Archive | March, 2015

Palm Sunday and the Happy Ever After?

27 Mar

ever-after-32189711-1280-720I worked at Lancaster County’s Barnes Hall Juvenile Detention Center for three years after graduating from college. There were many interesting moments in those years. One I will never forget is when I brought in the movie Ever After for the kids to view. It is a retelling of the Cinderella story with Drew Barrymore as Cinderella. Of course the kids thought this was a ridiculous idea. Cinderella, are you serious? Isn’t that a little kids movie?

But we forced them to watch it, and something amazing happened. The restless, grumpy kids slowly got into the story. They started to become Cinderella’s fans. She had a tough upbringing, something many of them could identify with. The emotion in the room grew until that ultimate moment when Cinderella shows up at the ball, depicted above. She is decked out in a stunning gown, and as she climbed the steps to the courtyard, those juvenile delinquents were cheering. Clapping. Getting up out of their seats high-fiving.

I thought they might like the movie, but I didn’t expect this. It was an awesome moment.

The prince sees Cinderella, and the crowd parts as they walk to one another and have a huge embrace. This is the Happily Ever After moment!

Just then the wicked stepmother bursts her way through the crowd, rips off one of Cinderella’s decorative wings, and reveals Cinderella’s true identity to the prince. The prince is flabbergasted. He turns and storms out of the ball. Cinderella is embarrassed and devastated.

Palm Sunday is a lot like that. We will sing Hosanna like the crowd entering Jerusalem that day.  We will praise the Lord with palm branches. (Our kids even have a surprise waiting for us!)  And we will re-enact the joyful crowd proclaiming that Jesus is the King!

There’s a sense in which, like Cinderella’s ball, Jesus is being announced as king for the first time to whole world.

Jesus-weptHe truly IS the King, and we are right to proclaim him so. But we also know there will be another crowd, just a few days later, that will turn its back on him. And so  Palm Sunday is a bittersweet event.  Palm Sunday is not Happy Ever After.  In fact, the King was downright gloomy that day.  You can see what I mean by reading Luke 19:28-44 to prepare for Sunday.

You’re more than welcome to join us at Faith Church to hear the rest of the story!

Is Sunday the new Sabbath? – Luke 6:1-11

25 Mar

sabbath580Last week I introduced the next sermon in our series on Luke saying that Jesus told the Bible scholars they didn’t know the Bible.  In Luke 6:1-11 he really gets in their face.  At one point the Pharisees confronted Jesus’ disciples for rubbing grain in their hands on the Sabbath, saying the disciples were harvesting on the Sabbath.  It was more than likely just a little snack.  Harvesting?  Not even close.  So in response, Jesus says:

Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?”

Wow! That’s bold, because you know they did read it, and were quite familiar with the story.  What is he really saying to them, then?  Basically, he is saying that they are wrong in their view of the Sabbath and they should have known better because it was right in front of them all along in an old Sunday School story.  That story shows clearly that exceptions to the Law are needed and good when it comes to caring for people.  The very next episode, when Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, tells the same principle.

Jesus shows the Pharisees, and he shows us, that we cannot let our religious system become more important than God’s intent!

One of the big questions about Sabbath is how Christians should apply it.  What was God’s intent?

There are Sabbath principles that we need to adhere to. Remember that God’s OT Law was for Israel, not for us. That Law can be helpful to us, but only insomuch as we understand the heart intent of the law. We can apply the heart of the law to the church, to Jesus’ disciples. But we should not apply the law itself to the church.

When the first Christians tried to apply OT Law to the Christian Church, things got messy and the early church had to have a major meeting to discuss what to do. You can read about it in Acts 15. Some Christian Jews wanted the non-Jews who were coming to Christ to start following the OT Law, particularly in the area of getting circumcised. The Apostle Paul says “No Way!” And James, the brother of Jesus, who was the leader of the church at that point said, “Paul is right, we’re not going to bind people to that.”

