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.


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.

ONE Culture (Part 3)

I think many of us have had one of those moments in life when we asked the question, “now what?” You lost a business or a job and the question on your mind is “now what?” How do I provide? Or you lost a spouse and you’re wondering now what? How do I move forward? You get a diagnosis that will change your life and your future – now what? But the other side of the question is just a challenging. I just met the man or woman of my dreams – now what? I just got the best promotion I could ever hope for – now what?

oneFor a lot of us we asked now what when your kids were born. Right? I remember this like yesterday even though it was almost seventeen years ago. Our son was about to be born. Melissa says “it’s time.” We rush to the hospital. The hospital takes such good care of you; they make you so comfortable; it’s so easy – especially for the guys! Caleb was born and they take great care of him. He’s bathed, fed, kept in the room with mom. There’s great instruction about caring for him. The staff is there to teach us. Finally the day comes to go home. I pull the car around to the hospital entrance. The nurse brings Melissa and Caleb down to the entrance. Melissa gets in the car and the nurse hands me Caleb. And I look at her; like what do you expect me to do with him? You’ve taken care of him. Can you help me put him in the car? Why are you handing him to me I don’t know what I’m doing? And she says this is as far as I go; it’s up to you now. And I’m left with this sense of now what?

Have you been there? What do we do next? Now what? I think this is also a very fair question to ask when it comes to following Jesus. Now what? What do I do now? I’ve said yes to following Jesus; I’m going to church – but now what? What comes next? Is it just about showing up and sitting in a row or putting some money in the offering plate? Is it just about religion and ritual? What’s next? What should I do? Important questions.

When we start to read the NT we very quickly see that God has an answer the question, what now? The NT’s answer is a word called “maturity.” Read Ephesians 4:11-13.

Maturity is about growing in an intimate and passionate relationship with Jesus. Growth is a part of life. Things that are healthy will always grow. I don’t need to make my kids grow in size – I have no control over that – if they are healthy they will grow. And we watch kids grow through stages right? Newborn – sit up or crawl or eat solid foods – potty trained – walking – riding the bike – puberty – boyfriends and girlfriends – driving – leaving for college, marriage. We watch growth happen in front of our eyes every day. Healthy things will grow.

Just after Thanksgiving I joined the gym and hired a trainer. I was growing but in all the wrong places! I’ve joined gyms before – but always quit. I’ve never hired a trainer – and she won’t let me quit. She pushes me to grow. So I tell you what, most days of the week I hurt; I’m sore. But what’s happening? My muscles are growing; my endurance is growing – I’m becoming healthier and growing.

Growth (maturity) is a natural part of life. Even in our relationship with Jesus. But here’s something we don’t often think about –to become mature requires engaging in an intentional process of discipleship. A mature, healthy relationship will not happen by accident. Growth in relationship will happen when we’re intentional about it. My marriage will be stronger when Melissa and I are intentional about doing the things that make it stronger. The same is true is our relationship with Jesus.

Let me give you a definition of what maturity looks like. Hold onto this definition – it’s what we will use to see if growth is happening or not. A disciple is a follower of Jesus whose life is centering on loving God and loving others.

A spiritually mature person is someone who lives as if God is who he says he is and will do all he has promised to do.

What now? The answer to what now as least as far as our relationship with God is – maturity – intentional discipleship- a life that centering on loving God and loving others.

We will be intentional about creating a culture of discipleship; a environment where maturity is expected and can happen in positive ways.

So what does this mean? What will maturity look like? How will we know we’re growing in our relationship with Jesus? Paul has a vision of this. His vision was to birth, cultivate and mobilize disciples. So let’s see what Scripture says about maturity and growth.

So here’s the first fill in the blank when we talk about maturity and being a disciple of Jesus – Bring. That seems strange. What does “bring” have to do with maturity and being a disciple? Well, let’s see what Paul means – Read 4:12.

There’s a couple of things really important about this verse. “To equip his people for the work of ministry…” Maturity is about being equipped for something – this work of ministry. Well what is the “work of ministry?” In what we call the Great Commission Jesus said – here is what the people of God do and nothing else – make disciples. So the work of ministry is to invite people who don’t know Jesus to follow him and become his disciples, too, just like you are. What’s the rest of that sentence? “So that the body of Christ may be built up.”

Building up pictures a building under construction, but Paul uses it here with the body of Christ, where the analogy would be physical growth. This includes both adding new members to the body and seeing all of the members growing spiritually as they come to know God and His Word in deeper ways. We read in the early chapters of READ Acts how “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (2:47).

So when we talk about maturity and about being a disciple – a significant part of being a mature disciple means brining or inviting those who don’t know Jesus yet into an environment where they can begin to follow Jesus, too. It’s about invitation to come and see. Come and see who Jesus is and how Jesus transforms our living.

I wish all of you could have been at the church family meeting last Sunday. I’m very proud and appreciate the leadership of your church council. Your leaders have a pretty clear picture of where we’re going as a church in this community. One of the things that we talked about was our position in the portion of Millcreek Township. Did you know that there are 91,000 people within 5 miles around this building who are disconnected from God? So because we understand that a part of being a mature disciple of Jesus is bringing/inviting people into a relationship with Jesus, where asking ourselves the question, “how is God calling us to reconnect with this community in a new way that helps a portion of 91,000 get to know Jesus and follow him?” How can we bring/invite someone else to follow Jesus?

I love the heart of God. I was 16 years old when someone took the time to invite me to follow Jesus. That moment changed my life. And Jesus welcomed me into a relationship with himself. A 16 year old kid who did not have it figured out; who felt every far from God; who was looking for purpose and life. And Jesus stepped into my life and invited me to follow him. What would have happened if I was never invited to come and see and determine for myself is I should follow Jesus?

