Kingdom of Cannibals?

10 May

Many years ago, a young Jewish man from Galilee began shaking things up. He referred to himself regularly as the “son of man” but at times also implied he was the son of God. Many people though he was the man they had been waiting for. Prophecies long ago had told of a man from God who would restore God’s kingdom on the earth. The Jewish people knew exactly what that meant. In their minds, that meant that a messiah would come and rescue Israel from their oppressors and then set up a perfect Jewish kingdom that would last forever.

But the messiah they got was not the messiah they expected. While they expected him to begin gathering weapons and training soldiers, He instead traveled from town to town teaching, healing, and showing up their religious leaders.

Once, he miraculously fed a crowd of thousands with only a few loaves and fishes (John  6.5-13). The people were astounded! If they could have a messiah that not only ended the Roman occupation, but could also miraculously provide food, there would be no stopping them! The people made up their minds that no more time could be wasted, they must make him their king!

By now, the man, Jesus, was avoiding the crowds, choosing instead to spend his time off in the wilderness. But even then the crowds hunted him down. But this time, the crowds were coming for more than to hear his teaching or see a miracle. They were going to force him into his destiny as their king (Jhn 6.15). They raced around the lake of Galilee to find where he had gone (Jhn 6.25).

Jesus, though, was not ignorant of their plans. He knew what they wanted of him, and even more He knew what his purpose really was. Regardless of how many times he had taught love over violence (Luk 6.27) and forgiveness over revenge (Mat 5.38-45;Mat. 18-21-22), the message had rarely made it through their thick skins. He was not there to fight (Jhn 3.17), he was there to model a different and better way of living.

The situation was tense when they found him, but before the crowd could do anything, Jesus shocked them with these words:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. Anyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in them.” (Jhn 6.53-56)

This caught them by surprise and completely disarmed them. They entered that situation set on making him their king, and now they were hearing him say that needed to drink his blood and eat his body? They could not recall anything in their prophecies about Israel becoming a kingdom of cannibals! Why would he say such a thing?

The sad fact is that most of his followers did not listen past the first line of that teaching, and it is recorded that “many of his disciples went back and walked with him no more.” (Jhn 6.66)

This was no mistake, though, on Jesus’ part. He was giving them a glimpse into his own heart and his own motives. They wanted a powerful king who would save them from the Romans. He wanted to save their souls. They wanted Him to live in a palace, but He wanted to live in their hearts. They wanted him to take up weapons and spill the blood of humans, but he wanted to give his own life for them.

Jesus said, “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in them.” He lived, died, and rose again to show us a better way of living. No more eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth. And he calls us as he called those Jewish people so long ago to do the same. He wants us to partake of his flesh and his blood, so we can continue his ministry in the world.

Jesus is alive and well on the earth today through the bodies of those of us who follow him. The life he offers us is his life, and it’s a life lived for others. Unlike the violent kingdoms of the world, we are part of a peaceful kingdom where rather than shed the blood of others, we give our lives for the sake of others, even if it means allowing our own blood to be shed.

Jesus gave his life for us, in order to free us from guilt, from shame, and from the old way of living. And today he invites us to join him in his resurrection as he works through us to redeem the entire world and everyone in it.


Power, Control, and the Sovereignty of God

15 Sep

(Sunday transcript 09/14/14)

Last Sunday, Sam briefly mentioned that sticky subject of God’s sovereignty. It was just a quick mention, but that as it turns out, that subject stuck with me all during the week. So I decided to go ahead and speak about it!

Now, let me up front admit that I do not have all the answers. I like to think that I do, but when it comes down to it I don’t. The only one who is omniscient, the only one who knows all is God. So what I will be sharing today comes from reading, from studying, from meditating and listening to God’s Spirit within me. As I have been challenged on this topic, I pray that you will be too.

But before we go into the topic of God’s sovereignty, we need to look at how we come up with our Theology, and the doctrinal systems that flow from that. Theology is the study of God. God gave us each the desire to learn, grow, connect and build in this world. So we take natural resources and build amazing machines, amazing vehicles and buildings. As science progresses we categorize and document our findings in order to build and grow and learn more and more. We humans love putting things together. And when it comes to theology, we like to do the same.

