Laying Down the Law [Exodus 20:1-17]

Here's some important information you may want to consider: in Oklahoma it is illegal to have a sleeping donkey in your bathtub after 7:00 pm. 

Six o'clock is fine. Not seven.

It's easy to poke fun at the dumb laws of other states, so let's bring it a little closer to home.

Did you know it is illegal in Washington State to harass a sasquatch? It's punishable by fine and/or imprisonment. Did you know it is illegal in WA to buy a mattress or meat of any kind on a Sunday? There's also a law on our books that says it is mandatory for a motorist with criminal intentions to stop at the city limits and phone the chief of police as he is entering the town...

Like that's going to happen.

We like to judge yesterday's decisions with today's wisdom. There must be a story behind each of these crazy laws mentioned above, but we like to poke fun at them anyhow.

We do the same thing when we read some of the 'crazy' laws we read in the Old Testament. All of us agree, the 10 Commandments are pretty straight forward counsel for our lives. But what about stoning a bull to death that gores someone or returning your enemy's wandering donkey? [Yes, they are in there.] It's the civil laws that leave us scratching our heads, mainly because we are judging them through today's lenses. 

When the Israelites came out of Egypt, God not only had to teach them how to be his people again, he also had to give them civil laws to govern their lives together. God is not the author of confusion, so he wasn't about to let a bunch of self-serving anarchists eat each other alive on the way to the Promised Land. 

So he gave them examples of how to apply God's laws to the kinds of cases that commonly arose in those days. Sure, Exodus 21-23 make us squirm now, but let's be careful about jumping to any unholy conclusions about God. He gives them laws about how to treat indentured servants, give opportunities for the poor, make commercial restitution, and lend without being predatory. 

God wants his people to honor him by honoring one another. Lawlessness only looks after self. And this leads us to a very important and consistent biblical theme for righteous living: whatever you have received from God, you must give to others.

You were set free, so do not oppress. You were forgiven, so forgive. You received mercy, so be merciful. You are loved, so love. 

God's justice flows from his goodness. As his goodness pours into our lives, his goodness must flow from us. This is how God wants us to live in society. 

His [Exodus 19]

My first visit to the Grand Canyon was a bit of a let down. I love our national parks, and I had built the GC up in my mind. It's one of those American places everyone has to see. I got there and realized that every viewpoint along the canyon's edge offered the same exact view. It's a big hole that looks the same from every view! After spending 10 minutes on the rim, I said to myself, "Now what?"

In our look at Exodus, the Israelites had  been set free from 430 years of Egyptian slavery. They had some incredible experiences through their miraculous extraction from Egypt. Now they were camped in the Sinai desert and were asking themselves, "Now what?"

God took the Israelites out of Egypt, and now he needed to take the Egypt out of the Israelites. For over four centuries, they did their master's bidding, living under their laws, influenced by their religion and culture. The probably looked more Egyptian than they did Hebrew. So the LORD led them to the base of the mountain to meet with is people.

To teach them.

To show them how to be his people again. 

[Read Exodus 19:4-6]

Notice God didn't say he brought them to the desert; he said, "I brought you to myself." We're always looking at the place we're in, but the place doesn't matter so much. Being with God is what matters! God rescued Israel to bring them to himself, not just to change their address to a better neighborhood. The Promised Land wasn't the point of the trip; a relationship with God was the point of the trip!

Like Israel, God wants to remind us that we belong to him. "You are my people, and I am your God. I love you. I value you. I cherish you. You are my beloved possession." When we choose relationship with God, we are adorned with his love! We must remember whose we are: we do not belong to ourselves, we do not belong to our nation, we do not  belong to what has enslaved us.

God met with Moses and the people to let them know they were under new management. With a new manager came a new identity. We need to know this: the enemy works tirelessly to compromise and destroy the image of God in us. He accuses, belittles, and judges. He gets inside our head to discourage, disqualify, disenfranchise, and disable. And we start to believe his lies. 

We label ourselves with his lies and pretend like we're just keeping it real. How about instead of keeping it real, we keep it True? We need to speak God's Truth into our lives; we need to speak God's Truth into each other's lives. We need our new identity in Christ!

In Exodus 20, Moses climbs the mountain of God, and he is given 10 simple rules for living as God's people. And it begins with a statement of possession: "I am the LORD your God;  you shall have no other gods before me." Not only does he rescue, but then he shows us how to live. He is a teacher. We don't have to guess our way through life, because he has shown us the way.

Father, thank you for taking us out of Egypt. Continue taking Egypt out of us.