Who invited you to follow Jesus? Who invited you to come and see? That person changed your life. When we talk about being a mature disciple – we must include a very real conversation about what it means to be a church that intentionally, systematically and cheerfully creates an atmosphere to bring/invite.

Here’s the second word – Grow. This is word that’s easier for many of you to understand, because you are all about personal growth. And growth is critical for being a mature disciple. When we talk about growing we talk about it in language that connects head and heart. Paul says it this way – read 4:13. Unity of the faith is about doctrine and truth- it has to do with head. Disciples will understand basic Christian doctrine and a Biblical worldview. We’ll be unified on the basics of Christian theology. But then Paul goes deeper – knowledge of Son of God. When the Bible uses this word “knowing” or “knowledge” it’s not head knowledge – it’s heart knowledge – it’s intimacy. Not knowing about Jesus but knowing him personally and intimately.

So growing as a disciple and moving to maturity is certainly about head knowledge – we should be learning deeply and be able to communicate who God is. But growth never ends at head knowledge. Head knowledge must change a disciple’s heart. Read Colossians. The more deeply we know God, the more deeply we are transformed. Our lives line up with God. We become just like Jesus.

So when we talk about discipleship and maturity we’re beginning to see that it includes bringing/inviting people to come and see Jesus and to intellectually engage with Jesus and the Bible in a safe place and allow Jesus to get to our hearts. I believe that the local church has the potential to a seminary – a training place for disciples of Jesus. I believe this so much that we’ve created a school of discipleship for us to participate in and take those next right steps of discipleship/maturity which includes discovering our mission. Spiritual maturity, our ministry and our mission. We’ve added a thorough class called Invitation which equips us to see what God is doing through the Bible.

Here’s the final fill in: Send. Read 4:13. Maturity is not an end to itself. Discipleship/maturity occurs so that a disciple is empowered for mission and ministry in Millcreek township; Erie county; PA and the world. A disciple is empowered/trained to “go and tell.” To change the world for Jesus.

Paul talks about this using the language “the fullness of Christ.” To be growing to allow Jesus to fully live in our lives. The church in the world is Jesus in the world; because the church is the fullness of his incarnate body.

So as disciples we are sent as missionaries of Jesus into our jobs, our neighborhood, our family, our favorite restaurant or circle of influence. Maturing, growing disciples are missionaries. In any place we find ourselves we reflect Jesus and invite someone else to get to know Jesus, too.

So now what? When we talk about having ONE Culture – we have choices. We can have a culture where we come and sit in rows and engage in ritual/religion and feel good together. Or we can have a culture in which as the family of God we’re inviting our community to come and get to know Jesus, grow in a knowledge and intimacy of Jesus and be sent into our community to invite more people to follow Jesus.

So here’s our take away this week. I want you to know that you don’t need to be a Bible scholar, the best person in the world, the best parent in the world; but I can invite someone. I can say, come and see. Something special happens when people who are far from God, get together with people who are following Jesus, something special happens. Some of you get this because you’re here because someone invited you.

Let’s practice this; “You should come to my church this Sunday.” Just invite. You’re over hearing a conversation. – You should come to my church this Sunday.

We have no idea how important an invitation could be for someone. You have no idea what hangs in the balance. You have the power to change the trajectory of someone’s life. Simply by inviting.

One Vision (Part 2)

Have you ever had someone in your life and you really, really wanted a deeper relationship with them? You wanted to take that relationship a level deeper and they just wouldn’t go there with you? Maybe back in high school or college and there was this person and you were really falling for them and they were not falling for you. You keep trying to get the relationship to go to a deeper place and they just won’t cooperate. They’re polite and kind about it but they’re distant.one

Or maybe you have adult children and you made some mistakes with them in the past and now you’re trying to reconnect with them. And you don’t just want to have Christmas and Easter with them or just send cards occasionally – you want to have this deeper connection where you’re friends and transparent and you’ve got a deep relationship. And no matter how hard you try, they’re just not going to let you in. They’re not going to let the relationship go to where you want it to go. Or perhaps it’s the other way around and you’re trying to connect with your parents. Maybe your parents were divorced and you grew up with mom or dad and now you’re trying to have a deeper relationship with your other parent and they want nothing to do with it. Everybody is kind and everybody is polite but everybody is a little distant.

You want so badly for the relationship to go somewhere else but there’s just nothing you can do to get it there. Maybe it’s your marriage. That’s the toughest one. Things used to be great. Things used to be intimate – you were like best friends hanging out. And over time something happened and you want that kind of relationship with your husband or wife but it’s kind of like they just checked out. They’re polite. They’re kind. But distant. And you get so frustrated and you try everything you know how to do to bring them into that intimacy that you want. But they just won’t go there.

Have you ever been in any kind of relationship where you wanted to go deeper than it actually ever goes? Isn’t it frustrating because there’s nothing you can do to force somebody to go with you to that level of relationship where it is so comfortable and you are so transparent and you relax and you enjoy being with them?

Now this might be hard for you to believe; it might take a long time for this to get to your heart; and as I’ve lived in some of these sorts of relationships; and as I prepared for today, the prayer I have for myself is God, help this get from here to here.

Believe it not, throughout the whole Bible we are presented with God as one who desires with all of his heart to have an intimate relationship with his creation but time and time again creation stiff arms him and is polite and generally and casually respectful but refuses to go the level of relationship that God desires and has paved the way for us to have. God is pictured in the Bible as a father who wants to have relationship with his son and his son says “I’m going to go do my own thing” and it’s the story of the Prodigal Son and the father waits and waits and waits because he loves his son so much and the son says “no I’m going to do my own thing” and the father never gives up.

