardians and stewards until the time set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were in slavery under the elemental forces1 of the world. 4 When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to * redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our2 hearts, crying, “* Abba, Father! ” 7 So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God

The last thing we looked at was how Paul describes the law as a Chaperone, or Guardian. This is a continuation of that thought. He says that the heir lives as a slave until he comes into inheritance at the time set by the father. The heir is not free when he is a child – he needs to obey the guardians and stewards in his life.

So, Paul points out that even the chosen people of God (the Jews) were “slaves” in a sense – slaves to the guardian, the Law. We too, before coming into the full inheritance of Jesus Christ, were slaves. We were slaves to the “elementary forces” of the world. The Greek word is “stoikeon” (stoiceion, if anyone cares). Essentially it means “basic, sequential principles.” You might say it is the idea of “one thing leads to another.”

Here is an example of stoikeos in action. You bend down to pick something up off the floor in the kitchen. Next, someone opens a drawer above you. Then, you straighten up and hit your head. Finally, your head hurts. Next time you are there when a friend or family member bangs her head, and exclaims that it hurts, say, “that’s just stoikeos in action.” She’ll appreciate it greatly.

If you take two things and add two more things, you have four things. That’s stoikeon. You might even call it natural law. Here’s another example of a stoikeon: If you sin, the presence of God is so holy that it will destroy you. Sin separates you from God. The spiritual side of stoikeos, is that you get what you deserve. You earn God’s favor and blessing, or his wrath. That’s the natural state of things. It is similar to the idea of karma – you get what you deserve. Your actions lead to either things that are good for yourself, or bad for you.

That is how the law works. If you do the right thing, you get the good thing. If you do the wrong thing, you get the bad thing. Remember, the law isn’t bad. It isn’t wrong or inaccurate. It just isn’t possible for us. Because of that, this arrangement really didn’t work out for us.

Paul has been telling us that there is a new arrangement. The law can’t be eliminated. But we can’t do it. So Jesus did it on our behalf. And he took on himself, our consequences for failing to do it. The law is now satisfied, not broken. And we can move on, in the presence of God, without being destroyed.

Now, I don’t mean to say that now we should sin all we want to. I have talked about this in every message for the past several weeks. We admit we cannot do it; we believe that Jesus can and will do it for us, and we trust him to do it in us and through us.

But a lot of believers are mistaken about how things work now. We think, “OK, Jesus saved us from being destroyed by God’s presence. Now, I am in relationship with God. If I take care of his stuff, he’ll take care of mine.” This is a trap. We think that if we are good little boys and girls, then God will reward us with candy: that is, earthly blessings. Then, when that doesn’t work out the way we think it should, we get angry and upset and disappointed with God. We did our part, why didn’t God do his part? Or, maybe we didn’t do our part, because we didn’t hear from him what we were supposed to do. Why didn’t he make it more clear?

We do not live in relationship of karma. We don’t have the kind of relationship with God where if we do something for him, he does something for us. Instead, God says, “That won’t work, because you can’t do anything that is worthwhile to me. How about instead, I treat you as my children, my heirs? I will do for you what I know is best for your eternal self, and you just keep trusting that what I am doing is good, and good for you.”

We sometimes say, “I don’t care about my ‘eternal self,’ I just want to feel good now.” I understand that attitude. I’ve had it at many points in my life, and I won’t say I’ll never have it again. But it is not a mature attitude. It isn’t wise, or even smart. We see this in three year olds, who think they want many things that will not actually make them happy. Three-year-olds aren’t mature enough to distinguish what is truly best for them, so wise, loving parents do not always give them what they want.

Now, I am not saying that there is no order in the universe. Often times, one thing really does lead to another. If you manage your money wisely, it is likely that you will have enough. If you spend your money frivolously and without thought, you might end up short. Even morally, there is order. Wrong-doing tends to lead to bad results. Avoiding sins like drunkenness and promiscuity and dishonesty often leads to a better life here and now than engaging in those things. That’s because that is how the universe works – God made it that way.

But we don’t have a quid-pro-quo relationship with God. It isn’t “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine.” It is, this: “Lord, I owe you everything and I can’t repay it. I trust you. I’m in your hands.”

Jesus was born under the law, as we are. He was born of a woman – that is, in addition to being Divine, he was also human, like us. Because of that, he could fulfill the law. The result is our adoption as sons.

I pointed this out last time, but it bears repeating. We are all sons. Not that we are all male-children, but that we are all the legitimate inheritors of God’s family name, the legitimate inheritors of his riches and grace. Through Jesus Christ, we truly belong to God, and belong in his family.

Paul adds this:

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father! ” (Gal 4:6, HCSB)

“Abba” is basically the Aramaic word for “Daddy.” Through Jesus, we are such legitimate, dearly loved children, that we can call God “Daddy.” Paul writes something very similar in Romans chapter 8:

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father! ” The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, (Rom 8:15-16, HCSB)

I am fortunate in that my earthly, physical, father has always been an overwhelmingly positive influence in my life. But I know many people who do not have a positive view of fathers, because their own dad was distant, or troubled, or even abusive. Some people respond to this by saying we should not talk about God as a Father, because that is negative for a lot of folks. Nobody has a perfect dad – not even my kids. So, for some, the picture of God as a father may at first be negative or scary or distant. But the point is, God is a perfect father. He loves us perfectly. He cares for us more than any earthly father is capable of. What your earthly father lacked, God does not lack. What your earthly father did wrong, God does not do. The love, attention and affection you may have craved and never received from your earthly dad, is available to you now, in your heavenly Daddy.