Quibblers & Quitters [Exodus 12-17]

Moses knew the challenges of leading a tribe. If you lead 100 people, you have to deal with 100 minds full out countless emotions and ideas -- all while trying to hold it all together. Let me share just how complicated leadership can be with this [you'd think getting a lightbulb changed would be easy, right?]…

A pastor asks if someone can change a burned out lightbulb, and the suggestions started rolling in: "If God wanted the bulb changed, he'd do it himself." "The bulb doesn't need to be changed. We should pray for its healing." "Call the elders together to anoint it with oil and lay hands on it." "We need to cast out the spirit of darkness." Some conservatives said, "Don't even go into that hallway anymore. We should separate ourselves from all darkness" while progressives said, "We don't want to make the bulb feel unwanted or uncomfortable." Some warned that if we touch it, it could lead to dancing. The hippies said, "Far out, man", the business men suggested we form a committee, and the older folks said, "I remember the good ole days when a lightbulb lasted for 20 years." The rest of the bunch told the pastor to do it and reserved the right to complain about how he did it. One person said that a lightbulb had burned out in their last church, and it wasn't pretty, so they were leaving the church. And a handful of people were offended they didn't get their way and walked out. 

Meanwhile, we sit in the dark.

That's what it must have been like for Moses to lead the Israelites. Leaders will get frustrated, and they will have obstacles and opposition. They will often not feel up to the task, and they will want to walk away from time to time. But it is impossible to engage in God's work without challenge and opposition! Do we think the enemy is going to just sit back and accept our success?

Every member of the tribe of Jesus needs to ask themselves what kind of person they are to lead. We need to vow that we not make this journey about our personal pleasure and preferences. If we see the church and the LORD as a source for our personal pleasure, we will end up resenting the church and all those who didn't feed our need for pleasure. We end up living in constant hurt as we consult our feelings instead of consulting Jesus. 

We don't judge the Israelites for all their grumbling, because we're the same. I am too often fickle, feckless, and faithless.

Like the Israelites, we have selective memories. We romanticize the past, longing for the good ol' days, and we forget what God has already done. Nearly 200 times in scripture, we are told to 'remember'. We need to remember all that God has done for us!

Like the Israelites, we're short-sighted. All they could see was the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh's army behind them. We do the same thing. We panic with what's in front of our face, and we forget where we're going. We forget why we are a church and that we are the people of God who he is taking on a journey. Instead, we focus on what we want here and now. We need long distance vision!

Like the Israelites, we are more in tune with our feelings than Jesus. I filter my life through my feelings every day. That's normal...but we must learn to submit our feelings to God's truth. That takes work (discipline). We're so good at awful-izing. We feel a lot of deep emotions, but we have to know the truth!

You know what I love about the stories of all the grumbling of the Israelites? They grumbled about slavery, and God freed them. They grumbled about the Red Sea, and God made a way for them. They grumbled about bitter water, and God gave them sweetwater. They grumbled about being hungry, so God gave them their daily bread. They grumbled about being thirsty, and God caused water to flow from a rock. They grumbled about their enemies, and God gave them the victory. 

I'd have walked away from them.

But not God.

He heard their complaints and met their needs (even though he was slightly annoyed with them). 

Isn't he good?

May God bless our feeble efforts to walk together in love!

The Blood [Exodus 12]

The Jewish Torah says that 'life is in the blood' (Lev. 17:11). We, of course, know this now -- and that's why we give blood rather than practice blood-letting. God knew that our blood is life long before we did! Blood within us is life. Blood spilled is brutal and gruesome. From the earliest age, we know that blood is supposed to stay in us (no doubt the reason my children freak out when they see red). 

God created life-giving blood to flow through our veins, but we have chosen violence. Adam and Eve's own son was the first to draw another's blood, and the history of the world ever since has been violent. God himself met the violence of the world with violence when his Son Jesus bled out on the cross. Yes, spilled blood is gruesome, but in this case it is profoundly life-giving. 

Exodus 12 tells the story of the Passover. Below are a few things that stand out to me as I read it:

Cleansing: The people were told to use Hyssop to spread the blood on the doorposts for a reason. Hyssop was used for cleansing and purification purposes throughout history, and it is commonly referenced in the Old Testament in cleansing rituals. It even made an appearance -- not a coincidence -- at the crucifixion of Jesus when the Roman soldier offered Jesus a drink from a sponge attached to a branch of -- you guessed it -- hyssop. Their homes were their temples, and God wanted them cleansed. 

Covering: The home is a sacred place. Life and faith is nurtured there, and the blood on the doorposts marked each home for God's protection and covering. The LORD told Moses, "When I see the blood, I will pass over you." We are safe 'under the blood'. He is our covering. In the same way he provided skins of animals to cover Adam and Eve, the blood of Jesus covers our shame. 

Commemoration: Before the miracle of the Passover happened, God told his people to forever commemorate (remember) what he was going to do. The Passover has become an annual observance of God's provision. Jesus told us to do the same thing when he held the Passover meal with his disciples, breaking the matzah saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." We have to remember what God has done for us! Write those things down when you experience the presence of God in your life. We must remember who we are! We must remember Whose we are! We must remember what the LORD has done!

