Archive | April, 2016

The beginning of the end for Jesus

28 Apr

This is it.  Thirty-three years of Jesus’ life has led up to this moment.  We’ve covered the life of Jesus, as told in the Gospel of Luke, through our sermon series which began on November 30, 2014, with Luke chapter 1.  Nearly 70 sermons later, we have 7 left.

After learning about his birth and early years, we jumped into Jesus ministry years, and we’ve been there ever since.  Ever so slowly Luke’s telling of the story of Jesus’ life has been building to this moment.

During those ministry years, we watched Jesus burst onto the scene starting with his baptism, temptation and his testy early ministry days in his hometown, where he almost got lynched.  But from that dark day, his star shot up.  The crowds grew and grew, amazed by his miracles and his authoritative teaching.  We watched as he chose his 12 disciples, and had a following of close friends, men and women.  Little by little he taught them, gave them behind-the-scenes access into his life and thinking, and eventually sent them on two mission trips.  Somewhere in year 2, we think, he turned southward, moving his ministry focus from Galilee in the North, to Samaria and Judea in the south.  He left the Galilean crowds behind, but rather quickly huge crowds formed in the south.  His ministry had grown nationwide, and Jesus and his disciples had become household names.  We watched the religious establishment as they watched Jesus, jealous of him, suspicious, and not happy at all.

All in all, we have seen the words, works and way of Jesus.

The Jewish people in those crowds, including his disciples, thought they were witnessing the rise of their long-awaited political Messiah who was going to save them from the Romans.  Jesus was a very different Messiah, however, with a very different salvation message, for the whole world.

The Jews hoped a Davidic warrior King was entering Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday.  But Jesus wept, knowing that Jerusalem, the temple, the religious establishment and the people had him figured all wrong.  So in his last few days of ministry he fended off their attempts to trap him, and he taught them, or at least tried to teach them, who he really was and what he was really about, the mission of God’s Kingdom.

Now this Sunday we reach the end.

Or rather, the beginning of the end.

Jesus has left the temple, never to return.  No more crowds.  No more teaching.  No more miracles, except one.

Luke tells us that it was a holiday, the Passover, the day the Jews celebrated the miraculous act of YHWH as he interceded for them, freeing them from slavery in Egypt thousands of years before.  A fitting historical context for what is about to happen.  Jesus gathered with his disciples to celebrate Passover, just as all Jews across the nation would be doing.  Except that Jesus injects a new meaning into that celebration. A new meaning that had life-changing implications for the disciples, and still does for us.

Join us at Faith Church on Sunday as we study Luke 22:1-38 to learn more.

What future societies might say about American Christians in 2016

25 Apr

Imagine people 2000 years from now studying Christianity.  What would they say about us?  What is important to us?  They would have to conclude that buildings are very important to us, and what happens in those buildings on Sunday mornings is also very important to us.  Take away the building and Sunday morning, and some (most?) churches have almost nothing left.  Is that what Jesus wanted?  Did he want our focus, our worship, our system of church to be on a building and what happens in that building for a few hours one day of the week?

No.  In fact, Jesus never mentioned, in all his teaching, anything about building buildings and gathering for worship on Sunday.  In Luke 21, after the disciples comment about the majestic temple in Jerusalem, Jesus says something terrifying to them.  He tells them that the temple would be destroyed!

Reading between the lines a bit, Jesus is saying to the disciples, “Guys, don’t lose your focus on the mission of my Kingdom!”

The mission of God does not change: make disciples.  But the system of church can change and it has numerous times over the centuries.  There are certain components to church that must be included.  Many have looked over the Scriptures, studied them, and believe that Jesus and his disciples taught that any system of church must have at least these four areas:  worship, fellowship, discipleship and outreach.  How we express our faithfulness to that mission is quite open for consideration.

What, then, should we do with our building?  And what system of church should we have?

The answer starts with heart and attitude.  We should not be focused on a building, or a system of church, as these will pass away!  Instead we should be focused on being Jesus’ disciples who make more disciples for his kingdom.  We should be focused on the mission of his Kingdom.

