Monday, November 25, 2013

Faith Flicks: Life of Pi

Sermon from November 24th, 2013

If someone came to you and said they had a story that would make you believe in God, you would listen wouldn’t you.  That’s the setup for the book and movie Life of Pi.
Life of Pi is another book made into movie.  The book was written by Yann Martel and it’s a book for which he won numerous literary honors.  I read the book about 5 years ago and I loved it.  So I was excited when I saw that a movie was being made about it.  The movie came out around this time last year and won 4 Academy awards.  Like most book to movie adaptations, the book is better.  However, they did an incredible bringing the book to the big screen.  This is one of the best book to movie adaptations that I have seen.  
            The story is about a boy named Pi who grows up in India and as a young teenager claims to be a Hindu, Christian and Muslim all at the same time.  Pi’s father owns a zoo but financially things are hard.  So the father sells the zoo and they are shipping the animals to Canada on a Japanese Cargo ship which sinks and Pi finds himself on a life boat with a Hyena, Orangutan, Zebra and Bengal Tiger.   As you can probably imagine it comes down to two survivors: Pi and the Tiger who is named Richard Parker. 
            The story is told from the perspective of a writer who had discovered from a family member that Pi had a story that would “make him believe in God.”  So as the older Pi tells his story to this author, the book and movie flashback to what was actually taking place.  Eventually Pi washes up on the shores of Mexico, 227 days after the ship sank and recounts 2 versions of the story to the Japanese Owners of the boat who want to know what happened to their boat. Pi offers the same facts but with two different interpretations.
In the first version, Pi is the sole human survivor on a lifeboat with a zebra, hyena, orangutan and a huge Bengal tiger called Mr. Parker. The second has no animals and is far more brutal. One requires suspension of disbelief; the other is “reasonable”.  When they ask him which one is true he asks them which one is better?  They tell him which one they think is better and Pi says “so it is with God.”  Which leaves the audience and the reader wide open to interpret the message the author intended.
You have to be prepared to choose to walk away from the “reasonable” interpretation to accept the better story.  To have faith.  In the film, Pi retells the story and convinces two skeptics to overcome one of the largest barriers to faith – believing in the unbelievable. One of those characters does claim in the end that he does believe in God.
            So the idea with the movie is that believing in God is purposeful and beautiful and and a better story whether it’s true or not…it’s not the point…the point is to have faith in something that you can’t prove but that offers something that human beings need: like hope, like love, like purpose and meaning.  The author is not so worried about whether or not a religion is true…but whether or not religion offers humanity a better story of how to live life.
So while I could tell you all day long that that there are enough extra-biblical texts, literature outside of the text of the Bible, that points to the historicity of the life, death and yes resurrection of Jesus Christ, I can’t prove it to you.  I could tell you that the one piece of data that keeps me believing in Christianity on a rational , fact based level is the actions of the disciples before and after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  When Jesus gets arrested his disciples are hiding behind locked doors.  They are worried and scared doing what they can to disassociate themselves with Jesus because they don’t want to be arrested either.  After the resurrection all of a sudden these same disciples who were scared and worried and hiding because they feared for their lives…now all of a sudden they are willing to die because of their faith.  Something as big and supernatural as the resurrection of Jesus Christ would have had to have happened for them to do a total 180 and not worry about their own lives.   So I believe that Jesus is who he said he was and that there is some historical data that backs that up.  However, I could never prove the resurrection to anyone without a shadow of a doubt. 
            I want to explore the question that’s asked in Life of Pi…is the better story to believe in God or not believe in God.  Just for a few minutes let’s not worry about whether or not the story is true…let’s look at it through the lens of which story is better: a God or no God?
            At let me tell you, I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t believe in God…so this is really hard for me to do.  But here’s what I imagine would be my thoughts and questions if I did live life believing that God does not exist. 
            If there is no God then it stands to reason that everything in creation is by natural evolution apart from intelligent design.  So that I could still enjoy the beauty of creation but I would wonder about the purpose of creation.  My question would be does creation have meaning?  One of my favorite books is called Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller.  The tagline is “Nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality.”  It’s an awesome and easy read that was made into a movie in 2012.  In the movie the main character Don is attending a debate about whether or not God exists.  He asks the atheist who is debating there is no God about meaning.  The man says “The universe doesn't owe us meaning, son. If you want meaning, I suggest you try a dictionary.”  If there is no God it is hard to find meaning, to find purpose.  Love can be a purpose…but are we ourselves the source of that love?  Doing good things can give us purpose, but isn’t there something more to this life than just doing good?  Do we find ultimate purpose and meaning in love and in doing good things in and of themselves. 
            I believe in God and find myself thinking that there is more to this life than what I am currently experiencing, I think that angst and search for meaning and purpose would be hyped up even more if I didn’t believe in God.
            Another thing about this is that I think it takes more faith to believe God does not exist than it does to believe that God does exist.  For example let’s say you are invited to someone’s house for dinner.  You enter the dining room and laid before you is a beautiful, aromatic spread of food.  Does it take more faith to believe that no one prepared that food or that someone prepared that food?  You didn’t actually see anyone making the food and putting it on the table so how do you know someone actually made it?  What if a small tornado came through the kitchen and dining room and what formed is what is found on the table?  That takes more faith than the simple idea that whoever invited you to dinner actually took the time to make the food and put it on the table for you to enjoy.
            Which is the better story…that someone prepared the food for you to enjoy or that it came about randomly?  Which story is more meaningful?  Now I know that there are problems with that analogy, but it’s just an analogy.
            My point is this: whatever we believe, whether in something or in nothing, whatever we choose will take faith.  Whatever we believe will lead to unanswered and unanswerable questions.  Whatever we choose to believe or not believe will require us to be okay with mystery.  Whatever we choose to believe will shape our values and the way we live our lives.  Whether Christianity is true or not, I think it is a better story.
            The story that there is a God who loves us enough to send his only son as a demonstration of His love is a beautiful story that gives meaning and purpose to life.  The idea that the Holy Spirit is present with us in the midst of a cancer diagnoses or an unwanted divorce …that’s a better story.  The solidarity that God has with his creation because he chose to become one of us…he doesn’t just think he knows what it means to suffer…he became one of us and suffered just like us and he knows what it means to suffer and that’s why one day he’s going to make everything right…that’s the better story.  That when we lose a loved one unexpectedly we can trust that we have a God who knows and understands grief and doesn’t take the grief away, but see’s us through so that we come to the other side of those hard and intense emotions with  softer heart for others who have lost a loved one.  That’s the better story.
            I want to read John 1:1-18.  I’m not going to teach this text this morning, I’m sure a time will come when I do dig in and really teach what John is saying in these words.  But this morning, I want you to rest and relax and let these words sink in as something beautiful and meaningful and good.  I want these words to sink in this morning as the better story.  As something you just receive as you hear them.  Something good and life-giving and restoring to your soul.  Will you hear the word.  Read John 1:1-18:
       What kind of story are you telling with the way you live your life?

