Zion: the player, the city, the kingdom

Come fathers and mothers,
Come sisters and brothers,
Come join us in singing the praises of Zion.
O fathers, don’t you feel determined
To meet within the walls of Zion?
We’ll shout and go round
The walls of Zion. – John G. McCurry

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I have thrown three of my recent experiences into a blender and have come up with a blog post called Zion: the player, the city, the kingdom. There are three parts to this post: the first being a player named Zion Williamson, the second being a a city called La Mision, and the third being the Kingdom of God as depicted in the book of Psalms. I think that’s enough eclecticism to get a bunch of people to look at the post and just three of you to finish reading it. But those who finish will find just what all the buzz is about Zion: the player, the city, and the kingdom. So, here we go!

Zion: the player

Zion Williamson is expected by almost all parties to be the number one pick in the NBA Draft coming up Thursday, June 20th. He is the most anticipated player to come into the draft since LeBron James was drafted in 2003, 16 years ago. We had the normal process of NBA teams being bad on purpose in order to get Zion, though a new percentage distribution for the bad team made it less certain this year that it would result in landing the number one pick.

What makes a team lose on purpose? The belief that what is coming next is better than what they have today. Teams have placed their hopes on future promise becoming reality today. In this respect, Zion is sure to answer these hopes. The team that gets Zion Williamson will immediately be better than they were before getting him. He’s that kind of player, who will instantly make his team better for the foreseeable future. He won’t disappoint. And he will help a team (now probably the New Orleans Pelicans) make there future promise a reality today.

Zion: the city

I saw something similar to this in La Mision, BC, Mexico over the weekend. I was there on a mission trip with the men’s group from my church, La Habra Christian Church. We connected with Jim from Strong Tower, DJ from the Orphanage, Brendan from Siloe, and Eddie from Calvary Chapel Liberty Ranch. Here, I saw future promise becoming a reality today. Though, there was a stark difference in the process. The people we connected with in La Mision weren’t losing on purpose to win later. They weren’t hoping things got really bad so that the could luck out with a draft and be better next year. They weren’t waiting for a Savior to come. They already have one. As Brendan’s dad shared in a message at Calvary Chapel, “You don’t need a deliver. You already have one.”

The people that we connected with in La Mision believe that Jesus Christ has already come to deliver. He is the key to making future promise reality today. In fact, Jim, DJ, Brendan, and Eddy have already started to realize future promise in the here and now. Hope isn’t far off! Instead, through work at Casa de Mana, Door of Faith Orphanage, the Siloe Clinic, and Calvary Chapel Liberty Ranch, the people in La Mision are seeing God’s reality become our reality today, not some day in the future! And the city is being changed.

Zion: the kingdom

The idea of God’s reality becoming our reality is what is behind the Biblical teaching of Zion. Zion is mentioned in the Bible over 150 times, sometimes referring to the specific city of Jerusalem and sometimes referring to the heavenly city of God. In fullness, Zion refers to both. It is, as N.T. Wright says, “the intersection of God’s space and our space, of heaven and earth.” In other words, it’s the place where God’s reality becomes our reality.

The encouraging teaching from the Bible about Zion is that we don’t have to tank for God’s reality to become our reality. We don’t have to get worse and worse in order to luck out for the draft some day. We already have a deliver, whose name is Jesus. 2 Peter 1:3-4 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” We already have everything we need to live in Zion, for God’s promise to be reality today. 

Zion is the place where God lives and people thrive with Him.

Zion is the place where God reigns as King and people benefit from His commands.

Zion is the place where God builds His Kingdom and we are placed brick by brick.

We change. The city changes. The world changes. And all of it happens today.

So we say with John G. McCurry,

Come fathers and mothers,
Come sisters and brothers,
Come join us in singing the praises of Zion.
O fathers, don’t you feel determined
To meet within the walls of Zion?
We’ll shout and go round
The walls of Zion.

This is what I’ve learned from zion: the player, the city, the kingdom. It’s what Jim, DJ, Brendan, and Eddie taught me this weekend. I want to go to Zion. I’ll meet you there, where God’s reality becomes our reality today.

Confessing Our Sin(s)

One more question. God says that IF we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful to forgive. What if we don’t confess all of them? Is it even possible to be able to remember all the sins that we commit in one day? Does it say anywhere in the scripture that we are forgiven for our future sins? 

