Union with Christ, union with man.

Union with Christ, union with man.

Among monotheistic world religions the concept of union with God is peculiar. World religions depend on the ineffability of God, his distance, in order to maintain his character as one who should be feared and followed. This has a dramatic effect on human ethics. If you are not in union with God then it makes sense that your behavior is only skin deep, it is outer devotion, it is performance-based. In Christianity God is connected to us at a deeper level. He is affected by us and, more importantly, we are affected by Him. This is why Christianity can, without being arrogant, unloving, or judgmental, talk about your sexual ethics and how we spend our money and our race relations and the need to forgive our enemies - because something greater than simple affiliation with God is at work here - we are in union with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. We belong to God, and the affection, blessing, love, commitment that rests on us also changes us. Union does not just challenge my behavior, it challenges my hope. It believes better than my belief, bringing me encouragement in my grief and repentance in my pride and perseverance in my parenting and fruitful living when I feel cold-hearted. An ineffable, distant God cannot do this. He or she or it cannot be in relationship with us; the argument James makes is that in the case of a moralistic or surface faith the heart of speech is unaffected, so our speech is unaffected.

If we are in union with Christ then speech is only one of the things that will be different in the world around us. We will be in union with the mission of Christ in the world, taking it upon ourselves to be Christs, to speak - and not just to speak but to live - in such a way that the world is rescued. We will not only be a people of the good news, but good news people; indistinguishable from the truth we bring.

In Christ you are willing to suffer for the other because they are you, they are your flesh. Christianity, union with Christ, gives the only rationale for true brotherhood and sisterhood, true unity in the world is born with unity in the Body of Christ, among the people of God. This is why a church consumed by spiritual maintanence, faith only, is so abhorrent to James, and we must continue to reject it and to push on as a church to something greater. Our union with Christ must bless the world. Our neighbor must reap the benefit or it isn’t union with Christ. The world is not civil, it is not safe, people do stupid, terrible, nonsense things to one another. The church must be uniquely courageous here because we have jurisdiction. Human identity is the image of Christ. Human flourishing is the Kingdom of Christ. This is our circus, these are our monkeys.

Faith, if it is breathing, must breathe good works

Faith, if it is breathing, must breathe good works

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14–17 ESV)

The scriptures tell us that we must reject a non-breathing faith as if it is a living thing. This is a serious offense in our culture because a non-breathing faith allows us to maintain a private spirituality. You know the old, “I’m spiritual but it’s a very private belief.” The only problem with that is that evil and suffering is very public and it demands a public response! The private, easy-going religious person greets physical need with religious language and non-physicality. Be warmed and be filled sir. In the name of Jesus. Faith without works cannot interact in the world of real needs and real non-faith. Somehow we have allowed faith to exist in a realm where it does not have to be seen, or physical, or worth much. And that is perfect for our busy, physical lives. It costs us nothing to wish the world well.

Show me your faith without works. He moves on - you believe in one god, way to go! We think of faith as belief in the existence of God. Even demons believe that, but at least when they believe it, it provokes an actual response. They tremble. They move, we don’t. What’s wrong with this picture? Is it possible that demons have a more orthodox response to God, a more faithful faith, so to speak, than those who call themselves Christians but live lives of safety, comfort and control? To have faith without works, faith that is little more than a hobby, to do this is demonic. Faith without works is dead and deadly, it reduces the kingdom of God to a trivial reality. This is a tragic misunderstanding that is close to what we might call the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. To deny the works of the Holy Spirit is to deny the Holy Spirit himself. It is to get salvation and the gospel wrong. It is that serious. 

The do nothing church, the church content to grow into a base of spiritual maintanence, is an issue of integrity and truth-telling for every member of the trinity: the Father who promised that a world would be changed from the moment of our first sin, for Jesus who promised that his disciples would do his works, and for the Holy Spirit who promised to enliven us so that we might fulfill the great commission. We must not make a liar out of God.  

At first glance, if you’re somewhat theologically astute it looks as if James is contradicting the scriptures. After all doesn’t the Apostle Paul tell us that we are justified by grace through faith - not by works. But we have to understand the situation each book is speaking to - in this case James is not speaking to where faith begins but where it finishes. James is attempting to uphold the significance of the grace of God for not just the beginning of faith but for the end. All of us have seen what happens when a beautiful structure falls into disrepair. James is saying that real faith is finished by works, it is not left barren, vacant, a house with beautiful bones but nothing else. 

The Apostle Paul says grace is so beautiful it results in salvation. James says the grace of God is so beautiful it results in glory. Faith means the person who has been rescued by God cannot help but rescue. Faith means the person who was poor in spirit, who was desperate for the bread of faith cannot watch the poor and wretched suffer. It is a common thread of argument throughout the Scriptures. Jesus more than anyone else says that being forgiven makes you crazy for forgiveness, and if you aren’t crazy for the forgiveness of man it’s a sign that you’ve not been forgiven at all. The church of Jesus must not only pray for the salvation of Jesus but for the works of Jesus, for the Kingdom of Jesus, that the whole world might breathe a living faith. 