Faith Flicks: The Hunger Games

      Sermon from November, 17th

        The Hunger Games is a three book series written by Suzanne Collins about a girl named Katniss Everdeen (I love her name) and her struggle to survive in a future world, in a post-apocalyptic world set in North America but now called Panem.  At some point, war and environmental disaster destroyed the United States, and out of the remnants grew the new country of Panem. The nation consists of a wealthy Capitol city, located in the Rocky Mountain region, with 12 poorer districts surrounding it. There was at one time a 13th district, but it supposedly was destroyed by the Capitol during a rebellion some 75 years prior to the events in the books.  Panem is ruled by the Capitol in a totalitarian regime. The Capitol asserts complete control over the 12 districts, forcing the people there to abide by strict rules and work in industries that supply the needs of the Capitol.  It’s an oppressive situation for those living in the 12 districts. Those fortunate  enough to live in the Capitol live in luxury and excessiveness.  They are overconsumers…so much so that many of the people are not satisfied with their human beauty, but resort to coloring their skin and disfiguring their bodies.
            The title The Hunger Games comes from one of the ways the Capitol exerts its control over the districts.  Each year two children, one male and one female 12-18 years old, are chosen by lottery as “tributes” (that’s what they are called) to participate in, or more accurately, be sacrificed in, a reality TV show that where these children are forced to fight to the death.  And the last one remaining wins that year’s Hunger Games and becomes a celebrity.  All citizens in Panem are required to watch the games.  The Capitol set up the games as retribution for a failed rebellion against the Capitol’s rule.  It’s a way to control the citizens and remind them of who has the power.
            We first meet Katniss on reaping day, the day when the children are chosen from the districts to compete in the Hunger Games. When her younger sister Prim's name is drawn in the District 12 reaping, Katniss volunteers to take her place in the arena. Joining her from District 12 is Peeta Mellark, the baker's son who had once saved Katniss' life by giving her bread when she was desperately hungry. With their mentor Haymitch Abernathy, the solitary District 12 victor from a past Hunger Games, they are taken to the Capitol for complete makeovers, games training and to be paraded in front of the adoring Capitol crowds eager to see them get slaughtered.
            One thing we learn about Katniss is that before her father died in a mining accident, he taught her how to hunt in the woods, which was forbidden by the Capitol who use trained policemen to make sure that their rules are followed, these police are ironically called “Peacekeepers.”  Katniss would sneak off in the woods and hunt with a bow and arrow to provide for her family and for some others in the District 12.  Just a side note, much of the film was shot in Shelby, Asheville and Concord, NC. The sunshine club actually took a trip to see where District 12 was shot, it was neat.
Katniss proves to be a formidable tribute in the Hunger Games. She knows how to hunt and how to survive in the woods. And the reason the games are called the Hunger Games is because if a child isn’t killed by another contestant then they will probably starve or thirst to death. The setting of the Hunger Games is a huge arena where the games could last for days and days and days.
Through a series of events and really one subversive act of mutual sacrifice, Katniss and Peeta both win the 74th Hunger Games. By having two victors they have changed the rules. Katniss becomes a symbol of hope for all the other districts and she doesn’t even realize it right away.
            The second novel Catching Fire begins with the couple’s Victory Tour six months after they are named champions. The ruthless government of Panem is not pleased with the admiration the crowds show for Katniss and Peeta . The President fears that other people under oppression will follow the couple’s example and defy the government. The couple must fight again in the 75th Hunger Games. The second book ends, as Katniss and her allies unleash a revolution, another rebellion against society’s corrupt rulers, against the Capitol and especially the president.
In Mockingjay, the final book of the trilogy, Katniss becomes the face of a nationwide rebellion. At the end of the book, after many twists and turns, Katniss secures freedom for her people. After she experiences great personal loss and has been through just terrible, The Hunger Games have ended and the oppressive regime that was in power is destroyed.  So as dark as it is, it ends well.
Again, like last week with How to Train your dragon, there are several themes found in the Bible that I could use this movie as a platform to explore.  There’s the theme of love and sacrifice (of course there’s a love triangle going on in the book, you can’t a Young Adult book without that right, but there is the theme of sacrificial love as well), there’s the theme of how to have hope when you are under oppression, there’s the theme of grief and loss, there’s the theme of survival and the importance of family and friends.  There’s the theme of desenzitation towards violence and the role of entertainment in our lives.  There’s the theme of excess and scarcity, having enough resources to feed all people in Panem, yet some people are starving and some are living in ridiculous luxury and excess.
