April 30, 2012

Step Up: Shamgar No Longer a Bystander

There is an old cliche that says, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” When we are faced with a problem we find creative ways to fix it. Guys have found that you can fix about anything with duct tape and bailing wire. Thanks to Mythbusters, we know you can even build a boat using duct tape and bamboo to escape a deserted island and survive more than 6 hours on the open sea.

It is in the spirit of finding creative solutions to real-life problems that websites like There I fixed it... People like to jump in and solve problems...and fix stuff. It is always cool when people see a need and develop creative solutions to problems.

Today we continue in our series titled Step Up. We are looking at everyday people who stepped up, obeyed God, and made a difference for His Kingdom. Many of these people you probably haven’t even heard of...some you have. Today, we are looking at a guy named Shamgar. There are only two verses in the entire Bible about Shamgar. That is not a lot to go on, but in those few short verses we see someone not content to sit back and watch something happen...Shamgar had to get involved.

Judges 3:31,
“After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel.”
Judges 5:6-7
“In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned; travelers took to winding paths. Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back...”
Kitty Genovese was 28 years old when she was stabbed to death by a serial rapist and murderer on March 13, 1964. The attack lasted about a half hour...the attacker left and came back 10 minutes later to finish the assault. What makes this story more tragic is that neighbors watched from their windows or walked past unwilling to get involved, and only one person called the police.

When people heard about this they were outraged and confused. They wanted an explanation as to why so many people would callously walk past...unwilling to get involved.

This case led to many studies exploring why people didn’t get involved. Social psychologists call this phenomenon the Bystander Effect. They found that people will generally not get involved when faced with a situation; especially when other people are around. In fact, the more people around, the less likely someone is to help.

This effect has played out over and over and over again. In 2010 Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax was stabbed to death after he stepped in to defend a woman being assaulted...then 25 people walked past him while he bled to death on a sidewalk. One man even stopped to take a picture with his cellphone. 911 did not receive a call until almost 2 hours after the attack.

In 2011 two year old Wang Yue was struck then run over by a white van in Foshan, China. She lay dying in the street while 18 people walked past her.

People, when interviewed later, express a determination that they would have helped had they been there and express moral outrage at those who did not step in...but study after study demonstrates they would have done the same thing and kept walking.

There are two basic rules that our psychological selves work off of:
1. We ought to help.
2. We ought to do what everyone else is doing.
The problem is that often those around us do nothing. So when people see a problem, they are NOT likely to step in and do something about it, and the more people around the less likely they are to help.

As we read the book of Judges a pattern emerges. Israel serves God...after a time they fall into sin and idolatry...God allows another nation to enslave them...Israel eventually grows tired of it and cries out to the Lord...He raises up a judge and deliverer...Israel is freed from their oppressor...then it begins all over again. This pattern repeats itself ad nauseum throughout Israel’s history.

During the time of Shamgar Israel is in another time of enslavement. They have sinned, and the Philistines are regularly attacking and oppressing them. Their armies regularly invade the areas stealing crops, plundering the cities, raping the women, carrying off their children as slaves, and killing those who opposed them. Judges 5 tells us, “the highways were abandoned; travelers took to winding paths.” And true to the Bystander Effect, “Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back...”

They held back because they were afraid. What could they do? They were just a handful of unarmed, untrained villagers. They couldn’t stand up against an army of Philistines! But Shamgar couldn’t just sit back and watch. These were his people. This was his village. He had to get involved.

Everyday, you and I are faced with the decision of whether or not to get involved with all kinds of situations, and our involvement has eternal ramifications. Yet, we often don’t get involved when faced with a need...because we don’t see that it really affects me, my life, or the life of my family. But as humans...we are connected. And the situations that affect one person may one day affect all of us.

In November 1945 German Pastor Martin Niemöller visited the former Dachau concentration camp, where he had been imprisoned from 1941 to April 1945. That night he reflected in his journal what led to his captivity...
First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Edmund Burke articulated a very similar feeling, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Both Niemöller and Burke understand that not getting involved somehow makes us accomplices with the evil we despise.

Shamgar was not a soldier. He had not been trained to fight. He was a farmer. But he saw a need and stepped up to do something about it.

The challenge for us is to get involved...we live in a Bystander culture. We watch things happen. Reality shows have someone else live life on a great travel adventure or on an exotic island while we watch from middle of nowhere Ohio. Sports events have us watch someone else do sports while we eat wings and chips and drink soda and get fat.

And if we are not careful we treat our Christian faith as though it were a spectator sport. We sit in chairs while someone else does the worship and the ministry of the church. Someone else will step up to serve in this or that area. I know my friend needs someone to share Jesus with them...but I’m no evangelist.

This is not how God designed it. God designed the Christian life for us to get involved. Have you ever looked at a problem or just felt deep down inside, “Someone should do something about that!” Often that is God planting a seed for us to get involved.

But the problems can seem so big...and often we are not sure what to do about it.

For Shamgar it meant using what was at hand. He was a farmer plowing his field with a team of oxen...Judges 3 says Shamgar, “struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad.”

An oxgoad is nothing fancy. It is a long stick with a point at one end and flat spade at the other. The farmer would use the pointed end to poke the oxen and keep them moving, and use the spade end to dig the dirt from under the plow. It was a very useful tool for farming...but not something you would put in your arsenal in a military situation.

Have you noticed that action movies get a lot of distance from improvised weapons. Jason Bourne from the Bourne Spy Movies has used some very creative ways to kill or injure people.
Hardcover book, a ballpoint pen, a magazine, an electrical cord, Vodka. I mean we all know that vodka can hurt people...usually the morning after, but Jason Bourne used it to blind his enemy then kick his legs out from under him and punch him in the head. Then he used the rest of the vodka to ease the pain and treat his gunshot wound. Multiple uses.

When we see a problem, it is easy to look at all we don’t have rather than what we do have. We look at what we lack rather than what God has given us. We can see how Shamgar might say, “I want to help, but I don’t have a sword, or armor, or a shield.” He didn’t have the right equipment, but the need was so real, so urgent Shamgar had to do something. So he was willing to use what he had at hand.

Shamgar didn’t need a sword. God gave him all he needed to accomplish what he needed to do. God gives us everything we need to meet the need placed in front of us. It may not be the perfect weapon...we may want the sword, but we have the oxgoad. We have everything we need to get involved...we just need to use it.

When we are faced with someone’s financial need...we have the ability to help with something.
When faced with someone’s emotional pain over the loss of their loved one...we have the tools to help...we may not know what to say...but we don’t need to...we just have to be willing to care. When we are faced with someone’s need for Jesus...we have all we need to help them know him. We have everything we need, but let’s be honest...there are several reasons we won’t use our oxgoads...

The first and biggest is that we have no sense of personal responsibility. It is not my problem therefore I have no reason to get involved. We excuse ourselves from helping because we didn’t make that person homeless...that person’s loneliness isn’t my problem...I have things to do. I am responsible for my family and my home...not theirs. I have my own financial needs.

In Matthew 9:25-38 we see Jesus’ response as he sees the vast number of needs around him. It says, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

That word compassion means...moved in the gut. He had that ache in his stomach that pushed him to do something in response. What Jesus most needs is workers in the harvest with the same sense of compassion who make it their concern...make it their responsibility to do something about the hurt and pain they see in the world around them.