Here’s the amazing thing about the church.  If a church’s buildings are destroyed, it does not affect the church.  The church is not the building.  The church is the people.  We do not need a building to be a church.  My Rt 340 widening story might not be true, but disaster can happen.  In 2009-10 our sister congregation, Kimball Avenue Church in Chicago, had a one of those disasters.  Their boiler exploding sending super-hot water vapor throughout their building, which did serious damage.  Their building was condemned.

But Kimball Ave Church did something amazing.  They decided not to build again.  At least not a building, that is.  Instead they decided to use their property to reach out to their community, by making a prayer garden.

KAC prayer garden

Kimball Avenue Church is still a church.  Because the people are the church!  And what’s more, they kept their focus on the mission of God’s Kingdom when they considered whether or not to rebuild.  (View the entire process of the deconstruction of their building here.)

Is your focus on the mission of God’s Kingdom?  Are you a disciple, a follower of Jesus who is making more disciples for him?

Here are some questions to help you evaluate:  Who is discipling you?  Mentoring you?  Leading you?  Investing in your life?  Helping you to be a follower of Jesus?  I’m not talking about believing.  I’m talking about learning to be, to do, to live, to serve like Jesus did.  And what is the task that Jesus spent most of his time doing?  Making disciples.  Jesus tells us that his disciples will do what he did, make more disciples. So just as we are to be his disciples, we are then to make more disciples.

All of us should have a plan we are following for making disciples, and together as a church we should have a plan as well.   So let’s spend our lives on that mission, let’s use our building for that mission, but let’s not focus on our building, let’s keep our focus on the mission of making disciples.  Then 2000 years from now when a possible future society evaluates us, they’ll be able to see clearly that we stayed focused on the mission of God’s Kingdom.

Could Lancaster County Tourism Destroy our church?*

21 Apr

Imagine this scenario with me: we receive a disturbing letter in the mail.

And by “we”, I mean Faith Church.

Say it is a letter from a joint meeting of the Lancaster County Planning Commission and the East Lampeter Township Supervisors.  The letter details how they have been studying traffic flow on our road, Old Philadelphia Pike (PA Route 340), for the last few years, and the experts have concluded that Old Philadelphia Pike is no longer suitable to handle the amount of traffic in our area, especially during tourist season.  Because of our Lancaster County Amish and Mennonite heritage and residents, thousands of visitors journey to our farmlands every year.  So imagine that there have been surveyors recently studying the stretch of 340 from the Route 30 Junction heading east through Smoketown, Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse.

Rt. 340 was not originally designed for the volume of traffic that currently uses the road.  Traffic is only projected to increase, especially with tourism and as the new housing complex between Greenfield Road and Willow Road is completed, bringing 1400 units to our area in the next few years.

The County Tourism Bureau, in particular, would be driving some of the changes.  What tourist wants to come to Lancaster with dreams of spotting horse and buggies and eating whoopie pies and shoo-fly pie, only to be stuck in traffic?  To keep those tourist dollars flowing, we need wider roads.  Given how many dollars we’re talking about, theirs is a powerful argument.  Put that all together and the plan would be that over the next two years, Route 340 would undergo widening becoming a five-lane road.  It would have two lanes each way, with a turning lane in the middle.

Using eminent domain, the State would take over all of the land needed on the 7.5 mile stretch between Route 30/340 junction and the town of Intercourse to facilitate this expansion.  The result would be that Faith Church’s sanctuary would no longer meet code requirements for distance from a roadway.

The sanctuary will have to be demolished*.

How would you feel?

In our next section of Luke, Jesus pretty much tells the disciples that a scenario like this is going to happen to their church.   Their church?  Did they have a church?  Sorta.  The building that they looked to as the center of their faith in God was the temple building.  It was a magnificent structure that was the heart of their nation’s heritage and identity.  Being from Galilee in northern Israel, the disciples would likely have only seen the temple a few times per year, so it could have held an even greater pull on their hearts and emotions.  In this section of Luke’s story, they are standing in Jerusalem, looking at the temple, enthralled by its beauty.  They say to Jesus something like “Isn’t the temple great, Jesus?”

And what does Jesus say? “It’s all going to be demolished.”

Why would he say this?

If you want to find out, check out Luke 21:5-38, and join us at Faith Church on Sunday 4/24!

