(un)common

(un)common

In Acts 2:42-47, we encounter a description of how the very first Jesus followers organized themselves to fulfill God’s mission of renewing all things. In these verses, we discover that these believers had everything in common – Common Life. Common Worship. Common Good – but most importantly there was one “uncommon” dynamic to their life together – Uncommon Power from the Holy Spirit.

I have been dwelling upon these verses as we “re-centralize” City Hope around these values in the coming months and get back to the original vision of people living in authentic Christian community for the common good.

So, here’s a few thoughts about what each of these dynamics will look like:

 

Common Life: Acts 2:44-45, 46b

- Weekly, mid-week gatherings for intentional discipleship, leadership, community, and vocation                             discovery/deployment

- Follow a rhythm of Up.In.Out.Forward

- Goal of multiplying to 2 or 3 groups in 2015.
 

Common Worship: Acts 2:42, 46a
Bi-weekly Sunday worship gathering at the Lile’s (and eventually our new space) with a simple order that                                        incorporates Worship, Word, and Witness

 

Common Good:  Acts 2:47

- Community meals for new relationships

- Serve at The Landing Food Pantry – serving 50+ families every Friday

- Plan for a weekly Kids Club gathering – after school tutoring, mentoring and life lesson

- Raise awareness and support around issues of justice/injustice (ex. IJM; Child Sponsorship; Simple Living)

- Hold Community forums around issues of education, racial reconciliation, and vocation

 

Uncommon Power: Acts 2:43, 47b

- This is the part where we trust God to show up in powerful and surprising ways as we meet regularly to seek Him to be transformed in the image of His Son Jesus.

In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the first two are our response and responsibility. We respond to God in worship (Common worship). We are responsible to live our Christian life in the context of community and love for one another (Common Life). But then, the other two are God’s response and responsibility. He causes the expansion of His Kingdom (Common Good). He sends the Holy Spirit in abundance to empower us to live out his calling upon our lives (Uncommon Power).

One thing we’re excited about is the possibility of acquiring some space that will allow us to more fully live out this vision. I am intrigued by a “theology of place” and how significant location is to the story of God. I think it is time that we pursue a home for the City Hope family to live out the dynamics described above…and to wait for uncommon things to happen too. More to come soon on this…

How about you? How are these dynamics at work in your own personal life? Are you lacking in any particular area? What’s God saying to you about that?

And if this all resonates with you, we’d love to have you join us on a Tuesday evening or Sunday morning or perhaps some other time.

Anticipating uncommon power in the midst of my common life,

Jeremy

* The image was originally a picture I took of our street that is being re-finished. I thought it was very timely that we are getting a new road at the same time that God is calling us to open up our home and lives in new ways.

ALS, Ferguson, Syria/Iraq, Israel/Palestine – my response

So, it finally happened…I was nominated for the ALS ice bucket challenge. I’m not sure what happened to me in recent years, but the more people challenge me to do something the less I want to do it. This is coming from the guy who snuck into his dad’s closet before school so he could wear his Tommy Hilfiger designer clothing. This is coming from the guy who worked at Abercrombie & Fitch during the height of their “let’s plaster our name on everything except the half-naked image luring people into our store” era (I’m not proud of this, but it is part of my story nonetheless). Clearly, giving into peer pressure has not always been an issue for me.

But now, the more popular something is the less likely I am to join in (I still haven’t read Purpose Driven Life…whew that feels good to get off my chest). So, the challenge came from a dear friend and I realized that I was trapped. Either, I do nothing and pretend I didn’t see it on both social media venues on which I was called out, or I just dump a bucket of ice water on my head and move on with life. Or, because I’m a third way kind of guy, think of some way to participate without participating.

This time the reluctance came less from me being a cynical stinker and more from me feeling the weight of the world events that were swirling in my head and heart and soul as the ice bucket challenge suddenly dominated my Facebook feed. Israelis and Palestinians fighting again. Racial tension escalating in Ferguson, MO. Christians and Yazidis and other people groups being targeted and ruthlessly murdered. War and famine and Ebola and you name it claiming innocent lives. People being beheaded and dying of thirst while millions were dumping buckets of water on their heads. So yeah, I guess that’s why I didn’t know how to react and I didn’t make the 24 hour deadline. In fact, I think I’m more in the 300th hour.

But, “better late than never” or so they say…whoever “they” are. So, here’s my response. I wanted to do something about each of these things that had caused a deep sorrow to settle in my soul. My first response was and is to pray. Most often, I find myself simply crying out, “Lord, have mercy.” Other times, I find solace in words prayed millions of times over from the Book of Common Prayer:

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh, and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And other times I voice my own laments and petitions to God.

My other response is simply this: to listen. To listen to the voices of those crying out for justice. To listen before I respond, or re-post, or re-tweet or re-anything.

And finally, I respond by acting. In so many of these cases, I feel immobilized by the distance, the severity, and the complexity of the issues. Who am I to do or say anything? But do and say I must because my love of God compels me to mourn with those who mourn and to speak for those who have no voice.

I don’t know what the implications of this will be for the future, but for now I have chosen to take the action that comes easiest (if I’m being really honest). That action is to offer financial support to four different organizations.

First, I (and whenever I write “I” you should assume “we” because without the one who makes “me” into “we” I would probably still be chasing fads and popularity…and maybe even still wearing A&F) have decided to give to The Telos Group (www.telosgroup.org) mostly because someone I respect very much wrote about their work in his most recent book (Visions of Vocation by Steven Garber – a great read). Here’s a bit about their vision and mission:

Telos strengthens the capacity of American faith communities – and especially American evangelicals – to help positively trans­form the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Our vision is security, freedom, and dignity for every human being in the Holy Land, and our belief is that a two-state solution supported by the United States is the only viable way to realize that vision.

In other words, we at Telos are genuinely pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-American, and pro-peace, all at the same time.