This is a question I received from a friend this week. It’s a common question actually, and one that I have dealt with throughout my life. The question centers on our understanding of sin, confession, and salvation.

Consistent Confession

When I was a young boy, I was relentless in my pursuit of confession. I truly believed Jesus to be the Savior of my sin(s) and I consistently apologized to him for the things I did wrong. In one sense, this was healthy. I was a new Christian, consistent in my sin, and consistent in “agreeing with God about my sin.” That is, after all, what confession is. We agree with God that what we have done is wrong. This is followed by repentance, which is turning from the wrong-doing.

But, there was a problem with this pattern. I continued to confess after every sin because I believed that needed to keep confessing to keep being saved. I believed that every time I committed a new sin, my eternal salvation was back up in the balance. This was a misunderstanding of sin, confession, and salvation.

Counted or Uncounted

The problem with this view of sin, confession, and salvation can be cleared up by looking at 1 John 1:8-10. The passage reads:

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

The Greek word for “sins” there is “hamartia” which, according to Strong’s, can mean counted or uncounted, plural or singular. In other words, we very well can translate that, “if we confess our sin” instead of “sins.” The if-then is not recalling and confessing every sin (this is impossible). We are confessing our “body of work” to the Lord. We fall short. We have sinned. And we are in need of forgiveness.

For All These

There is a great Hebrew prayer called the Al Chet that confesses the sins we know we have committed and the sins we don’t know we have committed. One section of the prayer reads:

“And for the sin which we have committed before You knowingly or unknowingly. For all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.” 

We can pray one prayer for both! We have countless sins that need forgiveness. We confess once and for all to the Lord our need for a savior and forgiveness. If we do that, he is faithful to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Then, as we come to sin again, we confess again. But, not in order to be saved. That has already been accomplished. Instead, we confess to agree again with God regarding our sin and “go and sin no more.”

On Gossip, Rebuke, and a Kingdom Voice

From time to time, I receive questions from people in my church regarding faith and practice. This question came from a friend who wondered about how to confront someone who is a gossip. Here are some thoughts in response.

Draw a Circle

Someone recently shared with me a remedy for fixing a marriage in conflict. They said you are to draw a circle around yourself and fix everything inside the circle. This is simple in thought, but profound in practice. The first thing that we need to understand is that we have the most control over ourselves. In fact, it’s the only thing that we should control. If I start trying to control others, we have other problems. So, sometimes, the best way for us to “confront” the behavior of someone around us is to model the kind of behavior that Christ calls us to. “First take care of the log in your own eye,” says Jesus (Matthew 7:5).

Call Out or Call Up

A second thought here is that we ought to spend more time calling people up than calling people out. To be a prophetic voice is to call people up into their kingdom roles. So, one of the best ways to confront a gossip is to use our own words to help them understand the importance of their words. We want to encourage their mastery of words (and it is mastery!) to be used for the proper Lord! So, we can call the gossip up into service of the King. Compliments regarding their mastery of words are not out of line, as long as these compliments point them to the Lord and his work. Use your voice for good! “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all” can be taken up a notch by calling a person into using their kingdom voice for good. Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” There is a calling up that needs to take place for those who are not exercising their kingdom voice in the best way possible.

Ready for Rebuke

A last thought would be that we want to make sure that a person is ready to receive the rebuke. Yes, there are times for rebuke. A simple google search for this word in Scripture brings up at least 65 verses. There will be times that rebuke is necessary. And, there may be times that we rebuke whether a person is ready or not. But, it is always better to rebuke when a person is ready to receive it. So, take a look at those 65 verses and learn how to rebuke. Some, quick thoughts on the subject of rebuke.

(1) Do it in private first. (Matthew 18:15-17)

(2) Do it as a loving act. (Proverbs 27:5)

(3) Do it with God’s authority. (Titus 2:15)

(4) Do it with Scripture. (2 Timothy 3:16)

(5) Do it with repentance and reconciliation as the goal. (Luke 17:3-4)

(6) Do it with an acknowledgment that Spiritual battle is in play. (Ephesians 6:12)

(7) Do it, knowing that it is the Spirit’s job to convict. (John 16:8)

Kingdom Voice

My hope is that this is a helpful process for engaging gossip, rebuke, and a kingdom voice. It strikes me as necessary to conclude by saying that we want the Holy Spirit to be active during this whole process. So, we would want to clothe this whole process with prayer before, during, and after. God’s presence in the conversation will make all the difference in the world! It is he who works in us to will and to act according to his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). May you be blessed as you call one another up into using your kingdom voice for the glory of God!

