December 27, 2011

The Life of Jesus Mark 1:1


This morning we begin our new series on the Life of Jesus. We will be working through a few of the stories and teaching passages in the Gospel of Mark. Mark is unique among the Gospel writers. He is most likely the first to write his Gospel. He is the only one to explicitly call his writing a Gospel.

Mark’s writing is fast paced, wastes no time, and just keeps moving. It leaves you almost breathless. In the original Greek it is almost like a young child telling a story because most sentences begin with the word “and.”

We went to the store...and...we got candy...and...we went to the car...and....we drove home...and we had cookies...and...we watched tv...and...and...and...

Jesus came...and Jesus preached...and Jesus healed...and Jesus taught...and...and...and

It is like Mark is trying to get this stuff down as quick as possible without losing anything.

This morning we are starting off our series by focusing on one simple verse. This might be mistaken as just a title for the book, but there is a lot packed into a few simple words for us this morning.

Ready. It’s really easy.

Mark 1:1, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God...”

Take a look at this clip...



I love to get good news. I hate getting bad news. Getting bad news in a good way doesn’t make it any better. Mark calls Jesus Good News, but he wasn’t good news for everyone. Sometimes what is good news for one person is not good news for someone else.

Throughout his Gospel Mark wants to ask and answer one very simple question, “Who is Jesus?” How a person answered this question determined and still determines whether Jesus is good news or bad news. As you read through this Gospel you will see people constantly answering this question wrong, and for those who misunderstand or stand against Jesus...he is not Good News

Mark places this seemingly simple verse at the beginning to explain that this is the Good News about a man named Jesus who was the Messiah and who was the Son of God. For Mark this is the promised Messiah of the Old Testament who was more than just a man, and the story you are about to hear is (supposed to be) extremely good news!

Many thought Jesus a great teacher or a prophet or the return of Elijah. They wanted someone who would make them comfortable, feed them, heal their sick, but each time they tried to push Jesus into being something he wasn’t...He would slip away to another town or his teaching would make them uncomfortable and challenge them to make a change in their status quo.

The Pharisees didn’t understand who Jesus was. They viewed him a troublemaker or a demon-possessed blasphemer. He was a challenge to their religious authority, and they were jealous that people listened to Him rather than them. Jesus broke their rules and ignored their self-importance. They eventually killed him out of jealousy.

Many wanted a revolutionary that would overthrow the Roman government, but Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”

The government wanted someone they could control, but Jesus came as the King of a new Kingdom that will one day replace all the Kingdoms of this world.

The rich believed their wealth was a sign of God’s blessing on their righteous life...and Jesus said, “It is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God...”

Jesus’ own family didn’t understand who Jesus was. They showed up at one gathering attempting to take custody of him because they thought he was crazy!

Even Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand who He was. After watching Jesus step to the front of their storm-shaken boat and calm the raging storm with just a word, they ask, “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!” I’m sure they had heard Psalm 89:9, “You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them.” or

Psalm 107:28-31,
Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,
   and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
   the waves of the sea[b] were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm,
   and he guided them to their desired haven.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
   and his wonderful deeds for mankind. 
But they didn’t understand who Jesus was either. In fact, Mark paints the most discouraging view of Jesus’ disciples of any of the Gospels. They look like idiots; buffoons even. And each time they miss it in Mark’s Gospel it is linked to their mistaken or inadequate understanding of who Jesus is and what He is here to do.

They didn’t understand that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God...and that this is Good news.

We often don’t understand who Jesus is either. Most of our failings as disciples are linked to this same problem. Every time we miss the mark, do the wrong thing, act like an idiot as a Christian it is because we have a mistaken or inadequate understanding of who Jesus is and what He came to do. And if we don’t rightly understand who Jesus is and what He came to do...then He could be not-so-good news for us as well.

Like the crowd if we want Jesus to meet all our needs and to bring us healing and to make us comfortable in this world and for his message to be one of comfort and warmth...then we will want to forget that He calls us to be a disciples who take up a cross and follows Him...to sacrifice everything for the Kingdom of God.

If we are Like the Pharisees then we allow rules and mistaken beliefs to stand in the way of seeing what God is really doing in our world, and forget that He brings freedom and boils it all down to loving God and loving our neighbor (which includes our enemies).

If we are like the rich then we have a set of things we believe are signs of God’s blessing...and we forget that only a life completely surrendered to Him brings His blessing...and not necessarily the blessing we think.