Second, we gave to the Anglican Relief and Development Fund (www.anglicanaid.net) because we have the utmost respect for their organization and the work they are doing with people in Iraq and Syria at present. Here’s their mission statement:

Through the love of Jesus Christ, ARDF strives to connect those who can provide with those who need through a holistic, high impact, and proven community development approach so that believers are strengthened and encouraged, lives are rescued and made whole, and Christ is glorified.

Third, we gave toward a local ministry – Man Up Movement – run by great people whom we have the privilege of knowing. They recently began an initiative called “Manly Modeling” which is attempting to mentor young men in local schools (manupmen.org/mentoring). Here’s the vision statement for the initiative:

MANLY MODELING is a Masculine Mentoring Initiative for boys, teens, college-age students and adults….Helping them MAN-UP in their stage of responsibility by providing that personal, presence engagement of one Man-2-the-Next!

I believe in these people and in the vision they are trying to fulfill. This is also, in some ways, my response to what happened and is continuing to happen in Ferguson, MO and all over our country and world…my own community included. I don’t know what all it will mean, but the area of racial reconciliation is one area where I feel most implicated locally. My dream would be to have us all sit down and watch “The Color of Fear” together, and share a meal and discussion afterward. I will never forget the first time I watched the documentary in a Multicultural Psych class. My life and perspective have never been the same.

And last, but not least, we gave toward International Justice Mission. If you know us at all, you know that this was not a difficult decision. We have been captivated with their work for many years now, and so it seemed natural to give to their effort to end violent oppression around the world. We also hoped it would help soften the tension that Christy recently stirred up on Twitter with IJM’s president, Gary Haugen, about his #selfies :-)

So, there you have it. It is getting late, and I am getting tired and this post is getting longer.

P.S. I’ll give my $10 to fight ALS too

P.P.S. What will you do?

Redemption: Liberty

Redemption: Liberty

 

On April 17, Holy Thursday, an International Justice Mission (IJM) leader in Pampanga, Philippines, got a call at 11:00 AM —An officer was on the phone, asking if IJM could help out with a rescue operation they wanted to do that night. They had uncovered information about a relatively new bar that was selling minors to customers for sexual exploitation.

IJM mobilized a team to help with the operation immediately. They made phone calls to various government partners to make sure there would be social workers and a shelter available for the survivors. IJM staff from Manila made the three-hour drive to Pampanga to assist.

The rescue team hit the bar just before midnight. Inside, the bar was full. Police worked quickly and identified suspects, placing nine in custody that same night. IJM staff helped explain what was happening to the young women, who were frightened and confused. Social workers explained that they were not in trouble, they were being rescued.

The 8 survivors shared their stories with police and IJM attorneys at a police station…the youngest girl was only 11. Social workers stayed close throughout the process, shielding the girls from news cameras that showed up and making sure they were as comfortable as possible as they waited. By Saturday, the girls went to a shelter for survivors of trafficking. They would wake up in freedom on Easter morning.

IJM will continue to support this case to ensure the traffickers are held accountable for their crimes against these young women and restrained from harming anyone else.

That is rescue! That is redemption! That is liberation!

Not only did they do the necessary work to create the conditions for rescue to take place, but they participated in the rescue and set up the opportunity for those who were rescued to continue to walk in healing and freedom.

That’s what I want to share about this afternoon. The next rhythm in our Gospel Rhythm series: Redemption. So far, we have learned about Creation and Fall. I left us hanging in the balance a bit a couple of weeks ago because I wanted us to feel the tension in which we currently live. The effects of sin continue to spread into every nook and cranny of our world. Into our own hearts and lives, and into the darkest corners of bars used for sexual exploitation on the other side of the world.

But as I reminded us a couple of weeks ago and as W.A. Chriswell is famously known for preaching about, there is a scarlet thread that runs through the earliest pages of the Bible. A thread that God intricately weaves through history to remake what had come unraveled in Genesis 3.

We know that scarlet thread as Redemption. But what exactly does redemption mean? As I was joking with my brother-in-law earlier this week, we think between the two of us we have been “saved” at least 25 to 50 times. Meaning that we came up to the altar, or raised our hand during a prayer with every head bowed and eye closed, or stood up while everyone else was sitting, or filled out a card in response to the question “If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?”, or in recent developments, we’ve texted a number at a large conference to let them know that we “prayed the sinners prayer”…even though we weren’t sure that’s what we were doing until after the fact :-)

Others have told us that unless we can remember the exact day and hour that we prayed that prayer we are not truly saved. And so we live with this constant, nagging question hanging over our heads: “Am I saved? And if so or if not, how do I know for sure?” And then all of our energy gets put into answering that question and somehow proving to God that we’re “good enough.” But isn’t that what God said about us in the beginning anyhow: “Good enough…in fact, very good!” But even in our good-enoughness, we weren’t good enough. We needed rescue. We needed restoration in our relationship with God, ourselves, others and the world.

And that’s where redemption enters the scene. N.T. Wright describes redemption in this way, “the action(s) whereby God rescues human beings, and (if we are being biblical) the whole cosmos, from the state of sin, decay, and death to which they have become subject.” When Adam and Eve headed East of Eden, they carried all of creation with them. In essence, all of history after Genesis 3 can be summed up as living in exile.

So, the pervasive effects of sin through guilt and corruption had to be dealt with in a pervasive manner. Redemption has to be all-encompassing too because it has to set right God’s original purposes for creation which had been disrupted through broken relationship with God, ourselves, others, and the world. That’s why we talk about salvation, redemption, rescue, liberation, atonement, justification, sanctification, healing, deliverance, restoration, protection, wholeness, adoption, sacrifice, forgiveness, victory, etc. I want us to look at several of these this afternoon as we attempt to fill in the meaning a bit.

