A Community of Burden Bearers .:. Borne Identity

This sermon was preached at the Church in Waldo.
You can find the recording here, or read the manuscript below:

“The fruit of the Spirit is… gentleness.” [Galatians 5:22-23]

Father, open our hearts now by the power of your Holy Spirit, that we would become gentle and meek like your Son Jesus. Destroy our arrogance; dissolve our pride; melt our eyes to tears and our souls to love, we ask in the blessed name of our Savior, Amen.

Do a quick search of what makes for a good leader and you’ll find a number of traits, including: determination, integrity, an individual who is decisive yet driven by a powerful sense of vision, a compelling communicator, someone who remains positive amidst difficulty, but of all the high profile leadership blogs that I searched this past week, none of them thought to include this trait: gentleness.

Even when I think about christianity and the various conversations I’ve had with others about it, how often do we highlight the quality of gentleness? That’s not typically our lead in. Not really our starting place, is it? We’ll talk about how God’s spirit makes us bold, how God takes away our guilt and shame, how there’s freedom and hope and life in the name of Jesus, but…gentleness?

I can’t think of a single conference—let alone a single conversation with anyone—where the focus of that time was on becoming a more gentle person, and yet, God’s Word has so much to say about the absolute necessity of this trait in a number of different situations.

Here are just a few:
Proverbs 15:1 says “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” And isn’t that so true? When you’re in an argument (I’m sorry, I mean, when you’re having a “mild disagreement”), the absolute worst thing you can do is raise your voice or rip someone up with your words. A harsh words stirs up anger, but responding with gentleness has a positive effect.

1 Peter 3:4 and 7 describe the need for gentleness in marriage: that wives need to nurture a gentle spirit toward their husbands and that husbands need to be mindful of how their wives are wired and be gentle toward them, handling them like fine china because they are to be treasured, it says. Then it continues that those who don’t do this will have their prayers hindered. That means a lack of gentleness not only affects your relationships with people, but it also affects your relationship with God too.

Eph 4:2 tells us that in order to maintain unity within our church family, we need to “be completely humble and gentle; patient, and bearing with one another in love.”

So be gentle toward those inside the family of God, but don’t stop there. Listen to 1 Peter 3:15…“Revere Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect.”

Isn’t it amazing that the study of apologetics is built on this verse (that is, “always be prepared to give an answer for the reason for the hope in you” but completely dismiss that last part: do this with gentleness and respect. Totally different interpretation.

And on top of this, the surrounding verses here describe suffering unjustly—being wrongly accused of things you didn’t do and suffering silently within that situation rather than retaliating—and how that provides you an opportunity to give an answer for the hope within you. We follow a Savior who suffered silently, why? Because he entrusted himself to God).

Be gentle in your responses toward those who do not believe. Don’t bash them with apologetics, but respond with truth in love. Not with truth as if it’s love.

Gentleness with our words, gentleness in our marriages, gentleness in our relationships with those who believe AND don’t believe in Jesus. But wait, there’s more! You won’t believe what’s next!

In 1 Tim 3:3, gentleness is listed as a qualification for church leadership, meaning, in the church, if a person is not characterized as gentle, they have no place being a leader, at all. 2 Tim 2:24-25 not only affirms this, but raises the bar. It says that when even a pastor is opposed by others, he must still be able to respond gently. Even opponents deserve gentleness.

Then Titus 3:2 summarizes all we’ve read so far when it says this: “…always be gentle to everyone.” In every situation, in every relationship, circumstance, authority and rule—really, in whatever context you find yourself in…always. be gentle. to everyone.

That’s the scope of gentleness. And can you imagine: what would the church look like if we desired gentleness as much as God desires it for us?

Turn with me to Galatians chapter 6. Galatians 6, and as we work through verses 1-5 a piece at a time, we’ll see what gentleness is, what it does, where it comes from and why we so desperately need it (what gentleness is, what it does, where it comes from and why we all so desperately need it). Now reading from Galatians 6:1-5, starting with v1.

1 Brothers and sisters, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load.

Doesn’t your heart yearn to be in a place like this where we all mutually bear each other’s burdens? …where brothers and sisters sought out restoration for one another—not in a spirit of condemnation or judgment, but one of gentleness? where we stopped calling people out on their sin, but began to call people out from their sin? Rather than adding to the burden of others, what if we began to lighten the load?

As one American President put it: “In the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame, but rather: how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better… We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us.” [Barack Obama]

And in the words of Jesus, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” [Matthew 22:39]

What might the world say about the church if we became known for gentleness?

So what is gentleness and how do we grow in it?

The word Paul uses for gentleness in our passage is a very particular greek word that Aristotle himself describes as “the ability to bear reproaches and slights with moderation, not to embark on revenge quickly and not to be easily provoked to anger, but to be free from bitterness and contentiousness, having tranquility and stability in spirit.”

It’s power under control, only displaying strength “on the right grounds, toward the right people, in the right manner, at the right moment, and for the right length of time.”

A Brahmin—which is a member of the highest class in India—had taken time to observe a Christian missionary over a number of years. One day as they sat down over a cup of tea, he compared the missionary to a mango tree. All of its branches hang with fruit, but it’s assailed with stones and clubs by those who pass by.

How does the tree respond? By dropping its fruit with every blow at the feet of those who beat it. And at the close of the season, it stands scarred and battered, its leaves torn off, its branches broken. But the next year, it bears more fruit than the previous one.

That is what our gentleness should do in the world—like trees planted by rivers of water—Psalm 1 says—bearing fruit in their season because we’re rooted and grounded in God, not trying to conserve ourselves but willingly dropping the fruit we produce for the good of others, despite whatever attack of cruel words and actions.

Gentleness is about how we relate to others. According to Galatians, Paul describes Gentleness as powerful. It’s life-changing: it has the teeth to transform situations, the love to lift burdens, the rigor to right wrongs and destroy strongholds that are destroying the lives of those around you. Gentleness is serious business and it’s time we finally saw it as such.

Since gentleness is a “fruit of the Spirit,” and the Spirit of God has been placed inside all who believe in Jesus, then it’s possible to grow in gentleness. But how?

Gentleness grows from
a realistic view of our own condition
and an empathetic view of another’s situation.

A little bit of context: the apostle Paul is writing to the christians in Galatia. It’s just 15 years out from when Jesus was on the scene, and already, things have begun to go terribly wrong.

