Surrendered Leadership

How bad do you need to be for history to classify you as a scoundrel?  Paul Martin, in a Huffington Post article, cites some of the worst historical scoundrels like Daniel Drew, the Fox sisters, and Hetty Green.  These folks, and others like them, lived unscrupulously at the expense of others.

Now, how bad do you need to be for the Bible to identify you as a scoundrel?  That’s a whole new level.  But that’s exactly how Phinehas and Hophni are described (1Samuel 2).  They consistently robbed people; slept with whoever they wanted; disregarded authority; and ignored God.  Their story may not raise many eyebrows until you know that these two men were leaders.  They were part of a family that had been committed to serving God and God’s people.  But nothing they did reflected their position as leaders.

Leadership is hard.  If you lead, you get this.  As a country we’re tough on our leaders – from the government to the church and everywhere in between.  We certainly expect our leaders to be people of character and integrity, and we should.  But we also have the propensity to knock leaders down.  We want them to be the best, but we quickly look for their flaws and cheer when those flaws are well known.  Leadership is not for the faint of heart.

And that’s precisely why those who are leaders – especially spiritual leaders – need to pay attention to the details.  While Hophni and Phinehas were disregarding their character and position, God was raising up another leader to replace them.  Samuel was still a young boy but God was shaping him into the kind of leader both God and the people needed.  God gives us a hint of the kind of leader Samuel could be – “those who honor me I will honor but those who despise me I will disdain…I will raise up a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind” (1Samuel 2:30-35).

When it comes to spiritual leadership God looks for a particular kind of person – one that wants what God wants.  Wanting what God wants has a way of shaping our character and increasing our integrity. When temptations challenge our moral fiber, leaders after God’s heart trust God’s strength.  When moral failure happens, leaders after God’s own heart seek forgiveness and restoration.  Spiritual leaders don’t ignore or dismiss their actions they come to terms with the call and grace of God.  God raised up Samuel to do what was on God’s heart and mind.

Whether you are a Christian leader at work, in your home, with you kids, or at your church – God is inviting you to do what is on his heart and mind.  Phinehas and Hophni reveal the destruction unsurrendered leadership creates.  Don’t be a scoundrel!  Seek the heart and mind of God, surrender yourself to God’s purposes and lead well.

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Abundant Life is Found Out on the Water

Bread and water are the often joked about references to the food of the incarcerated.  But bread and water are two elements Jesus uses to show Peter the secret to a full and abundant life.

The story begins in Matthew 14.  The crowds have followed Jesus into a remote place.  The sun’s going down and everyone’s getting hungry.  The disciples want to send the crowds into town for dinner.  Jesus has another idea – “you give them something to eat.”  The reaction of the disciples is one that we would share if we were in their shoes, “We don’t have enough…”

  When faced with obvious need, “we don’t have enough…” is our usual response.  I’ve been guilty of that.  We don’t have enough time, money, people, money, time…you get the idea.  We’ve all been there and we’ve all uttered the same thing.  But I love what Jesus does in light of their scarcity.  Jesus says, “Bring them here to me.”  Bring me your resources.  Bring me what you do have.  Then Jesus does what only he can do.  He takes our limits and stretches them to meet the need.

This story is immediately followed by Peter walking on the water.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Peter and the other disciples are in a boat struggling against the storm and waves.  They’re trying to get the other side of the lake to meet Jesus, but they’re stuck.  So Jesus comes to them, walking on the water.  Peter sees Jesus and wants to be where he is – out on the water.  But Peter let his water walking certification lapse.  So he says, “Jesus, if that’s you tell me to come to you on the water.”  If I were Peter, I’d want Jesus to respond with something like, “No. Don’t worry about it. Stay in the boat and I’ll come to you.  No need to get your feet wet.”  But he doesn’t.  Jesus’ response to Peter’s longing is simply – “Come.”

Now Peter has never walked on water but here’s what he has done: he has stepped out of a boat before.  He was a fisherman, after all.  He knows how to lift a leg over the side, set it down, and walk.  So Peter does what he knows how to do.  He gives Jesus what he already knows how to do.  And Jesus does, in those moments, what only Jesus can do.

I’m convinced that this is a life truth.  We give Jesus what we know how to do and Jesus takes it and does what only he can do!

