The other day I was invited to be a part of a live Google Hang out with others in the NuDunkers “movement”. I was glad to be a part of it. Learning about what others are doing. Hopefully sharing some wisdom that I have gained in the 4 plus years of planting this missional community called Veritas. And getting to know, on a small scale, some new people. So if you are interested in watching the whole Google Hang out, I’ve put the video at the bottom of this blog. Enjoy it and I hope you learn some things about Church Planting.
Today is what the Christian calendar calls the second Sunday of Advent. Throughout this Advent season we have been and will be looking at the advent(ure)s of people in the Scriptures that first and second “Advent”.
Last week we looked at the advent(ure) of the Shepherds. The idea that God uses those who are on the margins to further his kingdom, that God calls us to not be afraid in this advent(ure) and that this advent(ure) of following Jesus is open for all.
Next week we’ll be looking at the advent(ure) of Mary and Joseph and then the following week, the last Sunday in Advent we’ll be looking at the principal character within the Advent story (and I believe the entire story of God) that of the advent(ure) of Jesus when he came to this world, took on flesh and blood and moved into our neighborhood, so to speak.
But this week we’ll be looking at the advent(ure) of the Wise Men. We’ll be talking about what their journey following the star to Bethlehem and their worship of Jesus can teach us 2,000 years ago in our advent(ure) of following Jesus.
So let’s begin to look at this text together and see what it an say to us. The story of the Magi is found in Matthew 2:1-12. Matthew 2:1-12 says, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”
So before we totally dive into the text for the morning we need to look at three misconceptions that have cropped up concerning the Magi. The first misconception that you need to know about is the fact that the Magi weren’t there that first Christmas night when Jesus was born. It isn’t like the pictures of the manger with the Shepherds and the Magi coming to the manger. In fact it could have been anywhere up to 2 years later that the Magi showed up. And if you look at verse 11 you see that they showed up at the house of Jesus.
The second misconception surrounding the Magi is the idea that they were Kings. Maybe this misconception is based on the song We Three Kings. The Magi weren’t Kings but wise men which means that they were astronomers. Jewish legend says that that Daniel was the founder of the order of the Magi. And that these Magi, who were ancient scientists from Persia, were alerted to the prophetic significance of their time by the prophecies of Daniel and other Old Testament prophets.
And finally the third misconception is that there were only three wise men. This is no doubt connected to the fact that there were three gifts. Tradition even gives these Wise Men names (Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar) and supposedly their bones are housed in the cathedral in Cologne, Germany. But there were probably more than three Magi.
And so let’s dive a little bit more into the advent(ure) of the Wise Men and see what we might be able to apply to our advent(ure) 2000 years later
And so when the curtain comes up on this story in Matthew 2 we see the wise men coming to Jerusalem, during the time of Herod, and asking about the ones that was born the King of the Jews. And that what led them to seek out the newborn King of the Jews is what they call “his star”. Now there has been considerable speculation surrounding the star and what it was exactly. Some say it was a curious coming together of planets, others a comet, and some say that it is possible that God provided a completely unique phenomenon for them to see and to follow. But whatever this was, planets, comets, something unique (never seen before, never seen after), we see that it continually led them as they sought the Christ Child. We see in verse 2 that it came up when Jesus was born. We see in verses 9-10 that the saw guided them, that they were overjoyed when they saw it, and that it eventually led them, and that it stopped right over the place where Jesus was. On their advent(ure) Jesus used a medium that would connect with the Magi in order to get the Kingdom message about the Christ Child out into the world. God meets the Magi in their own medium so to speak. God guides astronomers by a star. I believe that is so brilliant of God. He speaks their language. He after all is a missionary God and understands the cultures of the world, and what would be considered good news and how best to share the good news (in this occurrence the good news of the birth of the Christ Child) with that culture.
In this advent(ure) of following Jesus we need to follow our missionary God out into the world, and seek to know and to use those things that will connect with the people and the culture(s) that we are trying to reach. It is no different than what the Apostle Paul said in 1st Corinthians 9:19-23, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” Also in this advent(ure) God has used things that have spoken to us. Things that He knew would connect with us. Maybe it’s been a relationship with just the right person. Maybe it’s been a word spoken at just the right moment. Maybe it’s been a trip or mission experience. Or maybe it’s been a song, a poem, a piece of art, or something related to the arts. But whatever it was or is for us, know that God, this missionary God, if he is able to speak to Astronomers by the use of a star, than he is more than able to speak to us through his word, each other, the world around us, etc….
Also in the advent(ure) of the Wise Men something stood out to me. In a world devoid of GPS, map quest, and google maps, here you see the Magi being led by the star. The are getting their navigation and direction from the star. They were trusting that star would lead them to the place where the King of the Jews was born. They didn’t have to listen for the women’s voice to say, “Turn right in 1/2 mile.” The only time they stopped and asked for directions was in Jerusalem. But as soon as they left Herod and Jerusalem the star came out again and led them right to the place where Jesus was.
So that got me thinking and wondering about what “star” are we following on this advent(ure) of life? Are we following the North Star (Jesus) or one that we put up in the sky? Is Jesus setting the trajectory of our life or do we want to? Are we following Him or do we want him to follow us? To make our own decisions and ask God to bless them instead of asking him first? In this advent(ure) of life and also in the advent(ure) of following Jesus, we must put him as the North Star of our life, and then leave the directions up to him. The magi didn’t have to decide which way to go, they just needed to follow the star. We don’t need to decide which way to go, we just need to trust and follow the great North Star Jesus and he will lead us to the right place.
And lastly, I want to look at the reaction of Herod to the news that a King of Jews was born. Look at verse 3, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” Why was Herod and Jerusalem disturbed? Herod was disturbed because he was concerned about his own position as ruler of Israel. He saw wise men who traveled thousands of miles that were guided by a star looking for one called “the new born King” as a hugely provocative “political” event. He had to know that if this baby, was truly the King of the Jews, then his days were numbered. He was disturbed and if he was disturbed, he was the kind of person who would act out on that fact, and Jerusalem would suffer. That is why Jerusalem was disturbed with him.
And so we all know that you can’t have two royal houses, whether in Israel, in Rome, or even today and so Herod would do all that he could to resist the charm of the christ Child. And we see later on in the Scriptures the effort to rid Israel of the Christ child by killing all male babies that were 2 and under in Bethlehem so that he could again have the title King of the Jews.
In this advent(ure) of life that we live we are in much the same place. We have to decide which King we are going to have on our throne of our lives. There can’t be two Kings ruling in my life. It either has to be the King of Me or the true King of Kings Jesus.
And so these are probably the most poignant questions that we need to wrestle with today. Which King are you living for? What star are you following? Are you following the North Star Jesus? Are you living for the King of Kings? Or are you following your own star and living for your own Kingdom?
Let’s unpack the Scripture that we just looked out together and also talked about the questions that I just raised in our discussion time.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and the message?
2. What “Kings” do people put on the thrones of their lives? What “stars” do people follow? What about you? What “King” do you put on your throne and what “star” do you follow?