On Clinton’s The Making of a Leader

I read Robert Clinton’s The Making of a Leader. Here is what I see as his best contributions to the discussion of leadership in the church and beyond:

Good leaders recognizes that good can come from conflict.

God can use the conflict that we experience in order to shape us into his image and form us for leadership. Clinton notes, “The conflict process item refers to those instances in a leader’s life which God uses conflict, whether personal or ministry related, to develop the leader in dependence upon God, faith, and insights relating to personal ministry.” The sooner a leader flips the switch from anger or frustration in conflict to considering what God might be teaching the better. God can use even this conflict for his good and the advancement of his purposes.

Good leaders understand that leadership is a capacity that develops over a lifetime.

Similar to how a concert pianist spends a lifetime becoming the musician they are, leadership takes a lifetime to learn. And, a good leader, continues to receive lessons in leadership throughout their life. Clinton points out that God refines a leader’s character throughout his or her lifetime, which increases their leadership capacity along the way.

Good leaders discover and develop their gift-mix, or set of spiritual gifts.

Clinton sees that self-awareness regarding gift-mix is a huge factor for effective leadership. A good leader must recognize where his or her strengths and spiritual gifts lie and where he or she must rely on others in order to further the kingdom work of the Lord.

Good leaders are wise in how they select and raise up other leaders.

If a leader hopes to influence a group of people in a direction that the Lord leads, he or she will have to have help along the way. The critical selection of other leaders that will pursue a common vision is vital to the success of the vision.

Clinton argues that good leadership is often learned as a process, with sometimes difficult lessons in a leader’s life actually assisting in the development of leadership. God is able to use a variety of circumstances in order to help a leader collect a set of experiences, approaches, and responses that will enable wise leadership. Good leaders know that they can learn from those they lead and that teaching one another along the way will result in the best possibility of success in the mission or vision of the church or organization.

Does God Hate My Marriage?

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Pastors get asked lots of questions. It’s actually one of the best parts of the job. When a person asks a question, it means they are really wrestling with discovering truth. My three year old has recently been asking a ton of questions: What does “beginning” mean?” What does “purpose” mean? What does “abuelo” mean? She’s interested in discovering the truth. So, when a church member (or non-church goer, for that matter) asks a question, I’m excited to give a response. We can attempt to get at the truth together, with some help from God’s Word and His Spirit.

The question today was, “Does God Hate My Marriage?” Ok, maybe the question wasn’t quite the strong. But, the sentiment was there. Have I been having a hard time in my marriage because my marriage isn’t honorable before God?

I think we must first note that this is not simply an academic question. Marriage is a very personal thing, a union between man, woman…and God. So, it’s personal. As such, any response must keep in mind the greatest commandments (according to Jesus, if you are in to that kind of thing). The first: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second: Love your neighbor as yourself. In other words, love has to be a motivating factor and central theme in the response.

Usually when someone asks this question (Does God hate my marriage?), it’s because either the marriage is struggling, or this was a second marriage, or both. If it’s that the marriage is struggling, utilize extreme caution. This is a tough time for the individual and couple. If it’s that the marriage is a second marriage, utilize extreme caution. If it’s both, you guessed it, utilize extreme caution.

The point is that marriage between man, woman, and well, God is a sensitive and important topic. Here are some guiding thoughts from the biblical perspective.

1. God doesn’t hate your marriage; he hates divorce.

When God says in Malachi 2:16 that he hates divorce, he means it. He takes marriage seriously. That’s because it’s a lifelong committed relationship between man, woman, and the God who ordains it. In Genesis 2:24, God gave the reason he has ordained marriage. It’s so that the man and woman will leave their first family, form a new family, and make a life together. It’s a life centered on the God who ordained it, and he takes it seriously. So seriously, in fact, that he gave another set of instructions: be fruitful, multiply, and have dominion over the earth. Marriage is God’s way of putting a man and a woman together to fulfill his purposes. Divorce gets in the way of those purposes in drastic ways and it tears apart the union that God has established. And so he says in Matthew 19:6, “What God has joined, let no man separate.” But, no, God doesn’t hate your marriage, he hates divorce.

