Category: Uncategorized

Your Favourite Things in 2016

‘Tis the season to review my blog posts. To give a second life to the more interesting ones written this year. And get a few more clicks to make this my most successful blogging year yet. [Thanks to you.]

picture-3I just

I saw another Christian site’s Top 10 and their Top 3 all had Trump in the headline. I promise my list is Trump free… except for that one with the small “t” trump. So here we go:

 

1. The Gospel Inside Out

A guest post from Brandon Fredenburg as part of the 2016 Summer Blog Tour. Download an ebook containing Brandon’s article and others on the theme “Inside Out” HERE.

“When Jesus omits “and the day of our God’s vengeance” (Isa 61:2b) and rehearses God’s blessing of a foreign widow and an enemy general, he turns the gospel of God his hearers expect inside out. “He isn’t just our God and he blesses our enemies,” Jesus reveals. Their reaction, like their “God,” is one of deadly vengeance.”.

 

2. Worship: When Words trump Silence

“While I’ve spent most of the last 20 years worshiping without instrumental accompaniment, I’ve never found silence to be a very good teacher. Arguments over how we should interpret silence seem largely ironic.” .

 

3. Reviving a Marriage Inside-Out

A guest post from Richard May as part of the 2016 Summer Blog Tour. Together with his wife, JeannaLynn, they run WGHJ Ministries. I encourage you to check out their website and blog for practical marriage advice.

“The years that our marriage was a disaster, each of us believed that a change in behavior or attitude of the other person was the key to our happier future.  At some points we could have said that the change in the other person was the key to our future relationship status. We were thinking Outside-In. We nearly divorced.”.

 

4. A Tale of Two Christmases

“Family is important. God wants us to live within loving families. Traditions, myths, songs, and movies encourage people and provide shared experiences and values. But for Christians, Christmas first and foremost is about reminding ourselves that God loves us immeasurably. Sometimes family reminds us of this truth. Sometimes family causes us to question this truth.” .

 

5. 5 Steps for Effectively Preaching With Notes

A little preacher geekiness escaping in this light-hearted article that mirrors the numerous articles encouraging preachers to preach without notes.

“With your manuscript in front of you now you can speak clearly to your congregation. The presence of your notes doesn’t eliminate the option of speaking from the heart as the Holy Spirit moves you throughout the sermon. The notes serve as a compass to keep you on track.” .

 

6. Father to the Fatherless

Contains links to as many Church of Christ affiliated ministries to parentless children as I could find.

“In Psalm 68:5 God identifies himself as “Father to the fatherless”. The name “Father” is often attributed to God throughout Scripture. While it’s true that he is the Father, or Originator, of all humanity, God makes the point that the name is more than a description of origin. He is Father because it’s a role he willfully adopts.” .

 

7. We All Have a God Box

“Cleopas listened with amazement when the women returned from the tomb and said they’d found it empty. He pondered the message of the angels who told the women that Jesus was alive. But after John and Peter went to the tomb and came back empty handed, Cleopas gave up.” .

 

8. God Bless You

“If you attend a church service near you, you’ll likely hear the word “blessed” about 27 times, with a particular concentration as the offering plate is about to be passed.We use the word “bless” in a wide variety of settings with quite a larger range of meaning. Despite the common usage, if you’re like me you struggle to articulate the biblical meaning of the word.” .

 

9. What if… God Isn’t Like That?

“Too many Christians travel through life convinced of their UNrighteous rather than confident of our righteousness. We fear that if we invited God to examine us according to our righteousness that he’d see only sin and darkness.” .

 

10. How to Rewrite the Bible

“What I have in mind when I speak of rewriting the Bible really isn’t as heretical as it sounds. Rather it’s a challenge to recognise that the Bible’s stories become our stories and each time they do we have an opportunity to write our own ending.”

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Seeing Inside Out

The next blog on the Summer Blog Tour comes from Cultural Mosaic. A website seeking to provide resources for multi-ethnic churches.

Cultural Mosaic

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“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”1 Samuel 16:7

Perhaps you’ve heard that verse before.

We use it to tell other people to stop judging us. “God knows what’s in my heart.”

We use it to judge other people, because although they look good God, and I, know what’s really going on in their hearts.

Sometimes we use it to include people who have a lot of tattoos, or whose clothes are shabby… “the Lord looks at the heart.”