3. God “spoke” in the language of the Magi (the Star). How might you and I be called to speak the “language” of people we meet each day? In what ways can we follow the model of our Missionary God and the Apostle Paul to “speak” the language of our culture(s)?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
This post is part of a larger NuDunker conversation, “NuDunekrs, nu churches: Planting the Church of the Brethren” including a series of blog posts and a live Google+ hangout Friday, 12/6 at 10 AM eastern. You can find other blogs and comments on the event page above. We would love for you to add your voice to the discussion!
For those who know me they know that one of my favorite activities and hobbies, if you will, is snowboarding. I have been snowboarding for 18 seasons and I fall more in love with boarding each and every season. There is nothing like flying down the mountain on your board, wind wiping by your face, hitting jumps (and preferably landing them), and carving into great turns.
Now my family is a skiing family. My wife, son, and daughter are all skiers. My brother, his wife, their kids, my sister and her oldest daughter are also a skiers. My father is a skier. My sister-in-law and her oldest two daughters are also skiers. The only other two boarders in the family are my 2 brother-in-laws. Going to the mountain is definitely a family affair in our family. Some of my best memories occurred on the mountain, as well as the many ski trips, and ski vacations that we have taken over the years. I have boarded in Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Colorado. And this coming April I will cross off one of my “bucket list” when we go and ski/board the Alps (French and most likely Swiss).
So right now you might be saying what in the world does skiing and snowboarding have to do with church planting and specifically church planting in the Church of the Brethren. I believe there are many things that I have learned over the 18 seasons of snowboarding that directly applies to the last 4 years of planting Veritas, a missional church plant in Lancaster. But probably the biggest connection between the two is a statement that I have heard my brother say as well as other people. The statement that stuck in my head in relation to boarding and skiing is “if you aren’t falling, you aren’t skiing (or boarding)” What this statement gets at is the fact that if you want to improve on your ability (in this instance..skiing and boarding) you need to push yourself, not always play it safe, and take risks. When you fall, you learn. You learn what to do better next time. You learn what not to do next time. You learn the context of the mountain (the pitch of the slope, the bumps on the slope, where the good snow is, etc..)
And so I would rephrase this statement in terms of its connection with church planting, and especially in missional church planting. I would say it this way, “If you aren’t falling, you aren’t planting a church.” If you aren’t willing to fail, then don’t get into church planting in the first place. I remember one of the biggest things that I had to wrestle to the ground when we decided to plant this missional church (and need to continue to wrestle to the ground) is the fear of failure. What if? What if we fail? What if we run out of money? What if God doesn’t come through? What if? What if’s can keep you stuck and stop you from strapping on the board and sailing down the mountain. I remember what finally pushed me over the edge and down onto the trail of missional church planting is this thought that I would rather try and fail, then get to be 75 years old and played it safe my entire life. To me that would be true failure.
I think one of the struggles many in denominations (the Church of the Brethren as well as others) have is this mentality that we’ve planted churches before, we’ve spent lots of time and especially money, and what do we have to show for it? I remember hearing someone say that a church was planted, they spent 200,000 dollars over the course of a few years, and the church is no more. And so why do that again?
And I would say don’t do the same thing again (the huge outlay of money, etc..) but see how you might learn from the past “failure” (not sure that was a failure in the long run) for a new venture. I remember two years ago I went boarding with a group of teenagers at Jack Frost in the Poconos. Around 3 PM I was going down the slope with my son, and decided to hit a small jump. Well I went head first into the ground and came up and got a concussion. I can’t remember about 30 minutes of what happened after that. A month later our family was taking our normal winter/ski vacation and it happened to be in the Poconos and we ended up back at Jack Frost. Now I could have played it safe, avoided that slope, avoided that jump and refused to every hit another jump ever or I could take a risk, hit the same jump, and slay the demon (if you will). What did I do? I went down the same slope and hit the same jump and landed it.
So the thing that I have leaned while snowboarding and planting a missional church is to take the risk. If you strap on the board you will more than likely fall especially at the beginning. If you plant a church you will fall. But if you don’t strap on the board (or skis..my wife would want me to add that) you will never experience the rush of adrenaline when you fly through powder, when you make that amazing carve turn, when you hit that jump and land it, and when you race your family down the slope. If you never take the risk of church planting, you might never experience the rush of seeing God provide for you in amazing ways (I know that I have seen it more times during the last 4 years than probably all my years previously), seeing God use your gifts and passions to further his kingdom, hearing the amazing stories of people, and seeing a community of Christ followers spring out of the soil of the local community.
So if you aren’t falling what are you waiting for? Strap on the board, push off the ground, and fly down the mountain. Carve that turn. Look for powder. And hit that jump that scares you. And then do it again. Take the risk.
Today we begin, what is known in the Christian world and in the Christian calendar and year, as Advent. For those not familiar with the concept of Advent, Advent is celebrated during the four weeks prior to the birth of Jesus. It the Christian church it is a time of waiting and longing for the coming of the Christ child. It is also a time of preparing for the coming of Jesus. The traditional 4 weeks in Advent are normally about Hope Peace, Joy and Love. And so many churches throughout the world during the next 4 weeks will be preparing themselves spiritually for Christmas.
And so our next 4 weeks will also be centered around Advent but in a different kind of way. Our theme during Advent is entitled Advent(ure). And our hope is that we can restore the adventure back into advent. This theme will cover 4 weeks looking at the adventure of the main characters in what we call the Christmas story. We’ll look today at the adventure of the Shepherds. Next week we’ll look at the adventure of the Wise Men. In two weeks we’ll be looking at the adventure of Mary and Joseph. And our fourth and final week we’ll look at the adventure of the Christ child himself.
Back in 1924 the author D.H. Lawrence penned these words, “the adventure has gone out of the Christian venture.” But it didn’t originally start out that way. So I am hoping that by the end of Advent we’ll see and be able to restore and recover the sense of adventure in our lives as individuals, as a community, and as part of the church universal I also hope and pray that through our 4 weeks together looking at Advent(ure) that we’ll see the sense of risk, adventure, and journey wrapped up in the four stories that we’ll be looking at together over the next 4 weeks.
So, as I mentioned, today for the 1st Sunday in Advent we’ll be looking at the adventure of the Shepherds found in Luke 2:8-20. Luke 2:8-20 that famous passage, that many of us know either straight from the Bible, or through the reciting of the words by Linus during a Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Luke tells the story of that first advent and the adventure of the Shepherds this way, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”
So what might this text say to us 2,000 years later about the adventure of following the baby born in the manger? What can we apply to our own lives and what can we learn about being on this adventure of being a community of missional disciples? Let’s look at a few things before we seek to unpack the application of it for our everyday lives.
The first thing we see in this text is that the angel appears to Shepherds watching their flocks out in the fields. Now something that you need to know about Shepherds in those days. Shepherds were a marginalized people. In fact if you had to go to court and your only witnesses were shepherds, you were in a lot of trouble. Shepherds were seen as unclean, unreliable, and weren’t able to testify in court. God chose to share the amazing news of the Savior of the world’s birth with people whose word wasn’t seen as reliable. Who weren’t the power brokers, politicians, Kings of their day. No, in this adventure of living out the Kingdom of God, God chooses the weak, the not yet, the marginalized, those on the outside, to further his kingdom. 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 puts it this way, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are”
The next thing we notice is what the angel says to the Shepherds. The angels appear and the Shepherds were terrified. I imagine if an angel appeared to me or to you our first reaction would be the same as the Shepherds. And so wherever an angel of the Lord appears in Scripture, the typical reaction was fear and the response of the angel was “Don’t be afraid.” It happened earlier with Zechariah and Mary. And also many places in the Old Testament (including Judges 12:22) In fact the command of “Don’t be afraid” or “Do not fear” appears over 100 times in the Scriptures.