Temple

Temple

“And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:17–22 ESV)

{From a sermon given 7.23.17}

 

Once, on return from a conference my flight was delayed, then canceled. It was a late flight and the next morning was my daughter's birthday; I had been away from both my daughters and wife for a week. I chose a flight into dayton that would get me at least that much closer to home, then I could rent a car and drive the remaining distance. The experience of that last hour's drive was maybe the most unholy experience I've ever had - not because I was particularly wicked that night driving home, no road rage. But it was the slowest drive, the miles crept, crept. I knew what was waiting for me - the arms of my wife, a long shower, the faces of my daughters in bed. Everything about it was holy, set apart, beautiful and good. God-sent. And I felt the ache of the distance between where I was and where I wanted to be. It was a long way home. 

It's a long way to holiness. It's a long way that drive, it's a long way late at night and your heart sinks in bed from loneliness or fear. It's a long way to holiness when you walk out of the hospital after a long shift into god-knows what hour of night, and what greets you on the drive home is the thought that you have to work more when you get there. It's a long way to holiness when you can't make ends meet. It's a long way when you show up at a church with runner's shoes and a runner's soul that barely flickers, and you just know you're not going to find it, holiness, here. But you show up anyway. Because who knows, there could be something there, some whiff of something. Something in the stained glass, something in the bread or the wine.

The opposite of holiness is to be distant from God. To know, even if no one else does, that your heart separates you. Here in Ephesians God gives us the contrast between holiness and un-holiness. The distance from being wrong to being righted again. This is a frequent confusion in the church, one with drastic consequences. It is possible to be both moral and unholy at the same time - the Pharisees showed us how. It is possible to be raggedly holy, the disciples, the woman at the well, showed us that. If you think that holiness equals pristine morality, then you will always love your morality more than Jesus. 

So How do you get there, to holiness? If holiness is to be like God in his character and work, united to God and to his goodness, to no longer be a stranger, to no longer live far off from Him it will require something more radical than moral and religious wishing to get there. 

***

That church at Ephesus, so consumed by the mystical, the local deities, the marketplace gods and goddesses you can buy and sell to make the day less blue or fill your pockets. The little deities who were part of a spiritual city. Paul in a letter here says that if you want holiness, you really want the God of the Bible, because unlike so many others that keep you distant, this God brings holiness to you. In fact he makes you into holiness itself. This is what the text is telling us: there is justification, when we are declared innocent by the blood of Jesus Christ upon our embrace of him. That is merely point A. There is also sanctification, being made holy, the process of going from point A to point B. The answer we are given is that holiness is by the Spirit of God at work in the Temple of God. 

A quick primer: if your only exposure to temple is the Temple of Doom, let me give you quick historical data. Temple worship was instituted by Moses, the author of the first five books of the Bible, in obedience to God. The first version of the Temple was a small-scale roving tabernacle. It went wherever God's people went, and through it they worshipped regularly, structuring their lives around the process of hearing the word of God proclaimed, making confession of sins, and receiving a pardon through the blood sacrifice of animals, then receiving the priestly benediction. Around 1000 BC, once God's people had a land and were no longer wandering, they built a permanent Temple. God's real presence among his people was always of critical importance to their daily life. The process of holiness, the way of being right with God, the way of growing up into maturity, was being in the presence of God.

A.W. Tozer, 20th-century american churchman who signed away the royalties for his books to those in need, described the process of holiness this way: 

“Holiness, as taught in the Scriptures, is not based upon knowledge on our part. Rather, it is based upon the resurrected Christ in-dwelling us and changing us into His likeness.”

God builds us together into a temple for his Spirit to dwell. So when we are called together, being built stone upon stone, life upon life, grief upon grief, joy upon joy, belief upon barely belief, your part-time agnosticism upon mine, we become the Temple of the living God. And in all our ramshackle glory heaven breaks in on earth, our mortality is swallowed up by immortality, the Spirit of God which raised Jesus from the dead goes to work in the middle of wherever we are with faith. He "temples" us to make us holy, transforming us breath by breath from messes to holy messes.

To be templed is to be washed clean. Sin and suffering are addressed through the word of God; we confess to one another and to God, we receive the pardon of God for our sins. We agree together that there is power in the blood of the Son. We do not allow ourselves to believe that we do not need cleansing. And we do not let people lurk in the shadows who believe they can never be clean, who are content to beg, who show up in church and are terrified sthat they will be found out, and we don't allow Christians to puff out their chests, who cannot imagine that they would need that kind of help from God. This temple function of being washed clean, which we do each week through the liturgy - you notice during the pardon we take part in the washing that comes from Christ - it allows us to speak courageously even amidst our own failures. It allows us to pursue good even when our hearts are weighed down by sin.

To be templed is to be nourished. The Temple of God has always been a place where faith is strengthened, where we receive the blessing of God to be what we are called to be. We receive the presence of God to pursue holiness. So that when we gather together it isn't foolish to believe that the action of worship could actually change things for us. Part of the way to holiness is for God to feed you by his presence. You must have your faith nourished by God if you are to be holy. A church that is not a temple is merely optimistic. When we take the Lord's Supper each week it is for the real spiritual presence of Jesus that we eat and drink. We want to follow God, we know we need Jesus, so we hear the word of the prophets and the Apostles, and we drink to Jesus! When I tell you that we must press on to uncommon generosity, that blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, I am not pressing on you a burden, but a delight, because you are fed by God for those tasks, and to walk that road is to see God at work in you. 