There was a group of people—the Judaizers—who were saying to the other christians, “Hey, unless you do these things like us, you’re not really followers of Jesus. Just believing in Jesus isn’t enough, you also have to keep these parts of the law too,” and it was causing not only division, but leading many people to stumble.

There were feelings of superiority and inferiority building up too. “Oh, you haven’t done these other things like circumcision and keeping the ceremonial laws? Well then, I guess you don’t really love God as much as we do.”

Have you ever compared yourself with someone else, whether it was arrogance because you were further along in an area, or envy because they were further along than you? Did you know that both stem from the same underlying thing?

Gal. 5:26, the verse right before our passage, says this: 26 Let us not become conceited: provoking one another, envying one another.

Whether provoking others from a place of superiority, or envying others from a place of inferiority, both oppose gentleness because both stem from conceit.

This word for conceited, in the greek, is a compound word made up of two words—kenos and dosa (which mean “empty” and “glory,” respectively). This compound word then means “emptiness of worth” or glory. The crazy thing is: when you feel like you aren’t valuable, it’ll drive you to do two things: either try to cover up that emptiness (with all sorts of success and accolades and fame), OR play the victim (write a bunch of angsty teen poetry, and throw a pity party wishing you had this or that). Paul says don’t provoke from superiority, and don’t envy from inferiority.

Conceit—pride—is an inflated sense of worth that stems from deflation—from a void of glory—within. It’s this vacuum deep inside our souls that tries to suck up all the glory in the room to cover up the “nothing.” But gentleness grows from a realistic view of ourselves, not an inflated or deflated one. So, enter Paul in Gal 6:3 when he says…If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Paul is reminding them of who they all are in and of themselves. “Stop trying to be something, when you are really nothing.” The Judaizers felt they were something because of what they’d done, but other christians felt they were second-class because of what they hadn’t done, but Paul says, “Stop thinking you’re something—you’re deceived. Reall, you’re nothing.”

Now wait. We’re nothing? That doesn’t seem very nice, but you’ve got to know the guy writing this. In three places, Paul says something progressively more and more remarkable. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul refers to himself as “the least of all the apostles.” There were 12 other apostles, but Paul says, “of all of them, I’m the least something.”

A few years later, Paul writes in Ephesians 3 that he’s “the least of all the saints.” It’s like he realizes, “Wait a second. I thought I was nothing before, but I still thought I was something. Here we go. Now, I realize I’m the lowest christian there ever was.”

But then, in his letter to Timothy, toward the end of his years of ministry, Paul says this about himself in I Tim 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” He’s saying, “I’m not just a nothing apostle, I’m not even a nothing christian. No more posturing, no more pretense or pretending I’m something on my own at all. I am nothing.”

Paul’s not a guy who walked around depressed or with a death wish, but he had a boldness that I doubt you could find in more than a handful of people in any century since. Even that’s generous. Paul’s understanding that he was nothing in and of himself, led to a freedom from that internal empty-glory-vacuum that influences so many of us.

You get laid off, or can’t find a job, or are forced into retirement… how difficult it is to respond gently toward others? We often wrap our worth up within our jobs, our families, our kids, our status, our wealth, etc. Strip any of those away… if you feel that inner stability disappear, it’s likely you’ve been covering up the feeling of nothingness by thinking you’re something because of this or that thing.

But until we have a realistic perspective of our own condition, we will never really grow in gentleness… it’ll be a counterfeit growing in the soil of our souls. When difficulty comes, it strips away what’s on the outside to reveal if it’s real or just veneer.

Gal. 5:26, don’t provoke or envy. Why? Because it reveals if conceit is consuming you. Comparison stems from conceit, but Gentleness grows from a proper perspective that isn’t built on what others look like.

Gal. 6:4 says: “test your own work so the only reason you boast is in yourself and not in your neighbor.” Let me briefly explain this one. The Judaizers and other christians were comparing. You had the Judaizers saying, “Look at us. We don’t just believe in Jesus, but we also do x,y,z, therefore, we’re better than Lucy, better than James, better than John, and Phillis, and Troy.”

Do you ever compare with others? “I may be bad, but look at them. I know I cheated, but so did he.” Who’s your standard? If your standard is other people, sure, maybe you’re better than him or her, but is that really the standard we’re called to?

Paul says, “Stop comparing. You will one day answer for yourselves—v5—so instead of saying “I’m something because she’s nothing, learn to gain a proper perspective of who you are that isn’t built on the backs of other people.”

Because, how can we possibly bear one another’s burdens (like v2 tells us to), if we’re constantly trying to prove how tall we are by standing on top of other people?

Gentleness grows from a realistic view of our own condition,
but also from an empathetic view of another’s situation.

I remember being over a friend’s house once. We wanted some candy, but his mom said we had to wait till after dinner. But there was just one problem: we wanted candy now. And she knew it, so she set us up. I’m not even kidding.

We were downstairs playing, when out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something… an MandM bounced down the stairs to the shag carpet floor. Curious. So my friend and I went over and noticed a trail of candy had formed which led from the basement to the kitchen, so we followed it. And when we got there, we couldn’t believe our eyes.

Just sitting there, on the kitchen counter, was a King Size snickers bar.

His mom said we had to wait till after dinner, but we wanted candy right now. So we went to grab it. And at that moment, His mom jumped out from the other room and said, “CAUGHT YOU! I KNEW YOU TWO WOULDN’T LISTEN.”

Now, I’ve made some parenting mistakes in my time—such as using my poor kids as sermon illustrations on a fairly regular basis, but my goodness, that moment scarred me. “CAUGHT YOU.”

I’m an adult now and still to this day, I feel the shame of those words when I eat a candy bar. Look at v1…1 If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.

If anyone is caught in any transgression (a word that simply means trespass. If someone does or goes or is somewhere or is some way that is contrary to what’s permitted, and they are caught), what’s the proper response? restore—not call out—restore them in a spirit of gentleness.

Then it continues: “And keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”

Gentleness grows from an empathetic view of another’s situation,
through a realistic view of our own condition.

They were caught. Caught doing something they shouldn’t. But what’s our model of gently restoring them? Is it to jump out from the other room saying, “Aha! I CAUGHT you!” or is it to recognize, “Hm, I remember what it was like to be caught in the trap of my own sin. I remember what that felt like. I remember the pain and embarrassment and shame that already consumed me in that moment. I wish someone was gentle toward me…”

Approach someone caught in sin with that view, and it’ll transform how you respond. Because Gentleness grows a realistic view of our own condition, which leads to an empathetic view of another’s situation.