Cruelty: The first-born were struck dead that night in all the households where there was no covering. Some say this paints a cruel picture of God (we love to judge God). We get it backwards, though. It paints a cruel picture of humanity that has rebelled against God. We enslave. We kill. We destroy. We rebel. We refuse God. The Passover isn't about God's cruelty toward Egypt; it is about God's protection and provision for those who love and fear him. 

Yes, blood spilled is brutal and gruesome. That became all the more clear to us this week as a 40-year old man was accidentally shot just behind our home. But when we look at the blood of Jesus, all we see is love, love, love! Under the blood, we are cleansed and covered. This week has reminded me that we are continually confronted with the brutality of life lived outside of the will of God. 

Wouldn't it be good to embrace God's offer of saving grace through Jesus?

Let My People Go [Exodus 4-10]

I grew up hearing the stories of Lewis & Clark, Daniel Boone, Davey Crocket and other great pioneers of the American west who explored their way through the wilderness in search of new discovery. Early on, I learned the difference between settlers and pioneers -- those who homestead vs those who trailblaze. A settler has a calling to steward the land, while a pioneer explores it and follows unknown paths. 

Moses had settled for nearly 40 years working for his father-in-law Jethro. He was tending sheep and providing for his wife and children when God interrupted his settled life calling him to pioneer. In Exodus 4, we see Moses trying to break free of the cement of settled living. He was still shaken by 80 years of loss and disappointment, and he didn't want to go and do this thing God was calling him to. But rather than destroy Moses, God saved anyhow by accommodating Moses' weakness and providing Aaron to help him.

God's grace.

When Moses finally mustered enough courage to head back to Egypt, it didn't go to well for him. Pharaoh's immediate response was to tighten his grip on the Hebrew people, increasing their suffering. Moses thought it all backfired, and he blamed God for it all (Exodus 5:22-23). Despite Moses' accusations, God saved anyhow by making a way for him.

God's grace. 

The LORD is always way ahead of his people [you need to be encouraged by this!]. No person, no government, no king, no limitations, no fear can stand in the way of God accomplishing what He is determined to do. It's important for us to remember that where we are today is not where we will always be when we trust in God.

In Exodus 9, we see the LORD beginning to break Pharaoh's grip on God's people. These 'plagues' were not random acts but were a direct assault on the gods of Egypt by the One True God. Egyptian religion was rooted in Babylonian polytheistic rebellion, and this was a contest of wills. The plagues were strategic hits to shake Pharaoh's faith in his false gods. 

Let me show you what I mean [starting in Exodus 9]:

Plague of Nile Turning to Blood: this was a judgment against the Egyptian gods Apis & Isis, the god and goddess of the Nile and fertility. The Nile River was the lifeblood of Egypt and was believed to be the bloodstream of Osiris. 

Plague of Frogs: this was a judgment against the god Heqet, the frog-headed goddess of birth. Frogs were sacred to Egyptians, but now there were thousands of them piled up and rotting in the streets.

Plague of Lice/Gnats: this was a judgment against Set, the god of the desert, storms & violence. It's as if God was saying, "You've never seen a storm like this!"

Plague of Flies: this was a judgment against Uatchit, the fly goddess. She was also the god of papyrus (paper-making), so this was a judgment against Pharaoh's decrees.

Plague of the Death of Livestock: this was a judgment against the goddess Hathor and the god Apis, both depicted as bulls. Not only did this affect the Egyptian economy, but it was a direct hit at the Egyptian belief in reincarnation and the afterlife.

Plague of Boils: this was a judgment against the god Sekhemet, the god of plagues, destruction, and healing. Even Egypt's religious leaders were afflicted and powerless to appease their god and end their suffering. 

Plague of Hail & Fire: this was a judgment against the goddess Nut who was said to provide the protective covering over the earth. Hail and fire devastated the land and cities. 

Plague of Locusts: this was a judgment against Osiris, the god of death and the afterlife. With the wheat and rye crops decimated, famine and death would soon follow. 

Plague of Darkness: this was a judgment aimed right at Pharaoh himself! Pharaoh believed himself to be the reincarnation of Ra, the sun god. The reincarnation of the sun god was powerless to make the sun shine, and it terrified the people!

What do we learn from all this? Our weakness, our fear, our setbacks, and even our idols and false trust are powerless to stop the One True God. The LORD promises us that if we go with Him, He will go with us. 

He breaks chains, ends slavery, accommodates weakness, and equips us for the journey. He is already ahead of us, preparing the Way. 

Let go.

Follow.

A Life Interrupted [Exodus 3]

We have some pretty good kids. For the most part, they listen well...but there is one thing we need some help with: our kids are proficient interrupters. They don't hesitate to burst into any conversation with whatever 'urgent' thing is on their mind.