If we are like the disciples, then we fear the storms of life and forget we serve one who can calm the storms. Or, we worry when our resources aren’t enough and forget we serve the one who turned a few small loaves and fishes into a 5 star meal for over 5,000.

We are often guilty of turning our hearts to worship lesser gods...money, jobs, our hobbies, even our families because we forget that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Promised One of God who alone is worthy of our worship.

We could look at our failures as Disciples, and wallow in them, allowing guilt to go unchecked, abandoning all hope, or living our Christian life with an “oh well everyone sins” attitude, but then we would turn the Good News of Jesus into not-so-good news.

Christmas is our yearly reminder of the Good News because we celebrate that Jesus Christ came into this world to rescue us...to restore our broken relationship with God...and to remind us that He will return again to set everything straight that is wrong with this world in which we live.

When Jesus started his public ministry in Mark 1:14-15 it says, “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”

And for us, that is where we find the Good News on a regular basis. Repentance isn’t just the admission ticket to the Kingdom of God...repentance is a way of life for us. We don’t just say it as part of our Sinner’s Prayer...we confess and repent every day of our lives because we know we are part of a broken and sinful world, and we know we are sinful and in need of God’s grace. So repentance becomes our way of life as we travel the journey of faith; regularly confessing and turning from our sins and turning back to God.

For some, repentance and confession do not seem like good news, but they are. They are both major parts of Good News because we know that when we do them...they work. What horrible news it would be to live under the weight of a repentance and confession that served no purpose or were ineffective...it would leave us guilty, alone, and hopeless. What bad news it would be if we had to jump through a million different hoops in order to be forgiven. But when we confess and repent...Jesus brings the Good News that His Kingdom has come near to us and we are forgiven when we turn to Him!

This morning we celebrate the Good News of Jesus! We celebrate that Jesus entered our world, and that one day He will re-enter our world and set everything right, and that is really Good News!

December 19, 2011

Revolution: 1 John 5



I have always been attracted to and excited by stories of adventure and travel. I remember as a kid reading The Swiss Family Robinson and Robinson Crusoe and stories of some of the great adventurers like Lewis and Clark and wanting to be like them. I still get a little bit of that every once in awhile when I watch No Reservation with Anthony Bourdain as he travels around exploring different countries and the foods they eat.

A few years ago I read a book called A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became the World’s Greatest Traveler. It is about James Holman who is considered by many one of the worlds greatest travelers whom no one knows about. His writings have inspired Charles Darwin

James Holman was born in 1786 a healthy young man with perfect vision. As a young lad he joined the British Navy, but the wet and cold took its toll and by 25 years of age he was suffering from a debilitating rheumatism that often crippled him with pain for days and weeks at a time, and eventually took his sight.

Bring blind in this world almost a death sentence. Often the blind were simply given a bowl and told to beg for their living. They were considered totally helpless. Holman was accepted into the Naval Knights of Windsor an organization that took care of ailing veterans with the simple requirement that they attend church twice a day.

But that life was too sedentary for him. He couldn’t sit still. The more sedentary he was the greater the illness, but there was within him a drive to overcome this life that had been handed to him and press on for something more. He would not let blindness define him. He wasn’t going to be a charity case.

Holman studied medicine at Edinburgh University. Braille hadn’t been invented yet so it was impossible for him to read the required texts...so he absorbed the information by attending the lectures three and four times.

But even more daring, Holman began venturing out on the city streets of London...alone...refusing to wear the blindfold required of those who were blind. He practiced what has become known as human echolocation. He would tap his metal-tipped walking stick against the ground and use the reverberations to “see” the world around him.

So James Holman was able not only to get around...but began to venture out farther and farther until he became the first blind man to circumnavigate the globe...in the early 1800’s...when very few others with sight were able to accomplish this feat. He climbed Mt. Vesuvius, walked around the inner dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, traveled through areas where sighted travelers only feared to venture.

Lieutenant James Holman was able to overcome the limitations of blindness and pain to accomplish what so few others have accomplished even today...he traveled around the world and experienced the world. A friend and admirer once wrote of Holman, ““He had eyes in his mouth, eyes in his nose, eyes in his ears, and eyes in his mind.”

The Apostle John knew Jesus’ followers would face many things that must be overcome in our lives if we are to live as God demands. He knew the false teachers and prophets that were attempting to lead members of his church astray were not the last. Many more “antichrists” would come and attempt to lead God’s children astray. So as John brings this letter to a close he wants to encourage Jesus’ followers, then and now, that we can overcome the world. We can overcome the things that hold us back and keep us from becoming what God desires for us. We can over come the world.