Following Jesus is about being stretched.  Left to ourselves, we usually see what we can’t accomplish.  And that always limits the abundant life Jesus promises.  Jesus stretches our faith when he says, “Give me what you do have” and I’ll take it and do an amazing thing.  Abundant life is found out on the water – when we give Jesus what we know how to do and let him do with it what only he can do.

Last night I attended an event hosted by The Asservo Project (theasservoproject.org).  The Asservo Project, based out of Pittsburgh, exists to combat global human trafficking.  They are a David facing a Goliath.  Human trafficking is currently one of the world’s most profitable criminal enterprises.  There are 40 million victims globally.  At $150 billion annually, this criminal enterprise makes more money than Google, Apple, Yahoo, and Netflix combined.  Since 2010, human trafficking has grown 850%.  Trafficking and sexual slavery is real.  Open your eyes and it becomes so obvious.

This reality is so staggering I couldn’t help but think, “Jesus, we don’t have enough…”  That’s all I could think about on the way home.  How do you even make a dent?  And I kept going back to this story.  Jesus says, give me what you have/what you know how to do and I’ll do what only I can do.

So that’s my current next step.  But what about you?  You may not be passionate about ending human trafficking (I hope you will be) but there is something that you are passionate about.  There is something that God is calling you to and you’re first response is “I don’t have enough…time, education, money, fill in the blank.”

But here’s the spiritual truth.  The only way disciples grow is when they are stretched.  When they say, “Jesus, I hear you, and I don’t know how I will accomplish this but I will give you what I know how to do and I’ll let you do what only you can do.”

Abundant life is found out on the water…so get out of the boat.

Partnership

Membership says “what’s in it for me?” Partnership says, “how can I be a part of this?”

Being a Partner is all about being connected. There is a big difference between membership and partnership. Let me explain it like this. It is possible to be a member of a gym, but only go there once a year, correct? But when you are a Partner you are connected, there is a connecting and a joining that takes place. You have a vested interest in everything that happens.  It is so much more than just being a member.

The same thing is true when it comes to be a partner in a church.  It’s not the fact that you visit that place, it’s all about that ministry – being a part of who you are and you are a part of what that ministry is. There is a connection, a joining and a communion that takes place in that. The purpose of this ministry is to bring you to the place where you fulfil the call of God on your life.

Think about it this way:  membership says “what’s in it for me?”  Partnership says, “how can I be a part of this?”

This letter of Paul’s to the Philippians is often referred to as the letter of joy. We can certainly understand why it would be called that hearing some of the phrases that Paul uses:

“I thank my God…”

“I’m thankful for all of you”

“it’s always a prayer full of joy”

“I’m glad…”

“I feel affection for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.”

“I’m glad…and I’ll continue to be glad.”

 

He sounds pretty joyful for someone writing a letter from jail. But it’s not necessarily that he’s joyful because of his circumstances. But more than that – I think he’s so joyful because of the way in which the Philippians, the people of the church, have partnered with him, have taken care of him, and have been working in the ministry of the gospel with him

And so, as I was reading this passage, I kept being drawn to these two verses about partnership: Verse 5: I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now.  And verse 7: I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. You are all my partners in God’s grace, both during my time in prison and in the defense and support of the gospel.

Now, when we think about partners…we probably have different responses. Perhaps some of you have partners who you work with professionally, and those may be good relationships, but it’s possible that some of them are strained.

And I don’t know about you, but when I was in school I would cringe a bit whenever a professor informed us that we’d be working in groups for a certain project. I didn’t necessarily always want partners – sometimes it would have been a whole lot easier if I could have just taken care of something on my own and did it myself.

Perhaps it’s because of the very individualistic society that we live in, but I’m sure that many of us would admit, if pressed, that we often prefer to be lone rangers…taking care of things by ourselves, rather than having the help of others.

But the thing is…we can’t do it alone. Sure maybe I could have knocked out a project quicker by myself…but when we are talking about the stuff of life, when we are talking about the work that God has called us to participate in, in the world…that’s not something that is easily done as lone rangers.