2. God’s purposes, instructions, and warnings about marriage apply both to men and women.

Some have taken the interaction between Jesus and the woman in John 4:18 to mean that Jesus had a different standard for women than he did for men. That line of thinking accuses Jesus of setting up one standard for men and a completely different one for women. Why can men divorce and women can’t? Is Jesus saying that women should stay in an abusive relationship? Is infidelity really the only reason that God excuses divorce? With these questions, it is important to understand that God’s standards for marriage and divorce apply equally to men and women. Jesus was not a misogynist. In fact, we see examples of Jesus lifting up women throughout his ministry. Remember the woman caught in adultery in John 8? “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more,” says Jesus.

3. There is not only one legitimate reason to divorce.

Jesus does not teach that remarriage is adultery in every situation. Further, he does not teach that adultery is the only legitimate cause for divorce. Just use good exegesis and common sense on this one, guys. I’ve heard in many places and for many years that women have to suck it up in an abusive relationship because, well, the guy hasn’t cheated. And yet, we laugh at the legalistic Pharisees that Jesus scolded. At the very least divorce is permitted or accommodated in Scripture when there is infidelity, abandonment, abuse. God doesn’t desire for people to be “stuck” in marriages that are abusive, adulterous, etc. Also, there are situations in which remarriage is appropriate. Here is a helpful podcast on this issue: Vox Podcast with Mike Erre: Divorce. Mike Erre correctly exegetes the passage in Matthew 5:31 to show that Jesus was actually refuting what was known and practiced as “any cause” divorce during those times. Like many other times in his ministry, Jesus was actually raising the standard here and elevating women.

4. Men and women are not “disqualified” for ministry if they have been remarried or divorced.

Paul had people killed and is an apostle. Peter denied Christ and is an apostle. God uses broken people for his purposes and can use those who have been remarried, divorced, or even committed adultery for ministry. Paul tells us in two places in Scripture that an elder is to be the husband of but one wife. This does not mean that a divorced or remarried man cannot be an elder. (This also does not mean that women are outlawed from ministry – See Priscilla, Aquila in Acts 18, Phoebe in Romans 16, and others). Instead, like the other qualifications, Paul is saying this is the character of a person who is to be an elder. Notice he says “not given to drunkenness,” not that the person must have never been drunk in his life. He says “not quick-tempered” and not that the person has never lost his temper. Similarly, the teaching is “faithful to his wife” or “husband of but one wife,” and not that the person has never had a divorce or has never been remarried.

5. God does not want a remarried couple to now get divorced to “fix the problem.”

If you got married under poor circumstances, made mistakes along the way, and committed sins in route to getting married, God has not “cursed” your marriage. If you are married, you should stay that way. This is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:20 that each one should remain in the situation that he is in. Remember God hates divorce. If your marriage started poorly, don’t look to please God by getting a divorce. That isn’t happening. Instead, God stands ready to hear our confession and forgive us our sins. There is no passage that says, “except the ones dealing with marriage.” You are his child. If there were mistakes made (and sins committed), confess them to him. He forgives. Move forward asking for his blessing. That doesn’t mean continue sinful behavior. If you are engaged in sinful behavior, stop. “Go and sin no more,” He says. And remember, he loves you more than he loves your ability to follow commandments. (But, in loving you, he gives you commandments). If there is a problem in the marriage, look to God for his reconciliation. After all, 2 Corinthians 5 tells us that He loves reconciliation, sent Jesus to reconcile God to man, and has given us a ministry of reconciliation. No matter what your status is today (single, complicated, married, divorced, remarried, let’s get started in a ministry of reconciliation with God and each other!

Five Reasons to Take Communion As Often As You Meet

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One of the divisive issues throughout the history of the church has been how to take communion appropriately. There are all kinds of questions about who should take communion, where communion should be taken, and even what kind of bread and juice should be used. It is unfortunate that we have been divided on what was intended to be a unifying experience for the Church and their Savior. My hope would be that Christians can take steps to unify in their worship practice, with communion as a (or even the) central component of the Church’s gathering. While we should not be divided on this issue, we do want to take Communion in a worthy manner. The Apostle Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 11:27, that we ought to do so in respect to the central pursuit of the Gospel. With that in mind, I offer up five reasons to take communion “as often as you meet.