I truly believe that this is one of things we need to be aware of in this adventure called the Christian life. That all too often we live our life out of fear. We need to take the angels’ words to heart. Too often we live with a fear of the unknown, a fear of the what if, a fear of what people might think, a fear that God isn’t who he says he is and that he will leave us and forsake us. But if we truly want to follow Jesus and live out an adventurous life as a follower of Jesus, we must wrestle our fear to the ground and trust that God is who he says he is and that he will watch over us and that he in fact wants the best for us.
So we find out that the Angel is not there to strike them dead or to pronounce judgment. Instead they are there to bring good tidings of great joy. In fact, they are there to preach the gospel to the Shepherds. The word gospel literally means good news. But what is the good news that God sent the angels to pronounce to the Shepherds? We find what the good news that the angels are sent to proclaim to the Shepherds in verses 10-12 and verse 14.
Right after the angels calm the shepherds down by their words to not be afraid, they speak these words, “I bring you good news (gospel) that will cause great joy for all the people.” This statement that the gospel is for all people underscores the universalism of the gospel. The fact is that this adventure, the adventure of following Jesus is not for a select few. It is for all and open to all. This is also underscored by probably the most famous Scripture of all time, one that many of us, if we grew up in the Church, memorized in our childhood, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” His love is for the world, and the adventure of this life, following Jesus is for the world as well. And this announcement would fly in the face of the Jewish belief system that the Savior would come and only “save” the Jews. Right from the start, as we’ll also see next week, Jesus was to be the Savior, Redeemer, and Lord not only of the Jewish people but of all people who have ever walked the face of this plant, and for all people who have undertaken this adventure called life.
After making this announcement the one angel is joined by a group of other angels and they begin to make another proclamation about this advent(ure) of following Jesus and another proclamation about what the gospel is all about. They speak these words, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When it all comes down to this adventure. When it all gets wrapped up. The gospel of Jesus is all about peace. The elusive peace promised by the Roman Empire was now being offered through Jesus to all people on earth. This peace has it’s root in the Jewish idea of Shalom, which means wholeness. To be whole means that one has right relations with God, other people, one self and all of creation.
And so that fateful night on that hillside, the angels proclaim the gospel of the adventure of following Jesus to the Shepherds. They proclaimed that this adventure is an adventure for all people, that the adventure is about the Shalom of God that only Jesus can bring, and that when we follow Jesus into this adventure we need to trust him and not to be afraid because he will be with us
There is so much more we can say about that night long ago, about what the Shepherds experienced, and then how these Shepherds whose words weren’t trusted in a court, were the first evangelists using their words to spread the gospel of the Shalom of God to everyone they met.
But let’s take some time now to unpack the Scripture and the message together. Let’s talk about the advent(ure) of following Jesus, our fear, his peace, and his desire for all people to begin the advent(ure). Let’s talk about what God might be saying to each one of us and our community as a whole.
1. What are your thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. regarding the Scripture and the message?
2. What fears are you currently facing in relation to this advent(ure) of life and in following Jesus? How might the angels words of “Do Not be afraid” speak into your life and in your situation?
3. How might we work with and for the Shalom of God in our relationships, our work environment, our neighborhoods, in our community and in our world? Is there someone that you can proclaim the gospel of the Shalom of God to, and share with them the words of the angel “Do not be afraid”? If so, who is it and what steps might you take to do that?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it?
Today we come to the end of our 4 week series #instalife, looking at the concept of identity and where we derive our self worth and identity from. I don’t know about you but it has really challenged me to look inside and figure out where I have been deriving my identity from.
We started this series by hosting the art series by the same name by the artist Tobias Treppemann on First Friday. Then the first week of our series we looked at the idea that we are friends of God. That we are no longer slaves or servants, but that we are actually friends of God. That God is actually for us and not against us.
Two weeks we we talked about the idea that we are all children of God, no matter where we are with Jesus (Acts 17:28-29) But at the same time those who follow Jesus are adopted sons and daughters of the Father. We are the ones who have taken on the family name, so to speak. Not that he loves us more or loves those who haven’t taken on the family name yet less. We have been adopted, not by what we have done, or by our own strength, power, and might. But only through the amazing, redeeming, love of God the Father.
Last week we talked about the idea that we are masterpieces created and crafted by the master artist. We talked about the idea that when we look in the mirror do we see that masterpiece, or do we see the mud (the brokenness, the sin, etc..). We also talked about the idea that when we look at others do we see the mud (the sin, the brokenness) that people are mired in, or do we see the masterpiece that God has created. I also had several conversations that many of us struggle not with seeing the masterpiece in others, but we struggle more seeing the masterpiece within our own lives. (myself included).
Today we wrap up our #instalife conversation looking at an idea that is not only about just ourselves, but about our community as a whole. And that questions of identity not on extend to the individual but also extends to community. And the question that I want us to wrestle with is what is our corporate identity. Where do we get our corporate identity from and what is God’s calling for us as a people of God in this time and in this place. Not that there isn’t an individual calling and identity that God wants us to wrestle with in this text, and we’ll also address this as well. But this text, that we are looking at today, definitely speaks to us as a community and what our identity should be as a community of people who are seeking to follow Jesus together.
So we are going to look at 1 Peter 2:9 together and talk about the idea that you are a priest. So let’s turn to 1 Peter 2:9 and see what it might say to us as individuals but almost more importantly what it has to say to us as a community of the people of God.
1 Peter 2:9 says this, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
So the first thing that we see is that there is this one word that is repeated 3 times in this one verse. The word you is repeated. Now you might know this already but whenever you read the word you in the Bible, most if not all of the time this word is plural and not singular. So it means you all. That it is not you as an individual. In fact the idea of the individual is mostly a modern idea and invention. In fact everything that Peter says that we are, we have to be together. You can’t be a people, a priesthood, a holy nation alone. All of these things are, by definition, for a group of people. And so 1 Peter 2:9 is written to a community of followers of Jesus. We see who it was written to in 1 Peter 1:1 when Peter says, “To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,” So Peter is speaking to the church.
Also what we see in 1 Peter 2:9 are words that could have been said of Israel in the NT. The words chosen people, priesthood, and nation all point directly to the Old Testament and this connection that the things that once exclusively belonged to Israel- their election, their priesthood, and their calling, are now no longer the property of Israel. These are now the property of every follower of Jesus. These are now the property of every community of followers of Jesus.
So let’s go phrase by phrase and see what each phrase might say to us about our identity as the people of God.
So Peter first calls us a chosen people. What does he mean by chosen? We see that he is repeating this idea from 1:1 where he says to God’s elect. But what does this all mean? I believe this idea of being chosen or elect if you will, is not what so many people believe it to be. I believe that being chosen is always on a corporate level. Notice the next word, a chosen people. Not a chosen person. Secondly I believe we are chosen not to the exclusion of others but for others. Look at the first calling of the chosen people, the Israelites, found in Genesis 12:1-3. They are blessed, not to the exclusion of others but for others. So that they can be a blessing. I think too often when we see the word chosen we believe it implies the rejection of those not chosen. But I don’t believe that to be. I believe that our being chosen is for the benefit and the blessing of others in the world around us. We are chosen in Christ for the purpose or the mission of declaring the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. And when we live out this mission, we hope and pray that the whole world will be saved, restored (remember our conversation from last week about the word saved means being restored to the original condition that God created us to be and for) and to find justice in him.