Hopefully you can already see some of the parallels with modern society and hopefully you can see how some of these themes are important to God and should be important to us.  I want us to look at the theme of thirst and hunger.  Afterall, it’s title is the Hunger Games and the Bible has quite a bit to say regarding thirst and hunger.
There are two types of thirst and hunger in the Bible. There’s the literally thirst and hunger that was a matter of physical life or death. We tend to forget that the entire Bible is set in a time when they did not have indoor or outdoor plumbing.  The people of the Bible, all of them, could not just turn on a faucet for water.  So if you were thirsty and you had run out of water that you had gathered from the rain or from the river or from the lake, if your family is out of water, you have to walk miles to get the water and bring it back.  And what happens if you don’t make it back in time?  So when we think of being thirsty, it is not a thirsty like, oh I would like some water because I’m thirsty, it was more like, if I don’t get a drink of water today I will die. It was a matter of life and death.
In Jesus’ day, poverty was not like what it is today. There were no social institutions, or local soup kitchens or warm places to stay overnight, people that were poor, had no options except to beg if you were a man or be a prostitute if you were a woman.  It was sell yourself or die.  And that’s why Jesus talked so strongly about feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty, those who needed were in poverty and had no way to live. 
            So we come to a parable Jesus is telling like in Matthew 25 and we see how important feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty is: Read 34-46. The assumption Jesus is making in these verses is that if you are truly my disciple, this is what it looks like, feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty and clothing the naked.  Because in this culture, it was literally a matter of life and death.  The only options for survival was begging or prostitution, that was it. While poverty looks different today then it did back then our country, we are still called to be generous and selfless and helpful and we are still called to be a blessing to people who aren’t as fortunate as we are.  When I read these verses I am convicted, I hope you are too.
            That’s the literal, physical thirst and hunger. Lets talk about the spiritual thirst and hunger. When is the last time you thirsted for God the way you do when you are thirsty for water? When is the last time you sought God with the same conviction you seek food for your family if you and the ones you loved were starving? Jesus said in John 6:32-35. The psalmist wrote in 42:1-2. Jesus said in Matthew 5:6. When is the last time you took time to seek God because you were hungry and thirsty for Him? If you don’t think you have a spiritual hunger and thirst for God, try living without him. Try it, say no and see how your life turns out. See how your eternity turns out. God doesn’t force himself on anyone, yet, he has placed within each of us a spiritual hunger that only He can fulfill…both on this earth and for all eternity.
            There’s a part in the book towards the beginning of the first Hunger Games that Katniss is in and she has gotten far into the woods but she’s thirsty.  And she knows if she doesn’t find water soon that she will die of dehydration.  And so she wonders why her mentor, her trainer, Haymitch hasn’t sent her any water.  Because he can do that...he could pay the people who run the Hunger Games to send her a bottle of water from the sky.  But he doesn’t.  And at this point she is so dehydrated that she is crawling and feeling dizzy and she knows the symptoms.  And she wonders is my mentor, the one that is supposed to be helping me, is he going to just let me die.  Then she realizes that the reason he’s not sending water is because she must be close to a water source.  And it turns out to be true.  He didn’t want to use the precious resources he had to send her water when she was so close to it already.  And she finds water and ends up being okay.  By the way, the movie does not do a good job of portraying scene, that I thought was so powerful.
            Unlike Haymitch who was limited by how much he could help Katniss, we have a God of unlimited resources. In fact we have a God who is our source of satisfying our spiritual thirsts and hungers. The only question is…are you seeking after him?  Are seeking after righteousness?  Are you hungry for justice to be done in this world?  Do you thirst after being more like God so that you can overcome the forces of wickedness in this world? Just like in the world of the Hunger Games, there is evil in this world…what are you doing about it? Are you a beacon of hope and life and truth and justice and faith…or are you a contributor to the evils?  We have a God who desires to overcome the evils in this with love, with forgiveness, with joy, with hope, with grace, with mercy…how are you doing with those things? 
            May we be the kind of people that thirst and hunger after God so that we can make a difference in this world.  Katniss becomes a symbol of hope.  Jesus is our symbol of hope…are you pointing people to him?