Another reason we don’t use our own oxgoad is fear. We are afraid. Afraid of what people will think of us. Afraid of how it will affect our families. Afraid that we won’t really make a difference. If I pray for this person, what if I don’t have the right words or they say no? What if nothing happens?

In the very next chapter of Judges, we find the story of Barak and Deborah. Deborah prophesies to Barak, Israel’s military commander, that Israel will win a mighty victory over Sisera and his army if Barak will just march out and fight against them. But Barak is fearful, and refuses to go unless Deborah goes with him. Because of his fear, the credit for the victory went to Deborah instead of him. She becomes the primary figure because of Barak fear.

Another reason we don’t use our oxgoad is we struggle with feelings of inferiority. My oxgoad is not as good as that person’s oxgoad. In fact, I am walking into battle with an oxgoad and they have a .50 caliber machine gun! I could do more if I just had more time, or money, or intelligence, or ability. We fail to see that our little oxgoad empowered by God is more powerful than someone else’s weapon without God.

In the New Testament, Jesus tells a parable about three men who receive bags of gold from their master. Each one receives the bag of gold in accordance with their ability. One receives 5 talents, one 2 talents, and the last receives 1 talent. The first two servants with the 5 and 2 talents go out and make a return of double what they were given. The last simply buries what he has received and returns it his master. The issue is not how much was given...the issue is whether they used what they were given.

We are not judged on whether we have the abilities of this or that person, but on how we use what God has given us. Our ability to serve will not be compared to Mother Theresa. Our ability to tell others about Jesus will not be compared to Billy Graham. Our ability to tithe and give will not be compared with how much that person is able to give. I will not be judged on whether or not I can preach as well as a Tim Keller or Rich Nathan or Louie Giglio or whether I understand the Bible like N.T. Wright. I am responsible for doing what God has called me to do with what little I have been given. We will be judged by whether we use the 1 piece of gold we have to make a difference in the world or whether we keep making excuses for not helping because of how little we have received.

Shamgar made a difference because when he saw a problem he used what he had. Judges 3 says, “He too saved Israel.” He gets one verse in comparison to all the chapters about all the other people, and yet the Bible says, “He TOO saved Israel.” By other standards...600 Philistines is not that many, but his accomplishment was not to be looked down on...He was obedient. He got involved. He used his oxgoad...and He too saved Israel.

God doesn’t give us the option to be a bystander because we serve a God who is not content to be a bystander.

I have come to love this quote:
“The Christian gospel [Jesus’ death and resurrection] asserts that...God moves to fix messes he didn’t create, pay debts he didn’t incur, forgive the guilty for wrongs they couldn’t undo and bear burdens humanity piled onto itself.”
John 20:21, “Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Once we take on discipleship to Jesus...once we decide to follow Jesus...we are given the mission to extend the Kingdom of God into the world around us...and that happens in very practical ways.

That is why James, the brother of Jesus, writes, James 2:15-16, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

For us as a church it means we have a concern for poor, the broken, hurting, those who have been beaten up by the world and by the church. We care for those in need. We get involved. We welcome those who have shady pasts, those who are struggling, those who have addictions, those who need a word from God in their marriages...we welcome those who need Jesus.

But getting involved will cost us...it mean stepping up ourselves...seeing a need and using what we have to meet that need both as a church and as individuals.

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine led his church in a life changing experience. He and a group of men got involved in the fight against human sex trafficking. They went to Indianapolis the week before the Super Bowl and placed bars of soap in the local hotel rooms used for prostitution with a rescue number on it. Three girls were saved that weekend. They had run away from home, and been abducted and forced into prostitution.  They did the same here in Dayton before the NCAA playoffs.

After all this took place, he planned to preach about what had happened and why God calls us to get involved in these sorts of things...that morning 80plus people walked out of his congregation and left the church because they didn’t believe the church was supposed to do things like that...they should be focused on getting people saved spiritually. I have never been more proud of a friend than what I heard he said that day. He said something along these lines, “If you come here to have your ears tickled and think that being a Christian means sitting back and being uninvolved you are in the wrong place. We are going to get involved in helping people who are broken and hurting find their way into the Kingdom of God by loving them and speaking out about real evil.”

That day he lost 80 people...getting involved cost him something.

Making a difference always costs something. Difference making doesn’t happen with a cheap and easy click of the mouse as you like and share that Kony video. It doesn’t happen because you sign your name on the bottom of a check. A real difference is made when you and I pick pick up our oxgoad, get personally involved, and take out a few hundred Philistines.

I wish making a difference were as easy as writing a check or volunteering a few short hours at a shelter or handing out a few bags of groceries...But God has designed this so that I have to get my hands dirty in order for anything of value to really take place.

A real difference is made when we overcome our fear, and rather than offering the obligatory, “I’ll be praying for you.” We stop and say, “Can I pray for you now?” And then in two to three sentences we take them before God.

A difference is made when after being confronted with a need...clothing or food or money...we get involved and sacrifice to help instead of getting the church to help or finding that right organization...

A real difference is made when we take a Sunday or two out of our “spiritual growth” to invest in children and youth and help them hear and understand God better.

A difference is made when we mow the neighbor lady’s yard because she is sick...or visit someone in their nursing home...or bring dinner to someone...there are a million needs around us everyday...screaming for our help...for us to care...for us to get involved.

God’s Kingdom does not allow us to be bystanders. The Kingdom of God is the place where people, like you and me, who have been captured by God’s love and forgiveness and transformed by His Holy Spirit, reach out with God’s love to those around because of all that He has done for us.

April 23, 2012

Step Up: Caleb Taking the Promised Land

When people are faced with something requiring change they respond in different ways. Some people jump right in and run headlong into the changes. Some dig in their heels and say, I will never change! Most of people find ourselves somewhere in the middle.

A group of researchers observed that when an organization is faced with change people responded in one of four ways. These are not political or religious definitions...they are typologies of people as they face change.

Let me give you the four and then explain them.

1. Revolutionaries-emotionally committed to change. If it is stable...they want to blow it up and create change. A stable system is antithetical to their nature. They are constantly seeking to change and change things around them. They have a million ideas about things to do and change.

2. Progressives-committed to change. They lean in the direction of changing things, but want to plan in a rational way how that will take place. They don’t need or have all the details, but recognize the need and the necessity of change and work toward it.

3. Conservatives-resistant to change. They lean in the direction of non-change, but they can be won over with the facts. These are the people who ask the questions like: Why? How are we going to pay for it? What is going to happen? How are going to deal a certain situation?

4. Reactionaries-emotionally committed to not changing. No amount of convincing will work. Things have always been done this way so that’s good enough for them. When they are forced to change they keep harkening back to the “good ole days.”

Revolutionaries and Reactionaries seem rational, but they are not...and both are usually shouting the loudest and complaining the most. Revolutionaries want to change everything and change it constantly, and complain when change isn’t happening. Reactionaries want everything to stay the same no matter what, and complain when things change. One extreme makes it impossible to exist because things are in turmoil and the other almost requires a disconnect from the reality because change does eventually happen.

Most people reside somewhere in the middle. They are either Progressives and lean toward change, or they are Conservatives and lean toward non-change.

