Why Study the Old Testament?

Does the Old Testament have any authority for the Christian believer today? Why should we even try to study the Old Testament?

This is actually something I have dealt with in a couple of my contexts. Some of the people say they only want to talk about that God is love and this is all you need to know. Others say they are “Red Letter Christians” meaning they only hold to and pay attention to the words of Jesus (red words) and this is what shapes their faith. We do have to pay attention to the “red letters” but we also have to understand the context they are written in.

One of the helpful things I have come to learn is the Old Testament is actually our story. When we read through the Old Testament, even the difficult passages, we can see how God related to the people, which is the same way God would relate to us today. God, especially through Jesus, is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So, as Christians we have to understand what it looks like to live out our lives in faithfulness.

Jesus says many times, “You have heard it said…but I say…” What does this mean unless we go back to see what he was talking about? Eye for an eye, as an example, is not just a saying in our culture; but it is a phrase that was used, for a specific reason, in the Old Testament. In essence, Jesus is giving more meaning to the words the people have heard and lived by all their lives, and therefore making them go deeper in their meaning to help the people see the seriousness of sin. In other words, Jesus is trying to show we do not have to be legalistic about our faith, just live it out of the heart—this, after all, is where our true motivations come from anyway.

Jesus gave the teachings and writings of the Old Testament authority, because he is God incarnate and therefore said the words. This is the first thing we have to pay attention to. Because of this, we see the apostles and early church give authority back to the Old Testament. Paul said that all scripture is God-breathed, God-inspired and he was talking about the Old Testament. But, without the Old Testament, we miss out on seeing the bigger picture God has in mind for being sent out to all the nations.

Through the Old Testament, we understand that Yahweh is the God who created the universe, and therefore is completely “other” from the universe, yet is also constantly active and personal in all of creation, especially through the lives of the people. We see how Yahweh has been set above the other “gods” of the world Because God is active in the world, we can better understand the mission Jesus sent his followers on by looking back at the calling of Abraham, even look back further to see how the world was set in order and how people were supposed to live with each other from the very beginning.

Back to the Old Testament is our story. Many people say that “our lives are the only Bible people will read.” This is true. I can also see how our lives tell the story the Bible tells. We are created out of love (whether or not this is true from a human perspective, we are created from the love of God). Because we are created out of love, we have been set to live this life in this particular time, this particular culture, with this particular personality, and gifts/talents/motivations, etc. We have been placed here to tend to and cultivate what God has given us, and go into the world. We have been created for a purpose.

We also see how we have been given teacher, preachers, books, other people to guide us and teach us the “rules of life” so we can learn what it means to be a “good/decent person”. The Lord did this with Israel with the Sinai Covenant. God gave the people the law to show what it means to live a holy/set apart people. But, we learn we still have this desire to do what we want and disregard what God said (blessing and curse of free will). This helps us understand there is something in us we cannot take out or get rid of on our own—something that seems to be ingrained in us to do things we know we shouldn’t do. We see this through the continual living faithfully and calling of Israel to repent by the Prophets.

There comes a time when God says the people have done their own thing for so long before stepping in to take over. God has always been present in our lives and there comes a point when we realize we need God to be the One leading us and changing us. We need God to step in to the world/our world, and show us how we are being transformed and make us into something even more than we could have ever imagined. This is where Jesus comes in.

Jesus comes, and we finally realize we need only him, he is the only One who can do what we need. Now, because of the Old Testament, we can better see how God has been working in the world to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven. The Savior we have been hoping for has come, is changing our lives, and taking us to a place where we can work with him to change the world and see the world redeemed because of his grace. Because of Jesus (Yahweh in flesh), we can go from the chaos of our world (the world) and move into a life of order, peace, and true faithfulness.

Why study the Old Testament? A scholarly answer would be so we can understand the entire message of the Bible and to understand what is really going on. A theological answer would be so we can understand what the New Testament is actually saying and how it is applied to our lives. A personal answer, at least to me, would be so we can better understand our purpose and how we are supposed to live. More importantly, so we can better understand our lives and see how we sin and fall short of God, we constantly go back and forth from doing what we are supposed to do/not do, we see God (through Jesus Christ) coming to change our lives, and we see us moving toward a future with a hope because God has it already in the palm of his hands and has an ultimate plan for the future.

We study the Old Testament because it is our story. It is the story God tells so we can understand our mission to be in a holy community, and to be lights to the world to take the message of salvation to all the nations. If we can take this time to study and understand the importance of the Old Testament, we can better see how God through Jesus Christ is reshaping the world back the original intent.