Let’s read today’s passage...it is a long one...but here we go. 1 John 5:1-21

1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

 6 This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the[a] Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.

10Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

16 If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. 19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

 21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

John is writing this to the believers in his church in Ephesus so that, according to verse 13, “you may know that you have eternal life.” He wanted them to know. He wanted them to have certainty that they were God’s children. The false teachers claimed they had the truth and their teaching caused these dedicated believers to doubt. So these once stable and dedicated believers were now beginning to doubt they were REALLY followers of Jesus at all...that they REALLY had eternal life.

This happens all the time. We meet people who have had many “conversion” experiences. They discover the truth of Jesus Christ, but after awhile the newness wears off or they hear some teaching and they begin to doubt. The excitement dies down. They have to settle into the “normal” Christian life and begin the hard work of character transformation and living life while depending on the quiet promptings and whispers of the Holy Spirit. They have to be part of this thing we call church that would be great if it weren’t that other people were there with all their hurts and baggage as well.

Some settle into the reality that all of life is not lived on a mountain peak, but some begin looking for something more. They look for that next great Bible teacher or the latest greatest book or the church that is really soaked in the presence of God or whatever it is that leads them to that next spiritual high that will certainly enliven and prove they are experiencing God and remove their doubt.

And John says in a simple and concise way that knowing with certainty is easy. Knowing isn’t a feeling. It isn’t a mountaintop experience all the time. It isn’t listening to the latest and greatest teacher. Really knowing is trusting in the truth of something very simple. Knowing is believing that Jesus is the Christ. Being people who are certain of eternal life and people who overcome the world begins with believing that Jesus is the Christ.

C.S. Lewis is famously quoted as saying,
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would 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. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

This has often been reduced to saying that Jesus is either Lord, liar, or lunatic.

For us, our ability to overcome the world begins with accepting who Jesus claimed to be, with accepting him as Lord and not just a good teacher or shining example of a good life. It doesn’t even begin with accepting a bundle of theological doctrines and beliefs. It begins by believing one VERY important belief. That Jesus was both fully God and fully man and entered our realm to sacrificially give His life to free us from sin and death.

Don’t ask me to explain in a clear and concise way that you can easily understand how it is that Jesus is both fully God and fully man because that is impossible and even a general introduction would take more time than we have this morning. In a nutshell, what we do have are many scriptures pointing out that God is one and there is only one God. We also have many Scriptures talking about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as being distinct beings.

This is a philosophical and religious dilemma that really would have bothered first century Jews even more than it does us. They were radically committed to Deuteronomy 6:4 where it says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” So the false teachers, in some ways, made Jesus more palatable, more graspable than John and the other disciples. These teachers were willing to say that Jesus was either fully human but not divine or he was fully divine but not fully human. And Jews could easily accept that because it didn’t conflict with their core belief.

But John was not willing to waver. He knew the difficulty of the position he was advocating. But for John the very essence of our salvation rested on the fact that Jesus as fully human and fully divine had entered our realm and sacrificed himself. In the words of Hebrews 1:3, Jesus was “...the exact representation of [God’s] being...” Without this belief there is no salvation. If Jesus were not God then his sacrifice was meaningless...just another human being dieing on a Roman cross. And if Jesus were not human then the sacrificial death required was not met because many humans had died before this and it was not sufficient to bring about salvation.

To deny this, John says, would be to call God a liar because God himself had given the testimony that this was true.

1 John 5:6-10 says,
“This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.”

And here is where things get very practical and applicable for them as well as for us... 1 John 5:11-12 says, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” John has come full circle in this chapter. He started it out by saying that “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God...” and now concludes this section by pointing out that being born of God is the same thing as having life...eternal life.

That phrase “eternal life” carries a lot of baggage. Many just think of it as a life that never ends. A life where we get to go to heaven and hell is no longer on the radar. It a life where we are forgiven of our sins, we live a good Christian life, and then go to heaven when we die.

But it is more than that, and if we reduce to just a life that never ends or some nonsense like that we miss all that we have to gain.

For John the idea of Eternal Life was a life filled with the fullness of God’s presence. It is the life that leads us to overcome the world. It is the life that enables obedience to God’s commands. It is the life that allows us to fully love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. In his Gospel, John writes in 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” For John the fullness of life was not in some sweet by-and-by it was in the here and now.

If we are ever going to overcome the world and the sinfulness that holds us back, it will only be through Jesus Christ. It will only come as we accept that He is the Son of God who has come into the world as a sacrifice for our sins and offers us this gift of real life...of true life...a life that means we are being restored into what God originally intended for us...when we follow Him.