And this calling to be a blessing and to work to see the world world restored, redeemed, and renewed by Jesus, takes us to the next calling that God, through Peter calls his church to be, that of a royal priesthood. The offices of royalty and priesthood in the Old Testament were jealously separated but Jesus, who is our King and our priest brought them together for his people, his church. So what does it mean then to say that this body of followers of Jesus are to be a royal priesthood? Well what was and is the royal of a Priest? According to 1 Peter 2:5 one of our roles as Kingdom Priests (we are God’s New Testament Kingdom of Priests much like the nation of Israel was in the OT) is to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. So therefore, as fellow priests with our great High Priest Jesus, we offer up to God our sacrifices of praise, our Kingdom work of being a blessing in the world, and all of our lives, as well as reflecting God in our lives, interceding for others before God, and to represent and serve him and his Kingdom in our world.
We are to be a holy nation. This again drives us right back to the OT, and more specifically, right back to Genesis 12 verse 2 which says, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.” And so God, through Abram, calls those who follow in his footsteps, to be a holy nation. A nation whose calling in life is to be blessed in order to be a blessing. But this nation is not derived by states and borders. We aren’t talking about nations like the nation of the United States, as this nation transcends all divisions of the nations, that we set up. Instead this holy nation is made off of people from every tribe, nation, place and people. A nation of followers of Jesus called to live out the Abrahamic call to be a nation of blessing to everyone they meet.
And lastly he calls us his special possession. When we come to know Jesus, and place him first in our lives, we give up possession of ourselves and give it to him. We give up our calling, our dreams, our identities, and our mission and begin to take on his calling, his dreams, his identity, and his mission. And we become his special possession.
And that calling, that identity, that mission that he calls us to is spelled out in the ending of verse 9, “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” That we may proclaim the love, mercy, forgiveness, grace and compassion of Jesus to all people. That we could proclaim the freedom that life in the Kingdom is about. And that, like Peter says only 1 chapter later, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,”
So let’s talk about what it might look like in our everyday reality to live this identity of being chosen people, royal priesthood, holy nation and God’s special possession. Let’s talk about how these things can give us true identity. And let’s talk about how these things play out in the world, in our missional Kingdom life and who we might be called to be a priest to (a people, a place, etc..)
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture text and/or the message?
2. What does this Scripture say to you about who you are in Christ and in your sense of
identity? How does knowing these things (in your head) make a difference in your heart?
What impact can this make tomorrow when you get out of bed?
3. To where or to whom might God be calling/sending you to be a priest to? How might/could you “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” to the people or place God is calling/sending you?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it?
I want you to imagine with me that following our gatherings this morning and afternoon, that you take a walk through Lancaster city. As you go out of our door you take a left onto King Street and then another left onto Water Street. You walk down Water Street and as you do, something catches your eye in an alleyway just off the street. The thing that catches your eye is the corner of a frame that is sitting in a pool of mud, dirt water and filth. You walk on over and as you pull on the frame you begin to make out the entire piece of art that lies beneath the mud, dirt and filth. And you gasp, because you realize that beneath all of the junk, you are holding in your hands an original painting by Rembrandt himself. It’s hardly recognizable as it is also torn, stained, and fully covered. But you know it is an original Rembrandt. What do you do with it? Do you treat it as worthless and throw it back into the pool of mud and filth? Or do you treat it for what it truly is, a masterpiece? I don’t know about you but I would treat it as a masterpiece, and quickly take it to someone, a master, who can renew, restore, and redeem the masterpiece that lies beneath the mud and mess.
So let me ask you these questions. What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see the mud and the mess or do you see what God sees, a Masterpiece? Also what do you see when you look at others? Do you see the mud and the mess or do you see what God sees, a Masterpiece?
Today we are continuing our series entitled #instalife looking at the issue of identity and where we draw our sense of identity, self worth, and value from. Today we are talking about the fact that you are a Masterpiece. And to look at the concept that God, the Master artist has designed us in such a way, we’ll be looking at Ephesians 2:10.
Now for those who have spent any time in the church and in the Bible, I would imagine that the verses directly preceding our verse for the morning might be familiar. These verses (verses 8-9) say this, “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.” So the Apostle Paul is saying that, as a Masterpiece, we aren’t the ones who created ourselves. We aren’t the master artist, we are just his handiwork, or his masterpiece. This idea of saved that the Apostle Paul mentioned, I believe is one that isn’t truly understood in our modern evangelical Christian world. Too often we talk about being saved from and not saved to. We talk about being saved from sin and hell and death (and yes that is true). But if you were to talk with a 1st century Jewish person, they would define the word save as meaning to make whole, to restore to it’s original condition. And so right from the start of this text, we see that we can’t restore (or save) the Masterpieces that are muddy, beat up, torn, ripped, and soiled. But we know someone who can take the mud, grim and mess off of the Masterpieces and restore the Masterpiece to it’s original condition.
Now let’s look at the very next verse, verse 10. Verse 10 says this, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Now what we see in this text is that we are created by God and in Christ. Some texts use the word handiwork (like the NIV), some like the NLT use the word Masterpiece, and some like the KJV use the word workmanship. The word translated “masterpiece” or “workmanship” is the Greek word poiema—from which we get the word “poem.” So in a very real way, the first thing we see in this text is that we are all created by the hand of the Master Artist. That we are all living poems, so to speak, that point not to the art but to the artist. So God, the Master Artist, pictures you as someone more awesome and wonderful than your imagination has ever dreamed. He sees the artwork, the masterpiece that will be developed from your blank canvas, or the broken, messed up, torn, ripped, and muddy canvas of our lives. Just like Jesus, when he renamed Simon as Peter (which means Rock), calling Peter to live into his name. Or like the story of Sculptor Gutzon Borglum. Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941) gazed at the cliffs of South Dakota’s Black Hills. He envisioned what no one else could—the sculpted faces of US presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.
Borglum and his crew were suspended on ropes 500 feet above the valley floor. They used everything from chisels to dynamite to create the 5-story-high visages. It took 14 years to complete the project.
Borglum’s housekeeper occasionally went to visit the site. She once asked a worker, “How did Mr. Borglum know that Mr. Lincoln was in that rock?”
How indeed? Borglum knew what was in the rock because he saw with his artist’s eye what he could create out of the raw material with which he had to work.
So God is calling us, through Jesus to live into the realization that we are a Masterpiece of the master artist. Even if we can’t see it, God through Jesus Christ can. That we need to submit our lives, our canvas, our granite, our musical staff lines, our clay, to his hands, his chisel, his paint brush, his musical instrument so that what comes out of our lives is a beautiful painting, sculpture, song, or poem. And that these things point to the master artist who has redeemed, renewed, released and restored us through Jesus. In fact, just as the poem, the song, the painting, the dance points not to itself but to its artist, we are also called to not point to ourselves but to the Master artist.