When we look at the Bible, we don’t see one big book containing one specific kind of writing. What we see is a book of separate books each with their own styles and genres. There is poetry, song, narrative, teaching and prophecy and others.

When we want to understand God, what we in the church have traditionally done is find the parts in the Bible which can best be categorized and systematized and have built our theology on those. For example (take building blocks and begin building), we take some psalms here and add some law. Then we take some from the Epistles and place them here with a little prophesy and some of Jesus’ teachings. We build using these blocks until we have a system of theology which fits together nicely and can effectively and confidently be taught, written down and preached from pulpits.

This is how most of us want to understand God. We want to understand Him in terms of systems and structures. We want our understanding of Him to fit together nicely with a solid structure. But is that the best way to understand who God is? We have these amazing building blocks from the epistles and the law and the Psalms, but should those be our starting place when we want to understand Him? What does God say? Let’s turn to Hebrews, chapter 1…

1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

Let’s look at these verses. The word “express” means “said or given in a clear way.” So who is the express, the clear, the explicitly stated and shown image of God? Jesus!

Now, if that is really what God meant, that Jesus is the perfect, clear, express image of Himself, then we can expect that God would mention it elsewhere in the Bible. Let’s turn to Colossians, chapter 1…

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.

19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

So, it says here that Jesus is the visible image of our invisible God. That means that even though we can’t see God right now, we CAN see a clear picture of God through Jesus. Jesus IS God, and when we want to know what God looks like, acts like, and thinks like, we are to look at Jesus. In verse 19 we read that it pleased the Father that in Jesus ALL of the fullness would dwell. That means ALL of God’s character, everything that is God was on display. The fullness of God was on display in Jesus.

This means that if we want to know God, we need to look at Jesus, the person. We need to look at his life in the Bible and talk to him today. That is how we begin to understand God. But to learn and understand God this way takes a completely different way of thinking from how we have generally understood God in the past. Remember how I used blocks to represent the epistles and so many parts of Scripture that can be easily systematized ? Well, if those scriptures are like nice blocks, then the life of Jesus is like this… (strum chord on the guitar). We like to build our systems of theology using blocks like these, but if we would do what God said and build our theology on Jesus, we need to stop and listen… (strum again). I played a chord, and you can build beautiful songs with chords. But to understand a chord is different from understanding a block.

To understand God by the life of Jesus takes a completely different way of thinking. Jesus is a person, not a doctrine, he can’t be easily stacked and put into systems. It takes more effort to build our theology on Jesus and his life than it does to take pieces from the epistles and Psalms and such. But if we truly want to know God, then we need to learn to know Him by Jesus. Jesus is the image of God, so He is all we need to look at to know what God is like. And then with Jesus as a foundation, we can take other pieces of the Bible and use them to deepen our understanding of God. But our baseline is always Jesus. And if we find something in the Bible that seems to contradict the image of God we see in Jesus, then we know that our understanding of that passage is wrong, not our understanding of God.

This all brings me to the topic of God’s sovereignty. I’ve talked about this in the past, but I wanted to hit it again, coming from this angle. We have all heard and read about God’s sovereignty. It means that God is sovereign, that God rules over the universe and everything in it. It grows out of our understanding of God’s omnipotence and omniscience. We know that God is all powerful, and that is a major part of our understanding of God’s sovereignty. The problem is that many people assume that because God is all powerful, He is all-controlling. It is very popular in the church today to believe that everything that happens has been willed to happen by God, that nothing in this world happens outside of God’s control.

This understanding grows out of our experiences as humans. We all know that in this sinful world, power always leads to control. If you give someone too much power, they will use it to try and control others. An example today is the US government. It is the largest and most powerful government in the world. And the United States uses this power to control people and events all around the world. For example, the US government uses its power to foment and feed violence in the Middle East and Africa. It uses its power and control to keep them from ever experiencing peace and prosperity so they will never threaten the lucrative power structures of the US and Europe.

Power in this world always leads to control, and nobody can be trusted with too much power. Power and control are forever linked in our minds because of our human experiences, and when we look at God’s power in the Bible we have a tendency to transfer our experiences onto God. Everyone in this world with power uses it to control, so we assume that since God is all powerful He must be all-controlling. But is that the case? Is that how God really uses his power?

