Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Join the Revolution...

With a domineering sense of entitlement, we often confuse our wants with needs. We camouflage greed with being relevant and materialism with the fruits of our labor. Self-restraint is viewed as weakness and overindulgence is often accepted and celebrated and pursued.

Ironically, our pursuit wealth and comfort has actually made us quite poor and full of stress. Stressed, overly busy, often worried, and at painfully at odds with the people we should love, joy, peace and rest seem to be perpetually fleeting.

The teachings of Jesus, love your neighbor as yourself, forgive and bless your enemies, it is better to give than to receive, etc. often seems upside down or backwards. But, given our state of anxiety and discontentment, perhaps we’re are the ones upside down.

Come. Let us sit at the feet of The Great Rabbi and listen as He invites us into a renewed way of living. We call it the Kingdom of God and, yes, it is Gospel (good news) to our soul!

May we embrace the invitation to come into the Kingdom through Jesus the Messiah; and may we join the revolution in daring to believe that the seemingly upside-down ways of Christ are actually right side up.

Hope to see you Sunday as we continue in our series on The Sermon on the Mount - UPSIDE DOWN IS RIGHT SIDE UP. All are welcome so bring a friend!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Patrick + Green Beer + Missions

st. patrick

When it comes to St. Patrick's Day most people think of shamrocks, leprechauns, parades,  and, ah yes, green beer!  But who was the real St. Patrick? Did he enjoy adding food color to his beverages and dressing up in green attire? Well, I don't think so. What I do know is that St. Patrick loved Jesus and lived a very missional life!

Let's start with several misconceptions about St. Patrick...First of all, and this is surprising to most, Patrick wasn't really a Saint, having never been officially canonized by Rome (don’t try to tell an Irishmen this, he won’t like it!). And Patrick couldn't have driven the snakes out of Ireland because snakes are not even indigenous to Ireland. (Of course, most say “snakes” where simply metaphorical because he did drive the “demons” and “serpents” out, so to speak, when Christianity replaced paganism.)  He was not the first Christian in Ireland and actually, he wasn't even the first missionary/evangelist to Ireland.  A dude named Palladius had been sent in 430 A.D., approximately five years before Patrick began his ministry in Ireland.  Oh, here’s a big one…green was not the original color associated with Patrick.  It was blue!  (I know, this is crazy!)  Also, Patrick isn't Irish, he was Scottish!  He was from what is now Dumbarton, Scotland (just northwest of Glasgow).

So here's what we do know about him. When he was a teenager, Patrick was captured in a raid and became a slave in the pagan country of Ireland. Far from home, he clung to the religion he had ignored as a young man. Even though his grandfather had been a Christian, some say he was a priest, and his father a town councilor, Patrick, according to his own admission, "knew not the true God." But forced to tend his master's sheep in Ireland, he spent his six years of bondage mainly in prayer, often reciting and reflecting upon the Lord’s Prayer. After his escape, here returned home to Scotland and devoted himself to theological studies.

It is believed that Patrick was in his forties when he returned to the land that had enslaved him some twenty years earlier.  What an amazing demonstration of the transforming power of the Gospel, rather than animosity and hatred toward the land that had kidnapped him, he refused to return evil for  evil and loved them with the message of the Gospel.  He simply could not resist the call of God to go and serve his enemies! Familiar with the Irish clan system (his former master, Milchu, had been a chieftain, i.e. a clan leader), Patrick's missional strategy was to try to convert the clan leaders first, who would then convert their clans through their influence. (Some reports tell us that Milchu was one of his earliest converts.)

Though Patrick was not solely responsible for converting Ireland to Christianity, he was quite successful. He ministered all over Ireland, and it soon became known as one of Europe's Christian centers.  Patrick died in his beloved Ireland, March 17th, about 460 A.D.
Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity, but I fear
none of
these things because of the promises
of heaven.  I have cast myself into the hands of
God almighty who rules everywhere.

~ Patrick
St. Patrick’s Breastplate (a beautiful Christian prayer/hymn attributed to Patrick):
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Other St. Patrick Links you may find helpful:
Also see - 10 Things You You Didn't Know About St. Patrick's Day
And be sure to check out this recent article on St. Patrick by The Resurgence - Vintage Saints: Saint Patrick
The True Story of St. Patrick – Relevant Mag.
St. Patrick: One of the Greatest Missionaries Who Ever Lived – The Resurgence
Patrick the Saint – Christianity Today
The Conversion of Ireland – Christian Classics Ethereal Library
The Confession of St. Patrick – Christianity Today
Will the Real St. Patrick Please Stand Up? – Joyful Heart

Oh yeah, and…:

How to Make Green Beer

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Digging Deeper into the Sermon on the Mount...

