May 2013

May 28, 2013

Make Room for Relationships

 Here is a sermon by Greg Surratt in the series about making room for God. The entire series is based off of 1 Kings 4:8-37, which is the story of Elisha and his interaction with a woman who made a room for him in her house.

This is a great sermon; very practical and insightful about something that is so simple and blatant -- eating meals with friends.

Probably the biggest takeaway for me in this was that Jesus did A LOT of his ministry around eating. Meals with people, especially family, are so powerful, but sometimes we neglect them in our society. A great quote from this sermon is that friends are seen as a number on a blue and white website rather than people we spend time with or care about. How true is that about the society we live in?

Never neglect the power of  a meal in building lasting relationships with people.

Here are some notes:
  • Jesus came...
    • Serve and give his life as a ransom for many (purpose)
    • Seek and save the lost (purpose)
    • Eating and drinking (method)
      • In Luke, Jesus is either at a meal, going to a meal, coming from a meal
  • The Shudamite woman got to know Elisha through a meal (1st step in relationship). Relationship started before they built the room for him.
  • Acts 2:42-44: "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common."
    •  You don't have time for "awe" when you're in a hurry
  • Life happens at the dinner table - decisions are made, lessons are taught, discipleship, etc.
    • Someone we share a meal with is likely to become our friend, or well on their way to becoming one.
    • Unresolved conflict cannot be ignored when gathered around the table - everyone notices. The table becomes a sacrament of forgiveness. 
  • John 17:20b-21: "I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me."
    • Jesus said the world would know He is real by our love for one another.
  • You'll meet weird people; (Romans 15:7) people will make a mess, people will eat too much, people will take advantage of you.
    • REMEMBER that verse! God invited us to his table even though we weren't perfect. 
  • A meal forces us to slow down
  • A meal connects us
  • A meal reminds us of God's grace
  • Jews bless God after the meal (Deuteronomy 8:10) for his graciousness.
  • Assignment: eat a meal with your group, eat a meal with a non-believer (goal of meal isn't to convert him/her, but walk away and make him think you're not weird), get someone accountable to ask when you do these things.
  • Make room for relationship and let God move there.

May 17, 2013

Hearing from God

Here is a sermon on hearing from God and sharing your faith, by Jamie Winship.

If I've talked to you about preaching or sermons, I've probably mentioned this guy. He's had a huge impact on my life through his stories and sermons, which always support that we can believe God for big things, and that God speaks to us personally.

Jamie has exemplary  faith, which is one reason I love listening to him so much - it gives me hope to live a life so faithful. In this sermon he says that money is never a good reason to not do anything. My whole life is the opposite though - I've always limited myself with money! It's all over our culture (even Christian culture), and such a difficult thing to break.

What does Jesus say about it though? "These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs." - Luke 12:30 (check out some of the other translations on this one - they're good)

Some notes:
  • Consider your view on life, faith, anything...think about what you're hearing and who you are listening to. Are the things you're hearing from God, or someone else?
  • Without love, anything we say is "clanging cymbals."
    • We say unbelievers don't get it when we share our faith, but sometimes it's our fault!
  • When talking to Muslims, we use words that don't make any sense to them and then get mad when they don't respond.
    • This probably applies to non-believers too - "Christianese"
    • We talk, but we don't listen
  • Mark 4
    • Jesus picks speaking in parables as his way of communicating - why?
      • Why would Jesus pick a way to teach that is not easy to understand?
    • When Jesus speaks, it is one of two things:
    • He says it that way so that the people who don't want to know, can't know
    • How do we perceive and comprehend? By listening.
    • We have the thought and study, but we don't hear and perceive.
      • 4:24 - be careful what you hear...
    • "To those who are peculiarly are his own, he explains everything"
      • Those who ask
    • When Jesus talks in parables to you, don't dismiss it. 
      • Even now, when we ask God things, sometimes He speaks in pictures
    • Pay attention to Jesus' response when his disciples ask him a question, because he might respond in a similar way to us -- the Bible is our guide.
      • Look at verses where they ask Jesus about money and food
    • When you're praying, don't tell God how to answer, ask him.
  • Sharing your faith literally sometimes means lending your faith to someone else, especially if the other person doesn't have any
    • Sharing your faith as you walk together in life
  • Never ask God for 100% and only take 80% 
  • "Money is never a good reason to not do something."