Here’s our first clue about what redemption means: ATONEMENT

It is the Hebrew word “kapur” from which we get the understanding about “Yom Kippur” – Day of Atonement. It means “to smear, cover over, appease.” Atoning sacrifices and the Day of Atonement cleansed the people from sin (both intentional and unintentional) and set them in right relationship with God. The process for the Day of Atonement is described in detail in Leviticus 16 where the priest is to make atonement/appeasement for himself, the place of God’s presence, and all the people of Israel through sacrificing a bull and a goat. But then there’s something very interesting that takes place, Aaron the priest is to lay his hands on another goat, confessing over its head all the sins of God’s people, and then he releases it into the wilderness…a barren place…a place named after the demon Azazel. (Leviticus 16:21-22). And through these acts, God’s people are declared as “clean” (Lev 16:30), once a year, and then not even completely because you’ve still got this goat roaming around somewhere. Your sin is still out there. But someday, One would come who would go into the wilderness to face the power of those sins. He would leave the wilderness having not given into the alluring temptation of sin. The One who as high priest could find no other sacrifice, and so He climbed onto the altar to make full atonement for our sins. We heard it described in Isaiah 53 a few minutes ago.

Redemption restores our original purpose – to live in God’s presence. [God]

Redemption also means RANSOM. Jesus describes His purpose in coming into the world in this way, “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:24-28). The Greek word used here for ransom, “lutron,” means “the exact price of release.” I love that imagery. Jesus came to pay the exact price for our release…our rescue…our freedom from evil oppression in exile. Jesus cancels the debt, which is one way of describing sin , and sets us free from bondage to the power of sin and death. Like the girls rescued in the Philippines, the precise work was done to guarantee that we would be set free. And not only that we would be set free, but also that we could continue to walk in healing and freedom – that’s liberation!

Redemption sets us free to be who God always intended us to be as his image-bearing stewards [Self]

 

[I paused here to do a "Servants and Stewards interview with Jeff Lathrop about how his work in finance helps people get free from indebtedness and allows them to walk into their vocational purpose - below are the questions that I used]

 

1.Tell us about the work you do and why that work is so important to you.

2. Where do you see God’s character most reflected in what you do?

3. Where do you most experience fallenness/brokenness through your work?

4. How do you participate in God’s redemptive work through your work?

5. In what other ways are you serving through your life and vocation?

6. How can we pray for you and others in a similar line of work?

 

Which leads to the next description of Redemption as Reconciliation. Jesus uses this language in the sermon on the mount and in Matthew 18 when describing how we should reestablish an interrupted or broken relationship. That’s the definition of “reconciliation” (Gk. “katallagay”) – mending something that is torn or broken. In fact, Jesus places such a high emphasis on reconciliation that he highlights it as a gauge for whether or not our desire to have our debts  paid by God is genuine. In Matthew 5 during the sermon on the mount, Jesus says something shocking. That a person should leave his gift at the altar and go and be reconciled with a brother or sister before seeking to be reconciled with God. We’re not talking about a quick stop off at the Temple on your way into work here. We’re talking about an 80 mile trip, not by minivan, but by foot or animal. That’s how serious Jesus takes the command to pursue forgiveness and reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 says this “that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”  Through the redemption of Jesus, the broken relationship between us and God has been reestablished. And, the broken relationships between us and others can be repaired too! The verses go on to describe that we are now ambassadors of reconciliation making the plea to others: “Be reconciled to God!”

Redemption makes restoration of broken relationships possible between us and God, and us and others. [Others]

Finally, Redemption is Jubilee, which happens to be one of my favorite words. You can’t say it without at least a little bit of a smile on your face. The practice of Jubilee is described in Leviticus 25 as a cancelling of all debts and a setting free of all captives. It is the 50th year in which all things are restored. In Luke 4, Jesus describes God’s Kingdom coming through Him as Jubilee.  Everything taken from God’s people through sin and death would now be restored. Here’s how Jesus describes it: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” In the person of Jesus, God has enacted Jubilee to set all things back in right order. Romans 8:18-23 describes this beautifully.

Jesus’ sacrifice cancels the debt of sin once and for all. Jesus sets us completely free from the power of sin…which is death. Jesus brings us back into right relationship with God and each other. And Jesus makes all things new through the Holy Spirit who remains active in building for God’s Kingdom through our lives. Again, N.T. Wright says, “Redemption doesn’t mean scrapping what’s there and starting again from a clean slate, but rather liberating what has come to be enslaved.”

Redemption encompasses the scope of God’s creation. [world]

In the end, all of these words describe Jesus’ victory, which is perhaps the best way to describe Redemption. Jesus wins! He is the King of the Kingdom that He came to build and reclaim.

Through his life, death, resurrection, ascension and coming again, Jesus has defeated the powers that enslave, indebt, oppress, abuse, break relationships, distort our view of self, cause us to mistreat God’s creation, and ultimately, feed the desire within us to be independent from God.

All these benefits are yours in Jesus Christ. All this is yours in the gift of redemption…and then some.

So how do we appropriate these realities in our lives?

The message of Scripture is disquietingly simple. God offers all this, and all we have to do is put our faith, our confident trust in Him. Which I think looks like living as though these things are actually true. It means choosing God’s way and truth even when I’d rather go the easy route. It means accepting the truth that God really loves each one of us that much, and that He’s vested in our full redemption…not just our souls.

The Fall: Unraveled

The Fall

 

I am a sinner. I am prideful. I am selfish. I am, at times, arrogant and stubborn. I am prone to cynicism and depression. I can be quick to anger and slow to forgive. I tend to value grace, even at the expense of truth. I over-think, over-consume, and under-exercise and under-give. I covet and at times let my desire get the best of me. Sometimes I would rather lead from up front than serve from below. Sometimes I would rather hide than lead or serve at all. And the list could go on, but I’ve got to cap it somewhere :-)

 

The very fact that I can stand up here and state these things to you and none of you are shocked to the point of storming out of here (hopefully at least) reveals a foundational truth. Things are not as they are supposed to be. Even if we can’t always articulate this, we inherently know this. If we cannot agree upon this, then there is no foundation for ordering society, or reason for even behaving decently toward one another. But this reality unveils a more profound truth. There is a way that things ARE supposed to be. An original design or original glory that was meant to be. Bryan did a fantastic job last week of reminding us of some of these things. The Judeo/Christian creation account unveils a God who creates not capriciously, but intentionally and personally. A God who stands back after creating his image bearing stewards and declares “It’s all good…very good!”