We are still trapped in a sinful, broken world. But even in the midst of all the pain and suffering and hurt, we are able to glimpse and take part in the world that is to come. We are able to love others in the face of some pretty unlovable things. We are able to serve others even when no one else wants anything to do with them. We are able to forgive even when forgiveness seems impossible.

What God wants for us is not a life of fear and oppression at having to live up to His commands, but a life lived to the fullest in His presence...inspired by love. Notice in verse 3 that obedience to God’s commands are linked to our love for God.

Why do you do nice things for your spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend? It is out of love. If we want to obey God we have to first love Him. Rules and guilt only take us so far. They are easy tools to use to get people to obey. I mean we can guilt many people into coming to church and doing good things if we say, “You will go to hell if you don’t do this!” We can make anyone feel guilty if we keep piling on the rules...but if we really want to see a change. If we really want people to follow God it has to come from love born out of a belief in His Son Jesus Christ and what He has done for us.

Nothing else works...really. What does it mean to be disciples of Jesus Christ? What is the sign of eternal life? It isn’t outward conformity to some moral standard. It isn’t outward obedience to God. Those may appear to be righteous and loving and caring.. It may look like it on the outside, but what it means to be a disciple is that we are transformed on the inside not brought to conformity on the outside.

That is why you will hear me say we want to make disciple not get decisions here at Crossroads Vineyard. So often we are content in the church to get someone to say a sinner’s prayer and consider it good and done. I don’t believe that is supported by anything we read in the Bible. No, we are called to fall in love with God through Jesus Christ, and out of that love become obedient to His commands. That is why John is able to say in 1 John 5:3, “His commands are not burdensome...” Because when we love someone then nothing we do for them is burdensome...except for maybe vacuuming or picking your clothes up off the floor or hanging another picture on the wall or...oh nevermind.

Conclusion

This has been a rather heady and theologically driven message, and for that I apologize. But it leads to a very practical question.

Do you love God?

It starts with recognizing who Jesus is, what he has accomplished for us, because he is the representation of all that God is. He is God in the flesh. If we want to know what God is like...we need only look to Jesus.

Do you love God?

Have you decided to follow Jesus?

Not just accept him into your heart as a good idea or a way out of hell or into heaven...have you accepted that all that Jesus is and said and taught is the Truth and is the way you want to define your life?

How we answer those questions determine the Christian life we will have...one that is drudgery, guilt driven, and easily overcome by sin...or one that is filled with love and obedience and overcomes the world and its sinfulness.

And so we have come to the end of our Revolutionary Love series and our journey through 1 John. John’s commitment to loving God and our brothers and sisters in Christ is rooted in accepting who Jesus is as the Son of God and following Him not out of compulsion or guilt or fear...but out of a revolutionary love that turns us into revolutionary lovers of God and life, and beauty, and mystery and the people around us.

We are able to overcome the world because God’s presence is now.

Next week we begin our message series on The Life of Jesus. We will be working through the Gospel of Mark...



For more information about Crossroads Vineyard Church in Huber Heights check us out online at www.daytoncrossroads.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/daytoncrossroads

December 16, 2011

On the Passing of Christopher Hitchens


World renowned writer, intellectual, and atheist Christopher Hitchens has passed away. He died as he lived; an intellectual opposed to all forms of theism. Opposed so harshly that he often refused the term atheist and preferred the term “antitheist.” As a Christian it might seem weird that I felt a need to write a post about such a man. Why would a Christian write about someone who seemed hellbent on destroying everything I believe in?

As a followers of Christ, we can not reduce this man’s life to his disavowal of deity. If we do, then we have done a disservice to him, and it seems more retributive for his years of challenge and aggressive attack. There is so much to be learned because there is more to Christopher Hitchens than his refusal to believe in a deity, and we learn it even in his refusal to believe in God.

I respect his commitment to stay connected to those less fortunate. 
Hitchens’ early life and intellectual development is marked by a growing anger at poverty and racism. He protested against the Vietnam War and allowed himself to be waterboarded to investigate whether or not it really was torture. He lasted only a few seconds.

The Huffington Post writes, “Hitchens resolved to spend time at least once a year in ‘a country less fortunate than [his] own.’” He wanted to experience first-hand the reality of other people’s lives. We would do well to learn that lesson...to experience first hand the reality of poverty...to see it with our own eyes...to have relationships with those who are hurting, broken, poor, and different from us.