Sometimes we use it to excuse our laziness and lack of action. “I know I could have cooked a meal for that person who just had surgery. I’d have liked to but just didn’t get around to it. Well, God knows my heart.”

In reality, we all judge on appearance more than we’re…

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You Can Make God Smile

Smile

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”  John 14:23

It often seems that when God wants to tell humanity what He wants from them He gives them laws. Think of the 10 Commandments. Consider that the first five books of the Bible are called the Books of Law. Ponder the Sermon on the Mount. Reflect on the imperatives of 1 Timothy 5. Law and requisite obedience loom heavy as we endeavour to live in a manner that honors God.

Surprisingly, the Hebrew prophets who mostly rail against Judah and Israel for their disobedience and rejection of God, also point us to values closer to God’s heart than obedience.

In Jeremiah 9:13 the prophet writes, “The Lord said, “It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law.” The consequence of this disobedience is described in v16 “ I will scatter them among nations that neither they nor their ancestors have known, and I will pursue them with the sword until I have made an end of them.

Despite this focus upon Judah’s faithfulness to God’s law we find an important insight in verse 23-24.

Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealthbut let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.

In these verses God discounts wisdom, power, and wealth. I’m not sure if the parallel is intended but these three traits match up closely to the way God blessed Solomon in 1 Kings 3:10-15. In other settings God grants these attributes as blessings. However, Jeremiah’s context the blessings had become the objects of admiration, rather than the One who gave the blessings.

God then calls upon Judah to “know me“. He longs for his people to know Him, and he goes on to facilitate such knowing by describing Himself. God “acts with steadfast love (hesed), justice, and righteousness.” As a stand alone statement it’s good to know that these positive traits contribute to God’s motivation when He acts. This is particularly true in light of the earlier words of the chapter.

God’s final words in v24 give these 3 characteristics even greater significance. Steadfast love, justice, and righteousness are not just motivating traits, they’re virtues that God delights in! These are values close to God’s heart that make Him smile.

While God may bless us with wisdom, power and wealth, we must ensure we don’t idolise the gift rather than worshiping the Giver.

While God desires for us to keep His law, our relationship with Him is not founded upon obedience. I equate obedience with a parent telling a child to clean her bedroom or take out the trash. The chores build character, discipline and responsibility. There’ll be consequences if the chores aren’t done. But if children really want to make their parents smile, they’ll buy flowers, write a card, sing a song, or give a gift their parents value. It’s these latter actions that mean more to a parent’s heart.

So God tells his people what means the most to Him: steadfast love, justice and righteousness. When we integrate these values into our daily lives, God delights and smiles at us.

God smiles when we persist at loving the people in our lives who make it difficult.

God smiles when we stand with those who are disadvantaged, neglected and abused.

God smiles when we make choices to do the right thing treating others with respect and equality.

Yes, we can put a smile on God’s face when we build our lives around the virtues that delight Him.

Sadly, churches have too often given the impression that obedience is the value at the core of God’s being and the only thing He delights in. Jeremiah emphasises obedience, but gives greater priority to knowing God and His steadfast love, justice, and righteousness.

 

Worship: When Words Trump Silence

Shortly after encountering members of the Church of Christ I was introduced to the sound of silence. Specifically, I met the silence of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. I was informed that because these verses don’t mention musical instruments Christians are not authorised to include instruments in their corporate worship. We know this because someone determined that silence in Scripture is prohibitive.

While I’ve spent most of the last 20 years worshiping without instrumental accompaniment, I’ve never found silence to be a very good teacher. Arguments over how we should interpret silence seem largely ironic.

breaking the silence 01

I have come to appreciate the words found in these verses and their implications for the worship of the church. Today, I’ll focus on Ephesians 5:18-20.

As I spent time in these passages I first observed that both passages describe worship to God motivated by gratitude. “Sing… always giving thanks to God the Father for everything…“. How would our worship practices and experiences change if we committed to “start with gratitude“? I believe focusing on thanksgiving would help us avoid the consumeristic mindset of approaching worship with questions such as, “How does it make me feel?” “How does it benefit me?”

The next discovery I made was that my worship isn’t only directed toward God. I don’t know the percentage distribution, but verse 19 tells us that we “speak to one another” with our songs while singing to the Lord. I’ve previously expanded on this point in this blog post.

