chapel sermon, kansas city rescue mission, 12.7.2011

During advent, we are often unfortunately consumed with things other than Christ.   Instead, we must challenge ourselves to live this season in a way that reflects the message of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 13:1-10 (NIV)

1 This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
2 I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others,
3 since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you.
4 For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.
5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are in faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?
6 And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.
7 Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong – not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed.
8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.
9 We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored.
10 This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority – the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.

It is evident that Paul cares deeply about the Corinthian church; this is his second letter to them and in both, he urges them to live in a way that is reflective of a faith in Christ. He has already even visited them twice! It’s also apparent that Paul is somewhat frustrated by the church in Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 12:20 Paul outlines some of those frustrations: discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, and arrogance and disorder among others. Unfortunately, even in the Church today, and even in our other various Christian communities, we face the same issues that Paul outlines. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians clearly have just as much significance to us today as they did for the varying churches in the Mediterranean almost two thousand years ago. Paul cares about the Corinthians and he wants them to be a church that reflects Christ. Multiple times in his letter, Paul tells the church in Corinth to have confidence in God, and to therefore live an authentic Christian life even through any hardships.

In this section of scripture, Paul reminds them of something very important: God works in amazing and powerful ways, even through what may appear to be weak in our own eyes. In verse 4 he warns the Corinthians, writing, “For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.” In verse 9 Paul writes, “We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored.” Despite what we may think, God works in unexpected ways; through our weakness God restores us.

In the season of advent, when we anticipate the coming birth of Christ, we must remember the message of Christ. Through an unexpected birth over 2,000 years ago, Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph in a stable in Bethlehem; it was the last place the Jewish people thought the Messiah would be born. This baby was the Messiah who would restore God’s people to Him once again. It is the same Jesus who can restore each and every one of our own lives today. This is the same Jesus who changed history and continues to work in amazing ways. Yet Jesus, who is so strong for us, came in such a weak state as a crying baby, whose family even fled and ran to Egypt when threatened with the death of that baby.

However this was the same Jesus Christ who lived a life demonstrating the true nature of God’s love, making it available for all of humanity no matter what a person has done. It is through Jesus Christ that we receive the forgiveness of sins and are able to be restored to God. It was Jesus Christ who died on a cross, who hung there in agony in such a weak state and died. But out of death, Jesus Christ rose again and demonstrated his strength, victory, and power over death and the sin that destroys lives. And it is through Jesus Christ that a broken man, woman, or child can gain victory over the sin that consumes their lives today. This is why we celebrate advent and Christmas – to realize Christ’s message and to reflect the great love that Christ so freely shows us to all the people we meet in our daily lives. Paul was correct in warning the Corinthians in this passage; after all Christ has done for us, the least we can do is to live in a way that reflects him!

In the conclusion of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells them to “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now pray to God that you will not do anything wrong – not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed.” In our world and churches today, we face the same temptations. Unfortunately even during the season of advent, we still see people who are in discord on a daily basis. We see people who are jealous and covet another person’s belongings. People lose it and become violent in fits of rage because they did not get what they wanted on “Black Friday.” People put themselves first with blind and selfish ambition; they simply do not think about what happens to the people around them. People tear each other down with slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. It may be that you and I are guilty of these same things as well.

Regrettably, during a time when we are supposed to be celebrating the life and the meaning of Christ and putting others before us, the American propagation of consumerism tells us to buy everything through a message of selfishness and greed. We tell our friends and family what we want and when Christmas day comes we better get what’s ours or else…. It’s pitiful that this is too often the time of year in the world when we forget the meaning and life of Christ and instead only resort to the list of fears and temptations that Paul laid out earlier in 2 Corinthians.