(1) The Command

“Do this in remembrance of me” from Luke 22:18-22 has in itself an instruction of continuance, consistency, and constance. This is something that marks us as believers, that we take communion together in remembrance of Christ, his sacrifice, and the forgiveness of sins. “As often as you meet,” shows our continual recognition that salvation is found in Christ alone, through his death, burial, and resurrection.

(2) The Connection

Jesus was also connecting this moment at the Last Supper to the Exodus from Egypt, when Israel was freed from slavery. Deuteronomy 5:15 tells the people of Israel to observe this Sabbath day, where they were freed from slavery and rescued to eventual life in the Promised Land. In this way Communion in the Church has a strong connection to Passover and Shabbat.

(3) The Passage

In 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 says to, “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” In other words, there was instruction to remember Christ together as often as we take up the cup. Paul is exhorting the Church to take the opportunity in corporate gatherings to participate in the communion of saints.

(4) The Pattern

In Acts 2:42-47, we see that the early church was practicing communion as a normative part of their Christian worship. If we think once a week is a lot, it appears that the early Christians were meeting “every day” to worship the Lord and commune with Him and one another.

(5) The Purpose

When meeting every day was not possible, Christians met weekly. Acts 20:7-12 reveals that Christians came together the first day of the week specifically “to break bread.” In other words, communion wasn’t here just an add-on, it was central to the Christian gathering. Christ has indeed freed us from our slavery to sin by his death, burial, and resurrection. As a result, this remembrance is central to the life and worship of the Lord by the Church.

May we, too, make the Lord’s Communion central to our worship gatherings, in and doing so, may we do this “as often as we meet.”

Seven Steps to Affect Change In Your Church Culture

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Changing the culture in a church can be a difficult endeavor. This is especially true if you are facing a church with a long tradition and heritage or if you are low-man (or woman) on the org chart. My hope is to encourage you in this post that such change is possible, but will require some serious seeking of the Lord in the process. Be encouraged: if you hope to improve the culture of your church, it means that you care about your church, and that is a good thing! So, here are seven steps to affect change in your church culture.

Step 1 – Pray!

The first step when you hope to affect change in your church culture is to seek the Lord! There is something beautiful that happens when we pause long enough to ask the Lord what His will is in a given situation. God invites us to seek Him concerning our circumstances specifically so that we can align our hearts with His. This is particularly important when we are thinking about changing church culture. Remember, he cares about the culture of His church more than you do! So, make sure to take time to align your heart with His in prayer. You may be surprised with the results after step 1. You may begin to see change in the culture immediately. You may not. You may see that your heart changes in the process. If you are praying for change in the culture of your church, make sure first to align your heart and your desires with His. You may also ask the Lord for patience in the process of change. You’re going to need it!

Step 2 – Listen.

The second step when you hope to affect change in your church culture is to take the time to listen to those that have been a part of the church for longer than you. Most of the time, there are stories, details, history of which you are not yet aware. If this is true, you owe it to the church and to yourself to do some research on the culture of the church before attempting to change it. Most new pastors should wait somewhere between nine months and one year before even thinking about changing major aspects of the church culture. Take this time to listen to those that have information that you do not.

Step 3 – Build.

If you are hoping to affect change in your church’s culture, you will need to build trust and relationships with leaders that are already in place. Leaders will not be effective in leading culture change within the church if they have not yet gained the trust of those they work with or for. So, since you are taking your time, use it to build loving relationship with the people in your church. If you are not able to build these kinds of relationships, you won’t want to be together where you are going anyway. Decide that the people you are traveling with are more important than the destination where you are heading.

Step 4 – Ask.

Most of the time, church cultures exist because of the ways leaders in the church have led. As a result, it is helpful to ask those leaders what they had in mind in certain decisions regarding the church culture. You might be surprised to learn that you have many of the same goals in mind, but have different ideas about how to reach those goals. At that point, you are all on the same team. You just have different ideas about the right game plays. If nothing else, this process can help all parties to understand that you are part of the same body of Christ, looking to fulfill the same Great Commission, and partnering together in how to do that best. And, if you differ on ways to do this, asking gives you the opportunity to work that through in meaningful conversation.

Step 5 – Share.