God reserves the right to interrupt, and that is exactly what he does in the life of Moses in Exodus 3. Here are some things we can learn from Moses' encounter with the Living God at the burning bush:

1] Moses was dealing with life-long disappointment [Exodus 3:1]. Keep in mind, Moses lived for 40 years as a prince of Egypt before running for his life to live 40 years working for his father-in-law as a shepherd. Moses had settled down, married, and had kids, but he had lost a lot. No longer a prince and orphaned from his Hebrew people, he faced a series of disappointments and saw his hopes and dreams for his people fade away. He wallowed in a sense of person failure for 40 years...until God interrupted. 

2] The LORD called Moses by name [Exodus 3:2-4]. The burning bush caught his attention. How can the Holy Spirit be in a bush and not consume it? How can the Holy Spirit be in Mary's womb and not consumer her? How can the Holy Spirit be in the church and not consume us? Because God performs a miracle which allows Him to come close to us without destroying us. As Moses walked closer, what he heard next stopped him in his tracks. He heard his name. For the first time in 400 years, God spoke and interrupted the silence by calling Moses by name. 

3] Moses met with God [Exodus 3:5-10]. He met a holy God who told him to take off his sandals. He met a compassionate God who had heard the cries of captive Israel. He met a providing God who wanted to lead the Hebrew people back to the Promised Land. He met an imminent God who had come very close. He met a personal God who knew Moses by name and called him to a special purpose. 

4] Moses got hung up on his own self-doubt [Exodus 3:11-15]. Moses responds to what the LORD said with a "...but who am I?..." Remember, he had carried loss his whole life. He had no successes to speak of. He didn't even own his own flocks and worked for his father-in-law. Yikes! But notice God didn't answer Moses' questions with a list of Moses' qualifications. The LORD answered his question with the LORD's qualifications! Because I AM! This will take place because I AM...and your faith in me will be all the proof you will need. 

While it seems like God was absent in Moses' life, the LORD was actually preparing Moses for this special purpose. For 40 years, Moses was trained in the ways of Egypt and the Pharaoh, and for 40 years Moses was trained in leading a herd through the desert. He knew how to talk to Pharaoh, how to find safe passage, how to deal with loneliness, and how to herd sheep that each want to go their own way. The final 40 years of his life, God led Moses into his calling! Moses had been prepared for this his entire life.

That's what God does!

Do we believe the LORD can take our loss, disappointment, history, highs & lows, failures & successes to prepare us for our calling? That's exactly what God did for Moses. Despite our loss and disappointment, God saves anyhow! Do we have the faith to believe God can use and redeem our disappointments to propel us into His mission and purpose?

That's what the interrupting God does. 

From Pauper to Prince [Exodus 2]

When our kids were toddlers, we had friends with a swimming pool. [Isn't it great to have friends with a swimming pool?] We were super cautious parents taking our kids into the pool. We put floats and vests all over them! They could have survived a hurricane on the open seas. Looking back, I'm fairly certain they never actually got wet...just floated on the surface. 

But Moses' mother made a basket of reeds and sent her son down river (a river which flowed to the sea and was filled with crocodiles). Why did she do it? She was so desperate to save her son who was going to die anyhow. God led her to the water. 

[Read Exodus 2]

Scripture teaches us that we are born into poverty (the Bible calls this 'sin'). Just like Moses, we are under the curse of death. As we trust in God, we pass through the waters (baptism) and arise out the other side sons and daughters of God. As I read again this story of Moses in his infancy, it reminded me of the importance of 'going through the waters' and Christian baptism.

1] It's in the water we are buried. [Romans 6:3, 6-7] Essentially, Moses' mom put a dead boy in the water. It was a burial, and her grief was deep and real. When we baptize believers, we immerse them in water. Why? Because it resembles burial. We are buried in Christ...

2] It's in the water we are cleansed. [Hebrews 10:22] My kids often argue whether or not they need a bath, but our noses tell us a different story! We often can smell our own stench. But when essence of your kids lingers behind after they leave, it's time to bathe. It's in the water our guilty conscience and bodies are washed. 

3] It's in the water we are adopted. [Galatians 3:27] I love this one. When we are baptized, we are united with Christ and given a new name and new identity as we are adopted as God's own. 

4] It is in the water we are resurrected. [Romans 6:3-5] Like Moses -- whose name means 'drawn up from the water' -- we are brought out of the water into new life. When we baptize, I always end with these words: "You are buried in Christ and raised into new life." When Moses came up out of the water, death was behind him. He was buried a pauper and raised a prince. 

5] It's in the water we are initiated. [1 Corinthians 12:13] Baptism connects us in committed relationship to the local church and makes us part of the Eternal Church (One Body). Baptism immerses the individual into the community of Christ. You become us.