 

It is absolutely essential that we start at this place. Too many theologies and stories start with Genesis 3, and as a result truncate The Story. Christianity and the Gospel it proclaims become nothing more than a story about how we manage sin well enough to prove to God that, at the end of the day, we deserve to “get saved.”

 

My first of four points for this afternoon is that sin is not original. As Bryan stated last week, “It is an aberration. Sin and violence have no place in God’s good world.”

 

So, before we talk about “Original Sin” from Genesis 3, we must first talk about “Original Glory/Design/Goodness” from Genesis 1&2. Not because I/we don’t want to talk about sin…as some are prone to do…but because when we talk about sin we need to talk about it in its proper context. And biblically speaking, sin’s proper context is in the broader account of how God’s good world went wrong.

 

And in so doing this, we must recall as Bryan helped us do a couple weeks ago, that this is a reflective history written from the perspective of the people of Israel in exile in Babylon who were attempting to answer the ultimate question about identity: “Who are we?” which inevitably leads to the important question: “How did we get here?” which then leads to another question:  “What went wrong?”

 

And that is where we find ourselves in Genesis 3.

 

So, what went wrong? Let’s take a look at Genesis 3 to learn more. Chapter 2 ends with one of my favorite verses…much to Christy’s chagrin :-) A beatiful declaration of the harmonious community that existed between humans in God’s presence: “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.”  No shame. No covering. Nothing to hide from each other.

 

Then immediately in verse 1, a new actor enters centers stage. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made.”  [It's interesting to note that the serpent is not identified specifically as "the devil" or "Satan." Serpents were a Symbol of Canaanite fertility cult - choice between God and Baal; a symbol of life, wisdom, and chaos; and in the Epic of

Gilgamesh - the snake eats the plant that would have given Gilgamesh immortality.] And without any further description doubt is introduced into the story: “Did God say?” I’m not really sure that it mattered what the serpent said after those first three words. With those three words, innocence and goodness and rightness now had an alternative. With those three words, the unraveling began and continues to this day. How many of our contemporary issues stem from those simple words…”Did God say?”

 

And now that crafty devil of a serpent goes for the jugular. Eve corrects him with a couple of her own edits to God’s words as she responds that God (she uses the impersonal Elohim and not the personal YHWH) only said they couldn’t touch or eat from the one tree in the middle of the garden. But he’s got her fixated on it. She begins to crave and passionately desire the tree. He’s brought it to her consciousness, and now doubt leads to outright lying when he says, “You won’t die! In fact, you will be like God…knowing good and evil.” This verse has always ticked me off because in one sense the serpent is right, but only partially so. You see, what was already true of the first humans and every human after them is that they are like God…knowing and expanding His goodness. They were already like God. But after Adam and Eve take the bait, now they also know evil. They not only know it, but experience it as part of their everyday reality as part of their desire to become God.

 

My second point is simply this: Sin is a reality. We are in exile. I find it interesting that Jesus spent more time dealing with the effects of sin as a given reality than he did with theologizing about sin and how it came about. It’s why he spent more time warning against judging so that we will not be judged, and exhorting us to look at the log in our own eyes instead of only seeing the speck in someone else’s. He accepted it as a reality, as an enemy whose effects needed to be undone. And that’s what we’re experiencing when we read about his radical forgiveness, miraculous healings, disarming deliverances and eventually his defeating of death. That’s why I still believe in and pray for these things.

 

My third point is that sin is pervasive in nature. Paul, in Romans 3:23, writes “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” David in Psalm 51 writes, “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” We see this truth in what follows in Genesis. Eve sees the tree and she sees that it will fulfill her carnal needs, her need for visual pleasure, and her desire for wisdom. Needs that God was already prepared to fulfill. But instead, they took God’s place and sought to fulfill these needs on their own. Ah yes, the root sin of PRIDE. The sin that leads to all other sins. The perpetual attempt to send the message to God, “We’ve got this. We don’t need you. We can do this on our own.”

 

And immediately their eyes are open and they know evil. And “naked and unashamed” becomes “ashamed and covered.” And in their attempt to right the wrong on their own, Adam and Eve sew some leaves together to cover themselves up. Isn’t that like us? Our feeble attempts to right the wrong end up looking like sown leaves trying to cover our naked shame.

 

And God’s response is to make a declaration about how things will be from here on out.

 

And the unraveling continues. Like Weezer’s “Sweater Song,” God holds the string while his very good, image bearing stewards walk away east out of the garden. From this point on, human relationship with God continues to unravel as they attempt to hide from God out of fear; human community further disintegrates as Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the serpent, and God responds with a curse upon the serpent, and a declaration that now Adam and Eve will experience difficulty and pain in their primary roles as fruitful multipliers (procreators) and stewards of creation (producers). They will also experience contention between them as the woman’s desire will be turned toward her husband and his desire will be to rule over her (interesting that this desire is linked to the fall…not original design). Kidner says,  “To love and to cherish becomes to desire and to dominate.” For the next few chapters of Genesis, things come totally undone as Cain kills Abel out of jealousy; then Lamech distorts God’s grace by taking the mercy shown to Cain and using it as a threat of violent revenge (Gen 4:23-24); and then we have this whole conundrum of the sons of God, Nephilim, having sexual relationships with the daughters of humans. Now they’re naked, lying on the floor…lying on the floor…they’ve come undone!