He’s presented as a shepherd who loves the sheep but the sheep decide they’re just going to go do their own thing and it breaks the shepherd’s heart.

We see him in the Garden of Eden, the creator God whose creation has turned their back on him. And we see a God who wonders around the garden calling out for his creation – the relationships been broken and he longs for it to be the way it used to be.

From cover to cover the Bible shows us that your heavenly father desires a relationship with you that is not casual and is not distant and isn’t just respectful and isn’t based around a holiday or an environment where you just show up and sit in a row. Throughout Scripture your heavenly Father desires a relationship that is characterized with intimacy. And yet, for reasons we’ll talk about in a few minutes, we treat him respectfully but casually not intimately.

If you have your Bibles, or use your message notes; I want to read a few verse with you. They’re found in Revelation. The book of Revelation was written by John. John was one of Jesus’ first disciples – they hung out together. In the beginning of the book of Revelation, John communicates by writing seven short little letters to some churches. And these letters are essentially God’s word to each of these churches as God wants to say some specific things. So these words were written to a specific church/area called Laodicea. They were written to Christian people in a Christian church yet they reflect the fact that you can be very religious and you can be a believer in God yet have developed a perspective that keeps God at arm’s length. You’re going to be respectful, because after all, it’s God. But you’re not going to let him go with you to a level of relationship that he wants. Read Revelation 3:15. Things aren’t as well as you think they are. Read Revelation 3:20. You’ve got some stuff going on – but here I am. I know you’re busy and you’ve got programs and committees and Bible studies but here I am. But I stand outside the door and knock.

But you’d think like he’d huff and puff and blow the house down if you’re God – what are you doing knocking? Just go in and have your way with them. Jesus says, no I’m just going to knock.

All of sudden we’re introduced to a concept – this thing that sets Christianity apart from every other religion, that our God who invites us to call him Father says this: “with all my power and with all my ability, there is one thing that I cannot do. And it is the one thing I desire the most. I can make you obey me. I can make you fear me. But I cannot make you love me.”

I can threaten you. I can take your children. I can take your finances. I can take your health. I can take things from you. I can give things to you. But I cannot make you love me. Throughout Scripture we see God searching for the very thing he paid such a high price for. He’s searching for the relationship that he had at the beginning. It’s a relationship characterized by the word “intimacy.” But because he can’t force you to love him, he’s standing on the outside saying, “I want in.” I don’t want in like talk about me, believe in me. I want in like a relationship that only you can allow me to have with you. Because I can’t force you to love me. So sometimes as Christians, we have opted for something second. Instead of relationship characterized by intimacy we’ve opted for religion.

Religion is a response to God that allows us to treat God respectfully but not intimately. As some of us have learned, religion is a very empty thing but it’s a substitute for what God ultimately wants. And when you’re committed to religion as opposed to the real thing, God becomes a formula. And you all know the formula – go to church (check), read your Bible (check), say your prayers (check), pray at the meal (check) and if you sin you pray “dear lord please forgive me of my sins in Jesus name, amen.” And then God gets out his eraser and erases all the sin and then zaps his memory so that he can’t remember them anymore. And then I go out and sin a whole bunch more and repeat the formula and the angels whisper ssh, God’s forgotten that. Kind of like an old guy who can’t remember anything.

So in the formula we can be respectful of God but there’s no intimacy. It’s a relationship of ritual and you know what happens eventually to religious people, God becomes someone who just does stuff for me and I become very self-centered; religious people are very self-centered; it’s not about God it’s really about me. It’s about finding the right combination of how I can get God to do for me what I want God to do for me. How do I throw God a bone every once in a while so I can get God to do my bidding? And I would never say that because that would be disrespectful and I don’t want to be disrespectful but I don’t want this whole thing to get too close.

That’s religion. It’s a formula. It’s a way to get God in on my deal and eventually you become judgmental. You become judgmental because you decide that God likes certain things and doesn’t like certain things and when you see people doing things you’ve decided God doesn’t like, then you don’t like them because they’re ungodly.

Sometimes you want to do the things they’re doing so you just hate them. If you weren’t religious you get to do some of that stuff too. So if I’m religious that just doesn’t work – I’m empty and if I’m not religious then I just have guilt and no place to go with my guilt. What am I to do?

Religion is not about love, religion is about harnessing the power of God for me. It’s trying to get God to do something for me. Here’s what Jesus said about some religious people. Read John 16. Jesus says this is where religion goes. This is why it is so dangerous. They will do such things because they have not known the father or me. Not believed but have not known.

There’s no relationship. There’s all kinds of general belief. All kinds of respect. But you don’t know the father. That means the father is a stranger to you. And over time you become a stranger to his ways. And then when things don’t do the way you think they ought to go if there was a God then you get all upset with God who you never knew anyway. Because if there were really a God the way I think there were a God then everything would’ve gone my way.

And when things fall apart you wonder why wasn’t God there and God’s like – you didn’t know me because if you knew me you wouldn’t have done that – you would have never asked her; if you’d have known me you never would have gone; if you had known me you never would have signed; don’t blame me, you don’t even know me. You’re respectful but you don’t know me.

If you don’t know God you’re a stranger to his ways. And if you stranger to God guess what else you’re a stranger too – you become a stranger to God’s love. And when you’re a stranger to God’s love here’s how you view God – God wants me to perform my way into his good graces. And God’s really excited when I sit in a row and put up with a 40 minute sermon. He’s so excited about that. You become a stranger to God’s love and you think the whole thing is about performing your way into his good graces and perhaps performing your way into heaven and you hope you’re a good person. You know why you think that? You are a stranger to God’s love.

Years ago the priority of Christ church was established that said we want intimacy with God – not religion but intimacy. A passionate connection with God. That’s what we stand for – that’s what we would die for – that’s what we want so desperately to have not just for ourselves but for everyone.