To be templed is to be set apart. There is a ministry of the temple in its dignifying and commissioning function as well. When the people of God temple together we are set apart by God through our worship-for the task of Godly life in his world. We are reminded of our identity, encouraged in that task, sent out for a purpose. Temple worship is, weekly, an opportunity to remember the goodness of God, the need of the world around us, and the provision of God to meet that need. And for those of us who arrive with two left feet and a grim soul, it must be an unbelievable joy to be told that you have this destiny. But again, if this isn't a temple, if there isn't a cleansing, if there's no nourishment in the gospel, then the benediction is well-wishing and not much more. 

Having been templed by God, how do we bless the world? We make the ground holy in far off places. It means that both our worship of God and our spirituality are temple-shaped. The same way we engage in temple life elsewhere, because everyone temples.

An Ohio State football game is not just a game, it is an experience. There is a liturgy and a responsive reading, there is an emotional process of being cleansed and nourished. O-H-I-O, Hang on Sloopy, sitting in our seats, standing and sitting down, clapping, shouting, hoping, having our emotions engaged. The difference of course is that after the game, without a ticket stub, there is no lasting difference made in our lives. We expect our temples to shape our lives, for at least as long as we give ourselves to them. So how do we live a life shaped by the temple of God?

We hold out for the world a worship service as one of our very best ways to love people and to be a temple for the world. It has structure that helps them learn how to worship, but more importantly, a worship that cleanses, nurtures and sets them apart. Our worship service should temple the world. We are committed to a robust temple worship service. So if you were invited here by someone this morning it’s because they believed that you, as much as they, need to be nourished spiritually, challenged and grown up in God. Anne Lamott, in her story of faith, was brought to a state of conviction over her sin and her need for God through all the parts of worship, not just the preaching but the singing and the readings and those living stones built on the cornerstone - that all of it was heavy, substantial, real and true. Every part of the worship service needs to have some heft.

We also take a temple shape between worship services. It is how the Temple happens outside, it is the way that we become temples too. This week multiple families that do not attend our church were connected to us through the intersection of relationship and need, and families in our church were excited to provide for them. You do not have a temple spirituality unless the outside world is shaped by its presence. When Papa Wemba, the Congolese inventor of the Rumba died, the BBC interviewed grief-stricken Congolese. When they asked about Wemba the people almost unfailingly broke into dance. He shaped them by the shape of his life. The Temple makes temples. Your fellow print machine operators know that you can keep secrets, you hear their confessions, their fears. They do not know but they are experiencing the Temple, but they are, because you are one of those stones. Your patients know when they see you that they are not a patient satisfaction score, or a file that moves from the inbox to the outbox; they know you see them, they know you are not indifferent, they know - somewhere in the cosmic darkness you get sucked into when you are terribly ill, they know they are someone to you. They have been set apart. They are at temple, without knowing it. 

The reason for the Temple is so that there will no longer be far off places and far off people. And if we are going to build a life, if we are going to build a church, and if it will be more than a place for baptizing, marrying and burying, if it will be more than a place for learning bible trivia, then we must commit to being a temple together, so that our church can know Jesus and do some good. That’s all we can ask. That’s where we’re going. A church that cleanses, nourishes, and sets apart. We have an agenda: we want no more far off places or far off people. 

***

In John chapter one, verse fourteen, we learn what it means to go a long way for holiness. The word says that the Word of God, that is, the love of God, the face of God, the power of God, the desire of God, the goodness of God, put on flesh and "tabernacled" with us. We translate it "dwelled" but the word is Tabernacled. He templed with us from the moment he came into the world. He put on flesh because only flesh can bleed. He came a long way for holiness, and the holiness he was after was you and me transformed from point A to B, into people built upon his word and one another, built with him as the cornerstone. He was after us and he came a long way. His very presence in the world was a gift. He was wrapped, literally, in the means to make you holy. That's why he can look at you and call you holy. He calls you holy even while you're on the road, even while you are a long way off, in the middle of things, in the middle of hoping, finding the words to pray, learning generosity at a snail's pace, asking your children for forgiveness, asking your neighbors for forgiveness. Even a long way off you are a part of a holy temple, resting upon Christ and even when you are out of breath, nearly out of hope, having your lungs filled with the Spirit of the living, dwelling, templing, God. 

Love

Love

"After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 - John 6.66-70

{From a sermon given 7/16/17}
 
I was a part of the generation that began to try to force the name of Jesus into the mainstream. People that wanted to insist that we think about Jesus the way we do the other good things in our lives. They made T-Shirts that had peanut butter cups on them but where Reese’s would have been instead it was Jesus. Or a Ford emblem that said, instead of Built Ford Tough, Built Lord tough. Instead of Starbuck, it was Jesus and a crown of thorns on a sticker. We found that the world around us was generally willing to make room for Jesus in the marketplace. And we thought we had won. And maybe that was the problem - it was our hope to tell people that Jesus was good, like chocolate, or like coffee, that he was something we should not be ashamed of. But there was no place to tell the truth, the real truth, which is this: that it is the love of Jesus that we need. Jesus is so good that you should love him, unlike those things to which we give parts of ourselves, with all your heart and soul and strength.  

The Apostle Peter stands in the background of John 6 as Jesus receives volley after volley from offended followers. Jesus fed the 5000, which was quite a thing, but then he called himself the bread of life, which to us seems pretty obviously the outcome of all those loaves and fishes but not to the religious leaders of the day, and not to the everyday folks who followed Jesus out into the hills to grab hold of the latest Messiah to fill their stomachs with the hope that they could make themselves well. The crowd wanted a religion as flimsy as bread on the water. But as the NT Scholar FF Bruce said,“What they wanted, he would not give; what he offered, they would not receive.” Jesus demanded devotion, love, exclusivity. And just as it is an offense in that place, among those people, it is also an offense in this place, in my heart and yours. They voted with their feet. Many, the Scriptures say, fall away. And I’m afraid we vote that way too. 

