Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Myth vs Reality of Jesus: Part 11 (audio)

Something we tend to focus on when it comes to the Last Supper is the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. What we overlook though is the other disciples.

Though Jesus came to earth to die for our sin and free us from the penalty of that sin, Judas was someone who, of his own choosing, sold his Teacher out. Yet as Jesus was saying to them what He was about to do, and that He would be betrayed, the rest of the disciples could only focus on themselves.

Among the things Jesus said was the way believers relate to the world is going to change, the comforts they previously enjoyed could no longer be relied on. This is something we're experiencing in our own day, and yet there are believers desperate to hang on to that comfort.

Take a listen in the link below, and I hope you have been challenged to dig deeper into scripture through this sermon series.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Where Did We Go Wrong?

Taken from part of the passage I will be preaching on this Sunday:

24 And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. 25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ 26 But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. 27 For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
28 “You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; 29 and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you 30 that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
The above passage comes out of Luke 22 in the New American Standard Bible. The greater context of this passage involves someone that those who aren't Christians might be familiar with: Judas, the most famous traitor in all of history.

Toward the beginning of this passage the chief priests and scribes (two groups not likely to get along with each other, but that's for another time) were trying to figure out how they could arrest Jesus without turning the people against them. Along came Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus' twelve closest disciples. He was willing to lead them to Jesus when he knew Jesus would be by Himself.

Scripture never outlines for us why Judas betrayed Jesus. Though Satan is said to have entered Judas, Satan does not have the power to make us do whatever he wants. He can only intensify and magnify what's already present. "The devil made me do it" is never a satisfactory answer anywhere in scripture, and it didn't work with my parents either whenever I got in trouble growing up.

There are those who think that Judas was a zealot who would have loved to see the Jewish people overthrow Roman rule and establish a politically independent nation. Jesus though was taking too long for his liking and took matters into his own hands by, in his estimation, forcing Jesus to take a stand and establish a political kingdom set against Rome.

Others believe he was driven by money. He was the treasurer and it's likely he had stolen some of their money already, but this was an opportunity to get more money and perhaps gain some influence with both the chief priests and the scribes.

Maybe it was something else altogether. We simply don't know.

The specific reason might not be important, but in the few verses I posted I believe Jesus is speaking to the underlying motive.

Jesus had just revealed that He was going to be offered up as the perfect sacrifice, using the backdrop of the Passover to help His disciples understand the significance of what He was about to do. They had traveled with and ministered with Jesus for three years, hearing Him talk about the Kingdom of God, but perhaps always thinking it must be a political kingdom He was wanting to establish. It was also at this point that Jesus revealed one of their own was about to betray Him. Questions of who it could be soon gave way to questions as to who was the greatest among them. If one could be persuaded to betray Jesus, certainly there must be one who stands above the others.

Jesus had discussed prior to this what made someone truly great in His Kingdom, but here He's emphasizing the point again. Gentile rulers and benefactors are driven by an ambition toward power and authority, and they don't hesitate in using either. But the Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms or governments of the world. The greatest is the one who serves others. Jesus Himself, the Creator of all there is (according to John 1) had more right than anyone to rule and reign. Yet with His disciples He served them the Passover meal. He washed their feet. He claimed no permanent residence. He even came into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, held the Passover in a borrowed room, and would be buried in a borrowed tomb. Discussions over who would be greatest in His Kingdom and who would be the most influential were counter to His Kingdom.

Since the days of Constantine, I believe plenty of Judas' and would be Judas' have come along and infected the Kingdom of God.

Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity and legalize it in the 4th century, though he didn't make it the only legal religion. But others "converted" as a means to gain power, influence, and prestige, and from that time I believe the earthly embodiment of the Kingdom of God (the Church) has had an unholy alliance with the kingdoms of the world.

I could get into the atrocities of the medieval ages, but instead I'm going to fast forward to the beginning of our Constitutional Republic (not democracy, the founders feared majority rule) when they recognized (perhaps from a purely political standpoint) the dangers of having a state religion. Their solution was to guarantee in the Bill of Rights that freedom to practice or not practice religion would not be hindered by the government, and neither would the government force conversions to any particular religion.

They didn't say religion could not influence government, nor did they say religion is a private matter that has no place in public. That however afforded the free and open practice of religion a place within a government it had never been before.

It also led to complacency within the church in the United States. We enjoyed a freedom that no other generation of Christians had before, and we took it for granted. That was until our place at the table began to move farther and farther away from the head.

The reaction of some powerful and influential church leaders was to essentially become a unified voting bloc that became identified with one particular political party in the United States. Within a few years it became nearly impossible to separate the church from that political party, and the church did all that it could to force legislation to make a more moral society.

Yet, Jesus warned His disciples about worldly power. The betrayal Judas committed could have been done by any of them. Their own ambition became evident when, after hearing He was going to die and that He was going to be betrayed, all they could think about was their place in the Kingdom. The Church did not become a political force initially because Christians backed a particular Roman emperor. It became a political force in this world because its followers actually followed Jesus' teachings.