Faith Flicks: How to Train your Dragon

Sermon from Sunday, November 10th

Like all good movies this is primarily a movie about relationships and the tension that is created when there are misunderstandings and break downs in communication.  It’s a movie about judging a book by its cover and the assumptions that we often believe about something we don’t understand whether those assumptions are true or not.  It’s a movie about the fight against ignorance and the challenges that arise when someone tries to bring knowledge and understanding into a long tradition of ignorantly believed assumptions.  It’s a movie about a father and a son.  It’s a movie about brokenness and about the connection created between two living beings that share the same weakness.  And you thought it was about dragons and Vikings.
The main character is Hiccup.  He’s a scrawny, nerdy, clumsy teenage Viking who wants to fight dragons.  He’s not the dragon slaying type, he’s caring and inventive so he doesn’t fit the mold of a dragon slayer.  His macho, alpha male dad, Stoik the Vast, will not let him join the fight.  The reason they have to fight the dragons is that the town is periodically raided by dragons.  In this town the dragon slayers are the professional athletes, the movie stars, the celebrities who everyone aspires to be like.  And Hiccup just doesn’t fit the bill.
Hiccup ends up capturing a dragon that had never been captured called a Night Fury.  He captures it with one of his inventions and he secretly visits the dragon to slay it.  What he discovers is that the dragon is injured and instead of killing the dragon he ends up befriending the dragon and it becomes almost like his pet.  Hiccup names the dragon Toothless.  Toothless is a bit unpredictable, and one second he’s nice and happy and the next he’s scary and could bite your head off.  He is however manipulated through treats.
So this secret and subversive relationship develops between Hiccup and toothless.  And Hiccup ends up creating an invention that helps toothless fly again and even allows him to ride the dragon.  And through all of this Hiccup learns about what dragons like and what they don’t like and it ends up being valuable to him.  His dad signs him up for dragon training where he gets to learn to fight dragons.  Instead he becomes like a dragon whisperer…using the tools he’s learned from toothless to tame the dragons instead of slaying them.  This all comes to a head when he is the top trainee in his class and has the honor of fighting and slaying a big, furious dragon in front of the entire town. 
            Just in case you haven’t seen the movie I will not ruin the ending for you, just know it’s a great ending.  There are several themes in this movie I want us to look at this morning that I believe are close to the heart of God. 
I want to use this movie as a platform to talk about assumptions that we make, in particular regarding two issues.  First, I want to talk about the assumptions that some of us make that lead to racism.  For me, the most obvious issue that this movie addresses, whether intentionally or not, is racism.  Racism is a sin of pride and arrogance.  It’s the idea that I’m better than you simply because of the color of the skin that I was born into.  You did not choose to have the color of skin that you have.  And racism claims that something a we cannot choose determines a person’s value, a person’s worth.  And it is a sin and it is still prevalent in our community, in our state and in our country. 
If you are racist, if you are prejudiced, you shouldn’t like Jesus very much, because he was not the white, blonde hair, blue eyed, Swedish looking pretty boy that some pictures show him to be.  He was from the middle east, he was arab…he had dark skin and dark brown eyes and dark brown hair. 
If you are racist you shouldn’t like the Bible very much. Because it says things like this:  “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” (Acts 10:28,34-35).
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).
If you are racist, you will not like heaven very much.  Because the bible says this: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9)
If you are racist, you need to work on that.  And the way to work on that is to choose to get to know someone you are racist against.  A person’s character is what dictates the kind of person they are, not the color of their skin.  In the movie it takes hiccup and toothless understanding each other to break down the false assumptions that had existed.  There’s a great line in the movie where hiccup says about the dragons:  “everything we knew about you…is wrong.”  Assumptions were made about the dragons that end up not being true in the end. 
Racism often stems from assumptions towards a specific race that aren’t true about every person of that color.  There are good people in the world and there are bad people in the world and skin color is not an indicator of which is which.  When you automatically assume that you are superior and someone else is inferior, you are playing God and there is only one God.  You also make God out to be a liar because God created us all in His image.  White, black, brown, red…all the colors of human beings were created in the image of God.  If you think someone is less than you because of their race, you make God out to be a liar…and that’s dangerous.  That could have eternal repercussions.  We need to be careful about the assumptions that we make about other people.
The other place we see assumptions affecting the characters in the movie is in the relationship between the father and the son. Hiccup and his father love each other but they don’t know how to talk to each other.  They aren’t totally honest with each other and are sort of talking past each other using very few words.
The father has expectations for the son that are all about his own pride and arrogance and agenda.  And the expectations are unfair for his son.  You get the sense that this big manly Viking named Stoik wishes he would have had a son that wasn’t so gangly and clumsy and different from the rest of the teenagers in town.
            By the end of the movie the relationship has improved and the gifts that Hiccup does have are appreciated by the father.  It’s a reminder to all of us as parents to be careful about the expectations we have on our children.  Are the things we are pushing our opinions and our agendas or are they about allowing our children to cultivate their gifts that God has given them that may be different than what we as parents had hoped for for our children.
            The bottom line is that we need to spend time with our children and communicate our love and affection for them.  And there’s this idea in our society that to be a man means you don’t show your love and that’s hogwash.  If you want to be a man, a real man, you show your love and kiss and hug and cuddle your children.  They need that affection from you as a man.  Whether you have daughters or sons…those children need you men not just to tell them you love them but to show them you love them.  Take time to be dad…a dad that is not afraid to let your children know they are loved.  Our model for that kind of dad, that kind of father is God.  And when you think about verses like 1 John 3 you can’t help but think that this is the kind of father we should strive to be: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
            It’s easy to assume my children know I love them.  What if God had done that?  What if God had just said I’m going to just assume that the people I created know I love them and I’m going to do nothing to show it.  He would not have sent Jesus as a demonstration of his love for us.  Dad’s, don’t be afraid to show your sons and daughters that you love them, God is the example of the kind of love that we should have for our children.  When you show them you love them you are participating in the kind of love that God showed us.  You can be manly and affectionate, in fact, most women, most wives, will tell you that showing affection towards them and towards their children actually makes you more manly.  Don’t just assume the people you love know you love them, tell them and show them.
            Assumptions can be insulting and can get us in trouble.  A married couple brought their 1 year old daughter to their parents to stay for a couple of nights.  They had forgotten to bring diapers so after dropping off their daughter they went to the store to buy diapers.  They got to the store and asked one of the employees, “where do you keep the diapers?”  The lady looked at them and said “aisle 24.”  When the couple got to aisle 24 they found shelves full of adult diapers.  The employee assumed that sense they didn’t have a baby with them that they were asking for adult diapers.

Whether it’s in how we view someone of a different skin color or in assuming that because we love our children, or assuming because we love our wife they know we love them.  The people we love don’t know we love them unless we tell them and show them.  Let’s be the kind of people that keep our assumptions in check so that we can honor God with the way we live our lives.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sermon from Sunday: Simple.Worship (This is from October 27th)