Take a moment to Listen to the Father’s heart:

“But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine…

Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth – everyone who is called by my name…” (Isaiah 43:1,4-7)

This is God’s attitude toward us – his children. He calls us his sons and daughters and he says we are precious and honored in his sight. He says we are his. He loves us and is willing to make huge sacrifices for us. He is on your side. You can feel safe when you talk with him.

I took a break from writing this to pick out the songs for the service this week. I realize we don’t have many songs written specifically to God the Father. We praise the Lord and we worship God. We praise Jesus quite frequently. There are a few songs that praise God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but very few indeed that invite us to worship and praise the Father in his Fatherhood. Even the old hymns don’t have a lot of this.

But this is a tremendous gift.

Jesus once told the parable of the prodigal’s son. When the younger, irresponsible brother returned, the Father embraced him, loved on him, and threw him a party. But the older brother was not pleased.

But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’ “ ‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. (Luke 15:29-31, HCSB)

The tragedy is this: The older brother had been living like a slave, when he was truly a son. So Paul says to us in verse seven:

So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God

You are no longer a slave, but a son. Again, not necessarily, a male, but the bearer of God’s family name, a dearly beloved child who can walk into the Father’s presence and say, “Hi, Daddy!” Your position as a dear child is not based upon your performance. It is based upon the performance of Jesus.

You don’t have to live like a slave. All that the Father has is yours, in Jesus.

LIFE

resurrection2

Heaven starts now. Our spirit-life with Jesus, our eternal, indestructible-life, starts when we trust him. It doesn’t start in our circumstances, or our material-life or even our soul-life. It starts in the new and holy spirit that we receive when we trust Jesus.

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EASTER 2013

Let’s talk about life.

Easter – Resurrection Sunday – is the day Christians celebrate life, more than any other. It hasn’t become as commercialized as Christmas. But then, it doesn’t seem to excite us as much, either. Why is that? Why do we celebrate a resurrection with chocolate, ham and a ho-hum attitude?

I suspect it is a symptom of three main things. First, sometimes, I wonder if we really understand the resurrection and what it means. Second, some people may not really believe it, not in a way that makes any real difference for life. Third, I think a lot of time, we are focused on the wrong kind of life, so the resurrection life doesn’t excite us that much.

I usually preach on the first two topics I just mentioned, on Resurrection Sunday each year. So this year, I thought I’d take a look at the third.

The New Testament uses three main words for “life.” The first one I want to talk about is the Greek word “bios.” This isn’t actually used that often in the New Testament, but the concept is important for people in Western culture today. Bios could be translated, “stuff of life,” or “physical things of life.” In the bible, this word is almost always used in the context of correcting people who are too focused on material livelihood. For instance:

As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of bios, and produce no mature fruit. (Luke 8:14, HCSB)

“Be on your guard, so that your minds are not dulled from carousing, drunkenness, and worries of bios, or that day will come on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come on all who live on the face of the whole earth. (Luke 21:34-35, HCSB)

Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s bios — is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever. (1John 2:15-17, HCSB)

Bios is about life in the here and now. It is about paying bills and owning houses and eating and drinking. Paul chided the Corinthians for engaging in lawsuits about bios. It is part of life, of course. We have to deal with bios to some extent, but it is not the essence of life. Mostly, it distracts us from the real thing. The consistent message of scripture is that bios-life is temporary, and it is spiritually dangerous to become too focused on it.

One of the most commonly used words for life in the New Testament is “psuche.” This is where we get our English word, “psyche.” Your psuche represents your personhood, including your personality and your existence as a unique individual. It is more than just physical existence. You might say it is your soul-life (and indeed, the New Testament often translates the word as “soul”).

Then He said to His disciples: “Therefore I tell you, don’t worry about your psuche, what you will eat; or about the body, what you will wear. For psuche is more than food and the body more than clothing. (Luke 12:22-23, HCSB)

So it is written: The first man Adam became a living psuche; the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit. (1Cor 15:45, HCSB)

Jesus came to earth as a psuche – a living, soul-man. All human beings have that kind of life. And while he was here, he had to deal with bios, just as we do. But Jesus had within him something more than psuche, more than bios. He had eternal indestructible, spirit-life. The Greek word for this kind of life is zoe (pronounced “dz-oh-ay”).

For just as the Father has zoe in Himself, so also He has granted to the Son to have zoe in Himself (John 5:26).

Zoe was in Him, and that zoe was the light of men. (John 1:4, HCSB)

Jesus came to earth to make possible a different kind of life. He didn’t come primarily to make bios-life easier for us to get. He did not even come to give us psuche-life. He came to give us eternal life. Jesus said,

A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have zoe and have it in abundance. (John 10:10, HCSB)

Jesus didn’t come to give us abundant bios, or even psuche. He came first and foremost so that we could have zoe, spirit-life. In fact, he taught that you had to give up psuche to get zoe:

The one who loves his psuche will lose it, and the one who hates his psuche in this world will keep it for zoe. (John 12:25, HCSB)

Jesus himself came to die, to give up his psuche so that we could all have zoe:

just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His psuche — a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28, HCSB)

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his psuche for the sheep. (John 10:11, HCSB)

This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My psuche so I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father.” (John 10:17-18, HCSB)

One reason we don’t get excited about resurrection is because we aren’t excited about zoe-life. We already have bios-life. We already have psuche-life. Too often, all we really want is for God to make that kind of life better and easier for us. If it doesn’t immediately help us deal with bills and rebellious children and difficult work situations, we aren’t that interested. Or maybe, we get beyond that, and what we want is personal fulfillment or happiness right here, right now. But we’re still looking at psuche, not zoe.

