Archive | October, 2015

What if we’re totally wrong about what it should look like to follow Jesus? Part 1

30 Oct

We are about to head to the polls again. Who are you for, and who are you against?  Republican?  Democrat?  Third-party?  As the presidential race heats up, who are you for and who are you against?

“For or against” is more than just a way to approach politics.  It is a common way we look at many aspects of life.  Who are you for and who are you against in the World Series?  The Royals or the Mets?  Who are for or against in the big football game?  We use “for or against” reasoning when it comes to reality TV show competitions like The Voice or The Amazing Race.  We use “for or against” reasoning when it comes to our favorite brands, restaurants, and certainly, religion.

So what about Jesus?  Are you for or against him?

You might think, “Against Jesus? Why would you even ask that, Joel? This is a blog introducing a sermon. People who listen to the sermon obviously come to church because they are for Jesus!”  Maybe.  Maybe not…

If you’re thinking something like that, then I hear you. I know that most people who read this blog and come to church are Jesus people and we are for him!

But here’s the concern I have:  what if we think we are for him, but he would look at us and say “You’re not with me. You think you are with me, but you’re actually not”???

How many of us would want to be surprised when we are standing before him and hear him say that?

If you think “Well, that’s not possible, is it?”, I think it is pretty important to raise the question. Is it possible that we would be surprised to hear him say “You think you are for me, but you are actually not”???

In Matthew 7, Jesus tells the story like this: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Jesus himself says that there will be people who will be surprised to hear him say “I never knew you.” Those people will look at him shocked, and say “Wait a minute…we prophesied in your name, we drove out demons and did miracles even. That’s a lot of great religious stuff that we did in your name. How can you possibly say that you never knew us??? That makes no sense, Jesus. That is wrong!”

But Jesus says “I never knew you.”

So this Sunday, as we continue our study in Luke, we come to a passage where Jesus addresses this very concern.   And guess what?  You can know whether you are for him or against him. On Sunday we find out how.

Prepare for the sermon on Sunday by reading Luke 11:14-36, and then join us at Faith Church as we discuss this further!

How the Lord’s Prayer Matters – Luke 11:1-13

29 Oct

Can you recite the Lord’s Prayer?  Go ahead, give it a try…”Our Father…”

Need a hint?  Click here.

How did you do?

How long has it been since you recited it?  Maybe you recite the prayer often.  Or maybe your church worship uses the prayer weekly?

What does the Lord’s Prayer matter?  Are we supposed to receive some kind of blessing if we pray it?  Is this why people want prayer back in school?  Will our nation be blessed if we require students across the land to recite the Prayer?  Is it actually an incantation that forces the Lord to bless us?

Wait…aren’t we against empty, ritualistic prayer?  Didn’t Jesus have something to say about prayer that is nothing more than meaningless babble?  In fact, he did.  Just before he taught the Lord’s Prayer, he said this:

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Is it wrong then to recite the prayer?

No, not if our heart desires the prayer to be a meaningful communication with the Lord.  But perhaps there is a lot more to the prayer that just a brief recitation.  Is it possible that Jesus was teaching a format for prayer?


How to escape the crushing busyness of life, Part 2 – The Solution

21 Oct

So last week I introduced the sermon from Luke 10:38-42 by asking if you feel defeated by the busyness of life?  Do you feel that way?  Do you wish you could escape the busyness, find some freedom, some space some peace?  As we looked at the story of two sisters, Mary and Martha, Jesus taught us how to find that space and peace.

What we learned is that Martha was distracted by the busyness of life, by lesser things. Not bad things, but lesser things. Houses need to be cleaned and cared for. Cars need to be maintained. These are important things. But like Martha, these things can distract us to the point of being overburdened and anxious. But there is something greater. That something greater is making space for Jesus in our lives.

Jesus said that Martha was worried and anxious over lesser things, and that Mary had made the right choice by focusing on learning from Jesus.

Jesus tells Martha that Mary chose better, and that will not be taken from her.

How many of you have desired to grow closer in your relationship with Jesus, but you’ve thought “I can read more from the Bible, when the kids are out of the house. When school is done. When the big project at work is finished. When the project at home is done. In the winter when there is no yard work.”???

We have great plans for growing in our relationship with Jesus, and yet we put it off. We can be distracted by lesser things. How many of you watch spend lots of time watching shows on Netflix or TV, but barely give any time to reading the Bible. Sitting at Jesus’ feet? Listening to him?

How many of you spend loads of time on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat, but the Bible app goes unused?

Are you distracted? Are you over burdened? What are you doing with those burdens?

Are you more like Martha or Mary? Again Jesus says that Mary chose better.

So how do we change? We have to actually do something. We have to choose better. We have to make changes. We talk a lot about these things. We talk about not wanting to become legalistic, and so then we do very little. But we can joyously, graciously, non-legalistically change how we spend our time so that we sit at Jesus’ feet more and more often.

It could mean lowering your standards for how clean your house needs to be so that you can free up time in your life to spend with Jesus.