[The Beatitudes and The Sermon on the Mount] are a summons to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future; because that future has arrived in the present of Jesus of Nazareth. It may seem upside down, but we are called to believe, with great daring, that it is in fact the right way up. ~ Tom Wright

Here are some resources to better help you understand the message of The Sermon of Mount. Consider going through one of the books with a friend or a few people within your Community Group.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Being the Kingdom in the Here + Now - Upside Down is Right Side Up

“The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best-known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly it is the least obeyed. It is the nearest thing to a manifesto that he ever uttered, for it is his own description of what he wanted his followers to be and to do.” 
~ John Stott

Judging by the crowds and various groups of people gathered to listen to the words of The Great Rabbi, The Sermon on the Mount was most likely delivered at the height of Jesus’ popularity (Matt. 3:25-4:1). Jesus forgoes his normal teaching style, the parables, and teaches his disciples, as well as the listening crowd, in a more straightforward manner. It is an extreme sermon for it calls us to an extreme life, i.e., a Kingdom of Heaven kind of life. One author writes, “at times we will find ourselves wishing it were less clear” because its words are so convicting. As we study the sermon we will realize that these instructions lie at the heart of our Savior’s message. If we are to understand Jesus and his agenda of the Kingdom of Heaven, we must begin to make sense of this sermon.

Now, the sermon as a whole is the outworking of what Jesus called The Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew, the author of this particular Gospel, has just informed us, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.” Matthew is now elaborating on exactly what the gospel (good news) of the Kingdom was.

The first thing to realize about Jesus’ Kingdom talk is that it was a new way of describing God’s redemptive activities. Outside of John the Baptist proclaiming, “the kingdom of heaven is near” the phrase is not found in the Old Testament or in any of the intertestamental writings. But yet Jesus spoke about it all the time. The kingdom of heaven this, the kingdom of God that…he talked about it constantly.

Why? What was he doing?

The Kingdom The word he was using for “kingdom” could also be translated or understood as dominion and royal rule, kind of like an empire. The Jews and Greeks gathered to listen to Jesus knew a lot about empires. The were smack-dab in the middle of the one of the most successful empires known to man – the Roman Empire. And the Jews knew even more about empire, particularly oppressive empires. Their history is marked with one oppressive empire after the other – the Ancient Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Seleucids, and then the Romans. Embedded deep in Hebrew expectations was a coming a Messiah who would finally and ultimately put an end to oppressive empires and establish the Davidic Kingdom promised long ago (2 Sam. 7; Psalm 89 and 132).

Jesus was deliberately drawing their attention to those messianic promises made centuries before as he was preaching “the gospel of the kingdom.” However, Jesus went about teaching the Kingdom in a very different way that almost all of them expected. Rather than leading them into yet another violent revolt or war to establish empire/kingdom, Jesus was teaching them a better, more powerful way. God’s way of establishing his eternal Kingdom here on earth was going to go in a completely against-the-grain and unexpected route.

Just what was that unexpected, counter-cultural way of ushering in God’s Kingdom into this world? Well, that’s just what Jesus’ sermon was all about. It was a sermon defining and describing Kingdom living in the here and now.

“Blessed” – The Way Life Should be Lived The sermon begins with the famous Beatitudes. Each beginning with the word μακάριος (makarios /mak·ar·ee·os/ adj.) which is translated “Blessed.” Sometimes this word is understood to simply mean “happy.” But Jesus is speaking about much more than our feelings. He is not stating how people who live like this may feel, but what God thinks of them and declares them to be: they are “blessed.” The priestly blessing given to Aaron in Numbers 6 may best represent what Jesus is talking about when he refers to the “poor in spirit” as being blessed: “…may the LORD bless thee, and keep thee; may the LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; and may the LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” The Beatitudes begin with a gospel (good news) to the spiritually bankrupt – those who thought they were divinely rejected are now proclaimed to be divinely accepted!

