Saturday, April 30, 2016

Invite and Invest

Matthew 28:16-20

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

If you skip to verse 19 (as many Christians do) you miss the powerful statement Jesus makes in verse 18: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."  It's also true to that Jesus has always had "all authority" (i.e. Colossians 1:15-20 and John 1). The Jesus the disciples had known has now taken His rightful place alongside God the Father.  He reminds the disciples that to encounter Jesus is to encounter God Himself.

The Command to "go and make disciples of all nations..." is predicated on this authority Jesus has rightfully claimed for Himself.  We are called by Jesus to 3 things: 1. Invite people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, 2. immerse them in the truth of who God is ("baptizing them" includes both the ritual of baptism and the call to introduce them to all of who God is) and 3. to invest in their lives by teaching them to obey Jesus.  

Jesus assures us that we will not be alone in our efforts. He will always be with us to guide us, help us, reveal truth to us and lead us as we carry out His calling in our lives.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Take up Your Cross

Matthew 16:24-26
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

The cross was death in Roman culture.  Jesus is telling His disciples to die to themselves in order to serve God fully.  The image of "taking up your cross" is one of a condemned criminal carrying the cross bar of his own execution through the streets of the city and enduring the insults and humiliation of the crowds along the way.

Denying ourselves and taking up our cross means we have decided to let go of our selfish ambitions and own ways and fully dedicated our lives to following Jesus.

Jesus is hitting the disciples and hitting us right between the eyes with the call to seek Him first by "losing our lives" for His's by abandoning selfishness and handing our lives over to God that we find "life."

Our souls are more valuable than anything this life can offer and since God is the author of life He knows better than we do that living for Him (and not for ourselves) is what it means to be a disciple.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Don't Judge...Unless...

Matthew 7:1-5

 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."

We've all heard the phrase "it's not my place to judge." And while it's often true, it's not always true. Jesus' didn't leave the phrase "do not judge" by itself...he made a condition of it: if you do choose to judge someone, be prepared to be judged yourself.  

Jesus is not suggesting that there is never a time or a place or a situation to make moral judgments about someone, he's suggesting care about doing so and an awareness first of our own sin.  If we aren't willing to be aware of our own sin and allow God to help us deal with it, then we have no place to use our critical faculties towards someone else.  However, there is a time and place for us to "take the speck" out of someone else's eye...but only after we have taken the "plank" out of our own eye.

At the same time, it is definitely a warning not to be harsh towards people...especially people who have not given us permission to hold them accountable. 

We all need someone (or several "someones") that will challenge us when we are living in a way that is harmful to ourselves or to someone else. When we hold someone accountable it can look a lot like judgment, but if they have given us permission to call them out then we need to do just that.  It's the people who haven't given us that permission that we have no place to judge...especially if we haven't taken the time and effort to name and deal with our own sin.

I also believe Jesus is using humor here to make his point.  A plank in someone's eye is a pretty funny image if you think about it:

Jesus' point is be careful about judging other people...because you have some things you need to deal with yourself.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Salt and Light

Jesus uses the metaphor of Salt and Light in Matthew 5:13-16 to talk about what kind of influence we should have as disciples. As Christians. He uses them to talk about being a witness.  

Why Salt and Light? Well, think about being a first century person. Salt came from the dead sea. It was literally Sea Salt. It was pretty common, but the problem with it (because it was all natural) is that over time it would lose it’s flavor. It was literally a use it or lose it situation.  

Kind of like our witness. We can use our witness to make an impact, to love, to give God a great reputation, or we are going to lose it. We are going to be positive influence for Jesus and stand up for truth and righteousness and justice or we have no witness for God at all and we have lost it. Lost what? An opportunity to influence someone else positively for the Kingdom of God. Your witness matters. Your influence matters.

What about light? They didn’t have light switches in their homes. They didn’t have street lamps. They didn’t have flashlights. They had lamps and candles and not everyone could afford lamps and candles. So light was a precious commodity. It was a powerful thing.  We just take it for granted that we can flip a switch and the light comes on.  How many of us still flip the switch when the power goes off out of habit?

Salt and light two things the people could immediately connect with. Jesus is saying that to belong to him is be salt and light to the earth. I think he is talking about two realms, two areas of witness, of influence.

To be salt is to be a silent influence, to be light is to be a known influence.

Our witness matters behind closed doors as much as it does in public.  Jesus is calling us to a private and public witness. Just as salt is for our own consumption, we need to be aware of what kind of witness we have when no one's looking or when we are just with the people closest to us. Just as light make things visible, we need to be aware of what kind of witness we are too people publicly.

Salt and Light...Private and Public...our witness matters!
Living for Christ privately and publicly is to be a silent influence and a known influence. It's two ways to honor God and make the most positive difference in our world!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Don't Worry

I am devoted to my family.  I am devoted to my church.  I am devoted to my friends.  And most importantly I am devoted to my God.

