Big Plans: Cutting Down Trees

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You probably don’t have to struggle too hard to go back to where you went from everything seemingly perfect to falling flat, from well planned to a painful episode. Maybe it is a career trajectory that took a nose dive, a divorce left your wave after wave of friendship lost at sea, or one mistake which leaves you fighting to get back your reputation. Today, we are going to face the wobbling cake moments head on as we continue in our sermon series GREATER THINGS as we look at 2 Kings 6:1-7. We’ve been following the miraculous moments in Elisha’s ministry- as he has confronted false gods, half-hardheartedness, a lack of faith, and today we go from our wreckage to God’s divine recovery plan. Even when it seems impossible.

We don’t oftentimes start off wobbling, we start off with…

BIG PLANS: Cutting Down Trees (2 Kings 6:1-4) The company of the prophets said to Elisha, “Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan, where each of us can get a pole; and let us build a place there for us to meet.” And he said, “Go.” Then one of them said, “Won’t you please come with your servants?” “I will,” Elisha replied. And he went with them. They went to the Jordan and began to cut down trees. Continue reading “Big Plans: Cutting Down Trees”

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Mark My Words- Untouchable

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It is as we journey through the book of Mark that we find God’s power of taking hurt and using it for healing, allowing our spiritual relationship with God to change our temporal relationship with the world around us, but we continue in Mark 1, we find our status has changed, from…

Untouchable to Touched (Mark 1:40-42) 40 A man with leprosy[a] came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” 41 Jesus was indignant.[b] He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

The man with leprosy knew more than the wisest scholar or religious person. He realized his true need! The man with leprosy wasn’t the only hurting person in the crowd, not the only person in need of help, but what set him apart was his recognition of need, and his perseverance to the one who he recognized as powerful. In keeping with the Law in Leviticus, Jewish leaders declared people with leprosy unclean. In their state of uncleanliness, they were untouchable, unable to take part in social or religious activities. Isolated and cut off from God, relationship, and community! As a result some people would throw rocks at them, mock them, and general regard them as less than human! Yet Jesus touched them!

Untouchables just like segregation turned African American, or the India caste system turned an entire block of people into nothing more than wanderers and trash collectors. It is amazing how powerful a touch can be! When you get that bear hug you desperately needed, or in the hospital room someone came and just held your hand. I visited a woman in the hospital a few months ago in the ICU, and when I walked in and held her hand she said something that caught me off guard—“it is nice to be treated as a human again!” It was a more profound thought than she intended it to be, it wasn’t just what I did in that moment, but it is a description of what Christ does for a lifetime—He extends his hand, willing to touch us, hold us, and allow us to be changed through it!

It is only when you are willing to admit your brokenness, that you will experience God’s wholeness! The man “begged,” “implored,” and found compassion waiting! He had a chance to be treated as a human again! As the song goes, many of you have the same weight, you’ve been living with it for years—“shackled by a heavy burden, ‘neath a load of guilt and shame, then the hand of Jesus touched me/ Now I am no longer the same!” You don’t have to keep living in the shadow of regret, under the weight of pain or with the scarlet letter identifying you. Christ reach is not hindered by geography, culture, or decades. You are not too broken, too battered, too anything for Christ to touch you!

Lately, around our house I’ve been finding books laid on tables, resting open on armchairs, the entire tale tell signs that my wife is on a reading binge—reading through the Maze Runner trilogy—the story of a bunch of kids trapped in a changing maze. It would be dangerous to try and touch those books with the binge still in process, but I was tempted this week when I read the title of the 3rd book, one of the most profound and touching titles I’ve ever come across: The Death Cure. The purpose, the strength, and the reach of Christ’s love ultimately rest in the death cure. Jesus Christ didn’t settle for a Long-Distance Relationship, but came to us—giving his life up—so that in death he could defeat death, and in new life, he could usher in our new lives! Jesus didn’t die so that you could live as the walking dead—going through the motions—Jesus offers healing so you can help humanity, so you will have the internal relationship that will change your external conditions, and ultimately so you could no longer be a slave—but could have the shackles of sin to removed, the captivity and slavery brought to an end—find purpose—embrace a strength—and allow Jesus Christ to reach out his hand and transform you!

