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Posts Tagged ‘2 stories’

The core of our life is what determines how we live.  If we do not know what the core of our life is then we live life with a certain amount of ambiguity.  If our life is built upon a foundation of “survival of the fittest” we live for the self.  Others become assets or liabilities depending on how they operate in our circle.  If our life is built upon Jesus Christ, then our core is based upon dying to self in order to live.

Many Christians, myself included, have fallen into a bit of self-denial when it comes to living as Christ.  Sometimes we think we are dying to self but in actuality we have taken the vocabulary of Christ and used it to serve our core of survival of the fittest.  We use our faith as a weapon or a defense against others instead for life.  In other words, we turn to religion for the sake of identity and not relationship for the sake of living.  There is a story about 2 monks who are walking through the woods on their way to town.  Along the way they encounter a stream that is waist deep and the ferry to help them cross is stuck on the other side.  They find there a woman who cannot cross for she is not a good swimmer and is afraid to cross without the boat.  The monks are forbidden to touch the woman in any way, but they are also called to help those in need.  One monk is firmly against the idea of touching the woman and says that they cannot help her, but if she is patient, someone will surely cross in the ferry soon.  The other monk, quietly picks the woman up and carries her across, all the while his friend is not so quietly seething at this break of the rules.  Once they reach the other side, the monk lets the woman down and they go on their separate ways.  An hour later, the “Rule Abiding” monk, finally speaks and says, “I cannot believe you did what was forbidden and carried the woman across the stream.” The other monk replied,  “I put her down by the stream, but you have been carrying her for over an hour”.   One monk carried the practice of religion for the service of self-worth.  His identity was not found in having Christ at his center, but at being a good disciple.  The other monk, practiced relationship with Christ, at his center was not the value of being a good rule follower, but of surrendering oneself to Christ.

How do we find ourselves in this center of Christ.  I believe that this center is found in the cross of Jesus Christ.  It is a powerful statement so often misunderstood.  I have been reading E. Stanley Jones’ spiritual autobiography, “A Song of Ascents” for sometime now.  He reflected on this issue and I wanted to share what he said with you.

E. Stanley Jones was having a discussion with Mahatma Gandhi and he asked him this question: “When you fast unto death to make the Hindus do away with untouchability, isn’t this a species of  coercion?” His answer was swift: “Yes, the same kind of coercion which Jesus exercises upon you from the cross.”  There he was right.  It was not the same but similar.

“The power of his method was further seen when he applied this method of inflicting suffering on himself in a moral situation locally. He had preached purity to India and had lived it, but impurity came into his own Ashram: two young men were guilty of sex immorality. Out of sheer sorrow of spirit Gandhi began to fast – fasted six full days.  At the end of that time those two young men stood before him with tears rolling down their cheeks, imploring him to stop his fast, to forgive them and restore the fellowship.  Could the Mahatma forgive them now? Yes, you say, he could have forgiven them as the head of the institution without the fast.  Yes, but it would have been a cheap forgiveness based upon the authority of his being head of the institution, with no moral content in it.  But now, after entering into their sins and taking the sins on himself and suffering with and for them, he could forgive them with a deep moral content in the forgiveness.  This was very, very close to the cross – closer to the cross than many modern interpreters of Christianity, who try to make the cross acceptable to the modern man by cancelling its atoning side and making Jesus a martyr for a cause, saying that God because of his goodness and his love will forgive without atonement.  Yes, he could forgive without atonement, but it would be a cheap forgiveness based upon his authority as the ruler of the universe, and his goodness and love.  That forgiveness would have little or no moral content in it. Now when God offers me forgiveness in a nail-pierced hand, I know it costs God something – and deeply – to offer that forgiveness.  It is not cheap; it is costly to God and to us.  I say “to us,” for Paul puts the meaning of the cross thus: “His purpose in dying for all was that men, while still in life, should cease to live for themselves” (2 Corinthians 5:15 NEB). The purpose in dying was that “men… should cease to live for themselves.”  It was to break the tyranny of the sin of self-centeredness, of making themselves God.  But if God did not give himself at a cross (“God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself”) then how can he ask men to give themselves no longer to live for themselves? His advice would be verbal, not vital. If God can forgive without atonement… then God might forgive without atonement; but without the divine self-giving on the cross, the divine purpose of the cross, namely, that “men… should cease to live for themselves,” would be unfulfilled.  If God didn’t give himself, neither will man give himself.  This forgiveness based upon the goodness and love of God, but without the atoning sacrifice of himself, is a forgiveness that is shallow, without moral content, and will not and does not produce human self-giving.  But when I see God in Christ giving himself on a cross, I loathe myself as a self-centered man trying to organize my universe around me as God; and I not only loathe myself: I surrender myself as God, and I do what God does. I give myself. No self-giving in God, no self-giving in me.