Because people, by fallen nature, are self-absorbed, bringing us to a place to see we are also in the story of ancient Israel could make it seem like reading about your own family history and given better understanding to why we live like we live. This could also give people the motivation to learn more, on their own and in groups, to study the complexity, yet simplicity, of the message of the Old Testament and see more clearly how Jesus is really fulfilling (not obliterating) the law and words in the Old Testament which should give greater clarity and purpose to our lives and reason for living as a mission community to the rest of the world so God’s plan is completed.

NEW BOOK: “Jesus Is…”

Kindle & Paperback Editions

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Ryan+Stratton+jesus+is&ref=nb_sb_noss

“Who do you say Jesus is? Some say he was just a good person. Some say he was a prophet. Others say he didn’t exist. CS Lewis says, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He’d be either a lunatic on a level with a man who says he’s a poached egg or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” It is important for us to know who Jesus is because this is who we are being formed into. We are not forming Jesus into ourselves, but rather he is recreating us to make us into his image.

This 8 chapter book goes over the big moments of Jesus’ life to help us see how the life of Jesus is still impacting our life today. The next time you’re asked “Who is Jesus?” you can have some answers to help people understand the power of the Risen Christ that is with us always and who is giving us our identity.”

When Love Came Down

Since Christmas Day has come and gone, do you feel any different? Or do you feel the weight of cleaning everything, paying bills, or having to pack the gifts to come back home?

The time after Christmas can be really stressful for many people. The logistics of how everything will get done can be very complicated and frustrating. But, is this how we are supposed to live our lives, even after we practice being kind, loving, compassionate, even if for just a few days?

Something else gets to be stressful. The new year is quickly approaching. So, what new year resolutions are you going to make? How many are you actually going to be able to keep? How many are actually going to be beneficial for your life?

I have started to notice something at the holiday time frames, and at the start of something new – we always seem to over commit ourselves, which means we sacrifice something we all desperately need – TIME.

Does this seem like you?

As I was preparing for the Christmas season and studying the scriptures to preach, I noticed something I have never noticed before: the greatest gift God has given us.

Yes, God did give us the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Through Jesus Christ, people are healed, fed, hopeful, peaceful. These are all incredible gifts God has given us. But I think we are missing something when we think about what God has given us.

God has given us the gift of His time. That’s something awesome and I am astonished at how I have missed this before.

We always talk about how spending time with the people we love is important. We also talk about how spending time with people changes their outlook and helps to put them on the right track. This is what I noticed God has done for us, in the gift, the person of Jesus Christ.

He has shown us what it means to give up the time we desire, to spend with the people who need our time the most. Jesus was always spending his time with other people who needed food, healing, miracles, teaching, love, grace. I wonder how many of us get worn out because we would rather be doing something else so we miss out on the joy that comes when we truly share the time we’ve been given with others?

Since God has come down to earth, the greatest power in the universe, Love, has been instilled in the people. God is still spending time with his people through the power of his Holy Spirit.

As we wind down from all of the festivities and activities and gift giving of Christmas, let us always remember to praise and thank God for the gift of his time he spends with us. Let us always look for ways to joyfully spend the time we have been given with others to help them experience the greatest force in the world.

If we really want to experience and witness real change in the world, pay attention to how much time you have been given and how the time is spent. Carefully, and prayfully using the time we’ve been given, wisely, will cause us to utilize God’s gift of time for the transformation of the world.

When Love came down, we learn how much God thinks about his people and creation. I pray we can all have eyes to see the world as he sees it and have the heart for the world as he has. May we use the gift of time we have been given to share his love with all we can. That is, after all, what God has done for us.

Seeking & Saving the Lost

Jesus is so much more than we realize he is. Even those of us who profess his name and seek to follow him still do not get or give a full picture of who he is.

Over the last few weeks, we have talked about various aspects of who Jesus is:

Jesus is God in flesh. This is so much more than a story we need to hear just at Christmas time. God coming to earth shows how personal he is and how great his love for the world is.

He has been tempted in all ways we are. This shows us he knows what we are going through and he is the One who is constantly with us reminding us of the life and light that is available to ALL people. We do not have to live with the guilt and shame of giving into sin anymore because Christ has set us free from the slavery of sin and death. NOTE: This not does not give us the freedom to live however we want. This does give us opportunities for repentance and experiencing grace.

Jesus brings healing and hope. Through this, he also brings forgiveness of sins. His mission is to bring people into the life of God by working to make the people whole again.

Today, we’re focusing on Jesus’ mission to “seek and to save the lost.” [1]

How am I defining “lost”?

Lost as we’re going to talk about today deals with two types of people:

  • Those who do not know or have never met Jesus Christ. Those who are living a life far away from Christ.
  • Those who profess Christ with their lips but do not live as Christ desires them to live (i.e. purposefully gives into sin with no regret, guilt, shame, etc.) So, a person who acts as part of a church family but not following Christ.