These views of ours grow out of our experiences in this sinful world, but God is not a product of this sinful world. God is perfect… and He is God! If God has power to control us, then He has the power to control himself also. To say that God’s power means that He must control us is to say that God does not have power over his power. It’s to say that God is not sovereign over his own power! If God is all-powerful (which He is!), then doesn’t that mean that God would have the power to decide what to do with that power? Well, as it turns out, God does have power over his own power and when we look at Jesus we learn how God uses that power. Let’s turn to Mark, chapter 10…

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
37 They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”

Ok, so you see what they are asking here? They are asking for places of authority, for places of power in Jesus’ kingdom. Let’s continue…

38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
39 They said to Him, “We are able.”
So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; 40 but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared.”
41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John.

Let’s take a moment to get this. Everyone became “displeased” and upset with James and John when they heard that request. Why is that? It is because James, John and the other apostles were human. The others understood that when James and John were asking for power, they were asking for rulerships, for control over the rest of them. They did not think that was fair, so they were upset… and it is understandable why! Let’s continue reading…

42 But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44 And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many .”

I love that passage. It is here that we learn how Jesus understands power. Jesus does not compare his view of power with the world’s view of power, He contrasts his view of power with the world’s view of power. The people in this world with authority, with power, use it to “lord over” or control other people. But Jesus, in contrast, used his power to become a servant to the world, a “slave” to all.

This illustrates the different between what Greg Boyd calls “power over” and “power under.” We humans like power over. This is power that is lorded over others and used to control them. But Jesus taught and lived a life illustrating power under. This power is used not over someone to control them, but under someone to lift the up, to bless them, to free them and make them better than they could ever be themselves.

When God made the world and humanity, we were perfect. But we, you and me, have done things which we know are wrong. We were no longer the perfect creations that God meant for us to be. And with that we lost much of the joy and peace that we were designed to enjoy. But when Jesus came, he got under us and in fact gave his life for us to lift us up and redeem us, return us to the place that we were mean to be, to lift us up so we can experience the peace and joy and life that we were always meant to experience.

Those are the two ways we can use power: power over to control or power under to bless. Sinful people choose power over, but Jesus chooses power-under. And if Jesus shows us God’s character, then we know that God chooses to use power under. So let’s incorporate that into our understanding of God’s sovereignty. We know that God is all-powerful and has sovereign rule over the universe. But with all this power, does that mean God controls us? Does that mean that we are mindless drones playing out a cosmic script which was written in eternity past? No! God created us as free creatures, with amazing minds and faculties to make our own decisions. Part of what it means to be “made in God’s image” is that we can determine our own destinies. We can decide for ourselves whether or not to love God. Whether or not to go to church. We can even decide whether to have cereal or eggs for breakfast each morning. God uses his sovereign power not to control us, not to “lord over us” as sinful humans do, but to lift us up and make us better than we could be on our own.

Jesus became a servant to the world in order to bless and redeem the world. God wields “power under” not “power over” us.

So what does this mean for us? How does this apply personally to our lives? Well, number one, it means that how we live our lives matters. Every decision every day is ours to make, whether right or wrong. We determine whether this world will get better or get worse. God has left our destinies in our own hands. But that does not mean that we are alone.

Number two, our prayers matter. God is all-powerful and He wants to use his power to lift us up and make this world a better place. It is up to us in prayer to invite Him to do this. When we pray, we unleash his power into the world to bless and redeem. The world is not running on a pre-written script. God himself is not running on a pre-written script. Our prayers matter to God. God listens to us and responds to us. We can excite God, grieve God, and even make Him laugh. Let’s always remember that as we live our lives and as we pray. God is a real person and responds to us.

And number three, my last point, let’s be like God! He uses his power to serve others and we must do the same. If we use our power to “lord over” and control others, we are no different from the world. If we are like Jesus then we will use our power to bless others and lift them up. This means, for example, that men should never use their power to “lord over” or control women. This means that privileged white people should not use their power and position to “lord over” or control those who are less-privileged. It means that pastor and politicians and business leaders should use their power and positions to bless and lift others up. Imagine a world where every person used their power to bless others, not to put down or control others. That would be an amazing world. But that is the world that Jesus is inviting us to be a part of. That is the upside-down kingdom of God.