“This verse is decisive: “The lamb who is at the heart of the throne will be their shepherd” (Rev. 7: 17 NEB). What is at the heart of the throne of the universe?  What is the nature of the ultimate power? The answers have been various and different:… ( peace, detachment, desirelessness, almightiness, dependable scientific law, peace of mind, goodness and love {paraphrase by blog author}). But in Christianity; “The Lamb is at the heart of the Throne” – self-giving, redeeming, sacrificial love is the center of power in the universe.  That is the most startling thing ever announced about our universe.  And the most important.  If sacrificial love is at the heart of the throne, then sacrificial love must be at the heart of my motives, my very life, at the center of me.  If it isn’t, then I’m at cross purposes with the throne – the final power –  therefore bound to get hurt, to come out badly.  But suppose I see this and respond by my own self-giving to the divine self-giving; then the universe is behind me, the sum total of reality approves of me.  I’m afraid of nothing.  What can death do to me?  I’ve already died.  You cannot defeat defeat.  You cannot break brokeness.  I’ve come back from my own funeral.  I’m alive in the Alive.”

Jones, E. Stanley. 1968. A Song of Ascent. Nashville, TN. Abingdon Press. pgs. 138-140.

Are you alive in THE ALIVE?

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What’s New?

One of the questions we are asking ourselves during lent, is “Who Do You Trust?”  Many of us in church would like to say that we trust God, but I wonder if we really do.  This Sunday I will be preaching from a familiar passage in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. It is the verse that says, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation”.  Do you feel like a new creation? Do you trust God to re-create you?  Do you trust God enough to live out of your new creation?

Reflect on your past week.  How did you interact with people at work, friends at school, the guy who cut you off in traffic?  How did you respond to your spouse when they made a comment or did something you did not like?  Did it resemble something Christ created or something else?  Perhaps you were the spouse with the quick tongue, what creation did that come from.

I have shared with many of you that I have given up sarcasm for lent.  I have had some triumphant moments as well as a lot of repentance.  Both have been a blessing.  The contrast is quite clear, call it 2 stories or 2 creations, 1 of them destroys and the other actually heals.  I have slipped into sarcasm on several occasions.  This is what I witnessed.  Person 1 says or does something.  I respond with a sarcastic remark.  Person 1 quickly shows signs of hurt/anger/defense.  So far I am living out of old creation.  I remember my lenten promise.  I apologize and acknowledge my error and (like it or not) sin.  Person 1, not used to this, begins to change.  Hurt/anger gone.  I didn’t just say, oops sorry.  I said, that was sarcastic and hurtful and I am sorry, it was wrong.  Suddenly I am living in a new creation.  Do you know what didn’t happen?  I didn’t blow up, the world didn’t end, I lost nothing.  What did happen?  Healing, life, and freedom.  A wall was torn down in a relationship.  Another person was transformed.  Person 1 did not change because they felt vindicated, they were changed because they were seen as a person of value.  Living out of a new creation created life in another person.

Reflect on your life.  Does it create life in others?  How might you trust God to bring life through you more in this next week?

To prepare for our worship this Sunday meditate and pray on the following;

  1. What do I expect to receive from God this weekend?
  2. What can He expect from me?
  3. What are ways I have refused his grace and offers of Life this past week? (how have I ignored God)
  4. What are ways I have embraced them? (how have I seen God)
  5. Ask God to prepare your life (heart) for renewal and the courage to live out that life.
  6. Ask God to soften your spirit so that you might receive and respond to the work he desire to do in your life and those around you.
  7. Pray for me and those who serve on Sunday morning that we might be examples of Christ’s presence.

Feel free to share you insights and questions from reading this weeks Scripture lesson.

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No Escape

For an aggressive, power seeking, seize the day kind of culture we sure do like to escape a lot.  I was reading E. Stanley Jones’ autobiography, Songs of Ascent this morning.  He was writing about the different places and people he encountered along his journey of sharing Christ in India.  One of the places he was asked to speak was located in a town wrestling pit which consisted of “a huge hole in the ground with circular tiers of seats all around.”  He goes on to write, “My interpreter in viewing it beforehand exclaimed: ‘Why, there is no way to escape if the crowd gets out of hand!’ His first reaction was to see if there was a way of escape.  The first reaction of many in East and West when an issue arises- ‘How can I get out of this?’ – is this the basis of many neuroses” (pg 114).