We should not judge too harshly those disciples that walked away. The idea of a God that requires everything from us, that does not bend to our will, is terrifying. The God that asks us to live generously to people we do not love, or in some cases do not know. A God who makes us nervous in all of his talk about giving all and following him. When someone tells you that they are life itself, that you must eat and drink them, isn’t the most rational response, in the end, isn’t it just common sense to shrug? And don’t we do the same thing as we consider the person we have not forgiven, the poor we have not served, the prisoners we have not visited, the sin we have treasured? We are not alone in this difficulty to love Jesus as we should. The New Yorker rerprinted Flannery O'Connor's writing journal from her earlier years as she struggled to integrate her life as a writer and her life as a Christian:

"Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing."

The text says literally that they backed away, away. Haven’t we backed away too, it’s okay to admit it - you’re in the right place this morning if you're lukewarm about all this - Jesus loves the honesty. Haven’t we backed away from the idea of a Jesus that you love? Every week I have to be called back by the sermon. I hope you will be too. This sermon series is called A Life in Nine Words, and the word this week is "love."

There is the love that we are to have for Jesus, an exclusive, devoted, affectionate love, and for most sermons about our love for Jesus this is where we would begin, with our love: a burner of a sermon about how cold our hearts are toward God, and how we might make them warmer, get water from the rock, blood from a turnip. I would spend the balance of the time telling you to fix your feelings because your feelings are broke. Fine. That’s not the preaching you’re getting this morning. As the disciples are questioned about their love for Jesus - about whether they will stay or walk away - Peter, who is so much like us, he's a "volume shooter," sometimes he gets it right. Here's what he says: "where else are we going to go Jesus? You have the words of eternal life, we believe you, that you are the Holy One of Israel." Peter sees here that it is the love of Jesus that provokes a response of love from his people. The degree to which you are believers in the love of Jesus, well that's the degree to which you will love Him with your whole heart. 

I know, if you're a skeptic, or just mildly bored by your faith in Jesus this all sounds hopelessly esoteric, caught in the clouds, and we are here on the ground of things. But what else could be more relevant in everyday life than knowing, without a doubt, that we are truly, cosmically, powerfully, assuredly loved? What could be more relevant than to know that this love does not leave us, does not embarrass us and does not need to be impressed by our competence. Peter says two things, that Jesus is the word of life, and he is the Holy one of Israel. You have to know the love of Jesus before you can love Jesus. 

But what does that love look like?

The word of eternal life means that God has given the way to life. That we can flourish and become the men and women we are called to be. That whatever is deathly in us, all that makes us broken and wicked and lost - the anger that burns not only us but those we love, the greed that makes us hate the money other people have, that turns our work into an unhappy practice in coveting. Whatever is deathly, our addictions, the addiction to escape, gambling and sex and eating and gossiping - the temptation to know something that others want to know. All of it finds an end in the word that Jesus brings. He brings eternal life - light for our darkness. Life for us, if only we want it. The word of life is the love of Jesus for us. But of course the book of John says that we preferred darkness. Remember Jesus sought Peter out, invited him in to salvation, held out eternal life for him. The love of Jesus was the fisherman become the one fished. That has to mean something. This is love. Peter knew that the darkness in his heart was dark indeed, that he preferred death to life, so when life came calling it was love he knew he didn't deserve, and it hooked him. And this is why we celebrate the love of Jesus every week. It is why we direct ourselves to Jesus in worship - and we expect for him to respond, not because we love him but because he loves us. We are hanging on that love while we confess and pray and listen and sing.

The Holy One of Israel is a statement of expectation, weight, longing, exclusivity, promise. For peter it is the recognition that God has come a long way for him, that his promise has stretched out over a great distance, he has come a long way to save his people. For Jesus to be the holy one of Israel means that all is not lost, that this is a love from God that spans generations, that is informed by heartbreak and broken promises of his people. So when you wonder if the God of the Bible is a God of love you have the long story of his patience and endurance. You have the evidence of what he has walked through and the testing of his love. When Jesus shows up he wears, in his flesh, the evidence that God’s promise to be our God endures. 

Sometimes we lose track of how long is the story of the love of God. As a young boy I remember the smell of my mother’s coat when she returned home after her shift. It smelled like the restaurant when she waited tables, I could smell the sauce at Lentini’s. But I could also smell the city because she often had to walk a long way from work when we couldn’t afford a car. I had the evidence of what she went through to love me. This is true of the love of Jesus for you. He is the physical evidence of the long way God goes for his people. This is not puppy love, it is not infatuation that dies after a while, this is long-term covenantal love. He is the Holy one of Israel. He is the one who loves you just like he said he would. Peter is saying Jesus you are God's own promise to us, come a long way to find us, a long, long way to save us. 

The greatest truth with which we need to wrestle is the idea that Christianity is not ruled by other words first: rationality, fairness, morality, all the things we might bring to Jesus, none of these truly define Christian religion. But love does. We talk about the love of Jesus for us but it is quick, we move on to other truths, the theological proofs, the apologetics about the second law of thermodynamics, the prevalence of early manuscripts. We have to recognize that we have not treated Christianity as a religion of the love of Jesus. But we must believe it, because everything that happens after hinges on this truth. Jesus loves you. Sometimes that truth is stuck in our throat, but it is indispensible, it drives our way of life. 