*Have no fear for our sanctuary!  The story above is false, created to illustrate what the disciples might have felt like that day.  Lancaster County Tourism won’t demolish our church.  In fact the opposite is true!  By all means, come visit Lancaster County!  I may be biased, but our county is a simply beautiful place to live and visit.  Come discover our incredible PA Dutch food, the fascinating Anabaptist (particularly Amish and Mennonite) heritage, the gorgeous farmlands, our history (did you know Lancaster was capital of the USA for a day?), and our city which has become an arts and music hub. Not to mention that Faith Church, located along one of the busiest tourist routes in Lancaster, LOVES tourists!

Angry about taxes or money? How a widow can help!

15 Apr

Last week we looked at Jesus’ comment “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God was is God’s.”

How many of you gave money unto “Caesar” this week as you filed your taxes?  Michelle and I did.  It is almost always an agonizing process for me. When I work on taxes, I could definitely use a padded cell like the guy in this picture.  What gets me upset is a combination of how complex the forms and instructions can be, as well as saying goodbye to my money.

Our son had opened a bank account in 2015, and the bank ran a promotion where if you deposited money in the count through direct deposit, you would get a $150 bonus.  It was great!  But guess what came in the mail this year?  A form 1099 from the bank calling that $150 bonus as interest income, saying it was reported to the government and was taxable.  So he had to pay $4 to the Commonwealth of PA for that.  It is easy, from a story like that, to quickly get on to a bunny trail about how the government has its fingers picking our pockets.

But we’re not going to do that!  Instead I want to ask about the feelings going on in your heart and mind when you hear a story like that.  Maybe anger, maybe frustration. Where do those feelings come from?

Let me suggest that the feelings come from an unhealthy sense of ownership of our money.

In that one line Jesus addresses something that can be very hard for us.  Giving.  Whether it is giving taxes to the government or giving God an offering, if many of us are honest, we can feel negative about it.  We don’t want anyone telling us what to do with our money.  And not just government, but also God.  Or a preacher.  Too many government officials and preachers have abused their position and profited off of people.  So we can get really jaded about giving, whether to church or state.

Last week we talked a good bit about how to have a healthy attitude when it comes to paying taxes.  This week we’re going to see how some people had a very poor attitude toward giving to God.  It was the religious leaders.  But why?  They had a faulty attitude toward giving, Jesus will tell us, because they had a major error in their theology.  Jesus is about to lay a smack down on those high and mighty leaders again, and he’s going to get help from the unlikeliest of places, especially consider that culture.  He’s going to get help from a widow.

Check it out at Luke 20:41-21:4.  And join us at Faith Church to learn more!

How to handle confrontation

11 Apr

Spies, taxes, a woman with seven husbands, and the most intelligent man in the world.

That pretty much sums up the next story in our ongoing series on Luke’s Gospel, which you can read about in Luke 20:20-40.  In the story, Jesus is in the final days of his life, and he has bunkered down in Jerusalem, spending each day teaching in the temple courts, and each evening in prayer outside the city.  The religious leaders hate that not only is he on their turf, but he is doing their job leading the people, and the people adore him.  They send two groups to try to take him down.

The first group the NIV calls “spies”.  Jesus had wrapped the religious up in a lose-lose situation just before, so now they are hiding in embarrassment, and they hire secret agents to try to do their dirty work.  These secret agents come up to Jesus while he is teaching in the temple courts, and after buttering him up (“You’re such an amazing teacher!”), they try to snag him with a political controversy.  About taxes.

One scholar tells us that “The secret agents are in effect asking, ‘Are God’s people exempt from paying such a tax to a foreign power? Jesus, are you loyal to Israel, looking for its independence, or should we knuckle under to Rome?’”[1]

Though the Romans did bring some benefits, the Jews hated being occupied.  As any people would. So obviously the Jews were no fan of paying taxes to Rome.  Imagine if China invades the USA and occupies our land.  Then they start taxing us.  And our taxes don’t stay here to help improve our land, our taxes go over to China to help improve theirs.  How would you feel?

Paying taxes was as much an issue back then as it is now!  So Jesus is in a really tough spot here. If he agrees with paying taxes, he could be perceived in a very negative light by the people who hated paying taxes (pretty much everyone).  If he disagrees with paying taxes, he could be accused of sedition and charged with inciting insurrection, arrest by the Roman governor, and tried as a criminal.