After you have shown the respect and courage to ask leaders about their thought process, you will likely find that these leaders will return the favor. You should be prepared at this time to be asked about how you would handle given situations and decisions were it placed in your hands. This is the right time and context for you to share your solicited thoughts on how you would choose similarly or differently than leadership has chosen. More often that not, if leadership is going to receive your thoughts will, it will be in a setting such as this. They’ve asked for it! Be respectful and clear, giving a well-prepared plan of action with appropriate reasoning. You may find that the leadership of the church is ready to move and was simply looking for the right plan of action that you have presented. When asked, don’t be afraid to share what you have in mind.

Step 6 – Understand.

Even after being asked for your thoughts on the direction of the church, understand that the answer may still be “no.” This is possible for any position in the church, as we mutually submit to one another out of love and respect for Christ. From the first time Worship Leader to the veteran Senior Pastor, there will be times that the answer is simply “no.” This may be a result of theology, philosophy, vision, finances, stewardship, relationships, limitations on time, or any number of other elements that cause leadership in churches to say no. But, even if this is the case, the process has been helpful. You have learned to align your heart with the Lord, listen to those who know the church better than you, build trust with leadership, ask for leadership’s vision and process, share your thoughts in an appropriate context, and understand if the answer is no. These things are progress in themselves and often, in themselves, have the effect of changing church culture. The answer might be yes next time, and you have moved the starting line.

Step 7 – Repeat.

The last step when you hope to affect change in your church culture is to repeat the process. Leaders in the church must understand that growing the church is an ongoing process. There are no quick fixes and this kind of journey is inherent in the shepherding process. A good shepherd does not just point the sheep in a direction and yell, “Go!” Similarly one cannot drive a truck through the flock and expect for the sheep to respond well. Instead, a good shepherd (like our Good Shepherd) walks in the Spirit, walks with the flock, seeks to understand, engenders trust, develops good communication, is humble to serve, and hangs in there even when things get tough. May our Good Shepherd do this for you especially as you head down the long path to affect change in your church culture!

On Tesla, Levi the Tax Collector, and Proving a False Thesis

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Have you ever believed something so strongly that you would do anything to prove it? Sometimes, that might be a good thing, but when we are trying to prove a false thesis, that can be a problem. We leave ourselves open to a life dedicated to something that isn’t true!

 

I studied a passage this week in preparation for a sermon this coming Sunday. As I approached the passage, I had a thesis in mind and kept trying to prove the thesis, only to find that my thesis was off and God had something much better in mind!

The passage is Luke 5:27-39, a passage where the religious leaders of the day approached Jesus at a feast (trying to prove a thesis about him, by the way).

I approached this passage trying to prove the thesis that God wants to do new things and we all better get with it or else we will be left behind! I looked up Elon Musk (Tesla / Space X) and Alan Mullaly (Boeing, Ford) hoping to find inspiring stories of people moving forward with innovation. I read Henry Cloud and Karl Vaters looking for self help and church help. All these guys are studs by the way and we have a lot to learn from the; I just didn’t find what I was looking for.

What I expected to find in this passage: Get with the program people, Jesus is doing something new.

What I actually found in this passage: Something much more beautiful. Whether you are young or old, jew or gentile, Pharisee or tax collector, white or black, republican or democrat, Jesus wants you to feast with him.

  1. In this way, he isn’t what we expect.
  2. In this way, he is the life of the party.
  3. And in this way, life in him is entirely new.

When Jesus Isn’t What We Expect (vs. 27-33)

In the opening portion of this passage, we see that Tax Collector (Levi) gave his life to Jesus, left everything, and followed him. Understand that the tax collector in this day is considered a despised and scandalous individual by many. Think of such an individual today (and it may be different for each of you reading). Jesus approached, gave life to, and feasted with a despised and scandalous outcast. Those who follow Jesus must do so today.

Then Levi throws a party for Jesus. Isn’t this exactly what Levi should have done? If you are with Jesus, you are feasting. It’s what he does. He created the world and all that is in it. He prepares a place for us to lied down and a table in the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23). He offers his very body as the bread and the cup. He will throw an elaborate wedding feast for all his friends one day.

But, the religious leaders show up and try to bust up the party. I picture the brief conversation going sort of like this:

Religious Leaders: Jesus, you’re not we expected. We expected a Messiah who would come and pat us on the back.