The other thing, is that we tend to think that zoe-life is just like psuche-life and bios-life, only longer, and with less hassle. Frankly, if that’s the case, I’d say, why not just give me less hassle right now? And so, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to get excited about. We think it’s just more of the same, only easier.

It’s like we think a piece of painted plastic jewelry is prettier than the tarnished silver ring, at least for now. We want God to improve the tents we live in at the edge of the garbage dump, while we remain barely interested in the Spirit’s description of a permanent log-home set on a lake in the mountains.

I’ve heard people say something much like this: “Oh, I’ll enjoy heaven when I get there. But for now, I want to enjoy earth.”

But our spirit-life with Jesus, our eternal, indestructible-life, starts when we trust him. Heaven starts now. It doesn’t start in our circumstances, or our bios-life or even our psuche life. It starts in the new and holy spirit that we receive when we trust Jesus.That zoe-life can begin to grow and shape your soul-life and your material-life. And we can’t really get it, as Jesus points out, until we are willing to let go of our psuche life:

Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to make his psuche secure will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. (Luke 17:32-33, HCSB)

Imagine you found out that in a foreign country, you are descended from the Royal Family. The Monarchy still exists and rules in that country. The king and all the people have told you that you will be welcomed there as princes and princesses. You are to travel there soon. But before you do, in the meantime, the king wants you to do some things for him where you are.

Think about this. Would you learn the language of the country where you are a princess? Would you familiarize yourself with the customs of the place where you are a prince? Would you be interested to know the geography and culture? Would you correspond with anyone there, or call them on the phone? Would you be interested to know what it’s like there? Could you get excited about being a member of the royal family? Would you be more interested in improving your life in the garbage heap, or in preparing for your life as a royal?

Too many Christians could care less. It is as if they are saying, “I won’t care about that stupid old place until I get there. Who needs to know the language? They’ll teach me when I get there, I expect. Who cares what the place is like? I don’t have time for anyone else in my life right now. Let them wait until I get there. Time enough to learn all about it then. Right now, what I really need is a bigger tent that is a little farther away from the smelly part of the garbage dump.”

What does zoe-life mean right now?

First, it means that your circumstances, whatever they may be, are not the most important thing. Sometimes you have to deal with things, for sure, but what you are going through is temporary. It is weak in power, compared to zoe-life. So Paul, who was beaten by mobs, arrested, threatened, attacked by bandits and wild animals, shipwrecked, snake-bitten can say:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:18, HCSB)

Paul didn’t just have a good attitude. He was drawing upon the zoe-life of Jesus in himself. He also wrote:

We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. (2Cor 4:8-11, HCSB)

The “life” of Jesus, is of course, the “zoe” of Jesus, in Greek.

I used to scuba dive. I learned that at thirty-three feet under water, the pressure upon you doubles. At thirty-three feet, everything is under twice as much pressure – weight – pushing on it from all sides, as at the surface. At 66 feet, the pressure is three times as great as it is at the surface. It continues on like this. Several hundred feet below the water, the pressure is so great that even if a human being could breathe, she would be killed. The pressure would compress her body like a steam-roller.

Now, picture a paper-cup, the kind of thing you might get take-out coffee in. You can turn that cup upside down and push it under water so that there is a pocket of air inside. If you maintain the size of that air pocket, and also maintain the pressure of the air in the cup, you could take that flimsy paper cup all the way down to the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean, and the pressure would not crush it. The material of the cup doesn’t matter. What matters is the strength of what is inside the cup.

If we let it, the zoe life of Jesus inside of us can be stronger than anything we encounter in bios-life or psuche-life. Jesus said it could become a well of fresh water, flowing from inside us. It is a quality of life that depends upon the strength, grace and joy of God, rather than anything in us, or in this mortal world.

Zoe-life is now is a down-payment of the full zoe-life that we will have later. The New Testament tells us that our bodies will be changed. Paul says, along with Jesus, that our psuche and bios life dies so that we can be raised in complete zoe life.

What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow — you are not sowing the future body, but only a seed, perhaps of wheat or another grain. (1Cor 15:36-37, HCSB)

Jesus, in his zoe-life after the resurrection had a physical body. He was able to enjoy the pleasures of food. He was recognizable to those who had known him before He had pusche-life again – in other words, he was still Jesus, the person his disciples had known. But his body was immortal. He could pass from place to place instantly. Locked doors were not a barrier to him. Let me close with a few more words from the bible about what our zoe-life will eventually be like:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give water as a gift to the thirsty from the spring of life. (Rev 21:1-6, HCSB)

Then he showed me the river of living water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the broad street of the city. The tree of life was on both sides of the river, bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His slaves will serve Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. Night will no longer exist, and people will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever. Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent His angel to show His slaves what must quickly take place.” “Look, I am coming quickly! The one who keeps the prophetic words of this book is blessed.” (Rev 22:1-7, HCSB)

WHY PALM SUNDAY? WHAT’S THE POINT?