And we’ve known this from the very beginning. As we look back to the creation story in Genesis…after God had created Adam, God said, “It’s not good that the man is alone. I will make a helper that is perfect for him.” We were not meant to be alone…and we were not meant to do this work alone…

We need partners. Here in Philippians, Paul is profusely thanking the Philippians for being partners in the ministry of the gospel. They supported Paul during his ministry with them, and continued to support him while he was in prison…most likely that was made manifest by the Philippians providing Paul with food and other necessities that he wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

For us, this morning, one of the questions we need to ask ourselves is how are we being partners in ministry with God and to each other? How are we supporting what God is doing in this church and in our world? This work of the ministry of the gospel is not something that I do…it’s not something that only the church council does…this is work that we all participate in.

We all need to partner together to accomplish the values and dreams that we have set before ourselves. We will become just like Jesus:

  1. We will create an atmosphere which welcomes and connects people to the Body of Christ.
  2. We were made to worship. So we will create an atmosphere where worship is the centerpiece of our lives.  We will create an atmosphere where people can experience the presence of God.
  3. We will create disciples who are increasing in their love of God and neighbor.
  4. We will create a culture of the call; an atmosphere where every partner takes the step into serving and ministry and transforms the world.
  5. We will create an atmosphere and expectation of extravagant generosity. We will live our whole lives for God and God’s purposes.

This isn’t going to be something that we do alone. But it’s not just that we’re partnering with each other and with this church…we’re actually partnering with God, our creator, redeemer and sustainer.

God invites you and me to partner with him so that we can all be actively pursuing, and participating in, ushering in God’s kingdom…the ushering in of God’s hopes and dreams for our lives and for this world.  So that we can become just like Jesus.

I want to share with you a story called “Does God Have a Big Toe: Stories about Stories in the Bible.” It’s written by Marc Gellman. This story is called “Partners.”

 Before there was anything, there was God, a few angels, and a huge swirling glob of rocks and water with no place to go. The angels asked God, “Why don’t you clean up this mess?”  So God collected rocks from the huge swirling glob and put them together in clumps and said, “Some of these clumps of rocks will be planets, and some will be stars, and some of these rocks will be…just rocks.”

Then God collected water from the huge swirling glob and put it together in pools of water and said, “Some of these pools of water will be oceans, and some will become clouds, and some of this water will be…just water.”

Then the angels said, “Well God, it’s neater now, but is it finished?” And God answered…“NOPE!”

On some of the rocks God placed growing things, and creeping things, and things that only God knows what they are, and when God had done all this, the angels asked God, “Is the world finished now?” and God answered…“NOPE!”

God made a man and a woman from some of the water and dust and said to them, “I am tired now. Please finish up the world for me…really it’s almost done.” But the man and woman said, “We can’t finish the world alone! You have the plans and we are too little.”

“You are big enough,” God answered them. “But I agree to this. If you keep trying to finish the world, I will be your partner.”

The man and the woman asked, “What’s a partner?” and God answered, “A partner is someone you work with on a big thing that neither of you can do alone. If you have a partner, it means that you can never give up, because your partner is depending on you. On the days you think I am not doing enough and on the days I think you are not doing enough, even on THOSE days we are still partners and we must not stop trying to finish the world. That’s the deal.” And they all agreed to that deal.

Then the angels asked God, “Is the world finished yet?” and God answered, “I don’t know. Go ask my partners.”

So we not only partner with one another to participate in this ministry of the gospel, but we partner with God.  We are working with God, so that God’s kingdom may come. We can read the news, glance at our Facebook News Feed, or even just look all around us, and see the ways in which this world is clearly unfinished…and not as God would have it.

Children all around the world die every day from lack of clean water, food and shelter. Single moms work long hours at multiple jobs, and can barely earn enough money to put food on the table for their kids. We hear about mass shootings, and are shocked and saddened for a few days, and then move on with our lives, not taking the necessary steps to prevent future tragedies.

We live in a world where cyber-bullying continues to be a huge problem for young people, so much so that many have decided it was not worth living anymore and have taken their lives.  Is the world finished yet?  “NOPE.”

Teresa of Avila, the 16th century mystic, wrote the following:

Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours; yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world, Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.”  Is the world finished yet?  “NOPE.”

Since we all have different gifts and talents …partnering with God is going to look a little different for each person here.

There’s no end to the possible ways that we can partner with God.

But perhaps the most significant thing that we all can do is to simply reframe how we view ourselves in relation to God.

If we think that God is the one who just… does it all, that’s going to form and shape how we live in the world, how we engage with others throughout our day, how we treat other people.