There seems to be no right answer.  It’s another lose-lose situation.

As we see in verses 23-26, Jesus asks for a coin, then asks them to tell him whose picture is on it.  They say “Caesar” and Jesus responds with genius: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.”

Response by the secret agents?  Astonished silence.

Then Luke tells us that the religious leaders come out of hiding.  This second group, the Sadducees, try to trap him with a theological controversy.  

What was their theological issue?  Theology is the study of God.  So a theological issue is an issue about the Bible or doctrine, in this case, resurrection and marriage.  Luke tells us the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection.  They create what appears at first glance to be a bizarre case study thinking they could trap Jesus and hopefully discredit him in front of all the people.

Maybe it was a real story, a woman who outlived seven husbands.  The theological issue? In heaven whose wife would she be?

It sounds outrageous, but their example is using something from the Old Testament Law called Levirate marriage.  You can see from this passage in Deuteronomy 25:5-6 that if a husband died, his brother would marry his widowed sister-in-law to preserve his brother’s line.  So the Sadducees ask Jesus to imagine a family with seven brothers.  One gets married first, then dies.  One by one the brothers marry their sister-in-law and one by one they die.  Sound impossible?

My grandma outlived three husbands, which would have been enough to prove their point.

The Sadducees believe they have created a situation that clearly shows the ridiculousness of the doctrine of the resurrection.  A woman in heaven with seven husbands?  Who gets her?  You can see them looking at Jesus saying “There, how are you going to respond to that, smart guy?  Resurrection, which we have heard you talking about, is stupid!  Our situation proves it.”  Basically they are saying that Levirate marriage disproves resurrection.

But Jesus theologically outduels them.  He says “Well gentlemen, you are wrong in many ways.”

  1. This life is not like the afterlife. They are different!
  2. Not everyone goes to heaven. Only those considered worthy.
  3. And what’s more, there is no marriage in heaven.
  4. Resurrection is TRUE. Want proof?  Just open your Torah which you love so much.  What do you read there?  God is the living God, the God of the Living. Disproving your faulty disbelief of resurrection.

See what he does there? Another genius response that silences the religious leaders.

We can learn from Jesus’ Way.  How did he handle people who tried to trap him?

Have you ever been confronted?  I’m sure you have.  The confrontation could be about what you believe.  Could be about choices you’ve made.  Could be about a great many things.  How do you handle it when you are confronted?

Look at how Jesus handles himself:

  1. Remains self-controlled. He’s okay when people disagree with him. He doesn’t get offended, take it personally, or get angry.  He shows us a calm confidence.
  2. Does not cave on the truth just because high-powered people are confronting him.
  3. Knows the Word.
  4. Speaks the truth in love.

In the end Jesus silences both groups.  But not by force.  Not by telling the crowd to attack them.  He doesn’t use aggression or bully tactics.

Let us be people who respond to those who confront us in love.

That is true intelligence. Let us become like the one who was the most intelligent of all.

[1] Darrell L. Bock, Luke: 9:51–24:53, vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996), 1611.

Spies, Taxes, a woman with 7 husbands & the most intelligent man who ever lived

7 Apr

The most intelligent person who ever lived? 

Albert Einstein?  Marilyn vos Savant? King Solomon?  Leonardo Da Vinci?  Stephen Hawking? Shakespeare? Newton? Mozart? Marie Curie?

I researched a bunch of “Most Intelligent People in the History of the World” lists, and there are plenty more candidates.  There are lots of opinions as to who should be on those lists, not to mention who should be #1.  Furthermore, does intelligence simply refer to IQ?  What about those who have shown astounding ability in the arts?  What about people who don’t have an astronomical IQ, but they have achieved great accomplishments.

While most lists didn’t include him, one of the “Most Intelligent” lists I found put Jesus at #5.  It’s not #1, but considering all the possible names, I thought it was interesting that he even made a list.  I was surprised by that because most people and lists don’t think of Jesus when asked to name the most intelligent person in history.