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It wasn’t wrong for the Palm Sunday crowd to have a raucous celebration. It wasn’t wrong for them to want deliverance from the Romans. But the real thing, the most important thing, was deeper than that.

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PALM SUNDAY 2013

Each year, Christians celebrate and remember the last week in the life of Jesus before his resurrection. We call it “Holy Week.” For Jesus, the week began when he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, to cries of praise and celebration from the people. By Friday night of the same week, he was hanging dead on a Roman crucifix. On the very next Sunday, he rose from death; one week in total after riding into Jerusalem.

It was a kind of Holy Week for the Jews of that time too. The ancient Jewish calendar was different from ours, and sometime in March (it varies from year to year) was the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Fourteen days into the New Year, the Jews celebrated Passover – a feast commemorating their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Following Passover was a week-long celebration – the Festival of Unleavened Bread. Although you could celebrate this wherever you lived, most Jews felt the best place to spend Passover and Unleavened Bread was in Jerusalem. Then, forty days later was the Feast of Pentecost. Picture this time of year a little bit Thanksgiving and Christmas in the United States. A lot of people traveled to be with family and loved ones. There was a delicious meal (usually the same every year) and good feelings and a lot of gratitude. Along with it was the knowledge that you were all probably going to get together again in a bit more than a month, for Pentecost. In Israel, this was the “most wonderful time of the year.”

So there was a big crowd headed into Jerusalem that day, just three days before the Passover and the start the Festival. They were probably in a good mood. They were ready for something new and exciting to happen. Then along comes Jesus, riding on a donkey. Certainly, he could not have been the only person riding a donkey into Jerusalem that day. But Luke records that his disciples started shouting and praising God joyfully. Matthew says that the people directly in front of Jesus and those behind him took up the cry. John records that many of the people there for the festival had heard about Jesus raising Lazarus. So they went out to meet him and joined in the praises. Soon, it was a kind of uproar that stirred up the whole city:

When He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken, saying, “Who is this? ” (Matt 21:10, HCSB)

The people took up the cry of Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zech 9:9, ESV2011)

That particular prophecy of Zechariah was all about salvation and deliverance. Many Jews probably felt it was fulfilled in some ways when the Maccabeus Family led the rebellion that freed Israel from Greek rule, some hundred and sixty years before the time of Jesus. Now they were thinking that maybe God was going to do the same thing to the Romans and to king Herod, through this Jesus. They were thinking salvation all right, but political salvation.

Now the truth is, I think most of the crowd was cheering in ignorance, and for the wrong reasons. After the crucifixion, the entire number of Jesus’ followers was about 120. But this crowd sounds a lot bigger than that. It would take more than 120 people to shake up the whole city. So a lot people were cheering who didn’t know Jesus very well, or only knew of him. It was party time, and they were partying. It sounded exciting. They thought maybe they had a new Judas Maccabeus on their hands, and maybe they were going to be free from the oppression of Rome and king Herod (Herod was not a Jew).

But why did Jesus do this? What Matthew records makes it sound like Jesus planned it. Luke and Mark also suggest that it was intentional on Jesus’ part. But the crowd had all the wrong reasons, so why did Jesus do it?

Matthew records one of the reasons: it fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9. Some of that prophecy certainly sounds like military deliverance from oppressing nations. In fact, it mentions war against Greece, so some of it may indeed have been fulfilled by the Maccabeus Family. Remember, however, biblical prophecies usually have multiple layers that are not necessarily fulfilled at in one piece. And there are other clues in Zechariah 9 that show us, whatever else it was about, it was also about Jesus.

It says that the one coming to Jerusalem on the donkey is righteous. Who else is truly righteous besides Jesus? It says he is the true king. Who has the right to claim kingship, but him? It says he is bringing salvation, and that he is humble and peaceful. Zechariah 9:11-12, a few verses later, also says this:

As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double. (Zech 9:11-12, ESV2011)

Prisoners are set free and given hope – because of the blood of the covenant. Jesus was riding into Jerusalem to shed his blood, to create the New Covenant, sealed with his blood, brought about by his death. Certainly, at the time, no one else knew that, but Jesus did. And later, John writes, the disciples remembered it (John 12:16).

Jesus did this for other reasons too. It was time for him to give up his life for our sins. I think he was deliberately provoking the Jewish leaders into taking the actions that would lead to his crucifixion. Up until this very last week of his earthly life, Jesus had kept a fairly low profile, and avoided popular acclaim and confrontation with the Jewish leaders. But now, I think he was deliberately antagonizing them so that they would do what had to be done.

Finally, if Jesus really is who we believe he is, he was always worthy of worship at any moment in time. So, it is only good and right that as people come to celebrate the Passover, they worshipped the true Passover lamb who would give his life so that they could be spared. It is entirely appropriate that people worship him. He said as much to the Pharisees who criticized him.