Before we go much further, we have to understand a few things:

  • All people were created in the image of God. Some live into this image while others repress it so much they do not resemble any part of the image of God. Some people do not know the image within them and just need it to come forth.
  • Everyone needs grace. All people are welcomed to experience the grace of God in their lives.
  • We are put on this earth, given this life we have, for “such a time as this” [2]to share and show the love of God through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit for ALL people. We get to live out and work with God in his desire “ALL people be saved AND come to a knowledge of the truth.”[3]

This is the mission of Christ: to proclaim the Kingdom of God that is at hand by living his life to “seek AND save the lost.” We’ll talk about what it means to be saved in a little bit.

READ SCRIPTURE LUKE 15:1-2 (back up to 14:35b)

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

When we read those verses, what stands out to you? Take just a moment and write down what you heard.

 

LET THOSE WITH EARS, HEAR

This was something that was piercing my heart and soul as I kept reading the scripture.

Listening is important. Listening gives people value. Listen helps us understand what is going on.

Many times, we’ll come to people with our own assumptions as to why they are the way they are and do not take the time to really get to know them. We’ll already know what people need and seek to give that to them without really finding out the cause of their situation.

When Jesus says, “Whoever has ears, let them hear,” he is talking about listing beyond the words he is saying and allow the Spirit of God to speak to you. Jesus is talking about truly hearing what is being said and allow the truths he is bringing to impact and transform your life.

Jesus wants us to be so in tune with his voice, that is still speaking, in the world that we will truly hear and follow him. That is why I do my best to cling tight to Hebrews 3:15, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

Now, Jesus is also saying, that only those willing to hear his message and allow the words to change lives are the one who will do what he desires. Only the people who truly desire to hear him will be the ones who actually do. Everyone else is going to do what they want to do and makes them feel good.

Which of these groups of people are you?

Before you say you are in the group that really hears the message of Christ and live according to what he says, think about how you and I treat those around us. Do we ever feel like we are better than other people? Do we ever feel like people deserve what they got and do our best to help teach them a lesson? Do we feel like we’ve already tried to help people and they just don’t get it so we stopped seeking to help?

Jesus wants us to hear him, to have the ears to hear the souls and hearts of the people around us and always seek to be in mission with him at our homes, our community, state/nation, and around the world.

Jesus’ heart is for those who do not try to hide behind a religious lifestyle. Jesus’ heart is for those who do not know God and those who have gone astray from following him.

How many people do you know that are not Christian? It is so easy for us to remain in our Holy Huddles and keep those different than us at arm length and not get to know them. After all, those people are the demise of society, right? No. It is the spirit in the person. Whatever we choose to worship (give precedence to) will become our master. This is where the problems arise.

So how many people do you know that are not Christian? If we say, “no one,” then we really need to expand our circle of influence and love. We also need to remember that even though people profess to be a believer in Christ and profess to be a Christian, doesn’t mean they actually are.

We can think about the lost in terms of being poor.

Someone who is financially poor seems to be the easiest type of person we can help because we can do something for them. This type of person may not know Christ because of many different reasons. They may be in it for the handouts. They are most likely seeking something more: people to show them they still have value and worth in the sight of God. Yet, the financially poor may know Christ deeply because they find themselves truly dependent on him.

Another type of poor is spiritually speaking. There could be people who have everything they want materially but are living so far from Christ it’s not even funny. How can you help this kind of person?

We continue with the scripture today:

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.“

What we’re going to see is

HEAVEN REJOICES OVER SINNERS WHO REPENT

Have you ever been to a worship service where there were lower classes (socially speaking) of people than you? How about a different ethnic group? There is something incredible that happens when all different types and groups of people come to hear and experience Jesus Christ.

I have learned more and have experienced God’s grace and mercy so much more powerfully when I have taken the time to worship with people different than me. I love to be part of the congregation and hear desperate calls for God in their lives. The people were part of the worship experience rather than being simply an audience and just trying to listen. Jesus is seeking to be with the people who desire to be part of his mission rather than those who sit on the sidelines.

Not only that, but he “rejoices over the salvation of every lost person”.[4]When someone repents (changes their mind and heart toward God) and turns their life over to Christ, there is so much rejoicing and partying in heaven.

Jesus sits with the people who need grace. This is why I asked, how many non-Christians do you know? Would you be willing to be seen with the “worst” people in our society? Would you be willing to be seen with people who could ruin your reputation?

This past week, I was in the Rocky Mountains for a spiritual sabbath retreat with 13 other pastors and friends. We had a great time. We spent time hiking, talking theology, praying, goofing off. It was a great time of renewal for me spiritually.