Jesus: No, I’m the Messiah who came to put you on my back. I’m one who has called for sinners to repent. I’m a doctor who has come for the sick.

Do you see the religious leaders trying to prove a false thesis here?

When Jesus is at the Party (vs. 34-35)

The religious leaders accused Jesus and his disciples of just going on an eating and drinking on the Sabbath. But, the disciples doing exactly what they should do! When you are with Jesus, you feast. This is why Jesus asks, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast when he is with them?”

  1. When one is celebrating, can you force them to stop?
  2. Jesus is calling himself the bridegroom. Who is he marrying? Who are his friends?
  3. How are we to behave as friends of the bridegroom? As his bride? While he is with us?
  4. A time for fasting. Have you ever done it? What does it say? What does it do?

Jesus and his disciples feasting is a statement of what life in Christ is. It’s an affront to those who do not live this way. And, it’s an invitation to those who want to.

When Jesus Does a New Thing (vs. 36-39)

Jesus then tells two parables: (New patch on an old coat / New wine in old wineskins). Here we learn a few things:

  1. If we are proving our thesis, we are tempted to conclude: See Jesus says the new is better than the old (new wineskins).
  2. If we are proving our thesis, we are tempted to conclude: See Jesus says the old is better than the new (nobody wants new wine).
  3. If we stop trying to prove our thesis, we can step back for a moment and see Jesus’s actual message: whether you prefer an old coat, a new patch, old wine, or new wineskins, we need Jesus to make us new.

Jesus Wants Everyone to Feast (young and old, male and female, jew and gentile, black and white, rich and poor, tax collector and religious leader)

  1. In this way, he is not what we expected
  2. In this way, he is the life of the party
  3. In this way, life in him is entirely new

This kind of life is available to you, a life beyond our expectations, a life with the one who is the life of the party, and a life that is entirely new with Jesus Christ.

Some of us have been trying to prove a thesis about a spouse or friend. Some of us have been trying to prove a thesis about a job. Some of us have been trying to prove a thesis about ourselves. Some of us have been trying to prove a thesis about Jesus.

If we are not careful, our whole life will be spent trying to prove a thesis that isn’t true. May be flexible enough to let Jesus prove our expectations wrong, show up as the life of the party, and do a new thing in our lives, our church, our families, our jobs today. Will you take him up on this life today? Will you let him make you new? Will you join him at the feast?

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1-5)