We don’t want to become a religious institution. We want to be men and women not on a religious pursuit but one a passionate pursuit to connect with God at the level he’s invited us to connect with him on – intimacy. You know what that means? Intimacy with God is lot like intimacy with a person.

There are several things that happen: it takes time. Unrushed, unstructured, I’m just hanging out sitting with you, time. Some of you here that was your story – when I got alone with God, when I opened God’s word, when I would pray, it was like a breath of fresh air. God was no stranger. There was intimacy. Then things got busy and now I just go to church. And instead of intimacy, I just serve. And instead of this being personal, it’s gotten kind of corporate. And there’s no intimacy. Because I quit giving God time. You can’t have an intimate relationship with anybody where there is no time.

It will also take transparency. This might be new for you. You see if you and I are going to have a real deep relationship we’ve got to be connected. We can’t talk to each other in formulas. It means we’ll have to stop being so polite with God. Honesty. God already knows. Where’s there’s transparency, there’s intimacy. You get the good, the bad and the ugly. And if you accept that from the other person you’ve got a relationship that enviable. Prayer some R-rated prayers, pour out your heart. Listen, he sent his son to die for you so that you could have intimacy with him. How dishonoring is it to keep him at arm’s length and be respectful but no intimate. That leads to third thing for intimacy to happen and this is why we run away from it and towards religion.

There’s got to be submission. This may be the take away for you. Submission is the most powerful relationship dynamic in the world. Mutual submission. I’m going to harness all of my abilities and talents for your best interest. And you’re going to harness all of your abilities and talents for my best interest. And you put two people together or a person and God and you have intimacy. When both parties are committed to mutual submission you go deep. But the idea of submitting to God scares us to death is because we do not know the Father. And we run to religion to keep him at arm’s length.

Mutual submission makes all the difference. And here’s the thing, God has already made the first step. When Jesus died on the cross for you; before you were born; before you said your first prayer; before you did anything – your savior died for you. And in doing so here’s what God said, “I’m going first and submit myself to you. I’m going to put you ahead of me. I’m going to be more concerned about your sin than my glory. I’m going to be more concerned about your sin, your life and your eternity, than I am about my comfort. I’m going to submit to you as an invitation for you to submit to me.”

When we submit ourselves to that kind of relationship something will happen that will take you far outside of ritual and religion.

What are we so afraid of? I’m with you. I’m learning. If I surrender to God, he’s going to huff and puff…no, no, no. Listen God (knocks) I want you to love me. I don’t want you to just be respectful and polite. I want you to love me. I just don’t want you to show up and sit in a row; or perform your way to me; I want intimacy. We don’t need to fear that because God has already surrendered to us. That’s way different than religion but it is what God desires and he cannot and will not force that. He’ll stand at the door and knock.

You know what I want from my children? I don’t want them to use me. I don’t want to be the bank. I can tell when my kids are playing me. I can tell when they want something. But you what really lights me up? When they say, “dad can I talk to you about something?” or “dad can I have a hug?”

If I can tell when my kids are playing me, do you not think that your heavenly father knows when you are playing him? But he wants you to love him and he cannot force that but he has done everything in the world to pave the way for that kind of relationship.

Listen to how John finishes this little letter to these folks in Laodicea. Read Revelation 3:20. (beat the living daylights out of you for making me stand out here so long!) That’s what we fear. It’s not because he can’t get in. It’s because he wants something more than to be in. He wants you to invite him in.

So Jesus says, “Here I am.” Your move! Here I am. Not religion. Your move. I want intimacy with you. It’ll change your life.

ONE Church (Part 1)

I thought we’d start off this new year on a good foundation – the foundation of what it means to be the church. To be part of a covenant community. When we talk about church, invariably what happens is that everyone has opinions about church. Those opinions are usually based on what a church does or doesn’t do. I like this/I don’t like that. Or, can you believe what that preacher did! I want to suggest to you that those are not appropriate conversations about church. Those conversations start from “me” instead of from Jesus. So what we’re going to do is build a strong ecclesiology. Ecclesiology is the study of the church. Who is the church and why does the church exist? We’re going to start deep this year. We’re not playing the shallow end. We’re jumping off the diving board into the deep end.


In Ephesians 1-3 the Apostle Paul has described what God has done in bringing believing Jews and Gentile into one body in Jesus Christ, he says in 2:14 – that Jesus has made two groups of people one; and that in chapters 4-6 he’s now going to tell us how we ought to live in that one body – that oneness; so that the first three chapters of Ephesians are about what God has done and who we in fact are in Jesus Christ and the second three chapters, chapters 4-6, are about what we ought to do because we are God’s people in Jesus Christ.

Now, in Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul gets radical and says that we are to preserve the unity that the Spirit has given us, so that the Apostle is calling on us in the life of the church to preserve and to cultivate a unity, a communion with one another, that the Spirit has already given us.  And it’s an amazing statement. He says you have a unity that has been given you by the Spirit. If you’re a follower of Jesus, you have been given a spiritual unity with every other follower of Jesus, and that spiritual unity is especially expressed in the local body of believers, in the local church.  Do you know what God’s favorite word is? God’s favorite word is: ONE. Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear O, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  This is foundational to what we believe. There is one God and only one God. Almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing, holy and ever present. There is none like Him. God is set apart.

Before Jesus ascended back into heaven he gave his disciples a statement commonly called the Great Commission: Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. God does not live in isolation. Because God exists as three in one. He lives in perfect unity. As something that is commonly called “The Trinity.”

Now Paul has all of this going on in his head when he writes 4:1. Live worthy of my calling.