Tuesday we went on an eleven-mile hike up a mountain. As we were hiking up, there were many people who passed us. One of the reasons I love going to the mountains in Colorado is all the different types of people, nationalities, accents that are present. We have the opportunity to talk with many different types of people.

But I did have the thoughts of how many of the people we came in contact with knew Christ, how many of them lived a lifestyle that was far from Christ? Would I be willing to sit down, have dinner with them and listen?

I think many of us, and I battle this at times, do not welcome the outcasts of society into our homes because we do not want to be associated with them. We don’t want to ruin our reputation. This made me think of a quote from a guy named Joshua Harris, “Be like Jesus: Spend enough times with sinners to ruin your reputation with religious people.”

ALWAYS REMEMBER, GOD’S HEART IS FOR THE WORLD

Jesus was “ruining” his reputation with the Pharisees. This group of leaders had to be careful not interact with people beneath them. Pharisee means “set apart” meaning that they were not supposed to do anything that would tarnish their reputation with the people. They had to live in such a way as to be the “perfect” example of what it meant to follow God’s law. Never mind many of them had been corrupted in the heart because they felt they were better than others, enjoyed the money, fame, attention, etc.

So which group would we be better to associate with? The leaders who were corrupt, or the people Jesus came for? I think the answer is both. Remember, everyone needs to experience God through Jesus Christ no matter the lifestyle.

A couple weeks ago we talked about asking God to give you his heart for the people around you, for the world. How do you respond when someone comes along who is different than you? How do you respond when people are constantly trying to get stuff from you? I know my heart is not as soft as I hope it would be. I am not always compassionately patient, but God is constantly working on me daily. He gives me chance after chance because I keep getting to be around people who are different than me and have a different lifestyle than me.

God’s heart for the last, the least, and the lost is incredible. Just take time to read through the scriptures and see what is said. Even read the verses and passages that you do not want to or like to read because it goes against what you think should be done. (You’d find these types of passages all the way through and you would know what they are by how they cause uneasiness to your spirit when you read them.)

GOD DOES WHATEVER IS NECESSARY TO SEEK OUT AND FIND THE LOST:

Ezekiel 34:11

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and find them.”

Ezekiel 34:16

“I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…”

Luke 19:10

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Matthew 18:12

The parable of the lost sheep.

Luke 15

The parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son.

And many more..

This is what God does. Jesus sought after the people who were far away from God, especially those who had been cast out by the people of God.

God would do anything it takes to bring people into his light and grace.

A friend of mine told me a story of when he was on a vacation several years ago, he and his family (including a toddler and an infant) were going to the beach. The sand was hot and they were looking for a place to play when the toddler needed to go to the bathroom, so the mom took her. My friend was waiting for his wife and daughter to come back from the restroom. When his wife came back by herself, he asked where their toddler daughter was. She said she sent her back to him (he was within sight of the restroom).

The daughter could not be found. For forty minutes the family was searching. They sought assistance from the police, lifeguards, you name it. Finally, they did find her, sitting in the sand playing.

God uses every method possible to seek the lost, find them and bring them into his grace. How do I know? God used all of heaven’s resources to find you and me. He sent us Jesus Christ.

HOW DO YOU VIEW PEOPLE?

Do you “see” the people around you? Don’t assume that if it seems they have their life together they actually do. Do you really see them, the hurts, struggles, sin?

How far would you go to rescue someone from the clutches of sin to bring them to the throne of grace and love?

Jesus’ mission is to seek and to save the lost. Save them from a life of not having knowledge of the love of God and save them from living in a hell. His mission is to bring the true light of the world to all people.

Jesus’ mission is for people to be saved, set free, from the enslavement of sin and death. To know the great love of God. To live in the perfect relationship in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

His plan for accomplishing this mission?

You and me.

Would you search for a lost person here and show them Christ?

IMG_2286.jpg

How about here?

IMG_2347.jpg

How about here?

IMG_0372.JPG

And finally, how about here?

IMG_2348.jpg

We never know who God is seeking and asking us to reach out to. As you leave this place today, remember you are being sent into the mission field. Ask God for the eyes to see those who are lost. Ask God for the ears to hear the cry of those who are in search of the God who is already pursuing them.

Remember, God pursued you and me. Let’s go into the world, with him, to seek the lost and walk with them to the throne of grace.