Straining to Hear His Voice

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From time to time, I will receive questions about the faith and this was one such question.
“Why doesn’t God speak to me the way that he did to others in Bible times?”
Thanks for your question! I hear you asking whether God still speaks today in the way that he spoke during the times of the Bible’s writing.
The short answer to your question is that God still speaks to anyone who would listen. God was the first voice that spoke in the universe, the first voice who said, “Let there be light.” And he has been speaking ever since. And he will continue to speak!
Note that our times are very different times than the time period in which the Bible was written and that much time passed even during the writing of the Bible. Hebrews 1 gives us a great rundown of the ways that God has spoken to us throughout history (prophets, writings, Jesus!). Here are some of those ways and others that we see in Scripture.
Throughout history, God has been speaking in several different ways:
(1) He speaks through creation – See Romans 1
(2) He speaks through His written word, the Bible – See 2 Timothy 3
(3) He speaks through His Spirit – See John 14
(4) He speaks through His Son, Jesus Christ – See Hebrews 1
(5) He speaks through others around us – See James 3
(6) He speaks through songs, music, teachings, books, etc. – See 2 Chronicles 20
(7) He speaks through angels – See Hebrews 13
(8) He speaks through visions, dreams, and prophecies – See Acts 2
Jesus, in John 10 says that His sheep hear his voice. In other words, if you are a follower of Christ, you hear his voice and learn how to hear his voice more clearly. This does not necessarily mean that you will hear him talking in the burning bush or that you will see an angel. I can tell you clearly that I do not believe that I have ever audibly heard the voice of God or that I have ever seen an angel. But, I have heard God talking throughout my life in various ways.
Have you ever seen a rainbow so beautiful that you knew there had to be a God who had created the world? Have you ever read a Scripture verse and had it speak directly and clearly to you? Have you ever had a song or piece of music move you in a way that drew you closer to the Lord? Have you ever had somebody give you encouragement and teach you something about the ways of life or the the ways of God? These are all ways in which God can and still does speak today.
And certainly, there are ways that are more “mysterious” than this. 
(1) 1 Corinthians 2:16 teaches that we “have the mind of Christ.” In other words, we can learn to think like he thinks.
(2) Luke 12:12 says that the Holy Spirit will “teach us what to say.”
(3) In John 10, Jesus says that his sheep will “hear my voice.”
(4) Romans 8:26-27 says that the Spirit will help us know what to pray.
(5) Acts 2:17 talks about the dreams, visions, and prophecies that can come from the Lord.
There are people all over the world that share stories about God’s voice, God’s leading, God’s showing up in this life still. Liz and I once had a complete stranger approach us in a sandwich shop in a different city than where we lived to ask us if we had been praying about exactly what we were praying about the night before. God is able to speak in both small and large profound manners.
So how do we hear God’s voice?
(1) The first thing is that we seek to know Him as Lord and Savior. We ask forgiveness for sins, ask for His forgiveness and salvation based on the work of Jesus on the Cross and his resurrection life, and we ask the Spirit to come into our lives. We want to be filled by the Spirit, which quickens us until life.
(2) We start putting ourselves in positions and places where we know He speaks. We know He speaks through His word and so we spend time reading the Bible. We pray and communicate with Him while doing so. We listen while we pray to see if the Spirit is guiding us in some way.
(3) We spend time with people that know His voice and hear from God. We are more likely to hear from God when we spend time with others that are doing the same thing. Ask close Christians around you about how they hear from God. Find out if there is anything that you should be listening for or hearing from their perspective/experience. Listening to testimonies from others about God’s voice is very helpful in learning to hear Him more.
(4) Ask the Spirit to talk. Tell Him that you want to see more of Him in your life and experience Him in ways that will be beneficial for your growth.
(5) We stay connected to the vine (see John 15). If we stay connected to God and his people, we have a better chance of hearing from the Lord and bearing fruit in our lives. Spend time with God, go to Church, read the Scripture, pray. Practice these kinds of spiritual disciplines and see where/how God speaks. This practice and journey is ongoing. So, don’t be discouraged if there is no “lightning moment” on the first try.
I Kings 19 tells an awesome story about how God spoke not in the ways that we may have expected, but in the still small voice. Sometimes, God speaks in the subtle small ways and we simply aren’t listening. Let’s take the opportunity to hear him in any way that He speaks and put ourselves in positions to hear Him wherever he does so. We may just be surprised with the ways that he clearly shows up and speaks even today!

The Revealing of God’s Goodness Through the Event with Jesus, the Demons, and the Pigs

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Because a member at the church asked today, I have put together some thoughts regarding the event with Jesus, the demons, and the pigs in Mark 5:1-20 and Luke 8:26-39. How does this messy event teach us about the goodness of God?

(1) there are things that God allows in order to show the nature of Himself, the nature of evil, and the nature of humanity.

(2) Job was one such example. God allows Satan to destroy. Anything Satan does, He does not by God allowing.

(3) we cant quite understand why he would allow evil at all. But, it has to do with dignity, will, choice, etc.

(4) We as humans have the choice to rebel as Satan did.

(5) God delays his final judgment so that more may come to know him, love him, obey him, etc.

(6) until that time, people continue to have choice and Satan is allowed to still do his work.

(7) Jesus could have ended them and sent them into the Abyss.

(8) this is why the demons beg him to allow their work to continue. Jesus gives them permission to go to the pigs, he didn’t send them to the pigs.

(9) Jesus values human life above life of pigs, etc. this shows dignity God gives to humanity.

(10) one appropriate conclusion would be that God would rather ALLOW 2,000 pigs to be destroyed than to see a life destroyed.

(11) also, note that it still was not Jesus destroying. He is not guilty of destroying livestock. The demons do this.

(12) also note that sending them to the pigs keeps them from entering any of the other HUMAN lives there.

(13) Jesus is saving 1 human life and protecting many others.

(14) the whole scene puts on display the nature of evil, spiritual battle, deliverance, power of a God, etc.

(15) God saving us is messy. Deliverance comes at a price. Spiritual warfare is costly.

(16) some will still choose to have no part of it, as some here were overcome with fear and asked Jesus to leave.

(17) The Good News goes forward. Jesus instructs the delivered man to go give testimony to his sphere of influence regarding God’s ability to save.