I respect his intellect.
Hitchens was a powerful intellectual figure. He thought deeply, and held everything to intellectual standards that far surpass those of many Christians. Writing became his natural outlet to educate and enrage those around him. He knew that teaching someone took place when you introduced them to something new or enraged them to the point where they checked things out for themselves.

His intellectual curiosity and exploration lead to his atheism. Hitchens said, “"Faith is the surrender of the mind; it's the surrender of reason, it's the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It's our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated."

While I adamantly disagree that faith and intellect and skepticism and reason are somehow opposed or that they can not coexist...I respect that in many forms of Christianity he is absolutely right. Many who claim Christ do a great disservice to Christianity with weak intellectual practices or no intellectual practices at all.

I respect his conviction that this life should be lived to the fullest.
For the atheist this life is all that exists. There is nothing after this life. This can be a dark and depressing place as there is nothing left or an incredibly empowering thing for this life. Believing that this life is all there is can enliven the senses so that every experience and relationship is enjoyed to its fullest.

Hitchens saw life this way.
“Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”
Learning to enjoy life to fullest is a skill many could use to learn. Relationships, beauty, mystery, even pain all have their role. I would still find it incredibly depressing to think that all this was for nought. As a Christian, though, I don’t. I get the best of both worlds. I can and should enjoy life and beauty and mystery to its fullest all the while knowing that because of the resurrection to come this is not the end. In fact, it will get even better. All of this life’s experiences will be redeemed and made complete.

I respect his conviction to hold to his convictions.
Christopher Hitchens was a lightening rod for controversy and anger. He invited it and seemed to even enjoy it. He was willing to stand for his convictions no matter the cost. No one was immune whom he felt wrong.

He was even willing to call out Mother Teresa!
"[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction."
Hitchens declared that he would never have a conversion experience due to his cancerous condition. If he did it would be either a lie propagated by a religious nut or a result of being out of his mind due to drugs or cancer. His ultimate commitment was to maintain his integrity to his intellectual beliefs.
"The entity making such a remark might be a raving, terrified person whose cancer has spread to the brain. I can't guarantee that such an entity wouldn't make such a ridiculous remark, but no one recognizable as myself would ever make such a remark."
I do wish for the sake of his soul that Christopher Hitchens had experienced the presence of God. I don’t mean this to be offensive to atheists. If I truly believe in an afterlife where all the beauty and mystery of life is not lost...I would hope that Mr. Hitchens could experience that and enliven it with his intellect.

But I do respect that even when faced with death he was unwilling to waver from beliefs. He could have succumb to fear of the unknown. He could have bought the “insurance” just in case he was wrong. He could have done any number of things, but he was committed to his beliefs.

Conclusion
The passing of someone is always a sad thing. Something is lost when someone passes away, and, unfortunately, Hitchens couldn’t enjoy the idea that it didn’t have to die completely. He did, however, find a way to believe that he could live on...even if through the lives of his daughters.
“To be the father of growing daughters is to understand something of what Yeats evokes with his imperishable phrase 'terrible beauty.' Nothing can make one so happily exhilarated or so frightened: it's a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realize that your heart is running around inside someone else's body. It also makes me quite astonishingly calm at the thought of death: I know whom I would die to protect and I also understand that nobody but a lugubrious serf can possibly wish for a father who never goes away.”
Check out these two posts about Hitchens. Here and Here.

December 7, 2011

The Life of Jesus


I have been thinking a lot about our upcoming message series starting on Christmas Sunday. We are studying one of the most important persons to ever live. If we don't believe that Jesus is the most important person to ever live, we are no longer part of the Christian faith. He is the culmination of the prophetic voices of the Old Testament. He is the only way to the Father. He is the way, the truth, and the life. In the words of Hebrews 1:1-3,
"In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven."
Because of Jesus' influence, unschooled fishermen, traitorous tax collectors, radical zealots, and ordinary men and women went out to change the world. Because of him they were executed for the message that Jesus (and not Caesar) was Lord, and Salvation was found only in Jesus Christ. They preached a Kingdom that is not of this world and doesn't use the weapons of this world. This Kingdom calls us to lay down our lives, and men and women continue to answer that call and lay down their careers, their security, their reputations, their careers, and even their last breath for this man.

There is no way that one message series can cover all that can or should be said about Jesus. We will only scratch the surface, but it will life-changing!