 

Pride, deceit, shame, fear, blame, curses, pain, struggle, contention, broken relationships, misuse of power, jealousy, murder, revenge, sexual perversion…sounds more like the makings of a new Friday night mini-series than the first several chapters of the Bible :-) Eventually, we arrive at Genesis 6:5-7 which reads “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created – people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

 

Sin is personal (guilt) and corporate (corruption). We see its effects in our own lives, and also in the forces we face in the world that are outside of our control. We experience this reality in very real ways through systems that are broken, through those over us who do ungodly things, through all of the things mentioned above. As a friend said recently, “It’s like throwing paper airplanes at a massive bolder!”

 

So, let’s take a look at some of the effects of sin through the lenses of guilt and corruption:

 

Guilt:

God: pride (autonomy), shame, fear

Self: knowledge of evil, guilt

 

Corruption:

Community: shame, blame, pain, jealousy, murder

World/Creation: struggle, toil, abuse, disorder (ex. Nephilim and humans)

 

Gregory Thompson writes, “Sin…stems from a rejection of God’s goodness and results in both pervasive guilt and corruption…Though God intended creation to reflect the state of peaceful wholeness between God, humans, and the world—a state the Bible calls shalom—sin has broken this wholeness, splintering it into the ruin of corruption. Unlike guilt, which is both a status and an experience unique to human beings, corruption extends its sorrows to all of creation: embracing not only our broken inner lives, but also our broken bodies, our broken relationships, our broken cities, and our broken world. Thus in Christian theology, because of sin, a world that was made for the wholeness of shalom, now languishes under the grief of corruption (Rm. 8).”

 

 

[We paused for a powerful testimony about a woman who is taking God's love into a local strip club. I hope to have the audio up soon]

 

My final point is this…and it will act as a bit of a preview for next time…sin is not the final word. The power of sin, which is death, has been defeated (1 Cor 15:26). That’s the Easter message that we continue to celebrate in this Easter season.

 

There is a thread of redemption that runs throughout the story. The thread that eventually leads to the remaking of all things. The sweater gets remade! Here’s a few examples from those first few chapters of Genesis: God commits the first act of killing in order to clothe his image bearers – to cover their shame. God promises that someday an image bearer will crush the serpent and undo his work. God extends mercy to Cain by placing a mark on him. God provides a means of salvation for Noah and his family and the animals…and by extension…all of humanity and creation.

 

And we begin to live that redemption and renewal now as we fulfill our vocational calling as servants and stewards. Each redemptive act like fixing cars and changing the atmosphere in a shop, photographing and entering into people’s precious moments, working with the land and producing fruitful food and relationships, and going to the places that are forsaken and forgotten to take God’s love…each of these acts is one more thread sown back into the fabric of God’s Kingdom.

 

So, how are you implicated? In other words, what are the implications of this understanding for your daily life? How do you experience both guilt and corruption and what will you do about them?

 

Let’s pray.

Gospel Rhythm: Creation

Here is the Powerpoint presentation from Dr. Bryan Hollon’s sermon this past Sunday. I have also included the outline of his notes that is included in the Powerpoint just in case anyone has trouble with the file or doesn’t have Powerpoint.

After sharing a great illustration from Aesop’s Fables about the importance of context, Dr. Hollon proceeded to give the historical and cultural context for when and why the Creation account was written and the implications of that context for the story as we have received it. What follows is his outline from the sermon. I encourage you to read thoroughly because there are some foundational insights in these notes about our view of Scripture, Creation, Identity/Image Bearers, and God that are crucial to our life together at City Hope and our good future together.

I also hope you will be able to join us as we explore the other three Gospel Rhythms in the coming weeks.

 

  1. Christians do not believe in a “dictation theory”
    1. Muhammad
    2. Joseph Smith
  2. Christian particularity –

Mystery of the incarnation

  1. The question for us is: what particular context lies behind the creation story?
    1. Temple destroyed in 6th century
    2. Must now become a people of the book – OT takes shape
    3. Much of what we see in Genesis is meant to distinguish the Hebrews form others and especially from the Babylonia
  2. This is a picture from the Enuma Elish
    1. Many Gods – sun, moon, stars, rivers, oceans, etc. are all gods.
    2. Gods reflect Babylonian culture
    3. They have very human relations with each other and bear children
    4. They plot and scheme and go to war with one another
      1. In fact the heavens and earth are created out of the murdered body of a Babylonian God
    5. And humans, in the Enuma Elish, are created to be nothing more than slaves for the Gods.
  3. We need to stop and think about this. What does this creation story say about the Babylonian view of the world? And about themselves in it? About where they come from and where they are headed? How does this story shape Babylonian hopes and aspirations?
    1. It says, only the strongest and most violent will overcome.
    2. It says that sin, evil, and violence are written into the very fabric of creation.
    3. It says the world is chaos – it comes from chaos, and it will remain in chaos.
    4. This is not a good world – there is no peace.
    5. And humankind is merely a pawn in the hands of violent Gods.
  1. Now, I think we can see the contrasts between these two stories almost immediately.
    1. In Genesis, there is only one God, and everything that is made owes its existence to him.
    2. There is no violence here – no struggle through which the world is made.
    3. In Genesis, God simply speaks and creation springs forth.
    4. This is an orderly world, and most importantly, it is a good world.
  2. One of the things that we can easily miss in an ancient book like this is the use of numbers as symbols. Like all ancient cultures, the Hebrews believed that certain numbers had important symbolic value. Thus, the numbers 3, 4, 7, 12, 24, etc. signified goodness and wholeness. The number 6 stood for incompletion.

When we read Genesis 1 in the ancient Hebrew language, paying attention to the use of numbers, the message is very clear.