Rich Nathan says,
As a Pastoral leader you want to push progressives to the front of leadership while listening to the conservatives because they point out the problems in your plan. You also have to have an ear for the revolutionaries, who will have some great ideas, while dragging the reactionaries behind, because they will never change.
Sometimes, something happens and people are pushed out of the group they would regularly function out of and into one of the other groups...usually in the direction of non-change.

Larry Osbourne, a pastor in California, says once a person states an opinion in front of a large crowd they are less likely to change their position even if it is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt they should change. By publicly announcing their belief they have become emotionally committed to their stance and change is almost impossible at this point.

Fear of the unknown, sentimentality, and various external pressures can also cause people them to resist change.

We are currently in a message series titled: Step Up. We are looking at ordinary men and women of the Bible who simply stepped up and met the challenge God laid in front of them, and through their obedience advanced the Kingdom of God.

Today we are looking at a story in the Old Testament book of Number about a man named Caleb. The story may be familiar to some of us. It is the story of Moses sending 12 spies into the Promised Land as an advance team to scope things out; see what lay ahead...and how an entire community resisted the change required of them by God...disobeying His commands...and suffering some pretty tough consequences for their actions.

So let’s look at Numbers 13...we will also be looking at parts of Numbers 14.

Numbers 13:1-2; 17-33
 1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.

 17 When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. 18 See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. 19 What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? 20 How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)

 21 So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. 22 They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived. (Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23 When they reached the Valley of Eshkol,[a] they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshkol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there. 25 At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.

 26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”

 30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

 31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

After 400 years in Egypt, God sends Moses to lead the people of Israel out of their slavery. It has been about two years since they left, but they have seen some pretty amazing stuff by this time. 10 Plagues, the opening of the Red Sea, The Cloud by day and the Fire by night that led them, water from a rock and manna from the sky, and now they are standing on the border of Canaan.

Scripture calls Canaan The Promised Land because in Genesis 12, God promised that one day He would give this land to Abraham’s descendants. It would be a land flowing with “milk and honey” and a place where they could be a settled people with their own land instead of wanderers and slaves. God would establish a Kingdom in their midst and be present with them. This was to be their Eden.

But as they stand there on the border, there is a lot to be considered. What are the people like? What kinds of food could they expect? What was the layout and how would they need to travel it? What challenges are they going to face?

In Numbers 13:2 God says, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites.” Their report to the Moses and the Israelites was to answer the question of how they were going to go about fulfilling God’s desire of taking the land.

This wasn’t supposed to be a question of ARE they going into the Promised Land. This was supposed to be a question of HOW are they going to go about it. Because God had called them to take possession of the Promised Land. God had promised it to them, and when God promises He always delivers.

He is giving them the land...therefore it should have been a foregone conclusion that despite anything they saw...the land would be theirs. This doesn’t mean it would be easy, but it would be theirs. God placed the vision of their own land in front of them, and they stood on the edge of entering it.

God is in the business of placing visions, dreams, and Promised Lands in front of His people and challenging them to step up in obedience. In fact, God has place a Promised Land in front of each one of us.

He does this on both the corporate and individual level. He challenges every Church community to fulfill a vision to enter a Promised Land He has place in front of them.

We are called to establish a church in Huber Heights that loves and cares for people so they can take their next step closer to God. That is our call as a church. Our goal is that when people think of a church in Huber Heights they think of us because we have loved and served them in Jesus name and they know that God loves them because we love them.

After He challenges the Church, then He challenges each person in that community to use their gifting and skills to accomplish the vision and reach the Promised Land placed before them. Each of you have been given a skill, a gift, a calling that God wants to use to help this community reach its Promised Land.

He challenges each of us individually to make our life count...to do something significant with it. He lays in front of us a Promised Land, and then challenges us to enter it...with nothing more than a promise that He has given the land.

You would think that God’s promise would be enough, but we are human. God calling us to do something doesn’t seem to be enough for us. Just look at the Israelites. They saw the power of the 10 Plagues. They saw the the Red Sea opened and they walked through on dry ground while the Egyptians drowned as the sea closed around them. They saw water from a rock; manna appearing on the ground; a pillar of fire to protect, warm, and lead then at night; and a cloud to protect , cool, and lead them during the day.

You would think all of this would be enough for them to trust God when He says...Go, take the Land, I will be with you...and yet when they heard the report of the spies they were frightened.

In Numbers 13:27-29 the spies report to Moses, “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there [These are the ancestors of Goliath]. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”

For the Israelites the opposition spoke louder than God’s call to take the Land. They looked at the beauty and bounty of the Promised Land but trembled at the challenges and resistance. Rather than look at the power of God that had led them out of Egypt, they looked at the powerful armies, the fortified cities, the giant warriors of the land...and they feared.

When we are faced with the call of God we often shrink back. Maybe we didn’t really hear things correctly. Maybe it was just my own inner voice of desire. Maybe I was wrong or missed it.

The main culprit causing us to shrink back is the same problem the Israelites faced...resistance and opposition. Here is a truth we need to accept: Whenever you are involved in something significant for the Kingdom of God there is going to be resistance. Always!

When things are going good, it is easy to believe that God has called us...that we are headed in the right direction...that yes, this is the Promised Land we were supposed to enter. But when resistance comes...that is when the doubts come and our resolve most tested.

In the early months of this church, we planned for the day when we would have our first services. We prayed. We knew it was God’s plan for us to start this church. And then leading up to the first service...things began to happen. Sickness. Broken down cars. Rebellious kids getting into trouble. One facility became unavailable to us. We faced resistance. At every major step along the way...every significant move we have made as a church has been surrounded with spiritual warfare and resistance.

The Israelites faced armies and fortified cities, for those of us in the American culture we face a different kind of opposition. There are all kinds of opposition, but there are three big forms of opposition that keep from entering the Promised Land. They are comfort, security, and safety.

Comfort and security have been lifted to almost divine status in our culture, and it shows up in the questions we ask. Will my life have to change in order to accomplish this? I won’t have to give up anything will I? I won’t have to go out of my way or be inconvenienced to accomplish this?

When some are challenged and it makes them uncomfortable, or requires them to alter their comfortable life, or asks them to sacrifice...they resist...especially when it comes close to the bank account. How will I make money? What about my future? I really like my life and standard of living.

Safety is also a form of opposition. We live in the most safety conscious culture ever! There was a day when nobody wore a seatbelt...and we really need seatbelts...but now we talk of these safety things as though they ought to be a guarantee that no one will be injured. Listen to those around you when you start talking about serving the poor and broken....when you mention the kinds of people you serve...and the questions of safety come up. Things will be safe, won’t they. I don’t want to put my family in danger.

In following God’s will we don’t want to do anything stupid, but following God is not safe or comfortable or secure to begin with. Do you know why the church has grown so much through the centuries? Because God’s people cared more about God’s will and loving their neighbor than they cared for their own safety, security and comfort. In the Middle Ages, while others were fleeing the poverty and the plague infested areas...Christians were going into those areas to care for the dying and comfort them.

One of the most powerful moments from 9/11 came as one news anchor reported on devastation and the terror that was taking place in New York City as the Towers fell. He was telling about the thousands of people fleeing in panic, and how the brave men and women of the police and fire departments were rushing toward all the devastation. Then He mentioned that large groups of priests and nuns were also rushing toward the devastation to comfort and pray with people along the way.