Will this time of worship have been your first this week…or your last?  Let me rephrase the question just to make sure you get it.  Is worshipping this morning a continuation of a life of worship you have lived this week so that this is another day of worshipping God for you or is worshipping this morning the first time you have worshipped all week long.
We have this skewed notion that worship is something that happens just on Sunday morning.  Maybe it’s the church’s fault, maybe it’s pastors faults for not teaching a more complete biblical understanding of worship, maybe it’s the fault is that of most Christians…whatever the case, to relegate worship to something that just happens on Sunday morning is heresy.  Yes…it is heresy.  Now I hope worship happens on Sunday morning, but I also hope that you are a living a life of worshipping God. 
Let me put it to you this way.  I love my wife and I think spending time together is important for our relationship.  So I only spend one hour, one day a week with her.  I want the relationship to grow and be healthy and I’m committed to her I’m considered a married man and so I give her one hour a week once a week.  Because that’s how important she is in my life.  That’s ridiculous right.  That marriage if it lasted would not be a very good marriage.
That’s how we treat worshipping God.  We are “committed Christians” trying to live life in a way that honors God and yet the only time we ever give Him to work on our faith and worship him is one hour on Sunday mornings.  I’m sorry, if you go to Sunday School it’s 2 hours on Sunday morning.   
If we treated our marriages like we treat our worship to God, our marriages would fall apart.  And some of you wonder why you struggle with resisting temptation and making good decisions and feeling the presence of God and knowing the purpose God has for you on this earth.  Maybe if you worshipped him more than just once a week, maybe if you actually spent time in the word and in prayer, maybe if you actually made an intentional commitment to work on your relationship with God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit some of those things you wrestle with would be resolved.  You want to live the abundant life that Jesus promised, you want joy, you want hope, you want to feel God’s presence in your life…you have got to make worship a lifestyle, you’ve got to be deliberate in worshipping God daily and not just on Sunday mornings.
Lets take a look together at what worship looks like from the book of Isaiah.  To keep worship simple here’s the answer to the question: what is worship?  Worship is simply revelation and response.  The Revelation of who God is and our response to that revelation.  So that the more we get who God is the bigger and better our response.  When we realize God is the creator of everything and holy and good and just and in charge of everything that happens in this world…when our revelation of who God is is as big as it should be…our response will be to worship him daily and live for him daily and make good decisions and do the things that honor him.  We see this truth that worship is revelation and response clearly in Isaiah’s calling found in Isaiah 6:1-8.  See if you can pick out the ways the author offers the revelation of who God is and the response of Isaiah: 
            There is so much imagery in this text about the revelation of who God is.  Did you notice it?  He see’s the Lord and here’s the description.  Here’s the revelation of who God is.
-High and exalted:  God is above and over everything.  His placement in the temple is an illustration of who is on the earth.  He is the God most Hebrew he is el elyon.
I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High -(Psalm 7:17).
You, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods -(Psalm 97:9).
In Zechariah’s song we see a reference to God being the most high:
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him -(Luke 1:76).

-Seated on a throne
The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne. He observes everyone on earth; his eyes examine them. -Psalm 11:4

16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. -Hebrews 4:16

-The train of his robe filled the temple
The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure. -Psalm 93:1

This idea of the robe is about his majesty and priestliness…again holiness.  His robe is not limited by time and space…it fills the entire temple.  And again, the temple is where the presence of God dwells and by extension the imagery here is that this earth is in a sense his temple.  And his robe is his presence.  So the big word here is that God is omnipresent.  He is everywhere at once.
-Seraphim were above him singing of his holiness of his glory
Let them praise your great and awesome name— he is holy. -Psalm 99:3
Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

After the Israelites flee Egypt and cross the Red sea part of they’re song in Exodus 15 is this.
Who among the gods
    is like you, Lord?
Who is like you—
    majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
    working wonders?
-Exodus 15:11

Over and over again in scripture we see this idea of holiness and glory and majesty about who God is.
-The place was filled with smoke and it trembled
In Exodus 19 we see smoke and the trembling of the land when God’s presence is there…Moses has obeyed God and called the Israelites to approach Mt. Sinai and it says this:
18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. 

            There are several other areas throughout scripture where we see fire and smoke and the earth shaking as the presence of God descends.
            All of these images are deeply biblical and would have been familiar to the Jewish readers of the book of Isaiah.  They would have known that the point of the author was to bring about revelation of who God is.  He is king – on a throne – he is holy – the Seraphim sing of that – he sees and knows everything – the train of his robe fills the temple just as his presence fills the earth.
            Isaiah gets quite the grandiose revelation of who God is doesn’t he?  Did you notice his response?  He recognizes right away the bigness and holiness and glory of God and the first thing he notices when this is revealed to him is his own humanity.  His own weakness.  His own sin.  “Woe to me, I am ruined for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among people who are unclean.”  The revelation of who God is creates a humble response in Isaiah of unworthiness.
            And so God sends the Seraphim, this angel like creature with a hot coal from the altar puts it on the lips of Isaiah and makes him clean.  Once again the revelation of who God is…is a God who cares about his people.  He does for us what we can’t do for ourselves.  Isaiah could not get clean before God on his own, only God could make him clean.  And once he is clean and his sin is atoned for and forgiven…then God asks not rhetorically, but looking for a sincere answer…whom shall I send?  And Isaiah after the revelation of who God is and who was and now who is after this encounter says with confident humility – Here I am, send me.”  The revelation of who God is makes Isaiah response to the call on his life a resounding here I am send me.
            Now, we can’t normalize this worship experience can we?  I mean how many of you have ever seen seraphim or been touched on the lips by a hot coal from the altar of the Lord himself.  Right.  This is not a typical worship scenario at Catawba Methodist or at any other church around the world.  However, it is a perfect example of revelation and response.
            If you view God as big and holy and grand and majestic as this scripture paints him to be, I have a feeling that your response will be much bigger than it has been.
            In Matthew 15 Jesus quotes Isaiah in reference to the Pharisees and says
            This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.
Matthew 15:8–9)

