Partnership

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

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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?

Marriage and Divorce

revolution

This morning, I’d like us to work through a very difficult subject – marriage and divorce.  Marriage is probably one of the hardest things we do in life.  There are obvious challenges; ups and downs.  Divorce has affected some of the people that we love the most; even yourselves.  I’d like us to walk through these subjects from a “red-letter” perspective.  What did Jesus say about marriage and divorce and why is Jesus perspective on marriage and divorce so revolutionary?  And as Jesus followers – disciples with undiluted devotion to Jesus – how do we make Jesus’ worldview our own?

Jesus openly speaks about sex and the sexual lifestyle of disciples.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus starts this conversation but in Matthew 19 he goes deeper in response to being tested and backed into a corner by the religious leaders.

In the third verse the Bible states, “Some Pharisees …” (which means very religious people), “…came to Jesus to test him. They asked is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” The Pharisees were referring to SLIDE  Deuteronomy 24:1. “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce…then he is able to send her away with a certificate of divorce.”  Jesus doesn’t stop at Deuteronomy. He goes all the way past Deuteronomy to Genesis, stating God’s original intent for marriage. In Matthew 19:8, Jesus states, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard but it was not this way from the beginning.”

The Bible is descriptive. It reveals the consequence—the brokenness of sin.  When Jesus says in Matthew 19:4, “Haven’t you read…,” he’s quoting right out of Genesis, “…that at the beginning, God made them male and female…”

Have you ever heard the expression, “Opposites attract?” There’s a good reason for that saying—it is God’s design for us. He created counter-balance. A lot of what frustrates us in marriage is the other person’s counter to what we need in our lives, creating the tension for God to make us holy.  We are only holy (whole) in the image of Christ.

What we see in marriage is that as males, we don’t try to be females, and as females, we don’t try to be males. God made us unique and different. There is to be a creative, collaborative counterbalance to one another making us the people God wants us to be.

In Genesis 2:18 we’re told that it’s not good for man to be alone, so God created a helper. When I really looked at the Hebrew meaning of the word, helper, what it does not mean is subservient—that she’s in my life to do my laundry and cook my food. Listen up men, this is going to get you because it got me…it means, “A stronger one coming along to help the weaker one.” Helper does not mean someone that is subservient, rather someone who is stronger—not in physical strength, but as someone who helps us to be stronger than we would be alone

As we recall Jesus teaching the Pharisees, in Genesis 1:27, it says, “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them. Male and Female he created them.” Together, we are a visible expression of God’s love. Without Melissa, I’m only half a picture of God’s love. She brings the other half of the picture and together we represent a visible expression of his love.

In marriage, we can see how we are supposed to be a creative counter balance in each other’s lives. Your spouse is not there to make you happy; but holy.  Together, we are the demonstration of God’s visible love. Marriage is this relationship that’s based on a deep, mutual respect and trust.

Going back to the Pharisees’ question about divorce, Jesus explains he’s not about divorce. He’s about bringing marriage back together. There were two schools of thought in Judaism (always directed to men).  Hillel, the rabbi, said you could divorce your wife for any reason. If she ticks you off because she burns breakfast that is enough to write a certificate of divorce. Shemaiah held the other school of thought. He said the only reason you could get a divorce is for marital infidelity. What is the intention of God? Jesus says, “Haven’t you read?” In other words, for Jesus, the authority for all things including marriage is the word of God.

As Christ followers, we make the Bible our authority for life. Jesus said, “Haven’t you read that in the beginning the creator made them male and female and said for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one, therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

You see marriage is more than a social contract. It is a God-union. Christ followers have a different standard of marriage. We believe marriage reveals the very nature of Christ and His love for the church.  Whether we know it at the time or not, when we make those vows, it is something God creates and joined together. What God joins together human beings do not have the power to separate. Divorce was never in God’s created design. I can put it this way: Divorce was never in the mind of God. God never thought of divorce. Go to the last book of the Old Testament,  Malachi 2:10. Our covenant with God depends on our covenant with each other, as demonstrated through marriage. It says, “Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?”

My faithfulness or unfaithfulness in my relationship with Melissa in this oneness which God created is one with my covenant–my faithfulness with God who made it. It is not Melissa and I who made a social contract. Marriage is a God connection…a God union…what God has joined together.