6] It's in the water we are equipped. [Acts 2:38] Yes, there's a promise of forgiveness, but there's also a promise for the gift of the Holy Spirit who fills us and equips us, which leads to my final point...

7] It's in the water we are ordained. [Mark 1] Jesus wasn't baptized for cleansing or forgiveness; he was baptized to be released into his ministry! When we come up out of the water -- just like Moses -- God sends us out to serve him!

For whatever the reason, Jesus connects our trust in him with the need for baptism. Being washed is important to Jesus (John 13; Mark 16:15-16). Baptism is our confession, and Jesus tells us "Whoever confesses me before men, I will also confess him before my Father" (Matthew 10:32). Max Lucado said, "Baptism separates the tire kickers from the car buyers."

While we don't believe baptism saves you, we do believe trusting Jesus does. And he says going into the water is very important. God is calling us out of death, and He has made a way for our salvation. 

And that is some pretty good news. 

Exodus

I was 16 year old the first time I went to summer camp. I didn't want to go, but by the end of the week, I didn't want to come home. It was an amazing experience, and I wanted to stay there forever. Peter, James, and John had a similar experience when Jesus took them up on the mountain to meet with Elijah and Moses. Peter offered to pitch a few tents so they could linger a little longer. 

That might be what happened to Israel when they went to Egypt to escape famine in Canaan. Seventy Israelites went to Egypt and liked it there. In fact, they prospered there...and never left (kinda like the in-laws who come for a visit and eventually move into the spare room). At first, the Egyptians welcomed them, but after hundreds of years and the Hebrew population boom, the Pharaoh's began resenting then fearing then hating their presence. Their resentment eventually led to genocide. [You can read about that in Exodus 1.]

This part of the story of Israel doesn't get told much. Why did Israel get stuck in Egypt for 430 years? Maybe it was easier to stay than go. 

They got stuck. Egyptian life was so much better than where they had come from. While in Egypt, they had no enemies to contend with, and they prospered there in a strong economy. It was easier for them to carve out a life in Egypt than fight their way back across the desert to reclaim Canaan. We get stuck, too, bogged down by circumstances and crisis and careers. Sometimes we are so focused on surviving that we lose sight of thriving. It's hard to move forward. It's easier to stay put. 

The enemy always tries to cut us off from the promise. Pharaoh didn't invent infanticide. The male child was always under threat in scripture, particularly those who carry the image of God as people of the Covenant. Satan wants to devour those who belong to God so that he can cut off the Covenant. That's exactly what was happening when Pharaoh ordered the death of all Hebrew boys. 

Whereas Genesis ends in crisis, Exodus begins with promise! Genesis tells us how we got into this mess; Exodus tells us how God rescues us. In Exodus, God sets us free!

Here's the message of the mess in Exodus chapter one: God saves anyhow. Israel got into their mess because they desired where they were more than where they were meant to be. They got bogged down and enslaved by the Egyptian lifestyle, eventually to be enslaved by Pharaoh himself. And it was killing them. 

But God saved them anyhow.

It's what He does.

[Psalm 40:1-11]

The Whisperer

Following the death of Solomon, Israel spent many years floundering with a series of mediocre and wicked kings. One particularly bad dude was named Ahab, and as bad as he was, his wife Jezebel was even worse. During this time, God raised up a prophet by the name of Elijah to call Israel back to the Lord. He secured some incredible victories along the way, including the Mount Carmel event -- a must read [1 Kings 18].

Elijah was fearless in chapter 18. Then we read chapter 19. 

When Jezebel found out what had happened on Mount Carmel, she made a death threat against Elijah that sent him running. Elijah wasn't afraid of Ahab or the wicked seers of Baal, but Jezebel got to him. She got in his head, and it lead him on a journey of self-doubt and fear. He was so depressed that he wanted to fall asleep and not wake up again. 

An angel showed up and made him some bread (the original angel food cake), giving him the strength to walk from Judah to Mount Horeb (also known as Mt. Sinai -- the place where Moses met with God!). It was in that special place that the Lord 'passed by'...

There was a terrific wind, a violent earthquake, and a consuming fire...but God didn't show up in any of these forces of nature that usually accompany the presence of God [Revelation 20:11, Job 9:6, Hebrews 12:19]. The Lord, instead, spoke through a whisper. It's really interesting to me that God chose to meet Elijah in the whisper, not in the fury, or chaos, or violent forces of nature.  God carried a big stick but spoke softly.

Elijah was in the middle of tremendous torment. We call it the 'battle of the mind'. He was crippled by fear and manipulated by an enemy that wanted him dead. He was overwhelmed by his own limitations and perceived inadequacies, and it consumed him. Why does the enemy consume us with fear? To keep us from being the kind of parent and partner He has called us to be, to keep us from serving God fully, to squash and destroy the purpose of God for your life. He strategy is to keep you distracted, fearful, condemned. 

