“Who were you carrying the stone for?”

Three of the most terrifying verses in the Bible for anyone who claims to be Christians is Matthew 7.21-23:Image

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Over the years, I have met a lot of people who confess faith in the gospel.  And though many of them will embrace “faith by grace”, I have found there remains a lot of confusion about how to exactly the doctrine grace operates in our delay life.  There are two common perversions of grace.  One makes too little of it  and one makes too much of it; one says that though there is grace there is still EVERYTHING to do, and the other says that because of grace there is NOTHING do…ever. The fault of both is, at the core, a similar problem with heart motivation.  Both are thinking more about themselves, what they have to do or not do, than they are about what Christ has done.  One is self-righteous while the other is self-absorbed and though they claim to be Christians, neither truly knows Christ or loves him at all–at least not more than they love themselves..    

So where is all of this going?  

Yesterday, I was running (moving my legs fast while trying not to suffocate) and listening to a sermon by Tim Keller.  I rarely listen to sermons of my contemporaries because I am always tempted to play the compare game.  Tim Keller is no contemporary.  And because he is old, brilliant, and gifted, I”m convinced I will never play in his leagues–compared to Keller, I will always be Junior Varsity. Having accepted that reality, I find deeply rewarding to listen to him.  

His sermon was a review of what he had been teaching in Romans 6, 7, and 8.  I don’t exactly what the title is, but what I am about to paraphrase is all from him.  He recounted a familiar story about Jesus, one that is not found in the Bible (so don’t look for it), useful for challenging our motivations for why we follow Jesus.  Here is the story:

Jesus ask his disciples, “Who will carry a stone for me?”  

All the disciples agree that they will, and they all proceed to pick up different size rocks.  Peter, being a bit more clever than the others, picks up a small pebble of a stone and slips it in his pocket.  With rocks i two, the disciples follow Jesus across the countryside until it is dusk.  They stop, set up camp, wondering what they are going to eat.  

Jesus says to his disciples, “Hold out your stone.”  

They all do and Jesus miraculously turns them all to bread.  Most of the disciples eat and are satisfied.  Peter, snacking on his pebble-sized stone, goes to bed hungry.  The next morning, they break camp.  Before they are about to leaving, Jesus again says, “Who will carry a stone for me.”

This time, a bit wiser, Peter finds the largest boulder he can carry.  He lifts it on his shoulder and follows Jesus across the countryside.  Near the end of the day, Jesus leads them to the side of a river.  He then tells his disciples to throw their stones into the water.  They all do.  Then Jesus proceeds to walk.  

Tired and still quite hungry, Peter gets upset about what just happened.  Knowing his heart, Jesus turns to Peter and asks, “Who were you carrying the stone for?”

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There is no such thing as a FAITH-CATION

As the 3-day memorial day weekend looms, the mind of a pastor can often wander into places that are not healthy. The unending flow of twitter updates and Facebook posts praising various vacation destinations, Instagram photos of amusement park rides they’re about to go on, and an inbox full of forgetful folks requesting “subs” to fill spots on Sunday serve only to further deepen the anxiety.  This is certainly not a healthy place for a pastor to live–but it is a realistic one for those leading the family of families called the church.  

Imagine  the preacher, the band, the teachers, the coffee makers, as “hosts” of a grand dinner.  With great anticipation, they do all the prep work show up early, only to realize that his guests decided to order pizza and stay home or get fast food on the way out-of-town.  The hosts would find themselves staring out the window praying that God would bring someone to receive the fruit of their labor.  The preacher may get to the point where he actually is uncertain if there going to be anyone coming into his home this weekend.  Then, Jesus will speak to Him.  It might be whisper or a barbaric yawp.  And, after listening, the pastor (and anyone other hosts) will come face to face with his idolatry.   By grace, he will confess his sin, repent, and fill his mind with the truth of God.  He will hold fast to the conviction that God is glorified whether two people or two thousand people gather.  The day will be awesome.

But then, later in the day, he’ll sit and wonder about the hearts of those who will not be there. Perhaps the better question is not whether “his” people will be at “his” church on Sunday but, rather, whether HIS (God) people will gather at HIS (God) church somewhere or will even take the time to commune with “HIM” (God) while away on vacation.  Vacations are wonderful terrible things it seems.

