Tuesday, March 31, 2009

He Ain't No Superstar!

Hosanna Heysanna Sanna Sanna Ho
Sanna Hey Sanna Ho Sanna
Hey J C, J C you're alright by me
Sanna Ho Sanna Hey Superstar

So goes the chorus of the crowd as the character of Jesus Christ Superstar enters the city of Jerusalem on the day we now call Palm Sunday. The only problem with superstars is that they too often fall from the heights and coming crashing into some dark hole of anti-stardom. Of the real Jesus Christ this of course is not true.

Jesus was no superstar, as our Bible text from last week's sermon (The Exclusivity of Jesus) pointed out, Jesus is the "light of the world." (John 8:12) He is not some superstar placed in the heavens by the decision of the populace, but in fact He is the One who is Light Himself.

The Apostle John would also write in his letters, "This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5) Our Lord is not someone who shines brightly for awhile only to be overshadowed by some other light, no He is the One who was light from the beginning, and it is His light that is the very life of all people. (John 1:4-5)

Like the people of Jerusalem 2000 years ago, we are desirous of lifting people to superstar status. There seems built into us the need to have someone who shines brightly, a star that lifts us out of our own personal places of darkness and gloom. Jesus does that, but so much more.

In this coming Sunday's passage (John 8: 31-47) Jesus calls His would be followers to a place of commitment and action. He tells those gathered that to have a relationship with the heavenly Father demands that they have a relationship of trust and obedience with the One that the Father as sent, namely Jesus, the Christ.

The "hard teaching" of Jesus related in this passage again comes to the issue of light. To believe and trust in Him puts you in relationship with God the Father, the God who is Light, but to reject that relationship gives you another father, Satan, the father of lies, and to carry with our theme, the god of the dark.

As the events of that Passover week unfolded the people who were calling out for a superstar soon changed the words of their song,

We need him crucified
It's all you have to do
We need him crucified
It's all you have to do

How quickly the light of a superstar fades in our eyes. How desperately we need a light that bears no shadows, a light that fully encompasses the whole of our lives. This is the Light that is Jesus. This is the Light who is the one and only Son of God (John 3:16). This is the Light of the world, if whom we follow, then we shall never walk in darkness, but have the Light that is Life. (John 1:4-5)

This Passion Week, let us all seek to dwell in the Light. Let us choose to know the Father who sent His Son to be the Savior of the world, and let us follow Him. (1 John 4:14)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Now That's Dark


I THOUGHT I KNEW WHAT DARK WAS, until I took a tour of the Oregon Caves located in the mountains above Grants Pass, Oregon. As part of the ½ mile, 90 minute tour you are taken into one of the pathways between chambers at which point the Park Ranger/tour guide turns out the lights. To say you can’t see your hand in front of your eyes is an understatement. And there is no “letting your eyes adjust” either. It is just dark as dark can be. Truthfully, a pretty unnerving feeling. I more than welcomed the opportunity to bask again in the soft incandescent glow of the light strung overhead.

The Holy Scriptures tell us that without Jesus, who is the Light of the world, we are all walking in darkness. I am going to make the assumption that the darkness is not some sort of twilight time of dusky shadows but more like the intense blackout that I experienced in the cave. It is a darkness that over time leaves one with the inability to determine which way to go, and maybe even more not knowing that there is a way to go. It is a darkness that paralyzes.

The good news is that we do not have to remain in the darkness. Like the Park Ranger in the cave, our Lord is more than willing to illumine the path that leads to the fullness of light if we but call out to Him. It is the desire of our gracious Lord to not only shine His light upon the path of our life, but to lead us out into the day in which we can be completely encompassed in Him who is the Light of the world.

In the book of the Revelation, the Apostle John describes the fullness of the Lord’s light. He records, “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.” (Revelation 21:24-25) It is in this Light that we are called to walk.

So, let us walk.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Limitations

As I was reading through the text for this coming Sunday's sermon, John 8:12-30, my heart was grabbed by John 8:15, "You judge by human standards...." The context of this statement is Jesus' response to the religious leaders who were questioning His authority to be His own witness.

Jesus' statement truly stuck me, for there is the deep realization of just how inadequate I am to truly understand God and His workings. As the LORD stated is Isaiah 55:8, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and neither our your ways My ways." I have often thought of those words in relation to the reality that God's ways are different than mine, but there is a deeper truth. The truth is that I cannot fathom, understand, categorize or judge the ways of the LORD. It is beyond my ability to understand.

Now, I could feel very defeated by this, or I could cloister myself away in a closet believing that since I cannot know, why try. But my inability to judge at God's level does not mean I should not try, rather it means I need to keep things in proper perspective. It means that I can rest in the knowledge that there are some things I will not, and cannot, understand. It brings me once again to the place of trust and faith in the God who IS and who is bigger than I in all aspects. Security comes from learning to trust in a Father who loves me, completely, and who is more than able to see me through to the Day. (1 Corinthians 1:8-9; Jude 1:24-25)

As the Apostle Paul wrote, "But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

AMEN to limitations!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Solving the Economic Crisis and the World's Oldest Profession

IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT PROSTITUTION is the world's oldest profession. Even yesterday I heard a discussion centered around our present economic crisis where one of the commentators said, even for all the woes which prostitution brings we need to remember that it is a player in our market economy. What?!?