How do you restore someone gently? By doing what v2 says…Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

You know what it’s like to carry a heavy burden, don’t you? You know what it’s like to carry the guilt and shame of having done something you shouldn’t, or just wanting the relief of being caught because at least then you wouldn’t have to bear that weight any more! You know what that’s like… from that place of empathy and understanding, bear the burdens of others as a means of gently restoring them to fullness.

The Christian walk isn’t stagnant; it’s a journey. And there are burdens that we each must bear, but at times, we can offer to carry the burdens of another till they are strengthened and able to bear it themselves. One way that we bear those burdens, Paul says, is by restoring someone caught in sin through gentleness.

And you know it’s gentleness if you are aware not only of their situation, but mindful of your own condition, “keeping watch on yourself lest you too be tempted,” he says, as you “bear the burdens of others.”

Now, pause. V2 says bear burdens, but then v5 jumps in and tells us that: “each will bear their own load.” That seems a bit contradictory, don’t you think? But watch how Paul links these two seemingly paradoxical ideas in a very powerful way.

He starts by saying “in a spirit of gentleness, bear the burdens of others.” Then v3-4 are like Paul writing out his thought process of, “Hm…what keeps us from being gentle and bearing the burdens of others? Oh, it’s because we’re not gentle, we’re prideful…

We’re arrogant because we think we’re something more than we are (v3). We’re like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 who prays “Thank God I’m not this other man.” What cures this? v4—Looking at our own sin. No more comparing. We need to realize the weight of our own sin, that one day when we stand before God, we’re going to have to answer for that load ourselves…that’ll help us learn to be gentle and bear the burdens of others.”

That’s how Paul connects the two. The fruit of Gentleness is produced in the life of a person—who recognizes their own propensity to sin, and has seen and realized that burden has been borne by Someone else too. Look how Paul says it in v2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

It says bearing burdens is fulfilling “the law of Christ” because Jesus is the Chief burden bearer, and all who follow him become burden bearers as well. You know why he could bear the burdens of others in gentleness? Hebrews 4:15-16 tells us that Jesus is able to empathize with our weaknesses, because he “has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet he did not sin.

Jesus can bear your burdens because he knows what it’s like to be in your shoes. This is a huge statement. Though Jesus never gave into sin, he was still tempted in every way possible, just like us. Now don’t just rush past this incredible statement—we really need to think through the implications of such a declaration.

It says Jesus was tempted in every way possible. He experienced firsthand what it was like to want to do something that God the Father said NO to. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Jesus was tempted to cut corners—to bypass the pain of the cross for the glory of the resurrection. Jesus was tempted to take matters into his own hands.

If he was tempted in every way that we are, I imagine he was tempted hold a grudge. I mean, would you blame him? He walked 3 and a half years with 12 friends that he hand-picked, but one sold him, another denied they even knew each other, another doubted him, and all except one completely bailed on him in his darkest hour. I know he didn’t hold a grudge but if Jesus was tempted in every way possible then he certainly must’ve experienced the torn-ness that we all feel at times when we want to do the right thing but the wrong thing looks far more appetizing.

If Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, isn’t it possible he experienced feelings of same-sex attraction? Or perhaps there were times where Jesus felt as though he was a woman trapped in a man’s body. This may seem like conjecture, but I believe I’m being faithful to the meaning of the text here: if Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, and Jesus created not just the sun and the moon but also mankind, maybe he was tempted to, you know, do a little reconstructive surgery.

I mean, if Jesus spit on the ground so he could put mud on the eyes of a blind man and give him sight, then isn’t this at least possible?

Hebrews 4:14-15 seems to indicate Jesus experienced every temptation that humanity does, yet he remained without sin. And it was his awareness of experiencing temptation just like that which allows Hebrews 4:16 to close with this: “Therefore, let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Jesus is the ultimate burden bearer…because he knows what it’s like to feel the weight of whatever it is you’re feeling. He put on skin and bone to get close enough to see you through the eyes of empathy, to become familiar with our condition, so he could truly restore us in the spirit of gentleness. Jesus is the ultimate burden bearer.

I had my first teaching job about 10 years ago where I taught elementary and middle school music. One day while I was on my way to work, I noticed someone out of the corner of my eye. It was a homeless man, holding up a sign that said, “Help.”

But unlike the good samaritan, I didn’t stop… I was running late, I had things to do, I was too busy. But later, his eyes… they were seared in my mind and finally my heart broke for him. My heart broke over my own unwillingness to realize that I too was once standing on the corner, if you will, looking for help, and Jesus came for me.

I’d like to read you a poem written as a result of this encounter.

A lonely vagabond of low estate,
This wretched outcast of society—
In righteous rags he veils his wilting frame,
Yet fails to hide his grief and misery.
His salt-worn eyes cascade their ’customed stain;
His body yearns the gentle touch of grace,
But in my self-righteous holiness, I
Condemned his soul to terror in that place.
Then, with his face burned deeply in my mind,
My hardened heart, at last, begins to break,
For I was once this lonely vagabond
So lost within life’s carnal masquerade.
When in my need, a loving Stranger came,
And still I fail to ever love the same.

Jesus came for us. Jesus comes for us all, even now. He knows what you’re going through. He knows firsthand what’s been weighing you down. Listen to his words from Matt 11:28-29…28 “Come to me,” Jesus says, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Come to me, he says. Jesus is gentle. He is the ultimate burden bearer and He’s come to bear your burdens, that gentleness might grow in you through a realistic view of your own condition and an empathetic view of another’s situation, that we might become a community of burden bearers, as well.

Now as we approach the table, we hear the voice of Jesus saying, “Come to me and rest.”

You no longer need to justify yourself
for in Christ you have been justified.
You no longer need to strive toward status
for in Christ you have been raised to heavenly places.
You no longer need to work to gain the approval of others
for in Christ you have the smiles of the Father,
the love of the Son, and the seal of the Spirit.

As we take the bread and dip it into the cup, together we proclaim the mystery of our faith: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Lord Jesus, it was not as you walked with the two disciples along the road that they recognized you, but it was in the breaking of the bread. I pray that you would make yourself known to us now in this time as well. Let our hearts burn within us, awaken newness of life within us, forgive of our selfishness, and cause us to see through a new set of eyes. May your gentleness be our guide, we pray. Amen.