Do you ever feel lost or far from God and his incredible grace? God has never left or forgotten you. Come to know and remember God’s grace and heart for you. Come all you who are seeking life and hope. Jesus is here. He has never left you. Place your trust in him know you have never been lost from his sight.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

 

Works Cited:

[1]Luke 19:10

[2]Esther 4:4

[3]1 Timothy 2:4 emphasis mine

[4]The New Interpreters Bible, Volume 9, Page 295

The Most Important​ Question

Today, we begin a new six-week series on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Yes, we preach, teach, talk about Jesus all year long, but we have to be careful that we are not just filling our heads with knowledge. Our goal will be to answer this question with confidence, “WHO DO YOU SAY JESUS IS?”

Too often we come to hear a sermon and we are seeking information. We like to know things. We like to learn new things. We all can and should keep growing in our knowledge of who Jesus is and what he has done, is doing, and will continue to do.

But we cannot stop at simply “knowing” Jesus, or knowing about Jesus.

Do you know what two objects have the furthest distance? It’s not the 5,500.3 miles of the Great Wall of China. It’s not the 9,175 miles from Texas to Australia. Not even the 238,900 miles from the earth to the moon or the 92.96 million miles from the earth to the sun.

THE GREATEST DISTANCE BETWEEN TWO OBJECTS IS BETWEEN OUR HEAD TO OUR HEART.

Why? It takes a lot of work, effort, and energy to allow the knowledge we gain to fully come into our lives to transform us and recreate us. We tend to like who we are and what we’re doing. We often do not like the idea of changing because we can think it is scary and the future is unknown.

But, when we fill our heads with the knowledge of God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit works his way to the heart so we can fill our entire being with the love, grace, mercy of God who is working to recreate us into the likeness of his Son – Jesus Christ.

So, we are going to begin this series with the most important question we can ever answer:

“WHO DO YOU SAY JESUS IS?”

This is the most important question we have to answer because who we say Jesus is shaping how we will live our lives. If we say Jesus is a good teacher, then we can still reject some of his teachings when they don’t correspond with how we want to live? If we say he is our healer, then how do we treat him when we are healthy? If we say he is our rock, then how do we treat him when our life is going well?

Answering the question “who do you say Jesus is” shows who we truly believe to be Lord and Ruler of our life: his will be done or my will be done.

Luke 9 tells the story of when Jesus asked the disciples who they said he was. If we have spent time reading our scriptures then we know Peter said “You are God’s Messiah” which means “you are the one who has come to save and redeem the world.

Let’s read and hear this passage from Luke. Pay attention and see if anything stands out to you:

READ LUKE 9:18-20

18 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”

20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”

I love the translation the Common English Bible uses: “The Christ sent from God.” Peter was the one who was bold enough to speak the words the Holy Spirit gave him. Jesus, in Matthew 16, even tells Peter

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”[1]

Then, Jesus goes on to rename Simon to Peter saying, “on this rock I will build my church.”[2]

THE CHURCH’S FOUNDATION IS JESUS IS THE MESSIAH GOD SENT

This is why we exist. We are working with God to build and usher in the Kingdom of Heaven on the strong foundation that JESUS IS THE MESSIAH SENT FROM GOD. Nothing else matters or is as strong as this truth. The church is still in existence today because of the reality of Jesus being the One God sent.

How does this impact us today? (This is where we can step on toes 🙂 )

Since the Church is built upon this truth, then we are also part of the mission Jesus came to earth to do. His earthly work was done on the cross and we all can experience grace, forgiveness, and eternal life (the full presence of God here and now AND in the life to come). But his work in the world is still not complete. There is still redemptive work to be done, souls to know Jesus is the Christ.

Hate, violence, war, racism, you name it, still seems to be more powerful because this is what people love to talk about. Many people build their lives around trying to eradicate these injustices, and that is a good cause. But, if we go into the world knowing and living as Jesus is the true Ruler and Lord of the world, then everything we do works toward breaking down all injustices and seeks to help people see and live in the light of God’s presence and live in peace with one another. We make working with God to help people see the reality and truth of the Kingdom of Heaven all around us a priority.

Too often, because of our fallen and sinful human nature, we end up putting everything else before and above Jesus and the mission we are about. We will focus more on decorations, our “traditions”, anything that brings us comfort, and there is so much more we place in front of Jesus.

Taking the time to answer who Jesus is really showing where our priorities lie. If we’re not careful, we can end up putting ourselves in the place of Jesus Christ and mold Jesus into who we are instead of being molded into the likeness and image of Jesus Christ – the image we were originally created to be.

If the truth about who Jesus is stays in our head and do not fully transform our lives, we have missed it. The information/knowledge about who Jesus is must dwell and live in our hearts because he desires to transform our lives.

OUR LIVES ARE TRANSFORMED BECAUSE OF GOD’S LOVE

Coming to worship, Bible study, praying, going on mission trips, etc. is so much more than simply making people be “good.” All of this is important because of how Jesus Christ works through these “tasks”, these opportunities and changes our lives because of his great love for us. Through the great love he has for us, we get to watch Jesus work through us to change the lives of the people we get to help, we get to serve, we get to listen to, we get to provide basic needs.