But Christians through the centuries have still tried to take OT Law, which was only meant for Israel, and apply it to the church many times. One of the recurring mistakes has been when Christians and churches have taken Sabbath law and moved it to Sunday. Many Christians grew up in a day and age in which it was common practice to understand Sunday as the Christian Sabbath, so what I am saying here might be hard to fathom.

Consider this: Not only is the OT Law not applicable to the church as Law, but practicing a Sabbath day is not mentioned at all in the NT in connection with the Christian Church. It is the only one of the 10 commandments that is not somehow repeated in the Apostles’ teaching in the NT.   The early Christians chose to gather on Sundays not because they wanted a new Sabbath day, but because that was the day Jesus rose from the dead! They simply wanted to meet to celebrate his resurrection every week.  We should do the same. We do not gather for worship on Sunday because we are trying to obey Sabbath Law.  We gather together to worship, to fellowship, to refocus on the mission of God’s Kingdom, to practice rest.

So while we don’t apply the Law, we can and should apply Sabbath principles to our lives. The principles of rest from labor and gathering for worship should be very evident in our lives. It doesn’t have to be a 24 hour period. It doesn’t have to be Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. It doesn’t have to be Saturday. We Christians do not need to follow Sabbath law. But we should show that we are following the principle, that we are resting from our labor, that we are trusting in our God to supply our needs.

God required the Israelites to rest so that they would learn to trust in him. By not working that one day per week they were showing great faith in him, that he would provide for them. They could have increased their incomes by 1/7th if they would work that extra day. Imagine how much money you would earn if you increased your wages by 1/7th? That’s a lot of money!

This is why I have great respect for companies that close their doors out of a desire to live out Sabbath principles. They are showing trust in the Lord. Think about their earning potential if they would open their doors a 7th day! You ask any company how they would feel about an opportunity that has a strong potential to increase their income by 14%? They wouldn’t bat an eye. It would be an automatic “Yes! Let’s do it.” But those companies are closed, if they are doing so with the right heart motivation, to say “No Lord, we’re going to trust in you. That potential 14% is yours.”

That’s pretty awesome.

But does that mean Christian companies or owners that keep their businesses open 24/7 are sinning? Nope, not one bit. There is no Sabbath law for Christians. If a Christian wants to make a voluntary sacrifice to the Lord, such as closing their business on Sunday, that is certainly their prerogative, but it is not required. And we should not judge either way. Leave the judging up to the Pharisees.

Instead we should individually ask ourselves “How am I practicing the principle of Sabbath?”

I really struggle with this. When do I intentionally put rest in my life? My Pastoral Relations Committee last year required me to rest on Wednesday afternoons and once a month take a Friday for spiritual refreshment. I will be honest, and Michelle can vouch for this, I have done pretty bad at that. I want to do it. But it is hard.

It is really, really hard to unplug, to disconnect.

We got new cell phones this past week, and I have yet to add my email account on my phone. I am doing that intentionally. But I will tell you that I’m iffy about it. I argue with myself. What would it hurt? What if I get an important email I need to answer right away? Don’t get me wrong, I think answering emails and replying to texts promptly is important. I have my computer open 8-4 everyday (and often in the evening and on Saturday…and on Sunday…).  But an email that comes in at 7pm can probably wait til 8 the next morning, right?

I really struggle with the connected society we live in. Email, Facebook, texting, cell phones, etc, etc.

I get a sense that many of us need to apply Sabbath principles in the area of social connectedness. I get a sense that we need to disconnect. This is why I love that Twin Pines has a rule for summer camp about no electronics. We need more of that.

I often take my cell phone to the toilet so I can “redeem the time” and work on my cell phone in the bathroom. When do I ever just stop and think?

After the big snow storm a couple weeks ago, there was a full moon. At around 10pm, I was in our backyard dumping our woodstove ashes into our fire pit. The moon reflecting off the snow was so bright everything had distinct shadows. It was quiet. The sky was clear and you could see constellations.