December 5, 2011

Revolution: 1 John 4:1-6

In September 1983, an art dealer approached the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles with an extraordinary offer. He had a rare sculpture from the 6th Century BC known as a kouros he was wanting to sell. There are only about 200 of these in existence and most are in bad shape; often broken and severely damaged. This one was perfectly preserved, and the dealer was asking just under $10 million.

The museum was rightfully cautious. Finding a kouros was unbelievably rare, but even more so in this condition. So museums have a process for determining whether or not a piece of art is authentic or a fake...

They brought in a world-renown geologist who ran multiple tests and examined the piece closely. He took a core sample of the marble and examined it under a microscope. He looked at tooling marks left by the hammer and chisel. They compared stylistic traits of this piece with other known pieces.

After 14 months of study he concluded the marble had been taken from an ancient stone quarry, and had a layer of dolomite on the outer layer, which is impossible to duplicate he thought, indicating that it was extremely old...and therefore not a contemporary fake...so the museum planned on buying it.

The problem was...many were not convinced it was real. First came Italian Art Historian Frederico Zeri who couldn’t put his finger on it, but just knew it wasn’t authentic. Next was Evelyn Harrison, a foremost expert on Greek Sculpture. She too knew it wasn’t right. Next came Thomas Hoving, former director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. While he couldn’t quite tell anyone why...he just sensed that it wasn’t right. The museum was worried so they arranged for a special meeting in Athens, Greece with the worlds leading experts...and they immediately reacted against the piece being authentic. They couldn’t say exactly why they felt it was fake, but they just knew it was.

These men and woman were able to do, within just a few short seconds, what a leading scientist couldn’t do in 14 months...determine the sculpture a fake. (From Blink by Malcolm Gladwell)

As we go through life, we face different beliefs and make many decisions in our search to determine the truth. Some are very simple decisions, but other decisions are extremely difficult and life changing. They challenge us at our core, and can even threaten our faith. So we need something to help us sort out what is true and what is false. In today’s passage from 1 John, we are going to look at how we as Christians can make informed and God-honoring decisions.

But first I want to show you a video clip about how NOT to use your logic to make a decision





1 John 4:1-6
1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

 4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Remember John is writing to a group of Christians in Ephesus whom he pastored. He is now 80-90 years of age and in exile on the lonely island of Patmos about 30 miles off the coast of modern day Turkey. He is writing to this church because false teachers and prophets have come in and started leading the people of the church astray.

The Supernatural Forces of Evil

The people probably wouldn’t have believed so quickly, but the false prophets seem to be working in something of a supernatural “spirit.” John’s emphasis on not believing and testing the “spirits” tells us they were using some supernatural things as proof that their message was authentic.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to John’s readers or to us that our enemy is capable of supernatural feats, but sometimes it does. We forget our world is infused with the both good and evil forces moving and doing battle within a supernatural realm. And Satan, our enemy, is more than willing to disguise his actions behind a mask of deception.

Paul says in Ephesians 6:10-12, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Paul knew the realities of the Supernatural world, and the dangers they posed to God’s followers...that’s why he calls them to put on the armor of God.

Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

These people standing before Jesus at the judgment seat fully expect to be welcomed into His Kingdom. They had prophesied in Jesus’ name, driving out demons, and performed miracles. They performed some pretty spectacular things, and they, like these false teachers, believed the supernatural activity was God’s stamp of approval on their teaching.

The false teachers John addresses were teaching a false doctrine and then supporting their false claims with supernatural works and prophecy, with “spirits” as John calls them, that were leading many to doubt the teaching of John and place their faith in a false system.

It is easy to see how it would; don’t you think? If someone walked in here, preached a charismatic message, but we all thought, “There’s something not right about that message,” but then he or she began to pray for healing and people received sight, or the lame walked, and emotional disorders were healed...wouldn’t you begin to overlook their teaching? Make excuses for it...maybe they misspoke or I misunderstood them or the Bible is hard to really understand what it says...Because it’s obvious that God is doing something through them; right?

I have seen that in full force at one conference I attended. The errors of the speaker’s message were disregarded because of the miraculous healings done at the end of the service. I am talking about more than just a doctrinal difference or something being misspoken...that would be petty. There were serious errors of the faith, and yet they were overlooked because of the supernatural things taking places, and people flocked to it.

It just seems that only people who believe and follow God and do what is right would be able to do miraculous things. But according to John...that isn’t true. According to today’s passage miraculous things, “spirit” things, happen through false prophets as well...through antichrists, these liars who don’t even acknowledge Jesus as come in the flesh.

Handling the “spirits.”

So John’s advice is pretty simple... “don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God...”

