chapel sermon, kansas city rescue mission, 2.1.2012

Luke 2:22-40 (NIV)

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”),
24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.
26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required,
28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.
34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,
37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.
38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.
40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

Upon seeing the boy Jesus, Simeon, a righteous and devout servant of the Lord, had said, “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory of your people Israel.” And the prophet Anna, another servant of the Lord who was present, (the scripture states that she was continually at the Temple, fasting, praying, and worshiping God) had described the child in reference to the redemption of Jerusalem. Jerusalem – this was the holy city of Israel, the Mecca, if you will, of the people of Israel. And despite being God’s chosen people, these were a people who had some good times and some bad times in God’s eyes; they had gotten in trouble on more than a few occasions. But nevertheless, this is the story of Israel, and it was their capital Jerusalem that this boy Jesus would one day redeem.

Let’s set that aside for a moment and come to today. There was a young boy growing up in the city, about six years old, and just starting elementary school. His eyes were bright and full of hope. He was ready to make friends, learn, play, laugh, and run around with the other kids. The boy had a younger sister who was just about a year younger than he was, and he cared about her so deeply. Their mom was single. He never knew his father, and his mom rarely, if ever, talked about him. But in order to take care of her two children that she loved more than anything, she had to work two jobs. As the boy grew up over the school years, he saw his mother less and less; she had to continue working more and more in order to take care of her kids. Eventually, when the boy was in middle school, she got sick and had to go the hospital; she didn’t have the health insurance to pay for her medical bills. The boy now had to take care of his younger sister. The boy had to find money to get them both the food and clothing that they needed.

Though through some of the friends he had made at school, the boy learned that he could sell drugs in order to make the money he needed to take care of his sister. But through selling drugs he became more and more familiar with the violence of the world through the beatings, fights, and shootings that he witnessed; he didn’t like it, but he realized it was the way his world worked. It was therefore the way he would have to operate. Eventually, as the years slowly passed and he was a student in the high school, his mother died. It was now only the boy and his sister in this world, alone. He began to drink alcohol and use the drugs he was supposed to sell in order to deal with all the pain and hurt that he felt on a daily basis. There was the pain of abandonment, the pain of the violence he witnessed too often, the pain of losing his mom, and the pain of worrying that he wouldn’t be able to provide for his sister. When the boy was in high school, he was arrested on drug charges and thrown in prison. This boy, who so many years ago had eyes that were bright and filled with the hope and the love and the joy of life, had become jaded by the dark realities of the world he had become accustomed to. He saw no hope.

But in this scripture we have Simeon and the prophet Anna, at the temple of Jerusalem, speaking of the young boy Jesus as a light of revelation for the gentiles, a hope of salvation for all nations, and the coming redemption of Israel. And here, separated by oceans, continents, and thousands of years of history, was another boy who had grown up in poverty without a father, who had lost his mother, and was forced to resort to selling drugs, violence, and alcoholism. Where was the light of revelation for him? Where was the salvation and the hope of redemption? On the one hand we have this boy, a gentile by every definition of the Jewish term, and on the other hand we have this boy Jesus at a temple in Jerusalem, who was supposed to represent the hope, redemption, and salvation in the midst of a painful and suffering world.

Anna saw the boy Jesus and referred to him as the redemption of Israel. Let’s take a quick look at the story of Israel. It is one characterized by a cycle of obedience, disobedience, violence, but yet one that is characterized by a hope for the future with the redemption of a promised Messiah. Abraham, so long ago, was told that his descendents would be as numerous as the stars; yet he was forced to sacrifice his only son only to have God stop him at the last minute and enter into a covenant with him. Generations later we have the beginnings of the twelve tribes of Israel, again marked by distrust, violence, and a brother sold into slavery by none other than his own family in a fit of jealousy. Generations later and the Israelites, God’s chosen people, are oppressed as slaves by the Egyptian Pharaoh, subject to beatings and even more violence. Leaders arise like Moses and Joshua, who led them through the desert. Meanwhile many wonder what hope they have for a future; many of them even give up. Finally they are brought to a new bountiful land, but yet again it is a process marked by war and blood as they take control of their new land. The Israelites beg God for leaders, only to have kings mistreat and abuse them. They start to worship foreign idols instead of the one true God. They even kill God’s prophets among them. They are forced into exile in Babylon, and years later are allowed to return, a broken people who have lost their identity in God. More religious leaders rise up, some bad, some good. Legalism abounds, and finally the birth of this boy Jesus happens. It is a moment that changed history, but the Jewish people didn’t know that at the time. Here was the one who was supposed to be a Messiah, a savior for the people who would rescue them out of this cycle. When some Jews began to recognize who he was, they thought he would lead them into victory over the Roman empire, but that’s not how the story goes.

Christ came and told them he was the fulfillment of the law. Christ demonstrated the redemption that God promises – he gave it to the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, and to the people who were tormented by demons over and over again in life, and to the man who was blind, who could finally see when Jesus rubbed mud in his eyes. He gave redemption when he brought Lazarus back from the dead. He gave hope when he healed sick sons and daughters and performed countless other miracles. This boy Jesus grew up into the Christ who gave hope to those who thought they had none. Christ demonstrated love to the poor and the outcast of society who thought they had nothing in life.

Christ was killed, crucified on a cross, but not just for the redemption of Israel, but for all of humanity and for the hope of all nations and gentiles. All people would one day have a hope of hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. And even through death, perhaps the worst you and I can imagine, and death where surely it is the very end, and there is without a doubt, absolutely, positively, and most certainly no returning from, Jesus Christ came back. Christ rose again to demonstrate to all the hope of a risen Lord and Savior, to give hope that even the worst in this world can be overcome, and to give hope that the evil in this world can be conquered after all. On every level, this is the message of Christ. This is a good news message that has persisted through persecution, doubt and critics. It is a gospel message that is alive today through a risen Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and a living God. This is a gospel message that proclaims the renewal of life and the renewal of hope. It is the renewal of the Jerusalem story that we, through Christ, are now a part of. And it is a gospel message that simply will not go away until all things are renewed through Christ.

This is even a gospel message that brings hope to that boy who grew up in the city, who was once hopeful with bright eyes looking for joy and happiness. It is a message that can even overcome the pain, despair, and hurt that boy has faced in this world; it is the good news of a very real Jesus Christ that will even offer that young man the redemption, hope, and love that he desires. It is a chance to receive the father that he never knew growing up. It is a chance to be an entirely new person in Jesus Christ and change the very fabric of a life to live in the faith of Jesus Christ. It is an opportunity to once again show his sister the love that he tried to show her so many times, but failed. It is a chance to show the people around him the the light of a revelation to the gentiles, the glory of God’s people, salvation from the evil of this world, and participate in the redemption of Jerusalem.

Christ has come to redeem Israel; the amazing thing is that we, once considered gentiles, are now a part of this people through Christ. God has come to restore each one of us so that we too may be a part of the loving kingdom of God, so that we may know God as our father, Christ as our savior, and the Holy Spirit as working within our lives to continually change us to become more like Christ.

This is our story – a story of people broken through the brokenness of this world, who without the grace of God would continue in our self-destruction through hate, jealousy, disease, drug-use, cancer, alcohol, addictions, wars, fights, and violence. But it is a story that has hope in a Messiah who overcomes all of these things of a selfish and prideful world and mends our own internal struggles, addictions, illnesses, and worries. It is a hope of being a part of a redeemed Jerusalem and being a child of God. God’s grace is there, available to all through the love of a living Christ. And so I finish tonight with this question: How will we respond to the hope that exists in Jesus Christ?

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.

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 –

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.