I wanted to just stand there and look and think. I had that urge within that I need more Sabbath in my life. It was too cold, though, and I dressed only for a quick trip to the fire pit. I had to go inside.

But I could feel it. A need, a yearning for Sabbath. I really enjoy our technological and connected world. Technology amazes me. But in the backyard under that beautiful moonlit night, I remembered Sabbath. Frankly, I can forget about Sabbath. I can become accustomed to incessant work. Social media constantly with me on my phone. The TV seemingly always on. Emails flowing to my computer without end. When I open my computer I rarely have less than 20 emails needing attention each morning. And they do need attention, and I do need to reply. But after dinner time (when I am home) the emails can wait til the next morning. I can rest from that several hours a day.

How about you? Do you get like that about work? When do you rest? I don’t mean sleep. I mean rest from your labor to seek the Lord. Yeah, I do believe we can and should do this on Sundays. Not because that is the new Sabbath day. It’s not. There is no new Sabbath day. We meet on Sunday because that is day Jesus rose from the dead and we gather to celebrate him, to renew our focus on the mission of God’s Kingdom. And Sabbath principle, not Law, but principle, says that we should be passionately committed to opening up our schedules to actively participate in regular worship.

Sabbath is not a law that requires you to be in church every Sunday. But Sabbath principle says that we should be passionately committed to being there because we want to be there, we want to see our church family, we want to sing in worship, we want to give, we want to serve, we want to hear the word of the Lord, discuss it, and we want to refocus on his Kingdom. Sabbath principle is a heart that wants to worship because we love the Lord so much we want to participate in the gathered worship of his church.

I’ve heard it said that nowadays regular participation is once or twice a month attendance in worship. That concerns me greatly. In fact it could be argued that is an ignoring of Sabbath principle.

Do you need to gather for worship more? Do you need to rest and take a break to reflect on Him more? Do you need to show your trust in your loving God in this area?

What happens when Jesus tells the Bible scholars they don’t know the Bible?

20 Mar

grain-fieldThe religious establishment is on him.  They’ve been following him ever since he splashed onto the scene months earlier, healing people and preaching and gaining a following of large crowds.  These Bible teachers, these Pharisees, are the religion police of their day, and they have dispatched some agents to check Jesus out.  Now they’re following him everywhere.  In this passage, they are walking through a grain field.  And they confront his disciples for picking some of the grain…a major no-no?  So Jesus responds with with a story.  He even starts it off by saying “Have you never read…?”  And you know they read it many, many times.  But there he is taking the Bible scholars back to Sunday School.

Basically he is saying to them “You guys who are supposed to know this Bible inside and out, you missed something.”  I wonder how he said this.  I would love to know the tone in his voice.  Was there any sarcasm?  A twinkle in his eye?  Frustration?

I think the Pharisees are quite surprised by Jesus.  Take a look at Luke 6:1-11, and see what you think.  Does he surprise you?

He tells them a story from the life of Israel’s most famous king, David.  When you read it, my guess is that it would rank, for most people, in the category of little-known stories.  The bible scholars of his day would have been, or should have been, really familiar with it.  It’s a story when David was in a tough predicament and he did something unheard of.  Scandalous even.  And actually a priest let him do it!  A priest let David break the Law.  Shocking?  Not really, when you find out the details.  But why not?  We’ll learn more on Sunday.

And we’ll see why Jesus brings this story up on a Sabbath day in the middle of a grain field to confront the religious establishment guys who are ticked off.

Why are the Pharisees so upset?  Why does Jesus confront their Bible knowledge?  As we study this passage, perhaps we need to go back to Sunday School too.  It is possible that we might have a little learning from Jesus to do too.

If you’re not part of a church family, we’d love to have you join us at Faith Church!