I was in my head earlier in the week, sitting on the couch in our living room, probably staring out the window. Coming from his room, my seven year old son stood in front of me and said, "Daddy, fear is a liar." Now I know he was quoting the popular Zach Williams song getting a lot of play on Christian radio at the moment (and he had no idea what was going on in my head), but the Holy Spirit spoke through him to me at that moment. 

God knew what Elijah needed: the voice of the Whisperer -- not violence. Why did God meet Elijah this way? Because He wanted to restore him, renew his mind, tune his ears to His voice, and redirect him back to his mission & calling. The whisper of God can drown out the screaming accusation of the enemy. 

So let's run TO God and know His voice. He is the God who restores. 

Essentials: Forbearance

Alternatively, you could call this message "How to Put Up with Those Who Annoy You in the Church". "Forbearance" is cleaner though, so I'll go with that. Paul always seems to spend a portion of his letters dealing with the in-house drama of each church. We need these reminders in order for us to keep our focus on what's really important.

Let's dig in and see what we can learn so that we can be better together when the inevitable conflict comes:

[Romans 14:1-6] These may seem silly to us, but they were real controversies in the early church. I had never met a vegetarian until I was in college. Where I grew up in the midwest, everyone was a meat-eater unless they were a spoiled child or part of the 'fringe population'. I thought a vegetarian was someone who ate the animals who ate vegetables. These days, vegetarianism & veganism are more mainstream -- but the opinions are still strong. The early church also struggled with when to meet for worship. Saturday? Sunday? What about the Jewish feast days?

I wonder why we get hung up on non-essentials like this? Most likely, it's because we insist that the things that are important to me MUST be important to everyone else. Here's the thing: we can come up with thousands of reasons to not be together, but there's one really big reason for us to be together: Jesus. 

[Romans 14:7-12] Paul reminds us of the reason why we live (hint: it's not for ourselves or our over-inflated view of our own opinions). We live for Jesus. "Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord." Knowing this keeps us from acting with hostility toward those with whom we disagree. 

Out of curiosity, I watched the recent reboot of the TV show 'Rosanne'. I was amused to see that the first episode addressed the family split between Rosanne (a Trump supporter) and her sister Jackie (a self-proclaimed 'nasty woman' who voted for Jill Stein). Producers did a great job capturing the conflict of our times while integrating a (sort-of) story of reconciliation into the episode. 

I dream of a church of political diversity, rednecks and high-techs, various cultures and races, the old and the young, people for whom nothing matters more than following Jesus while all other considerations are of secondary importance. 

[Romans 14:13-18] Honestly, these verses have helped me focus on what is most important as a pastor. We all have people in our life that enjoy playing the role of perpetual irritant. Too many times, people use their platforms and relationships to irritate and inflame. Paul tells us we won't do this to the people we love -- even if we 'feel strongly' about our opinions on these disputable matters. 

How can I serve the people that I can have serious disagreements with at times? How do we practice oneness in the church in an era when people seem willing to walk away from each other over trivial disagreements? When our 'god' is what we eat, our personal opinions, or our politics, we will be zealous for that 'god'. It tells us a lot about what we are living for. If we'd put as much life and energy into the Gospel as we do our politics, we'd turn the world upside down!

[Romans 14:19-5:4] If we are in Christ, we will not be willing to destroy the work of God because of our personal preferences. If we love one another, we will avoid the opportunity to insult or tear down those who disagree with us on disputable matters. The word is 'forbearance' (to bear with those who you think are weak in their opinions). 

We will not build a church on our personal causes of justice, our strongly held opinions, or our individual biases. We will be a diverse church; we are a diverse church. We will instead hold tightly to the essentials and build on Jesus and the ancient words of Truth from God's Word. 

Take a look at Romans 15:5-6 to wrap this all up. The evidence of the Holy Spirit's work among us isn't that we all have the same opinions and eat hamburgers. It's that we can be diverse (like the Roman church was) and still be united in Christ. I confess there have been many times I've given up on this idea of 'one mind and one voice' in the church...but this little church on Wax Road gives me hope.

The miracle isn't sameness. It's oneness. 

And oneness (unity) in Christ is needed now more than ever.

Essentials: Sincere Love

George Burns said, "Sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you've got it made." It's hard to tell the difference between sincerity and insincerity, isn't it? In Romans 12:9-21, Paul tells us that love must be 'sincere'. But what does that mean? Does it mean you just really, really mean it? That you feel it deeply from the bottom of your heart?

The word 'sincere' literally means 'without wax'. In pottery making, there's a practice of hiding cracks and flaws in cheap pottery with wax in order to make the piece appear worth more than it actually is. Products without wax were stamped with 'sine cera' on the bottom to show it had not been doctored. 