BECOME #3- New Harvest

If you are just joining us, welcome! We are in the midst of a look at the building blocks of discipleship. The first week, we looked at what we believe but also how we believe. An identity more than fleeting idea.  Now we are shifting gears to look at the transformation process concluding today in a new harvest.  So far we have seen the process of receiving the Holy Spirit as belief prods us to baptism, and seen how the Holy Spirit works as he cuts through the hardness of heart—counseling us when we are teachable, but as we look at the second building block of a disciple BECOME—we find the beauty of…

Counseling Leads to New Harvest (Galatians 5:22-25) 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.  These elements lived out to the full are the very essence of Jesus Christ. He demonstrated God’s love for us. We proclaim “Joy to the World” since we have found the “Prince of Peace.” On and on it goes, in living out the fruit of the Spirit we are actually taking on Christ-likeness. It isn’t a coincidence that God puts application at the heart of each element that goes into a disciple. Relationship with the Spirit of God, leads to relationship with those around us. Against such things there is no law. In fact, where our spiritual ancestors failed to follow God wholeheartedly, that the law’s very essence is fulfilled—loving God and loving the people around us as if they were ourselves. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. When we live by the Spirit we are able to walk in cadence to the symphony of Scripture.

When is this new harvest coming? Where is self-control when I open my mouth and insert my foot? Where is love when I am consumed by anger? Peace when prone to march to war? It reminds me of a conversation between an older Christian woman in her 80’s and a 21 year old that recently had been baptized in her church. For a month after his baptism he was elated, on fire, and excited. Yet, on this Sunday the woman found the 21 year old in the sanctuary praying before service obviously upset and she asked him what was wrong. He told her that he didn’t know what was wrong with him—he was frustrated that he had fallen short of his new life, sinned again, and wasn’t sure of what to make of it—The woman smiled a knowing smile and replied, “Young man, keep in mind that crucifixion is always a slow death!” Jesus had called us to follow him to Calvary—take up your cross and follow me—and yet the process isn’t overnight but on-going. Here is the beauty that unfolds in faithfully and intentionally becoming like Christ!

Lee Strobel, in his book, Case for Christmas shared a story from his early journalism days. He was tapped with writing a story on the poorest family he could find in Chicago. The family (a mother and her two daughters) had nothing on their walls, one cup of rice, one bed, and daughters shared a sweater on their cold early morning walk to school. After publishing his piece, he decided to check in on the family, it was Christmas Eve after all. When he walked into the house it had been transformed. Readers had generously sent the family clothes, gift cards, and toys. Lee was surprised though to find the family boxing up some of the items. He asked if they were disappointed in what they got. The mother replied that they were so grateful for all they had received. She added that she couldn’t keep all that stuff knowing that her neighbors had nothing. “After all, these gifts are great, but the greatest gift comes tomorrow in Jesus Christ.” The comments left Lee shook, as an atheist, he was wondering what is it about this Jesus that caused a family with nothing to give away stuff when they got something. The fruit of the Spirit allowed him to see a picture of Christ.

If you read John Grisham or like law dramas, think of what happens as double jeopardy, Double jeopardy is the law that it is illegal or unjust to try and/or punish a person for a crime that they have already been convicted of. We find that Jesus Christ has already been crucified on the cross for the sins of the world—and that as we receive the Spirit, embrace the counseling and live out the fulfillment of the law—we take on the Image of Christ—meaning that we no longer can be tried or convicted of what Christ bared on our behalf.

