To the Church at Ephesus

The church at Ephesus was the leading church of Asia Minor.  It was the leading city of Rome in Asia Minor.  Paul spent two years there, Timothy pastored there, and eventually the Apostle John would live there.  It was a blessed city.  It was also a thoroughfare of the ancient world.
Jesus’ words to this city speak to commendation and rebuke.  To his delight, they fight the battles he wants them to fight.  This church valiantly warred against false teachers.  They did not tolerate error.  They fought and fought hard, consistently without fatigue.  Why?  They fought for “his” namesake.  Their motivations were right.  They were serving the master.  Additionally, Jesus commended them for their hatred for the work of the Nicolaitans.  This emotion toward false doctrine was the very emotion Jesus shared!
However, along the way, they also walked away from love.  They didn’t love one another as much anymore nor did they love God so much anymore.  In the midst of the battle, their love cooled.  Perhaps love was viewed as youthful zeal.  Maybe they took one too many hits in their battles with false teachers.  Whatever the case, their love was gone.
The remedy is clear:  remember, repent, do what you did at first.  If they do not obey, Jesus will extinguish the church.  These are hard words but Jesus, the ultimate prophet speaks true words.
Finally, the congregation as a whole is admonished to take heed to the words of Jesus.  He who is able to hear, should hear.  The one who overcomes will be granted a reward, to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.  What  precious promise to the believers.
As we reflect on these wonderful words of Jesus, it is clear that he loves when his people war for truth.  He approves mightily when we war against false teaching and call out the people who pedal the false teaching.  Battling for truth, persevering, all for his namesake is wonderful and precious!  I’m not sure this church traded in love for sound doctrine.  They had both for a while and walked away from one.  Love for sound doctrine and battling for purity is good and right.
However, are we loving God and loving people?  Have the battles been so many that we no longer love with a childlike love?  Have the scars and hurts so piled up that we no longer care.  Has life gone on so long that the “thrill of living is gone?”  May we become like children and love one another with an innocent and trusting love.
This message comes from Revelation 2:1-7.  Want to listen? Here’s the online sermon archive.

This is Discipleship – Missional Living

Living on Mission through our Missional Communities should look a lot like this:

 

The Fellowship of the Believers

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

(Acts 2:42-47 ESV)

Entrust the Father with your Shameless Audacity

Jesus tells us a story.  There is a catch, though.  You are in the story.  Here is your situation.  You have company come late at night and you do not have adequate provision.  It is midnight but… your only option is to go to a friend’s house and ask him for supplies.  Swallowing your pride, you go.  He tells you to go home, don’t bother me.  Ok.  What now?  You push again.  “Bro, please give me what I need.”  Based, not on your friendship but upon your impudence, he relents.
Here is the point.  When we abandon all sense of propriety and protocol in our pursuit of provision from the Father, it is ok.  Normally, disregard for social norms is not ok.  If we sacrifice this in our desperation, the Father receives it, graciously and answers our prayers.
Jesus says very plainly, ask and you receive, seek, and find, knock and it will be opened.  Our prayer lives of petition should be this simple.  Are they?  Do we live like this?  This is the norm!
Finally, in order to encourage an approach to the Father, Jesus tells us his character.  He is good.  He does not withhold, especially the good gifts.  One is specifically mentioned:  the Holy Spirit.  Do you want to know what to approach the Father about, with impudence?  Ask him for the Holy Spirit!
The Spirit is the deposit of the age to come.  He empowers us to obey, speak our minds, bear witness to the gospel, and exercise our gifts.  His filling is such that he often alarms people with his power.  Ask for this.
This message comes from Luke 11:5-13.  Want to listen? Here’s the online sermon archive.

