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January 30, 2017, 8:56 AM

The Oddity that is Heaven

In our adult class yesterday (1/29/17, and yes this is a shameless plug for you to attend), we spent some time simply talking about the places that are Heaven and Hell.  It was an excellent discussion that went down many paths, and sparked a lively hour of learning from each other.  Enough advertising, as I have another thought about Heaven that I want to explore here. 

-- Heaven is going to be.... odd... for many of us.  

Let me explain further:  We all have visions of what an eternal place of joy and comfort looks like.  We've heard talk of mansions, streets of gold, and harps galore.  But I'm not sure that's where our focus should be at all.  Sure, it will be nice to escape the depravity and pain this world has to offer in abundance.  Sure, we will finally get to reap the benefits of sacrificial generosity and compassion.  However, those should not be our focus (Yes, that includes wanting more "jewels in your crown").  

Heaven will be about relationship.  Even more so than our (finally) perfectly intimate relationship we get to have with God, our Father and Creator.  Heaven will give us a chance to explore relationships we never considered having here on earth.  For example:  David and Uriah will be in Heaven together...........eternally.   The man that David had murdered AFTER impregnating his wife will reside in the same ethereal plane for all eternity.  And because of what I know about God and his promises, you won't hear a word of dissent from either.  

Which relationship will surprise you the most when we get there?  I'm afraid we've dismissed so many people from being granted that ultimate expression of God's grace that finally being set free from our worldly judgments and exclusions will make Heaven a very odd experience indeed. 

I'm okay with that.  Are you?  If you answered YES to being okay with Heaven being odd, what relationships down here do we need to address before we even get to that point?  Heaven is eternal, our time here is much shorter.  Don't waste any more moments excluding someone from your own graces, when God's grace is already reaching into the darkest places.  Let us serve the "least of these" while we still have the chance.  No law will ever allow us to ignore the marginalized, disenfranchised, or lost.  We are the vessels in which God's grace is manifest here, lets make the most of our short time. 

Matthew 5: 17 - 20   17“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.19So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

20“But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!


January 23, 2017, 8:33 AM

So What?

The book of James was very present in the sermon yesterday, we just didn't talk about it!  So lets do that here.  

Our big question was "So What?"  Since we've established our belief in God, what are we going to do about it?  Orderly attendance and a routine Sunday schedule is not enough evidence in our lives to prove our lives are really, really changed by our belief system.  If we follow the formula that James presents to us in the New Testament, then we are either convinced we're doing enough to exhibit our level of belief or we choose to ignore both sides of James' good works/faith equation.  

Over and over again James presents his equation, 'If you claim to be religious, have faith THEN you will display it OUT LOUD."  

God's presence in our lives is a game changer.  (Understatement of the Day).  We are changed by the Creator of the Universe in us.  He is our God, our Father, our Personal God.   So what? 

Does it change anything other than Sunday morning?  That is not sufficient enough of faith expression to prove anything other than a slightly guilty conscious or the need for routine/habitual Church attendance based on a flawed belief system that has been beaten into us that attendance is enough.  

Is attendance and participation important?  YES, ABSOLUTELY!  You cant have the Head (Jesus) without the Body (the Church).  But living your faith for one or two hours a week only leaves another 166 hours devoted to __________.  

James 2: 14 - 17  14What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have cfaith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of cfaith save anyone?15Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,16and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

January 16, 2017, 11:51 AM

Ask a Better Question

Should you really be asking "Is there a God?"   If you know NOTHING about God and faith and belief, then yes that is a good place to begin.  However, if you are a regular member, attending weekly and understanding the basic tenants of belief then it is not a good place to start.  You should already be past that.  

When we read Scripture, that question's answer is implied...  Scripture assumes Yes, and moves on.  Scripture doesn't answer "Is there a God?" it paints a picture of his character.  

The better question you need answer is this:  "Who is God?"  To answer that you need to dive into the Bible and discover how his character is drawn up by his interaction with this world, starting with Adam and Eve all the way through to John's Revelation.  He shows us who he is, what he loves, what he doesn't like, and what promises he is waiting to fulfill.  All you need to do is read and discover it.  

That sounds simple, doesn't it?  If it were so, I believe there wouldn't be nearly as many denominations and varying sects of faith.  We carry with us our own answer the the question (Who is God?) with us every time we open the Bible.  Too often that allows us to pigeonhole what we read and what we learn about God.  If God is angry, or better yet if you're angry, finding those stories where is wrath is evident is easy.  If you're hoping for a Teddy-Bear God, finding his moments of compassion and mercy are easy.  