But if we think of ourselves as God’s partners…if we realize that God works through you…that changes everything. That changes the way we view ourselves, the way we view God, and the way we view our place in the world.

When we realize that we are God’s partners, we know that we can’t just sit around and wait, expecting God to be the one to bring about change in the world.

As followers in the way of Jesus, we have been called to partner with God to embody and bring about the Kingdom of God in the here-and-now; the Kingdom of God on earth, as it is in Heaven.

Be Revolutionary

Well we’re bringing this series on the Revolutionary Jesus to a close.  We’ve spent the summer really getting to know what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount – the red letter Jesus.  What Jesus had said has been helpful, corrective, challenging, and uncomfortable.  Jesus has upset what we think we believe about him.  That’s a good thing.  Anytime Jesus can get into us and wake us up and redirect us is never bad.  And I hope this revolutionary Jesus has awakened you to some new possibilities.

We started this series with the understanding that we’ve domesticated Jesus and made him safe; so that following him is safe and comfortable – but that’s not reality is it?revolution

Christianity from the very beginning was a subversive movement and Christians were considered rebels because they recognized and confessed that Jesus was the highest authority.  So for the first 300 years of Christianity it was illegal to follow Jesus.  To say that Jesus is Lord was a politically charged term.  By law, no one was Lord but Caesar.  Christian defied that law and were executed by crucifixion or in coliseums as sport.  Christians refused to submit to national and religious laws that conflicted with Jesus’ authority.  So for the first 300 years wherever the church went it was met with resistance.  Paul’s missionary journey to Greece (Thessalonika) – Jason – Acts 17.  So when did the church become so tame and domesticated?

About 300 Constantine converted.  Made church legal for the first time.  Legal is not good for the church.  Every time we become accepted, we become comfortable and we lose the revolutionary nature of the gospel.

So now we get to Matthew 7 – the end of the Sermon on the Mount.  And what we find out is that its not just about hearing but its about practice.  One of the things we struggle with is that week after week we’re hearing the words of Jesus, but we’re not practicing them and that’s powerless.  Christians look like everyone else.  We believe that Jesus is Lord, we confess that Jesus is Lord, but we miss the place of practicing the Lordship of Jesus.  There’s a disconnect between mind and lifestyle.  That’s the problem in the Church and why we miss the point that Christianity is revolutionary.  Jesus is radical.  We are not saved by what we believe, we are saved by what we obey.  We’ve created this institutional Christianity that is just based on believing in belief.  Look at what Jesus says in 7:21; but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven.  We’re not save by what we believe; believing in belief.  We’re save by what we obey.  7:23 – we’re not saved by our works.  We’re not saved by what we believe; we’re not saved by our works.  We’re saved by faith and the fruit of faith is obedience to what Jesus teaches.  Jesus is command is not to confess – the demons believe that Jesus is Lord.  The command is to “follow me.”  So faith is acting on Jesus’ command to follow him.  Which means his lifestyle becomes our lifestyle.  Our sole priority will be based on Jesus’ priorities.  In Jesus, God is fleshed out.  So in Jesus we have the absolute authority of God.

Here’s our problem, we allowed other authorities to mix in with Jesus’ authority.  There are three of them that I see.  The first is secular culture or secularism.  Secularism is a worldview or philosophy that among other things says that this world around us is all that’s real.  If I can’t touch it, see it or taste it – its not real.  There is a morality that is attached it secularism that says “you do your thing and I’ll do mine.”  I won’t judge you, you don’t judge me.  What’s right for me is right and what’s right for you is right.  There are no absolutes; no authority.  So its no longer about the authority of Jesus or even the authority of Scripture, it’s the authority of me and my rights and my voice.  Then Jesus is not Lord.  I am lord.  And I mold my religion to fit what I want and how I look at the world.  Our first priority is not Jesus or his lifestyle. Its me and whatever I want to do that makes me feel good.The second is national allegiance.  Some how we’ve mixed the flag and cross and put them on equal ground for authority.  Somehow we’ve come to believe that America is God’s chosen nation.  Jesus said my kingdom is not of this world.  Jesus kingdom is the kingdom of God.  Now I’m glad I live in America, it’s a kingdom of the world but it’s not God’s kingdom.  And the kingdom of God has authority over all kingdoms of the world.  And there will be times when the authority of the nation conflicts with the authority of God.  Now I might not like the tax code or the health care bill but that’s not a right to defy national authority they don’t conflict with the authority of God.  But if your enemy hungers feed them. Here’s the third one:  Ourselves and self-authority.  Its called pick and choose.  We read Jesus’ teaching and we make our self the exception.  Well, this stuff that Jesus said doesn’t really apply to me.  But Jesus said we’ve got to deny ourselves before we can follow him.