First Things

We come now to another incident in Scripture, the story of Martha and Mary.  It is a classic in every sense of the word.
Here is how it went down.  Jesus comes to Bethany and he stays at Martha and Mary’s house.  It is a big deal!  Martha seems to be the leader of the two.  She works hard to get things in order:  sweep the house, wash dishes, change linens, and prepare food.  We can imagine this is what she was doing.  Undoubtedly, she asked Mary for help.  Mary declined and chose to spend time with Jesus.
Through this situation, Martha crashed.  Judging by the words of our Lord, she crashed because of her misplaced priorities.  The symptoms of this unhealthy situation were clear enough:  frustration, blaming other people, attempting to leverage God for her own ends, and not really appreciating Jesus.
At the core, she was being pulled in different directions.  She was distracted.
We have to ask this question – who was pulling her in different directions?  The answer is, Martha!  We do not seek to condemn or judge her but if Martha is making these choices then Martha can also choose differently.  This is good news for all of us.  If we are being pulled in different directions, living anxious and frantic lives then we are in a place to yield to Jesus.  We do not have to live this way!
Let’s make wise choices, let’s choose Jesus over media, fleshly indulgences, and things that bruise us.  He is our salvation, our hope, our healing.  In his presence darkness flees and we are ok.  With him, comes life and goodness.  He is all that we need.  Should we lose the entire world, we still have him and that is enough.
This message comes from Luke 10:38-42.  Want to listen? Here’s the online sermon archive.

Condemnation and Rejoicing

Condemnation and judgment are words that make us uncomfortable.  Why?  They speak of finality, lack of dialogue, and generally exploit our deficiencies.  However, it does not fall to believers to engage in the work of condemnation and judgment.  This is the work of Christ.  Jesus is very explicit in our passage that judgment falls upon those who do not receive the kingdom of God.  Judgement will actually fall heaviest upon those who have more revelation.  This indicates that there are differing degrees of sin which warrant differing degrees of judgment.
Jesus will judge.  There will be a final judgment (Matt. 25) and Jesus will preside over this judgment.  He will deal with believers and unbelievers and ALL parties will be subject to his piercing infallible judgment.  It is sobering.  It provides accountability for today’s work.  It also provides continued impetus for faithfulness in missions.
Strangely enough there is juxtaposed in this passage, condemnation and rejoicing.  Even as Jesus speaks about judgment on those who reject the message he urges his followers to rejoice.  While they were rejoicing in ministry successes, Jesus redirects their rejoicing to their relationship with the Father.  Which is the more constant?  Ministry successes (or failures!) or our standing in heaven?  Our joy must proceed from first things which are constant.  When we base our joy on success then we need to ready ourselves to have our joy dashed because success comes and goes.
In keeping with the theme of rejoicing, Jesus rejoices too.  What makes Jesus pump his fist, say “yes!”, do a fist bump, or dance?  Jesus gets excited when you receive revelation from the Father!  This is what excites him.  Why?  Hearing from the Father is essential to the redemptive life.  The restoration of our relationship with the Father is what this is all about.  So when the disciple hears from the Father, Jesus rejoices.  Do we rejoice when we hear from the Father?  Do we rejoice when those around us hear from the Father?  If we want to know where to place your rejoicing, this is it.
This message comes from Luke 10:13-24.  Want to listen? Here’s the online sermon archive.

Direct Talk from Jesus

After feeding the 5,000 Jesus encountered hardness of heart among those who were following him.  John 6 illustrates this rightly.  Jesus then proceeds to stiff-arm the entire bunch to the end that they all went away.  The disciples observed this interaction.  Jesus then quizzes them on his identity.  Who do people say that I am, who do you say that I am?
They answer very clearly that Jesus is the Messiah of God.  This was an amazing insight.  The Father revealed it to them.  Although not stated, anytime someone actually identifies Jesus as the Messiah, implications are sure to follow.
Jesus charges them to not say anything to others about this revelation.  Why?  This kind of spiritual truth cannot be managed by carnal people.  They would seek to make him a king and call on him to defeat the Romans.  He was not about to entrust the crowds with this insight.  His road was death, burial, resurrection.
Continuing the onslaught of revelation Jesus then tells them he has to die.  Luke just mentions it here and goes on with the story.  What we do know is that NONE of them believed him.  They do what we do when we hear something that doesn’t make sense.  They ignored it.  They had no categories for it, they didn’t see it happening, so they literally compartmentalized this.  Difficult words from Jesus… how do you receive them or do you?
Jesus then delivers one of the strongest stiff-arms of his ministry to his disciples and to the ones following him.  So you want to follow me?  Here are the terms:  give up your ‘dreams’, become a ‘dead man walking’, and then follow me.  He gives three principles to support this radical kind of life.  One, if you try to do it your way you will lose everything anyway.  Two, the soul is more valuable then all the world’s resources.  Three, I’ll be ashamed of you at the judgment.
Is there any other way?  No!  These are the terms, take them or leave them.  Be it known however, that a decision to the negative is a decision to one’s own hurt.  A decision to the positive is the most liberating decision you will ever make.
These words can simply not be received with reservation.  He calls on us to give up everything.  It is or it isn’t.  There is no half way.  Believer, do not absolve yourself of this.  We do this “daily” so to think, “I already did that” is to think wrongly.  He wants this every day.  Die to self.  Renounce yourself.  Regard Jesus as worthy and the opinions of others as unworthy.  Harden yourself and be dead for him.  In the end you will receive from him life eternal.
This message comes from Luke 9:18-27.  Want to listen? Here’s the online sermon archive.