Another question I have about all this Palm Sunday stuff, is this: why was it preserved for us in the Bible? Frankly, I don’t think most Christians get the point any more than the First Century Jews. The Jews got all excited about Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread, and I’m sure many of them forgot that it was really all about God’s deliverance. We have the same issues in America with Christmastime and Thanksgiving. We get all happy and excited, but often neglect real thankfulness or real remembrance of Jesus. And we do the same with Palm Sunday.

Most churches I’ve been to wave palm leaves around at some point in the service. I’ve been in churches where they brought in live donkeys and camels for Palm Sunday. People shout and jump and sing, just like the Jews did on that first Palm Sunday. Just like the Jews did in ignorance. But we should know better, now.

It reminds me of Elijah’s experience with God:

Then He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the LORD’s presence.” At that moment, the LORD passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (1Kgs 19:11-13, HCSB)

We look for God in the excitement, the noise, the action. And there is some of God in that, sometimes. But Elijah found that the heart of God was something, deeper, quieter, more meaningful. It wasn’t wrong for the Palm Sunday crowd to have a raucous celebration. It wasn’t wrong for them to want deliverance from the Romans. But the real thing, the most important thing, was deeper than that. Two-thousand years later, Judas Maccabeus is sort of a footnote in the ancient history of the Greek empire; many of you may not have heard about him before today. And that’s what the Jews were looking for – another person to give them temporary relief, another person who would end up as just another historical footnote. But they got someone who would not change their local political situation at all. Instead, he changed the entire world.

I think we need to take notice of this. Too often, our vision is too small and limited. We just want Jesus to give us a better job, or more compliant kids, or a more compliant spouse. Those aren’t necessarily bad things to want; it’s just that the vision is too small. What he wants to do inside our soul and spirit is so much bigger than a temporary situation fix. He has a permanent solution to the holes inside our hearts. He has brought us hope, and grace and love and permanent salvation; he has sealed it with his blood.

Zechariah’s prophecy says: “Behold, your king is coming to you, righteous and having salvation.” I say the same thing: Jesus is coming to us. Do you recognize him as your king, the one with the right to rule your life? Are you willing to be part of his real mission, not to temporarily change a little corner of your world, but to bring hope and salvation to all people for eternity? Are you willing to receive not just what you want, but what he chooses to do in your life and with your life?

Right after “Palm Sunday,” Jesus made this comment:

“I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop. The one who loves his life will lose it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me. Where I am, there My servant also will be. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:24-26, HCSB)

Jesus literally gave up his life. The result was eternal salvation for billions. He invites us to join him – not necessarily to literally lose our physical life (though he has called some to martyrdom) but to surrender our hearts and minds and wills to him, so that in return we can receive his salvation and honor.

The party is fine, as far it goes. The celebration is fun. The happiness is good and right and genuine. But let’s use Palm Sunday this year as an opportunity to go deeper, to engage with the real mission of Jesus, and to receive him as our true king.

RESURRECTION LIFE: ARE YOUR DREAMS SHATTERED?

How do you react to broken dreams? Do you seek life in things and people apart from Jesus, or do you recognize that True Life is only in him. We have movie clips this, so enjoy the message!

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It’s always a challenge for me to preach about the Resurrection of Jesus. It is the central truth of our faith. Jesus physically rose from death; you either believe it or you don’t. In the past I have offered many facts and logical arguments that tell us it is reasonable to believe it. But this year I want to look at the difference it makes in our lives. It makes a huge difference in eternity, of course – the difference between heaven and hell. But it starts to make a difference right now, in the choices we make, and in how we deal with disappoint and grief here in this life.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Cast Away starring Tom Hanks. Hanks’ character, named “Chuck,” is on the verge of proposing to his girlfriend Kelly, the love of his life. But he has to take a business trip first. Over the Pacific Ocean, his plane goes down. He survives the next four years completely alone on a deserted island. Finally, he is rescued. But four years with no word is a long time. When he returns, he finds that everyone had given up on him, and considered him dead. Even his true love Kelly, had mourned him, and then moved on. She is now married, with a toddler.

Naturally, when Chuck returns – from the dead, so to speak – it is traumatic to both of them. Chuck drives to see Kelly at her house in the middle of the night, as the rain pours down. They both say goodbye in a heartbreaking scene, where much is left unsaid. Then, as Chuck pulls down the driveway, Kelly comes running out in the rain, calling his name. They stand in the rain, hugging and kissing. Then Kelly says:

“I always knew you were alive, I knew it. But everybody said I had to stop saying that, that I had to let you go.” Kelly pauses while they stare at each other. “I love you. You’re the love of my life.”

After another long pause while they look at each other, Chuck says, “I love you too Kelly, more than you’ll ever know.”

They get into Chuck’s car and sit in silence. But they both know that Kelly has to go back home, that it is too late for them to ever be together like that again. And so he drives her back up the driveway, and leaves her there.

There is a lot of tragedy in this scene that is simply the result of circumstances that neither one of them could control. But there is also the tragedy that Kelly gave up on Chuck, even when deep in her heart, she knew that she shouldn’t stop hoping. So she settled for life as best as she could get it. She quit working on her dream to be a professor. She married a decent man and had a child. And so when Chuck came back, it was too late. She had already made another life for herself, and there was no place for Chuck in it anymore.