Accountability

revolutionThe Lone Ranger and Tonto stopped in the desert for the night. After they got their tent all set up, both men fell sound asleep. Some hours later, Tonto wakes the Lone Ranger and says, “Kemo Sabe, look towards sky, what you see?”  The Lone Ranger replies, “I see millions of stars.” “What that tell you?” asked Tonto. The Lone Ranger ponders for a minute then says, “Astronomically speaking, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Theologically, it’s evident the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What’s it tell you, Tonto?” Tonto is silent for a moment, then says, “Kemo Sabe, you are dumber than a box of rocks! It means someone stole tent.”  That’s discernment! But when Tonto called the Lone Ranger “dumber than a box of rocks” that’s being judgmental.

We all need to be discerning in life without being judgmental but sometimes, it’s hard to separate the two.

Have you ever heard someone say, “Judge not lest you be judged!”  It bothers me to hear someone use Matthew 7:1 that way. But, you see, it’s nice to have a verse to prove what you already want to believe, and I think that’s how this verse has been used. It has been used to convey the idea, “You live your lifestyle and I’ll live mine. But don’t you tell me how to live, and certainly don’t you try to impose your standards of morality on me.”

Well, what was Jesus saying in Matthew 7? I think one of the key verses in understanding it is Matthew 5:20: “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” We must have a different kind of righteousness from what the scribes and Pharisees had. They wore theirs on their sleeves; it was superficial.

Ours must grow out of a heart committed to the Father. And Matthew 7 is part of that context. Jesus, here in the Sermon on the Mount, deals with two different extremes of the problem of human judgment. The first extreme is a harsh, critical spirit. The second extreme is permissiveness.

Don’t Judge (Matthew 7:1-2)
As Jesus looked at the religious situation of his day, he saw that judging others had become a great religious problem. The Pharisees and scribes sat in the place of the critic. They were quick to pass judgment on those who didn’t live up to their expectations. The Pharisees were used to judging others self-righteously. Jesus said there are problems with that kind of judging. It’s overly critical, always going around with a nit-picking attitude, digging and searching for faults, always suspecting the worst.

So Jesus says that we are not to judge. Now he’s not talking about the judgment in a courtroom. He’s not talking about judging open and obvious sin (we’ll get to that later). He’s not talking about judging false teachers. What he is talking about is a hasty, unloving, “holier than thou” type of attitude.

Whenever we make a judgment, we do so based on what we have seen and sometimes that’s not enough to provide the whole picture. Human judgment is limited to the information which we put into it and sometimes that isn’t enough to make an accurate judgment.

Notice that self-righteous judgment has a boomerang: “For in the ame way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” In other words: “Look, if you start throwing out this critical spirit on other people, it’ll come back.  We’ll receive the same kind of treatment that we dish out. If we judge others harshly and jump to the worst conclusions about others, we can be certain that we’ll be treated in the same way, by both others and God.

Check your Speck (Matthew 7:3-5)

There’s another problem with Pharasaic righteousness. Not only was it overly critical, but it was also hypocritical. It was two-faced. We like to look at people with bifocals. We use the bottom part to see ourselves, and it has kind of a rosy tint to it. We tend to look past any shortcomings. But the top part we use to look at others. And that’s the hypocrisy Jesus was denouncing.

We’re not qualified to sit in judgment on others because it’s impossible to be impartial — we’re influenced by our own imperfections. Jesus here uses the graphic example of a plank of wood and a speck of dust. The picture is ridiculous. Now, we’ve heard it so many times that it has lost its humorous twist, but the people in Jesus’ audience were probably laughing out loud. It sounds like a scene out of the Three Stooges. Here’s one guy with a little piece of sawdust in his eye. There’s somebody else with a two-by-four coming out of his forehead, and he’s trying to get that speck out. Every time he turns around, the other guy has to duck.