This Is Your Time

19 Jan

Today we looked at the story of Stephen in the book of Acts. In the midst of doing good, he along with the rest of the Jerusalem church experienced intense persecution. Please listen and be blessed as we look at Stephen’s life and what we can learn from this challenging piece of Scripture.

To play or download the message, click here.

On Fruit and Trees: Part 2

2 Jan

“Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.” Matthew 7:17-8

In my earlier post, I spoke briefly about Jesus’ picture of our lives and actions as trees bearing fruit. I spoke of how we often focus on the bad fruit (sin) rather than the tree itself (the heart that Jesus longs to redeem). In this post, I want to dig deeper into that thought.

We live in a world completely obsessed with lifestyles. When you turn on the news, you hear new about different sexual lifestyles, religious lifestyles, cultural lifestyles, etc. The shows we see on television each seem to push particular lifestyles and worldviews and in churches and other organizations you hear the same or other competing lifestyles and worldviews. One group says their lifestyle is the right or best then another group retorts that their lifestyle is the best. But what is a lifestyle? A lifestyle is simply “a way of life.” To put this word in our picture, we could define it as a “pattern of fruit.” Lifestyles are the patterns of fruit seen in people’s lives. Now, those residing outside the body of Christ might be content to judge people based on the outward lifestyle, but we in the church (the body of Christ) are called to much more.

Jesus said the issue is not the fruit, but the tree itself. From our pulpits, from our radio and television shows, from our conferences and everywhere we are seen in public, we who represent Jesus MUST keep our focus straight. If we attack lifestyle choices from our pulpits, we are misrepresenting Jesus to a world that is starving for Him. If we want to truly represent the God who created this universe yet values our lives above his own, we MUST focus on hearts.

When we focus on the broken, hurting hearts of broken, hurting people, our love is seen. When we condemn lifestyle choices of these same broken, hurting people, only judgment is seen. Sin has already been judged and condemned and the punishment due was paid when Jesus died on the cross. We have nothing left but to love.

Love is patient, love is kind, it is not proud, it keeps no record of wrongs but rejoices with the truth. It is not our job to condemn a person’s lifestyle, it is our job to love them as a person, a unique and special creation by God. Our goal should not be to convince people that they are wrong, but to love them into the redemptive arms of Christ.

But now comes the very important and practical question, “What does that look like?” I wish there was a simple answer to that, but with this big world and the broad range of people in it, any simple answer is guaranteed to be woefully inadequate. Instead, we need to each ask ourselves in our own lives and in our own situations, “How can I best draw my brother, sister, friend, co-worker, waitress, bank teller, mailman, etc. closer to Jesus?” This question is easier to answer with some people than others, but it must be answered in how we live our lives.

Lucky for us, God did not leave us alone to ponder these questions. His Spirit is alive inside of us right now, guiding us into truth and love in Jesus’ name, and it is He who will help us answer this question even in the most difficult of circumstances. So in conclusion, let us each take a moment to check our lives, to examine whether we exude judgment or love through our actions. Then let us commit in prayer to follow the guiding of God’s Spirit as we live love to everyone around us.

Unity In Purpose

24 Nov

Previously we looked at how we in the church find unity through our identity. Today we spoke of how we find unity in the church through our purpose. Please listen and be blessed in Jesus’ name!

To play or download the message, click here.

Unity In Identity (Sunday Message)

3 Nov

With the many denomination and divisions we see in the church today, the question must be asked, “How do we find unity?” We have seen people try throughout history to find unity through practice and doctrine, but has that worked? Today we looked at the name that binds us together and under which we can find unity in the midst of diversity.

To play or download the message, click here.

Unity In Identity

25 Oct

“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” 1 Cor 12.12

Unity is a popular and important topic in the church today. It is easy to look at the church worldwide and see how different and unique the different branches and denominations are and question how unity can be found. Historically, unity was assumed to be found in doctrine, but that backfired and brought us the somewhat scattered church we see today. I propose that unity is not found in uniformity of doctrine or practice, but in (1) identity, (2) purpose, and (3) Spirit. This post will look at how we in this broad, diverse church find unity in identity.