A Different Kind of Faithful .:. Borne Identity

This sermon was preached at the Church in Waldo.
You can find the recording here, or read the manuscript below:

Over the last month & a half, we’ve been in a series called Borne Identity because whose you are transforms who you are and changes what you do. When you begin to follow Jesus, your identity changes—you’re not the same anymore—and you begin to bear new fruit, new actions, new passions, all according to that new identity in Christ.

To help us consider this Borne Identity, we’ve looked at the famous fruit of the Spirit passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where it describes new qualities such as love, joy, peace, and so on. Today, we’ve come to: faithfulness. We’re going to see several things today, but they’re all encompassed within this one idea, that:

Faithfulness in the eyes of God looks different than in the eyes of the world.

Let’s take a moment to ask for the Lord’s help in this time.

Father, I realize we may be sitting in the same room, but our minds are probably in a hundred different places—finances, sickness, broken relationships, unemployment, fear, anxiety, despair—Lord! No matter where we find ourselves this morning, what we need most is to see that you are with us, and to quiet our hearts so we can hear you speak! Sanctify us by the truth; Your Word is Truth. Holy Spirit, reveal Jesus to us. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, our Rock & our Redeemer. Amen.

Turn with me to Luke 19:11-27.

11 As they heard these things, [Jesus] proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. 16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ 24 And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ 26 ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’”

What does this story mean?

Let me start by telling you the interpretation I’ve heard most frequently of this passage: Jesus is the nobleman who dies & comes back to life, goes to heaven, then will one day come back in the future with power & authority. He’ll reward the faithful who use their lives & talents well and will give them cities to govern in the new kingdom that he’s about to establish. But for those who did not follow him, for those who did not choose to put their faith in Jesus & let him reign over their lives, in this last Day, Jesus will bring them to himself and slaughter them. The end.

Faithfulness, then, is seen as working within the current system and being a faithful steward what we’ve been given. It means multiplying what you have, then you’ll be rewarded with more.

If you have a thousand dollars, faithfulness is investing that money so it increases to five or ten thousand. And when God sees it, he’ll give you more. If you are an artist or musician, faithfulness is growing that talent so you will gain more & more influence. Then, one day, you’ll be rewarded with more fame. If you’re a teacher, faithfulness means stewarding your classes so well that eventually, God will see fit to make you principal, or maybe even superintendent.

Faithfulness, we often think, equals fruitfulness.

Now, are those things true? I don’t want to completely deny these principles necessarily, because there are other places in scripture that absolutely make clear that God has given humanity the responsibility to steward things faithfully.

Proverbs talks about the righteous rich & the unrighteous rich, as well as the righteous poor & the unrighteous poor, because character is not directly correlated to your circumstance. Whether you’re rich or poor, whether opportunity is given or withheld from you, whatever the case, no matter the situation: your circumstances don’t change your character, they merely reveal it.

When you are faithful with little, there are times the Lord says, “Well done, good & faithful servant, here’s some more for you to handle.” Absolutely! However, given the context here in Luke 19, I do not think that’s what Jesus was getting at with this parable.

For one, for that to be the interpretation here means that Jesus identifies himself as the tyrannical nobleman who is both harsh & exploitative (see v22 where he says, “I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked slave! You know that I am a severe man, taking what I do not deposit & reaping what I do not sow.”). For Jesus to be understood as this character is fairly problematic on a number of levels.

But another issue with that interpretation is what Luke chooses to include before and after the parable. v11 gives us a clue for the context when it says, Jesus told this parable “…because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they—those around Jesus—supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.” This suggests that Jesus intends to communicate something contrary to their preconceived notions.

They perceived the Kingdom of God was coming very very soon, & they are near Jerusalem, where they’d hoped Jesus would ride in & claim the throne. The story Luke writes after this parable is of Christ’s entrance on a donkey when they all waved palm branches, shouting “Hosanna! He’s come! The Savior is here! Now we’ll be free from Roman Oppression! Now we’ll be a nation under God! Make Israel Great again!”

Mark 10 gives us insight into the sort of Kingdom they hoped for when James & John asked to be on the right & left of Jesus when he’s in glory. That’s what they wanted. Even those who followed Jesus closely desired a Kingdom of power as the world understands power and how faithfulness to that authority is measured as a result, but Jesus tells this parable to break those preconceived ideas…& they still don’t get it.

Because just days later, the same voices that shouted “Hosanna” would cry out “Crucify!” …because Jesus’ kingdom is not a kingdom of this world. And if it’s not a kingdom of this world, then perhaps faithfulness to this kingdom is something out of this world too.

Jesus tells this parable to break their preconceived ideas, & they still don’t get it. And I’m afraid many of us don’t get it either. Because Faithfulness in the eyes of God looks different than in the eyes of the world. In the eyes of the world, faithfulness leads to fruitfulness & success. The way of the world is built on an oppressive system that keeps the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

Which leads us to the last contextual clue for us in v11, where it says “As they heard these things, Jesus decided to tell a story,” meaning: something was happening around them—something took place before this parable was told—that we need to consider before we apply this for ourselves so we can know what Jesus meant by it. Directly before this parable, Luke tells the familiar story of Zacchaeus.

Now Zacchaeus was…a wee little man. He was a tax collector, and in that day, that was a serious offense. Israel was under Roman oppression, and one of the ways Rome got at the Jews was through taxes. To be a tax collector was to align yourself with Rome and in effect to turn on your own people. There were Jewish laws that forbade Jews from exploiting others monetarily, and Zacchaues broke those and more.

The story ends with him meeting Jesus, realizing he’d been cheating people out of their money, and saying in v8 & 9, “Lord, I’ll give half of what I have to the poor, and restore fourfold to the ones I defrauded.” And Jesus responds, “I’ve come to seek and to save the lost and today, salvation has come to this house.”

Zacchaeus was faithful in the eyes of the world’s system built on oppression and exploitation, which is how his money multiplied before, but he was lost in the eyes of God. But Jesus says “salvation has come to this house” after Zacchaues says, “No more. I’m no longer going to live in that former way. I’m choosing a new way. I won’t be faithful any longer to the way of this earthly kingdom I used to be part of before.”