So what happens to you and I, what life do we live if we build things on the love of Jesus? Well, we say what Peter says here, where else can we go? Because of the love of Jesus we love him. So how do we practically say, like Peter, that “there is no other place to go?” How do we love Jesus?

We love Jesus by saying, "Jesus." To love Jesus is to love his humanity as much as his deity. Sometimes it is easier to use only the religious language of "God," in our dialogue of faith. God is an idea that causes less trouble, raises less eyebrows. Say that God loves you and we can have a discussion around a fire, crack open a drink and roast a marshmallow. That love is theoretical, it is like discussing the missing Quark or Federalism or the usefulness of essential oils. But talk about Jesus and he is present in the room, full of compassion and love, full of the miraculous that sometimes makes us blush, he is crucified, his wounds are too much, his suffering too impolite for civilized discussion. To say Jesus loves you is to be reminded that the person of Jesus loves you. His flesh is evidence that you are loved. His wounds are evidence that you need him, his eyes are evidence that he sees us, his ears a promise that he hears us. So talk about Jesus in your home, talk about Jesus in discussions of faith - God gave his love a name so that we would use it and know that he loves us. At the name of Jesus will every tongue confess. 

Let's love Jesus by following Jesus. It may seem obvious, to say follow Jesus is like saying, eat your vitamins. Well, of course. But one of the reasons I included this word in the nine is that sometimes I am afraid we are following not something more than we are following Jesus. We must not define our faith most by the things we despise. A friend of mine was talking about a deep friendship he shared with a Christian in the spotlight; someone who is very well-known in Christian circles but who had recently tried to leave the faith. My friend was saying that what he saw in his friend's life was an expertise and enthusiasm for criticquing Christianity. He was not that kind of Christian, not the kind of Christian that just doesn't get it. My friend recognized that thes person loved being a contrarian, being cool about it, being not something more than he loved Jesus. And there is just no substitute for the love of Jesus. So I say this as a warning and an encouragement. We cannot love anything about the gospel or about theology or about Christianity or the lifestyle of Christianity or anything, anything, more than we love Jesus. 

You must love Jesus more than you love being free from moralism, you must love Jesus more than you love the comfort of Christian community. You must love Jesus more than living a balanced life or living an orderly life, or an envied life. You must love Jesus. Because if you don't love Jesus then you will find that you do not follow him either. You will find yourself in some other place than orthodoxy, believing some other thing, you will find yourself fresh out of generosity, fresh out of courage. You must love and follow Jesus not the idea of Jesus, not the ethic of Jesus, Jesus. This means a daily life of prayer is critical. You must have communion with Jesus if you are to follow him. The practice of daily personal prayer.  

Let's love Jesus by believing on Jesus. So for those of us who know that we love things about Jesus more than Jesus. For those of us who will struggle to say Jesus or follow Jesus, what do we do? It helps to remember, again, that we must look to the love of Jesus, and trust that love. Let's remember how unique and beautiful that love is. This, from Frederick Buechner:

“The love for equals is a human thing--of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles. The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing--the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world. The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing--to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints. And then there is the love for the enemy--love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured's love for the torturer. This is God's love. It conquers the world.”

Well to love Jesus is to know that he is the perfect response of our God to our inability to love him. His love's great beauty is that he does not toss us away with our small love for him. Don't get things twisted this morning. To love Jesus is to love his quality of patience and grace for you. To expect less of Jesus than immense patience and grace and tenderness for you is to make him into a graven image. It is a second-commandment violation! If you find that you are laboring under the idea that Jesus scowls at your inability to get things right, if you believe that Jesus could never forgive your small faith, the betrayals, the faltering little pledge of allegiance we give him, then you are not following Jesus but some other God. We cannot believe on Jesus without believing on his gentleness and care for his wounded saints.

The best way to grow in love for Jesus is to believe on Jesus. To know that his flesh came into the world to greet you in your imperfect faith. He calls to you today in your frustration over your lack of faith and your lack of love, to believe on him. You say you do not love him as you should, that your love is weak, unclean from sin - believe on me, Jesus says as he heals a leper. Believe on me, Jesus says as he helps the broken to walk. Does your love for Jesus feel dead, deader than dead? Jesus says believe on me as he raises a little girl by hand from the dead while the mourners outside mock and jeer. Believe on me, Jesus says. He loves us first, believe on that. He loves us first so we can love him back. So believe on him, place your hopes on him, ask him to drive you emotionally, rationally, to love him as you ought. I believe he will answer that prayer. Flannery O’Conner’s writing journal reflects her growth in understanding how to love Jesus:

"We are dependent on God for our adoration of Him, adoration, that is, in the fullest sense of the term. Give me the grace, dear God, to adore You, for even this I cannot do for myself. Give me the grace to adore You with the excitement of the old priests when they sacrificed a lamb to You. Give me the grace to adore You with the awe that fills Your priests when they sacrifice the Lamb on our altars. Give me the grace to be impatient for the time when I shall see You face to face and need no stimulus than that to adore You... I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside."

If we are to build a life, it will have to be built on a love for Jesus. 

Evangelism: tell yourself first.

Evangelism: tell yourself first.

I'm going to share something that made me laugh just now. 