Most recently in reading A Gathered People I realized that these three verses in Ephesians make an audacious claim concerning the church’s worship. I’ve written previously about the special presence of God when the church assembles to worship. I now feel like I have a greater appreciation for what this means.

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph. 5:18-20 NLT)

According to Ephesians 5:18-20, we come to worship filled with the Holy Spirit. We sing to Jesus our Lord. We give thanks to the Father through Jesus. The whole Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is present and involved in our worship each Sunday morning.

Worshiping God with my church family isn’t a Sunday routine or obligation I roll out of bed each week to fulfill. When the church assembles each Sunday morning God in three persons pervades the room, filling all the spaces within and around his people. We gather with God’s people not only to offer worship to God-up-there, but to experience the presence of God-among-us.

God’s presence doesn’t overwhelm us. His presence among us isn’t confirmed by fire, smoke, or a brilliant light. His presence doesn’t begin when the song leader steps to the mic.

No, we bring God’s presence with us as we live Spirit-filled lives that include times of corporate worship. We experience God’s presence in worship as His people encourage us, as our songs speak to us, as Christ serves us at His table, and as His Word challenges and soothes us.

For these reasons I find the words of Ephesians 5:18-20 far more compelling than the silence of those verses. What a tragedy we experience when we allow debates over silence to drown out the wonderful teachings of the words!

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Why do you come to worship God with your church family each week? There are many possible answers, but I hope that one of your reasons is to experience the wholeness of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

And having worshiped the Three, May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

 

The Past Fuels the Future

I have regrets. I’m not immune to errors in judgement. I’ve made mistakes.

Even worse, I’ve done things wrong that weren’t mistakes. They were deliberate words and actions that I knew were wrong and I did them anyway.

I’ve accomplished things. There are things in my life that make me proud. Degrees I’ve gained. Friends I’ve kept. Family I’ve loved. Trophies for this and that. Not perfect, but proud.

When I look back on my life, some days I see the warts. Sometimes I see smiles.

The problem when my regrets fill the horizon is that I don’t look back far enough. I only look at my life. My disappointments. My hurts and pain over the last 40 years. If only I would look further into the past. 2000 years further…

When I look deeper into the past I see Jesus. I’m reminded that as he wept in the Garden of Gethsemane he looked 2000+ years into the future. He saw my shortcomings. He knew I’d disappoint him and others. He knew that at times I’d choose to ignore him. Knowing all this he still took the actions necessary to forgive me. He died for my benefit. He welcomed me into his family.

The attitude that I bring with me today often reflects how far I look into the past. Can I look backwards past my regrets just as Jesus looked forward past them? Can I look back far enough to see Jesus, or will I allow my regrets to block that view? Will I move through today with the baggage of yesterday or the freedom given me by Christ?

Each January I lead the Lawson Rd Church of Christ through a process of reflection and projection that we call Vision Sunday.

When we reflect on the past year there are always things we  wish we’d done differently. Situations that we could have handled better. People we could have loved more. How we view the past has a big influence on the future. We can criticise it. We can become discouraged by it. We can learn from it. We can be motivated by it. Or we can focus on the places God’s hand is obvious and praise him.

mlk day onToday is Martin Luther King Day in the US of A. We face the same process and the same choices. MLK Day prompts us to spend time looking both backwards and forwards. When we do so…

  • We can criticise Dr King for his shortcomings.
  • We can criticise the day.
  • We can be discouraged by aspects of the past or the lack of progress of the past 50 years.
  • We can continue to learn from the civil rights movement.
  • We can be motivated to continue the work of those who’ve gone before us.
  • Or we can look for God’s hand in our history and praise him.

I am firmly in the camp of the last three. Dr King’s vision of equality and love for all neighbors comes from the pages of Scripture and the heart of God. We’re not there yet, which means we all still have roles to play in standing against discrimination and racism. Don’t just read this and do nothing. I encourage you to take a moment and write down something you can do to encourage racial harmony.

How we look at the past, individually, as a church, or as a society, will influence the way we view and live the future. As individuals we must believe that we can make a difference. As a society we must admit the wrongs of our past and work to right them. As Christians, we acknowledge our regrets, but move forward in the power of Christ, filled with hope while working for a better tomorrow.

The psalms provide a wonderful example for using the past to motivate the present as we move into the future. They contain many examples of praising God for past faithfulness that inspires confidence in His future faithfulness. Yesterday during worship we read the first few verses of Psalm 21 and I’ve copied them here for your encouragement.