Jesus, Author of Confusion, Compassion, and Provision

Herod was confused as to who was causing all the commotion.  He had just put John to death but who was doing this?  We speak here of the preaching, the casting out of demons, and the healing of the sick.  We see the confusion that Jesus brings.  He is elusive in that we can’t put him in a box.  He confounds in that he operates outside expectations.  Can we receive this, believer and non-believer?  Can we accept the things about him that confuse us?  He will not do things in a predictable manner nor will he lead as you expect.  Herod was ultimately not able to surrender to the enigma of Jesus.  May we concede his mystery and surrender to him as he leads.
The commotion that upset Herod was finally ended when the twelve reconvened with the Lord.  He pulled them aside to rest.  The crowds followed him anyway.  They were probably unaware of Jesus’ need for rest.  They were not unaware of their own need.  The response of our Lord is yet again a reason we follow.  He “welcomed” them!  How many times have we been interrupted by people who were unaware of our planning?  He had compassion on them and received them, when he was tired and in need of rest.
By day’s end the disciples suggested he sent the crowds away since there was no food or lodging.  Testing the disciples, Jesus asked them to deal with the dilemma.  They were dumbfounded, no money, and just a few loaves and fish.  Like us, they determined that the situation was beyond redemption BASED on the resources they had.  No problem, we do it all the time!  Here is the problem, Jesus had other plans and they did not think of his intentions or plans.  This is where Jesus challenges our problem solving methods.  Yes, consider the money in the bank, yes, consider the resources you have, but do not stop there.  Ask the question, is God desiring something?  If the answer is yes then our planning pivots on that, not the money or the resources.
Then Jesus took what a little boy had, five loaves and two fish, and fed thousands of people.  It was a miracle.  Jesus provided with his own power.  May we trust him to provide where we cannot.  If he intends on doing something then he will provide the necessary resources to bring it to pass.
There we have it.  Jesus who brings confusion also brings compassion and provision.  If we can accept it, we can receive him as he brings these things.
This message comes from Luke 9:7-17.  Want to listen? Here’s the online sermon archive.

Jesus Brings Relief to the Desperate

We have two stories, one inside the other.  A synagogue official has a daughter at death’s door.  He literally falls at Jesus’ feet and begs for help.  His position may well have brought tension to him because the establishment was steadily turning on Jesus, if not completely, yet.  He was beyond protocol and respectability.
Jesus then started on a journey to the man’s house.  Along the way a woman, unseen to the masses and to Jesus, touched the hem of his garment.  Why?  She had a twelve year discharge and she thought that touching him would bring healing.  She was right.  However, her hopes for an inconspicuous incident were dashed when Jesus began asking who touched him.  She confessed readily to what she had done.  Instead of berating her, Jesus blessed her and sent her on her way.
At that moment, someone came up and said that the girl had now died.  Jesus was undeterred and specifically told Jairus to “believe”.  When they arrived at his house, he went inside with three disciples and the parents.  He raised the girl up to the delight and astonishment of the parents.
Here are the words that come to our minds as we assess these stories:  desperation, vindication, faith, and a resurrection.
Let’s take them in order.
  • Desperation- men love being respected and acting foolish is a good way of losing respect.  However, the ruler was beyond this.  He was so desperate that he fell to his knees, literally, and begged for help.  To the men, are we so ‘respectable’ that we cannot be desperate?  Could it be that pride and self-sufficiency are so great that we cannot be desperate?
  • Vindication- the poor woman, at the end of her resources, sought for help in Christ and she got it!  Unseen, below the radar, and in her own world she nonetheless was seen by the Master.  Are we in our own worlds with our cares?  Is Jesus strong enough to reach us?  Will you look to him for help?  He loves vindicating the down-trodden.
  • Faith- This is the common denominator between the two stories.  Both parties literally placed their trust in Christ and they were rewarded.  One was specifically asked to believe.  The other harbored a secret faith which was rewarded in the open.  How is our faith in Christ?  Is it alive, is it vibrant, do we really go to him with our problems?
  • Resurrection- This is huge.  Jesus demonstrated his power over death.  This points to a future day when all those who believe will be brought back to life by his power.  Place your trust in him for a resurrection.  He promises he will deliver.