Specifically, to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit. We live unworthily when we disregard unity. God is one and the calling of God’s people is to be one – in purpose, in fellowship, in thought.

Alexander the Great, one of the greatest military generals who ever lived, conquered almost the entire known world with his vast army. One night during a campaign, he couldn’t sleep and left his tent to walk around the campgrounds.

As he was walking he came across a soldier asleep on guard duty – serious offense. The penalty for falling asleep on guard duty was, in some cases, instant death; the commanding officer sometimes poured kerosene on the sleeping soldier and lit it.

The soldier began to wake up as Alexander the Great approached him. Recognizing who was standing in front of him, the young man fear for his life. “Do you know what the penalty is for falling asleep on guard duty?” Alexander the Great asked the soldier.

“Yes, sir,” the soldier responded in a quivering voice.

“Soldier, what’s your name?” demanded the general.

“Alexander, sir.”

Alexander the Great repeated the question: “What is your name?”

“My name is Alexander, sir” the soldier repeated.

A third time and more loudly Alexander the Great asked, “What is your name?”

A third time the soldier meekly said, “My name is Alexander, sir.”

Alexander the Great then looked the young soldier straight in the eye. “Soldier,” he said with intensity, “either change your name or change your conduct.”

The phrase “live a life worthy” has the idea of living a life in such a way that it measures up to something. Think about a set of scales. If I have ten pounds on one side of the scale, I need ten pounds to put on the other side so it will balance. If I put 10.5 on the other side, it would be out of balance. If I put 11, it would be out of balance. I need ten on one side and I need ten on the other.

The word “worthy” takes us even a second step. The word for “worthy” is the word axios. It refers to the intrinsic value of something. So there is value in oneness. Being one defines the church. We are called to be one because God is one. When we are aligned with God we are aligned with each other; and when we are aligned with each other, we are aligned with God.

Tradition claims that Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built over the cave where Christ was buried. Several years back in 2002, the church became the scene of ugly fighting between the monks who run it. It turns out that Ethiopian and Coptic monks have been arguing over the rooftop of the church for centuries. In 1752 the Ottoman Sultan issued an edict declaring which parts of the church belong to each of six different Christian groups.

The rooftop had been controlled by the Ethiopians, but they lost control to the Coptic monks when they were hit by a disease epidemic in the 1800’s. Then in the 1970’s the Ethiopians regained control when the Coptic monks were absent for a short period. The Ethiopians have been squatting there ever since with at least one monk always remaining on the roof to assert their rights. But in response to this, a Coptic monk has also been living on the roof to maintain the Coptic claim to the church’s roof.

In July 2002, when the Coptic monk on the roof moved his chair into the shade where the Ethiopian monk was sitting, harsh words led to pushing and shoving and then to an all-out brawl. Eleven monks were injured, including one who was taken to the hospital unconscious. Amazingly, all this took place in a church that is supposedly built on the same location of Jesus’ tomb.

When the church is divided it produces some very tragic results. On the other hand, when the church is one it unleashes a power that can hardly be stopped. ONE – being in the same mind, purpose, desire.

For my church to be one, I will make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. (Read 4:2-3).  In verse 2 he communicates the character traits that will preserve the unity: humility, gentleness, patience, and love. If you are humble you will be gentle, if you are patient you will be enduring, if you’re gentle and patient you will be a peacemaker.

There is strength in humility that says, “I am not the center, Jesus is the center and I will submit to him and go where he leads. I am not the king, God is the king. Our unity is based on the objective unity outside of ourselves. There is one body and one Spirit.

Notice Paul’s words: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” By our peace with one another, expressed in our relationships in this local congregation, we are preserving a unity that has been given to us by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit brought us together, different as we are, into one family, into one body. But the unity that we experience doesn’t just happen. It takes work, just like a good marriage takes work. A good marriage doesn’t just happen. There are things that have to be done for a good marriage to flourish, and those have to be cultivated for that marriage to be what God intends it to be.

God has given us a unity in the body of Christ, but we must make every effort to preserve that unity which God has given us and to see it expressed in peace.

Let’s go a little further – let’s make this practical. Read 4:4-6.

Now what does all of this have to do with our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? The reason we are one is so that together we can move in one, same direction. For my church to be one, I will be a team player.

Since there is only one God, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism and only one body – there is one purpose. Since there is only one God – this one God has created a way for the whole earth to be reconciled to him (Acts 4:12)

The issue in the church at Ephesus was whether the Gentiles could belong to the body of Christ in the same way the Jews did. The answer was that Jesus reconciled both in one body to God in the cross. Both have access to the Father. Those who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ and made one. So the issue of unity/oneness for Paul is created by the mission of the church to those who were far off – the gentiles, the nations.

In other words, Jesus is the foundation for our mission. If there were many gods and many saviors and many valid faiths and many baptismal entrances – there would be no need for our mission to make disciples of Jesus. But there is only one God and one Lord and one faith and one baptism. And so this truth must be revealed. (Romans 10)

So the truth that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism is the foundation for our existence. This requires a diligence to maintain a oneness of purpose under the lordship of Jesus. We are one in mission, all headed in the same direction together. This is expressed in our vision – that dream of the future.

Football, around here is a pretty big deal. One of the greatest football coaches in history was Bear Bryant – Alabama. Bear Bryant used to say this about his football team: “I’m just a plow hand from Arkansas, but I have learned how to hold a team together. How to lift some men up, how to calm others down, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat, together, a team.” One heartbeat! That’s what Paul is communicating here. A team – a single unit composed of individual components for the purpose of accomplishing a common goal. One body, one Spirit, one Lord, one baptism. We are many, yet we are one. Our team is defined by our relationship to Jesus. We are perfect together! We are healthy together! When we play as a team, we fulfill the God-given vision for his church.

