Monday, June 20, 2016

We never expect to see Jesus in a bear market, pink slip, lawsuit, foreclosure, or war.

Peter and his fellow storm riders knew they were in trouble. What should have been a sixty-minute cruise became a nightlong battle. The boat lurched and lunged like a kite in a March wind. Sunlight was a distant memory. Rain fell from the night sky in buckets. Lightning sliced the blackness with a silver sword. Winds whipped the sails, leaving the disciples “in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves.” 

Apt description, perhaps, for your stage in life? Perhaps all we need to do is substitute a couple of nouns . . . In the middle of a divorce, tossed about by guilt. In the middle of debt, tossed about by creditors. In the middle of a recession, tossed about by stimulus packages and bailouts. The disciples fought the storm for nine cold, skin-drenching hours. And about 4:00 a.m. the unspeakable happened. They spotted someone coming on the water. “ ‘A ghost!’ they said, crying out in terror” (v. 26 MSG). 

They didn’t expect Jesus to come to them this way. Neither do we. 

We expect him to come in the form of peaceful hymns or Easter Sundays or quiet retreats. We expect to find Jesus in morning devotionals, church suppers, and meditation. We never expect to see him in a bear market, pink slip, lawsuit, foreclosure, or war. We never expect to see him in a storm. But it is in storms that he does his finest work, for it is in storms that he has our keenest attention. 

Jesus replied to the disciples’ fear with an invitation worthy of inscription on every church cornerstone and residential archway. “ ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said. ‘Take courage. I am here!’ ” (v. 27 NLT).

 - Max Lucado

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Prayer for Repenting of My Critical Spirit and Selective Compassion

By Scotty Smith:
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? Rom. 2:1-4 (NIV)
Dear heavenly Father, I feel “busted” and beloved at the same time this morning. The call to love others as Jesus loves me keeps driving me to you for more grace and for more power of the gospel. Meditating on this passage has convicted me about being way too selective in my love. I hoard the riches of your grace and withhold them from people desperate for your kindness. I’m not an equal opportunity dispenser of your mercy and compassion.

Father, I am quick to shower the riches of your kindness, tolerance, and patience on people whose brokenness, struggles, and issues are similar to mine. But I can be condescending and judgmental toward people whose weaknesses inconvenience, annoy, or offend me. Forgive and free me, Father. This attitude blatantly contradicts the gospel.

Father, it’s your kindness that leads me to repent today. I own my political-persuasion, theological-family, life-choice orientation, and personality-profile arrogance. I’m a mess, Lord, in need of a bigger, freer heart.

Jesus, you took the judgment I deserve on the cross—the fullness of God’s righteous wrath toward my sin; and now you love me with the fullness of compassion, acceptance, and delight. The greatest non sequitur in life happens when I withhold the same from others—whoever they are.  Deepen my repentance and deepen my compassion for fellow broken image-bearers of God. So very Amen I pray, in your righteous and loving name.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Torn Between One Way and Another (The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up.)

This is one of best sermons that I have heard on Romans 7-8.

Click on this link to watch:
The Six Week Journey - Part Two | The City Church

Judah uses The Message version:

Torn Between One Way and Another (Romans 7:14-8:17 MSG)

I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.

The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.
Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.

But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Prayer for Gospel Parenting

A Prayer by Scotty Smith:

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Psalm 127:1-3 (ESV)

Dear heavenly Father, yet again we turn to you as the designer and builder of all things, including the lives of our children and grandchildren. Thank you for reminding us that our children are a gift, not a project.

At times you’ve had to use a gospel wrecking-ball on my parenting style, in order to build something more lasting and beautiful. That process continues. But even when I’m overbearing or under-believing, disengaged or too enmeshed, I am thankful to know that you remain faithful and loving.

Continue to rescue me from relational “laboring in vain”—assuming a burden you never intended parents to bear. Father, only you can reveal the glory and grace of Jesus to our children. Only you can give anyone a new heart. You’ve called us to parent as an act of worship—to parent “as unto you,” not as a way of saving face, making a name for ourselves, or proving our worth.

It’s the height of arrogance to think our “good parenting” accounts for the best of what we see in the lives of our children; and it’s a lie from hell to assume that our “bad parenting” is the sole reason for the things that break our hearts. Free us, Father, free us, and forgive us. Oh, the undue pressure our children must feel when we parent more out of our fear and pride than by your love and grace.

Since our kids are your inheritance, Father, teach us how to care for them as humble stewards, not as anxious owners. More than anything else, show us how to parent and grandparent in a way that best reveals the unsearchable riches of Christ. Give us quick repentances and observable kindnesses. Father, we want to love and serve our children, “in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14).

So very Amen we pray in Jesus’ faithful and powerful name.

Scotty has an incredible book of prayers like this available at Amazon and other retailers. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A gift from a God we hardly even knew.