            The Pharisees problem was not their desire to please God and fulfill the law…they had good motives most of them.  Their problem was that their revelation of who God was started with the law and not with love.  So that their worship to God was in vain.  They honored God with their lips but their hearts were far from him.  When you were singing this morning, was your heart far from God or were you really worshipping him?
            Were you thinking about what you have to do this week or about how you don’t like this song or about the haircut of the person in front of you?  Or were you really worshipping Jesus and thinking about what a friend you have in Him and how thankful you are for the things God has done for you and so to God be the glory in everything?
            Worship is revelation and response.  The deeper and bigger and more consistent you are in pursuing the revelation of who God is, the bigger and deeper and greater your response will be.  And for those of you who are parents of children still living in your house…the greater your revelation of who God is, the greater their revelation of who God is.  You want your children to live a life responding to the call of who God on their lives.  You want your children live a life that honors God.  It starts with you living it out in your home and worshipping God in your home.  Do you pray together as a family?  Do you do family devotions together?  Do you take time to see a sunset or a beautiful moon and verbally thank God for creating such beauty?  Are you revealing God in the way you live your life to your children…because if you are not you are doing them a great disservice.  It is your responsibility as a parent to instill faith in your children…it is not the church’s job to do that.  The Church should come along beside you and support you and be a part of your child’s growth in their faith…but it starts with what you do and don’t do in the home because your influence is everyday, the church typically gets one day a week.    
            Worship is revelation and response that has to be practiced more than just on Sunday mornings.  Amen.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sermon from Sunday: Simple.Discipleship

Simple.Discipleship (Luke 14:25-27)
            I want to introduce you to someone.  Someone I love and someone that is always positive and uplifting and doesn’t expect anything of me.  I would like to introduce you to my Jesus (hold up talking Jesus doll).
  “The mountains and hills may crumble but my love for you will never end.”  Thank you Jesus.  In case you didn’t hear him, Jesus said “The mountains and hills may crumble but my love for you will never end.”  Lets see what else he has to say.  “Your life matters so much to me.”  Wow, I’m so glad my life matters to you.  Isn’t that sweet?  This is my Jesus and he never says anything I don’t want to hear.  Lets listen to one more.  “I knew about you before you were even born.”  Okay, anyone else saying that and it would be creepy, but since Jesus said it it’s true and I am thankful.
            Would the real Jesus please stand up!  Right.  I mean, c’mon.  Jesus said some wonderful things that give us hope and comfort in times when we need them.  But Jesus also said some things that I don’t want to hear.  This Jesus doesn’t say anything I don’t want to hear, but the real Jesus, when the real Jesus talked about discipleship we said some things that just seem downright harsh. 
This morning we are keeping Discipleship simple and we are keeping it about what Jesus really said.  Discipleship assumes that someone is doing the discipling.  Right…like a teacher student relationship.  You’ve got the disciple – the one doing the discipling and you have the disciple – the one being taught, being led, being discipled.  Jesus is the one who does the discipling and we are the ones trying to be like him and we do that by being His disciple.  To be his disciple we are to be like him.  Jesus talked quite a bit about what it means to be his disciple..  That’s where I want to start.  What does the one who we are trying to emulate say about what it means to emulate him.  About what is means to be his disciple.
I thought I was going to share several scriptures with you about Jesus talking about discipleship and share them with you but I got to the verse we are looking at this morning and didn’t get much farther.
So here it is…lets look at Luke 14 starting in verse 25.  Jesus has just been teaching in the house of a Pharisee and he actually heals a man on the Sabbath and he’s challenged but then he gets out of it and continues to teach on the Pharisees attitude of superiority.  The text when we get to verse 25 just says that large crowds were traveling with Jesus.  So he has left from the Pharisees house and this message about discipleship is for everyone in the crowd…it’s not for a select group of people…Jesus wants everyone to know that to be his disciple this is one of the things that means.  Starting in verse 25 (Read 25-26)
25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.
There are two things Jesus says about being his disciple.  The first one is unless you hate your father and mother and even their own life…unless you do that you cannot be my disciple.  Let me tell you up front what Jesus is not saying.  He is not literally saying we should hate our father and mother, that would directly violate the 5th commandment and Jesus being a good Jew and Rabbi – a jewish teach…he is not going teach something to his followers that would violate the 5th Commandment nor any of the other commandments. 
The idea here that Jesus is stressing is where does your primary allegiance lie?  Is your allegiance first and foremost to Jesus…if so then that may cause some tension within your family.  Think about the time this was written.  In the culture Jesus speaks you were either Jewish or Gentile.  That’s it.  No other distinctions.  A gentile was simply someone not a Jew.  Jesus comes along and says all these strange things and does miracles and heals people and starts a new movement…a new type of Judaism.  So that the common categories of Jew or Gentile now have been thrown off balance.  It’s not that simple anymore. 
If you were a gentile and started following Jesus, Jesus was a rabbi, does that mean you were now Jewish.  If you were Jewish and you started believing in Jesus…the Pharisees didn’t like him or believe in him, the Sadducess didn’t like him or believe in him…this was a threat so you were isolated as a Jew if you believed in Jesus.
Jesus gets right to the point with the crowds.  Where does allegiance lie?  If I don’t come first, If I am not primary in your life, if I am not the top priority, then you cannot be my disciple.  That’s the point he’s making.  He does it first by talking about something people love…their families.