One is critical to being the church. That doesn’t mean that we become mindless robots (or worse, zombies) without identity, personal creativity or beautiful uniqueness. Being one means that we take all of our diversity and giftedness and personality and education and funnel it all in the same direction to glorify God and to invite people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus to begin following him.


Leonard Kim, in his blog, writes “The only things people want are Love, Entertainment, to be Happy, Money, and Better Health (to feel better). These are the primary motivating factors to the decisions that each person makes.”

One of the biggest steps we take in spiritual maturity to place our needs, desires, and wants in a secondary position behind Jesus. And this secondary placement of ourselves under Jesus is a response to the saving love of God we ourselves experience.

I’ve mentioned to you before that I am a student of history. One the things I enjoy doing is researching the history of each appointment the bishop has sent me to. Before I came to you last summer I did some research on Christ United Methodist Church. I’ve always known that you folks have had some rich and important history, but I wanted to discover the details, so that I could begin to know you. Now, as our first year of ministry ends and our second year begins, I thought it would be helpful to remember we’re we’ve come from and then grasp where we are going into the future.

Some of you obviously know the history well. You’ve been here since the beginning (or very close to it). But there are others of you who are new to Christ Church. So it’s important for us to go back so that we can prepare for the future.

Sixty-four years ago (1951), Christ Church was just a dream. It was a dream of the Erie Conference of the Methodist Church, of Lakewood and Cascade Methodist Churches, of Dr. Thomas Colley (Erie DS) and Rev. Ed Donner. There was a need to start a new mission to reach people in the southwest portion of Erie – this new growth into Millcreek Township. In a letter to Bruce Middaugh (of Lakewood), Ed Donner wrote that he wanted to accept the challenge of a new church start where there was “no charge, no church, no parsonage; no nothing!” Ed was convinced that God wanted to begin a new work to reach new people for Jesus who were not part of a church. I love what Ed wrote in a paragraph to Bruce. Ed wrote – “If there is a need, then let’s get in there quick!”

A year later in October 1952, Christ Methodist church was celebrating her first anniversary. Ed Donner wrote this about the culture of Christ Church – “Possibly the text ‘Go Ye into All the World,’ best describes Christ Methodist Church. The story of Christ Church can be traced back to the Erie Council of Churches and there study that revealed several growing suburban areas which needed new churches. Southwest Erie, west of Pittsburgh was one such area.” So the mission of Christ Church was begun to reach new people in a new place.

As Ed testifies in his letters, growth was happening all the time. They kept running out of space, using every nook and cranny that they could. And the growth kept happening. New people (some of you) were being reached with the message and love of Jesus. The culture was all about sharing the hope of Jesus. As the times changed, Christ Church was willing to adapt, with Scripture at the center, to reach people for Jesus.

And while the last several years have seen its challenges: shrinking attendance, shrinking ministry budget, changing community and personal preferences, the original vision of Christ Church must rise to the top.

This mission of Christ Church was begun because people were compelled by the need to start a new church that would reach new people. I’d like us to think about how we can rise above our current church culture to re-imagine the vision that brought Christ Church to life.

Are we still compelled by the vision of reaching new people with the hope and life of Jesus; the vision which has been here since the beginning of Christ Church?

This whole idea of being compelled is not new to us. This second letter to the Church at Corinth was an invitation to these first century disciples to grasp why Paul did everything he could to share the hope and life of Jesus. And Paul’s words offer an invitation to the Corinthians to be motivated and compelled by the same things.

Read 2Corinthians 5:11-21

One of the first things we hear is Paul’s sense of urgency. Since then we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. And then, For Christ’s love compels us for we are convinced that one died for all…

What is driving Paul? It is this passionate and unchanging belief that Jesus has changed his life and that everyone else needs to know this Jesus.

Do you remember Paul’s back story? He was a very educated, religious man who came from a great family. He spent the early part of his life doing what his religion told him was the right thing to do – destroy this new Jesus movement. So Paul intentionally spent his time looking for Christians to persecute and churches to destroy. And he did that until Jesus showed up in Paul’s life and changed everything. From that moment Paul experienced the love and grace of God in Jesus. And from that moment Paul did all the he could to help other people know Jesus. Jesus was Paul’s passion. Jesus was Paul’s calling. Because Jesus changed Paul, Paul was compelled to live the rest of his life as a response to the grace and love of Jesus.

Paul uses the language of being “compelled.” This is a strong word. It is better used as “control.” For Christ’s love controls us. It literally means to draw a boundary around us. That is, as we live in the love of God in Christ, bounded by it, living in it, as it surrounds us, we find no need to live for our self. The Love of God in Christ, keeps us, as it were, from seeking to serve self. The love of Jesus completely controls Paul so that he has no option but to introduce people to Jesus.

How does this fit into our lives. Does Jesus control us? Does the love of Christ compel us? Truth be told, I think we might confess that not always.

Leonard Kim, in his blog, writes “The only things people want are Love, Entertainment, to be Happy, Money, and Better Health (to feel better). These are the primary motivating factors to the decisions that each person makes.”

One of the biggest steps we take in spiritual maturity to place our needs, desires, and wants in a secondary position behind Jesus. And this secondary placement of ourselves under Jesus is a response to the saving love of God we ourselves experience.

So for Paul, being compelled by love is a response to the love of Jesus. This is where it all starts. Jesus has saved me and changed my life, so I want to live for Jesus. I want to be compelled to help someone else know Jesus.

And this changes everything. In verse 16, Paul wrote: So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.

When we think about other people we should no longer look at their worldly status, such as appearance, status in life, fame, wealth, etc. We should look at them no longer in a physical way but a spiritual way. Being compelled by love requires us to see people as God sees them.