This is heartbreaking, but it is, after all, just a movie. Even so, I think this part of the movie taps into a spiritual truth. It reveals the struggle of faith that we have sometimes as Christians. Our Lover – Jesus – has been gone for a long time now. All around us, voices tell us to give up, to move on, to settle for life as best as we can get it. But if we do that, we find, like Kelly, that when Jesus returns, we have no room for him in our lives anymore.

Jesus’ very first disciples struggled with this. They traveled with Jesus, watched his miracles and heard him preach. They came to believe that he was God’s chosen Messiah – true God in the flesh, their only true hope for salvation and real life. And then he was killed. Now they didn’t know what to do with all their hopes and dreams. It was all over. On the third day after his death, some of these disciples went on a short journey. A stranger joined them as they walked and asked them why they seemed so sad. They told the stranger about Jesus and all he had done and said, and then they told him how Jesus had been handed over and killed. They end with a brief and poignant expression of their loss and confusion:

“But we were hoping that he was the one who was about to redeem Israel.”

You can almost hear the pain in their words. Things didn’t turn out the way they planned. They were sure they were following God. They were sure they had it right, and that their future was bright with their savior. They are hurt and lost. They had put their hope in Jesus, and now Jesus wasn’t there anymore.

Only he was.

He was right next to them. He was the very stranger that they were talking to. This is extremely important. In our everyday life experience, we may feel far removed from the resurrection of Jesus. We may feel like it has nothing to do with us, like from now on we just have to get on with life as best we can. But Jesus is walking right next to us. Feeling or no feeling, whether we can perceive it somehow or not, the Resurrection of Jesus was real, and the resurrection life that he offers us is just as real.

The disciples’ lack of faith is surprising. Jesus told them exactly what was going to happen. He said several times that he would be taken captive by the authorities and executed, and then that he would rise from death on the third day. They didn’t want to believe the part about him dying, until they had no choice. They wouldn’t accept what he was saying. Peter told him not to have such a negative outlook. The others heard too, but it bounced off their skulls like water off a duck. They simply didn’t get it. And then when he did die, they still didn’t believe the part where he told them he would rise again physically. So the death of Jesus destroyed them mentally and emotionally. They were completely lost.

Sometimes, we are like those disciples. Jesus told us exactly what is going to happen. He said we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33), but he also told us not to let our hearts be troubled (John 14:1). Living in a world of sin, we will experience sorrow and grief. But living in faith in Jesus Christ, those sorrows and griefs are not the final word. They are not as real as the great reality that is coming for those who trust Jesus. The pain and severe disappointment experienced by those disciples walking along the road was real. But the man walking beside them was real too, and he had already overcome their grief, even before they were aware of it. The reality of his resurrection was greater than the reality of their sorrow, whether they knew it or not.

I think the danger we face as believers in the risen Messiah is that, like those other disciples, we forget the promises of Jesus, or we think he is not close, not next to us. And so, in the meantime, we try to just go on and get some kind of life and hope for ourselves.

There is another poignant scene in the film Cast Away. For four years alone on the island, Chuck had no companion. So he began to talk to a volleyball that had a face-shaped bloodstain on it. He called it Wilson. In a strange way, he grew to care for the volleyball and became deeply attached to it. When he is sailing to try and find help, the volleyball comes loose from where it is tied. Chuck tries to swim after it but he is held back by a rope that attaches him to the raft. He finally needs to make a choice whether to hold on to raft, which is his only chance at living and seeing Kelly again – or swimming after the volleyball, and drowning with it in his arms.

He reluctantly chooses life, but he cries his heart out at the loss of Wilson. It may be just a stupid volleyball, but it is all he has had for four long years. It is hard to blame Chuck for being so broken up after he lets Wilson go. We can understand it and even feel some of his pain. In the context of the whole movie, it is actually a very moving scene. And yet even though it is perfectly understandable, we know (and even the character Chuck knows) that ultimately, it is just a volleyball. It isn’t a real person. It isn’t worth giving your life for.

Sometimes I think we spend half our lives like Chuck in that scene, tugging on the end of the rope, not quite sure whether we are going to give up the raft, or give up the volleyball. Chuck’s problem was that after four years alone, part of him actually believed that Wilson was a real person. He wasn’t sure of the truth. He may not have been fully convinced that the raft would really bring him back to civilization and real people. Because of his experience, Wilson seemed more real, more important than the raft.

We are like that sometimes. This life sometimes seems so much more real than the Resurrection Life that Jesus told us about. The things we can have here tempt us to believe the lie that they are more real and more important than our eternal future. This is understandable. It is understandable also to have a hard time giving them up, just like Chuck had difficulty letting go of Wilson. But even though we understand, and it is hard, the choice is perfectly and completely clear. There is nothing in this life that is worth holding on to if it keep us from the real Life that Jesus offers us.

Will we hold onto something that is ultimately worthless, or will we give it up for real life? To give it up requires faith. It requires us to trust that there is a real resurrection, that real life is still waiting for us. We can see and touch the fake things, like Chuck could touch and see the volleyball Wilson. But those things are not as real and true as what awaits us when we trust in Jesus. Jesus said:

1 “Your heart must not be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also. 4 You know the way to where I am going.”

5 “Lord,” Thomas said, “we don’t know where You’re going. How can we know the way? ” 6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. 7 “If you know Me, you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:1-7)

The fact of the resurrection tells us that there is real life waiting for us. There is still true love possible. Our dreams have not been shattered and lost. We just need to recognize that the time is not yet. We are in the dress rehearsal, the practice before the real game begins. We are camping in a tent, not living in our home. We are practicing to love, practicing to be great.