Welcome to my world–one that you probably think sounds pretty screwed up.  My intent is not to lob shame on anyone who chooses avoid church on vacation.  But it is my intention for all of us to ask some questions about what “rest” really means.  Admittedly, vacations have always been a strange and difficult thing for me personally.  I never rest very well.  My mind is always working, even if my body is doing little more than atrophying.  It takes me at least two days into the vacation to actually begin vacationing.  There are others who rest VERY well on vacation…perhaps too well or too often.  Within seconds of the official start of a “vacation”, they are able to disconnect from everything, people, chores, kids, work, stress, and technology.  But I’ve wondered if, sometimes, they go on vacation from God.  I wonder this because I know I am guilty of it myself.

We’re really not supposed to ever disconnect from God at anytime in life. Not at work, not at home, not even on our vacation.  In other words, there is no such thing as a Faith-cation–unless your faith is little more than religion–which makes it really easy to shut on and off all the time.  It’s not that genuine Christians SHOULDN’T do this, it’s that I don’t believe we actually can.  In some sense, it should be near impossible to take a break from a living relationship with a person (like taking a break from our marriage–how do you do that?). Again, unless you’re God isn’t really a person which takes us back to the whole religion thing again.

First Corinthians 10.31 says that whether we “eat or drink, or whatever we do, do all to the glory of God.”  That is a pretty comprehensive list–eating, drinking, and whatever you DO.  That means that we have the ability to recreate to the glory of God.  It also means that there is a way to NOT glorify God on vacation.

But I started this blog with talking about gathering as the church this weekend, so let me clarify.  Everyone will agree that, unless you are part of some weird cult (or a nut-job fundamentalist church), going to a particular church on Sunday cannot and does not make you a genuine Christian.  But, without doubt, genuine Christians are committed to gathering as the church family regularly.  There is no guilt compelling them, no self-righteousness effort involved, simply a heartfelt desire to be with the people of God, to fellowship with them, to serve with them, to worship with them, and to commune with Christ, by His Spirit, in a way that is only possible together.  Vacation doesn’t change that desire.  So, depending on where you are, that might mean you gather with another group of believers–praise God.  But, if you are climbing the peaks of the Himalayas, you might find that difficult.  In that case, you still have a desire to intentionally commune with God personally, to read his Word, to pray, to enjoy God as a part of the vacation and not a distraction from it.

It is important to get out of our normal context for a time to rest, reflect, and to recreate.  God wants us to Sabbath.  But Sabbath rests were made for us so that we might enjoy God.  So, as we vacation, perhaps we should all consider how we might display the greatness of God while we are away–and not just how we plan to do that when we get back.

Monday Morning Preacher: Only Two Ways to Live (Judges 6)

The first 10 verses of Judges chapter 6 are probably ones that most readers will spend little time Imageconsidering.  The average reader of Judges (and their aren’t too many) would rather skip ahead to verse 11 for the “action” of Gideon and his “300” begins to unfold.  A careful reading of Judges 6 makes these first verses feel  somewhat parenthetical, almost like a speed bump in thought before entering the main thoroughfare.  There are no accidental anecdotes in God’s Word; every word is carefully and intentionally breathed out by God to declare His glory and build our faith. These 10 verses are intended to slow us down so that we don’t lose sight of God’s point for the larger story, of which Judges is simply one chapter in.

Continue reading “Monday Morning Preacher: Only Two Ways to Live (Judges 6)”

Monday Morning Preacher: Stop Singing in the Shower

I waited patiently for the LORD; Image
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.

Psalm 40.1-3 

I preached on the Song of Deborah (Judges 5) this week.  It is one of those texts that most will read hastily, without much thought, as it seems little more than a commentary on chapter 4.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  There is much to learn from this song, one that was written to help preserve, protect, and even perpetuate the cultural identity of Israel as God’s people.  In summary, it is a song about the details of what happened before, during, and after the battle between the people of Israel and Sisera. Among other things, the “lines” of the song by, about, and for God include:

  1. God is a warrior. He created everything and thus is more powerful than any false god of creation.
  2. God is a gatherer.  He invites all of his children to join him on mission because all of his children have a unique “something” to contribute and a specific role to play, in the battle.
  3. God is like a mother.  He protects, provides, and cares for his children like a mother does her young.  Through Deborah, and all women, we see a beautiful expression of an aspect of God’s nature. 
  4. God is a judge.  He condemns his children who refuse to fight for Him just as he does his enemies who fight against Him.
  5. God is a conductor.  He orchestrates his song so that it plays perfectly no matter the instrument. 
  6. God is a preacher.  He speaks to inspire, empower, and move.  Through the voices of men and women, God accomplishes his mission through living words. 