Consider the three servants from our parable again. The massive profits made by the first two suggest that corrupt practices were involved, but the third servant would not give into those means of multiplying money—instead, he stuffed it away (rather than putting it in a bank to collect interest like the nobleman said he should’ve done, which is very interesting considering the law of Moses forbids Jews from collecting interest. Yet again, evidence that nobleman probably doesn’t represent Jesus).

The third servant, then, provides an example for us of what it looks like to faithfully resist participation in unjust activities that fuel human lusts for power.

With all this in mind: it would seem that Jesus uses the parable to say that the kingdom of God is not yet coming in its fullness (as they would soon think with Jesus entering Jerusalem), and as a result, Christ’s followers should expect to live in corrupt times and follow an ethic of resistance that remains faithful to Jesus’ teachings and the characteristics of God’s kingdom. And at times, faithfulness to God’s kingdom, will mean rejection according to the world’s.

This is the topsy-turvy, upside-down, inside-out world that the parable invites us into. It’s a dizzying story that’s intended to disorient us so severely that we stumble into a new world order—a kingdom not of this world but of our Lord & of his Christ, that shall reign forever and ever.

We saw last week that what the world calls goodness may not necessarily be goodness in the eyes of God; could the same not be said of what the world calls faithfulness? This is what Jesus is trying to communicate in this parable.

Faithfulness in the eyes of God is different than faithfulness in the eyes of the world, because Faithfulness is not measured by fruitfulness (like in the eyes of the world), but by faith. Faithfulness is not measured by your success but by faith.

What is Faithfulness except “full-of-faith-ness”? And interestingly enough, the very same word in the greek used for Faithfulness is used for Faith. I’m serious. The same word for faith in the greek is the word for faithfulness. Follow that to its logical end sometime and see what you come up with.

Faithfulness is the outworking of faith. When you have faith in something, you faithfully give yourself to that thing. The two are inextricably linked. This can be seen in a hundred different illustrations.

As Hebrews 11:1 says that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” if you are certain of something beyond a shadow of a doubt, you will give yourself to that very thing 100%. Hebrews 11 traces through Genesis, Exodus, and beyond to show example after example of people who were faithful even when they couldn’t see. Faith is not fixed on the moment but on a future hope. Faithfulness is the evidence of such a faith.

Hebrews 11:7 tells us about Noah. Poor guy. God told him a flood was coming so he needed to build a big boat, but for years, everybody around him called him a fool. Yet still—day by day—by faith, he remained faithful and built that boat—not focusing on the moment, but looking ahead.

v8 says…“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” He didn’t have a clue where he was going, but he knew why: because God had something in store for him there. The momentary didn’t matter, because the purpose for his future was clear and he had faith in the God who called him to go.

v23-28 tell us about Moses, who chose not to be identified as the son of Pharaoh (the most powerful leader of the known world at the time) but instead as a child of God. v25-26 say Moses chose “to be mistreated with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin, because he considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than all the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”

Faith looks to the future, even through the temporal. Faithfulness—full-of-faithness—is the outworking, then, of that faith.

Were these men successful? Were there lives…fruitful? Perhaps not necessarily according to the Kingdom of this world, but according to the Kingdom of God? They were faithful—full of faith—because Faithfulness in the eyes of God looks different than in the eyes of the world.

The prophet Jeremiah was another guy of faith. He preached the word of God for years. He was told to preach, so he did, but no one listened! That’d be like becoming a dentist and the whole world dying of gum disease, despite what you’ve been telling them for years!

Yet he continued to preach—Jeremiah 25 says he preached for twenty.-three. years.—23 years without a single convert! 23 years without a single person listening! He gave up 23 years of his life with the only purpose being to preach the gospel, and then not see a single change of heart…from ANYBODY.

WHAT possibly kept him going? …In the beginning of his book—in Jeremiah 1:5—he explains God’s call on his life. God said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you & before you were born I set you apart & appointed you to be a prophet…”

That’s it. That’s what Jeremiah was going on…for 23 years! “God, I don’t know why you’re asking me to do this—obviously it doesn’t seem I’m very good at it—but you want me to do this, so I will. My faith rests in you, not in the fruit of my efforts, so I’ll be faithful.”

Another prophet says it this way in Habakkuk 3:17-18…

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

God doesn’t ask for fruit—he asks for faith—and faith is evidenced by faithfulness, despite what everything else around you seems to be saying. God’s not looking for fruitfulness, he’s looking for faithfulness.

So even if everybody around you is seeing their money multiplied, you be faithful to God (not to the corrupt practices of this world). When others increase in popularity, don’t cut people down to try & gain fame & influence. When you see other businesses or churches or families grow in size, you still remain faithful to the God who has—for whatever reason—allowed it to happen. Don’t cut corners. Don’t oppress or exploit others.

BE faithful, because you’re living by a different code—you’re living by faith, NOT by sight—according to a kingdom that’s not of this world, and your faithfulness in the midst of it all is the evidence of where you belong.

So let’s get practical: what does faithfulness to God look like for you: as a mom with two kids? As a grandparent who’s just beginning retirement? As a teacher or administrator or entrepreneur or student? What does faithfulness look like for you?

We’ve seen several things so far, but they all fit within this main idea:

Be distinct, not distant.

That can mean a number of things:
Don’t boycott like the citizens who hated the nobleman and wrote letters of disdain against the elected official. Maybe that means stop writing Facebook posts about not wanting so & so to be elected president.

Because remember what you’re faithful to. You’re Christians first, not Americans.
I remember when Bin Laden was captured and killed: so many people I knew were running around like chickens with their heads cut off, “Yes! We’ve got him! WE GOT HIM GOOD” They were celebrating his death, but something came over me…a deep remorse: did I ever pray for this man? I understand he was an enemy of the state, but did I ever plead with God to save his soul? Are we americans or christians, first?

Distinct, not distant, so engage in culture. But as you do, don’t participate in the corrupt practices of it. Rather than building a comfortable kingdom on the misfortunes of others, Jesus came to build a kingdom on grace which is far more costly, yet entirely free.

Sometimes, faithfulness to God means doing the right thing, even though it may cost you (Whether it’s forgiveness, or kindness, or generosity, or whatever it may be).

But isn’t there an easier way? Does faithfulness to God really have to cost you? Must it require sacrifice? This past week, I stumbled onto an interview of actor Jim Caviezel, who’s known for playing the Count of Monte Cristo, as well as Jesus Christ in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. He said something so powerful that I needed to share it with you along the lines of how faithfulness to the Lord in our culture requires sacrifice.