When I break covenant with her, I break covenant with God.

My covenant relationship with God is dependent on my covenant relationship with Melissa.

This may be hard to hear, but we have to look at what God says. We must acknowledge God as the authority for our understanding of marriage before we ever get into the issue of divorce. Divorce should be almost non-existent among God’s people. Recognize I said almost…we will get to that in a few minutes.

Marriage is not a social contract. It is a God union. You belong to each other in body and spirit. In other words, it is impossible to separate the physical from the spiritual. Sexual intimacy needs to occur within the bounds of a marriage relationship because you cannot separate spiritual from physical. There is no such thing as casual sex. God has made us one.

God demonstrates his unfailing love for you and I through the healthy experience of a man and woman created in his own image who demonstrates relentless and unfailing commitment to each other.  Marriage is sacred and must not be betrayed or violated.  Marriage reflects the Lordship of Jesus.  We were bought at a price. He paid for us on the cross. We can’t take that lightly. When Jesus says he is Lord, we need to answer “yes” even if we disagree or don’t understand. Jesus as Lord knows what is best for us. His word is given as our guidance, protection and provision.

So Jesus prioritizes marriage between one man and one woman as a sacred covenantal relationship which must be taken seriously in light of the lordship of Jesus.  But Jesus goes further.  Matthew 19:7, Jesus said, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.” Then the Pharisees said, “Why did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”  In the Bible, we have both – that divorce is nowhere in God’s plan, that God hates divorce, but we also know that a prophet of God permitted divorce. Why do we see that?

Moses permitted divorce because of hardness of heart. In the beginning, it was not this way. “Anyone who divorces his wife except for sexual immorality and marries another woman commits adultery.” That is hard, so let’s break it down. The health of marriage depends on the commitment of both persons – “What God has joined together.”

When one is committed and the other is not committed that is called hardness of heart. It takes two parties to sustain a healthy relationship.  Jesus makes the case that sexual immorality does not necessarily equate divorce. Only when there is a lack of forgiveness of either party is that considered hardness of heart. Saying you are sorry is not the same is saying you repent. Repentance is change of direction. If one party continues to practice infidelity that is considered hardness of heart. Hardness of heart is destructive and murderous to any relationship. What does this hardness of heart look like?

Adultery–when we forget we are human beings and our most important sexual organ is our mind. We are different from animals because we have the ability to make choices and keep promises. Adultery means falling back to live out passions and wants, instead of living out the image of God. Adultery is broken trust. It can be healed and the relationship can be restored.

Abuse–hardness of heart. I want to say this: So many times I see a person stay in an abusive marriage because he or she knows God hates divorce, but God hates something more than divorce and that is hardness of heart. Abuse can be verbal, physical or spiritual–all are destructive.

Hardness of heart occurs when there is no repentance, no equal respect and no honoring the image of God in the other person. Even though God hates divorce, he allows divorce because he desires the preservation and health of the person being abused.

True to form, Jesus speaks Kingdom of God values and lifestyle into a world and lives that are broken.  These are hard words.  Jesus doesn’t pull punches.  He is more interested in changing our hearts and aligning our lives with his.  How would our relationships change if we were obedient to what Jesus said?

Forgiveness

Have you ever noticed how when people are angry, things tend to get broken.  As teenagers, my brother and I got into a fight after school when our parents weren’t home.  I ended up pushing him through the living room wall.

In anger: someone throws a punch and a nose gets broken.  In anger one nation lashes out against another and a pact or a treaty gets broken. Use angry words and perhaps a heart gets broken…relationships get broken.  Jesus talks very plainly about anger and relationships between Kingdom of God people in His the Sermon on the Mount.

revolution

Remember as we began last week, we were reminded that for the first 300 years of the church many Christians died because of their faith.  Christians refused to bow to Caesar (LORD).  Penalty for claiming Jesus as Lord. Christians refused to submit to things that conflicted with Jesus’ authority.  Would you have come here today if this was illegal and you could be arrested for being here?  Or lose your job for being here.  That’s how radical the Gospel was.  Then in 313AD Constantine legalized Christianity and it became comfortable and easy to be Christian.  Anytime Christianity is easy or comfortable it has not be good.  The revolutionary Gospel became civilized and the radical Jesus became tame and domesticated and the movement of Christianity became institutionalized.