Don’t take everything you see at face value. All the signs we think of as God’s blessing may not be signs of God’s blessing at all. They may actually be a deception of some other spirit. Don’t believe everything. Test the spirits to see if they are from God. Check them out...see how they line up with God’s Word. In John, we see this amazing blend of head and heart. We see a radical belief in the miraculous and mysterious and unexplainable, but also holding on to the “testing” ability God has given each one of us.

When it comes to certain stories and Internet legends...I am the guy who will post the link to Scopes.com. We see it all the time of Facebook and places like that...this or that story that a quick look at Scopes would resolve. We need to not be gullible or easily led astray, and we need to test...to check things out.

As Jesus was preparing to send His disciples on their first solo-mission adventure he says, in Matthew 10:16, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Why would Jesus says this? Because He knows there is an enemy. And this enemy loves to disguise himself and use whatever means possible to lead God’s children astray.

John tells us to test everything and Jesus says to be as shrewd as snakes...because he knows there is always something that just isn’t right when it comes to the enemy. He is a liar and has been a liar from the beginning. He will use any tactic He can to gain a foothold in our lives.

Sometimes, like in the church in Ephesus, Satan will use miraculous or supernatural “spirits” to lead us astray. I mean who doesn’t want to see people healed from lifelong maladies and struggles...and Satan is more than willing to concede a physical healing, if he can deceive us on a grander scale. Sometimes he will use more subtle techniques; anything to gain a foothold in the life of a believer.

So how do we test the spirits?

John gives us four very clear ways to test the spirits.

First, We are children of God. Based on your being a child of God and what you know of God’s working...based on God’s presence through the Holy Spirit in your life...does this ring true. In 1 John 4:4 it says, “You, dear children, are from God...” We are from God. We are His children. We have talked over the past few weeks about having the DNA of God, and because we have the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, we, “have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

This verse isn’t about us being able to handle anything that comes our way...it is about our ability to sniff out the spiritually fake and dangerous messages that come our way. We are able to do so because God is at work in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Second, We are able to see the problems in the message. There is always something that isn’t quite right about false messages. 1 John 4:5 says, “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.” Their message sounds great to the world. It is popular, and people run to it. In the Gospel of John chapter 6 we see people flocking to Jesus because he was doing all the miraculous things and turning a few loaves and fishes into a banquet for more than 5,000 people, but as soon as he started talking about the realities of the Kingdom, people turned and deserted Him because his teaching was too hard.

John reminds us that as Children of God, indwelt with the Holy Spirit, that things will sound different to us. Worldly people will chase after a worldly message, but the Children of God will be able to discern the Truth.

Third, we are to listen to godly leaders and counselors. 1 John 4:6 says, “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us...” God places leaders in our lives to guide us, and to give us direction. The spiritual gift of preaching, teaching, and leadership does not mean the person is better than anyone else, but it certainly means they have a responsibility, laid on them by God, to invest themselves in the Word of God...to get it as right as possible when studying and preparing...and to be workmen approved by God, as Paul says, so they can guide those under their care into a deeper knowledge of God and stronger involvement in the ministry.

As a leader in the church, I don’t get it right all the time. Even less than that if you ask my wife. But I sense regularly the weight of what has been laid on me as a pastor, and I know that being a leader in the church carries with it a lot of responsibility for how I lead and guide those under my care. John felt that for those in the church he is writing to.

Fourth, we are to listen to Scripture. Sometimes you start with the most important, and sometimes you end with it. Scripture is the foundation of all our beliefs about the faith. I think this is also part of that last verse I read, 1 John 4:6 says, “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us...” John and the other Apostles were writing Scripture. Their words were Scripture. And while John was writing to a specific people at a specific time with specific issues...his words continue to have meaning and depth and application for us some 2,000 years later. Scripture is our very foundation for Truth as Christians.

John Wesley put these steps into what has become known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. It is a four step process for working through theological beliefs to find Truth.
  1. Scripture-start with God’s Word
  2. Tradition-what does 2,000 years of history teach us on the subject..
  3. Reason-how does this stack up logically...
  4. Experience-what does our experience as Children of God show us in this regard...
One author writes, “Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. Scripture [however] is primary, revealing the Word of God 'so far as it is necessary for our salvation.'"

The Supernatural Deception

As we close I want to look at a few specific examples to help us grasp how these false messages slip into our lives and attempt to wreck us.

I asked Cyndi for permission to share this story.