I look at not just our Lord’s death (which was for all), but understand that modern day christians, often say to me “but Jesus sacrificed himself” as if “since Jesus did it, I don’t have to.”

So I say, “Okay then, why did Peter have to do it? Why did John have to? Why did all the rest of the apostles have to? Why did they have to sacrifice themselves if Jesus had done that. What about all the martyrs of the 20th century? What about our brothers & sisters who are being executed now at the hand of extremists in foreign lands? Where is our Lord with them? Does God hate them?

We cannot continue as christians to sit here & say “Well, I’ll only be a christian if it’s about prosperity & having plenty.” You must understand, though people are going to choose evil, you don’t. Because the devil’s going to try to sift you out. He’s going to look right now & see where are you weak? “I can get this guy. A million bucks & he’ll turn. Ten million for him, fifty for her. We say, ‘Oh, choice. Choice. I have freedom to choose.’ Every generation of american christians needs to know that freedom exists not to do what you like, but having the right to do what you ought.

Don’t just blend in & do what all your pagan friends are doing so they’ll think you’re cool because that’s what you think you need. There’s nothing cool in this. The only thing lacking in you is you don’t want to be holy. Stand apart from this corrupt generation, my brothers and sisters. You weren’t made to fit in, you were born to stand out.”

We read earlier from Hebrews 11 where it describes these wonderful saints who have gone before us—this “cloud of witnesses” as 12:1 says—all who lived by faith, and not by sight. Listen to this incredible recap from Hebrews 11:32-38…

32 What more shall I say? I don’t have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced mockery and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawn in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins: destitute, persecuted and mistreated—38 the world was not worthy of them…

When you are faithful to God & his kingdom not of this world, the world will not be worthy of you either, because you weren’t made to fit in, you were born to stand out.

But faithfulness requires sacrifice, which is why Hebrews 12:1 picks up with this…Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to this life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

Faithfulness to God will require sacrifice at times. The nobleman gave a mina to each servant, but the third one wrapped it up & put it away. He chose to be faithful to God & his ways and sacrifice not finding success on the backs of others’ misfortunes.

What have you been given that you need to wrap in a handkerchief & put away? Take time this week to consider the question. What has been handed to you that you need to lay aside?

We are not distant, but we are distinct. Learn to live faithfully to God in this world. Don’t participate in the practices of the world because you are citizens of another place! So be in this world, but not of it! Distinct, but not distant for you are citizens of heaven—begin living faithfully to that kingdom now!—and as you do, you’ll find the kingdom of God coming to earth as it is in heaven in a far more subtle way.

I’ve loved this passage from Brian Zahn’s book, Water to Wine, where it says…

“When we imagine the kingdom of God coming as a tsunami of irresistible force, we think our public presence needs to be loud, demonstrative, and even combative. This is entirely wrong. Babylon is built by the noisy machinery of war, conquest, and power
politics, but not the kingdom of God.

Almost all of Jesus’ kingdom parables are quiet stories. According to Jesus the kingdom of God is like seed being sown, like plants growing, like bread rising. It’s domestic, not militant. It’s like a woman sweeping her house, like a shepherd searching for a lost sheep, like a wayward son coming home at last. It never gets much louder than the music and dancing of a house party.

Because we are obsessed with all things ‘big’ and ‘powerful’ in the conventional sense, we are convinced that to change the world the kingdom of God needs to sound like a deafening construction site—bulldozers and jackhammers. But the kingdom coming isn’t as much like a construction site as a forest growing.”

The kingdom coming isn’t as much like a construction site as a forest growing.

My friend Omar was at a soccer game overseas one time. Big stadium with over 30,000 people. And as a soccer fan—or really any sports fan—few things are more enjoyable than starting a chant and watching it take flight.

“Oléee, Olé, Olé, Oléeeeee…” People started looking around. He did it again but no one joined him, “Oléee, Olé, Olé, Oléeeeee…” Then, someone else jumped in, “Oléee, Olé, Olé…” then some more, “Oléee, Olé, Olé…” then another group, and another, until finally, the entire stadium erupted, chanting “Oléee, Olé, Olé, Oléeeeee… Oléee, Oléeeeee…”

This is what it looks like when you live faithfully to God in a faithless world. These tiny, subtle acts of faithfulness eventually take over and change the atmosphere. But it all starts with a seed. Not big, bombastic miracles, but little, steady, faithful moments that spread and build up like an enormous forest growing from a tiny seed.

Unless an acorn is split open, it will never grow into a mighty oak. In the words of Jesus, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Jesus is Faithful and True. He began so long ago what we have been invited to continue. His parable in Luke 19 describes the way of the world, which says “when your enemies reject you, slaughter them,” but what do we see in Jesus?

Within the world’s system, who else was taken out and slaughtered except our Lord Jesus himself? In Jesus, we see one who did not require those who rebelled against him to be slaughtered, but instead who would allow himself to be slaughtered for the sake of those who would not let him reign over them.

That’s why Hebrews 12, the climax of the hebrews 11 chapter of faith, says: “Look to Jesus! You want to know how to run this marathon faithfully? Look to Jesus! See him! Follow him!”

Watch him lay aside heaven & earth for you, then you’ll be willing to lay aside your single mina. Watch Jesus say, ‘Father Forgive them’ and you’ll forgive. Watch him endure & remain faithful in such a place as the cross and you’ll no longer be crushed beneath the weight of yours, but will endure whatever’s holding you down.

Before they were ever called Christians, do you know what the first christians called themselves in the book of Acts? “Followers of the Way,” because Jesus did more than die on a cross to save us from our sin—he also lived among us to show us a new way to live.

All who follow him find life, even if it means death in the process… but as it says in the letter written to the church in Smyrna from Revelation chapter 2, “Be faithful, even unto death”—and Jesus continues—“and I will give to you a crown of life.”

He’s the only Lord & Master worth serving, because when you’re faithless in the eyes of the world, you’ll be reamed for it. You’ll be slaughtered for it! But when you’re faithless to God—listen to the words of 2 Timothy 2:13, even “when we are faithless, God remains faithful because he cannot deny himself.” God is faithful. He is always faithful.

But you have to see it for yourself: Jesus was slaughtered, so you would never have to be. Look at Jesus. See his faithfulness, and when you do, it’ll change everything. Would you stand with me.