During General Assembly week, while I was in full politiking mode, I received a text from a rather famous (in pastor/theologian circles) person asking if I would have lunch with him. I felt pretty good about that. We had spoken the evening before, it was a friendly and, I thought, substantive conversation. I accepted the invitation and a few minutes later received an apology from my friend because he had meant to text someone else (a good man I also know), not me. I had some sense that this was a familiar event, but I couldn't figure out why.

Just now I was typing the first paragraphs of a sermon I'm calling "Tell," the first in a new series at New City called "A life in 9 words," a topical essentials series. Anyway I was thinking about the connection between evangelism and creation and the New Earth - the sons of adam and daughters of eve call things what they are, and the nations are gathered. God allows us to have the dignity of separating the created stuff, calling people to their real names and real lives. That's evangelism. In the middle of that I thought about how I fall into a little pit every couple of weeks - it's good for my writing but it is a real sadness. And I feel cut adrift for a day or so. During which I try to stay away from social media for obvious reasons. That regular sadness is a part of who I am, even if it can be an overwhelming presence from time to time.

I remembered, then, why the mis-text felt so familiar. The same famous friend had written me an email maybe a year ago offering to send me a first draft of a book he was writing. Again, I felt the swell of pride and belonging. I am somebody. Not cut adrift. I saw that the email was sent to his family members - it meant a lot to be included although it seemed we were better friends than I thought. I accepted the offer of course. A few hours later he wrote apologizing that he had meant to send the email to his very close family member James, not me, and that he was terribly sorry. I laughed and covered my disappointment in misdirection. Somehow I had forgotten this; the same person, the same embarrassment! Twice I was nearly somebody.

I am committed to the idea that both of those disappointments revealed something unhealthy, the malignant need to be important, to be tethered in the ether, the swirl of anxiety and busyness that fills everyday life. But the Good News, if I can stand it, is that I get to be evangelized too; I get to tell myself, as much as anyone, that I am a son, and someone, inheritor of the promise, beloved, etc., etc. I have to tell myself first, the good news. Nearly every day. God gives me that grace, so I don't lose myself. 

Only broken people become pastors, by the way. It's worth remembering.

Q&A from Sunday's sermon.

I ran out of time Sunday to answer all of the questions submitted anonymously following the sermon, so I will give them a response here. Note that I am answering them in much the same way I would have Sunday, with no preparation, no outside resources. So I am glad to spend time talking in person about these questions if helpful. 

Q. How do we show mercy can kindness to others without enabling their behavior? Or for example in the workplace without being seen as a pushover - where we can't necessarily talk about our faith?
A. This is a great question. First let me say that to a certain degree we must be ready to admit that there is a cost to following Jesus. The command in Micah 6.8, the text we talked about Sunday, discusses mercy/kindness (Hesed) as a way that we allow ourselves to be made crooked by the crooked - we receive the brokenness of others, we are affected by it. We cannot disqualify ourselves from that command no matter our context, so the question here is especially helpful: how do we proceed with our Lord's command while in an environment that does not reward kindness and mercy? Mercy does not always contain tenderness but it does always contain sacrifice. If you are a supervisor, for instance, and you express mercy for a person in your authority, it may look like stern correction, or an action plan for their improvement that requires extra work and energy (and prayer) from you. While this may not always be received as a kindness it is one way that you are receiving the sin and brokenness of the person and being affected by it. So there is a way in which mercy intersects with just being a good manager. On the other hand, good management doesn't always exclude gossip and ill will toward an employee, but your Christianity does. So sacrificial kindness/mercy may mean that you silence gossip where it happens and you commit yourself to believing the best about and for this person. You pray for them, you pay the price to treat them with dignity, even where you must express discipline.

There is also the case where you listen and give second chances, where you meet a coworker's sin with humanity and kindness, and they view you as a pushover as a result. Again let me say that it would be consistent with everything the Bible tells us for your Christianity to cost you a promotion if you are seen as not bloodthirsty enough to take the next step on the ladder. It would be okay if your Christian duty costs you materially. But while mercy may sometimes makes you appear to be a pushover, it does not require you to be a pushover. Some may wickedly use your kindness to get ahead, they may abuse your trust. For those I say you must protect yourself. While Jesus says turn the other cheek he does not say that you must run around in arm's length of abusers. I would be very open and honest with someone that attempts to walk on you. "I dealt with you kindly but you abused my trust. You need to know that this will never happen again." In the Gospels Jesus uses the example of the forgiven debt to show that a good king who is tricked by his debtor (the king forgives much but the wicked debtor shows no mercy to those who owe him a small amount). In the parable Jesus sends the wicked debtor to prison for treating him like a pushover. 

Q. How do we make time to fight for justice in the busyness of life? What does that look like and how does it fall into living 'the good life'?
A. So this is the subject for next Sunday's sermon - a continuation of last week's study on Micah 6 which will explore what it looks like for us to pursue the Good Life. I'll be glad to take this up again if you're still looking for clarification. A brief point: God's response to the difficulty and even brutality of living this life is to give himself to our work. When you find yourself in the pit for expressing justice and mercy you will also find Jesus there.