The king is glad because You, O Eternal, are strong.
    In light of Your salvation, he is singing Your name.
You have given him all he could wish for.
    After hearing his prayer, You withheld nothing.

True blessings You lavished upon the king;
    a crown of precious gold You placed upon his head.
His prayer was to live fully. You responded with even more—
    a never-ending life to enjoy.
With Your help, his fame and glory have grown;
    You raise him high and cover him in majesty.
You shower him with blessings that last forever;
    he finds joy in knowing Your presence and loving You.
For the king puts his trust in the Eternal,
    so he will not be shaken
    because of the persistent love of the Most High God.

A Recipe for Good Sleep

Psalm 4 is not a simple song to read and follow the train of thought.

Two commentaries I read interpreted the psalm in completely different ways. The first focused on v7 and concluded that a severe drought, possibly connected to idol worship from v2, was the context of the psalm. As a result he primarily applied the psalm to our lives by warning against using contemporary idols to distract us from trusting God.

I followed the second interpretation views the psalm as an evening benediction that I’ll describe below. I don’t really have the expertise to decide between the interpretations of these two scholars, but I found this second reading plausible and more applicable to my life, and hopefully yours.

The psalmist breaks the song into 4 sections, each bookended by a similar thought/topic.

1. The Lord answers prayer v1 Answer me v3 …the Lord hears.
2. Trust in the Lord v4 Tremble v5 …trust in the Lord
3. Prayer of confidence v6 Prosperity…? v7 …abound!
4. Sleep well

 

sleep psalm

The psalmist begins (v1-3) by laying his situation out before God. We don’t get a lot of details but we understand that there’s conflict. I think many of us will resonate with the psalmist’s situation. He gets to the end of a day. It’s been a rough day. There’s been some conflict and he feels disrespected and even like his reputation has been muddied. Lies have been told. He comes home frazzled.

A key phrase occurs at the end of v2. The Hebrew words can be translated as either “seek false gods” or “seek lies”. In one sense false gods are lies, so they can both be correct. However, if we read this verse as the psalmist defending himself, it seems to fit better that he’s offended by lies being told against him.

Each section concludes with a statement of confidence, and verse three closes with the psalmist reminding himself, and his oppressors, “The Lord hears when I call to him.” we all need that reminder at times, don’t we?  This is why many people use prayer journals in their devotional lives. They allow the opportunity to go back and look at past prayers and remind themselves that God still hears when we call to him.

Verse 4 begins the second section with a in dramatic fashion with a single word directed at his tormentors, “Tremble”. The psalmist doesn’t provide a reason to tremble. He may have fear in mind, but I suspect that his motive is anger. This meaning was adopted by the Septuagint (an important translation of the Old Testament into Greek) and quoted in Ephesians 4:2, “In your anger do not sin.

The psalmist advises his opponents to contain their anger and malice. They should examine their hearts and be silent. But stopping their bad behaviour isn’t enough. They need to get right with God, so the author advises them to offer sacrifices, to worship, and to trust God. Again this last line has relevance not only for the troublemakers, but also for the psalmist. To gain a healthy perspective on this situation and life as a whole, worship and trust God.

The third section opens in v6 with a question, a doubt, maybe even an accusation against Yahweh. “Where will good things in life come from?” Having expressed that doubt the psalmist immediately answers his own question by quoting from Aaron’s blessing in Numbers 6:24-27. This blessing that he’d no doubt heard many times before points him to God as the provider of all good things. “May the light of your face shine on us.” The greatest joy for which he prays is not that of a harvest, of food or drink, but an awareness of the light of God’s face shining upon him.

Having completed this process of moving his thoughts from dwelling on the turmoil of the day to dwelling on the blessings of God, the psalm concludes,

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
    for you alone, Lord,
    make me dwell in safety.”

Regardless of what life throws at us, may we each sleep in peace, confident of God’s protection and that the light of His face shines upon us.

 

Jesus was a Refugee

In the wake of last Friday’s Paris attacks one of the attackers was quickly identified as someone who had entered Greece back in October with the wave of Syrian refugees before finding his way to Paris. The list of people, including presidential candidates, and states pushing to prevent more Syrian refugees resettling in the United States is growing.

It seems that the actions of one person have suddenly resulted in tens of thousands of others receiving the “UNWANTED” label. Overlooked in the process seems to be the fact that these are mostly Muslim refugees fleeing ISIS related fighters.