Today, we are going to begin looking specifically at Jesus’ teaching as radical and revolutionary words that challenge our worldview and our lifestyles.  As a disciple with undiluted devotion to Jesus, his words will need to become our actions.

In Matthew 5:20, He tells us that our righteousness needs to surpass that of those who look perfect on the outside. Because far from being satisfied with good appearances, God is looking for hearts that have been changed.
It’s safe to say that the average person would consider themselves to have a good heart. You know to be a basically good person. A common line of reasoning that exists today in determining if we are good sounds something like this – “Well, I know I’m not perfect, but at least I’m not a murderer!”  As if murder is the line between good and bad – perhaps also assuming that murder is the point of no return. Once a person commits murder, they can never be considered a good person ever again. That’s actually a very ancient way of thinking. Because that appears to be exactly what some thought about what it meant to be a good person in Jesus day. I’m basically a good person. I haven’t murdered anyone.

So Jesus starts out by saying…“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder.’” (That’s in the OT. That’s commandment number 6 of the 10 Commandments. Do not murder…)  And… (now here’s the oral tradition part) “…anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” That’s what had been handed down for years. If you murder, you are subject to judgment – in other words, you would be brought before the local courts.

The crowd on the mountain with Jesus would have been as familiar with that statement as they were with the simple command – “Do not murder.”

So here is what Jesus says…“But I tell you, that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (v. 21)  That is…worthy of the same consequence as murder.  Jesus equates angry thoughts with murder!

Not all anger is bad – even Jesus got angry when people were having obstacles put in the way of their coming to God at the Temple; the Bible teaches about the wrath of God.

But Jesus says, we shouldn’t even allow ourselves to become angry enough to consider harming someone in any way (feelings too), because then we’ve already committed murder in our hearts.  In verse 22 Jesus says, “Again anyone who says to his brother ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin.”  “Raca” – an expression of contempt.  Raca – means “emtpy head; imbecile.”

The word may have originated from the sound a person makes in clearing the throat in preparation to spit. Rrraaaacah! That’s what I think of you!  It’s meant to cast someone aside – like spitting on them – and saying you don’t belong. Sometimes these words hurt so bad that murder would almost be a mercy.

“But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”  “Fool” was an expression of malice.  It is moros or where we get our English word “moron.”  It was used to call people godless.
The Pharisees would never commit murder. Yet they were angry enough at Jesus to have him killed. But they got someone else to do it. Keeping the rules – but overlooking the intentions.

Hateful words spoken in anger are treated like a crime – specifically murder – in God’s eyes.

A kingdom heart is a heart of love and doesn’t just want to get by with the rules, and say, “Well, at least I’ve never killed anyone.”

And then, here is where Jesus gets radical and revolutionary.  He turns living upside down:  23“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Right then you remember – someone is angry with me. I am at odds with someone. My actions have knowingly hurt someone else. Jesus says, go! Settle matters – now! He says it is far more important to be reconciled to someone than it is to engage in religious activity.  Worship becomes a sham if we’ve behaved so poorly prior to coming to worship that we’ve knowing hurt someone.  So settle things before attempting to worship.

One of the times that I will often get frustrated with Christians is when I hear them say something like this: “I just can’t forgive…you don’t know how badly they hurt me. I’ll be angry at them until the day I die.”  In my head I’m screaming – what do you mean can’t forgive – Jesus said to forgive; he died to forgive you.  But those words usually never make it past my lips.  But it’s true.  Reconciliation is revolutionary.  Reconciliation and forgiveness are radical moves that must be modeled in the kingdom of God because they are certainly not modeled elsewhere.

It’s easy to hate; to destroy; to slander someone.  It’s easy to stay angry and believe you have the upper hand.  It’s harder to forgive and to heal relationships.  But that’s exactly what Jesus says separates kingdom people from everyone else.  Whenever you forgive and whenever you take the steps to reconcile a broken relationship – there is the radical kingdom of God.  What if Jesus really meant what he said?