May 14, 2013

Hypocrisy - Joseph Barkley

Here is a sermon from Ecclesia's series on things that people often don't like about church or Christianity. It's based off of 1 Peter 3:13-18:
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 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,  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
Joseph set out to tackle hypocrisy, which seems to be one of the biggest complaints people have about Christians. One statistic he mentions that stuck out to me was that more than half of Christians have "severe cases of self-righteousness." I know I've been there...

Joseph says that we can't base the truth of a claim on the character of the people who believe in it. I see what he's saying and agree to an extent. But I've learned from  Ray Vander Laan that one of the ways to see if you want to follow a particular rabbi or not, is to look at his followers. When people look at bitter and condemning Christians, what does that say about their rabbi? In reality, Jesus is probably not truly their rabbi, but they at least claim He is.

I think a lot of the self-righteous mistakes I've made happened as a younger Christian (I'm not saying I don't have these now, of course). When you become a Christian, you think you have THE answer to everything (and in a sense, you do), but there's still so much growing to do, that to tell someone, "follow me as I follow Christ," could actually be leading that person in the wrong direction.

I know I said things as a young believer that I thought were right, and later learned were wrong. For example, I remember being in 9th grade and telling a friend who was curious about Christianity that he had to stop having sex in order to become a Christian. I'm pretty sure that immediately deterred him from following Christ. Theologically, this is pretty sound -- the bible says sex belongs in marriage -- but you don't "clean yourself up" before becoming a Christian. A more mature me would have told him to just follow Jesus and, if God wanted him to stop having sex, I'll let God tell him that, trusting that He would.

As I read through these notes, I particularly liked the emphasis on influence and integrity. A wise man said, "Leadership is influence, the ministry is prayer." We all influence someone, so let's make sure we're doing it as much like Jesus as possible.

Here are some notes, with my favorite things in bold:
  • We can't base the truth or veracity of a claim on the character of the people who believe in it
    • This is an ad hominem fallacy
    • However, if Christians don't live lives that are changed, something is wrong
  • Satan can't take your salvation, but he can take your influence
  • Christians should be okay living differently from the culture
  • The first ingredient to a person of influence is submission
    • People of great influence will always obey something that is greater than themselves
      • Maybe a mission statement, based on values
      • The problem with this is that you are still sovereign
        • You can change the rules to what suits you
      • Often the people we trust the most are people who believe in something more sovereign than they are: Christ
        • "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord."
          • We have a choice in the matter
        • Is Jesus just your Savior? Or also your Lord?
          • Jesus is not Lord of your life if you can change the rules when you want.
  • The second ingredient is humility
    • "But do this with gentleness and respect..."
    • People who were doing the right things for the wrong reasons were the hypocrites.
      • Over half of Christians have severe cases of self-righteousness
    • Gentleness comes from a place of peace
  • The third ingredient is integrity
    • "...keeping a clear conscience..."
    • A life so consistent that it is impervious (ultimately) to slander and defamation
    • Conscious = secret awareness of the moral quality of your actions
    • Integrity, over time, equals trust
    • Anyone can do something with a clear conscious (consistency), but the difference for the Christian is the presence of God, by His Spirit, in their lives
      • The Holy Spirit is more than just something that pricks you when you're doing wrong, He is the real presence of the real God, manifesting Himself in your life, moving into your consciousness, soul & body, to form you more into the likeness of Jesus.
    • Christians act with peculiar integrity, because Jesus is different
  • God always wants us to grow in community
  • A life of great influence begins with one that doesn't have to hide a false self
    • Jesus powerfully uses lives that are submitted to Him, walking in humility, living in peculiar integrity
  • "For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil."
    • Peter is describing the difference between a hero and a criminal
  • Begin with this at the point of forgiveness

May 9, 2013

Does a good God send people to Hell - Joseph Barkley

Last week's sermon in Ecclesia's "I Don't Buy It" series was about hell, and more specifically, how could a good God send good people to hell. The sermon can be found here. It's based off of Matthew 25:31-46:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

That's really tough teaching and it's brought up all kinds of stuff in me. I think, deep down, I want to believe that people who go to hell just stay as long as it takes to "pay off" the sin they've accrued in their lifetime. I'm not sure that's true though, but it's a lot nicer than "eternal punishment."