This world view aligns us with Christ. Christ does not see us as the world see us. He sees our heart. This should be the world view for Christians, since we are now a “new creation” in Christ. We become a new creation when we become a Christian. We are indwelt with the Holy Spirit who changes us and conforms us to Christ over time.

When we become a Christian, we are reconciled to God. Until then, we are separated from God; we are still condemned for our sin. But when we are reconciled to Him, our sins are not counted against us.

The Holy Spirit then makes us a new creation. He no longer wants us to see the world as others do. He wants us to change. He wants us to see the world as God does. He changes our priorities. He changes what we want to do.

All of this means we are now Christians, Christ followers. We are now thinking like Him. We are now seeing others as He does. Our world view has now aligned with His. And we get to the place where we can say with Peter, that does not want anyone to perish but for everyone to come to repentance.

So, in light of being compelled by love and seeing people as God sees them, Paul gets to the heart of life. All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…we are therefore Christ’s ambassadors as though God were making his appeal through us.

Paul understands that when God’s love changes me and you we are intrinsically motivated to see people as God sees them and then live in a way that we are engaged as ministers of reconciliation. In other words, the priority as disciples moves to the place where we do all that we can to connect people back to God.

This is tricky. Remember it’s not natural to be compelled by the love of Christ. We’re often compelled by things that make us feel good or safe or comfortable. And then we get frustrated when that sort of life is interrupted in order to help another person connect to God.

Do you remember the story of the Prodigal Son? Father and two sons. The older son was compliant. He stayed home. He played by the rules. He was comfortable. The last thing he figured on was that someone would come home and interrupt his status quo. But the younger brother did come home and dad threw a great big party. And frankly, the older son was ticked off. Why should I suffer and lose my comfort and attention because of him? And the older son got angry and resentful and refused to participate. I can imagine him sitting out on a rock sulking with the lights and party of house going on behind him. And I can imagine it because I would probably be acting like that myself. I don’t like it when what I want is interrupted. But dad comes out and look at the love and compassion dad has for both kids –But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again, he was lost and now is found. So come and celebrate. Quit feeling sorry for yourself. There’s room for everyone.

As ministers of reconciliation you and I get to introduce people to God. We get to help people who are far from God enter into a relationship with him. Is there sacrifice? Sure. Will we need to do some things differently? Sure. Will we be a little uncomfortable? Maybe. Will we be stretched out of our comfort zone? I hope so. But God has put you and me and Christ Church in a unique position to engage as ministers of reconciliation – bringing men and women and children back to God.

John Wesley founded this Methodist movement in the mid 1700’s in England. Wesley’s life was changed by a direct encounter with the Holy Spirit. This encounter compelled Wesley to live his life to bring people into a relationship with Jesus and live into holiness of heart and life.

In America the Revolutionary War had come to an end and Methodism was beginning to transform the landscape. But due to the conflict with Great Britain, the Methodist Church in America needed to cut its ties with British Methodism. So Wesley ordained Thomas Coke as a Bishop and sent him to America to ordain Francis Asbury as a bishop and begin a uniquely American form of Methodism. As Coke was being sent off to America by Wesley, Coke confessed to being slightly afraid and not really knowing what to do or how to go about this new business of forming Methodism in America. Wesley leans over at Coke and offers a phrase of encouragement – Offer them Christ.

Those words are all that matters even into the 21st century. John Wesley stills leans over and whispers in the ear of every one of us when we are scared; when our comfort zones are challenged; when we don’t know the next step and he says, offer them Christ.

It’s all about Jesus. And it is the love of Jesus in our hearts and lives that compel you and me to do anything we can to introduce people to Jesus in positive ways.

This is intentional and proactive. It is risk-taking. It is upsetting. What are you and I willing to sacrifice to introduce people to Jesus in positive ways? What kind of church will Christ church be for the next 64 years? Will we be one that is compelled to do anything and everything to introduce people to Jesus?

As someone who has started a church, I would have loved to have been there with Ed Donner and that group of risk-takers and revolutionaries who dreamt of creating a place to introduce people to Jesus.

But now, we’re the second and third generation of disciples to whom the baton has been handed. We can do the very things that first group of 60 people did but in a different culture and context.

In his letter in 1952, Ed had written that the culture of Christ Church was found in her desire to go and make disciples. The context is different in 2015 but the need is still there. Let’s prioritize above everything else the purpose of introducing people to Jesus in positive ways and creating disciples. Let Christ’s love compel us to nothing less.

Purposeful Unity

born identity

Our church has an important mission. There are people within the reach of our church who are hungry for the love of God that we were given to share. Our church’s mission should be the most important thing going on in our community today.

That being the case, doesn’t it make sense that we should organize the whole life of our church around the accomplishment of that mission? And, doesn’t it make sense that we should be careful not to let anything go on in our church that would hinder the accomplishment of that mission?  Can you think of any thing that could go on in our church that would contradict the mission and vision?

Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthians because he had heard that some things were going on in that church that contradicted the gospel and that were hindering the mission of that church.  Paul stated the problem. He had heard that there are divisions in the church and that the people are quarreling with one another rather than being united in the same mind and purpose.

As the church was meeting in different houses in the city some chose to give their allegiance to one or another of the leaders of the church with whom they were familiar. Some were still dedicated to Paul. Others were attracted to another leader who had come after Paul, a young man named Apollos. Still others had been in contact with Cephas, Peter, the one who had been the leader of the followers of Jesus. And there seemed to have been some who took a superior attitude and said, “We belong to Christ,” just to get above the other divisions.

Eventually it became apparent that none of these was really what was dividing the church. Differences don’t have to cause divisions. Differences of opinion can be lived with in a community of loving people who are committed to one common purpose. Paul suspected that something else was going on in Corinth.  What was actually going on in Corinth?