And how we answer “who do you say Jesus is” determines our approach and heart as we step out and serve in our community, in our world.

Over the next several weeks, we are going to dive into certain aspects of who Jesus is. I’m going to invite us all to be on this journey through prayer and careful consideration of who we say Jesus is. As we go through this series, continue to think about Jesus and all he has done, is doing, and will continue to do in the world, and also in our lives.

Now, I want you to take a brief moment and write down, who you say Jesus is. In other words, who is Jesus Christ to you?

We have just started Confirmation classes. I know some people have negative connotations with confirmation and think it’s a time to be preached at what we should believe, but there is so much more to it. It is about coming to a place where we can wrestle with ideas, questions, and answers so we can understand deeper what it is we say we believe. It is a time to help us come to a place of belief. My understanding of God and his work in the world is greatly enhanced when leading Confirmation. This is why we open it up to middle schoolers and adults. So we can all learn and grow with each other.

This past week, the Confirmation class began by asking “Who is God?” and “What is God like?” So often, we do not realize we don’t know how to answer these questions, especially when other people ask us. If we really want to know who God is and what God is like, we have to look no further than Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul records a hymn in his letter to the Colossians about who Jesus is:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 

16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 

17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 

20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.[3]

Who we profess Jesus to be shapes how and why we do everything. We get to go into the world with greater purpose and greater power to see transformation really happen.

Professing Jesus as the Messiah, the One sent to save the world, reminds us of God’s great love for the world that he sent his only Son that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.[4]As we step out in faith, and profess Jesus as the Christ, the One who is Lord and Ruler of all the earth and universe, we allow him to come into our lives so we are transformed. Then we understand, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in my body, I live by faith, indeed by the faithfulness of God’s Son who loved me and gave himself for me.”[5] 

Isn’t that beautiful? Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Creator of the Universe, lives is you and I because of his love for us.

Look, we all mess up. We all place other minor things above Christ which turn out to be other idols (lesser gods) we end up worshipping (finding more value in at times). But God loves you and me so much that we have Jesus Christ. We are loved so much that he has given us his power and heart to go into the world so others can know of his love for them and find their true value and worth.

This is so much more than simply knowing this, or coming forward to accept Jesus as our Savior, though that is very important for our lives. It is all about how Jesus is working within us, because of his love for us, to transform our lives into his likeness and image so we can be his agents, his vessels who go into the world to transform the world and bring the Kingdom of Heaven with us.

 

[1]Matthew 16:17 NIV

[2]Matthew 16:18 NIV

[3]Colossians 1:15-20 NIV

[4]John 3:16 (paraphrase)

[5]Galatians 2:20 CEB

What’s Holding You Back?

“Why do people get uncomfortable talking about stewardship?” This was a question we talked about last week.

Last week we started a 3-week series on stewardship. We talked about not worrying about what we don’t have, or controlling our resources because everything we have is because of God and really is God’s anyway.

Here is a video that sums this concept up: 

Make sense?

We are all being challenged to look at where and how we utilize the resources (time, talents, gifts, money) God has given us. The topic of tithing was brought up. I know this is a topic most people do not like to hear about, but tithing really is important for our spiritual life. I mentioned that I believe people are more generous, for the most part, with the money given and time/talents used. It is easy to say, “10% is too much to give away,” but I bet if we really looked, we would see we are giving away 20% or more (especially if we count cash given). Now, the challenge is to look at where we are giving the money. We should always be asking, “is this going to help the Kingdom of Heaven? Or will this only be here for a very short time?”

This past week, I asked a group of people online, why don’t people give to the church? What was interesting is how most of the responses were about the people not liking the ministry or mission being done, so they withheld their money and said the church was not using the money wisely even though the church was being the church.

Our giving really does reflect how much we allow Christ to have control over our lives. As we pay attention to and assess our giving (in all areas of our life), let’s see where we are holding on to control.

Our passage today shows an interaction with a rich man and Jesus. He wanted to know how to have eternal life, but on his terms. His life was what was holding him back.

So, now we ask, “what holds us back from fully following Christ?”

READ SCRIPTURE: Mark 10:17-31 NIV

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it isto enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

There are a few things we have to pay attention to here:

First, the rich man called Jesus “Good Teacher” this means he already has respect for Jesus and his teachings.

How many of us have respect for Jesus’ teachings? If we think about it, Jesus never said, “Respect my teachings and live your life.” No, Jesus said the simple words, “Follow me.” This is the calling each of us has on our lives.