But what is the purpose of our lives. What is the reason for our masterpiece to exist? It is true that God in fact saves us, as is mentioned in Ephesians 2:8-9, but why are we saved? I believe God saves us to make something beautiful out of us, and then through us. I believe we are saved, as the Apostle Paul says, to do good works. The Apostle Paul is not saying that we are saved through our good works, but that we are saved to do good works. That salvation means that as Masterpieces created by God, we are called to get off the wall, off the page, out of the CD or mp3 so to speak, and go out into the world to point other masterpieces, who don’t believe that they are, that there is a master artists who loves them, cares for them, and wants them to be restored to the original condition that they were created to be. But as I said before, we can’t do the restoring, but we can take these masterpieces to the master artist who can do the restoring. As followers of Jesus we are called to live out what I believe was one of the driving reasons Jesus came. In fact when asked that same pointed question of why he came, he pointed to an Old Testament passage from Isaiah and said these words, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Part of being “saved” (restored to our original condition as a masterpiece) is to be about the good works that Jesus has in mind for us to be about. That being restored to right relationship with Him, means not being about ourselves. In fact, I can truly say this, if you are a follower of Jesus, your life should no longer revolve around you and your wants. That being restored, as a masterpiece, means living for the ultimate and master artist, and helping other masterpieces live into that reality. By taking the masterpieces to the master so that he can restore them, wipe away the mud, mess, grim, and dirt, and set them right, the way they were originally meant to be. And that our good works, as followers of Jesus, are the means of pointing to, and helping bring others to the Master artist.
But what does this all mean? What do you see when you look in the mirror? The mud or the masterpiece? What do you see when you look at others? The mud or the masterpiece beneath the mud? And how does the fact that we are all masterpieces make a difference in our lives and in the way we engage with the world around us? Those are the questions that we are going to unpack together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the text and the Scripture this morning?
2. Do you tend to focus more on the mud or the Masterpiece when you see yourself? Why? How can this verse that we just looked at speak into your life and help with your identity?
3. Do you tend to focus on the mud or the Masterpiece when you see others muddied by sin and brokenness? In what ways can our good works help others see the Masterpiece within themselves? What good works has God restored you for?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it?
Today we continue our series entitled #instalife using the art show that happened on 1st Friday as inspiration to look at issues of identity. We will spend a total of 4 weeks looking at identity through the lens of social media as well as rooting our identity in the truths of Scripture, and what God has to say about who we are in him.
All too often our sense of identity comes from places other than from what God has to say about us. Our identity can be wrapped up in what others think about us, the number of our Facebook friends, the number of comments on our status update, the number of likes on an instagram photo, and instead of thinking about what God has to say we worry about what others say. Our identity can also come from our family of origin, our socio-economic status in the world (what kind of car we drive, our occupation), our looks, our abilities and talent and a host of other things.
And so last week we started our #instalife series out by looking at the idea that part of our identity as followers of Jesus is that we are friends of Jesus. That Jesus no longer calls us servants but he calls us friends. So believe it or not you, if you are a follower of Jesus, are a friend of Jesus. And if you aren’t there yet, Jesus wants a friendship with you, wants the best for you, and is for you (not against you).
Today we are talking about something I believe that is more significant in terms of our identity than being a friend of Jesus. I believe one of the most significant foundations for our identity is in the fact that we are called children of God. That if we are followers of Jesus, we have been adopted into the family of God and are children of the Heavenly Father.
Now before I jump into our text this morning I need to say this. The question might be raised, “aren’t all people children of God, no matter where they are with Jesus?” I would say yes that is true. Look at Acts 17:28-29 which says that we are all his offspring. We are all children of God in a way. But at the same time and according to the text we will be looking at in a minute, there are those who are also heirs and adopted children of God. There are those who have taken on the role of adopted sons and daughter’s, who claim their Father’s name (taken on his last name so to speak) and are, in a different way, children of God. But I also have to say that the door to being adopted children of God, to claiming and taking on the name of the Father, and becoming part of the family is always open and is open to everyone who has, is, and will ever walk the face of this planet.
So let’s look at our text this morning and talk about this idea of being adopted into God’s family, and being a son or daughter of God. The text that we’ll be looking at together is found in Galatians 4:1-7. “What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
So the first thing we notice in this text is that the Apostle Paul is comparing two identities if you will or two roles. The identity and role of a slave versus the role and identity of an heir or a child. So Paul is comparing the identity of slave and a child and then he also makes a transition halfway through the text from the physical reality to the deeper spiritual (yet physical reality) of the our slavery to sin, and our subsequent adoption into sonship and daughtership.
Now in the first part of the text a child, as mentioned, is a minor or underage and during that time is really no different than a servant, even though the heir truly owns the estate. The question would then become when does a child truly become an heir or an adult. In Greek and Jewish culture there was a definite “coming of age” ceremony where a boy stopped being a child, and started being a man with the legal rights as an heir. In Roman culture however there was no specific age when the son became a man. It was when the father thought that the son was ready. And when the father thought the son was ready to become an adult there was a sacred family festival known as the Liberalia, which was held annually on March 17. At this time the child was formally “adopted” by the father as his acknowledged son and heir.
We see that when the Apostle Paul uses the phrase, ‘until the time appointed by the Father” that is shows us that he has the Roman ‘coming of age” in mind more than the Jewish or Greek custom/culture. We also know that in Roman custom in relation to adoption, that the adopted sons were given absolutely equal privileges in the family and equal status as heir.
It is there that the Apostle Paul makes the transition from talking about physical adoption and becoming an heir to the deeper spirituality reality (though nonetheless real and physical) of being adopted into the family of God and an heir to the spiritual blessings bought by Jesus Christ.
So the first thing we see in this transition is the phrase, “But when the set time had fully come.” Have you ever wondered why Jesus came to earth when and where he did? Why did he come to earth in the 1st century? Why did he come to earth in a Jewish context? Jesus came at just the right time in God’s redemptive plan, when the world was perfectly prepared for Gods’ work. But there was more to it than that. It was a time when the pax Romana extended over most of the civilized earth and when travel and commerce were therefore possible in a way that had formerly been impossible. Great roads linked the empire of the Caesars, and its diverse regions were linked far more significantly by the all-pervasive language of the Greeks. Add the fact that the world was sunk in a moral abyss so low that even the pagan cried out against it and that spiritual hunger was everywhere evident, and one has a perfect time for the coming of Christ and for the early expansion of the Christian gospel.