Corinth was a major center of business. And it was a new city with new money. Some people had become very rich and some people were very poor and there many in between. And, it was a place where people could change their status.  People could climb the ladder.  There was competition for status and honor. There was lots of “networking” to form advantageous relationships. That was what was really going on in many of the conflicts that were dividing the church in Corinth.

What is so interesting about this chapter is how Paul approaches the particular divisions that they were facing here. He urgently but gently appeals to them agree with one another and be united in mind and thought.
How does Paul propose that unity will happen? He appeals to them based on the foundation of Jesus because it is in Jesus and the cross that the power of God is found. Paul’s appeal through Jesus is that they all agree and that there be no divisions among them, but that they be united in the same mind and the same purpose.  What a strong word about our identity in Christ.  Jesus’ followers must be united in mind and purpose.  That kind of unity allows us to move in the same direction at the same time.

Imagine what could happen when God’s people move in the same direction at the same time.  (vision statements)

Peyton Manning – whole team approach

But consider what happens when God’s people become so distracted and consumed with personal opinions – In 1917 the bishops of the Russian Orthodox church were having a meeting.  And the meeting came to a heated debate with fusing and feuding.  Now, a few doors down the street another meeting was happening.  The Bolsheviks were together plotting against the czar of Russia.  It was revolution – the beginning of Communism.  What was the church arguing about down the street while the empire was crumbling around them?  Candles.  Were they to be 18” or 22” long?

Part of his solution is to agree with one another and not have divisions about purpose. How? When he calls us to agree, it’s literally in Greek, “to say the same thing.” Obviously if everyone is saying and doing different and contradictory things, that is a sign of disunity, not agreement.  Purposeful unity is literally “to think the same thing according to Christ Jesus.”  – Unity of voice and mind – going in the same direction together.
Paul isn’t picturing a bland uniformity where no one has individual ideas or expression. But rather he is talking about a consensus. That they stand together on the truth of God’s Word, and move in same direction.

In reality unity is togetherness of hearts that are personally committed to Christ all moving toward the same mission/vision.  Jonathan Edwards: The obligation of every generation is to understand what God is doing and then to do it together with Him!

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.


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.


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?


revolutionWhenever we get to summer, it can be tough.  All of our vacations and long weekends.  I’ve always thought that during the summer, if you’re here, you are serious about Jesus; you’re committed.  That’s why I like to tackle some hard stuff in the summer.  So we are going to spend this summer on some of the hardest things Jesus ever said.  This is not for the faint of heart.

In my position I’m pretty fortunate in that I get to observe a lot of culture – the things that are happening in the 21st century.  I get to listen to and talk to a lot of people.  And what I’ve seen is that Christians have lost their passion.  The fastest growing religion in America is “no religion.”  Christianity is declining at a rapid rate and Islam is growing in America.  What is it about the Gospel and what is it about Christians, that is so unattractive and causing people to look elsewhere?

As I’ve thought about this, I think what is happening is that we use the word “disciple” so lightly.  We’ve used “disciple” to define church attendance that has nothing to do with following Jesus; but instead coming to a stationary place once a week (maybe once a week) and then going back to our lives.  So what has happened is that Jesus is watered-down and domesticated.

What is a disciple?  A disciple is someone who has undiluted devotion to Jesus as Lord.  Second, a Kingdom of God worldview.  And third, a missional lifestyle.

So this summer we’re going to focus on those three areas.  I want to teach on this rebel Jesus for next 8 weeks. The revolutionary gospel; an undiluted Jesus.

When you talk about a revolutionary Gospel, the rebel Jesus; the Jesus movement was revolutionary and subversive movement.  For the first three centuries of this movement thousands of Christians who publically declared their faith were executed.

What we’ve done is portrayed a domesticated Jesus.  Sort of a Mr. Rogers type Jesus.  The Sunday School Jesus is so different from revolutionary Jesus. What we’ve done to  Jesus in America has been to make the cross a flag pole.

We’ve got to come to terms with real Jesus, not the Sunday School Jesus but the rebel Jesus.

I want to begin here: think back – What first attracted you to Jesus (share)?I asked myself that question – my earliest memory was that people in my church didn’t talk about Jesus.  They talked about a general sort of God or some moral/ethical way of living.  I remember a few people who were different.  Who talked about Jesus and Jesus seemed to make a difference in their life.  (mission/change the world)

Red letter Jesus far more radical. He said things like deny yourself; loose your life to find it – it’s not for faint of heart. Following Jesus is not an easy “believism.” Not about sitting or staying in stationary place but to follow.  I was in college before I ever heard that Jesus is God.  I started reading the teaching of Jesus and found out that it was so different than I had ever experienced in church.

So what we want to do this summer is rediscover the rebel Jesus; the red-letter Jesus.  Here’s where we’re going to start:  this rebel Jesus has started a new revolutionary kingdom (empire).  We call it the Kingdom of God/Heaven.  The Kingdom of God is anyplace that Jesus is reigning.

When we belong to Jesus and to the kingdom we reflect a revolutionary lifestyle based upon a relationship with the rebel.

Upside down living – opposite of culture; new priorities/revolutionary living which goes against culture and identifies you as a Jesus follower and person of his kingdom.

“You have heard…but”

Belief does not save us; obeying saves us

What we want to do this summer is not for faint of heart. We’re beginning with the teachings of Jesus and understand what it means to follow Jesus and see what Jesus does.

As we start I’d like you to read Matthew  5,6, 7 this week.  Read it as many times as you can before next week.  Start to get familiar with what Jesus says.  And then we’re going to see what it means to follow this rebel and to become revolutionary in a world that is upside down.