It could mean less TV and more time reading your Bible.

It could mean, like the guy in the video last week suggested, changing how busy your family is, particularly how much the kids are involved in. Less running around can mean more free time for family and Jesus.

As a family, make it a priority to have dinner together.   And bring God into that. In our house that means pulling out the Bible and reading a chapter after dinner. It’s nothing fancy. Usually we don’t discuss the chapter.  I just read.  One small piece of advice I would recommend is that you use a contemporary translation. I use The Message version because it is so readable and easy to understand.

Finally, make participation in worship, Sunday School and small group a priority for your family. It is in those times where we gather together with a community of believers to hear from the Lord together.

How to escape the crushing busyness of life, Part 1 – The Problem

16 Oct

How many of you have heard yourself say lately “I am too busy!”?

How many of you have thought “I’ll never get this all done.”?

How many of you have felt like there aren’t enough hours in the day?

Remember how the Good Samaritan made time for the injured man. But the Levite and Priest did not make time. I want to repeat a few words from my sermon last week. “It would have been amazing if the priest or Levite would have stopped. But they didn’t.

People have speculated why. It is good to talk about because there are plenty of times when we could help out in a situation and we don’t. In our day, one of the major reasons we walk by on the other side, is that we are so busy. Our lives are so jammed that there is no time to be a Good Samaritan. Or at least we feel like there is no time.”

In fact one person has suggested that this is the biggest problem the church of today is facing:


What do you think?  Is he right?  Do you feel the crush of busyness in your family?

Busy lives are not necessarily better lives. In fact your busy life and mine could be a huge problem. Our busy lives could be doing great damage to us.

But it is possible to make a change! In the next episode in Jesus’ life we’re going to meet two people, one who is distracted by the busyness of life. One who has made a change. There is hope for you. If you are living a crazy busy manic life, we are going to learn how to change, how to free up space.

So if you want to get a preview, read Luke 10:38-42.   Then join us at Faith Church for worship where we’ll look into this further!

Moving from “fail” to “faith” means learning to be a better neighbor – Luke 10:25-37

14 Oct

Last week I asked the question, how do we move from Christian “Fail” to Christian “Faith”?  While there are certainly loads of Christians striving to be faithful, there are many fails too.  Jesus once told a famous story to instruct us how to be faithful to his way.  The story is called The Good Samaritan, and you can view a wonderful dramatic presentation of it here:

You wouldn’t pick this up in the video, but as Jesus is telling the story, after he talks about the priest and Levite walking by their beat-up Jewish brother, when he mentions that next a Samaritan arrives, the people listening to Jesus tell the story would have been thinking “The Samaritan just showed up…uh-oh, now this beat-up guy is going to die FOR SURE!”

For years and years of hearing this story, we have made it so nice. The GOOD Samaritan. What a nice guy. But the only reason we call this the GOOD Samaritan is because the Jews considered all Samaritans to be BAD. So the Samaritan in Jesus’ story would either finish the guy off as easy prey, or he too would just walk by. That’s just the way Samaritans were.

Why did the Jews hate the Samaritan so much?

It goes way back into the time of the kings of Israel. Some mixed breeding was going on. Samaritans then created their own homeland, their own Scriptures, their own places of worship. Jews would go attack a Samaritan church, and the Samaritan’s would retaliate.  Let’s just say that the result was a hyper-charged hatred of one another.

When Jesus places the Samaritan in the role of the good guy in his story, you could hear people in the crowd gasp and maybe spit and vomit. They would not have expected that, and it might have made them angry.  It should make us convicted.

You know the guy who recently killed those college students in Oregon? You know how he said that he was specifically targeting Christians? He’s the Samaritan.

And yet, there you have it, that’s Jesus’ answer to the question, what does it mean to be neighborly? Doo what the evil guy did. Not because he is evil, not because of the centuries-old racial tension, but because he took the time to love.

We Christians can get so wrapped up in ourselves. We cannot get to where the Samaritan was, ready and willing to serve selflessly in a big loving way, if we are not able to serve selflessly in small things. So we can start small, work on dying to ourselves in little ways, and then move on to bigger and better things.

This Samaritan achieves a high degree of selfless love. He is not just opening a door, or saying please and thank you. Those are great things, but note that he is going well beyond what is considered basic care. Look at how his loving care for his enemy is described in verses 33-35.

No matter what was going on in the Samaritan’s life, he made time for the hurting man. No matter the long years of hatred between Jews and Samaritans, he put it aside. No matter the cost of money, he gave it.

So, who is your neighbor?  And how will you be neighborly to them?

Neighbors are not just the ones far away, but our literal neighbors. A pastor friend told me about a video introducing Christian writer Hugh Halter’s book.  The video was very convicting.  Why?  So often we judge and condemn our neighbors before we ever get to know them.  The Samaritan easily could have done that.  In some cases we might feel justified condemning our neighbors.  They might be making choices we strongly disagree with, and we are concerned that if we are neighborly, we’ll be misunderstood as though we are affirming their lifestyle.  So because we don’t want to be misunderstood as condoning their choices, we distance ourselves.  Hugh Halter’s video challenges us that before we condone or condemn, can we first practice friendship?  Can we at least open a door for God to work?  Can we love like the Good Samaritan did?