Lord, as we approach the table now, we recognize that though we are often so unfaithful—even in our faithlessness—you remain faithful still. Forgive us for where we’ve lacked in our distinction from culture, and forgive us for the times we’ve been distant. Help us to see Jesus, even now in the bread & cup, we ask in His name. Amen.


What’s Good? .:. Borne Identity

This sermon was preached at the Church in Waldo.
You can find the recording here, or read the manuscript below:

Romans chapter 12, verses 1,2, and 9…
1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God: what is good and acceptable, and perfect.

Now verse 9… Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.

What is good. What’s good? Turn to your neighbor and say, “What’s good?”

Genesis 1 begins the whole bible by saying God made the world and everything in it, and called it all: good. Galatians 5:22 tells us that good-ness is a fruit the Spirit of God desires to grow in our lives. Ephesians 2:10 informs us that there are good works we have been created and saved to do. And the verses we just read reveal that God wants to renew our minds to discern and transform our lives to do His will, which is: good.

But…what is good? That’s a bit of a loaded question, don’t you think? Philosophically, this has been heavily discussed throughout history. The Greek philosophers talked about what they deemed to be the three essentials areas of life: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. In essence: what to know, what to do, and what to appreciate.

And goodness deals with what we should do—the question of Ethics; what determines Morality. But in our pluralistic, relativistic society today, determining what is good can be difficult because what may be seen as good in your eyes may not be considered good in the eyes of another. “Who are you to tell me what’s good; I should be able to decide what’s good myself.”

Romans 12:9 tells us to “cling to what is good,” but how are we supposed to do that if we can’t seem to agree on what good even is?

At times, raising a two year old can be like raising a little Dictator—girl has a will of her own. She determines for herself what’s good and what isn’t. And sometimes it feels like there are multiple kingdoms at war in our house, because she has an opinion on what she wants to wear, what she wants to eat, what she wants to do and when she wants to do it! Already, she’s quick to let you know what she judges as a good idea.

We’ll suggest something, or even request something, and she’s quick to respond: “That not sound good.” She’s got this new thing she’s been saying lately: “Youuuu go lay Wesley down. Aaaaaanie will watch a show…That sound like a good plan.”

The thing is, sometimes she’s right. Sometimes her thoughts of what’s good and what isn’t, are spot on. A popsicle is a good plan after dinner, but touching the grill when it’s hot isn’t a good idea. A little tv during the day is good, but grabbing your brother’s face and pushing him down to the ground like you’re Hulk Hogan isn’t good.

Working hard and making money so you have financial margin to give generously is good, but cutting corners and stealing from others isn’t. Forgiving someone who’s hurt you is a good plan, but sleeping with your neighbor’s wife isn’t.

But even in these examples, what authority do I have to state what is good and what isn’t? I can base it on personal choice, on personal experience, on beliefs, but really, what right do I have to claim to determine what’s good and what isn’t?

Anyone here ever seen the documentary “It’s a Girl”? The cover alone will haunt you: it’s a Pink balloon against a pastel blue sky, but the pink balloon is floating above a mound of dirt with a gray tombstone behind it.

In India, China, and many other parts of the world today, girls are killed, aborted and abandoned simply because they are girls. There’s this one scene where a mother admits to murdering her eight infant daughters—eight infant daughters—simply because they weren’t boys…and yet she explains all this with a smile on her face, because in her mind, this is good and proper behavior.

The UN estimates that as many as 200 million girls are no longer in the world today because of what’s called “gender-cide.” It’s all rooted in centuries-old tradition and sustained by deeply ingrained cultural dynamics and government policies.

Because to them, daughters are an inconvenience. They’re expensive and they can’t extend your family name. Sons can work for you and bring you wealth. They can have children and pass their legacy on, but girls are just “another mouth to feed.” And because of the utterly broken dowry system, a parent has to virtually pay a man large amounts of land, property, or animals in order to marry their daughters off to them.

This is completely unfathomable to us. But this is, in their minds, one logical conclusion on morality they’ve landed on in their society. In India and China, it’s acceptable to murder your daughters simply because they aren’t boys, but let’s bring it a little closer to home.

Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, over 55 million abortions have taken place in our country alone. In Kansas City, human trafficking occurs on such a large scale that we have become #4 in the nation for this modern day slavery. There’s a desire for it. It’s supply and demand. People want it, because they deem it good in their own eyes, even though it’s evil.

But where did this mix up on goodness all begin? It traces all the way back to Genesis. In the beginning, after God created all that there is, He created man and woman in His image, placed them in the garden and said, “You can eat from every tree, except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

Well, you know what happens when someone tells you not to do something, right? Exactly. They didn’t listen to God, they didn’t like what he called good and evil, they wanted to decide for themselves what is good. So Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit, and you know what? They got exactly what they wanted, but it was more than they realized.

There are different interpretations of what it means that Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Some think it merely means mankind became aware of evil (all they knew before was good, but now they know what evil is too). That’s an okay interpretation, and maybe that’s it, but I’m not certain that’s really what’s going on.

Several scholars agree with me on this: when mankind ate the fruit, they brought upon themselves a terrible weight—a heavy burden—that from that day forth, they would bear the responsibility of determining what is good and what is evil. And that’s precisely what happened, because when Adam and Eve did this (and we did it with them), we began this never-ending quest of deeming what we believe is good and evil in our own eyes.

And when you have a 7 billion people around the world—and consider all of history as well—all trying to bear the weight of determining for themselves what is good in their own eyes, it’s an extremely dangerous situation.

When everyone has an opinion on what makes a good mom, it can be hard to know whether or not what you’re doing is right (breastfeed or bottle-feed, stay at home or work outside the house).

Or here’s a personal example: when it seems everybody’s telling you what a good church should look like it’s difficult to feel secure in what you’re doing (“Worships needs to be louder! softer! more contemporary! more hymns!—Peter, you need to be funnier! less talkative! more personable!—the only thing everybody seems to agree on is shortening the sermon”).

I worry for my daughter so much already when I think of the countless voices in the form of magazine covers all trying to dictate what’s considered a good body type—it’s no wonder eating disorders affect our daughters and sisters and wives as much as they do.

A job description is a helpful thing. Whether you’re a plumber, an accountant, a teacher, or barista, whatever your job is, you want to know what’s expected of you. Otherwise, how are you supposed to know what’s good and what isn’t? How do you know if you’re wasting your time? How do you know if you’re making the right decisions?