The problem is that I often allow something less important than my devotion to God get the attention of my devotion. That's when I worry and that's when you worry too.

Worry is a sign of misplaced devotion.  The way to keep from worrying is by shifting our devotion from what we worry about to trust in God.

When you have a job interview that you are worried about...shift your devotion from whether or not you get the job to the God who gave you the opportunity to interview in the first place.

When you worry about a loved one who is sick or facing a difficult situation, shift your devotion from what could happen to them to the God whose fate their lives are in.

When you worry about your finances, shift your devotion away from the money and towards the God who is our provider.

When you worry about a relationship, shift your devotion away from the risks of the relationship and towards God...who happens to be an expert on relationships.

This is not to minimize or demean problems we's actually just the opposite, we should care about our loved ones and our money and relationships and our jobs, however, we shouldn't worry about them.

Jesus says this much in Matthew 6:25-34.  I'll give you the opportunity to read it before I continue.

In these verses (and the ones just before it) Jesus names important things in our lives.  He names money, our lives, food, drink, our body and clothes.  Then He has the audacity to say...even though those things are important...don't worry about them.  

He didn't say "don't care about them."  Some people equate care with worry.  We should care about our lives and how we spend our money and relationships, but worrying about them is when care becomes unhealthy.

The solution, Jesus says, is to "Seek His kingdom and His righteousness."  In other words, shift your devotion away from what you are worrying about and fully place your trust in the God who loves you and is for you and will never abandon you.

According to Jesus, the solution to our worry is to shift our devotion.  If you care about what you are devoted too and if you devote yourself first and foremost to God and His will, you will find your self able to offer compassionate care without being stifled by worry.

When we think about worry the way Jesus does, it saves us from so much frustration and stress and helps us enter into a life of freedom and joy.  If none of that convinces you...maybe this will:

Monday, April 25, 2016

I am the True Vine

Yesterday at Covenant Community Church we handed out bookmarks with seven teachings of Jesus for people to read and study throughout the week.  I promised I would blog on each of those scriptures, so here ya go:

The first scripture is John 15:1-17...take the time to read it, it's worth it.

One of my favorite ways to understand what Jesus has done for humanity is the recapitulation theory. For a more thorough examination you can go here.  It basically recognizes that Jesus succeeded where Adam (and Israel) failed.

In John 15 when Jesus says "I am the true vine" his Jewish audience would've recognized the reference to the Old Testament imagery of Israel as God's "vineyard" or "vine" i.e. covenant people. The problem is that Israel as God "vine" meant to produce fruit in the world (i.e. be a blessing to other nations and people) often failed to produce the kind of fruit God expected.  In contrast to Israel's failure, Jesus claims to be the "true vine" and by doing so fulfills Israel's destiny as the true vine of God.  One Commentary puts it this way: 

"As the paradigmatic vine, Jesus embodies God's true intentions for Israel: Jesus is the channel through whom God's blessings flow...Hence Jesus displaces Israel as the focus of God's plan of salvation, with the implication that faith in Jesus becomes the decisive characteristic for membership among God's people."

In other words salvation is now available to anyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ as the messiah, Lord and savior.

When Jesus says in verse 4: "Remain in me as I also remain in you" it is an invitation to an intimate relationship.  To remain in the "true vine" is to be connected in a deep, purposeful and meaningful way. It's to allow Jesus' ways to become our ways.  Just as sheep hear the shepherds voice, so too remaining and abiding in Jesus (the true vine) means we will automatically produce the kind of fruit that honors God and makes life worth living.

Verses 5-8 are an invitation to make abiding and remaining in Jesus an ongoing intentional decision. Being a disciple of Jesus means we continue in our intimate relationship with Him.  It's more than a one time decision to make him our savior, it's also a daily decision to obey Him as our Lord.  

Verses 9-17 solidify the truth of Jesus' invitation to enter into a relationship Him.  These verses answer the question: why does Jesus want us to "remain in Him?"  The answer is: He genuinely loves us.  Because He loves us He wants us to experience a life of joy found in choosing to love Him because of how much He loves us.  

So let us be the kind of people who know we are loved and follow His command to also "Love each other."

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Greatest Compliment Ever

One of the greatest compliments I've ever heard (and that I can think of) was given to my wife by a friend who is not a Christian.

When they first met and started hanging out she found out my wife was a Christian...she told her: "we won't be friends long."  All she had experienced from Christians was judgment and condemnation so she had a right to be skeptical. 

After they established a friendship for a few years this friend said to my wife: "if I ever do become a Christian, it will be because of you."