It's really easy to avoid an ugly topic like hell; just push it away until it's necessary or comes up. I know I do that all the time! Not that I want to be morbid and just think about hell all the time, but if it were at the forefront of my mind, even on a weekly basis, wouldn't I be more urgent about sharing my faith? It's just way easier to not think about it, and not be confrontational with others about it either.

Reading Jesus' account though is terrifying. Similar to my post on fear, I imagined myself standing before Jesus, in a mass of people, some on his right, some on his left. I imagined myself on the left, the wrong side -- immediately I get that sinking feeling you get when you're pulled over by the police -- only times 1,000! That's not only the biggest mistake you'll make, but the last! Even if you don't believe in this stuff, I urge you to imagine yourself in that place and tell me how you feel...

Another insight that hit me today -- Jesus really blindsides a lot of people here. These are people who thought they were doing the right thing, but because they didn't know Jesus and their motivation for doing good works was wrong, they don't get in! I asked myself, "Am I a sheep or goat?" What is my motivation for the good works I do? Do I even feed people, clothe them or visit them in prison? Are these literal or figurative examples of the kinds of deeds Jesus looks for?

As I examine my motives in my ministry and what I want to do in life, I often find myself wanting to lead something or be in charge of something awesome. Why? If I'm honest, I'd say it's for personal glory and recognition. Now take that person (me) and set him next to a guy who has volunteered to keep the grounds of a church for his whole life, sincerely believing that this is what God called him to do in order to make a better place for people to meet God. He is merely playing a small, often unnoticed role in a bigger ministry. Who is the sheep and who is the goat?

This is one of the toughest questions out there: how could a good God send good people to hell? I think one of the best answers offered here is found in this sermon: Most people would agree that God is a way higher Being than us. So maybe our sin, which seems so measly to us, is a really big deal to a Being like God -- like so big that He can't even look at us when we're covered in it, or have that in His presence. As Joseph said, we don't know how much our sin hurts God. There's no way we could ever understand that really, but scripture definitely supports it. There is also a great illustration in the notes below about this that I'd encourage you to read.

I think the most important thing that came out of this sermon for me was a wake up call -- this is really important; people are dying and I need to at least tell them the truth that will bring life. Hell needs to be at the forefront of our minds sometimes, as uncomfortable as it may be, if we are to really be effective in making disciples. Also, Joseph does a good idea of pointing out that Jesus doesn't talk too much about hell, and maybe it's because He is so much better!

Here are my notes from the sermon:

How could a good God send good people to hell?
  • Jesus gives a vision of the future in Matthew 25:31-46
    • Jesus separates the sheep from the goats
      •  Jesus claims to be a king that will return to judge
      • Jesus categorizes:
        • Two motivations, two hearts = two kinds of people
        • NOT IN SERMON - but I heard a great teaching by Ray Vander Laan about difference between sheep and goats in that, sheep are very dependent on the shepherd, but goats will go their own way
    • Jesus surprises them
      • Jesus tells them that, even though both people have done the same deeds, they did them for different reasons/ motivations
      • It's not the work, but the heart behind it
      • It's not "good" people and "bad" people, but those who have been given a righteousness not their own who get to life.
  • Is God unjust?
    • Hell is "eternal punishment:" forever
      • Does Hell fit the crime of sin? It seems extreme.
    • God is a Being so far beyond us that it's difficult for us to calculate how a sin would hurt or offend a Being of that nature.
      • Illustration: killing a person and totaling a car incur totally different punishments because they are totally different "beings" that are destroyed
      • It's possible that all of this "extreme" behavior makes perfect sense to Him, and we don't get it because God's sense of morality or justness is more developed than ours.
      • Isaiah 55:8-9: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
            neither are your ways my ways,”
        declares the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the earth,
            so are my ways higher than your ways
            and my thoughts than your thoughts.
  • Is God unloving?
    • A loving God wouldn't force people to choose Him.
    • Judgement day is getting to the place I was already running towards
    • Would a loving God just remove the penalty of our sin?
      • Sin is a big deal in scripture (this is a good illustration of how seriously God takes sin)
    • Sin must be so incongruous with God's nature, and His love must be so extreme, that He was willing to bear hell to save me from it.
  • The bible doesn't say a whole lot about what hell is like
    • It says more about what is missing, and what is better (Jesus).
    • Jesus gave us just enough about hell to know that it's urgent that we tell people about him.
    • Jesus is way better than hell.
    • Jesus gives us just enough to keep us awake, knowing everyone will spend eternity somewhere.
  • The call is not to avoid hell, but to run to Jesus