One of the things that helped Chuck through, was his hope of the life that existed away from his island. So I want us to dwell for a little bit on the resurrection life that waits for us, away from this little island that we mistakenly call life.

I think a lot Christians have the feeling that the resurrection life will be a never ending worship service. Let me be honest with you. I am a pastor, and that thought does not excite me. Don’t get me wrong, I love to worship the Lord with other believers. But I also love to fish, to hike and come around the corner of ridge to a new vista I’ve never seen before. I love to just hang out and laugh with my family and close friends. I like to write, and read and experience moving stories. I believe amazing worship will be part of our experience of resurrection life. But I think there will also be so much more.

John Eldredge writes that you cannot hope for something you do not desire. The overwhelmingly good news is that resurrection life is where our deepest, strongest, purest desires are fulfilled. The desire for intimacy that sometimes we get confused with a desire for only sex – that intimacy will be fulfilled in resurrection life. The desire to be deeply connected to beauty – the thing that causes us to ache when see a beautiful person, or an awe-inspiring view, or hear uplifting music – that will be fulfilled. The desire to be significant, to be recognized for who you are and for the God-given gifts you have – that will be fulfilled in resurrection life. That thing in your that loves to rise to the occasion and meet challenges – that will find its ultimate expression in resurrection life.

We won’t be ghosts or angels, floating around somewhere. Jesus was not resurrected as a spirit – he had a physical body. On several occasions after he was raised, he sat down and ate with the disciples. He promises us resurrection bodies also (1 Corinthians 15). He promises us a new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21 & 22) where will live and love and do the things we love to do, and be connected to God and to each other without the destruction and cruelty of sin and sorrow.

I will never get the love I am seeking from human beings. I may never be recognized for who I am I this life. My talents might go unappreciated. I might have to toil and spend a lot of time doing things I don’t really want to do. If this life is all there is, that would be tragic. But if all that is fulfilled in the next life, in my resurrection, which Jesus made possible – then what I face here and now is bearable. It isn’t the final word. I’m not getting too old – I’m actually getting closer to the fulfillment of all I want as I age.

I’ve heard an expression: “Some people are so heavenly-minded, they are no earthly good.” I detest that expression. It is entirely false. I have never met anyone who is too heavenly-minded. And the most resurrection-oriented people I know are the ones who have done the most for the Lord and for their fellow human beings here and now. It is only when we lost sight of resurrection that we become focused on making ourselves happy here and now, whatever the cost.

Think back to Kelly, from Cast Away. Deep in her heart, she knew Chuck was alive. But she lost faith. She gave up that hope and settled for what she could get at the moment. Because of that, she missed out forever on the life she might have had with Chuck if she had only held on.

We who are Christians know that Jesus is alive. We know it through faith. We know there is more life, better life waiting for us with him. We know it. But everyone keeps saying we have to move on. Everyone tells us we shouldn’t spend so much time thinking about it. Sometimes it feels like God hasn’t come through. But we know better. Don’t let go of that knowledge. Don’t give up that hope. Don’t fill your life with other things, don’t make yourself a life apart from the one who truly loves you and is coming back for you, no matter how long it seems.

He is Risen!

WHOSE AGENDA?

before_palm_sunday

Sometimes the big crowd is all excited about Jesus, but for the wrong reasons. We aren’t aware of, or we don’t accept Jesus’ real agenda.

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Download Palm Sunday 2012

Palm Sunday, 2012 (Luke 19:28-44)

Most of us are familiar with the story of Palm Sunday: Jesus sends his disciples to get a mysteriously available young donkey. He gets on the donkey and rides to Jerusalem. As he does so, people start throwing down cloaks and branches to create a kind of “red carpet” as he goes along, and they all start cheering and praising him.

But have you ever wondered, why? What was the point of it all? Why is this story preserved for us in the Bible? First of all, we haven’t named it well. It isn’t “palm” Sunday at all – palm trees don’t even grow near Jerusalem, so the branches they cut were from other kinds of plants. But most importantly – why did Jesus do it? What was it all about?

One startling thought was that maybe Jesus wanted to ride the donkey because he was tired. Jesus and the disciples walked everywhere they went (except when they were in Galilee, where they occasionally rode in boats). Maybe he wanted to sit down and experience the entry into Jerusalem without thinking how much his feet hurt. This isn’t as flippant as it sounds. Jesus was God in human flesh, true. But he did have a human body too – just like yours and mine until his resurrection. Sometimes we forget that, but I guarantee you, he didn’t.

I think it goes beyond that, however. Jesus must have been familiar with the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 which says:

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you,

righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

I don’t know if he was going out of his way to fulfill this prophecy or not. He certainly had no control over whether the crowd shouted, or what they said. But in any case, this procession into Jerusalem fulfilled a prediction about the messiah.

The symbolism of the donkey is somewhat important too. In that culture, when a leader entered a city as a conqueror or military hero, he rode a horse or in a chariot. When a leader came on a donkey it was an indication of peace and mercy for the people. Riding a donkey conveyed a promise of graciousness and mercy from a ruler. It was not a challenge or a military assertion.