Paul makes it crystal clear when he says, “to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” that our adopted to sonship and daughtership is only possible through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Only through that, do we have the privilege, ability, and the right to cry out to God using the same intimate term that Jesus used, that of Abba, which is best translated as daddy. Just like it is not possible to be adopted into a family by your own strength, merit, or will, you can’t be adopted into the family of God through your own strength, merit, or will. But what a privilege, what an amazing gift that we are adopted into sonship and daughtership, into the family of God, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
And so the Apostle Paul then ending this thought about sonship/daughtership and adoption into God’s family wraps the entire process that he has talked about into 3 parts. First, Paul states that we are no longer slaves. That we have been set free by Jesus from what he calls the, “elemental spiritual forces of the world.” It is then, once we have been freed from slavery, that we are then declared sons and daughters and adopted in God’s family. And finally, reminiscent of the Roman adoption that I mentioned before, once we have been adopted into God’s family we become heirs. But what is an heir? Heirs inherit something, and what do we inherit? Paul makes it clear: an heir of God through Christ. We inherit God Himself. For some, this might seem like a paltry inheritance. But for those who are really in Christ, who really love God, to be an heir of God is the richest inheritance of all. And one of the best inheritances that we can’t truly even being to fathom is the fact that, as I mentioned before, and as the Apostle Paul mentions in verse 6, that we can call God father, just not father in a “formal” sense, but also “Abba. Daddy.” That our inheritance, at least part of it, is that we have access to the same intimacy with God the Father that God the Son, that Jesus had. That we get to call God the Father who is the Creator of the Universe, Sustainer of the cosmos, Redeemer of the world, King, Lord of all. We get to call him Dad and that we are adopted children. Adopted sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.
But what does this mean for you and I and for our identity? How does this giving meaning to our lives? What does this look like played out each and every day, in our on the ground reality? And what might being adopted sons and daughters say to us and to our world as we go about a missional Kingdom life? How might this be good news to people that we meet each and every day? These are some of the questions that we are going to unpack together in our time of discussion.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture text and the message?
2. How does this idea of being adopted sons and daughters of God give meaning to our lives? What does this or how can this look like played out each and every day, in our on the ground reality?
3. How could this idea of being adopted sons and daughters be good news in our missional contexts? How might this impact the way we share the good news about Jesus in the world?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it?
Today we start a four week series entitled #instalife inspired by the art show that we just held on Friday night. The idea behind the art show can best be summed up by the words of the artist who put the work together. Tobias Treppmann says this about #instalife, “In 1998 the movie The Truman Show commented on the then new trend of reality TV cultural voyeurism. Truman was the victim, chosen without his consent, to entertain the world with every little detail of his everyday life. 15 years later we are all Truman, but by choice. The social media revolution has provided a platform on which we can present ourselves to the world and star in our own reality show. #INSTALIFE explores this new facet of our society and the stories we tell about our lives on Instagram. #INSTALIFE seeks to be a cultural commentary on the social sharing phenomenon — on voyeurism, exhibitionism, the desire to curate the way we portray our lives and the stories we tell and on what happens when this content is consumed out of context.
In reference to the movie poster art of The Truman Show #INSTALIFE employs the photomosaic technique to tell a story using public instagram photos with hashtags. Each photo has been replicated as a photomosaic out of hundreds of public instagram photos shared with the same hashtag.”
Our theme derived from the art show deals with the deeper questions of identity. The social media revolution of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram has provided a platform on which we can present ourselves to the world, star in our own reality show and create our own identity. But where does our identity ultimately come from? From the number of Facebook friends we have? From the number of likes to a picture we post on Instagram? From how many responses we get from a status update? From the online persona that we create on Facebook, twitter, and instagram? Or does our identity come from something much deeper, longer lasting, and more fulfilling? Over the next four weeks we’ll be looking at some of the art that is hanging on our walls, what they might say when it comes to our identity, what we might say about our identity, and what God ultimately has to say about who we are and where we draw our identity from.
Today we are going to be using John 15:13-15 to look at our identity and the word that Jesus uses when it comes to who we really are in Jesus. But before I read the Scripture, let me ask you to play word association with me, Or to define for me the meaning of a word, that we’ll look at more together. When I say friend what does that word mean? Or when I say friend what thoughts, images, words, feelings, come to mind? (spend a few minutes getting the thoughts of the people).
That question, “what does friend mean” was address by a writer when he said, “a friend is a confidant who shares the knowledge of his superior’s purpose and voluntarily adopts it as his own.”
With that understanding in our minds, let’s turn now to John 15:13-15 and what it might have for us in terms of understanding our identity and where it truly comes from. John 15:13-15 are the words of Jesus, and I believe these words concerning our identity and who we truly are in Christ should be louder than the voices in our head and the voice of the evil one, trying to tell us what our identity is and what it isn’t. John 15:13-15 says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
The first thing we see in these verses are the words found in verse 13 which says, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Obviously Jesus is referring to what will take place in his life in the not to distance future. And that he would go to the cross, lay his life down for his disciples, for us, and I believe for the entire world. You see this is where a title that was given to Jesus, maybe as a derogatory term given by the Pharisee’s, comes into play. Jesus was called a Friend of Tax Collectors and sinners. And so if Jesus, while he was bodily on earth, was a friend to sinners, than doesn’t it follow that he was laying his life down for each and every person who has ever walked the face of this earth? Jesus put first a willingness to spend himself for the other, and not grudgingly but eagerly. The great philosopher Aristotle put it like this, “Friendship seems to be in the loving rather than in the being loved.” And so for Jesus, a huge part of being a friend means laying your life down for others. Putting others first and above your own needs, wants, desires, etc….
And so in a very real way, part of everyone’s identity that has ever lived, is this idea of being a friend of Jesus. That deep down in the core of everyone, whether they know Jesus or not, whether they live for him or not, Jesus is and wants to be their friend. Now you may disagree with me on this but I believe Jesus wants to be a friend to everyone but not everyone wants to be a friend of Jesus. And when I read friend, I believe that Jesus is actually for each and every one of us and not against us. Too often people claiming to represent Jesus, forget the fact that he was a friend to sinners and instead somehow make Jesus out to be about judgment and condemnation. No matter where you are with Jesus today, know that he is for you, wants the best for you, and he wants to be a friend to you and for you to be his friend.
Now here is where it gets tricky. Where this might seem like a contradiction, a mystery, or a paradox. Look at verse 14 and how he describes who his friends are, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” If the disciples are loyal to his instructions, he gives them the rank of friends. If we do what Jesus commands, if we obey him, than we are his friends. Now you are starting to see a possible contradiction or mystery. You might be saying, “Ryan..you said Jesus is a friend to everyone but here Jesus is giving a pretty clear statement about who his friends are. It is those who obey him.” And I would say yes. Jesus is a friend to everyone and to those who do what he commands. Maybe we can describe it like this. Jesus is a friend to all but not all want to be a friend of Jesus. So in one sense the friendship that Jesus wants to have with everyone is a one way street, and when we turn around and begin to obey him we make the friendship what it should be, a two way street.
And so when we begin to obey “everything that I have commanded” we become a friend.
And then Jesus says these words, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” You see Jesus wants more from us than just mere obedience. He wants us to have a relationship that is more friend than servant. You see a servant is simply an agent doing what his master commands, and often does not understand his master’s purpose. But Jesus takes his friends (us) into his confidence. Also another difference between a servant and a friend is not between diligent obedience and disobedience (or even casual obedience). The difference is between understanding and not understanding. Because friends have a close relationship, they understand while servants do not. And so in real friendship, in real fellowship, the kind that Jesus is spelling out in verses 14-15 there is a trust in the other that believes in him, risks on him, doesn’t doubt his loyalty, but looks toward him with confidence. And that is exactly what Jesus does when he calls us his friend. He believes in us, his risked his life for us, he looks towards us and has taken us into his mission, his purpose, his plan for the renewal of all things. So one of the core identities for those of us who are followers of Jesus, and for those who desire to obtain this identity, is that of friend. Friend of Jesus. When you are tempted to ask “What is my identity? What is it wrapped up in it? Or Who am I?” One of the answers that you should tell yourself when you hear the voices of culture and the evil one seeking to give you another identity is that “I am a friend of Jesus. He wants a relationship with me. He wants the best for me. And he has taken me into his purpose and mission for the world and I can be a part of his renewal and redemption of the world. I am a friend of Jesus.”