Why Jesus would rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints – Luke 5:27-39

18 Mar

Last week I introduced this past Sunday’s sermon with a game of Don’t Forget the Lyrics – Billy Joel Edition.  We had a lot of fun playing the game live in worship on Sunday.

I wanted to play Don’t Forget the Lyrics – Billy Joel Edition because of some lines from his song “Only The Good Die Young”:  “I’d rather laugh with the sinners, than cry with the saints.”  In our next passage studying the Gospel of Luke, we discovered Jesus doing just that!  Take a look at Luke 5:27-39 and you’ll see what I mean.


“I’d rather laugh with the sinners…” Did you see Jesus laughing it up with the sinners! Levi (Matthew) the tax collector throws a party in Jesus’ honor, and it is filled with people who the religious establishment, and pretty much everyone else, considers sinners! And Jesus is right there in the middle of it.

“…than cry with the saints.” The Pharisees and teachers of the law are outside watching him. These so-called saints are there crying their eyes out as they look inside. But note that they don’t confront Jesus! Instead they ask his disciples: “Why are you eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?”

And when the Pharisees question the disciples, I can see those disciples getting sick in the stomach, armpits start sweating and they clam up.  These are religious big-wigs!  They might pull out their wooden rulers and slap the disciples on the wrist.

The Disciples don’t answer. But Jesus does. I love that! I don’t know for certain that the Pharisees and disciples were on the outside of the house, on the veranda, or inside. But what Luke does confirm is that Jesus answers.

He uses a medical metaphor that a doctor is not for healthy people, but for sick! He explains what he means: he came not for the righteous, but sinners to repent. Though he is more than willing to laugh with sinners, he also calls them to repent. God has a heart for sinners! God loves even the despised tax collector, the prostitute, the homosexual, and you and me.  But in love, he calls them to repent. To repent is to lead a lifestyle of repentance.  To repent is to change.

When we follow Jesus as disciples, our lives should be changing. You should be able to look at your life and see how you have changed. Praise God that he loves us sinners and that all of us have the opportunity to be his disciples, but that doesn’t mean we can take his love for granted, or disrespect it. He loves us and wants us to follow him so that we can change! So that we can stop sinning and begin to live the wonderful life, the far better life, as one of his followers!

So for Jesus to focus on sinners to repent is a radical move. Where the Pharisees saw sinners as people who could infect them, Jesus saw the sinners as people who could have a renewal of heart, who could change.  He goes to the sinners. He goes their party. But in the middle of that, he calls them to change.

In verse 33 the Pharisees question Jesus about this, “There are other people or groups that have disciples, like ours, and those disciples practice fasting and prayer.  What’s the deal with you and your disciples partying with sinners?” Basically they’re saying, “Our disciples are more spiritual than your disciples!” And they have a point, one that we would probably use. We look to prayer and fasting as deeply important to the life of disciples. Spiritual disciplines are important! Shouldn’t Jesus respond by saying “Aw man, you got me. I’ve been really screwing up in leading my disciples. I’m sorry Pharisees. Come on boys, let’s scram. We shouldn’t have been partying it up with the sinners. My bad. I promise, Pharisees, we’ll never do that again. Serious. I swear by the name of me.”?

Nope. He didn’t say that. Instead, it’s another surprise. In verses 34-35 he now uses a wedding metaphor. When the bridegroom is there, it’s party time! We know this in our culture too. When the bride and groom leave the reception, pretty much the party’s over, right? We all go home, sometimes quite sad that it is over. I remember some friends’ wedding where I did not want that party to stop!  They eventually wanted it to, but I didn’t.

So basically Jesus is saying to these leaders, “Chill out guys. God loves sinners, and he is calling sinners to repent, and you know what? Look at what God is doing in Matthew’s life! We should throw a party about that! A sinner, a tax collector has said that he is leaving behind his tax collecting to follow me!”

There was good reason to celebrate!  Jesus doesn’t avoid sinners. He mixes it up with them. But in the midst of the party, he calls them to repentance. Matthew would go on to be changed.