If we want to accomplish God’s will...if we want to enter the Promised Land laid out before us...we have to overcome the resistance and push forward in obedience. We must press forward to claim the territory God has for us.

Only two men, Joshua and Caleb, were willing to trust God. Only they had the courage to believe that in spite of all the opposition and difficulties that might lay ahead they could take the Land because God had said they could. Numbers 13:30 says, “Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.’”

Caleb is the standout here. Joshua had become the right-hand man for Moses. So it wasn’t much of a surprise that he would stand with Moses. But Caleb was on his own.

Their fear pushed the Israelites into disobedience. We see here in Numbers 13 & 14 that they went after anyone who stood in their way. Their fear took over and they spread a bad report about the land. They grumbled and complained against their God appointed leaders, they looked back fondly at their years in Egyptian slavery, talked about choosing another leader who would do what they wanted, and then wanted to stone Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb. That is some serious disobedience.

In the face of this kind of opposition...what was it that allowed Caleb to stand so strongly for God. In Numbers 14:24 God says, “...because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.”

That is what allows us to step up for God when the Promised Land lays ahead of us. We must have a different spirit...we must follow after God wholeheartedly. For Caleb it was never a question of NOT going into the Promised Land. He knew there would be resistance and they would face opposition...but God had said go take the land. Caleb believed God.

Because of their disobedience the Israelites were not allowed to enter the Promised Land. For the next 40 years, these men and women suffered the consequences of their disobedience. Caleb, even though he had stood for God, had to suffer through 40 years in the desert alongside these people.

There are real consequences when we refuse to enter the Land God calls us to enter, and those consequences affect the people around us. When we withhold ourselves...when we resist...when we refuse to go where God is leading...there are consequences.

There is a word here for many local churches. I have seen church after church resist the call of God to take the Land He is calling them to take...I have seen Christians resist the call of God to take the land...to take part in a ministry to serve...and when the pastor or leadership attempts to lead them there they turn on them...talk of replacing them...speak horrible things about their pastors and leaders...leave the church because they “aren’t being fed”...but ultimately they are resisting God and being disobedient.

Our disobedience only hurts us. God will still accomplish His will...His Kingdom will come...The Promised Land will be taken, but our disobedience keeps us from being part of it.

For me on a personal level and for the leadership team of this church, our ultimate prayer is for God to lead us and that we would be willing to sacrifice, to follow, to face any opposition to see God’s Kingdom come here in Huber Heights. There is a Promised Land ahead of us as a church.

The question is How are we going to respond to God’s call on our lives to enter the land in front of us?

Social Psychologist divide our responses into the 4 typologies of Revolutionaries, Progressives, Conservatives, and Reactionaries. These are helpful categories...but Scripture looks at the ultimate outcome and defines it in terms of obedience to God’s Will. Scriptures asks us if we willing to obey and take the territory to which God calls us as a Church and as Individuals?

April 17, 2012

Step Up: Bezalel Working in the Shadow of God

What do you think of when I use words like creativity and artist?

Do you think of a carpenter? A farmer? A Computer Tech? Maybe an entrepreneur? No, most of us think of someone with a paintbrush. Someone who makes beautiful pieces of music, or who does something more “creative” you could ever do.

We are very good at separating jobs into “creative” jobs and “non-creatives” jobs, and deciding whether this person or that person is an “artist”. So we have musicians, writers, actors, and painters in one category...and we put Contractors, Farmers CPA’s, and Scientists in another.

Sometimes, something special happens and the lines get obscured.

Microsoft and Apple are a good way to look at this. They represent two very different approaches to software and computers. Both want high quality, useable computer experiences that help the user get stuff done. But each takes a different approach. Microsoft is very practical and focuses on functionality and software. They let other people design the equipment. Apple does everything. They make the software, but they also make the equipment, and everything has this aesthetic beauty to it all.

I found this video rather funny...it compares the marketing concepts of Microsoft and Apple...

There really is an Apple aesthetic...a look...a beauty about a macbook or ipad that other pieces of computer equipment just don’t have. They are not always the most usable piece of equipment or even the most reasonably priced, but there is a beauty to them...a sleekness.

A journalist for the Guardian UK writes, “The sharp, bright screen of the iPad..may be seductive, but few would argue that typing on its virtual screen is the most practical way to produce work. Yet I have been writing articles with it for months now. Why? I could give all kinds of practical reasons, but they would be lies. The truth is that I am captivated by the beauty of this piece of technology...I have never felt this way about a piece of machinery before. "Machinery"? That seems inappropriate, like calling Michelangelo's David a hunk of stone...it is the aesthetic originality of Apple that has reshaped the way we live in the modern world.”

When Steve Jobs created the first motherboard for the Apple computers he labored for hours to make sure it looked as good as it functioned. He spent countless hours making something look good that most of its users would never see. Some would see this as a complete waste of time. Who cares what it looks like, no one is going to see that. It is good enough as long as it works.

When asked about it, Steve Jobs used an anecdote given to him by his father, "When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood in the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through."

Whether we like Apple computers or not is really not the point of all this...We could probably start a war with feelings that run somewhere akin to the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s if we were to ask which one you prefer...but we won’t do that.

Steve Jobs shows that things work best when the line between creativity and non-creativity is removed, and that beauty and aesthetics are important...and it is all worth working for.

I have never viewed myself as all that creative or artistic. I don’t paint. I don’t create music. I don’t draw. I write, but not creative fiction. What I found in preparing this message is that today’s passage challenged the view I had of myself. It challenges the division between creative and non-creative...and reminds us that creativity and beauty can and should be brought into any field because they are important to God...whether we are mechanics, carpenters, CPA’s, secretaries, school bus drivers...whatever we do...God has called us to do it with creativity and beauty.

Infusing our work with creativity is the difference between a McDonald’s hamburger and one from Tank’s on Wayne Ave. or Thurman’s in the German Village of Columbus. It is the difference between a short order cook and Michelin rated Chef. It is the difference between our carpentry work and that of Bob Villa. While I may not be able to build something as beautiful as Bob Villa...I have a calling...you have a calling to make something beautiful where you are...in a way that only you can do it.

We are starting a new message series today called Step Up, and we are looking at some unknown people or people who are often overlooked because they are not a main player. Bezalel son of Uri and Oholiab son of Ahisamak are two people that are often overlooked...but without them the Tabernacle might have had the aesthetic quality of a PC instead of a Mac.

I’m kidding...mostly.

The book of Exodus is the story of God leading his people, through Moses, out of slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea, and making them His people. He leads them to Mount Sinai where Moses meets God and receives the 10 Commandments. In chapters 24-25, God tells Moses to take up a collection from the people to build a Tabernacle...a large tent that will serve as God’s house among His people...a physical representation that God is with them. Over the next few chapters, God gives Moses the instructions for what the Tabernacle should look like, what articles of furniture need to be built, and how things should work.

At the end of all the instructions about the Tabernacle, God gives Moses one more piece of instruction...that is where we pick up for today’s message

Exodus 31:1-11
1 Then the LORD said to Moses, 2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. 6 Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: 7 the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent— 8 the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, 9 the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand— 10 and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you.”

As God hands out the assignments for his new home, He doesn’t allow just anyone to do it. God chooses the craftsman Bezalel. 1-2 “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah...’” They are commissioned or called.