Think about the many different ways we seek to escape “real life”.  Movies, television, magazines, books, sports, drugs, alcohol, sex, food, video games.  It is quite amazing the paradox of most of these escapisms.  We watch and read about people who dive head first into living while we stay at home escaping the very opportunity to live life.  Have you ever noticed that the inspiring characters we like in stories are never found escaping?  Now, I am not knocking movies and books and escaping from time to time.  What I am challenging us on is how much we try to escape and how little we try to encounter life.

We see in John 1 that the Word of God became Flesh.  God, whom we say is “in heaven” the place we compare our escapism to (this lounge chair is like heaven) becomes flesh on earth interacting with us!  He leads the way into the joy’s and pains of this life.  What we seek to be freed from is death and anything that looks like it.  Jesus came to bring us life.  This is not an avoidance of the pains and heartaches of our current living but to overcome them with vigor and vitality!  Part of the good news of Jesus Christ is that he overcomes death.  When we face suffering in this world our aim is not to avoid it, we will only run into on another block.  Our aim is also not to let it define us.  When suffering comes, we face it, but not alone.  Through Christ we are able to not let the sufferings of this world define us, but we in turn define them by overcoming them.  We are given a life from God that is defined by salvation and victory.  Does this mean we do not feel pain and we do not suffer and we are little Pollyanna running around?  No.  It means that suffering and pain do not have the final say and will not define me.  I will only allow the author of life to define me.

To live from the image of God, is to no longer escape life, but to create it.

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SundayMarch 7, 2010

  • Season: Lent
  • Sermon: Waiting For What?
  • Scripture: Luke 13: 1-9
  • Songs:

9:30AM Service

  1. How Can I Keep From Singing
  2. Beautiful One
  3. Mighty To Save
  4. offertory:  His Glory Appears
  5. Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)

11:00AM Service

  1. Joyful Joyful
  2. Amazing Grace

This past Sunday we reflected on Luke 13. This chapter marks the final section in a theme Jesus had been preaching on in the previous chapters.  It is a theme of hearing and living the word of God (Luke 11: 27,28).  The call of Jesus is for us to repent and believe.  One of the questions I have is “what are we repenting from?”

Scripture reveals to us 2 different stories. One story is the story of Adam or the story of humanity and the other is the story of God.  The story of Adam is a story of seeking to become like God, self sufficient, self serving, self focused.  In this focus God is used, if thought of at all, as a prop or tool to help us accomplish our goals.  We end up converting to a religion thinking the aim is self improvement alone.  “The story of Adam, symbolized by /\, is the story of life referenced around self, one who climbs up only to fall down. The story of Christ, symbolized by \/, is the story of life referenced around God, a willful descent into humility and a surprising ascent into embrace.” (J.D. Walt)

In these chapters of Luke, Jesus reveals to us the story the Pharisees are living.  It is one caught up in religion that serves self and does not seek life.  It is a religion of appearance and not of substance.  It is a religion of behavior modification but not  of transformation.  It is a religion that can easily trap people into a cycle of reward and punishment based upon “right practice” as well as lead to those who “practice rightly” to judge those who do not.

But Jesus came to set free the captives and that includes those of us who are held captive by religion instead of set free by it.  Hear me on this, I am not saying that religion is bad.  Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  What more can that mean but that there is a purpose beyond the law and only Jesus can help us get there.  So where is there?  I believe it to be a reconciled relationship with God.

Fred Craddock, a respected preacher and theologian, said in his commentary on Luke that, “Life in the Kingdom is not an elevated game of gaining favors and avoiding losses.”  Imagine being in a relationship where every step was calculated on favors and losses.  If you are always worried about if what you do or don’t do is pleasing or displeasing to someone there is a good chance you will spend a lot of time with anxiety drugs.  That isn’t freedom.  God’s desire is to bring us into freedom not bondage.  Think about the many different times that Jesus challenged people on the abuse of the Sabbath.  He would tell them that man was not made for the Sabbath, but Sabbath was made for man.

The Pharisees were sure that it was their “right” behavior that set them above others.  Jesus was telling them that was not the case.  As a matter of fact, they had turned their right behavior into idolatry and had missed out on a relationship with God.  When we reduce our relationship with God down to religion we become a people who serve the Sabbath. However, if we elevate our religion into a relationship with God, the Sabbath serves us.

How do we do this?  Jesus says to follow him.  He says that in order to save our life we must loose it.  In other words we must live into the story of God which means we must surrender to him and discover the freedom of life.  Is there a how to list?  No.  It is one that begins in prayer, confession, forgiveness, repentance, and trust.

Maybe your prayer can begin simply by telling God to show you what this looks like and how to live it.  Will you hear his good news and will you live it too. What are you waiting for?

(to explore the idea of 2 stories further, please click the link on the sidebar marked ” 2 stories”.

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