As we have seen in our study through Luke, Jesus was amazingly intelligent too.  In fact when I started this series over a year ago, I suggested that we would find out that Jesus was the most intelligent man who ever lived.  Now we near the end of the series.  We have only a couple more months, about 10 more sermons.  We have watched Jesus’ way, heard his words, and seen his amazing works.  Now we are in his final days before his arrest.  Each day he is teaching in the temple courts, right in the middle of the religious leaders’ HQ.  Not surprisingly, this has them shaking with jealousy and anger.  Last week, we watched as they had him in what appeared to be a lose-lose situation, and he got out of it with ease, binding the religious leaders in a lose-lose situation in the process.

This week, they are really upset again, and they try to trap him again.  The way he handles himself, intellectually, emotionally, physically, is amazing.  What do you think?  Was Jesus the most intelligent person to ever live?  If you want to preview the story, check out Luke 20:20-40.

Join us at Faith Church and judge for yourself.  (Oh, by the way, there will spies, a discussion about taxes, and a woman who outlived seven husbands.)


How Jesus can help you get out of a lose-lose situation – Luke 20:1-18

4 Apr

lose lose situationOne of our Faith Church members who is in the military responded to my Facebook question asking if people have ever been in a lose-lose situation.  She said this: “In 2011 I was finishing my language training with the military. Half way through we take an exam to see our progress. The problem is that it is the same test that we take at the end of the course. Many of the other students decided to copy down all of the questions they could remember and use them to study from for the final exam. This, of course, is not allowed and is considered cheating.  So the dilemma was whether or not to report my fellow classmates. Reporting would most likely lead to them losing their career and not reporting could mean I would lose mine.”

In lose-lose situations, there are no good answers.  Jesus found himself in one of those in Luke 20:1-18.

When you combine Jesus’ authoritative teaching, and the power of the Holy Spirit at work through him, with the adoring response of the crowds of people following him, it seems as though the religious leaders felt their power slipping.

So it is no wonder the religious leaders confront him!  In verse 2 they ask him about the authority by which he is doing this preaching, teaching and cleansing of the table.  With a simple question from these leaders, it seems Jesus is in a lose-lose situation.  Think about his potential answers here.

If he says “My authority is from God” or “I am God, so I have authority”, they will accuse him of blasphemy. If they accused him of blasphemy, they would jail him or worse, and his time was not quite ready for that.  So he doesn’t say that.

Another thing he could say is “I am my own authority. I just decided to do this”, but they would likely respond, “You don’t have authority, and you are acting in disrespect of those whom God has placed in authority.”  In other words, they would be accusing him of not respecting their authority.  And again they would arrest him.

There are probably many other things he could say, but the wild thing is, both of these responses above would be true.  He is God and he does have authority and he did decide to do this. But either answer would get him in trouble.  They have him backed into a lose-lose situation.

So what does Jesus do to get out of the dilemma?  He doesn’t answer!  Rather, without missing a beat, he asks them question! About John the Baptist!  Why would he create a question about John’s baptism?  Is Jesus just being random?  Is he trying to confuse the religious leaders with a riddle?

Luke gives us an insider’s view into their fascinating discussion in verses 5-7.  They are huddled up like a football team, saying “how do we answer this guy?  He’s got us trapped!”

They were trapped.  They are either going to be guilty of not believing a prophet from heaven, or they will be in trouble with the people.

You see what Jesus did there?  He took the lose-lose situation he was in, and he jumped out of it by putting the Pharisees in a lose-lose situation.  Genius!

With the leaders silenced, he takes a hold of the moment and tells them a story.  It’s a simple story of a vineyard owner and tenant farmers who work the land.  The farmers refuse to give the owner his share of the fruit, beating his servants, and ultimately killing his son.  Jesus concludes by saying the owner will step in and deal with those farmers severely.

What is the point of the parable? It’s very similar to the Banquet parable.  God gave the mission of his Kingdom to Israel, telling Israel to be a blessing to the world.  Using the imagery of the parable, Israel was to bear fruit for his Kingdom.  But they didn’t.  They kept it to themselves.  They didn’t do what God wanted them to do.  And when God sent prophets to warn them, they mistreated the prophets.  Now he was sending them his own Son, and Jesus through the parable prophesies what would happen.  They would kill him.  God would bring justice, though, giving the mission of his Kingdom to others, namely the Gentiles.