This idea is behind our being called. There are many who look back at the beginning of their careers and say, “I just felt called to do it.” Or, I knew I wanted to do this from a very young age. But here this is much deeper than just a sense of purpose or a feeling. God commissions these men to a specific task.

Not only are they chosen, but God has, “...filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills...” Bezalel is the the first person in Bible to be “filled with the Spirit of God.”

Bezalel and Oholiab were no doubt good at what they did. They had honed their skills in Egypt. And whether this was a natural ability or a skill learned over time doesn’t matter. It was given to them by God.

God chose Bezalel, and God filled Him with His Spirit to do the work that lay ahead. The work doesn’t seem to be all that difficult for a craftsman. He no doubt had an understanding of how to work with wood, stone, fabrics, and precious stone. These are skills a good tradesman should have if they are going to be in business for long.

But by stating it this way, God says there is a spiritual component to every task we undertake. Everytime we use skill, and wisdom, and understanding in our work...there is a spiritual component. This isn’t just any tent Bezalel is making. These aren’t just any pieces of furniture. These will be used in the house of God.

When we look at this, and see how God deals with these men, it gives us insight into how he deals with us. We, too, are chosen by God, and skilled by Him to do the work.

Some of us are privileged to work in a field or job that fits us. WE enjoy what we do, we are good at it. Others of us work in jobs that don’t. We work the job in order to do what we really enjoy doing. But our skills, the things we are good at, the areas where we really excel...are areas where God chooses us and gifts us to do spiritual work.

God is in the business of choosing and gifting people.

The Apostle Paul draws attention to this in two passages...

Romans 12:6-8
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
Then again in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 he says, “
“7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”
God chooses us to be part of His Kingdom, and then gifts us for a special role in bringing that about. Not every gift is listed in these two passages. There are so many gifts and skills and talents and abilities...but if we recognize that God has chosen us...He gives us ways to use those skills and talents to expand His influence in the world around us.

Some of you have musical gifts and skills...you are needed.
Some of you have organizational skills...some have computer skills...some have carpentry...some have mechanical...some have teaching...some have one of the spiritual gifts listed. Each gifting and skill is given by God because it is needed where He has put you...or will put you.

But, We are not meant to do it alone.
Verse 6 says, “I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you...”

There are so many times when we have the skill, the ability, the talent to do something and we charge ahead all by ourselves.

I’m like that. Rather than ask for help, I will just do something. Rather than allow someone else to fumble along...I will just do it myself because it is quicker.

God knew Bezalel couldn’t manage all the work that needed to be done. He knew that friendship was necessary, and Bezalel needed someone else to help with the load of the work.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
9 Two are better than one,
   because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
   one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
   and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
   But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
   two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
We need people. Each one of us has been given a skill, but we are not meant to do it on our own. We need others to helps us accomplish the task God has commissioned us to do. And we need others because God desires that we invest in other people.

One of the often overlooked things is the need to replace yourself...to pass on our skills and wisdom to others. One day, we will be gone. And unless we have transferred our skills and our knowledge, our failures and our success on to the next generation...we leave them stranded. We bring others along because we need people to learn what we have to teach.

This entire thing...this Kingdom thing we are doing is a relational activity from beginning to end.

And it is all for the purpose of bringing glory to God.
verse 11 says, “They are to make them just as I commanded you.”

The ultimate purpose of all that Bezalel and Oholiab did was to bring glory to God. They were building the earthly dwelling shelter for God. Their skill and craftsmanship was to be worthy of God. And their work reflected the one who had called them.

And our work must be worthy of God.

As followers of Jesus Christ, people take their clue about what God is like by the way we live our lives, and one of the major aspects of our lives is how we work.

Steve Jobs was not a Christian as far as we know...he espoused Buddhism, but his commitment to quality work is certainly an aspect of the Image of God that was stamped on his life. The desire to get the details right even when no one would ever see them.

For us this carries over into our work. Do we work just to receive a paycheck? Do we really work for the boss or the company? Who ultimately is our employer and provider? It is God. Paul writes to his young protege Timothy and says, “Study to show yourself a workman approved by God.” The quality and the spirit we bring to our work reflects on the God we serve...because He has made us to take part in the creative process of building and doing stuff...of working and being productive.

When a pastor or someone in the church speaks of gifting and talents, we often wrap the entire conversation around how we use these gifts to benefit the Church. God certainly wants us to serve the Kingdom by serving at the church...and I believe we are called to serve God with our gifts and abilities to benefit the gathering of his people.

We need people with musical gifts to lead us in worship...have you ever had to listen to someone who isn’t gifted musically sing in church? It may be a joyful noise, but it isn’t fun to listen to. But if you have someone who is gifted musically and is seeking to glorify God with their skill...it is like you are listen to something straight out of heaven.

The Church needs people who are great preachers and teachers, people who are great with children, and people who are compassionate care-givers, and those who have knowledge of accounting and business knowledge...people who have God-give skill, wisdom, and understanding...and when people use their God-given talents and skills and bring their best work to the church...God is glorified. People’s lives are changed.

But God’s vision is far bigger than the local church. God’s call for us to use our gifts, talents, and abilities extends well beyond the gathering we call church...and stretches into our day-to-day world.

C.S. Lewis put it this way,
“I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more good by that than by any directly [Christian] work. … What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects.” (Lewis; God in the Dock, ‘Christian Apologetics’)
We could extend this to every possible field. We need good music in all genres written by Christians who are seeking to glorify God. We need more great accounting and banking from Christians using their skills to glorify God. We need business owners and entrepreneurs in all areas with skilled followers of Jesus who are seeking to bring glory to God through their work. Put any form of employment in there...and God needs people doing those things for His glory with skill and wisdom and understanding.

Creativity is not just reserved for the arts. Every time we use skill in our jobs, every time we find a solution to a problem...every time we alter the direction of something...we are being creative.

One of the things I found interesting is that the name Bezalel means “in the shadow of God.” And I usually try not to read too much into these sorts of things, but when we work, but I had what I feel was a profound insight as I was reflecting on this passage during the week. When we use our wisdom and skill and understanding and work in our field to bring glory to God...we walk in the shadow of God.

We are taking part in something that belongs to God. Creativity originated with God...and He invites us into that. We are made in His image, and an important part of that is being creative.

So if you work with computers...bring glory to God with your skill.
If you are a tradesman...bring glory to God with your creativity.
If you are mechanic...bring glory to God.
Are you a business owner...a military professional...a stay-at-home mom...whatever you consider your work and gifting...do it with skill and wisdom and understanding in order to bring glory to God.

This week I want to issue a challenge...I want you spend a couple minutes each day and pray this simple prayer...God, show me your plan for the area and show me what I can do to accomplish it.

April 11, 2012

Our Next Message Series: Step Up

We just finished our message series on the Life of Jesus. Over the next few weeks, we are doing a series called Step Up. We will focusing on some not-so-well-known figures in the Bible who stepped up and followed God.

April 10, 2012

The Life of Jesus: Finding Hope Mark 16:1-8

This is a painting entitled Hope by George Frederick Watts. The woman is sitting on a globe, blindfolded, clutching a wooden lyre with only one string left. She is pressing her ear close to the string as though trying hear the only note it can play.