But you see, even though we are unqualified, we still judge. And we often do so for selfish reasons; it makes us feel better. If we have a problem with sin in our own lives, it takes a little pressure off to point the finger at others for a while. It makes our sin seem not so bad after all. But, Jesus warns us that we’ve got to clean up our own act before we tamper with the lives of others.

And I don’t think that the plank in our eyes is necessarily a worse sin. I think he’s talking about the sin of self-righteousness, appointing ourselves as the official speck inspectors.  We can see so well the things in others’ lives that we want to pick on, but Jesus said we’re usually being overly critical and hypocritical when we do it.

But it’s important for us to notice that he didn’t stop there. He didn’t instruct us to stay out of other people’s business. Rather, he gave us the responsibility of helping our brother: “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (7:5).

What’s the loving, Christian thing to do when someone comes to you and he’s got a speck in his eye? Turn and walk away? No! Do you say, “Oh, no. I could never take that speck out of your eye. I’ve had specks in my eye before”? Of course not! He’s got something in his eye and he needs it taken out. Or suppose a child comes to you with a splinter in his finger. He’s crying, “Please take this splinter out!” What’s the Christian thing to do? Leave the splinter there? No! You take the splinter out. So Jesus was saying there is a place for some discernment in people’s lives. If you see brothers or sisters who have specks in their eyes, you need to help them take it out!  But first you take out the two-by-four of self-righteousness out of your own eye.

Judge the right way  (Matthew 7:6)

First Jesus says, “Don’t judge, don’t condemn.” Then, in the same breath, he says, “Make certain judgments concerning people and behavior.”

How can these two positions be reconciled? The two positions actually complement and limit each other perfectly. In the first statement, as we’ve already seen, Jesus condemns the critical, holier-than-thou, jumping to conclusions sort of judgment that the Pharisees were known for.

In this second statement, Jesus acknowledges the need for making decisions concerning people and behavior that is detrimental to our Christian lives. The command not to judge others doesn’t mean that we can’t see the sinfulness of certain actions. Now, we’re never to look down in self-righteous judgment for we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God. But we can recognize sin as sin, and we should never try to justify it. Judging the right way is about holding each other accountable.  Accountability is key for spiritual formation.  We are our brother/sister’s keeper.

It starts with ourselves.  “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith…”         2Cor. 13:5

How is my relationship with Jesus?  Where is there sin in my life?  What do I need to confess/repent of?  Where are the places I need to be growing?

Scripture clearly invites the Church to hold each other accountable.  “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?  Are you not to judge those inside?”     1Cor 5:12-13.  Watch out for each other.  Correct, rebuke.  In love and grace step into the life of your brother/sister if you see something out of place in their journey with Jesus.

That’s tough. We say, “it’s none of my business.”  But it is our business. It’s our business to keep each other out of Hell.  It’s worth a little bit of uncomfortableness now to save each others lives.  Accountability is the thing no one likes.  That’s why it’s revolutionary.  It’s about saving souls.

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Reliance

revolution

Have you ever had one of those days that scare you so much that you end up remembering it for a long time?  I had one of those days on the Tuesday before Easter, 2009.  I experienced shortness of breath and a tightness in my chest.  I was scared.  I thought – here it is, a heart attack.  I ended up quickly in the hospital with all sorts of tests and monitors.  After two days the conclusion was that my heart was healthy – I was experiencing anxiety attacks.  I guess when I look back, that moment was proceeded by other moments of anxiety:  waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air; weight gain; stress.  I was carrying around a tremendous amount of anxiety and worry.  I changed some habits and now I find that I don’t worry like I used to.

This week I asked you on Facebook:  “what makes you worry?”  You responded – the state of our country; my children and their future; my job and its future security, health of family and friends, focusing on the important things.  All things worthy of our attention.  You know, as well as I do, that excessive worry just sucks the life out of us.

Worry starts in our minds.  We’re concerned about a real or imagined issue.  We worry about what we lack; about things we cannot control.  And if the worry is excessive we discover that it has negative health effects – anxiety attacks, panic, an impact on our appetite, difficulty in relationships, sleep, job performance.