Over in Luke 9 we see something similar.  In Luke 9 We see how personal relationships can conflict with the call of discipleship.  There, Jesus asked someone to follow Him, but the man responds with this excuse: "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." (Luke 9:59)
Right there, a conflict arises. If He is truly Lord, then He is first, not us. This man was essentially saying, "Lord, let me wait until my parents grow old and die. I don't want to create any conflict. I'll follow You at a more convenient time."
Jesus answered: "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:60).  It sounds harsh.  Now just to be clear, when the man talks about burying his father…it’s probably an ossuary that he’s talking about.  Most likely the funeral already happened and he had a time to grieve and what they did in this culture is wait until the body was mostly bones, then bury those bones in a final resting place called an ossuary.  So Jesus isn’t being quite as harsh as we think, but he is still making a bold and deliberate point with dramatic flare that discipleship is about allegiance first and foremost to me.  And if your allegiance isn’t first and foremost to God, to Jesus, to the Spirit, then you cannot be His disciple. 
            He doesn’t stop there.  He doesn’t just say unless you hate your family…he says your own life.  Discipleship must involve dying to ourselves.  In John 12:24 Jesus said it this way.  We see it in Galataians 2:20 and 5:24.  We see it in 1 Peter (2:24) and 2 Cor. 5:17.  There is this idea throughout scripture that to be a disciple of Jesus something in us must die.  And I believe that something is our natural tendency towards selfishness.  So that the opposite of selfishness is selflessness.  That as we grow in our faith and get to know Jesus we become more and more like him and more and more others-centered instead of self-centered.  When you are others-centered, when you are selfless, selfishness in you has died.  Selfishness must die so that the Holy Spirit can replace it with selflessness.
            I don’t know a better place where this is seen than in marriage.  Billy Graham said “Salvation is free but discipleship costs everything we have.”  It reminds me of the difference between falling in love and staying in love.  Anyone can fall in love, right.  It’s easy.  You meet each other and are physically attracted to one another.  You get to know each other and you share similar values and goals and interests and all of a sudden you have fallen in love.  The more time you spend together the more you love the person.  And it’s easy.  It just happens from hanging out.  Then you get married and it’s  beautiful ceremony and for the first couple of yeas those giddy feelings are still there and you couldn’t be happier. 
            At some point in marriage those giddy feelings subside and that’s no longer the glue that holds your marriage together.  The glue now, is that holy covenant, that commitment you made to be together for better or worse.  Often times what you used to love about your spouse becomes annoying.  You used to love his high ethic.  Now, you just wish he would stop working so much and spend some time with you and children.  You used to love the fact that he was so masculine and manly and now you don’t understand why all he ever does is give you solutions to your problems instead of trying to understand where you are coming.  Men: you used to love the fact that she was so dependent on you.  Now, you just wish you could have some you time when you aren’t at work.  You used to love her sense of humor, now it just gets on your nerves.  Marriage all of a sudden becomes hard work.  You fell in love, that was easy, but staying in love, working on the marriage relationship intentionally and deliberately, that hard.  That takes effort and discipline and work.
            Guess what word comes from discipline that we are talking about today: disciple.  To be a disciple takes discipline.  It takes reading the word and being consistent in worship services and praying and going to Bible studies and deliberately and intentionally growing your faith.  So that you can continue to understand what it means to die to yourself.  If something in you doesn’t die when you get married, it makes marriage that much harder.  One of the last things I say at a marriage to the couple is to commit to lay selfishness at altar and commit to be selfless…because it is absolutely essential for a healthy marriage.  And the ideal in marriage is that you are serving one another.  In Ephesians Paul says “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  If you submit to each other, guess what you are serving each other constantly.  And if you are serving each other constantly, you are being selfless.  Now what’s cool about that in marriage is that if you are serving each other you are also being served and who doesn’t want to be served?
            That’s how discipleship is.  If you don’t deny yourself, if you don’t die to yourself, if you don’t work on being selfless instead of selfish you cannot be a disciple of Jesus.  In Luke 9:23 Jesus says it this way “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”  This doesn’t sound easy does it.  We haven’t even talked about what it means to take up your cross, in the Luke 14 text, that’s what Jesus says next…”whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  I wanted to talk about that but I don’t have time.
I want to ask you something, if discipleship is about dying to ourselves (and denying ourselves and being selfless purposely and deliberately) then the question is this: what needs to die inside of you?  Where have you been selfish and self-centered?  Is in a relationship with your husband or wife?  Is it in a relationship with your children?  Is it a friend or a co-worker?  What inside of you needs to die?  Because unless we ask that question and really seek out the answer, Jesus says, we cannot be his disciple.  Keeping this simple…discipleship is an intentional dying to self so that we can be more like Jesus.   
Salvation is free and it’s easy and wonderful and glorious…discipleship is hard.  So pastor, why do it?  Why pursue this life of discipleship if it’s hard and if it takes so much work.  Because Jesus also says in Luke 9 “whoever loses their life for me will find it.”  In John 10:10 Jesus says I came to give life and life in abundance.”  When you lose your life by becoming a disciple of Jesus…it may be hard and involve work…but what you experience is the fullness of joy and the radicalness of grace and the consistency of hope and the wonder and power of sacrificial love.  It’s worth it.