Q. In the attempt to answer the question, 'Where can I best be used by God for good?' How does one go about evaluating what is the 'best' situation instead of just a 'good' situation?
A. Right, so this question was one I asked our congregation to consider in light of the Bible's statement that the Good Life is a life of justice. We should be looking for how we can best be used by God for good. I think I'm not as worried about the decision between the best and merely good situations for justice. I think God will honor the question, and the honest attempt to find the best way to do justice and will lead us by conscience and good counsel. I would love to live in a world where I, and all of us, are simply seeking a good way to do good. If we found ourselves struggling to find the best of those options, it would mean the Holy Spirit had greatly changed our hearts. I typically find that the question of where and how I can do the most good rarely plays into our life choices about where to live, work, go to school, etc. 

Q. The Lord is forgiving but also just. Would the Devil get another chance if he professed faith in the Lord? Would he be forgiven of his sins? How can we forgive as flawed humans as our flawless God does?
A. If Satan had professed faith in the Lord and sought forgiveness would God have forgiven his sins? Yes. The name 'Satan' simply means 'the Adversary.' He is defined by his opposition to the Kingdom of God. If he were to follow God he would no longer be the Adversary and would be as deserving of forgiveness as any sinner who repents. Grace does not work on our merit. The most vile sinner can be forgiven and washed clean by seeking forgiveness. People often talk about the 'unforgivable sin' and some Christians worry about whether they've committed it. The unforgivable sin is the determined unwillingness to believe in the Lord Jesus, so if you've placed your faith in Christ you are not able to commit the unforgivable sin. God is close to the broken, needy, repentant sinner. How can we forgive like that? Well we can't, exactly. But we can grow in the direction of that kind of forgiveness. The best way, personally, is to nurture a discipline of prayer and confession - rehearsing the grace of God in your life and how you've been forgiven will equip you for forgiveness of others. This is the meaning of Jesus' statements in the parables when he says that the one who has been forgiven much, forgives much. Another way to grow in your ability to forgive is to make use of the means of grace: to attend worship regularly to hear the Word of God preached, to pray, and to take the Lord's Supper which strengthens you for life in His world.

This week's community reading schedule:

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 96, Ezekiel 3, Romans 9
Tue Psalm 97, Ezekiel 4, Romans 10
Wed Psalm 98, Ezekiel 5, Romans 11
Thurs Psalm 99, Ezekiel 6, Romans 12
Fri Psalm 100, Ezekiel 7, Romans 13
Sat Psalm 101, Ezekiel 8, Romans 14
Sun Psalm 102, Ezekiel 9, Romans 15

Today's community reading: Psalm 91, Lamentations 3, Romans 4

Lamentations give God’s people a practical theology for living in a world filled with pain and hardship. Understanding the role of ‘lament’ in the Christian life wasn’t something I grasped until seminary. For the first time in my life, I had a new category for living in the easier-said-than-done tension of experiencing profound loss and suffering, while at the same time, believing the LORD when he says that hope, not despair, has the final word.

The structure of Lamentations 3 describes this exact tension as the author begins by vividly describing how God’s people have suffered because of their sin (v.v. 1-18) and then how he has regained hope (v.v.19-24) as he remembered the LORD’s character and commitment to his people. In the final half of the lament (v.v.40-66), the author moves towards urging others not despair but pray to the God of Hope for Jerusalem’s restoration.

This week's community reading schedule

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 89, Lamentations 1, Romans 2
Tue Psalm 90, Lamentations 2, Romans 3
Wed Psalm 91, Lamentations 3, Romans 4
Thurs Psalm 92, Lamentations 4, Romans 5
Fri Psalm 93, Lamentations 5, Romans 6
Sat Psalm 94, Ezekiel 1, Romans 7
Sun Psalm 95, Ezekiel 2, Romans 8

Today's community reading: Psalm 82, Jeremiah 47, Acts 23

Psalm 82 demonstrates God’s heart and commitment to right what is wrong. He brings justice where injustice reigns. This psalm is a community lament as God’s people pray for him to act righteously against the unjust human rulers. God is concerned for bringing justice to the weak and fatherless (v.3), to preserve the rights of the afflicted (v.3), and to rescue the helpless from the hand of the wicked (v.4). This psalm is also instructional for God people today, as it teaches us to work towards building a new community right here in Hilliard where God’s justice is visible to everyone and that all the nations might come to know the one true God.

This week's community reading schedule:

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 82, Jeremiah 47, Acts 23
Tue Psalm 83, Jeremiah 48, Acts 24
Wed Psalm 84, Jeremiah 49, Acts 25
Thurs Psalm 85, Jeremiah 50, Acts 26
Fri Psalm 86, Jeremiah 51, Acts 27
Sat Psalm 87, Jeremiah 52, Acts 28
Sun Psalm 88, Jeremiah 53, Romans 1

Today's community reading: Psalm 77, Jeremiah 41, Acts 17

One of the beautiful things about the Psalms is that they model for us how we can come to God. Psalm 77 begins with Asaph, one of David’s chief musicians, crying aloud to God in his distress. Asaph’s doubts surface in v.v. 8-9: “Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Asaph is real and unpolished in his approach. His candor about his doubts is refreshing. Yet, what is just as refreshing is his candor about God’s work in v.16. Here, Asaph recalls the Exodus, which was God’s means to demonstrate his great love and unending commitment to his people as he brought them out of Egyptian slavery. This psalm models to us that in the midst of our doubts about God’s promises, sometimes all we can do in our worship is remember and recall God’s faithfulness to us in the past.