In Romans 12, Paul tells us what sincere love looks like, the kind of love God has shown to us to rescue us from the wilderness of this world. Here's what it looks like:

1] It loves what is good (12:21). And how do we know what is good? God shows us. Scripture teaches us that in the latter days, it will be difficult to spot the difference between good and evil, so we need to pay close attention to what God tells us in the Bible so we can know the difference -- and do it. If we are possessed by God's love, we will want to do good. Insincere and unreliable love looks after self -- which has its dark effects on others. Sincere love gives and doesn't indulge self. The selfishness of others has never rescued me.

2] It loves those who need it from you (12:10, 13, 15-16). Later in chapter 13, Paul writes about the 'debt of love we owe' because of Jesus. We owe our families our sincere love. We owe the community of believers our love. We owe those who God has put into our lives our love. We are indebted to God for what He has done for us, and the payment on that debt is how we love others. It follows in the footsteps of Jesus and calls us into sacrificial, transformed living and loving. Love like you are indebted to God. 

3] It loves well when you have not been loved well (12:14, 17-20). Check out the words of Jesus in Luke 6:27-36 (and read it slowly, pausing on the implications of each phrase). This is the hardest part of sincere love. We all have stories of not being treated well -- and Jesus is right there with us. And yet he is explicitly clear on how we are to treat those who hurt us. Hint: it's the same way we were treated when we were enemies of God (Romans 5:10). 

Sincere love -- interestingly -- looks like how God loves us. And since God is love, He gets to define what it is: 1) It does the will of God (like Jesus), 2) it loves those who need it (like Jesus), and 3) it even loves the enemy (just like Jesus). Compare that with the fluffy, feely kind of love we tend to look for, and see for yourself what measures up in its sincerity. 

Love what is good. Love those who need it from you. And love well even when you have not been loved well.

That's the kind of love that has saved my life. Watch what happens when we begin to love like this!

Easter Sunday 2018

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Our little, living church felt a little bigger as we came together for worship on Resurrection Day 2018 (April 1st). Thank you to ALL who worked so hard throughout the week to prepare for our Love Feast, our Easter Breakfast, and our Resurrection worship. So many people did their part to make our annual celebrations so good.

A Celebration of Fools

Sunday was Resurrection Sunday, our annual celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ! It also happened to fall on April Fool's Day this year, so I couldn't resist bringing the two occasions together as we read 1 Corinthians 4:9-13.

There's something in me that has always embraced April Fool's Day. I own it. It's as though I've been given permission to prank, gag, and kid around for my own personal enjoyment. I thoroughly enjoy practical jokes. On April Fool's Day in 1957, the BBC did a feature program on their show "Panorama" with covered the story of Swiss women harvesting spaghetti from trees and drying the pasta in the sun. The public bought it, and the BBC was inundated with phone calls from the public wanting to know where they could buy their own spaghetti tree and how to plant it. 

But April 1st this year was also Resurrection Sunday. Christians have for a very long time been considered foolish for their belief in Jesus, particularly the cross and resurrection. But Paul embraced the title "Fool". He wasn't insulted by such accusations but was instead willing to cope with looking foolish for Christ. I think to follow Jesus, we have to embrace how foolish it seems to those who do not believe.

Let me explain why I think following Jesus looks so foolish to others:

1] It seems foolish because it is unnatural. Turn the other cheek? Love those who hate you? Do good to your enemy? It seems almost everything Jesus taught us counters what is acceptable in society. It's an unnatural approach to life guided by instincts. Add to that the surrender of the cross, healing the sick, and the resurrection, and Jesus is a mixed bag of very unnatural things. 

2] It seems foolish because the majority reject it. Some say belief in Jesus is unreasonable; some say it's insane and want it diagnosed as a mental illness. The teachings of Jesus are always different from the prevailing opinions and philosophies of the time, and scholars (and others) have always tried to poke holes in Jesus. [1 Corinthians 1:21-24] Go ahead, though. Poke. Prod. Examine. Test. Genuinely search for Truth. Many before us have come to Jesus through reason and a genuine search. Our reason can bring us to Jesus, but we will still have to be foolish enough to then embrace him and follow him. Jesus knew he would be rejected, and he told us we would be rejected, too (and we don't like that idea very much). Jesus always challenges the prevailing wind of the day, so we can expect some level of rejection along the way.

3] It seems foolish because it looks weak. Paul didn't always embrace weakness. He was formerly a Pharisee (a persecuting, zealous & arrogant Pharisee) who was hell-bent on annihilating those he opposed. But then he met the risen Christ and was immediately weakened by the encounter. After he met Jesus, he realized just how weak he really was. It's tough to admit our need for something or someone...but that's a starting point for our relationship with Jesus. We need him. I need him...and if that makes me weak, then I guess I can admit it. 