This message comes from Luke 8:40-56.  Want to listen? Here’s the online sermon archive.

Parables Explained

A sower, seed, and soils comprise the elements of the story before us.  The story is also known as a parable.  Parables are NOT used to explain spiritual truth as much as they are designed to HIDE spiritual truth. The kingdom parables are specifically designed to bring understanding to the citizens of the kingdom while hiding it from Jesus’ enemies.
The sower, while not identified properly, represents Jesus and all who speak the gospel.  The seed represents the gospel.  The soils represent the heart response to the good news of the kingdom.  The heart response of those who are “path” is that of dullness and non-understanding.  Because they do not understand, the enemy takes it away.  For the rocky soil, a passionate and emotional response to the gospel is normative.  They wilt in the face of external pressures.  The thorny underbrush represents that heart response that is quenched by schedules and resources.  Finally, the good soil is that heart response that humbly receives the gospel which yields appropriate fruit.
We can note some things now.
 
First, God is sovereign in withholding spiritual truth from some while revealing it to others.  This may seem harsh at first.  We do see a divine policy though and it goes something like this:  withhold spiritual truth from those who scoff at it. Jesus calls us to this as well in Matt. 7 when he says do not cast your pearls before swine.
So what is going on here?  Spiritual discernment is being called for here.  While explaining the “why” behind certain responses, Jesus is also giving us “assessment” tools.  If we as a church or as individuals give out the gospel and are met with perplexing responses, chances are, those responses can be explained by the four soils.  This will help us as we discern what we do after sharing spiritual truth.
Second, the sower can ask himself a few questions too.  Regarding the path, are we speaking in clear intelligible categories?  Foreign missionaries often struggle greatly in communicating the good news to a culture whose thinking is very different.  For the rocky soil, are we selling a self-help prosperity gospel?  The sower can sell a lot more wares if he promises individual prosperity but external pressures will extinguish that growth rather quickly.  For the thorny context, have we challenged the individual enough?  Does he/she understand the Lordship of Jesus?
Third, rest in God’s sovereignty.  The sower sows, this is his job.  We cannot control the response of the human heart. This can save us anxiety because we can only do so much.  Additionally, the worth of the sower does not go up or down based on what kind of soil he encounters.  The heart response of the soils is not contingent upon the sower.  This may sound contradictory to our second note (see above).  It is not.  As sowers we need to make sure, as far as it depends on us, that we are on point but beyond that we do not control.
This message comes from Luke 8:4-15.  Want to listen? Here’s the online sermon archive.

John Expresses Doubt

The last we heard about John the Baptist, he had been put into jail (Luke 3:20).  He is still there but things are starting to get to him.  Imaginations, doubts, and questions have taken their toll.  The man who had once definitively recognized the Son of God for who he was, is now unsure.  It happens.  It happens to all of us, we doubt and clear words from the Lord become vague and we lose our orientation.
We have some options when this happens, and it will.  We can continue to check in with ourselves, referencing our own reason, and spiraling out of control.  This is a natural response if not misguided.  Yes, it is a normal and natural course but it is not helpful.
When we are in such a state, we want to start talking.  John was probably taking a risk in that his disciples would pick up on their leader’s questions.  Yet, they were for real.  In seeking out Jesus, John turned toward the Lord and not away, in his struggles.  We see Jesus communicating with him but not delivering an overbearing lecture.  As we honestly inquire of Jesus as to the deepest struggles of our faith, we will not find a harsh rebuke.  What we will find are answers.  Jesus while being silent for a season will speak to our questions.  So, let us not turn away, rather, turn to him in our doubts.
This message comes from Luke 7:18-23.  Want to listen? Here’s the online sermon archive.