That's the kind of witness I hope I have for Jesus.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Uncalculated Risk - Esther

Sermon Recap

The story of Esther takes place within a political culture where the Jews are second-class citizens in the Persian empire (Modern day Iran/Turkey).

Esther is one of those Jews who, because of her beauty, becomes the queen to King Xerxes.  With the help of her cousin Mordecai, she thwarts Haman's plan to eradicate the Jews from the face of the earth.

She must go before the king uninvited to reveal Haman's plan to Xerxes which meant risking her own life.  Mordecai encourages her to go before the king and with some reluctance she goes with the attitude of "if I perish I perish."

Through several twists and turns Haman's plan turns against him and Esther and Mordecai are able to save the Jewish people.

There's a lot to love about this's my top four:

1. How Esther goes from an orphaned, Jewish, second-class citizen to queen over all of the Persian empire. Who doesn't love a rags-to-riches story? What I especially like about Esther is how her character is slowly revealed throughout the story. When we are introduced to her she's beautiful and that's all we know. As the story unfolds we learn about her faith, courage and wisdom.

2. The twists, turns and character development. Here's a few:

-The way Xerxes is portrayed as just a pawn in the story even though he's king over all of Persia.

-The timing of Xerxe's dream leading to the ironic twist of Haman honoring Mordecai on behalf of the king.

-Haman builds an execution device specifically for Mordecai that ends up being his own undoing.

-The reversal of power between Haman and Mordecai

3. Even though God is silent, he's still at work throughout the story. From Esther being chosen among hundreds of women, to Xerxe's dream at just the right time to Haman's plot to destroy the Jews and how it ends up bringing favor upon Esther and Mordecai, God is orchestrating events without ever being named. When I preached this before, it led to this main idea: Our feelings do not determine God's presence

4. When Mordecai challenges Esther not to be silent within a political climate where silence would be the safe option. Within our modern political culture there's so much tension. For the sermon yesterday I asked: how should Christians respond? It led to this main idea: You don't have to compromise your convictions to show compassion. Too often Christians are the initiators and "continuators" (new made-up word) of division and conflict regarding political and social issues. It saddens me that we aren't known for what Jesus said we should be known for: our compassion and love.

As a Christian we should have convictions that we are willing to stand up for, however, our convictions should never come at the expense of our compassion.  There's a way to love people even when you disagree with them.  you do'nt have to be a prick to have convictions and you don't have to be a pushover to have compassion.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Uncalculated Risk - Abraham

Sermon Recap
Abram left everything to follow God's call on his life.  The calling involved a promise that God would bless him and that he would be a blessing to others.  Abram didn't make excuses.  He didn't ask for time to process what God told him.  He didn't need to do any "self-reflection."  He didn't say "the children are still little but when they are older and out of the house then i'll go."  He didn't say "I'm too old why didn't you ask me to do this when I was younger."  In Genesis 12:4 we read "So Abram went, as the Lord had told him..."  He was called and obeyed without excuses, without directions, without gps, without a map, without any indication of where he would end up.

Abram's calling is our calling.  Every single person who has embraced Jesus as Lord and Savior are promised that God will bless us and that we are to be a blessing to others.  Paul says it this way in Galatians 3:29 "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise."

This general calling to be a blessing to others applies to all Christians.  However, if you want to find God's specific calling in your life it can be helpful to look at three ways Jesus calls us and then pray for God to show you what that looks like for you.

Among many others, three ways Jesus calls His followers are:

1. Love God, Love others (Matthew 22:37-40)

2. Invite people into a growing relationship with Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20)

3. Serve others (Matthew 23:11-12)

If you pray for God to reveal to you who needs to be loved within your sphere of influence, God will show you.  If you pray for God to reveal to you who needs to be invited into his kingdom, into a reltiaonship with him, God will show you.  If you pray for God to reveal to you who in your life you should focus on serving, God will show you.  Because God loves to reveal His purpose and His ways and His will to His people.

You can see the sermon for yourself here:

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"New and Improved"

I’m skeptical when I see the “new and improved” moniker on a product.  It’s usually a marketing ploy and the product itself has not changed or the change is so insignificant that it really isn’t “new” or “improved.”

With that said, I am at a place as the Pastor of Covenant Community Church where I have been feeling like it's time to start blogging again.  The blog itself has a different look and this author has changed a little bit over the years…and while I hope it truly is “new and improved,” I’m okay with it being “different and purposeful.”

The plan for content is to share a summary of the message from Sunday once a week and random other things a couple of times a week.  With some “new” and exciting things on the horizon at Covenant, it feels like the right time to step up and make blogging a part of my weekly routine again.

One of those "new" things happened this past Sunday.  We launched our first Starting Point experience after the morning worship services.  We introduced people who have recently been attending Covenant to who we are and what we want to be about. The experience will continue starting this Wednesday evening and I'm so excited about what it means for Covenant!