Worry is such a real and regular phenomenon in our human experience that Jesus spends significant time talking about “worry.”  In fact he uses the word “worry” 6 times in 10 verses.  And he uses it in the same context of the things that cause us worry – will I have enough?  Will I have enough food, drink, clothes, life?  Will my children have enough?  But he also speaks about these things in another context – in the context of how what I have compares to what my neighbor has.  In verses 19-24, Jesus spends some time on the accumulation of things and of wealth; about serving money and hoarding against an unexpected future.  Now, preparing is crucial.  God gives us a brain, talents and means to provide and make good decisions about tomorrow.  But he is speaking specifically to kingdom of God people who are overly concerned about control; about trusting in what they can control instead of trusting the God who provides everything.  Any conversation about worry needs to happen in the context of a conversation about faith.  Who do you trust?

When all is said and done worry is distraction.  When I worry about a real or imagined issue I am saying I don’t believe in or trust God.  What a sly temptation.  If, even for a moment, I stop trusting the omnipresent; omniscient; all-powerful God, Satan wins.  Worry is a distraction that clouds my focus on what matters most.

Look at how Jesus speaks into worry.  The Father knows you.   I’ll confess that one of the worries/fears that I live with is being forgotten; of not being recognized.  I haven’t given that to God, yet.  But what a word – God knows you!  Jeremiah 1:5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you..”  You have not been forgotten.  You are not alone.

The Father knows your name.  Isaiah 43:1

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. You belong to God; God will protect you.  God has written his name across the journey of your life.

The Father knows tomorrow.  God is already at tomorrow.  He is already at the place of what we worry about.  Some of you said, I “I worry about the world in which my kids will grow.”  God is already in that world.  God stands above time, space and history.  Everything is happening in the now for God.  The same God here today, is the same God who is already in tomorrow.

The distraction of worry says that God is not enough; God does not know enough; God is not in control – so I better do something.

Into this conversation Jesus inserts a revolutionary statement which draws a clear line.  The line is drawn between kingdom people (people who belong to Jesus) and the pagans (people without God).  Look at 6:32 – “For the pagans run after all these things…”  If you don’t know God your worry will drive you to be in control; to accumulate against the future; to trust your wealth for protection; to smother your children; to protect your job.  The only option for those who do not know or trust the One who created is to trust in their own power, intellect and ability.  Again, this is a revolutionary word to us whose life is in Jesus.  Don’t exert the energy/run after in an attempt to control what makes you stay awake at night.  God is on the throne of history.  God is already in tomorrow.

For Jesus, a revolutionary reliance begins at the place of worship.  He says, 6:33 – “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.”  

This language of seek is incredibly deep.  The word used is zeteo and it literally means worship/desire.  Revolutionary reliance is worry that turns to worship.  Desire God/worship God first and then God will care for all that you were worried about in his way and in his time.

It is revolutionary to turn to God and trust when everyone around you is running to control all that they are worrying about.  Stand apart!  Don’t act as if you don’t know God.

Here’s the challenge.  It does not come naturally to trust God.  It takes practice.  To Jesus worry vanishes only when two things happen.

First worry dissipates in the context of a growing relationship with God.  Seek first his righteousness.  Seek the transformation of a new life in Jesus.  When we are in a deepening and daily relationship with God it becomes easier to trust; easier to release what is on our mind to God.  Daily worship; daily Scripture; daily prayer; daily relationship with other people who are walking with God.  When God is close; worry is far away.  When God is close the things we worry about don’t seem so large.  Worship and desire God and worry is transformed into faith.

Second, an undivided focus on God’s purpose removes worry from the picture.  The pagans run after their own purposes.  God’s people run after what God prioritizes.  So when you are focused on God’s call and purposes – making disciples, transforming the world; God takes care of everything else.  This is revolutionary.  I will live for God and trust that God will take care of everything.  If we focus on problems, we are consumed with self and worry.  When we focus on God’s will, the worry goes away.  That’s discipline, isn’t it?

Conclude – 1Kings 17:7-16

Generosity

revolution

John Wesley preached a lot about money. And with probably the highest earned income in England, he had the opportunities to put his ideas into practice. What did he say about money? And what did he do with his own?

John Wesley knew poverty as a child. His father, Samuel Wesley, was the Anglican priest in one of England’s lowest-paying parishes. He had nine children to support and was rarely out of debt. Once John saw his father being marched off to debtors’ prison. So when John followed his father into the ministry, he had no illusions about the financial rewards.