I like the quote by John Owen who builds off the foundation of belief: Every time we say we believe in the Holy Spirit, we mean we believe that there is a living God able and willing to enter human personality and change it. Nowhere along the way were you meant to stay exactly the same through relationship with Jesus Christ. Stagnation has no place when the Holy Spirit is given space. Growth isn’t an option, it is an outlet. Relationship isn’t a responsibility it is a natural response. If you aren’t being changed, it isn’t because God doesn’t have the power to change you, it isn’t because God doesn’t have the desire to change you, it isn’t because you don’t have excess to what can change you, for the disciple of Jesus Christ—we have to embrace the Holy Spirit and put the second building block in place.

BECOME #2–Counseling

After yesterdays look at repentance, we are turning back towards the phenomenal process that allows transformation to become possible. In BECOME #1- we shall how a disciple’s belief prods them into action.

At baptism, through confession of Christ as Lord, we are given the Holy Spirit, but what is the process of actually living with the Holy Spirit like? Receiving a gift isn’t the same thing as using it! As we continue looking at the building blocks of discipleship we are honing in on transformation, what we are Becoming!  What’s next?

Baptism Leads to Counseling—Now don’t panic! Guys especially when we hear the term counseling we can scoff at the idea. We want nothing to do with sharing our feelings with a stranger, laying on a couch, going to a counselor.  Rest easy, instead of counseling with a stranger, we are given an enduring relationship with God himself through the Holy Spirit.

John 14:16-18,26 are some of my favorite verses because Jesus gives us the reassurance that even in his physical absence he hasn’t forgotten us or abandoned us, but has instead equipped us. — 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you… 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

Verse 18 especially hits me hard. I think back to the story of my grandfather, 6 years old growing up in Hitler’s Germany. His parents decided it would be safer in an orphanage. At 6, he was all alone, wondering if his family would ever be put back together again. Thankfully, Jesus reveals the power of the Holy Spirit at work—intimacy instead of isolation, truth instead of lies, encouragement instead of estrangement. The greatest of all advocates and counselors. The advocate offers a mentoring session that goes beyond a life coach or self-help DVD or book. Being filled with the Holy Spirit means that we give God control over every area of our lives. Hearing and experiencing God and be heard by God.

All Christians upon their baptism receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, but not all Christians turn their lives over to the Holy Spirit. When teaching this to my seminary students, author and professor James Emery White helped illustrate how the Holy Spirit works. Picture two glasses of water sitting on a desk. In the first cup drop a packet of Alka-Seltzer, with the wrapper still surrounding the tablets.  In the second glass, drop in two other Alka-Seltzer tablets and watch as it fizzes throughout the water, there is action and life. Notice how you can have the Holy Spirit and not his filling.

How much of you does the Holy Spirit have? The answer takes us to two radical opposed positions: Frustration or Satisfaction—Paul describes those who have the Holy Spirit but don’t use it as neglecting, grieving, or quenching the Holy Spirit. (Think about the last time you went camping—Smokey the Bear’s jingle ringing in your Ear—only you can prevent forest fires—pouring water on the fire—only smoke—only wet wood) but Paul shows us there is another way to live when we unwrap the gift of the Holy Spirit—using adjectives like sowing, following and praying daily. The Holy Spirit always respects your free will—never forcing treatment, but always ready for transformation to begin or continue. Paul prayed that we would have a growing relationship with the Holy Spirit: “I keep asking that God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” (Ephesians 1:17-18). The Holy Spirit after all is your chance to know God personally and practically. Letting God have access to who you are so you can become more like him.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, I use the word Father because that is how you reveal yourself. A loving, involved, and gracious Father. Too often, I am your prodigal son, lacking gratitude for all that you’ve given me. This morning Father, I turn my heart, mind, and soul over to the working of your Holy Spirit. To know you better is to Know, to love you better is to Love. In Christ’s Name! Amen.