It wasn’t that many months ago that social media blew up when the body of a young boy washed up on a Turkish beach. At that time the refugees were seen as suffering people and all of us with children wept for those parents who took such risks to protect their children.

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How things have changed.

Although this issue is inherently political, I am more concerned by the attitudes expressed on social media and other forums from Christians. Christians seem to be among the first worry about protecting their families from bombers who will slip into the USA as refugees. This is their number one concern in this conversation.

While I understand these serious concerns, it is sad to see followers of Christ so consumed by fear.

It is sad to see people fearfully fleeing Muslim hatred being met and turned away by Christian fear.

This crisis prompts the church to ask itself some hard questions around the central issue of “What does it mean to be a follower of Christ?”

God gave his only begotten Son… for his enemies.

When Jesus came to earth there was a 100% certainty that Jesus would be killed by his enemies.

What are the chances that a terrorist will be one of the 10,000 Syrian refugees currently scheduled to be admitted to the USA in 2016? Is that a greater risk than that one of the 320 million people currently living in the United States will commit an act of terror? And what are the chances that your loved one would be the victim of that heinous act?

I’m not meaning to be callous. I detest all people who intentionally cause suffering to others for the sake of making a political or religious statement. I believe ISIS should be stopped, and I accept that it will probably take military force to diminish their power and influence.

However, I am convinced that all the bombs dropped on ISIS heads and all the military blood shed will not have a sliver of the impact for the Gospel that providing for those in need will have. Love will always prove a more effective evangelistic tool than the sword.

So in the meantime, I believe that Christians should provide shelter to the homeless. We should feed the hungry. We should give water to the thirsty. We should invite in strangers, clothe the naked, and provide healing for the sick. (Matthew 25:34-36)

We should proclaim good news to the poor, and freedom to the oppressed. We should bear witness that this is the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

And we shouldn’t let fear that our chance of premature death may increase ever so slightly in the process of following Christ stop us from carrying out his mission.

Each Easter churches around the country celebrate the resurrection of Christ. We celebrate that his resurrection gives us hope to live our lives because we believe that death is defeated. Yes, we live in the presence of death, we feel its pain still, but we have confidence in our destination and in Christ’s victory. Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

Jesus was a Refugee

I’ve mentioned Easter, but the Christmas story is equally relevant to this conversation. Matthew 2:13-23 tells how as a young child Jesus’ family fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s soldiers. I’m glad that Jesus wasn’t stopped at the Egyptian border and told to wait there for 18 months while the government conducted a background check. I’m not proposing that zero vetting of refugees should take place, let’s just get them to safety first.

This picture of Jesus fleeing violence and persecution influences the way I see refugees today. Matthew 25 (referenced earlier) says we encounter Jesus when we encounter the poor and hurting. The story of his flight to Egypt reminds us that Jesus never was a middle class American or Australian, but he was a refugee… and Egypt welcomed him.

How About Those Samaritans?

As we follow Jesus we’re also challenged by his attitude toward his national enemies, The Samaritans.

Some of the most beloved Christian stories involve Samaritans: The Woman at the Well (John 3); and The Good Samaritan (Luke 10). In both instances Jesus paints his enemies is a good light and treats them well.

This is not to say that Samaritans in general treated Jesus well. In Luke 9, just before telling the story of The Good Samaritan, a Samaritan village refused to let him stay the night there. The first instinct of his disciples was to call down fire from heaven upon that village. Jesus rebuked his disciples and moved on to the next village.

“Yes, but those villagers weren’t trying to kill him!” some will argue.

Correct, but he also didn’t call down fire on those enemies who were trying to kill him!

The Story About Weeds

I believe the story Jesus tells in Matthew 13:24-30 is also applicable to this discussion. Jesus warns that if his followers try to uproot all the weeds that find their way into His kingdom, they’ll uproot the good plants also. Instead he tells his disciples to leave the weeds for him to sort out during the harvest.

I know Scripture elsewhere warns of wolves entering the church dressed in sheep’s clothing, but those passages are aimed at false teachers. In Matthew Jesus is willing to take the risk of uncommitted people mixing with his disciples and his disciples mixing with non-disciples.

If Jesus will take this risk in his church, will we take a similar risk in our nation?