Paul gives the Corinthians a challenge and asks them if they will pass the test. Each one of us must take that challenge and ask ourselves the same question, especially during the season of advent. Are we living in a way that reflects our belief in Jesus Christ? Do our actions and our words demonstrate Christ’s message? We must live in a worshipful way that brings glory to God. We must live an authentic life for Christ, even during any hardships that we might face. Let’s demonstrate the deep love and compassion of God to the people living around us! Let’s celebrate the true meaning of Christ! Paul writes that the reason he is writing to the Corinthians is “for building you up, not for tearing you down.” As we prepare for the birth of Christ this season, perhaps the best way we can honor his birth is to not tear each other down, but build each other up, as Paul states. Christ is our example; let’s look to him! Let us attempt to be the Church God has called us to be.

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viewing others through the eyes of Christ

In viewing others through the eyes of Christ, we begin to live in a way that reflects the Church God has called us to be.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (NIV)

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
19 that God was reconciling us to himself through Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This scripture has two implications for living a holy life. First, we are to view others through the same eyes God views them. Second, we are to be ambassadors of Christ’s reconciliation. In regarding others with the eyes of God, we open the opportunity for others to be reconciled to God and become a new creation, just as each one of us has been reconciled to God through Christ.

Paul writes in verse 16 to “regard no one from a worldly point of view.” As Paul states, we are new creations through Christ; as a result, we must begin to see people how God sees them. The way we understand people often determines how we treat people. Seeing someone from a Godly point of view means treating them with the respect and love that God would show that man, woman, or child. It means showing them the love and respect that Christ would show; Christ, after all, is the example we have of God on this earth. Not only does this determine how we treat non-believers, but also our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Too often, we in the Church treat our family with contempt, anger and bitterness; there is no difference between this and how people in the world view each other. This is not the way to do it; we must instead view our fellow Christian brothers and sisters in a Godly way. Treat them with respect and love. When someone trips, falls, or stumbles, we help them get back on their feet in a loving way. If someone makes a mistake, we as Christians can not call each other names, cast blame, or attempt to divide the Church; alternatively we hold each other accountable in a way that reflects the love of Christ. We help restore each other as only the restoring blood of Christ can offer.

As we build relationships with those who choose not to believe in Christ, we view them in the same Christ-like way. In the Wesleyan tradition and in the Church of the Nazarene, the denomination I am a part of, we recognize what is called prevenient grace. It is God’s warm love and grace that is constantly drawing everyone, even non-believers, towards him. So for those who may disagree with Christianity, or who may have not yet heard the gospel of Christ, Christians are not to thump the Bible down on their heads but show them the warmth and love that Christ showed to those he interacted with on earth. We are to represent God’s prevenient grace. We have the example of Christ’s interaction of the woman by the well who was shamed into getting water at a time when no one else would be there, or the man who cried out for Christ to help his unbelief when his child died. God has made us into new creations, and as a result we have no choice but to view humanity through the same eyes that Christ views humanity.

Working at a homeless shelter in Kansas City for nearly the past year and a half, I work with many men who have spent time in prison and faced hopeless addictions to alcohol and other hardcore drugs. However, through knowing Christ their lives have completely changed, a result that can only be explained by the redemptive and transformative power of Christ. The old has gone, and they are new creations. Even so, these men, who may have once viewed people through the eyes of a hopeless and scared person, are now able to start viewing others with the hopeful eyes of Christ. It may have only been because they themselves were seen by someone who had the eyes of a new creation in Christ.

This is a gift of God that is only available through Christ. Specifically, as Paul writes, this is the gift of reconciliation. In verses 18 to 19, Paul states, “All this from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

Becoming a new creation is to become reconciled with God. Our sins, our downfalls, our addictive habits and behaviors, are all erased through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. After Christ’s death, we are once again able to become the people God originally created us to be. We can once again be in relationship and in proper worship of God. God will work in our lives through Christ and the Holy Spirit to transform us into new creations. “The old is gone, the new is here!” as Paul exclaims.