Friday, October 11, 2013


The audio messed up on here's the manuscript:
Simple Church – John 20:19-23
We are starting a new series today that I’m simply calling “Simple.”  Human beings are so good at complicating things.  Our family recently helped my grandmother get into an assisted living facility in Mocksville, NC.  So for outgoing calls – my uncle got her a cellphone.  When I visited my grandmother she showed me his directions for her to make a call on the phone.  And it was crazy, I couldn't even follow the directions.  The phone itself has a green button and red button and a middle button…and around the middle button if you push it a certain way it takes you to the menu.
Now, I’m sitting here trying to follow my uncles instructions on the phone and I can’t do it.  This is supposed to be something really easy and simple for my grandmother to use.  Why can’t they just make a phone for people who are not tech savvy that just has a big button that goes directly to the Contacts and lists the contacts and then you just choose the contact and it dials it for you.  Her phone, you have to go to menu, then contacts, then you press “enter” on the contact then you choose which phone number you want to dial and press enter or the green button to dial it.  You get my point, right, something that’s supposed to be simple, making a phone call, is made difficult for my grandmother.  We often make things that should be simple…complicated.
I think about when I mess up in my relationship with Chrys.  Instead of just saying "you were right I was wrong, I’m sorry, will you forgive me and lets make this right," I argue and I banter back and I don’t admit that I was wrong.  Why?  Because I’m a guy and I have pride and I don’t like being wrong…neither does she.  So instead of just simply sucking it up and apologizing, I make it into this complicated argument that’s really senseless.  I want to see some wives poking their husbands with their elbows…all men do this.
We do the same with spiritual things.  We complicate matters.  Today we are talking about the Church...specifically Simple Church.  We have complicated church.  Period.  We have committees for this and committees for that and Charge Conference paper work and end of the year paperwork…of which 90 percent of it nobody reads.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed…but I’ve really tried to simplify the services and streamline them and keep it simple. 
Lets talk about the church…what is it and how do we keep it simple.  Church is not about your preference or my preference.  Church is not about the music.  Church is not about the preaching or the preacher.  Church is not about the socializing.  Church is not about the offering or the prayers.  So what is church about?  Church is about being God’s people.  Being the body of Christ, Paul describes it well in 1st Corinthians 12.  I’ve preached on it before.  The church is about being the body of Christ.  Being the hands and feet of Christ on this earth.  Doing on this earth what Jesus did on this earth when he was alive and doing ministry.  That’s what it means to be the church.  We complicate it.  Church is about doing what Jesus did on this earth when he was a live and doing ministry. 
Look at John 20, our scripture, verses 19-23.  The disciples are tasked with doing what Jesus did when he was alive.  As the father has sent me, I am sending you.  In other words…What I did on earth, that’s what you are supposed to do on earth.  My ministry should be your ministry.  I healed people.  I want you to heal people.  I offered forgiveness to people, I want you to forgive people and offer them forgiveness in me.  Don’t take verse 23 literally, about if you forgive sins their sins are forgiven, he’s saying, offer them forgiveness in me.  This is giving them a task.  A responsibility.  And it doesn’t sound like an option.  He says, I am sending you.  Jesus intentionally spent time with sinners to offer them a better life.  Jesus intentionally spent time with children and widows and orphans to tell them about the truth of who God is.  Jesus intentionally engaged in conversations with people to challenge what they thought and to lead them to truth.
You want to know your purpose as the church?  Our purpose as the church.  Our purposes to collectively do what Jesus did while he was on earth.  To eat with sinners.  And be in ministry with orphans and prisoners and widows.  To offer people the truth.
Let me ask you something.  When is the last time you led somebody to Jesus?  It’s a hard question for me to ask myself.  Because it’s been awhile.  Oh, I preach and offer discipleship and counseling and care and all that is part of growing in our faith.  But when is the last time you led someone to Christ?
Okay, you might that’s not a fair question.  How bout this?  When is the last time you shared your faith with someone for the purpose of leading them to the truth?  That’s a fairer question.  When is the last time you shared your faith with someone for the purpose of leading them to the truth?  To Jesus?  “Well I don’t have many opportunities to do that because I’ve already shared my faith with everyone in my circle.”  The disciples had a circle.  Guess what Jesus did…he sent them outside of that circle.  You have to be intentional about sharing your faith.  And as a confession, I haven’t been intentional either.  And I’m going to work on it.
Being the church is ultimately about bringing people to Jesus.  It’s about being a blessing yes, it’s about meeting social and physical and emotional needs, yes.  But all of that blessing people and meeting needs should lead to us having a conversation with some of those people we are blessing that allows us to share our faith with purpose of bringing someone to Jesus Christ.  That’s what the church is ultimately about.  Yes we take care of each other and love each other that’s assumed and it’s comfortable for us and we’re good at, we are…but what about all those people that don’t know Jesus and are going to hell.
Do we even care?  Do we.  I think that’s what it comes down too.  If you don’t care then of course you aren’t going to share your faith.  If you do care, then you will share your faith even if you are afraid…if you care and love enough, that love will overcome the fear and you will share you faith.  And look I’m not talking about being annoying, I’m talking about sharing your faith and if the person says “no”…it’s not your fault…it’s theirs.  Even if you just plant a seed, your job is to be obedient and share you faith, in love and with care and with patience.  And sometimes it means you listen first.  But…share yout faith, just do it.  Just be the church.
Simple Church…doing what Christ calls us to do and doing it together.  What does Christ call us to do…”As the Father in has sent me, I am sending you.”  To do what Jesus did.  To lead people to the truth of who he is.
Church is not about what I want or what you want…its not about our worship preferences…it’s not about saying the apostle’s creed every Sunday or the Lord’s prayer every Sunday…it’s about what God wants for this earth.  And we pray it every Sunday…God wants his kingdom to come on this earth.  And we haven’t been very good at that.  We haven’t been good at bringing new people into the Kingdom of God and that’s why Jesus came.  His message, his first public teaching, was “Repent for the kingdom of God is near.”  He came preaching and teaching repentance and the kingdom.  To join the kingdom of God a person has to repent and seek forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  It’s that simple.  I think it’s time that we at Catawba UMC repent…that I repent…that we confess that we haven’t been who God wants us to be.
I’m going to ask you to do something I’ve never asked you to do…get out a hymnal.  We are going to enter a time of Holy Communion.  And we are going to start on page 7.  Will you say the Apostle’s Creed with me and will you offer repentance and confession to God and seek his will for you life.  In forgiving us he calls us to with joyful obedience.  

Communion: Let coming to the table of our Lord be your commitment to a renewed purpose of sharing the love of God with someone this week.  I want you to be intentional about sharing the love of Christ with one person…just one person…one person that you’ve never shared your faith…share it with them out of love and concern and care.  Let coming to the Communion be your commitment to do that this week.  Because offering the kingdom is why Jesus came to this earth and we are sent to do what he did.  In Communion we are reminded that we are in this together and that it is up to all of us to share the faith.  The best advertisement for anything is word of mouth.  So share your faith.