She and Jason had been trying to have a child for quite some time, and were having no luck. In fact, it was worse than just not having a child, they struggled through several miscarriages. In their last and most hopeful time, she had several people come to her with “prophecies” about the baby being okay. Jason was also without a job, and they owned another home in Kentucky that they couldn’t seem to sell. After she miscarried, she wrote me this email...I have edited it to focus us this morning...

What was the purpose of prophets in the Old Testament? Has that purpose changed today? What is the point of someone giving me a prophesy...?

What do I do when people (who have the gift of prophesy) have given me what they feel is a word of prophesy and they turn out to be wrong? This has happened with several people that I trust telling us our last pregnancy was going to be the one we would have. They actually feel horrible about what happened. It's just frustrating that 3 of them did this.

I've recently asked God to stop his "prophets" from giving me false hope and false information. That I would stop trying to listen to others but that I need him to speak to me directly. I mean, would God withhold information that I need and give it to someone else to give to me? This seems very inefficient.

And for the record, this exact same thing happened when I was single. I had 5 different people give me prophesies that I'd getting married again. A couple of them said "soon" which didn't help...

Anyway, I guess I'm just frustrated that people are trying to be encouraging when it ends up being hurtful and I'm not sure how to take it. I feel like I'm closing myself off to God's prophets and that's probably not healthy. Btw, the "prophesies" we've been hearing have been about having a baby, selling Jason's house in KY, and Jason getting a job. I feel like I don't want to share prayer requests anymore because I don't want to hear anyone's opinion anymore.

We don’t have time in this message to address all of her questions...I just read this so we can see that Satan will often use good and well-meaning people to send us his false and damaging messages, and, like Cyndi, we must return to John’s advice to not “believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God...” Just because someone says they received a word from God does not mean they did, but just because it sounds all supernatural doesn’t mean we can disregard it. We don’t believe everything, and we test it against God’s word, against what he has taught us, against the good advice of godly leaders, and against the voice of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

It also reminds us to be careful when working with the spiritual gift of prophecy...some don’t have it, but want it so bad because it is really cool and try to live as if they do. Others have it and need training in how to use it properly.

The Common Sense Deception

So that is one way for the enemy to gain a foothold...But beyond the spectacular and the supernatural, I think Satan uses a technique that is way more devastating in many of our lives. You can call it “common sense” or “keeping it real” or “the gentle whisper” or whatever you want...but it is a subtle and devastating approach.

Let me give you a few examples.

You sense that God might be leading you to tell others about your faith, and the enemy starts to whisper his message in your ear...they are never going to listen to you...they are just going to ask you a question and you aren’t going to be able to answer it...and then what?...you will look foolish and so will God’s kingdom...they might even ignore you and just disregard you...best to leave that to the people who have the “gift” of evangelism...

Maybe God is asking you to step up in a ministry and the enemy starts to whisper in your ear...you’re not a leader...you aren’t like what’s his name over there...that guy has it all together...you’re a wreck...not to mention that you aren’t very smart....and you don’t have the right personality...don’t worry someone else who is smarter and more talented will do it...there are enough people willing to volunteer...

You might be going through a difficult time in your life, and the enemy starts to whisper in your ears...you are worthless...see what a mess you have gotten yourself into...God isn’t going to help you...why don’t you just give up now and save us all some time...

Maybe God is leading you to take a bold step of faith, and then it begins...that’s pretty scary what is your family going to think?...what are people around you going to think?...I know I would be scared to do something like that...and where is the money going to come from...you know you have failed in the past...this is going to be just like that...

Those things seem like common sense to us. We don’t have the right personality or we aren’t smart enough or we don’t all the answers...all of them sound like good reasons...but they aren’t. Fear begins to take hold, and what seems like common sense is really just lies the enemy uses to wiggle in once again to deceive us and keep us from doing what God has for us.

And when these message begin to take root in our lives we back away from what God has for us. We allow fear and false messages to cloud our understanding of who God is and who we are as His children.

Let me rewrite 1 John 4:1 a little bit for you, “Dear friends, do not believe every message whispered in your ear, but test the message to see whether it is from God, check against His Word, ask others about it, listen to God’s voice, think about whether this sounds like something you would expect from God, because many false message have gone out into the world.”

Conclusion

This morning...You might be receiving some false messages that have been holding you back? What lie have you allowed to control you or cause fear in you to keep you from being and doing what God desires in your life?

Don’t believe it!

Test the message to see if it is from God! Evaluate it against what you know of God, the leading of the Holy Spirit in your life, the advice of Godly leaders, and the Scriptures.

Does it ring true with God’s message for us?

Most often it will not.