Despite calling it Hope...the painting seems rather depressing. The muted greens and browns mixed with the soft brush strokes do not resound with hope. The darkness of the painting has actually prompted criticism from many who want to know, “How is this hope?”

Rev. Frederick G. Sampson has said “[I] wanted to quarrel with the artist for having the gall to name that painting Hope when all [I] could see in the picture was hell—a quiet desperation. But then [I] began to understand why the artist titled the painting “Hope.” In spite of being in a world torn by war...destroyed by hate and decimated by distrust, in spite of being on a world where famine and greed are uneasy bed partners...where apartheid and apathy feed the fires of racism and hatred...in spite of being on a ticking time bomb, with her clothes in rags, her body scarred and bruised and bleeding, her harp all but destroyed and with only one string left, she had the audacity to make music and praise God.”

You see George Watts painted this piece as a response to the death of his daughter Blanche. When asked about the painting he said, “It suggests...the music which can come from the remaining chord.” This is hope in the midst of despair. It represents the ability of people, at their lowest point to find a single string of hope that keeps them going, when all around is failing and falling apart.

We often need that string of hope. Hope, that in the midst of all that is going on and going wrong around us that somehow things have a meaning, a purpose, that there are better days on the horizon.

We need hope, but where do we find that hope when the world is going to Hell around us, and there is little reason to believe that things are going to get better? Because that is really when we need hope the most.

When everything is going wrong...that is when we most need hope.

We need hope when we are unemployed or under-employed, and there is a stack of bills sitting on the counter and a barrage of collection calls?

We need hope when all the guilt and shame of our past mistakes keep washing over and dragging us below the surface like a surfer being drowned beneath the ocean waves?

We need hope when our most earnest prayers seem unanswered and the one who promised, “till death do us part” walks out the door never to return?

We need hope. And though we may not realize it, if we are able to tap into it...the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead can be the biggest source of hope for us.

Our passage today is Mark 16:1-8 says,
1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

 6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

It is easy for us to look back, knowing the end of the story, but if we could transport ourselves back to the time of the disciples, and experience what they had experienced over the past week...we too would sense the deepness of their despair. Jesus, the one they believed to be the Messiah entered Jerusalem to a rousing crowd cheering and shouting. He spent the week confronting the religious leaders and teaching about the Kingdom of God. The disciples fully expected Him to start the Revolution that would overthrow the Roman government and re-establish Israel.

Then it all went horribly wrong...Jesus was arrested, mocked, beaten, and crucified.

This wasn’t just their teacher. This was the man with whom they had spent 3 years of their lives...studying, preparing, laughing, and caring. They were broken and defeated. Peter, the disciple who said, “I will follow you even if it means death!” was so overwhelmed he denied Jesus 3 times. The rest of the disciples scattered fearing for their lives. At one moment they are sure about the future and where it is headed...and the next everything has been taken away.

In the face of all this hopelessness, Mark begins this passage with a deceptively simple statement, “When the Sabbath was over...” It is tempting to see this as just a statement of fact or as a way to mark time, the Sabbath was over and now it was the first day of the week.

But what Mark glosses over with a casual, “The Sabbath was over...” was the worst day ever for the disciples. That Sabbath is the Jewish day of rest and reflections. For the Disciples this was the day when all the loneliness, sadness, abandonment, and discouragement really set in...there was no Kingdom...there was no revolution...Jesus was not the Messiah they hoped for. The disciples had left everything to follow Him, and now there was nothing.

While some might see this as glib or dismissive on Mark’s part to just glance over the hurts and pains of that day; Mark is writing about 20 years after these events. He is writing from a place of hope. He knows that Jesus is resurrection so the pains and despair of that Sabbath, in the light of the resurrection, were gone. They had been replaced with hope.

Mark is pointing us to a very important reality...The resurrection brought them hope, and that Hope Heals our Hurts. When Mark looked back he didn’t feel the darkness and despair of that day...because he knew Jesus had risen! Hope has the ability to overcome the hurts and pains of the past and bring healing.

After all they had seen and experienced...only a resurrection could transform their cowardice in courage and their despair into hope. The resurrection confirmed all Jesus had said and done. They may have misunderstood Him, but now, in light of the resurrection, Mark could describe the disciple’s worst day ever with a casual, “The Sabbath was over...” The darkness was over...the despair was over.

Have you ever heard the term “Spoiler Alert”? It is a term some people on Facebook should become more familiar with. It means they are about to give away the ending of a movie, a television show...something. And they need to warn those who are reading.

You have the latest American Idol DVR’d, you haven’t seen it yet, and your friend posts on their status...”So sad to see so-and-so voted off!” They have spoiled the ending...they needed to give a spoiler alert.

But sometimes knowing the ending helps. I love Ohio State football, but I’m usually busy when the games are on T.V. so I record them...but it is impossible to not peak. I have found that if I know my team is going to win the football game, I don’t get as tense and upset when I’m watching the dvr’d game and they fumble the ball. I already know they win.

Jesus’ resurrection give us hope because it is a promise that in the end...He wins. Pain, suffering, death, sin, evil...they don’t win. God has spoken out against injustice.

When we take the power of Jesus’ resurrection into our lives...it is like knowing our team wins. It brings a hope that puts our pain into perspective, and heals our hurts. He has declared that ultimately nothing will overcome those who follow Him. We know that in the long run...God will work everything out.

When most people talk of hope...they speak as if it is nothing more than a wish. Our last hope for a cure is... Our last hope to avoid bankruptcy... I hope I get the scholarship...this is something that might or might not happen...

But in the biblical realm...Hope is not a wish...Hope is the full expectation that something good will come of this...The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, says that because Jesus has been resurrected, we know we too will be resurrected. And because we will be resurrected with Him...we know that nothing good we do will be in vain.

The resurrection is God’s statement that despite everything we see around us screaming to the contrary. Despite the pain, the turmoil, the heartache...that even in the death of His only begotten son...something good will come of this. It is belief in a God who is able to take the bleakest of situations and transform it into something good...even the ability to raise the dead.

When you and I are faced with those times where we have reached the end of our rope and feel like we can’t hold on...the resurrection says that this will not end in vain.

When we have given every ounce of our being to serve and love others and they throw it back in our face...the resurrection says, this good you do will not be in vain.

When we are faced with a hopeless situation...we can rest in Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

I quoted this last week, but one author writes, “The Christian gospel [Jesus’ death and resurrection] asserts that...God moves to fix messes he didn’t create, pay debts he didn’t incur, forgive the guilty for wrongs they couldn’t undo and bear burdens humanity piled onto itself.”

Things cannot end there for us; though they often do. You see, God doesn’t bless us so that we can be blessed...He doesn’t give us hope and heal our hurts just so we can feel better. God blesses us so we can be a blessing.

As hope heals our hurts, we are moved to heal others.

We see this play out all the time. There is the person with the drug and alcohol addiction that is pushed to the edge, but rather than be another statistic they get clean and now work with others to help them recover from their addictions. The past addiction is not good. The damage they did to themselves and others is not good. The pain they experienced is not good...but now it is not wasted. Hope has healed them, and they are able to use that past pain to help others.

For you and I, hope has the ability to heal; to shift our focus from our pain and discouragement and channel it toward something good. In biblical terms we call this redemption. Redemption is this amazing belief that while pain and suffering take place...it doesn’t have to be wasted and futile. We don’t have to come to the end of those tough times and say, “Well that stunk! Now I have to move on!” No, something good can come from the something bad that happens to us.