  • 7 Day Framework for Creation
  • The Word God occurs 35 times (7×5)
  • Earth – 21 times (7×3)
  • “and it was so” and “God saw that it was good” – 7 times each
  • Genesis 1:1 contains exactly 7 words
  • Genesis 1:2 – exactly 14 words
  • We should stop and think about this for a moment. The Hebrews had been destroyed. Their world was anything but good. But the God of their ancestors had given them a worldview unlike any other in the ancient world. And they clung to it in hope.

The Number 6 = incompletion

Humankind created on the 6th day

To find completion only in the seventh day of rest in God

 

Again, the contrast between the babylonian and the hebrew account is striking.

  1. The Babylonians believed that humans are made to serve as slaves to the gods.
  2. In Genesis, humans are the pinnacle of creation, and after they have been made, God says – not only that it was good, but that it was “very good.”
    1. Humans have been made in God’s own image, and this tells us a great deal about how we are to treat one another.
      1. According to Genesis, humans are of the utmost value.
      2. If we have all been made in God’s image, then who among us is dispensable? When is it ever ok to be callous about the suffering of another?
      3. When is it ever right to objectify another person, or to commit violence against someone who bears the image of God?
      4. Also, in Genesis, the image of God is shared communally. God doesn’t create the man alone in his image or the woman alone. Rather, it is humankind, both man and woman together, who bear the image of God. This truth is supported in Genesis 2 when Adam is portrayed as incomplete until his companion has been made.
    2. Having been made in God’s image also suggests much about our relation to God’s world.
      1. To be an image bearer of God is to serve in God’s place in the world. We are like vice-regents or stewards, made to do God’s work on his behalf.
      2. Genesis says that we have “dominion” which means not only authority over but responsibility for God’s good world.
      3. We have been made stewards to care for the world that God has made.
      4. In other words, creation care is written right into the fabric of the biblical story from the very beginning. Creation care is one of those no-brainer issues for Christians, or at least it should be.
    3. So why have humans been made, according to Genesis?
      1. We have been made for worship – on the 6th day.
      2. We have been made to give and receive from one another – to love, in other words.
      3. We have been made to obey God and to serve as his stewards in creation.

And, of course, we have been made to flourish and to enjoy peace – this is the point of all the 7s.

 

  1. Context helps us avoid missing the point.
    1. The Hebrews were not concerned about our scientific questions.
  2. Context can also help us to see just what the point is:
    1. Our world is not so different from the ancient world.
      1. Violence, Sin, Suffering.
      2. And all kinds of ways to justify our behavior.

Genesis opens our eyes and reveals what we know deep down as creatures made in God’s image:

  1. The world was made by a good and benevolent God.
  2. Humans are made in this God’s image and are endowed with great dignity and worth.
  3. We have been made stewards over this world.
  4. In this world, sin and violence have no place. Sin is not natural – it is an aberration and the consequence of human rebellion.
  5. But our God is entirely sovereign – he spoke creation into being. And with this same word, he will remake and redeem what he good in the beginning.

 

 

Creation Sermon

Immersed

I preached this sermon at our Easter Sunday Baptism Celebration with folks ranging in age from 0 to 60’s/70’s, so I tried to find an analogy that would keep the diverse group engaged. Turns out the pickle analogy got the best reaction :-)

 

John 3
Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night so that they can have un-interrupted conversation. He was an expert teacher who was supposed to know a lot about God. But he comes to Jesus to learn and says, “Jesus, me and my friends know that you are a teacher from God because of the things that we’ve seen you doing.” And Jesus says to Him, “If you want to be a part of what God is doing in the world through me, you will have to be born from above.”

 

Nicodemus didn’t understand Jesus’ answer, and so he asks, “Well, how can I be born a second time? I’m old and I don’t think I’ll fit inside my mom again.”

 

And Jesus’ answer is this: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is Spirit.” So, now Jesus is answering Nicodemus’ question about how He lives all of life in the power and presence of God. He says, “You have to be born from the Holy Spirit…born from heaven.”And Nicodemus asks, “How is that possible?”

 

And Jesus tells him the whole story of how that is possible. He says, “All you have to do is believe in me because God loved the world so much that He sent me to give the gift of salvation that leads to eternal life. If you want it, the gift is available. If you don’t, you can reject it and continue to live in darkness.”

 

As I sat down with our baptism candidates to talk to them about all that baptism means, I found myself continually remembering yet another dimension of baptism and all that it means to the person being baptized…reborn. As I reached for a good analogy, the best one I could come up with is that baptism is like a gift that we continue to open for the rest of our lives. In one season, we may understand one part of the gift, but in another season of life it means something else to us and so we unwrap that part. Can you imagine a gift that never runs out, but gets better the more you use it?

 

That’s what the gift of salvation from Jesus is like. It is an invitation to live all of life in and for God’s Kingdom. And the more I thought about it, I realized that God’s Kingdom is a lot like a swimming pool and learning how to swim. It is a place where a lot of things we didn’t think were possible can happen.

 

In a little bit, we’re going to “baptize” a few of our friends. Do you know what “baptize” means? It means to “immerse” someone. It means to saturate them in something. Like, have you ever eaten a pickle? Do you know what the pickle started out as? It wasn’t a pickle. It was just a plain old cucumber. But after it was pickled in the juices that make it a pickle, it became something totally new and different and better. That’s what happens when we baptize. We pickle someone in God’s new reality. We immerse them in God’s Kingdom and say, “You are made new, different, better!!!” They might not look different on the outside, but on the inside God begins a new work. It is an outward sign of an inward grace.