And so thinking and praying about the ending of this message, I do what every Pastor does when looking for inspiration, I jumped on Facebook and that is when I found this status from a friend of mine. “What if the basis of our friendship is not based on how little you sin, but based on how much you let me love you? -God” ~John Lynch”
So let’s unpack what it means to base your identity on the fact that you are a friend of Jesus. Have you ever thought about being a friend of Jesus? How can knowing that your identity is one of being a friend of Jesus change your life and your understanding of yourself? And how might understanding that you are a friend of Jesus propel you into a missional kingdom life? Let’s spend some time talking about those questions together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture text and the message?
2. Have you ever thought about being a friend of Jesus? Yes or No. If not, why not? How can knowing that your identity is one of being a friend of Jesus change your life and your understanding of yourself?
3. how might understanding that you are a friend of Jesus propel you into a missional kingdom life?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
So today we wrap up our three week series entitled Journey looking at the journeys of 2 biblical characters as well as 1 from within our community.
Two weeks ago when we started this series we looked at the journey of Terah, who is the father of Abram (or Abraham). We talked about how Terah got stuck in his journey due to the loss of his son Haran. We talked about how sometimes we get stuck in our journey due to significant loss, struggle or pain. And sometimes to heal we actually have to go through it to get to the other side, much like how Terah actually went to the town of Haran, but instead of moving through it, he settled there.
Last week we had Lindsay share what God has taught her along her journey both before her experiences and also during her experiences the last two summers in Mexico.
This week we are looking at probably one of the main figures within the Bible and within the history of the church. This figure is the Apostle Paul. We are going to look at his journey and see what his experience in his missionary journeys can teach us about living a missional, Kingdom life today in the 21st century.
To start reflecting on the journey of the Apostle Paul I want to share a saying that many of us have probably heard sometime in our life. And at face value it might sound correct, but as I looked at it more deeply, I realized that it actually might not be totally accurate. Have you ever heard the saying, “the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.”? Part of it, I understand that God does in fact provide safety, but that doesn’t mean following Christ is safe. In fact, it is probably the exact opposite. I wonder if instead of saying “the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will” it should read, “the most dangerous place to be is in the center of God’s will.” Author and visionary Erwin McManus says: “The truth of the matter is that the center of God’s will is not a safe place but the most dangerous place in the world! To live outside of God’s will puts us in danger; to live in his will makes us dangerous.” Faith isn’t safe. Fulfilling your destiny isn’t a walk in the park. It will require thousands of deaths – learning to say no, making better choices, putting others’ needs before your own. In The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, one of the children (Lucy) asked Mr. Beaver if Aslan the Lion is safe. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
So this statement got me wondering about the journey of the Apostle Paul and what he would think if he heard it. After all his journey was not one of safety but of risk and danger. Let’s look together at how he explains his missionary journey and see what it might say to us today. We’ll be unpacking 2 Corinthians 11:21b-33 together.
“Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.”
So the first thing we need to get straight is who is Paul continually referring to when he says, “they”. To answer that question we need to go back to verse 5 which says, “ I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” Now anyone who says sarcasm never appears in Scripture never read this verse. This is Paul’s sarcastic way of referring to the false teachers who had infiltrated their way into the Corinthian church and they apparently were “preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached.” These “super apostles” were boasting about their pedigree if you will, their qualifications to be an apostle. So Paul bites and begins to lay out his qualifications as well. He begins to boast. But as so often is the case when it comes to the Kingdom of God, these qualifications, his resume so to speak, what he “boasts” about seems to be upside down.
These false teachers had inflated the idea that apostle or minister was a title of exaltation and privilege. In fact they would probably have said being a minister or apostle meant the less you should have to work and the more others should serve you. Paul, in this text, is seeking to dispel that myth and reverses it by saying that ministers/apostles (we are all ministers/apostles) mean the more you work and serve others. In fact the Greek word for minister is diakonos which describes a humble servant, a menial worker. Like Jesus who came to serve and not to be served. Not a superstar, super apostle or a person of privilege.
So Paul lays out his resume, his qualifications, his journey if you will, and as I said before, they are upside down Kingdom qualifications. They are qualifications that the super apostles would say that he was crazy. They would find nothing to boast about in hardships. They would probably believe that if they experienced hardships that, “God is not with me.” They could only glory in the image of power and the appearance of success. If they did not have that, they felt that God was against them. They thought this way because their thinking was worldly instead of like Jesus (Philippians 2:5-11) and by definition, Paul.
The first thing Paul lays out from his journey is his lineage to the people of God. In verse 22 he says, “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I.” The claim implied here on the part of the false apostles indicate that they were Jews who felt superior to Gentile Christians. Meaning that they were Judaizers, who wish to impose distinctive Jewish practices on Gentile converts.
In verses 23-27, Paul lays out, in opposition to the “super apostles” what his missional Kingdom life has meant. To be an apostle meant for him (it doesn’t necessarily mean that for us to be an apostle that we will have to go through the same things and that if we don’t we aren’t living a missional Kingdom life) that he worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, exposed to death, beaten by the Jews, beaten by the Romans, shipwrecked, spent time in the open sea, and in danger from his own countrymen, and in danger in so many other ways.
But probably what was more burdensome, more heavy on his heart, wasn’t the physical things he had to go through that I just mentioned, but the burden of anxiety about the spiritual welfare of the churches that he had founded. Christian faith, for Paul and for us, doesn’t take away our burdens (if anyone tells you it does, don’t believe them) it just changes their nature. We see his Pastoral and missionary heart in verses 28-29 when we read, “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?”
To put it succinctly, Paul simply lived a hard life as a missionary, traveling and preaching the gospel. His journey wasn’t one of ease, status, position and power. It was one of doing what Jesus said all followers of Jesus should do, Paul truly lived out the words of Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
What might we learn about our journeys from the journey of Paul? What does his missional “resume” say to each of us living in the 21st century? And how might the missional journey of Paul resonate or spur our community onto a communal missional journey? Those are some of the questions that we are going to unpack together.
1. What are your thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. regarding the Scriptures and the message?
2. What are your thoughts regarding the statement, “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will”? Do you agree or disagree? Why? When have you experienced this idea of being in the center of God’s will? Has it been in a place of “safety” or in a place of “risk”?
3. Paul had a burden to the churches that he had planted, a call that he lived out. To whom is God placing a burden on your heart for? Or another way to put it, who might you be sent to?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it?
Here is our first message in our new series entitled “Journey” looking at the journey of a man named Terah. I would love to hear your thoughts, comments, insights, and questions.
Today we begin a 3 week series entitled Journey looking at 2 stories of journey found in the Bible. Today we talk about the journey of Terah, and in 2 weeks we’ll be looking at the journey of the Apostle Paul. Next week we’ll be talking about the journey of a person within our own community. Next week we’ll be talking about the journey of Lindsay and she’ll be sharing her journey, what God laid on her heart while in Mexico this past summer, and how those things on her heart impact our community.