Redemption doesn’t excuse the pain. It doesn’t condone what was done to us. It doesn’t make everything alright. But it does mean the pain of the experience is not wasted.

If we were to take an anonymous survey we would discover some pretty dark things have happened to us...If statistics hold true...some of us have struggled through the terminal illness of a loved one...some of us have faced an illness like cancer...some of us have struggled to make ends meet to the point of ruining our lives...some of us have faced physical, verbal, even sexual abuse.

And what God wants to do is redeem those hurts and pains. He does not pat us on the back and say, “There, there it wasn’t really that bad.” He does not condone the horrific things that have been done in the past...even done while someone claimed His name.

No, Jesus death is God’s judgment on the evils of this world, and His resurrection is the offer of redemption. It is His offer to take those hurts and pains, heal them, and then use us to heal the world around us.

It is so easy to let our pain build a wall around our hearts. Pink Floyd wrote an entire album about it. We think it protects. We will never let that happen to us again. We harden ourselves. But this will only keep us from the healing we need and so desire. We have to allow hope to work it’s way in...we have to allow Jesus’ resurrection bring true healing to our deepest hurts.

For us to really find hope...we have to die to the old ways of handling things. If we are ever going to find hope in the midst of our pain, we have to let Him step in and heal us, and then use us our past to heal the hurts in others and give them hope.

When the angel told the women to go find Peter, they sent them with a message, “Jesus is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

I like that statement. Jesus is going ahead of you. If I had to relive these issues on my own just so I could help others...I couldn’t do it. Who has the strength, the ability to face some of the hurts and heartaches we have face and the talk about them again with others? Who can, in their own strength, do this? But Jesus promises to go ahead of you...and this promise is a great source of hope.

When we allow God to use our hurts and pain to heal others, Jesus enters that conversation long before we have it. He goes ahead of us...paving the way so He can help others through us.

Speaking to a group of psychotherapists on how to help people recover, Vaughn Worthen and Richard Isakson state, “Hope frees us from the negative bonds of past behaviors, thoughts, and feelings, as well as the influence of present fears. Hope includes a positive perspective towards the future and is fueled by affirming the lessons of the past, as well as appreciating the possibilities of the present.”

We don’t have wishful thinking. We have a guarantee that everything will work out the way God intends. Even when everything seems to be going wrong...if we trust that Jesus is the resurrected Messiah...then we know that He can heal our past hurts, he can use our pain to heal others, and when the going gets tough...we know that He goes before us. Because of His resurrection,  we can have hope even in the bleakest of situations.

I don’t know what you are facing this morning, but I know that hope is in short supply. The government can’t provide the real hope we long for. Education, our jobs, they can’t do it. Even our families are unable to really give us the hope we need.

This morning are you willing to say I need hope? In the face of my hurt and pain...I need healing...Or maybe it’s time you take your hurt and pain and redeem...don’t let it go to waste...use it to heal others around you...because when you do...Jesus promises to go ahead of you and pave the way.

April 3, 2012

The Life of Jesus: Dealing with My Expectations Mark 11:1-11

Expectations really are a funny thing...we have expectations for just about everything in life, but hate to live under them ourselves. We have expectations for our kids, our bosses, our parents, our friends, our spouses...and they, in turn, have expectations for us. Everyday we are bombarded with realistic and unrealistic, met and unmet, conscious and subconscious, internal and external expectations, that can empower or dishearten us. We gain them through our life experiences, our family, books, music, the media. Most of the time, we don’t even realize the expectations we have.

Some expectations are realistic. We expect that our kids will do the best they can in school. We expect our car to start when we turn the key. We expect our 100% beef hamburgers to have 100% beef and not pink slime. These are reasonable and realistic expectations.

But sometimes we have unrealistic expectations. Expecting our children to act more like an adult than a child. Expecting our spouse to always be in the mood. Expecting that friend to always be available to talk about our problems. I have my own unrealistic expectation. I expect that the contract Bri made with me when she 3 years old that she will not date until she is 36 to be a valid and legally binding contract. That is probably unrealistic. So I am going with plan B and buying a gun.

Our expectations, though, have a dark side. There is an old Alcoholics Anonymous adage that says, ““Expectations are preconceived resentments.” Whether our expectations are conscious or subconscious, realistic or unrealistic, when they are not met we become frustrated, angry, and conflict occurs in the relationship. Over time, if these expectations are left unmet by the person or unchanged by us then bitterness and resentment can set in.

This happens all the time in marriages. The wife has certain expectations about what a husband should be...and then discovers that her husband lacks the genetic synapses allowing him to pick his underwear up off the floor or put the toilet seat down or remember to take the trash out. Add in the missed anniversaries, the forgotten flowers, the times he didn’t notice the new hairstyle and color (for the 10th time this month)...the beer belly instead of the Taylor Latner abs...and after several years, these frustrations build because he has failed to do and be what was expected. Pretty soon there is a coldness to relationship...a distance sets in between the two of you.

Tensions grow higher when you add the unmet expectations of the husband.

Children feel the pressure as well. The parent expects the good grades, but no matter how hard they try they still get the “C.” Or the pressure to not make the parents look bad in front of company. The pressure to go to college when they are not ready for college.

There are expectations at work from the boss expecting more work in less time with lower pay. There are expectations in every relationship we have...and if you add all the internal expectations we place on ourselves...it becomes exhausting to think about.

For Jesus it was no different...there were expectations flying everywhere. In fact, for most of the Gospel of Mark Jesus has been healing, teaching, and leading people, and then saying, “Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone!” I finally realized why he told people not to tell others. It was because everyone had expectations of who and what He should be as the Messiah.

For First Century Jews, their expectations of the Messiah was nothing like the Jesus. They wanted the warrior like King David, who would establish a Kingdom, raise an army, and defeat the Romans. They would be free, and more than just free, they would be elevated above their enemies and proclaimed right in the eyes of God. They were looking forward to that kind of Messiah...what they got was Jesus.

They wanted a warrior riding in on a warhorse to save them...and then we see how Jesus entered Jerusalem.

Mark 11:1-11
1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

 4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,


   “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

 10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

   “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

People had expectations of Jesus...
And as Jesus approached the city, his band of followers joined with others to welcome Him to the beginning of the Revolution! He is entering Jerusalem, the capital city, and there is no better place than Jerusalem and no better time than the Passover for Him to reveal what everyone else knows! It is time to rise up and overthrow the Romans!

He enters to the people shouting and cheering. They are laying branches and clothing on the ground forming an impromptu Red Carpet welcome for the man whom they believe will assume control and put the Romans down. This is how they would welcome Royalty into the city.

Their cheers and shouts filled the air...

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
The word “Hosanna” is a single-word prayer for God to act to save His people, and Jesus certainly intended to save them...but not the way they expected. They shouted, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” They wanted the Kingdom to come just like King David brought, but that was not the Kingdom Jesus was offering. The people were chanting and rallying around these cries, but their expectations made them clueless to the deeper meaning of what was happening.

So when Jesus failed to meet their expectations their shouts of “Hosanna” quickly turned into cries to “Crucify!” Within a single week, they went from applause to murder.