 

So, here’s a few thoughts I have about God’s Kingdom and swimming and swimming pools and why I think we should all want to be born from the Holy Spirit into God’s Kingdom. That’s what today is all about! We celebrate that Jesus has forever made it possible for us to be born a second time. Not from our mom, but from the Holy Spirit. When Jesus died, He took death with Him. He killed the power of death. And when He rose from the dead, He showed us that His promise of eternal life is true. Because death is not the final word…we can live forever!!!
So, here’s how being immersed in God’s Kingdom is like swimming a swimming pool:
1. First of all, the pool is there whether we get in or not. That’s what God’s Kingdom is like. Even if we don’t see it or admit that it’s there, it exists because of what Jesus has done by dying and rising from the dead. That’s the celebration of Easter! The message of King Jesus is this: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. It is near. In fact, it is inside of you.” You may not see it, but it’s there and it will reveal itself in all kinds of ways through love, and hope, and joy, and peace, and kindness, and humility, and healing and miracles, and salvation and justice and the list goes on and on…until it sort of ends with eternal life…but then goes on forever!!!

 

2. Second, you have to get in the pool. We do this by repentance and faith. This is how we say, “Jesus, I know that I need to be washed clean from my sin, and to put my full trust in you as Lord of my life.” In order to enjoy all that the pool has to offer us – swimming, splashing, diving, etc. – we eventually have to get over our fears and trust enough to get in the pool. We can gain this trust by looking to Jesus, listening to the Bible, and by looking at the lives of others who have gotten in the pool. Jesus calls us into the water and says, “You can trust me.” The Scriptures, the Bible, tell us about why we can trust Jesus because of what He did for us – they are like a floatation device – helping us to stay afloat when we begin to doubt or worry. And lastly, we look around and see other people splashing and diving and having fun in the pool and that tells us that we can trust that someday we’ll be able to enjoy the water like them. We just have to trust the process, and it starts by getting wet…which for us today means being baptized.
3. Next, we have to learn how to swim – to go under and come back up. If you don’t come back up, that’s bad news! Baptism immerses us in God’s reality through dying and rising with Christ. Like Jesus said we have to be born of water and Spirit. The water represents being made clean from sin and its effects. Colossians 2:13-15 says it like this: “And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.” That’s what Easter is all about. Jesus died our death for us, and in rising from the dead, defeated death and those who wield the power of death. The water also represents the gift of the renewing and refreshing power of the Holy Spirit. That’s the gift we get. It means that we can live resurrection life now. In fact, that’s the life Jesus calls us to live now – to do things we never thought were possible! Like someone doing flips and handstand in the pool. Holy Spirit empowers us to live for God and see miracles and transformed lives. Jesus establishes a pattern for the life of discipleship – dying and rising. Jesus even describes his death and resurrection as his baptism. In Romans 6:3-11, Paul says it like this. [Doug read]

4. Next, you become a certified swimmer. The more you practice the better you get. Maybe some of you have taken swim lessons before and at the end of the class you got a certificate that said something like, “So and so is now a certified swimmer.” That’s how it is with baptism. God says, “This is my certified son or my certified daughter.” Baptism is our adoption certificate into God’s family. God gives us His Holy Spirit who acts as the seal that makes our adoption complete and full into God’s family. God says, “These are my kids.” Galatians 4:4-7 says it like this, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Once you are a swimmer, it’s hard to forget how to do it. It’s the same way, no one can take that certificate away from you.

 

5. Lastly, you eventually get good enough that you can teach others how to swim. Once we learn how to swim, we actually have to do it. What if you learned how to swim, but never actually did? What if you just stood in the water with your hands at your side and said, “I’m swimming!!!” No way!!! I love when one of my kids learns how to swim and guess what? They can’t wait to tell other people. Once you get it, you go and tell others about the pool and the joy of swimming. And why? Because there’s room for others. Have you ever been in a pool and they said, “Sorry, there’s only room for a few people so you can’t swim today”? That would stink. But that’s not God’s Kingdom! There’s room for everyone, so we will want to tell others about it and invite them to join us. Baptism commissions us for God’s work in the world. Eventually, we have to get out of the pool and go on with life. But we take that pool with us wherever we go. It’s the same with God’s Kingdom life. Because we were pickled/immersed in God’s reality, it’s inside of us now. And the longer we’re in it, the deeper we can go.

 

Once my kids learn how to swim, one of the first things I say is “Awesome! Let’s go deeper!!!”

 

So, that’s my invitation today. Do you want to go deeper? If so, then I invite you to renew your baptism covenant with God along with those who are being baptized today. And if you’ve never been baptized before because you’ve never jumped in the pool through trusting Jesus, but you want to…then you can say these words along with us too because these words are really expressing what has already happened in Chris and Sean and Zeke’s hearts…and they can happen in your heart too! Let’s go deeper!

Unearthed

Unearthed:

 

Context is king! For our gospel reading today, context is absolutely essential. In a general context, Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and is on a teaching circuit that leads Him to a final clash with the powers that be. In the immediate context, Jesus is talking about the very near reality that He will be departing for a time, but that He will return. In the interim, the call is to be watchful = faithful and wise. Jesus is preparing His followers for what to do after He ascends into heaven. You’d think He’d be giving them a book of rules or lists of things to do. Instead, He teaches them the appropriate way to wait – what to do while He’s away so that they’re ready when He returns. In 25:1, Jesus says, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this…” So, with what is about to be read, you have to think about it in the context of Jesus telling us what the Kingdom of heaven/God will be like as it grows and expands during his seeming absence…while we watch and we wait. And it’s worth noting that He uses a lot of analogies between servants and masters, or managers and owners.

 

Matthew 25:14-30

 

Have you ever seen a problem or situation and wondered why no one was doing something about it? On a regular basis, Christy and the kids tell me stories about the things that are happening in their school: abuse, children barely eating on the weekend, an elementary aged boy who goes home from school and is responsible for bathing and feeding and taking care of his younger siblings. And the thought occurs to me: “Who buried something?” Who got so overwhelmed with life or burdened by the daily grind or pushed down by the abuse of power from others that he or she just buried life? And who has the resources to possibly help with the situation, but instead they’ve buried life too? I guess this reveals what I believe at my core about God. He is a God of abundance, not a God of scarcity so that we need to bury things…or stockpile them for that matter. I believe that if, instead of burying, we would steward we would see lives and communities changed.