Sunday mornings are easy to profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and respect what the pastor says in the sermons and during worship. But are our lives truly changed by the message of Jesus we hear on Sunday mornings? Is this reflected in the way we live our lives Monday morning?

We have to keep asking the question:

WHAT’S HOLDING YOU BACK?

In other words, how do we align our lives to reflect what we profess Sunday mornings? I know there are people who would hear these words and say, “I live my life for Jesus each and every day.” Still, others would say, “I live my life how I choose. This is why I don’t like ‘organized religion’. It’s just people trying to tell you how to live.” Have you heard or thought either of those responses?

When we profess Jesus Christ as our Savior, it is so much more than only respecting the words we hear and say each Sunday. It is about having all parts of who we are completely being transformed by the message, person, and Spirit of the Living Christ in the world and in our lives.

When we profess Jesus as our Lord, we make sure that, in everything, we give him the glory and recognition he deserves. We take the time to live our lives as Jesus lived, loving, serving and giving to the exact people who are different than us and whom we do not agree with.

Did you notice the rich man was looking for Jesus to tell him that he was a nice guy and was doing everything “right.” Notice, Jesus did not answer him the way desired. Instead, Jesus did was Jesus does best and asks him a question in return,

“Why do you call me good?”

Now if I were to ask you, what is “good?” I bet we would all hear many different things and the reasons behind them.

Why would we call Jesus “good”? Take a moment and write down, a thought, of why you would call Jesus “good”.

I often wonder if the rich man was trying to butter Jesus up by giving him a compliment, hoping a compliment would be given in return. Do we do this with Jesus? Do we do this with other people?

As we go through and hear the conversation between Jesus and the rich man, we notice the man’s inflated sense of himself and his character traits. What’s holding him back? His pride, in one respect. How many of us have been caught in the trap of not letting our pride get hurt?

Pride can do so much harm to our lives if not properly checked. He was trying to be told he was “good enough” just because he did not break a few of the commandments. Jesus took him deeper than the rich man was willing to go. He challenged the rich man to look at what he was lacking.

I am one of those people who continually reminds us not to focus on what we perceive to be lacking; but, instead, focus on what God is providing.

But this is a perfect example of how we should look at what it is we are lacking. Do we lack the desire to give up the control of our possessions and finances have on us to truly follow Jesus? This is an area I struggle with because the stuff I have makes my life easier in many ways. But dig into the question further.

Jesus is not only asking the rich man to sell everything he has, but he is challenging him to realize that “an unrestrained appetite for wealth or clinging too tightly to what we possess can hold us back and cause us paralysis in our following of Christ.”[1]

Just as the saying goes “you don’t see a U-Haul behind a hearse;” we understand that Jesus teaches we cannot be weighed down by what we have in order to follow him. We cannot be worried about our stuff so much that we do not fully and faithfully follow Jesus in our day to day lives.

Another way of putting it, “we do not work for the stuff we have, we work to make sure what we have is utilized for the Kingdom of God.”

Following Jesus is not as easy as we would want to make it out to be. It is more than just saying a simple prayer and leaving it at that. Following Jesus means we listen to what he says and follow him with nothing holding us back.

Throughout this entire exchange, we see Jesus speaking in extremes. Do you really think Jesus was asking the man to really sell everything he had? I don’t think so. Jesus was doing a heart assessment and the rich man did not like what Jesus said, so the man went away sad.

So, what is holding you back from fully following Jesus? How can we have the same excitement for a new TV, football game, clothes, etc. as we have for following Christ? What is something you possess (object, a feeling of pride, knowledge, etc) that is grabbing your attention more than Jesus is grabbing your attention?

I would be a big liar if I told you I had all of this together and nothing was holding me back. In many people’s eyes, pastors are supposed to be perfect people and have no issues. But the truth is, we are all human, all in need of grace, all in need of healthy relationships. We are all in this together.

This life is not easy. In fact, when Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”[2]He meant it.

But always remember and believe:

JESUS MAKES THE IMPOSSIBLE, POSSIBLE

We cannot try to get our way into God’s graces by “trying our best” or “being better than other people.” We can only get into heaven because of Jesus Christ.

It really is impossible to get into heaven by pleasing God because when we project something (action or person) as good, we are bringing God down to our own level. But instead, we should continually seek the Kingdom of God because God is the only One who can call something good and get it right.

We cannot do enough to get into God’s good graces on our own. But Jesus tells us, “With man, this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”[3]

When we give, we are demonstrating the work of the Holy Spirit within our lives. We are showing to the world, truthfully ourselves, that we are willing to do everything necessary to follow Jesus. We are showing that the only thing that has our complete devotion is, not our stuff or talents or anything like that, but that we only seek to follow Jesus in our daily lives.