So, he was tired. He was fulfilling prophecy. He was also conveying his intention to offer people grace and mercy. But I think there is also one more thing going on here. If you are familiar with other parts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you may remember that often times, when Jesus did miracles, he told people to keep it quiet (for example, the leper in Mark 1:44). He was reluctant to turn water into wine (John 3). When Peter said that Jesus was the messiah, the Son of God, Jesus told them all not to tell anyone else (Matt 16:20). When he fed the 5,000, the people wanted to make him king, but he slipped away. He always seems so modest and humble, like he wants to keep his power and his identity a secret. But now suddenly, he is perfectly willing to be the cause of a big uproar at the beginning of the most crowed week of the year in Jerusalem, the capital of the region. It seems almost out of character. He spends three years, mostly away from Jerusalem, almost like he is hiding, and now in one day he blows his cover.

I believe Jesus allowed the crowd to go wild, in order to create the pressure on the Jewish leaders that would ultimately lead to his crucifixion. What I mean is this: Before, the time was not right. He was still training his disciples, and it wasn’t yet time for him to die. But now, this week, this “palm” Sunday, he is coming to Jerusalem in order to die. In fact, his mission on earth would fail if he does not die. So he allows the Jewish and Roman leaders to be confronted with who he really is – knowing full well that they will do what they can to eliminate him as a threat to their power. In other words, by riding in a royal procession, surrounded by a cheering crowd, he is deliberately provoking the leadership of Jerusalem into having him executed.

Luke gives us a few verses that shed a little bit of light on Jesus’ attitude toward this triumphant procession.

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:39-44)

I think we can learn two things about Jesus’ attitude from this. First, he fully accepts that it is good and right for the people to praise him the way they were doing. You see if Jesus really was God (as Christians believe he was and is) then it was not wrong or blasphemous for people to praise him and worship him. He didn’t stop them. He never stopped anyone from worshiping him before either, but on previous occasions he tried to keep his identity quiet. So at this time, he feels that the cheering crowd is entirely appropriate. In fact, he implies that as Lord of creation, even the rocks owe him their worship.

Second, even while the crowd is doing the right thing (praising Jesus), Jesus can see that they are doing it for the wrong reasons. What he says indicates that they do not understand what is going on, or what he is all about. He says Jerusalem will be destroyed “because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” So even though they are praising him and that is good and proper, they do not understand his mission, or why he is there, or what it means. And they don’t accept it.

So at the one level, his triumphant entry is good and right – he is the messiah, after all, God in human flesh – and he deserves the adulation of the crowd. But at another level, the cheering crowd really doesn’t connect with why Jesus is there. They don’t accept that he has come to defeat sin and the devil – they are more concerned about food in their bellies and freedom from Rome. They want victory and excitement, but they know nothing about the coming crucifixion, and would be repulsed by it if they had known it. They certainly didn’t hang around the cross when Friday came.

What does all this mean for us, two-thousand years later? Well, maybe we just need to be reminded that Jesus experienced the same things we experience as human beings. It might be a comfort to know that he got tired and had sore feet sometimes. Or perhaps you needed to hear how Jesus fulfilled a four-hundred year old prophecy when he rode down the path on that donkey with people shouting and singing all around him.

For me, one of the big applications is how the crowd was doing the right thing, praising God for Jesus, and yet they totally missed the priorities and goals that Jesus had. By coming on a donkey, he was implying that he came in peace – but they ignored that, and still wanted him to militarily overthrow the Romans. Even more telling, they were caught up in excitement and busyness and noise, and because of that, they missed out on how God was really working. The whole, time, what Jesus was really doing was coming to die. They missed that in all the activity.

I think we can miss the point of Jesus sometimes also. Jesus does want to fulfill us, because he made us to be vessels of his grace and glory, and when are fulfilled in him, it brings glory to him. And maybe we get excited and praise God for the things he can do for us, to make our lives more comfortable right now. But he also wants to crucify our flesh. We often forget that. The real reason to praise God is because he has delivered us from ourselves, from sin, our fallen flesh and the devil. And sometimes, he is riding in to town so that the parts of us that are still in rebellion to God can be crucified. Let’s not miss that point, like most of the crowd did that day. We need to be in tune with His mission, not our own goals or comforts.

There’s another temptation for churches and Christians in America today. If we can create lots of busyness and excitement and action, it appears that we are really participating in the kingdom of God. But I think when we gravitate to action and excitement, for the sake of those things in themselves, we often miss out on what God is really doing. I think sometimes he works more through the quiet, unrecognized ways than through the really splashy programs. He’s often at work when a few friends get together for breakfast or coffee to pray and read the Bible. He’s at work when we talk to our kids, and the friends of our kids, about Jesus. He’s at work when take time to make a phone call and see how we can encourage someone else in faith, or when we spend a minute or two praying for someone else. He works in our small groups.

So, it’s good and right to praise Jesus. It’s even better to praise him for the right reasons, and accept that his mission is far greater than our temporary comfort on earth. I’m not saying he won’t do anything for you in the here and now. But when Good Friday and the cross came, this crowd didn’t understand, and for the most part, gave up their hope in Jesus. But for Jesus, the cross was the whole point of the thing in the first place. So let’s remember that, and praise God while accepting His mission in our life is to crucify our flesh, use us to glorify Himself and bring us to eternal, joyful life in the coming new creation.