It probably came as a surprise to John Wesley that while God had called him to follow his father’s vocation, he had not called him to be poor like his father. Instead of being a parish priest, John felt God’s direction to teach at Oxford University. There he was elected a fellow of Lincoln College, and his financial status changed dramatically. His position usually paid him at least thirty pounds a year, more than enough money for a single man to live on. John seems to have enjoyed his relative prosperity.

While at Oxford, an incident changed his perspective on money. He had just finished paying for some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a cold winter day, and he noticed that she had nothing to protect her except a thin linen gown. He reached into his pocket to give her some money to buy a coat but found he had too little left. Immediately, the thought struck him that God was not pleased with the way he had spent his money. He asked himself, Will thy Master say, “Well done, good and faithful steward?” Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money which might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?

This has always been one of those stories which convicts me of my own habits of generosity. 

Without fear, Jesus easily approaches the subject of generosity and giving as revolutionary outcomes of a life transformed by God.  Jesus connects a person’s righteousness with generosity.  Righteousness is a significant word here in the Sermon on the Mount.  In Mt. 5:20 Jesus says, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees…you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”  When it comes to generosity there are high standards; but are the standards based upon quantity or character? 

How did the Pharisees express their generosity?  (v.2)  They loved to be noticed and honored for their greatness in giving.  Some historical evidence suggests that that the boxes used to collect money in the Temple were in the shape of a twisted ram’s horn (shofar).  Money was inserted at the top of the box – the large opening of the trumpet and roll down through the horn and fall into the box.  If someone wanted to make a spectacle of themselves they would slowly drop their offering, one coin at a time, through the trumpet and the coins would rattle all the way down – sounding the trumpet.  And so they would receive the praise of people.  They would appear very righteous for their giving.  And so Jesus says to his followers who are now part of the Kingdom of God that their righteousness must surpass the Pharisees.  What’s he mean?  Because in 6:1, Jesus says “be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others.”  Let’s look at this word “righteous.” 

Righteous is a theological word.  Righteous literally means “to be made right.”  And what that implies is that somewhere along the way persons were not right; people were wrong (sinful).  You and I were out of relationship with God; the primary lifestyle of the person who is out of a relationship with God is selfishness.  The person out of relationship with God likes to call attention to themselves; look good; self-centered.  Does that sound like anyone in the Scripture today?  Often they are self-righteous.  But Jesus/Scripture describe righteousness differently.  In Scripture righteousness is being made right in the eyes of God.  Righteousness is about forgiveness of sin; about rebirth; about a life that is lived in God and for God. 

Righteousness does not originate from within you.  Righteousness happens when we are made brand new by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Righteousness suggests that the Spirit of God is living in and through you.  And righteousness will affect generosity.  In fact my generosity flows from God’s righteousness.   As God lives through me, God will reveal his generosity through my life.  And my righteousness will surpass self-centeredness or personal reward. 

Rather than sounding trumpets to announce how great and generous I am a revolutionary generosity initiated by relationship with God is done for an audience of one.  Any righteous generosity is never for our glory but for the glory of God.  Revolutionary generosity is an attitude of the heart.  Is our generosity done simply to receive attention from other people or are we generous to bring honor and glory to God?  For Jesus, that is the righteousness which surpasses the righteousness of the Pharisees. 

If you think this problem was only about the Pharisees, lets take a look at Acts 5:1-5 (Ananias/Sapphira).  The problem wasn’t that Ananias and Sapphira kept back a portion of the sale for themselves – there was nothing wrong with that.  The land was his possession.  He could do with it what he wanted.  He was his decision regarding what, if any, to give.  The problem was that they had lied about the amount they received for the sale of the land.  They tried to make others believe that they were giving ALL they had received in the sale.  And Sapphira colluded.  Wrong motive – they were trying to look righteous and receive honor and applause.  And their relationship with the community of faith died.

The Church must come to understand generosity and giving in light of a life made right with God.  The death and resurrection of Jesus frees God’s people to practice revolutionary generosity.  A generosity deeply connected with our relationship to God in Jesus.

What we believe about God will ultimately determine what my generosity looks like.  If I believe that God has blessed me and that my wealth must first honor God – then I will be a generous person.  But if I believe that what I have earned is mine and should be used for my own pleasure that is what will be reflected in my life. 

The question of revolutionary generosity is never “what is my fair share?”  The question is always a question of righteousness.  If God has changed my life and if I belong to Jesus and his Kingdom – how can all that I have be used to honor God and save souls?