Believing God and trusting Jesus makes so much more sense when we accept and embrace the foolishness of it all, and I'd rather look foolish in the eyes of those who scoff than I would in the eyes of my Father. 

So here's my Easter confession: I am a stooge, buffoon, clown, idiot, & moron; a nitwit, dimwit, and nincompoop; I am 'one of those suckers born every minute', a bonehead, a clod and dunderhead; I am an ignoramus, imbecile, and simpleton.

And I am in good company.

Christ is risen!

Resurrection Sunday @ CCC

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RESURRECTION SUNDAY at Covington Community Church begins with breakfast at 9am! Come and share a meal before our Discovery Study of Daniel at 10am followed by worship at 11am! Following worship, we'll have a creative activity for the kids (and some goodies for them to take home with them). Come and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus THIS SUNDAY!

Essentials: Transformation

When I go to the hospital sick, I want to walk out those doors on a path toward health. Transformation is a gift. I thank God he doesn't lead us where he found us. We do not have to stay where we've been; that place of brokenness and slavery does not have to hold you forever. 

Being 'transformed' literally means to go beyond your current form. For the believer who trusts in Jesus, we believe God takes us on a journey of transformation. It can be a slow journey, but remember: it only takes 13 hours to build a Toyota, but it takes 6 months to build a Rolls. 

In Romans 12:1-8, Paul uses the phrase 'in view of God's mercy'. God's mercy is a transformative agent. His mercy moves us from where we were to where he wants us to be. Paul wrote about at least three things that are changed (transformed) by the mercy of God:

1] God's mercy transforms how we worship (verse 1). We no longer see our worship as the hour or two we spend 'in church' but instead focus on the life we live 'in Christ'. How we live becomes our worship, In other words, how we live points to Jesus. 

2] God's mercy transforms how we live (verse 2). Paul makes a contrast between being shaped b the natural world we were born into and the life shaped by Jesus who we are re-born into. As God's mercy transforms our mind, we will find both how we think and how we feel being changed. A renewed mind helps us to be able to discern the will of God and renews our commitment to following Jesus. Everything in our lives gets transformed in our relationship with Jesus -- and it all gets infused with his purpose. 

3] God's mercy transforms our community (verse 3-8). How? Because the mercy of God changes the way you see ourselves and others. When we are changed, our community will change! The mercy of God puts your life in proper perspective (no more arrogance as you learn to prefer one another out of love) and teaches you that you are part of something bigger than yourself (the Body of Christ). When you have been transformed by God's mercy, you'll begin to see yourself, others, and your community differently.

The journey of transformation is a life-changing gift from God. We are not trapped in yesterday. We're not stuck in hopelessness. Life can be renewed, and our state of mind can be transformed. 

Essentials: Consider

The owner of a photo studio told the story of a college kid who wanted a copy of the framed glamour shot given to him by his girlfriend. When he took the picture out of its frame to make the copy, he noticed this inscription on the back: "My dearest John. I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you forever. I am yours for all eternity." It was signed by her and continued with this PS: "If we ever break up, I want this picture back."

Fickle love. 

When we read Romans 11, we see just how fickle Israel's love for God was. If we're honest, we're fickle, too, and that's why Paul tells us not to judge Israel to harshly. When I read the chapter, I kept getting hung up on verse 22: 'Consider the sternness and kindness of God..." So I considered it.

The Lord called a community of people (who were later called Israel) to live in a special relationship with Him. These people would be a light to the world as they trusted in the One True God and lived by faith. God chose to bless these people, but they didn't always return the favor. The Old Testament is full of stories of their faithfulness and faithlessness. There is one point in their story that the prophet Elijah asked God to do away with them all because they turned away from God in favor of the human-eating fertility god Baal.

But God found a remnant -- a small group of faithful people who had not abandoned Him. In Paul's letter to Roman Christians, he tells us that there will always be people who claim to belong to God but who essentially reject everything the Lord has said to them. It was an on-going problem. It was Israel's problem (read Isaiah 5:1-7), and Jesus said it is our problem, too (read John 15:1-9).

We have the same choice Israel had. Are we going to be a community that belongs to Jesus or not? 

We need to consider both the sternness and kindness of God. Considering the sternness of God keeps us from making a lot of foolish choices that lead us away from Jesus. But considering the kindness of God brings us home again when we do. The Old Testament isn't just full of the stories of Israel's failure, but of God's mercy to welcome them back when they realized how far they had fallen. 

Romans 11, Isaiah 5, and John 15 all tell us that the branch that does not remain faithful to God (and becomes unfruitful) will be snipped off. But Paul reminds us that we can be grafted in again when we come home. I wonder if the prodigal son would have returned home if he thought he was going to get a royal beat down? He knew his father's heart.

Mercy.

I think both the sternness of God and kindness of God are both a blessing -- because both let us know we are loved.