 

There’s an Easter paradigm here. Out of what has been buried there is the possibility of resurrection life. Jesus takes all of our burials to the grave with him, and He emerges victorious over them!!!

 

Truth is…We’re good at burying things

First of all, we have to have something to bury – we all have gifts and talents to share; the talents were “entrusted,” not given.

We all have what I have recently heard described as “original glory.” No one is excluded because of status or contribution.

 

If we can agree that we bury, then the question becomes “why do we bury?”.

We bury, first and foremost, because of an incorrect view of the Master – harsh and greedy, or he doesn’t exist in the first place (vv.24-25)

1. As a result, we bury out of fear – “I was afraid, so I went and hid”

2. We bury out of shame – “I’m only a one talent person” – I wonder if the one talent guy looked around and saw what the other two had and thought, “I don’t have what they have, so I’m just going to bury this.” We so easily fall into the comparison trap: “If only I had this job or that wife or those kids or that house, then I’d make a real Kingdom impact!” As Andy Stanley says, “There’s no win in comparison!”; or maybe we have shame and think “I don’t want others to discover these things about me or else they’ll reject me.”

3. We bury out of guilt – “I’m disqualified bc of what I’ve done”

4. We get buried by the actions of others – abuse, manipulation, etc.

5. We get buried by life – things beyond our control (loss of a job, a difficult child, an unexpected death or illness, the immensity of problems around the world – war, poverty, disease, violence, etc)

 

So, that’s why we bury things. But what do we do about it? How do we unearth those things that have been buried? Leslie Newbigin challenges us to look for signs amid the rubble. I love this! Isn’t that our role? To see the rubble/messes/brokenness that’s around us, and to look intentionally for the signs of where God is at work. Here’s what Newbigin says, “…Every faithful act of service, every honest labor to make the world a better place, which seemed to have been forever lost and forgotten in the rubble of history, will be seen on that day to have contributed to the perfect fellowship of God’s Kingdom.” (“Signs Amid the Rubble”). Our Kingdom investments will be revealed when the Master returns.

 

That’s what stewardship is all about. While we’re great at burying things, we’re not always great at intentionally investing things. It takes a lot more work. You can imagine the story being filled in a bit more. The 1 talent servant digs a hole and buries the money. A one-time decision: “I’m just going to burry this and sit back and watch life pass me by.” Do you know anyone like this? On the other hand, the 5 and 2 talent servants had to go out and work with what they had been given. They had to face rejection and the fear of loss. They had to enter into the messiness of exchange and interaction with others. At the same time, they also experienced the joys of seeing multiplication and growth. This is what stewardship is all about…entering into the  buried things and unearthing the signs and realities of God’s Kingdom.

 

“But what does that look like?” you might be wondering. Here’s a few thoughts about what stewardship is:

 

1. Stewardship involves taking an honest evaluation of what you’ve been given – 5, 2, 1…a talent equaled about 15 years of a laborers wages. So, even 1 talent was a substantial amount of money. The 1 talent servant hadn’t been left out. Guess what? You haven’t either!

2. Stewardship involves taking a risk – our level of risk is directly proportional to our understanding of the master. Vv.20 – “Master, you handed over to me – you gave me a gift” He’s a good master!

3. Stewardship is about faithfulness – well done good and faithful servant (v.21)…not “great and successful” Life is a marathon, not a sprint. God’s measure is not fruitfulness, but faithfulness. It’s what Eugene Peterson refers to as “A long obedience in the same direction.”

4. And just like burying things, Stewardship is ultimately about our view of the master

Is he a harsh master? Frankly, I am weary of “harsh master” theology or what I like to call “POS Christianity” which has as its main goal to constantly remind me what a terrible, worthless wretch me and others are. As if that’s God’s primary goal is to constantly nag us about how much we fail and screw up. I really believe that’s what happened with the 1 talent servant. His unfounded fear incapacitated him and so he went and buried what he had been entrusted with. You even hear it in his final words, “Here you have what is yours.” He didn’t want to take any responsibility or ownership. Can you relate to that? How have you disqualified yourself out of fear or shame or guilt? I can’t tell  you how often I hear people say something along the lines of, “I would love to serve or lead or step up or whatever, but I’ve done too much in my life that disqualifies me,” or “I don’t have all my stuff together so I can’t step out.”

But what if the master is a loving father? What if he sows and scatters his love and mercy and grace generously? You hear it in the master’s response: “You knew did you…” In other words, “You thought you knew what I was like…but you were wrong.” We have to start here with stewardship. We have to start with a correct view of the master as a generous, loving father. Truth is, most of us can’t get over this hurdle. We’ve had sometimes horrific and sometimes not so great experiences with parents. So, the idea of a loving parent…a loving and generous father who wants abundance for us… is a fanciful illusion.

But what if it’s true? What if God can’t wait to say to us, “Well done! Because of what you did with what I gave you, I am going to give you even more. Now, enter into the joy of my kingdom!”

 

In the end, the message is clear: “You should have done something!” Stewards hunger and thirst for more of the Kingdom of God. They evaluate and take risks with what they’ve been called to be faithful to. They have an “all of life” mentality which believes that the truest truth is that God is good and He’s Lord of all of life. That’s why the story ends as it does. “To those who have…or more like…those who realize what they have and do something with it, they will be given to the point of abundance. But to those who don’t realize what they have and who they have it from and therefore don’t do anything with it, even that will be taken away from them and they will be thrown out into “outer darkness.”

 

We have a calling at City Hope to elevate the significance and intentionality around the stewardship conversation. It is going to direct a lot of why and what and how we do things moving forward. So, as a further step today, I would like us to take the first step of stewardship which begins with an evaluation of what we have.

 

Hand out papers: Life of Discipleship Chart

What fits into these categories?

What has God given you to steward?

Keep this paper and ask, “Where is God calling me to be faithful?” and “Where is God calling me to take a risk?”