Church and State

Lastly, I understand the role of the government is to protect its citizens. But I’ve also seen how Christians lobby that same government when it makes decisions they don’t like on issues like abortion and gay marriage. We don’t step back on those issues and say, “Well, the government has a responsibility to care for all its citizens and that’s what it’s doing.” I understand why people protest those decisions. This country is a democracy and Christians have a right to have a voice.

Christians also have a right to have a voice with how their representative government treats the desperate and the homeless. Let’s make sure the message of the church is one filled with love, not fear.

 

A Cathedral of Nature

Each year my church takes our worship service to a local park where we sing, pray, participate in the Lord’s Supper, and I bring a message from Scripture. Each year I try to allow the setting to influence the sermon topic.

Genesis 1-2 describe the Garden of Eden as a natural cathedral. A beautiful place where Adam and Eve could meet God. Talk with God. Walk with God. Work with God, and worship God.

In Genesis 1:28 God gives his created a humans a commission, “Be fruitful and multiply. Populate the earth. I make you trustees of My estate, so care for My creation and rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that roams across the earth.

If we keep reading we find sin entering the garden and God banishes all humans from His presence in that perfect garden. But it’s not just the people that suffer because of sin. The garden also suffers. I have a hard time imagining what the garden was like before sin, but now it will be different. From this point forward the ground itself is cursed.

God announces in Gen 3:17-19,

cursed is the ground.
        For the rest of your life,
    You will fight for every crumb of food
        from the crusty clump of clay I made you from.
As you labor, the ground will produce thorns and thistles,
        and you will eat the plants of the field.
Your brow will sweat for your mouth to taste
        even a morsel of bread until the day you return
    To the very ground I made you from.
        From dust you have come,
    And to dust you shall return.

We usually read this and notice the impact we experience in gardening, farming and producing food. We will fight for food. Our produce will compete with weeds. It will be hard work. And in the end the ground wins as we ultimately return to dust.

But notice the impact upon the environment. It seems the earth will be less fertile. And as every gardener knows, if it’s not managed well the ground will soon be overgrown with thorns and thistles.

From this point on the Biblical picture of God’s kingdom routinely describes not just peace between people. Not just peace between people and God.  In addition to these images, Scripture also imagines harmony in nature. The prophet Isaiah (11:6) speaks of a day when a wolf will lie next to a lamb, the leopard with the goat, and a lion with a calf. God’s plans for his creation involve bringing peace to all of his creation, not just His people.

The apostle Paul in Romans 8 describes how creation is frustrated, not that it did anything wrong, but because humans sinned. Now creation waits for the children of God to be revealed, so that the planet and universe can taste the same freedom that God’s children experience.

Now think back to God’s original instructions to the people he created. He told them to rule over creation. I suspect that throughout history we’ve read that verse and used it as authority to do whatever we want in the world. But if we think about it for a moment, that’s not really how we like to be ruled and it’s not the way God rules. God acts in our best interests. We would like to think that our elected leaders will also act in our best interests.

So when we have an opportunity to rule creation will we do so asking how much we can extract for our benefit, or what’s best for the world as a whole?

Basically, the question is this… Do we act toward creation as part of its curse or do we contribute to its redemption?

God cursed the earth.

When we contaminate water supplies.

When we build golf courses in the desert.

When we introduce radiation into our atmosphere.

When we over-log old growth forests.

When we dig huge holes in the ground pursuing minerals.

When we act without thought to Creation, we participate in the cursing of the earth.

This is a pertinent conversation because we live in an age when across the globe species are going extinct at a rate not seen since the dinosaurs. I don’t have all the answers for how to balance human needs and the good of nature as a whole, but I’m pretty sure we’re doing a bad job of ruling as long as species are disappearing.

I don’t intend to use this blog to promote particular courses of action. I’m not demanding that everybody drive 4 cylinder cars, or recycle every scrap of paper in their house. I’m not arguing over global warming or how we calculate the benefit of a mine to society versus the environmental damage it causes.

My point in writing this article is to simply highlight that God has given his people a responsibility to serve as “trustees of God’s estate, to care for His creation.” If Christians want to disagree on this topic, the conversation should revolve around how to care for creation, not if we should care for creation.

Jesus describes in Matthew 10:28-31 that God cares for people more that sparrows. But notice that God cares for sparrows. When we care for creation, we’re working with God rather than participating in the curse.