So today we are talking about a guy that many of us have never heard of before, and if we have read the 6 verses that I will read in a minute, we promptly forget about him. In fact if he is known at all, it isn’t because of anything he ever did. He is in fact overshadowed by his descendant. If we know him at all it is because he is the father of Abram (or later on in Genesis…Abraham). His name is Terah and the account of his journey is found in Genesis 11:27-32.
Genesis 11:27-32 says, “This is the account of Terah’s family line. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth. Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milkah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milkah and Iskah. Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive. Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Harran.”
So what might we learn about our journey of following Jesus in the 21st century from a man, who when mentioned in Joshua 24 is a worshipper of other Gods? What can we learn about our journey from his physical journey from out of the Ur of the Chaldeans and towards Canaan, but eventually settling in Haran? What might we learn about being sent out as missionaries to our schools, neighborhoods, work, and our city from the Father of our Father Abraham? That is what we are going to talk about, unpack together, and dialogue around for the next few minutes.
So when the curtain comes up on the story we have just read we find Terah, whose name can either mean delay or wanderer, and his sons, Abram (most likely the youngest but listed first due to importance), Nahor, and Haran. They are living in the Ur of the Chaldeans, which is in present day southern Iraq. Haran has a son, Lot, who we read about later in Genesis 13 and 19.
The next scene following the listing of Terah’s family tree is where we witness these heartbreaking lines, “While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth.” Now when we read these words we realize their meaning that Haran died before his father. One of the worst things in all of life happened to Terah, his son died before he died. Normally the parents are the ones who are supposed to die first. You aren’t supposed to out live your kids. But if that wasn’t bad enough, some translations like the English Standard Version (ESV) actually read like this, “Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans.” So it is quite possible that not only did Haran die time wise before his father, he actually died before, or in the presence of his father. That Terah actually watched his son die. Whether it was from disease, sickness, or an accident we don’t know. But that is something that no one should ever have to witness. I can’t imagine the pain, the grief, the loss that Terah went through following the loss of his son Haran. The death of Haran, then colors everything else in Terah’s life, everything else in his journey.
Following some additional verses regarding family tree issues, like his remaining sons getting married, we come to our next scene found in verse 31. Verse 31 reads like this, “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there.” This is where Terah gets up, takes his family, and heads out on a journey from his homeland to Canaan. We aren’t told what prompted Terah to take his family and migrate from the Ur of the Chaldeans to Canaan. But that they “settled there” parallels verse 2 earlier in chapter 11 where people settled in Babel. While the first migration at the beginning of this chapter ended in dispersal, this migration would eventually lead to Abram’s call to be a nation that is blessed to be a blessing, and by definition that calling to be a blessing goes through time all the way through the OT, through the NT, into the life of the early church, and all through the life of the church, down to you and I today sitting here in 2013.
There are many speculations on why Terah took his family, left the Ur of the Chaldeans and headed for Canaan. We are, as I said before, never told why he packs it in in Ur and heads for Canaan. But here are a few possibilities. It could be that they left in obedience to the call of God, which we read more of in Genesis 12. Or in other words, some believe the prime motive to this change of abode (if you will) was the call of Abraham directly following this passage. It could be that the death of Haran loosened Terah’s attachment to his homeland. Maybe he began to view Ur as unlucky. After all his son died before and in his presence, and his daughter was childless and unable to conceive. And so maybe he thought that a change of scenery would change his luck. Maybe Terah was designed to fulfill the one meaning of his name and wander. Maybe he was the kind of guy who normally didn’t settle down but always kept looking at the horizon, kept dreaming, kept longing for more. But whatever the reason the fact remains, Terah got up, took his family and headed off to Canaan. It was the design of Terah himself to settle in Canaan. And so he set out from a place of hurt to a place of hope.
So Terah headed off towards Canaan. The route from the Ur of the Chaldeans went directly through the town of Haran, which was about halfway between Ur and Canaan. Haran was apparently a settlement that had been established by Terah’s son Haran, or to which at least his name had become attached. The family was originally from there before they move to Ur of the Chaldeans. In the Hebrew language, the language that the OT was written in, the place name Haran begins with a different consonant than the personal name Haran. But no doubt that coming to the town that bore the name of his dead son caused Terah to relive the pain of losing his son. All those emotions and pain that he tried to push down, I am sure resurfaced. I truly believe that his pain and loss derailed his journey. Terah had to pass through a place that reminded him of his greatest relational pain. To get to the land of hope, he had to again go through hurt.
The next scene we see is that when they arrive in Haran, they settle there and that is where Terah died never ending his journey in Canaan. He had a dream to make it to Canaan but the dream died with him in Haran. Instead of moving forward in his journey, he “dwelt” in Haran. The word dwelt indicates that they remained there for an extended period. It was no mere overnight stop by a group of pilgrimage at a hotel. Now there is a lot of speculation on why Terah’s journey to Canaan was derailed. Many believe that it had to do with his health. Maybe it was failing health that made them stop and dwell in Haran. Maybe it was that he came down with a disease and could physically go no farther. Or maybe his journey just got stuck. Maybe he just thought that he didn’t deserve to hope, to have a better life. Maybe he thought, this is all there is and I should stop dreaming and just settle. Terah is the picture of a man who caught a sense of something more, of something new but stopped along the way and settled and never reached it. His journey never made it to Canaan, the land of hope.
The last scene that we see is the sad ending of the story in verse 32, “Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Harran.” His journey derailed. His journey stuck. His journey, I am sure, didn’t end up the way that he had hoped it would when he set out from Ur of the Chaldeans years before. He settled for less. His losses began to define him. His relational wounds overcame him and stagnated his journey. His pain derailed the journey to the land of hope.
How many of us mirror in our lives what happened to Terah? Maybe we began this faith journey with hope, excitement, and passion, but now we are stagnant, bitter, disillusioned with people and the church, and we are stuck. Maybe we have some significant relational wounds. Maybe we have witnessed the physical death of someone and it has shaken us or maybe we have witnessed the relational death of some relationships that at one time were strong and those relationships were helping us to continue the journey. And now we feel like settling for less. Maybe God put a vision, a dream, a goal in our life and we dream, planned, and took steps toward those things but now it seems like we are stuck. That our dreams are dead or dying. That we have lost hope or we are in the midst of losing it. Maybe you are feeling stuck in your journey and you don’t know how to get it unstuck.
We are going to spend some time now talking about our journeys and how they might mirror the journey of Terah’s. We are going to share honestly about where we are on the journey. Where we are “dwelling” or feeling stuck? And what things have sidetracked or derailed us? And maybe what relational wounds we have had to deal with that have caused us to “dwell” where we currently are. I’m praying that we can be open, honest, and full of grace as we dialogue about some real issues today around our journeys.
1. What are your thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc… when it comes to Genesis 11:27-32 and the message?
2. What are some of the visions, dreams and goals that you have for your life? Where are you with them in the midst of your journey? How can our community help you continue to move forward in your journey towards those visions and dreams?
3. Where are you currently dwelling in your journey? Are you “dwelling”, feeling stuck, or are you moving forward in your journey? If you are dwelling and feeling stuck, what do you need to start moving and to get unstuck? How can Veritas help? If you are moving forward, what has helped you continue the journey?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it?