In our day, we have to be very very careful that we are not like the Pharisees. We need to call sinners to repent, but it might look very different than what we’re used to. In fact, it should look different.   I believe we are coming through a period where much of the methodology of the church resembles the method of the Pharisees rather than that of Jesus. The church for too long wanted to people to clean up their act, and then come to church. Jesus, however, says I am coming to you, to where you are, right in the middle of your mess, and I am going to party with you, and I am going to call you to repent of your sin.

Seriously, that’s a bit mind-blowing isn’t it?

If there is sin in your life, Jesus says that you need to call it sin and repent; you need to change. The tax collector had to leave his life of cheating and stealing. Levi did just that. And guess what? He went on to write one of the books of the Bible! Amazing!

What if Jesus would have passed Levi by, saying “Disgusting…I hate those tax collectors…they’re sinners, I’m not going near them because they sicken me with their cheating. And I don’t want them to pollute me.”

Imagine Levi running after Jesus and saying “I’ve been listening to your sermons, Jesus, and I’ve seen your miraculous healings, and I want to change my life…I’m so excited about what God is doing in my life, I want to throw a party for you!” After hearing that, what if Jesus responds and says “A party? Are you serious? I don’t party. Who do you think I am? A sinner like you and your friends? You’ve got the wrong idea about following me, buddy. If you want to follow me, get down on your knees right now and start praying and fasting.”

But praise the Lord, Jesus is NOT like that.  Praise the Lord, Jesus meets us where we are and calls us to become new people.

  1. This affects us. Jesus meets us where we are. But he doesn’t say that we can stay where we are. We change to be like him. What sin do you need to call sin and repent of and change?
  2. This affects others. Just as Jesus met us where we are, we should follow his example and meet people where they are. Who are the sinners in your life that need Jesus that you need to go to and love and party with?

Which Jesus will we be like? The one who laughs with the sinners or the one who cries with the saints?

Don’t Forget the Lyrics – Billy Joel Edition (and that time Jesus laughed with the sinners)

14 Mar


Are you ready to play?

Remember the TV game show “Don’t forget the Lyrics”? Contestants were given parts of a song, and they had to complete the rest of the lyrics. I loved that show and always thought I would like to be a contestant, that is until I actually tried remembering the words to the songs I thought I knew really well!  In this sermon intro post, we’re going to play a version of that game and see how much you can remember!

This is especially for those of you, like myself, who are children of the 70s and 80s and know more than your fair share of Billy Joel songs. So let’s see how much you know!  Answers will be at the bottom of the post. And no using the internet for help!!!

Here is our Level One song, the easiest because most people consider it Billy Joel’s signature classic.

“Sing us a song, you’re the piano man, ____________________________ .  Well we’re all in the mood for a melody, _______________________________ .”

Bonus Points: Name the song and the year it was released!

How did you do?  Easy one, huh?

Well, let’s fast-forward a few years and move on to Level Two! This is another one of Billy Joel’s greatest hits.  See if you can fill in the lyrics:

“I’d rather laugh with the sinners, ___________________________; sinners are much more fun. ___________________________ .”

Bonus Points: Again, name the song and the year it was released!

That might have been a little tougher, but Level Three gets intense.  Here’s a clue: I loved hearing this song as a teenager riding the bus to school because the song challenged me to figure out what in the world he was saying, as the lyrics assaulted you rapid-fire. See how you do:

“Begin, Reagan, Palestine,” ______________________.  “Ayatollah’s in Iran,” _____________________ .”

Bonus Points: Song name and year?

Now it’s time to tally up your points!  Give yourself two points for each of the lyrics blanks you got correct, one point for each song name and three points for each year of release!  How did you do?  I’d love to hear.

Billy Joel has a ton of famous songs. Allentown, Pressure, Uptown Girl, so many great ones!  But it is the Level Two song above that relates to the story about Jesus that we are going to look at on Sunday.