The Jesus Parade

If you’re interested, you can listen to my Palm Sunday sermon HERE.

palm sunday

Although I like to make a big deal of Easter, I haven’t always preached a special sermon on Palm Sunday. To be honest, I don’t really understand the events of Palm Sunday. Beyond that I have a hard time finding a contemporary application of Palm Sunday. Sure, it’s an interesting event, but do I really need to preach on it every year just because it appears on the calendar?

Here are my questions, with a little commentary.

1. Why did Jesus want a parade?

Couldn’t have Jesus just walked through the gates in the midst of the other pilgrims without drawing attention to himself? He could still have gone to the temple the next day and taught and throne over tables. None of his subsequent actions seem contingent upon this grand entrance.

Remember that Jesus initiated this parade by instructing his disciples to go and get a donkey. He must have had a purpose in making a public entrance, but I don’t understand what it was.

I preached on Sunday that his choice of riding a donkey was a humble choice. Wouldn’t he demonstrate greater humility by cancelling the parade and just walking through the gates?

If I’m grasping at straws, perhaps his grand entrance was a PR stunt to let the people of Jerusalem know he was there and invite them to hear him speak at the temple the next day. According to Luke 19:39 Jesus at least caught the attention of some Pharisees. Perhaps they did the rest of the marketing for him!

2. Was Jesus Intentionally Fulfilling Prophecy?

Many of the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled were beyond his control. For example, he had no say in where the Messiah would be born, or which tribe he was from.

palm sunday 01But Zechariah 9:9 reads,

Your king has won a victory,
    and he is coming to you.
He is humble
    and rides on a donkey;
he comes on the colt
    of a donkey.”

The Jews apparently recognised this as a Messianic passage. So in choosing to enter Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus intentionally fulfills this prophecy. After all, if he’s the Messiah, then at some point he needs to ride a donkey.

Although Matthew and John both quote Zechariah 9 as an explanation of Jesus’ actions, here’s my question. If Jesus chose to ride a donkey to demonstrate that he was the Messiah it doesn’t seem like a very good strategy.

  • He could more easily have communicated this message by simply saying, “Hey everyone, look at me. I’m the Messiah!”
  • While all four Gospels tell the story of Jesus riding the donkey, only 2 of them connect it to the Zechariah prophecy.
  • Apparently, even at the time, no one really understood the significance of Jesus riding the donkey. After quoting Zechariah, John immediately reflects, “At first, Jesus’ disciples did not understand. But after he had been given his glory, they remembered all this.” (John 12:16 (CEV)

If Jesus was just checking off a list of prophecies that he could control, do you think it’s legitimate? It seems a bit manipulative and insincere to me.

3. Was Jesus Surprised?

I am fascinated by the question of what Jesus was thinking as he rode that donkey through the cheering crowds. Matthews account of Jesus’ grand entrance is found in chapter 21. In chapter 20 Jesus predicts, We are now on our way to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses. They will sentence him to death…

He knew his fate.

Was Jesus able to join in the joy and celebration along with the crowd? Was Jesus an island of misery in surrounded by a sea of exuberance? Did Jesus resent the crowd’s shallowness? Was Jesus hoping that the people would accept him and crown him king?

Again, if he knew the praise lacked sincerity, why throw the parade?

I just don’t get it.

I also don’t get why this series of events is important enough to get its own day on the calendar.

4. What are We Celebrating?

When the church celebrates Palm Sunday, what exactly are we celebrating? Are we excited that people misunderstood the nature of Jesus’ kingdom? Do we want to highlight the rejection of Jesus as Messiah? If so, why the joyfulness and palm branches?  Are we thrilled by the transition in Jesus’ ministry as he finally enters Jerusalem? (Although John’s Gospel tells us he’s been there twice previously.)

In Luke 20:40 Jesus tells the Pharisees that “If [the people] keep quiet, these stones will start shouting.” Clearly he believes that their well-intentioned, but misguided praise is deserved, appropriate and unstoppable. This seems to contrast other passages of Scripture where God cares about right motives when it comes to worship. So are we celebrating a loosening of worship forms and functions?

Perhaps we celebrate Palm Sunday because now that we understand the nature of Jesus’ kingdom, we can give him the praise that he deserved in this event but we can give it to him with greater understanding. Hopefully, we also give him our worship from a heart of sincerity and faithfulness. In this way we kind of rectify and redeem the worship of the original Palm Sunday.