Take a look at this challenging video and ask yourself how neighborly God might want you to be.


How to move from Christian “Fail” to Christian “Faith”

9 Oct

The words on the by-line were “Christian FAIL”.

I use two phone apps to read the news: Google Newstand and Flipboard, which are free newspaper, magazine and website article readers.  Earlier this week a Flipboard article with that by-line caught my eye. “Christian FAIL.” I knew what it was going to be about. Something about how Christians were being hypocritical or ridiculous.

Sure enough.  The brief description said this: “A Missouri pastor is accused of stealing more than $21,000 from his church to pay off his 20-year-old mistress.”

Then there was this by a blogger: “A friend she spent years of her childhood in a cancer ward, and recalled her friends dying on a regular basis. She said ‘Christians would come in and read us books about Jesus, and say he was going to heal us. You learned real quick that they were just there to make themselves feel good. Kids still got rolled out of the room in the middle of the night, and you knew they’d never come back’.”

For situations like this and others, there is an impression some in our society have of Christians, and Evangelicals in particular, that we are not loving and have not followed the teaching of Jesus.

Christians are doing a lot of good, and there are many who strive hard to follow Jesus.  But as we read about the Christian Fails, a healthy response is to ask ourselves if we are perpetuating the impression that Christians are not loving, not following the teaching of Jesus.  No one is perfect, and we Christians need to humbly admit when we fail.  Because we do fail.  And when we confess, we need to renew our commitment to the way of Jesus, and actually do what he teaches.

This Sunday at Faith Church we come to what is arguably the most famous teaching of Jesus: Luke 10:25-37, the parable commonly known as the Good Samaritan.

How many of you could tell me how the story goes without clicking on the passage and reading it? I suspect lots of you know at least the basics.  We hear about Good Samaritans in the news regularly.  That’s a good thing, because Good Samaritans are people who help others.

The danger with something familiar, though, is that we will check out and not listen. And in this case, if we do not listen, we could be in danger of many more Christian Fails.  And yet, if we do listen as we should to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, we’re going to hear him challenge our thinking.  So I ask you to do some hard work and read this story as if for the first time.

There is a reason we Christians have gained a reputation for not being loving or not following the teaching of Jesus. And maybe part of the problem is that we have checked this parable off the list, because we know it so well, we just assume we’re doing fine. But maybe we’re not doing fine. Maybe we can be encouraged to think about The Good Samaritan in a new, different or deeper way.  We’ll see how the Good Samaritan encourages us to move from Christian “fail” to Christian “faith”.

So we would love to have you join us at Faith Church this Sunday to hear more!

How to stop treating people as projects, Part 2 – People of Peace & Missional Communities

7 Oct

Last week I introduced my sermon on Luke 10:1-24 talking about how we Christians can be guilty of treating people as our own little spiritual projects.  While I don’t believe that most Christians set out to make people into projects, in our eagerness to see people experience what we think is so amazing, namely, following Jesus, we can go overboard and treat those people as projects.

But they are people.  And we need to learn to treat them better.  So in Luke 10:1-24, Jesus teaches us a better way.  The story is that Jesus is once again sending out a group of his followers on a mission trip.  This time 72 of them, two-by-two, venture out to heal the sick, cast out demons, and tell people that God’s Kingdom is near.  We learn from Luke that they have a wonderful trip, and everyone is filled with joy.

Maybe it went so well because they followed Jesus’ teaching of the better way.  Maybe instead of treating people like projects, they put into practice the instructions Jesus gave them.  What was that instruction, that better way?

Persons of Peace.

Here’s what Jesus taught them in verses 5-7: “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.”

Notice how Jesus describes the person. The person is open, receptive. It seems that God is already at work in their lives. On rare occasions we’ll meet someone like this in a passing connection like an airplane ride or a seat at a football game. But for the most part, they will be people we already know like our neighbors, co-workers, family members, or long-term friends.

I recently heard the story of someone who would pray for a person in their neighborhood for 6 months, then after six months approach them to see if they were a person of peace

Keep your eyes open for God to bring a person of peace into your life. Pray for them. Do you have a person of peace in your life?

When God is already at work in their lives, they are not your little project, but they are a person of peace.

Paul Mancioche recommends “the following steps where families can do this together:

  • Build predicable patterns of prayer & Bible, food and fun time as a family
  • Look for ‘people of peace’ (Luke 10:6) who feel called to join us
  • Invite them to orbit in and out of our rhythms
  • Disciple them to live in a way that passionately follows God, commits to community life and reaches out to others
  • Do this through shared lives and more formal times of processing together (which we call ‘Huddles’)
  • When they are ready, ask them to lead the same thing in their own homes

This is our 21st Century approximation of what we see Jesus doing in the gospels.”

Here’s how one church has implemented these principles:

Let’s be people of Jesus’ better way!