May 7, 2013

Chicken & Waffle Potato Chips

These just lost the competition for new Lays flavor, but I ate some of these Chicken & Waffle potato chips a couple weeks ago and it was noteworthy:

It's got a strange, and maybe pungent, initial taste. Then, as you swirl the chemical-spice-potato mixture around your mouth, you experience an array of flavors: it's a little syruppy, a little hashbrowny, a little waffly...but definitely not chickeny. I think they somehow failed to capture the chicken flavor in this chip; maybe chicken and waffles was too ambitious for Mr. Lay and his chip-making team of brilliant, yet bored scientists.

Still, it's an experience. I actually still feel like I have yet to pin down the exact flavor I experienced...there's some onion in there, and maybe a little stale ramen popped up at one point. I even thought old marshmallow flavor whisked through my mouth, but it was too fleeting to tell. Either way, no chicken.

However, the after-taste brings you back. It's inexplicable. Maybe there's some nicotine in there somewhere...

Now, on to Sriracha!

May 2, 2013

Harry Potter was Fearless

There has been a recurring theme in my life this year: fear.

I first noticed it when we moved to a place that is right off of a fairly busy road. It's one-story, with no fence around it, so I felt vulnerable to any passersby that may show up with malicious intentions. Then I started thinking about crazy murders that happen all over, and what I would do in those situations. Next we got renters insurance, which was recommended by a lot of friends; I don't think renters insurance is a bad thing necessarily, but it only added to my fear: what if someone broke in and stole our stuff? What if a fire happened? Do I need to pay extra for earthquake insurance because we live in California (it's ridiculous to me that earthquake insurance is not included)?

All of these things added up to nothing but fear, and it came upon me in a way I've never experienced before. I've never really considered those things in the past, but suddenly the thought that "it could happen to me" flung itself to the forefront of my mind.

Later on in the year, this whole threat from North Korea happened. I imagined myself in a situation where we were always on our guard, ready for some terrible attack -- bomb drills and disaster kits. What would it be like to live like that? Putting my self in that place mentally brought down more fear.

Of course, as a Christian, I don't have to be afraid, right?
“Where, O death, is your victory?
  Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
That's 1 Corinthians 15:55-57. Or how about 1 John 4:16b-18?
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
Don't get me wrong, I wholeheartedly believe those verses and they have brought me much comfort, even as I presently consider fear. But fear still hits me, sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small. Sometimes I'm just afraid of what the guy next to me will think of me because my shirt doesn't fit right, or my hair makes me look like a pot-head. And sometimes, I'm afraid of death.

I realized the fear of death was still with me a couple weeks ago when my community group was discussing it. Have you ever imagined you died? What happens next? Even as a Christian, have you ever imagined yourself standing before God? Or in line to receive judgement? Of course, we're covered because we claimed Jesus' sacrifice as atonement for the wrong we've done, but just putting yourself there is scary...scary because it is unknown.

Humans have a natural tendency to be afraid of the unknown, and though the bible tells us some things to expect in the after-life, it's still an unknown experience and therefore scary to me.

To overcome this requires a lot of faith. We have to be sure that Jesus is the right way, the straight path to God. But then read Matthew 7:21-23:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
That's scary. How many Christians that you know have prophesied, driven out demons or performed miracles, all in Jesus' name? Even if you know some, they might not get to Heaven! The most religious and "righteous" people you know may be turned away by Jesus.

Jesus says at the end there, "I never knew you. Away from me...." That tells me that this life is about getting to know Jesus, and to not do so will ensure an eternity away from Him. It's not about works (although faith and works go hand in hand) or praying a prayer and then going on your way. Know God and make Him known. That's central. That's crucial.

I don't mean to sound condescending, but I don't understand how people who don't believe in God escape being trapped by this fear. I believe that a higher power directs my steps, loves me and cares a lot about me, yet I still find myself afraid often. What do you do without those beliefs?

I was motivated to write this because we've been watching the Harry Potter movies. He was fearless and courageous throughout, in ways we could only hope to be. He was less concerned about his personal safety and more concerned about right and wrong, or his friends' well-being. It got me thinking about what I'm afraid of and why. If Harry Potter can be fearless, why can't I? That sounds silly, but with Jesus, I feel like this kind of courage and fearlessness can be attained.