Did you get those lines? I often thought about Jesus when I heard these lyrics. Here they are again: “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, sinners are much more fun.”

Before we go too far, you might be thinking “Joel, I know that song, and I know those lyrics, and I always thought they were sacrilegious! Isn’t Billy Joel communicating an attitude that is opposite of Jesus?  Why did you think about Jesus when you heard these lyrics?”

If you’re thinking that, good question. I hear you. When I first heard the song, the catchy tune made me like the song, but as a follower of Jesus, the lyrics made me squirm. He’d rather laugh with the sinners?  Mostly I thought of Jesus as a good guy who died young.  But take a deeper look.  Yeah, Billy Joel is saying that a partying life, a reckless life, is what he would prefer. And furthermore he is saying that church people, these saints, are too serious and sad. Live it up, he’s saying. Party! Laugh, have fun! You might even live longer if you loosen up.

In response to that, we would be right to warn people about too much partying and to stop a sinful lifestyle. Of course, as disciples of Jesus, we are people called to holiness following the way of Jesus.

So why do I bring this up? Well, we’re about to hear a passage where Jesus laughs it up big-time with the sinners. And the crying saints are the party-poopers standing on the outside fussing about it.

Want to see what I mean?  Get ready for tomorrow by reading Luke 5:27-39.  Jesus just might surprise you.


Level One:  Piano Man, 1973

“Sing us a song, you’re the piano man, (Sing us a song tonight) Well we’re all in the mood for a melody (And you’ve got us feeling alright.)”

Level Two: Only the Good Die Young, 1977

“I’d rather laugh with the sinners (than cry with the saints), sinners are much more fun. (Only the good die young.)”

Level Three: We Didn’t Start The Fire, 1989

“Begin, Reagan, Palestine, (terror on the airlines.) Ayatollah’s in Iran, (Russians in Afghanistan.)”

Being Mystics in a Messed-up World

13 Mar

love-cross-upside-down1Last week, guest writer and teacher, Tony Blair introduced us to the idea of being Christian mystics.  And it is all about LOVE!

Then on Sunday he visited and taught at Faith Church, and I can say without reservation that it was a powerful morning!  So many people expressed their appreciation for his interaction with us.   At sermon discussion we laughed and cried and left inspired to be Christian mystics.  Thank you, Tony!

Mystics in Love

6 Mar
Today we welcome a guest writer, Dr. Tony Blair, president of Evangelical Seminary.  We’re looking forward to this coming Sunday, March 8th, 2015, at Faith Church as Tony will be our guest teacher.  As he is also a pastor, we are quite grateful to his church Hosanna, for sharing him with us!

Are you a contemplative or an activist?

People who are busy in the world sometimes look down on those who are more contemplative and withdrawn, and contemplatives sometimes look down on those who are bustling around doing good.

Jesus shows us through his own life that this is a false dichotomy—He is out among people, listening to them, arguing with them, feeding them, healing them, serving them… and then he withdraws for a while to be alone with his loving Father. He is a contemplative activist, what we might call a true mystic.


How do you and I become true mystics, Jesus style?


Without love, a contemplative can be aloof, arrogant, without compassion. Without love, an activist can be “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Those who follow Jesus, however, are hopelessly in love. That’s why Paul, another true mystic, said that love was the primary characteristic of God’s People.

It doesn’t matter how spiritual I think you am, how gifted, sacrificial, knowledgeable, disciplined, or kind… if I do not love, I’ve missed the main thing.

The main thing is loving God and my neighbor. Like Jesus did.

When we love like that, we can give ourselves freely to service and try to change the world, like activists do, and we can pray without ceasing and savor of the intimacies of our union with Christ, like contemplatives do. And we can hold them in balance, like a true mystic, Jesus style…because we are in love with the One who has made us so.

Take a look at 1 Corinthians 13 and join us Sunday for more about “being mystics in a messed-up world.”