So, much more than a temporary or circumstantial feeling of happiness, to be “blessed” is a state of well-being and divine blessing that already belongs to those living like this (i.e., recipients of the kingdom of heaven, the inheritors of the earth, the comforted, the satisfied, those who receive mercy and see God, etc…). John Stott writes, “Just as The Beatitudes describe every Christian (at least in the ideal), so the eight blessings are given to every Christian . . . The eight qualities together constitute the responsibilities, and the eight blessings the privileges, of being a citizen of God’s kingdom.” It is much more than a mental state but a condition of a blessed life – KINGDOM LIFE – where God is with you and within you.
Being the Kingdom in the Here and Now! The Beatitudes begin and end with the phrase “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus was explaining “the kingdom” by describing what the participants of “the kingdom” are and do. The rest of the sermon continue on those lines.

We are to seek and strive to be the “kingdom of heaven” here on earth, albeit imperfectly, from now until Jesus returns! 

May the words of The Great Rabbi guide us to that end!

Understanding the Beatitudes - Upside Down is Right Side Up

The Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3-10, may be Jesus' most well-known portion of teaching, as well as his most misunderstood portion of teaching!
Matthew 5:3-10
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The Beatitudes serve as an introduction to the "The Sermon on the Mount" (Matthew 5-7) which is an announcement of good news that something is starting to happen in the world, namely, the Kingdom of God. In these 8 poetic and rhythmic verses, Jesus is saying that the world is being made new, and that this new way is being inaugurated through and in Him.

So, the beatitudes are not descriptions or techniques telling us how to obtain “blessing” by applying the proper procedures to our lives - they're not mechanical formulas for getting what we want.

Rather, as N.T. Wright has said,
They are a summons to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future; because that future has arrived in the present of Jesus of Nazareth. It may seem upside down, but we are called to believe, with great daring, that it is in fact the right way up.

Here are some resources to better help you understand the message of The Sermon of Mount:

Monday, March 3, 2014

Lent - 2014

This Wednesday, March 5th, is Ash Wednesday. Followed by Fat Tuesday (Madi Gras), Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the annual Lenten Season. Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a special period of fasting, repentance, personal study, moderation, and spiritual discipline. Of course, these activities can be observed any time of the year, but the purpose of doing during the 40 days of Lent is to set aside additional and particular time for reflection on Jesus Christ - his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial and resurrection. (40 is a symbolic number often associated with sacrifice and the faithfulness of God - e.g., Israel's 40 years in the wilderness and Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11.) The 40 days of Lent are to be marked by repentance and personal sacrifice. Ash is sometimes rubbed on the foreheads of Christians during Ash Wednesday services as a sign of repentance (e.g., 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21).

As with all liturgical season, Lent can be legalistically observed. There are no biblical warrants to observe it and it should be observed out of choice, not any sort of obligation. Elliot Grudem articulates it well, "...any special attention to the Lenten Season that honors God must include heart-level repentance and real faith, not external obedience to church tradition. So the Lenten Season and its encouragement to take an extended time to focus on the death and resurrection of Christ provides us with an opportunity to honor God...There can be a real value in marking this season, but only if done with a heart that seeks to honor God."

Lent is a time when Christians can annually connect with their heritage and their fellow Christians around the world. It's a unique opportunity to live out the "oneness" expressed in Christ's prayer in John 17 as we, together, journey through Lent, asking ask—are there things here that we need to die to? Are there habits, thoughts, and patterns of living in our lives that aren’t consistent with the life God intended us to live? At the same time, it is a time for Christians everywhere to accept the life and grace that God extends to us—celebrating the cross and resurrection as God’s definitive act of redemption in the world.

I pray this Lenten Season will be a rich time growth as you prepare to celebrate the RESURRECTION!

Here are some great articles on why we celebrate Lent:

Also, here are some ideas to help shape the way you might choose to observe Lent this year:

Reflection + Response - Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Gospel of Jesus isn’t behavior modification or a new list of rules to obey or a new religious hobby. It is the announcement that God has come to humanity, in Jesus Christ, to bring a new reality of redemption + renewal. And the Gospel calls us to respond with our whole self, it gives us a new identity, and places us in the Kingdom of God. Yes, the Gospel changes everything, very much including our relationships and community with others; for, in the Gospel, there is no slave or free, male or female, or Jew or Gentile. All are equal. All are forgiven. All are welcome.

May we become a people shaped by the Gospel. A new community with a new identify. And, for us, may forgiveness, reconciliation, and community not just be things we desire to receive, but may we also be courageous enough to give them and show them to others.

Lord, may it be."