Ultimately, however, it does not stop with simply receiving Christ’s reconciliation. Paul writes that “he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” Furthermore, Paul states in verse 20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” We must now be the body of Christ. We must be agents and ambassadors of reconciliation ourselves. We must view others through the same eyes that Christ has viewed us. We must give others the opportunity to become a new creation in Christ. To view others in a Christ-like way is a mindset and a way of thinking that we must actively be aware of. It is only an opportunity that comes through Christ; it is through this that we are able to become the righteousness of God as Paul describes in verse 21.

This is the beginning of holy living in how we relate to those living around us. We must treat people with the same love and respect that Christ has so gracefully shown each one of us. This is how we become the Church God has called us to be.

an opportunity to be the Church

Here is an opportunity for Christians to be the Church God has called us to be.   It is an opportunity to make a positive impact for Christ.   It is an opportunity to cast off the consumerist mindset that has infested its way into our Christian lives.   During a time of financial and economic crisis around the world, and a time of food and water shortages in a majority of countries,  it is an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ in concrete ways.   Watch the video and allow yourself to be challenged.

Be the Church.   Make a difference.   Separate yourself from the world.

Advent Conspiracy – http://ac.wcrossing.org

the degradation of the term “adventure”

These days people are labeling anything and everything as an “adventure.” I know some people who would term a trip to the local grocery store, coffee shop, or city park as an “adventure.” Quite honestly, it’s pathetic. One might be able to get away with calling trips like these adventures only after the fact, and only if something unexplained, unexpected, and totally awe-inspiring occurred somewhere in the timeline of the trip.

In a fast-paced and over-stimulated world, where nearly every minute of our days are planned and there is not much room for error, we have lost much of any sense of adventure. Moreover, we make contingency plans for every possibility. Finally, with the rapid advancement and proliferation of technology, there seems to be less that can go wrong each day. Perhaps this is the reason we have an over-zealous thirst for labeling mundane everyday activities as adventurous.

I recently watched Stephen Auerbach’s documentary “Bicycle Dreams” about the 2005 Race Across America, one of the most difficult races in the world. One of the cyclists, Chris MacDonald, discusses how people describe a sense of something missing in their lives, yet they do not know what it is that is missing. An element of the unknown is a critical component of adventure. This may be one reason why people enter events like the Race Across America. Whether I realize it or not, it is probably one of the reasons I enter endurance paddling races such as the Missouri River 340. We are searching for the opportunity and courage to face an unknown that has been replaced by the comfort, stability, and safety of a posh American lifestyle.

As a result of our safe and stable lives, it is increasingly hard to find an endeavor that is definitively an adventure. As Scott and Shackleton planned their Antarctic expeditions over a century ago, there was certainly a greater possibility and fear of the unknown than there might be on similar expeditions today. While anyone going on any type of trip has an obligation to do their best to mitigate the risks, there are some endeavors where a great unknown is an unavoidable fact hovering above them, as in the case of a soldier deploying to a foreign country. When we have the courage to leave the safety and comfort of our personal worlds behind, it is at that point when we can truly begin to call something an adventure.

Perhaps the greatest adventure any of us can go on, in the truest sense of the word, is to completely devote our lives to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Old and New Testaments are filled with people who have ventured out from the safety of their personal worlds out of obedience to God. Through courage and faith in God, David not only conquered the fear of physical danger but also the fear of the unknown. In the New Testament, in addition to being shipwrecked and being bitten by a venomous snake, Paul faced persecution continuously for his belief in Christ. When we make a commitment to following God, the unexplained, unexpected, and totally awe-inspiring are guaranteed to happen.

There is certainly an element of the unknown when we devote our lives to Christ. We may not exactly know the direction of our lives all of the time. We may be sent as missionaries to foreign lands. We may even face the physical peril of persecution and poverty. But despite everything that may challenge our commitment to Christ, God does give at least one comfort in the adventure of a true Christian life: we can take refuge in the faith and knowledge of God. We have the knowledge that in the end, the unknown of this adventure will not be for nothing, but rather it will be for the hope, love, and salvation of Christ. Until then, it is our responsibility to live as an example of Christ to a world that is searching and struggling through their own elements of the unknown.