Jesus would stand before Pilate and say "My Kingdom is not of this world." The Kingdom of God does not play the games of backroom deals, compromise, intrigue, or corruption. Plus, what can a politician or a political party do for the Church that Christ is somehow incapable of doing?

I don't know what ultimately drove Judas to betray Jesus, but I believe in the last 40 years especially we have seen each of those possibilities get played out by "evangelical" leaders who equated voting for a particular party or candidate with promoting the Kingdom of God.

I'm going to close out with this. In my near 33 years of life I have helped refugees to the United States find homes and jobs, and helped their children enroll in school. I have handed out food to those who had no food, and prayed with them. I have visited those who are sick and prayed for their healing and seen them be healed. I have gone into prisons and ministered to prisoners. I have been outspoken on behalf of those who have no voice for themselves. I am not bragging about any of this, but I am saying it doesn't take voting for a particular candidate or political party to do any of that. The work that Christ called us to do is not tied to the politics or the kingdoms of this world. Shame on us for ever equating the two.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Myth vs. Reality of Jesus: Part 10 (audio)

We know Christ is returning. That's something we all can agree on. But the details leave something to be desired.

Popular theology lays out a timeline where there will be relative peace, the Temple will be completed, and then halfway through a seven year treaty tensions will mount, and violence will take over, and Christ will then return, snatch up His Church, and we'll all be raptured.

But is that what Jesus says?

While we have parallel accounts in Matthew 24 and Mark 13, we'll be looking at Jesus' words found in Luke 21:5-36. Initially the question posed to Him is in relation to the Temple, but He discloses events that are imminent with events that are far off, and He doesn't give a clear timeline of when these things happen.

We tend though to get ahead of ourselves, and buy into a theology that isn't even 200 years old yet and never had been taught by any church prior to its promotion in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And separating that myth from what Jesus said is what the sermon in the link below is about.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Thoughts On A Contentious Election

For many Americans, today is a day of celebration. For many Americans, today is a day of grieving. Regardless of the outcome, that would have been the reality.

In my calling as a pastor, I walk a fine line in what I reveal about what I politically believe. I certainly have political beliefs, most of which can't be reduced to a single Facebook post, 140 characters or less in a "Tweet", because what I believe politically can't be contained on a bumper sticker, a yard sign, or even a billboard for that matter.

Where it all starts for me though is the Kingdom I represent above all else.

As I looked at the ballot that was before me, and saw Donald Trump and Mike Pence's names, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine's names, and then Gary Johnson and Jill Stein's names and their running mates respectively, I considered what casting a vote for any one of them meant:

1) If I cast a vote for Trump, I would be endorsing (even if just as the most viable opposition to Clinton) someone who, to my knowledge, has not repented of multiple affairs; engaged in questionable business practices; promotes greed as a virtue; has said many things that are sexist and demean the value of women; and has changed his stated views to appeal to a segment of voters. That, and I believe him to be a narcissist who, up to this point, has cared most about himself.

2) If I cast a vote for Clinton, I would be endorsing (even if just as the most viable opposition to Trump) someone who advocates the murder of unborn children, who has allowed an ambassador and his staff to be murdered and lied about the reasons for it (and to my knowledge has never apologized to the families); who has not demonstrated good judgment as Secretary of State; and who has for 30+ years had scandal after scandal follow her, many of them quite serious.

3) If I cast a vote for either of the "third party" candidates, it may be seen as nothing more than a protest vote, but it would also be an endorsement of their beliefs, many of which from both of them I cannot reconcile with my faith.

What it all came down to for me was this: how will this vote, even if I am the only one who knows how I voted, reflect my beliefs that are rooted first and foremost in the Kingdom of God, and secondarily in my seeking what is best for the country I live in?

After months of campaigning, mud slinging, bickering back and forth, and overall behavior that is not fit for grown adults, let alone adults trying to convince the country of why they should be the President, I knew that none of the candidates had done anything to convince me that they had anything within their character that resembled even a shred of the Kingdom of God, or that they would, in fact, act in a way that was best for all Americans. But would I, in casting a vote for any of them, be compromising my own beliefs just to have even a little say in stopping someone else?

I prayed, and did some soul searching. I talked with fellow believers who gave good insight. I even disagreed with many who believed I should, if nothing else, consider the Supreme Court justices or the party platform. It all boiled down to yesterday morning, a little bit after 8, when ballot in hand I put pen to paper, and voted for all offices except for President, and I submitted the ballot, and it was scanned successfully.

My belief that all that I do should be a rendering to God what is God's did not ultimately allow me to cast a vote for any of the Presidential candidates. I could not in good conscience cast a vote for someone I thought to be bad for the country or for the Church. Perhaps to some that may seem like a cop-out, but I believed had a cast a vote for someone I really couldn't justify a basic belief in just to oppose the other candidate would have been a waste of a vote, more so than voting for one of the third party candidates. But even there, neither one of their campaigns, or their positions, was something I could in good conscience support. So for not voting for any of the candidates for President, I voted my conscience and my beliefs about my primary citizenship and my responsibilities to that Kingdom.