His point was that where there is an exchange of "goods" and "money" it can be seen as helpful to the economy. Now, to be fair, it must be said that the speaker was not advocating prostitution, rather he was making the strong point about how deeply intertwined are culture, community and commerce.

And here we arrive at our sermon text for this coming Sunday, John 8:1-11, the encounter between Jesus, the religious leaders and the woman who was caught in the act of adultery. (Note: I realize that some feel that this section of Scripture should not be included in John's gospel account, for a concise dealing with this issue see Bob Deffinbaugh's commentary on this section. Click here.) What we do find in this passage, among others things is how to deal with immorality when it strikes us in the face, and this brings us back to the issue of solving the economic crisis.

I believe, as some others do, that our present economic crisis is a crisis of morality, birthed in greedy and ill-content hearts. It is ultimately not about poorly designed mortgages, or over-the-top interest rates, or even an over-inflated housing market. It arrives from our hearts that seek to acquire more and more in the hopes of finding fulfillment in our lives. We have searched, since our departure from the Garden, to fill that emptiness in our soul that only God can fill. And sadly, that search has often led us to all sorts of immoral activity.

Now, back to John 8:1-11. The activity of the woman was immoral. The activities of the religious leaders were immoral as well. But Jesus' response to both of them were not. His response was to point to the truth, "those without sin cast the first stone,"(John 8:7) and to the woman, "go and sin so more." (John 8:11) His response was not to rant and rave. It was not to cast stones of condemnation (though of all those gathered, he has the right), rather in quiet, patient resolve He called those present to remember the deeper truth to which we are called, and to live lives according to that truth.

I believe we can apply the way of our Lord to the present crisis in which we find ourselves, that is to not rant and rave, pointing fingers and casting blame, but rather to quietly gently, speak the truth of God, reminding ourselves that our present economy will never be changed until we see its cause for what it was, a moral failure on personal and national levels. Until we understand this truth, and change at the heart (sinning no more), there will be no solving this crisis. But, like the woman sent on her way by our Lord, there is an opportunity for a new beginning, that commences with forgiveness and grace.

How shall we then live?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Drought

Last week, during the midst of a pretty decent rain storm, the Governor of our fair State declared a drought. As I was listening to the news report it was pouring down rain outside and I thought to myself has this guy even looked out the window?

Now, in a case for fairness, our State has been suffering from below average rainfall for a few years, and I am sure that the drought conditions do exist, but I was humored by the choice of timing for his press release. He at least could have waited until thing had stopped raining for the week. Oh well, I guess politics and weather are two things one never quite gets right no matter how hard you try.

So, what does this have to do with our sermon text for this week? It all comes down to water. Our text comes from John 7:25-44 where Jesus stands up on the great day of the Feast of the Tabernacles and cries out, "If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scriptures has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them." (John 7:37-38) Of course, as we quickly discover, this water is the filling of the Holy Spirit that will come upon those who put their trust in Christ as Savior and Lord.

As I was studying this passage, I was also spending time in 2 Chronicles in preparation for our weekly prayer meeting and Bible study (we are walking through 2 Chronicles together). This week's passage contains the familiar passage of 2 Chronicles 7:14, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their land." What is interesting is that this passage is found in the context of God withholding rain, and thus the need for the people to call out to Him.

Too often I believe 2 Chronicles 7:14 is taken out of context, and applied to the predicaments of our own nation, but if we look at it in the whole of the context (that is who it was written to and why) we can see that the promise goes much deeper than just the setting of our country right and of fixing the political and social woes of our nation. I believe it truly speaks of the very withholding of the Holy Spirit, or at least the plugging up of the flow of His power.

In Israel one of the greatest indicators of God's blessing was the giving of the fall and winter rains which would go to ensure a future harvest of blessing. So too, with those called by His name today, the Church, the greatest blessing that God gives to us in the here and now, is the gift of the Holy Spirit, His reign in us that is a guarantee a future blessing. (2 Corinthians 5:5)

So, is there a drought in California, well by looking at my rain gauge over the past couple of weeks, I would say "no." But then my backyard is only a very small part of the whole. Yes, there may very well be a drought in our State.

How about the Church, are we experiencing a drought of the reign of the Holy Spirit? To read some of the reports coming out from people like Cathy Lynn Grossman's article in USA Today, and a recent article by Michael Spencer in the Christian Science Monitor, both dealing with the seeming demise of evangelicalism. Now, I don't necessarily believe everything included in these reports, but they do give one cause to sit up and take notice. As I look around at the church of which I am blessed to be a part I can see that there is no drought here, but rather the gentle falling rain of God's blessing. The soil is soft, the grass in growing green, and there is a promise of future blessing. I can't say that there is not a drought in the land, but in some pockets the rain is falling and for this we are blessed.