When we give to the church, we have the opportunity to be part of the work of the collective Body of Christ in our community and around the world. Yes, the Gospel message is free to give; but the transmission and spreading of the Gospel message takes resources. There is a whole world looking to see churches fail. Many people are constantly trying to prove God is not real.

Do we ever wonder how we can show people that God is real? One big way is to give. Give away financial resources. Give away our time. Give away the talents and gifts God has given us. Give everything away possible because God is continually providing and pouring out his blessings and his presence on all of creation, especially his most valuable creations: you and me.

Bishop Robert Schnase puts it this way:

“Giving makes following God real. We can live a God-related life, or we can live without attention to God’s presence and will. The God-related life means our relationship with God influences all we do. When we seek to do the things God would have us do, including giving, our practice intensifies our love for the things God loves. Then the material possessions that can serve as a distraction or impediment to following Christ become an instrument for our serving Christ. Our material good, consecrated to God, nourish our desire to serve God. Generosity feeds our love for God.”[4]

Tom Chapman, in his book, Make All You Can Give All You Can, writes, “When God calls you to a major task, you will always have other options, and His plan is usually the most difficult one. Many times, it’s also the one that makes the least logical sense.”

We all have things that are holding us back from completely and fearlessly following Jesus every day and in every way of our lives. So, what is holding you back? For me, it really depends on the day and what I have going on and how much sleep I got the night before.

Last week we ended with a piece of Psalm 51. Today, let’s read verses 6-12 together as a form of prayer and praise to God for all the ways he is working in and through our life:

Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

As we go through this week, let nothing hold you back from following Jesus every day. Let your love for him be evident through your actions, words, and giving.

Seek Christ for the life he offers and pay attention to the people he loves and how he spends his time, energy, and resources. Praise God for how he is continually working in and through our lives for the transformation of the world!

 

WORKS CITED

[1]Schnase, Robert. “Practicing Extravagant Generosity: Daily Readings on the Grace of Giving”. Page 61

[2]Mark 10:25 NIV

[3]Mark 10:27b NIV

[4]Schnase, Robert. “Practicing Extravagant Generosity: Daily Readings on the Grace of Giving”. Page 62

Loving to Life Pt 5

SHOW GOD’S LOVE DAILY

As we continue in loving people and organizations to life, we remember we have been praying and seeking God’s direction, we have been allowing the people to be their real selves without judgement, we have been meeting with people in small groups, and we have begun a visioning process for the future of the church/person/organization.

This may all seem like a simple, easy-to-do process (it really is); but it will take time. It can take as long as God is needing. We have to be patient when things are not going as well as we would like right at first.

With this in mind, the saying “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is very true. When we are in a new area, the temptation is to go ahead and begin new steps, new vision, new processes without really taking the time to learn the history, the passions of the people, or really loving the people.

Our mission is to show people the value and worth they have in God through Jesus Christ. Because the people have value in the eyes of God, they also should have value in our eyes.

I have dared congregations and people to pray a very dangerous prayer: to ask God to break our hearts as his heart breaks. Why is this a dangerous prayer? Because, if we begin to see the world, the redemptive potential of the people and the world, we will find ourselves being more compassionate, and therefore, more loving. This goes against the flow and MO of the world.

We hear messages all the time of how evil people are, how many times people do bad things, how we should distance ourselves from those unlike us. The only issue with this is Jesus never did such thing. He was always with the people no one liked, or who were outcasts, and made them experience and live into the worth God has placed in them.

Helping people moving from a place of being stagnant means we have to make sure we love the people and then we show people love through acts and words of grace.

What are some ideas for this?

Number one is to simply spend time with the people and continue to listen to their stories. This is very important because you can simple be present with the people. We all love to know other people have interest in our lives. Now, we may not be able to get to everyone, at first, but this is okay. There are still many ways to try and interact with as many people as possible (many of which we have already talked about in the past few weeks.

Some other things we could do are:

  • Personal, handwritten notes: Have you noticed how many handwritten notes come through the mail now? When you get one, how do you feel?
  • Phone calls or texts just to check on the people
  • Visiting when sick, or at least calling
  • Showing up to important events with them
  • Thank you notes
  • Words of encouragement
  • Of course praying with and for people

These may all seem like small things, and they are; but they have a huge impact on the lives of the people we are around. As we continue to work through a process of loving people to life, keep in mind the great love God has for the world, for the people.

Ask God for help to love the people as he loves them. Seek to do everything, within reason, to show people God’s love through you. Show and remind them of their value in the eyes of Christ. Help them remember the worth they have because they are created in the image of God.

Then, watch God’s love begin to take over in you and see how much you care for the people you are working with and living around.