I don't mean this to sound as though if you cast a vote for any one of them that somehow that makes you less of a Christian. That's certainly not what I mean, but like I said my beliefs are not easily contained.

With the surprising result of this election though, we are left with Donald Trump as the President elect. I hope by now I have made it clear as to why I could not support him and why I could not vote for him as the President. Just as my Kingdom of God beliefs and my responsibility to the Creator, Savior, and Lord Jesus guided and informed my decision to not vote for him, it also guides me now as to what I will do.

As I mentioned in last Sunday's sermon found here in the audio link, we have a basic responsibility to render to Caesar what is Caesar's, a greater responsibility to render to God what is God's. That I believe means we have a responsibility to honor and obey those who rule over us. Caesar claimed to be the son of god, and was the head of a thoroughly pagan government, something that was repulsive to the Jewish people. But the real Son of God submitted to their rule, and ultimately to their judgment, which atoned for our sin and made it possible to be made right with God. So though my views about Donald Trump have not changed, I will honor and support his presidency. If he rules in a manner that aligns with the Kingdom of God, then all the better for the United States. If he rules in a way contrary to the Kingdom of God, I will submit to the Lord above the law of the land, and respectfully submit myself to whatever consequences my come of it.

In addition, I do understand that government, even if corrupt and opposed to the Kingdom of God, is better than no government. The Apostle Paul wrote that governments have the authority to wield the sword, to maintain order, because even bad government is better than no government. A bad government will still, to some degree, restrain evil. The United States government has many problems, hundreds if not thousands of flaws, and is corrupt beyond measure. But it is not my place outside of voting to combat that evil with evil of my own.

Finally, as the Hebrew people were being sent into exile in Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah said to pray for the peace and prosperity of the city where they will be taken. What I want to see is what is best for the United States, to see us prosper and succeed. I will support those things that brings out the best in this country of ours, as long as it aligns with the Kingdom of God. Daniel, who served four different kings during the Hebrews' exile, acted in a way that promoted the greatness of Babylon without compromising his beliefs about the Lord. That he survived to serve four different kings is a testament to how well he served the Kingdom of God through serving Babylon.

So I will say that Donald Trump is my President, and I will give him the honor and respect that the office of the President is due, just as I have with Barack Obama, and George W. Bush (elections I had a vote in). My first responsibility though is to the Kingdom of God, it's King, and it's message. Where the President and other leaders do not adhere to what the gospel is, I will side with the Kingdom of  God, but do so respectfully and ready to accept the consequences of doing so.

Last thought, despite who the President is, our Lord Jesus Christ is still King. The results of a long, drawn out, and contentious Presidential election does not change that fact.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Myth vs. Reality of Jesus: Part 9 (audio)

In just a couple days this election cycle will be over with. Maybe in one sense we'll all breathe a sigh of relief. But for many of us, we won't be happy with who the next president is.

The candidates have left even the "Evangelical" vote bitterly divided. Even if they can agree that the nominee representing the Republican party isn't ideal, some will say they will never vote for him, others will say they will vote for him out of fear for what the Democratic nominee will do, and still others fully endorse what he stands for. The same can be said about the Democratic nominee.

And in a year where a minor party's candidate might have been able to really do something, their candidates haven't generated much excitement either, with voters divided on them.

In today's sermon though, I tackle the issue of what our responsibility to government needs to be, and what our greater responsibility to God needs to be. In it there may be those who fully agree with what I'm saying. Others likely will find little to nothing to agree with, and still others may be very upset. Whatever your reaction though, I hope it will cause you to prayerfully consider who you are voting for, why you are voting for them, and that your vote will not be cast out of fear.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Book of Galatians (audio)

So the teens "took over" on Sunday.

Okay, not really, but they did pick out some of the songs, sang, collected the offering and greeted people as they came in to worship. They also picked out what I would be preaching on.

My wife, Buffy Cole, made the last Sunday of the month "Youth Group Sunday". I wanted to encourage them also by giving them the opportunity to come up with the sermon topic, and I left it open. It is my belief that the Bible has something to say about everything we face, and I wanted them to understand that too. I was surprised they came up with Paul's letter to the Galatians.

So here is the audio from the topic they picked out.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Myth Vs. Reality of Jesus: Part 8 (audio)

We celebrate individual achievement. We almost worship it. As Americans, it's almost embedded in our DNA. We romanticize the notion that one person can take on a great task and bring about change.

In the old Western movies and television shows, it's the image of John Wayne, or Gary Cooper, or Clint Eastwood, or James Arness.

Furthermore, we have in the Bill of Rights, the statement that the government will not establish a state religion, nor will it prohibit the exercise of practicing the religion of our choice. While it's a good thing that the government won't tell me how I can and can't worship, I believe it may also give us the belief that we can worship (and minister) apart from God's direction and from a community of believers.

There are many churches that put "Independent" in their description, as though that's a good thing. Many others rely on personal experience to determine proper worship and ministry. But is that really Biblical? Is it up to individual, independent, persons to determine what is right when it comes to ministry and worship?

The sermon from this past Sunday may give you some insight into that. Take a listen in the link below.