In summary, God is a singer, a songwriter, and a song all in one.  But the most poignant point that hit me, as I preached, the one that I would probably spend more time emphasizing, is that we are called to join God in singing about Him. Psalm 40 says God has given us a new song to sing. It is our responsibility and privilege.  

Sadly, though we are invited to join God’s band, most of his children never get out of the shower with singing about our faith.  Yes, weird thought, but you know what I mean (Unless you’re a “bath” person in which case I am more concerned that you enjoy sitting in a tepid pool of your own filth).  We all sing spontaneously, boldly, and loudly in the shower, in private.  And of course, in the shower, we think we sound amazing, we think we remember the words (and tone) “perfectly”, and overall we think perform splendidly with help from our showerhead microphone.  And we do and think all of this fearlessly, and with incredible zeal, because we know (or hope) that no one is watching to judge our performance.

Yes, though we know God has said that faith comes by “hearing” and that by the Word of God–we fail to evangelize and refuse to sing about the glories of God in salvation publicly–at least not like we do in the shower.  In the shower, we pretend to be rock stars.  But once we step outside of our comfortable isolation chamber, we dare not sing out of fear all of the “Satan Cowell judges” around us. 

We must sing God’s song publicly as if the world is our community shower.  We must proclaim the news of His salvation without apology, declare freedom from sin without hesitation, and announce the glories of God’s Kingdom as if there is no “performance” tomorrow.  So close your eyes, fill your lungs, and let if fly–for God has given us a new Song, and it holds the power of salvation for all who believe. 

Monday Morning Preacher: a Judge, a soldier, and a harlot…

Ugh. Rarely do I ever write a sermon that I don’t completely rewrite in my mind AFTER I have preached it. This not only evidences the richness of God’s immeasurably deep word, it also probably evidences my own desire to try and control more than I actually can.  God is in control and speaks what he wants, when he wants, through and to whom he wants, despite me.

Nevertheless, God has graced me a blog to share my revisionist thoughts.  This week’s sermon was a difficult one. All week I have been at a loss to the “big lesson” we are supposed to gain from this 4,000 year old story. I am resigned to believe that most of the lessons we can learn from Scripture are secondary to the one lesson we are supposed to learn–God is big, God is awesome, and God is in control of everything. By everything, I really do mean everything…yes, even “that”.

Judges 4 and 5 are confusing because, unlike most of the sections of judges, there is not one clear deliverer but three. The first is a faithful female prophet, the only identified as filling the office of a judge. The second is a partially faithful general, the only one affirmed in the New Testament for his faith as a judge. And the third is unfaithful pagan, the only one who actually does the “judging”.

But as I sit here, a mere hour or so after I finished my second sermon, I can’t stop thinking about the second guy, Barak, and the fact that Hebrews 11.32 cites him as the faithful one. The weird thing is that Barak appears to be the LEAST faithful of them all. God’s word is spoken to him and, in response, he basically tells God he’ll obey what He just said conditionally. He says in essence, “I’ll obey if you do this, and I won’t if you don’t”: Whether or not this is the response of a cowardly man, we’re not told. What we are told is that God, through Deborah, agrees to his condition telling him that the path he has chosen will not lead to his personal glory. Conditions met, Barak proceeds to do exactly what God said to do and, in the process, deliver Israel. God still uses him despite his unfaithfulness, and he still blesses whatever faith he musters in order to help deliver Israel.

That is all he ends up being, though he does most of the work, an assistant. He doesn’t get the glory–that is given to Jael–the seductive wife of his enemies’ ally. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned in Barak’s faithfulness. Perhaps this is why he is commended. In essence, we see Barak accepting that the battle will be fought, but not won, by Him. He is a role player–something he is not used to. Ultimately, he will not be recognized, he will not be commended, and he will not be glorified for the work that he does. Instead, his faithfulness results in someone else being recognized, someone else being commended, and someone else being glorified.

And while it is tempting to believe that that person is Jael, it isn’t. It is God. In the end, we find that all of us are supporting actors to the one true hero of the Bible. That is not only for the glory of God, but for our joy.