The problem is we cant pick and choose which characteristics we like most and define God, the Creator of the Universe by them.  We must see his entire picture and be shaped by that.  Does his justice AND compassion shape your understanding of his character?  I hope so, because we are called to treat this world the same way we are taught by God in the text.  All of the text, not just our favorite verses.  

My challenge for kicking off the Believe series this week is to Think about God every day.  Make sure your heart is tuned into his character intentionally in the routine of life.  See where God works and plays, and where his compassion shines through (I'm betting we'll be surprised).  See where his justice reigns.  See everything God created for you and be in wonder.  

Think about God...  because I know he's thinking about you.  

1 Chronicles 16:9a   9 The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.

January 9, 2017, 8:58 AM

What I know vs. What I love

I know lots of things.  Most of them useless.  

I love a few things.  All of them vital to my existence.  

Which do I pursue with vigor?  What I know.  

These past two weeks our sermons have been shaped by the thoughts presented in James Smith's book You Are What You Love.  And we will wrap that up right here by summarizing both weeks.   If life were really about just what we KNOW, then imagine all the troubles and issues that would disappear!  Obesity would be put on notice practically overnight.  Because we KNOW we need to eat our veggies, exercise, and avoid junk food.  So many issues and risks we take would vanish.  

And yet we continue to sin,  Even when we KNOW better.  We know the consequences of sin (death).  We know that sin separates us from God.  We know the guilt we feel when we give in to temptation.  And yet......... we sin.  We KNOW better.  

If we are what we know, then why aren't we better people?  Why aren't we better Christians?  Why does forgiveness come so difficult to us?  Why does giving feel like pulling teeth sometimes?  Why do we keep ourselves formed into little cliques and safely within our constructed buildings instead of evangelizing the world so desperate for the Good News?  We KNOW better! 

Because we are not what we know.  We are what we love.  And we love comfort, convenience, and ourselves.   And what we love shapes us, forms us, and determines our identity.  We sing loudly the songs we love.  We grumble when the songs aren't the ones we like.  We love our routines, but get frustrated when someone sits in our seat.  During the week we passionately pursue what we've chosen to love.  

When we follow Jesus we inevitably get pulled into situations in which our comfort is threatened.  Imagine if the disciples knew completely what they were getting into when they dropped their nets and followed Jesus!  What they knew was about to be in direct conflict with the one they chose to love.  Dont go sailing in storms is a solid nugget of knowledge.  Dont travel through Samaria was drilled into their brains by centuries of cultural prejudice.  Dont touch lepers, in fact stay away from them completely was just common sense at the time.  

And yet the heart of Jesus, and the love they had for the Rabbi put them into situations of direct conflict with they knew.  

What do you know that has kept you from pursuing the heart of Christ today?  What knowledge has been passed down through time to keep you from chasing the Cross in light of chasing comfort and convenience?  

Is it about what you KNOW or what you LOVE that is going to shape you today?  

January 2, 2017, 8:55 AM

A Distracted Heart

My phone has been really buggy recently, and its got me more distracted than usual. 

I am also having trouble getting decent reception on my television since I mounted it on the wall, away from the windows.  

Within two weeks I had to replace the batteries in both vehicles.  

On top of ALL that, something I ordered online arrived at my house (after two-day shipping, of course) broken, so I had to wait another week or so until I could sort it all out. 

You could say my life is pretty difficult right now.  Or you could say I'm being silly and getting distracted by stupid, meaningless stuff.  No matter which path you choose, there is a stark reality we need to address: We've all gotten pretty distracted. 

There are things in this world that need our attention.  And there are things in this world that GET our attention.  Unfortunately, those don't match up very well. 

Our current sermon series (part 1 found here) is looking at the desires of our heart... because the desires of our hearts is what defines us.  Too often we think, therefore we are...  Not so true.  Just because we "know" something, doesn't mean anything changes.  What changes us is what we "want" and therefore go and get.   I know I should eat more vegetables and less pizza.  But I want to eat pizza, therefore I eat too much pizza and not enough vegetables.  

If our lives were determined by what we "know" then I would be a world class athlete (in all sports), a high profile movie critic, and a successful business man.  But what I am is determined not by what I know, but by what I've shown myself to want.  (which is pizza).  

So what do you want?  

Because what we want defines us.  

John 1: 35 - 37   35The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples.36As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the iLamb of God!”37When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus.

38Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them.

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