The people in the crowd respond in verse 16 with “May this never be!”  And Jesus continues by quoting some OT passages from about a stone being rejected.  Just like owner in the parable would kill the tenant farmers, Jesus is saying that this stone would bring judgement on many.  What was the stone?  He was referring to himself.

And what’s more, the religious leaders, we are told in verse 19, knew that he was speaking this parable against them.  Did that ever get under their skin!  Now he was not only on their turf, doing their job, and everybody is loving him to pieces, and not only are they jealous and feeling their power slipping away, but now he is publicly, boldly telling them, right in the middle of their HQ, that God is going to take their authority from them!

So what started as a question from the religious leaders about Jesus’ authority has now turned into Jesus questioning theirs! 

Those religious leaders rejected Jesus’ authority, and now God would reject theirs.  It was a scenario they could not allow into the realm of possibility.  They took for granted that they had authority.   They could never allow Jesus to have authority over them.  Though they talked about the Messiah and believed that the Old Testament prophets foretold of a Messiah, a savior from God who would come, and though Jesus’ miracles and teaching looked a lot like that Messiah, because he challenged them so much, because he rebuked them, because he called them hypocrites, they could not submit to his authority.  So they rejected him, and thus they would be rejected.

In this we see a principle that carries through to our day: We need to be people who give Jesus authority over our lives.

All of us need to consider the authority that Jesus in our lives.  Is it a high level of authority?  A low level of authority?  No authority?

Think about it in the context of bearing fruit.  In the parable, the tenant farmers were to bear fruit for the master. The religious leaders were the tenant farmers, and they were not bearing fruit.

Are we bearing fruit?

If we place ourselves under God’s authority, we will bear fruit for him.  What does that mean, bearing fruit?  This is where we can cycle back to a concept that Jesus himself talked about and that he practiced so diligently during his three ministry years: Making disciples.

He spent the better part of three years working with a group of men and women, helping them become the kind of people who could do what he did, which was making more disciples.  So I will ask a question I’ve asked before, who is discipling you, and who are you discipling?  All of us should be able to answer that question.  And as a church we should be able to answer the question: what is our plan for making disciples?  I am so thankful that at Faith Church our Discipleship Serve Team is working on answering that question, and that discipleship and disciplemaking is happening in our family of faith Church.  What we seek is to increase that, and to be more intentional about it.  Want to learn more? I would love to talk with you.

Second, to give Jesus authority, we see that he was a man of prayer.  In the end of Luke chapter 21, which describes the last week of his life, we learn that he went to be alone to pray every night.  I am convinced that one of the clearest ways we can show that we are giving God authority in our lives is prayer.  What are you doing Wednesdays at 7pm?  Except when we have Family Nights, we have prayer meeting.  Can you join us?  How can you pray more in your personal life?  Do you feel like you need someone to teach you to pray?  Again, please talk with me, I would love to start a discussion about this.

Finally, we give ourselves to his authority when we choose to follow his way of life.  It is a way of hope, joy, peace, obedience, love, and so much more.

Remember the dilemma my friend in the military had about classmates she discovered cheating on the language test?  Want to know what she did?

She says, “I did report the cheating, and several soldiers were discharged from the military. Others that had not cheated but knew about the cheating lost their rank.”

Imagine the repercussions she faced socially from those soldiers.  But she had given herself over to Jesus’ authority long ago.  She chose to follow Jesus’ way of truth.  And here’s the rub.  Remember this was a lose-lose situation.  She says, “Even though I did the right thing by reporting the cheating, my Command tried to punish me for also being part of the class that cheated and isolated me from the rest of my unit. I was involuntarily re-classed out of my primary job because the Commander didn’t believe I was a “good fit” anymore or “could exercise good judgement”.”

I asked her if she would do it over again.

She said “It has changed my trust levels in my leadership, but I wouldn’t change what I did because I know it was the right thing. It has changed my perspective on other situations where ethical dilemmas may arise and I have been able to guide younger soldiers into doing the right thing from the beginning. I know God has been in it the whole way because I feel I am happier now than I ever would have been as a linguist.”

How do you need to give Jesus more authority in your life?