This week's community reading schedule:

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 76, Jeremiah 40, Acts 16
Tue Psalm 77, Jeremiah 41, Acts 17
Wed Psalm 78, Jeremiah 42, Acts 18
Thurs Psalm 79, Jeremiah 43, Acts 19
Fri Psalm 80, Jeremiah 44, Acts 20
Sat Psalm 81, Jeremiah 45, Acts 21
Sun Psalm 81, Jeremiah 46, Acts 22

Today's community reading: Psalm 70, Jeremiah 34, Acts 10

By definition, favoritism says that some people are more valuable than others. It creates a system where people feel like second-class citizens and this happens everyday all throughout our society. And yet, the church has the opportunity to mend what is broken because we’ve been the gospel message, a narrative in which God doesn’t play favorites. He doesn’t show partiality and this theme is woven throughout the Scriptures. In Genesis 12, all the families of the earth will be blessed through Abram and his lineage. In the Gospel accounts, Jesus’ hospitality is winsome to the lease of these. 

This theme continues in Acts 10 as we read about the gospel being proclaimed to an ever-expanding audience with the conversation of Cornelius, a Gentile commander in the Roman army.  Here, God crosses the paths of Peter and Cornelius. Peter testifies how the gospel has shaped him (v.v.28, 34-35) and then shares with with Cornelius’ family and close friends the good news (v.v. 34-43). So why does all of this matter? Well, this text shapes us to be a community that is non-partial in our welcome of others. It shapes us this way because each of us, were once far off and have been brought near. The gospel mends what is broken and pushes back against the darkness and unfair treatment of others. 

This week's community reading:

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 69, Jeremiah 33, Acts 9
Tue Psalm 70, Jeremiah 34, Acts 10
Wed Psalm 71, Jeremiah 35, Acts 11
Thurs Psalm 72, Jeremiah 36, Acts 12
Fri Psalm 73, Jeremiah 37, Acts 13
Sat Psalm 74, Jeremiah 38, Acts 14
Sun Psalm 75, Jeremiah 39, Acts 15

Today's community reading: Psalm 64, Jeremiah 28, Acts 4

In the closing verses of Acts 4, the believers had everything in common. There was a great sense of generosity among the believers and this created much unity and harmony. Central to this harmony is the resurrection - it has social implications. One theologian says that if we push the resurrection to the margins or leave it out all together, we don’t just lose an extra feature, like buying a car without heated seats, we actually lose the central engine which drives and gives every other component its reason for working. 

The church that is shaped by the message of Jesus’ resurrection is thrusted out into the world to participate with God in his renewal of all things, including spaces and places. This means that we push back on corruption and decay holistically through mercy and justice. We protect the vulnerable, help to establish policies that are for the well-being of all, campaign for better housing and care for those in need, both inside and outside the church. 

This week's community reading schedule:

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 62, Jeremiah 26, Acts 2
Tue Psalm 63, Jeremiah 27, Acts 3
Wed Psalm 64, Jeremiah 28, Acts 4
Thurs Psalm 65, Jeremiah 29, Acts 5
Fri Psalm 66, Jeremiah 30, Acts 6
Sat Psalm 67, Jeremiah 31, Acts 7
Sun Psalm 68, Jeremiah 32, Acts 8 

Today's community reading: Psalm 57, Jeremiah 21, John 18

Exodus 34:6 is a key OT passage that the writers of Scripture refer to time and time again. It’s a passage that puts the character of the LORD on display: "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” David draws our attention to the steadfast love and faithfulness of the LORD at the beginning and end of Psalm 57 (v.v. 3,10). This psalm is David’s lament as he cries out to the LORD for help (v.4,6) and protection. What started out as a relationship filled with appreciation and love between David and Saul (1 Samuel 16:20-23) has now turned into David on the run from Saul, hiding in a cave, and fearing for his life. The culprit: Saul’s jealousy of David’s success (1 Samuel 18:6-8). Even in the slightest bit, the jealousy we experience is poisonous and left unchecked, it is capable of destroying the beauty and harmony of our closest relationships. David is right to lament “what once was” and seek refuge and comfort in the LORD’s protection.

This week's community reading schedule:

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 55, Jeremiah 19, John 16
Tue Psalm 56, Jeremiah 20, John 17
Wed Psalm 57, Jeremiah 21, John 18
Thurs Psalm 58, Jeremiah 22, John 19
Fri Psalm 59, Jeremiah 23, John 20
Sat Psalm 60, Jeremiah 24, John 21
Sun Psalm 61, Jeremiah 25, Acts 1

Today's community reading: Psalm 49, Jeremiah 13, John 10

From time to time, many of us place our faith in success, a picture-perfect family or being liked by others. When we take good things like working hard or the well-being of our families and make them the ultimate aim of our lives we find ourselves on a performance treadmill running at a pace that is physically impossible for us to maintain. John 10 tells us that Jesus isn’t like other gods and in this text we see us a picture of the God that we all really want, a Savior who truly satisfies our hearts. 

Jesus is our Good Shepherd and he gives up his own life for us (v.v. 11-12, 18). He gives himself and is self-serving unlike the self-seeking gods of success and reputation. The Good Shepherd also knows his sheep. It can be easy for this truth to lose its meaning. What is expressed here isn’t a ‘Jesus sorta or kinda knows his sheep’, but instead it is a knowledge of his sheep in the same manner that God the Father and God the Son know one another (v.v.14-15). There’s no closer intimacy than this. In Jesus there is salvation and that’s when our hearts can truly find rest and truly be satisfied (v.v. 7-9).