We enjoy thinking of ourselves as basically generous, benevolent, giving people. That’s one reason why everyone, even the nominally religious, loves Christmas. Christmas is a season to celebrate our alleged generosity. The newspaper keeps us posted on how many needy families we have adopted. The Salvation Army kettles enable us to be generous while buying groceries (for ourselves) or gifts (for our families). People we work with who usually balk at the collection to pay for the morning coffee fall over themselves soliciting funds “to make Christmas” for some family.

We love Christmas because, as we say, Christmas brings out the best in us. Everyone gives on Christmas, even the stingiest among us, even the Ebeneezer Scrooges. Dickens suggests that down deep, even the worst of us can become generous, giving people.

Yet I suggest we are better givers than getters, not because we are generous people but because we are proud, arrogant people. The Christmas story–the one according to Luke not Dickens–is not about how blessed it is to be givers but about how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers. 

We prefer to think of ourselves as givers–powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence and gifts to benefit the less fortunate. Which is a direct contradiction of the biblical account of the first Christmas. There we are portrayed not as the givers we wish we were but as the receivers we are. Luke and Matthew go to great lengths to demonstrate that we–with our power, generosity, competence and capabilities–had little to do with God’s work in Jesus. God wanted to do something for us so strange, so utterly beyond the bounds of human imagination, so foreign to human projection, that God had to resort to angels, pregnant virgins, and stars in the sky to get it done. We didn’t think of it, understand it or approve it. All we could do, at Bethlehem, was receive it. A gift from a God we hardly even knew.

—William Willimon, taken from an article in The Christian Century, Dec 21-28, 1998

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Now I drive the speed limit.

Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but dead people live.   - CS Lewis

What we preach is not a message of good to great. Jesus did not come to the planet to make good people greater.  He didn't even come to the planet to make bad people good.  This is not an improvement plan. This is not a remodel.  This is death to life. The testimony of Jesus followers is not "I was an OK person. Then Jesus came along and I put on a gold necklace with a gold cross and he made me a little bit better. Now I drive the speed limit, I pay my taxes...all of them. I'm a pretty respectable employee.  This has just really improved me."  That's not the message we preach. The message is "I was dead and now I'm alive." - Judah Smith 

Ephesians 2:1-3 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

But God.....Not "but you need to do this"..."But God" made us alive, saved, raised up, seated with....

Ephesians 2:4-10 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Watch whole sermon here:

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Eager Beavers and Grinning Drunks

Great quote from Brennan Manning’s essential All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir, pg 193-94:
My life is a witness to vulgar grace–a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up a ten till five. 
A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands or buts. 
A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying theif’s request–“Please, remember me”–and assures him, “You bet!” 
A grace that is the pleasure of the Father, fleshed out in the carpenter Messiah, Jesus the Christ, who left His Father’s side not for heaven’s sake but for our sakes, yours and mind. 
This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. 
It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. 
Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. 
Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Just forget it, Arthur.

Robert Capon on Luke 14:1-14 and Christ’s lesson on dinner party etiquette:

At the end of his speech to the host, Jesus specifically ties this condemnation of bookkeeping to the resurrection. 

‘You will be happy,’ he tells his host in verse 14, ‘precisely because these losers and deadbeats you invite won’t be able to repay you.’ 

He says, in other words, that happiness can never come in until the bookkeeping stops, until the hand that clutches at the dance goes dead and lets the dance happen freely. And he says that the place where that happy consequence will burst upon us is at the resurrection of the just. And the just, please note, are not stuffy, righteous types with yard-long lists of good works, but simply all the forgiven sinners of the world who live by faith — who trust Jesus and laugh out loud at the layoff of all the accountants.

And the unjust? Well, the unjust are all the forgiven sinners of the world who, stupidly, live by unfaith — who are going to insist on showing up at the resurrection with all their record books, as if it were an IRS audit. The unjust are the idiots who are going to try to talk Jesus into checking his bookkeeping against theirs. 

And do you know what Jesus is going to say to them — what, for example, he will say to his host if he comes to the resurrection with such a request? I think he will say, 

“Just forget it, Arthur. I suppose we have those books around here somewhere, and if you’re really determined to stand in front of my great white throne and make an ass of yourself, I guess they can be opened (Rev. 20:12). Frankly, though, nobody up here pays any attention to them. What will happen will be that while you’re busy reading and weeping over everything in those books, I will go and open my other book (Rev. 20:12, again), the book of life — the book that has in it the names of everybody I ever drew to myself by dying and rising. And when I open that book, I’m going to read out to the whole universe every last word that’s written there. And you know what that’s going to be? It’s going to be just Arthur. Nothing else. None of your bad deeds, because I erased them all. And none of your good deeds, because I didn’t count them, I just enjoyed them. So what I’ll read out, Arthur, will be just Arthur! real loud. And my Father will smile and say, ‘Hey, Arthur! You’re just the way I pictured you!’ And the universe will giggle and say, ‘That’s some Arthur you’ve got there!’ But me, I’ll just wink at you and say, ‘Arthur, c’mon up here and plunk yourself down by my great white throne and let’s you and me have a good long practice laugh before this party gets so loud we can’t even hear how much fun we’re having.