5. From a Pre-millenial perspective…

From a premillenial perspective this event seems to make a little more sense. By this interpretation it’s important that the Jews get an opportunity to reject an earthly kingdom. The thinking goes like this:

  1. God’s initial desire was for the Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah and crown him king.
  2. Jesus legitimately wanted to establish an earthly kingdom with Jerusalem as his throne.
  3. All the Messianic prophecies were intended to be fulfilled in this earthly kingdom.
  4. On palm Sunday the Jews reached the brink of crowning Jesus king, but ultimately backed away.
  5. Their rejection of Jesus led to Plan B, a spiritual kingdom made possible through Jesus’ sacrifice.
  6. Although Jesus knew they were going to kill him, it was important that he give them the opportunity to crown him.
  7. Thus the Palm Sunday Parade was not a charade, but a hope-filled opportunity for Israel to embrace her Messiah.

While I don’t agree with this understanding of Scripture. And while I have a problem with the cross being “Plan B”. At least this approach provides an understanding of Palm Sunday in which Jesus acts with genuine motives.

So help me out. What encouragement do you draw from Palm Sunday?

What We Celebrate Matters

This blog post was previously published here.

Lawson Rd Flags

Jesus knew the truth that what we celebrate matters. Shortly before his death Jesus instructed his disciples to remember his death through a simple meal. (Luke 22:14-20) I imagine that without this instruction the disciple may have decided to celebrate other aspects of Jesus’ ministry. Earlier the apostle Peter had wanted to construct shelters to memorialise the spectacular event of Moses and Elijah appearing and talking with Jesus. Other disciples could easily have chosen to celebrate Jesus healing ministry or concern for the poor.

How would the history of Christianity differ today if the first followers of Jesus decided to politicise His criticism of the religious establishment? Would they have sought revenge against the pagan Romans? Would they have sought to initiate an uprising and seize control of the temple, freeing it from apostate religious leaders?

Instead, Jesus preempts these possibilities by establishing a celebration of his death and his resurrection. This move required the first Christians to pursue understanding of his death. Why did it happen? Do you remember what he said? Do the Hebrew Scriptures speak of a resurrected Messiah? How does this impact us? Does this change our relationship with God?

The simple meal. The memory. The celebration. The understanding. Jesus directed the focus of future generations for thousands of years to the thoughts that are most important.

Our churches still face the same opportunities. In addition to the Lord’s Supper, we get to decide what and who to celebrate.

I once visited a church and watched an elder call every one 18 and under who had a birthday that month to the front of the room. As they stood on the stage with him he prayed over those children. What an affirmation that these children matter to God and to the church!

I know of a church that hosts a VBS each year for special needs children. This event shines the spotlight of love and grace upon these children and their families, letting them know that they’re valued and important.

Last October, the church a friend of mine attends encouraged everyone to wear purple one particular Sunday in support of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This topic seldom receives attention from churches and this congregation sought to publicly stand with victims of abuse.

I recently saw a church workshop advertised with the theme, “Reprove, Rebuke, & Exhort”. This celebration clearly communicates what matters to them: Reproving and Rebuking. Getting things right. Doing things right.

I’m aware of many churches that have special “Mission Sundays” or “Ministry Fairs” as they highlight the need to send and support missionaries around the world, or the importance for members to involve themselves in church ministries.

Each of these churches chose to express issues, topics, causes, and people that they view as important through celebration.

It would be overly simplistic to infer that the reverse is true. Just because a church does not celebrate a particular cause or person does not mean that they don’t care. No one church can emphasise every issue. If they try to acknowledge everyone, eventually no person or cause is particularly special because everyone’s treated the same.

Which brings us back to where I began: What we celebrate matters!

With this in mind, I’m thrilled that my church celebrated our racial diversity last Sunday through a special day that we call Harmony Sunday. I’ve been part of multi-ethnic churches in the past who preferred not to acknowledge their diversity. Taking one day to celebrate the reality we see each Sunday communicates to the church and the community that each person matters. It reinforces God’s vision for his kingdom as a house for all nations. And most of all, it communicates that this topic is important, not an accident.

I am convinced that events like Harmony Sunday are vital for the good health of multi-ethnic congregations and those seeking to broaden their membership. Among many other benefits, this type of celebration gives permission for conversations about race to take place. It communicates a desire for the church to provide a safe place for dialogue.