In his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell tells how the mind becomes blind to things because of expectations. If you send someone into the room to look for a certain book but describe it as blue many people will be unable to find it if the book is actually red. Their mind is expects to find a blue book and automatically excludes any book that is not that color.

So these men and women were looking for the Messiah, but weren’t able to see Him, because their expectations blinded them to reality. They had shut out all other Prophetic ideas about the Messiah.

Today’s passage is a visual form of Zechariah 9:9...where it describes the Messiah’s entrance into the city It says,
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
   Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
   righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
   on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
And yet their expectations of a Revolutionary Messiah in the way of King David blinded them to true Messiah right in front of them.

Let’s not be too quick to judge these men and women. We too are guilty of missing God in the midst because of faulty expectations. Our unmet expectations of God are often the cause of our deepest spiritual struggles, conflicts, spiritual stagnation, and abandonment of the Christian life. They blind us just like they blinded these men and women.

Our expectations affect how we pray...Abba Nilus, an early Christian writers, says,
"Do not be always wanting everything to turn out as you think it should, but rather as God pleases, then you will be undisturbed and thankful in your prayer." 
We expect God to answer our prayers...then we become angry and impatient when he doesn’t answer them in the way and the timeframe we have set.

We expect God to protect us and our family from the bad things in life...and then the scare of cancer strikes...or our loved one passes away that we prayed for...or we lose our job. It becomes a challenge for us to believe God is good and loving. That He loves and cares for me when I am hurting.

But no matter how frustrated and angry I get...no matter how much I whine and complain...God doesn’t seem to care. He is God. When we force our expectations on God...He refuses to live by them...not because he can’t meet them, but because He won’t. Jesus refused to be defined by the expectations of the people around Him...and He still refuses to be defined by our expectations.

Those at the Triumphal entry were both wrong and right. Jesus was the Messiah they were waiting for, but did not fulfill that role in the way they expected. He is no less King, but He has a different Kingdom than they expected. And no matter how much they pushed and pressured Him, Jesus was not going to live up to their expectations. He resisted because Jesus sets the agenda. He is in control of how his ministry is going to be defined and what His Kingdom was going to be like.

Mark 11:1-6 says, “1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’

 “4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, ‘What are you doing, untying that colt?’ 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.”

Jesus had prepared for the colt, he clearly defined what this entry was going to look like...how His Messiahship was going to be defined. Jesus knows what everyone else misses. While they are attempting to force their expectations onto Him...He is maintaining His course of action.

The crowd, the disciples everyone missed that Jesus was the messiah. One writer says, “His action was a veiled assertion of both the fact and the character of his messiahship; it affirmed that the royal way involved humility and suffering. Only later did the disciples recognize that the Scripture had been fulfilled, and that Jesus had come to Jerusalem as the Messiah.”#

We too face God’s refusal to meet our expectations. Not because He doesn’t love us or care for us, but because He is God and He alone sets the agenda. The next few chapters of Mark show us some of the responses people had because of unmet expectations. They are the same responses we have when God doesn’t live up to our expectations:

  1. We become disillusioned and disappointed abandoning Him like Peter and the rest of the disciples. Mark 14:66-72
  2. We become angry and go on the attack shouting “Crucify!” with the rest of the crowd. Mark 15:12-15
  3. We shake our fists and say, “Come down from the cross and save yourself!” Prove you are God by doing what I think you ought to do. Mark 15:29-30
  4. We submit our expectations to God and say with the Guard, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:39

When Jesus enters our lives we have to subject our expectations to His reality, and for those willing to subject their expectations to Jesus’ reality, they find something far greater than they wanted or desired in the first place. First Century Jews expected a Messiah to save them from the Romans...what they got...what we got...was a God willing to do far more than establish a political, earthly Kingdom. He came to save us from ourselves...from our sinfulness and selfishness...from the real problem.

We are so quick to hold God responsible for unmet expectations, but never see our own failings...our own sinfulness which really is the root problem of all humanity. We have sinned...rebelled against God...we don’t need a Messiah to defeat the Romans...we need a Messiah who addresses the real problem.

Our anger and frustration are a symptom of that deep inner selfishness in need of God’s forgiveness and healing. This is where the Gospel steps into our lives on a continual basis to bring healing. This is why we continually confess sin to God. Because wrongs expectations of God damage our relationship with Him.

God is not to blame for our unmet expectations, as One writer says, “The Christian gospel asserts that in fact God moves to fix messes he didn’t create, pay debts he didn’t incur, forgive the guilty for wrongs they couldn’t undo and bear burdens humanity piled onto itself.”

That is the Gospel for us this morning...that as we surrender our expectations to God He meets us and gives us renewed expectations beyond anything we can imagine. As we strive for realistic, biblical expectations this plays out in a very practical way. We have to stop and ask ourselves a series of questions

“What does Scripture tell me God is like?” As Christians we start with Scripture. The Bible reveals how God has acted before us, and how He will continue to act into the future. It tells us what God is like.

Then we evaluate our expectations. “Based on what I read in Scripture, do I have the right expectations of God?” We have to take a hard look at what we expect from God and realign it with what Scripture tells us God is like.

Finally, “What do my spiritual advisors and friends say?” We can not live the Christian life in a bubble. We are independent thinking Americans so we want to, but God calls us to live in community. There are times when our friends are able to tell us their stories and help us gain perspective. This is why church and small groups are so important for our spiritual growth. We need people who are seeking God...people who make every effort to live their life as God would want. They are able to pray with us. They are able, if we allow them to be so honest, to tell us when we are acting the fool and blinded by our expectations.

Just a word of caution, though.  We need the right friends doing this. One friend of mine was contemplating divorce, and posted her thoughts on Facebook. Unfortunately it was the swarm of angry divorcees who made the most comments. Not one person recommended counseling, attempting to work it out, and seeking help from a real authority. Only lawyer recommendations.

We live with all these expectations. We expect the people around us to act and do certain things. We expect God to do certain things. And when they fail to meet our expectations...we get hurt, frustrated or angry. So expectation management is an important part of growing as a Christian.

If we want healing in our relationship with God...we have to start with our expectations of what God is supposed to be like and how God is supposed to act. The same thing holds true with others around us. Because just as our unmet expectations affect our relationship with God...so our unrealistic and unmet expectations affect our relationships with others. If we want healing in our relationships with others...we have to start with our expectations about who they are and what they are supposed to be like.

A few years ago, I went to visit my father. He was in the final stages before the cancer took his life. I had only seen my father about 5 times in my entire life, and wasn’t too sure I wanted to see him then. I actually drove to Piqua a few times, driving past the house and then returning home before I actually stopped.

But I went hoping to get something from the visit...some closure...an apology...something. I did not get what I expected. I did, however, realize that his absence affected my expectations of so many things in life. Some for the better in the internal expectation I have laid on myself about being a present father for my daughter. And some for the worse in the expectations I had laid on my mentors, leaders, and pastors to somehow replace my father...which they can never live up to.

Our expectations affect every relationship we have, and if we are every going to find healing those relationships we have to surrender them to God, discover His healing and forgiveness, and work to overcome those wrong expectations.

What expectations have we placed on God that He can not meet?

What expectations have we placed on others that they can not possibly meet?

Are you willing to let those go? Because those bad expectations are only keeping you from being what you could be...