Acts #3-Mission Possible

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As we continue in the book of Acts, we have seen from Luke the necessity for the church to focus on the life of Jesus, to harness the power of Christ, and finally we see the “so what?”- the call to adopt…

 The Mission of Jesus- (Acts 1:6-11) 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

The power of Christ is meant to be experienced by the followers of Christ!  As his apostles and the disciples of Christ, Dr. Luke makes it clear that the Spirit was meant for a very specific reason- it would be the means of “receiving power” to be witnesses to in Judea and Samaria—to the Jews and the ends of the earth-to a world full of Gentiles.  Yet what does it mean to be a witness? It brings to mind Law and Order or Court T.V. —or if you are a movie buff it may bring to mind “A FEW GOOD MEN”—Jack Nicholson plays a Marine Corp Colonel—on the stand being battered by Tom Cruise, the defense attorney—who is demanding answers, demanding the truth, when finally Nicholson’s character famously screamed out, “YOU CAN”T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” The truth which Dr. Luke reveals is a tough one, that being a witness goes far behind giving testimony and goes to the point of giving your life. He uses a very specific word for witnesses- μάρτυρας—martyrs—someone who gives their life for the mission! Why did Christ give us the power of the Holy Spirit? Not so we could stand motionless staring into the sky after him, but so that we could be empowered to serve like him! So that by our words, witness, by our works, by our very lives, we would be literally dying to self to be raised up like Christ in hopes of bringing others to Christ!

 What you see as the purpose of the church leads directly into what you expect from the church! Sometimes parents will send their children to church hoping it instills moral framework or foundation! Sometimes married couples come to church wanting the spirituality or religious nature to save their marriage! Others come wanting church to be a place of connectivity or a trampoline to hitting their 5, 10 or 15 year personal plan! A place that offers self-actualization or gives motivation with a heavy hand of inspiration- a place to feel good.

 In truth, church is none of those things and each of those things! The church fundamentally, is a place of mission! We are called to take the Good News to the world, but it is the only mission that doesn’t come at the expense of its servants, but instead at their benefit! The church is a place that offers relationship with Jesus Christ first and foremost, and the rest come as result. It is relationship over research, it is imitation over simple admiration, and it is words and works that go together in a holy knot that is impossible to pull apart.

Through the Holy Spirit we find the power to do what alone we would be unable to do—Just as Dr. Luke found an adventure that took him beyond the halls of study into the streets with the Spirit, by following his lead, embracing our Savior, we are empowered to join in a mission that will make history!

Radical Conversion

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Earlier this week, we looked at the necessity for radical repentance, which allows us to harness the power of the Holy Spirit, not just possess the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit isn’t like sports memorabilia that we hang on the wall it is the very power that raised Christ living inside of us. While radical repentance helps us turn away from the sin which Paul makes clear will kill us, we need something to turn towards- a new direction or destination.

Mark Burnett the producer of Son of God said recently something to the effect that, “I use to think that the Bible was just a book of laws, but after reading it I found out it was a book of love.” Paul lays out the love of God in Romans 8:13b-15  …but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. 14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.”

The History Channel’s recent mini-series the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s,  didn’t surprise anyone with the blowout conflict over a pig, Civil War sentiments, rights to land, and intermarriage, but the ending sure did. Instead of ending with a blowout  battle between the two forces it ended with a baptism. “Devil” Anse Hatfield at 71 years old, weary from over 15 lives lost in the prolonged conflict, gave his life to Christ during a revival meeting. His family attested to the fact that for the last 10 years of his life he had experienced a Radical Conversion. “Devil” became a servant to the one even the angels bow down in reference to, Jesus Christ. Anse went from Ring-leader to reborn, from self-focused to selfless sacrifice. Matthew 10:39 from the Message helps clarify the process:

“If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.”

It is when we convert to following Christ, which we become less, so he can become more. In so doing we find who we were always meant to be through Him. Instead of leaving the warriors in our spiritual warfare to die of their  wounds, through radical repentance and through radically converting to Christ, not once, but each day–we find that God can restore the most broken into the beautiful witness of his victory on the cross!