Unity through identity is nothing new, in fact it is as old as the Bible itself. We see a negative example of this way back at the tower of Babel. A modern example is how unity is found through national identity. But the church has an identity more deep and all-encompassing than anything the world has to offer. The apostle Paul spoke of this identity in many place throughout the New Testament.

In the above verse we read, “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” The church is broad and diverse and has many different groups and members and organizations, but the truth is that we are all part of the same body. But that does not imply uniformity, instead it implies diversity. A body can not be made up of all hands or feet or any part. To be unified as a body implies many different parts which look very different. A hand is very different from a foot or an eye or a breast. Each part of the body interacts with the world in very different ways. Imagine a nose trying to find unity in practice with a hand. Is that really going to work? Or imagine an eye trying to force its worldview on a foot. How would that work?

The members of my body are unified because they make up me. In the same way, the church finds unity in the midst of their differences through the fact that they make up one body. In Ephesians 3.14-15, Paul says, “…I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” We, the church, make up one body whose name is Christ Jesus. We won’t find unity through uniformity of doctrine or practice, but we can and we do find it through our identity as the body of Christ. And bearing the name of Christ, we can celebrate the diversity of our members while remaining unified.

You Are Amazing

19 Oct

Does God have to hold his nose when He interacts with us? Does He grit his teeth and say, “Well, I died on the cross so I guess I have to deal with them.” Many in the church would give this impression of God and his view of humanity. A popular term I have heard in books is “worm.” It is seen as humble for church leaders to say, “I am such a worthless little worm, yet for some reason God continues to love me.”

But is that really how Jesus sees us? An important term used in the New Testament is “redemption.” To redeem something means to buy it back, or to return it to its original value. Jesus illustrates this in Matthew 18.11-14 when He tells the story of a sheep who wanders away from the fold. When the shepherd realizes that the sheep is gone, He sets out to find it and bring it home, or redeem it. The concept of redemption assumes original value. Something can not be brought back to its original value unless it had value to begin with.

We each have individual value as unique and special creations by God, and our value was proven by Jesus’ death on the cross. In Romans 8.31-32, the apostle Paul says, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” According to Paul, we lost the right to question God’s love and value for us when Jesus sacrificially gave his life for us. This is also emphasized in 1 John 4.9a where we read, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world…”

We are each children of God, but when we sin we take on guilt and shame which causes us to flee from God just as Adam and Eve did long ago (Gen 3.1-8). But God was not willing to leave us wallowing in guilt and shame. So He came to the earth and weighing his own life against ours, He willingly chose to sacrifice his own life for us. When He was killed, he took all of our shame and guilt and buried it deep in the ground, never to be seen again. But did He do it reluctantly? We read in Ephesians 1.5 that He has adopted and redeemed us “according to the good pleasure of his will.” Did you hear that? It pleased God to save us and adopt us as children!

When we speak down of ourselves we are misrepresenting the heart of God. He does not see us as disgusting little worms, He sees us as something amazing, as something worth redeeming. We lost the right to question God’s love and value for us when He gave himself for us on the cross. God did not die for you because you are a disgusting worm, He died for you because you are amazing and worth it! Let’s praise Jesus for that.

Where We Find Rest

13 Oct

Today we spoke about yokes and burdens! While Jesus was on the earth, He said that if we will lay aside our burdens and instead take his upon ourselves we will find rest. But what are those burdens we need to lay aside? And what does it mean to take his yoke upon ourselves? Please listen and be blessed in Jesus’ name!

To play or download the message, click here.

A Big Spirit for Epic Times

22 Sep

These are epic days we are living in, and epic days call for a big, epic outpouring of God’s Spirit. Today we looked at Peter’s sermon on that great day of Pentecost long ago when God formally began the church and inaugurated these “last days” we are now experiencing. Please listen and be blessed in Jesus’ name as we look at what this amazing outpouring meant for the people then and what it means for us today.

To play or download the message, click here.