Even the world’s greatest entrepreneurs who start their own businesses need job descriptions, because it explains what you’re expected to do and defines what a WIN is for a day’s work. Without an objective job description, you’re left trying to figure out yourself if something is worth doing, but what are you basing that on? How can you trust yourself to know what’s good?

Otherwise, you’re left to yourself to do whatever you think is good in the moment.

I remember going to a local diner with a friend when I was 17. And as we walked toward our booth, we noticed an empty table next to us with some leftover food on it. I’m talking half a grilled chicken sandwich, cucumber salad, and some soda. It was practically a full meal. So we just went on over there and started eating the food. What?! We were broke high schoolers?!

Well, as we’re stuffing our faces, I notice these two attractive girls approaching us…but with absolute disgust on their faces …Turns out they weren’t done yet. What? It’s their fault for going to the bathroom together.

It might’ve seemed good in my eyes at the time, but it was obviously a foolish thing to do. And if everyone operates without some sort objective standard of good in place, this kind of thing is bound to happen in much worse ways.

You see this in Judges 20-21. Israel was comprised of 12 tribes, and one of them was acting up, so the others ganged up on them. They pillaged the people and killed their women and children, only to realize later, “Oh no, if there are no women and children, then this tribe will die out since they can no longer procreate, and we’ll be at a disadvantage against the other nations.”

So they come up with a plan to steal 400 virgins from another group of people and, in effect, rape them and force them to bear children. It’s a disgusting story. It’s like…why is this even in the Bible? I’m convinced it’s the kind of story christian parents would ban their kids from reading if it wasn’t in the Scriptures. But at the end of the story, here’s what it says: Judges 21:25…“In those days there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

When there’s no moral absolute, if it’s all relative, this is in effect where society goes: Relativism. Chaos. Anarchy. Perversion. If there is not a set-in-stone standard from above—if everyone just gets to decide for themselves what’s right and good—then whether it’s Israel, or India and China, or abortion and human trafficking in our own City, these are small examples of how this reality can flesh itself out.

If trusting what society deems good and trusting what our own personal desires deem good leads us to wrong, then how can we can know and cling to what is good? What if I told you there’s a higher standard—a moral code, if you will—that God knows, that he chose for us when he placed mankind in the garden? That before Adam and Eve chose to bear the weight of deciding for themselves what was good, God had set in place a way to live that is good and he invites us to live within it?

Turn back to Romans 12 with me. We’ll spend the rest of our time working through v9-21. Before we start again with v9, let me reiterate v2 because it really sets the tone for us. God wants us to stop being conformed to the pattern of the world but instead to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so we can discern what God calls good.

If you want to know what is good, what God set as the standard of goodness, and how to hold fast and live within it in our everyday lives no matter what the culture or others say, this is it. As we read our passage, we’ll pause for comments along the way. v9…

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. [What is good? Here it is:] 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

It’s good to love others. Look at this. Right out of the gate, here’s what God calls good: love. Love each other, and he adds, you’ll know you sincerely love each other if you’re trying to outdo each other in showing honor.

Don’t compete FOR honor, compete TO honor others.
Don’t fight to keep honor for yourself, fight to give honor to others.

We’re pretty self-interested, in general. Take Facebook. We’re convinced that we’re so important, that we maintain a living autobiography, updating it with tidbits of useless info like “just saw this cute cat video” or “wow, I got a free iced coffee today!” or “I just went to the bathroom!” under the impression that other people will find this worth their time and hit the like button. I’m not even kidding!

If Paul was writing to us today, I imagine it would’ve said something like, “Love each other like brothers, and outdo each other by liking their Facebook photos more than you seek for them to like your own.”

Another less silly example—though that’s very real still—if your buddy gets a promotion, don’t say, “Good job!” then in the next breath: “I got a promotion last year.” Ah, see? You took the honor away from them by turning the attention toward you. Paul’s saying you want to know what’s good? Love. And you’ll know you’re loving others if you’re willing to honor them above yourself. Learn to celebrate when something good happens to someone else, rather than making it about yourself.

v11…11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
It’s good to be passionate and serve the Lord. There’s something to be said about passion. Paul says, “Don’t be lazy in your zeal, but be actively on fire for what you do for God.” Life’s short, be all-in. Make the most of your days. Give yourself to being creative. Do what you love and serve the Lord in the process.

Sometimes there are things we do where our passion is lacking, so we need to pray and ask God to give us passion. But sometimes, there are things we do where our passion is lacking, and I think this verse gives us license to say, “Okay, time leave this thing and do what God’s given me passion to do.”

So how do you know which is good for when? It says be fervent in Spirit, meaning, be in tune with the Spirit. It takes discernment. Discernment isn’t a choice between “do I go to church or do I rob a bank today.” It’s not a choice between good and evil; it’s a choice between good and almost good.

But wherever you find yourself regarding zeal, pray this: “God, give me a passion to serve you here, and a willingness to follow you wherever you want to take me.”

v12…12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

It’s good to rejoice. It’s good to be patient in the midst of difficulty, knowing that if we have God, we are never without hope. It’s good to pray, because it connects us to God in a powerful way—allowing him to fill us up with his love and send us out to express it to others. It’s good to meet the needs of others and be hospitable (we said it last week: If the Kindness of God changed us, then kindness will change the world.)

v14 continues to say “It’s good to…14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. [A lot could be said here, but we’ll come back to it later.]
v15…15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 
Pause. Okay. Sometimes, it’s good to rejoice. And sometimes, it’s good to weep. Both are good, but both have their place, because timing is everything.

When you’re around someone who’s grieving the loss of a loved one, or mourning the death of a dream, the last thing they need to hear is anything that will trivialize their pain.

The story of Job comes to mind. After he lost everything (his kids, his house, his business), three friends come by offering their thoughts: “…Don’t freak out, it’ll all pass…” // “…just pretend everything’s alright…” // “…you must’ve done something wrong, that’s why this all happened to you…” Whether or not those things are true, doesn’t mean they’re most helpful to say when someone’s weeping.

A better response, and this Michael Card lyric summarizes it so well, is this:
“Don’t read me pointless poems, friend. Don’t diagnose, don’t condescend.
Though you may be right to disagree, I need someone to weep with me.”

When people around you are weeping, it’s good to weep with them. And while this can be challenging, you know what’s even more challenging? Rejoicing with those who rejoice…because when you’ve been working as hard as somebody else, but they get the promotion instead of you, or you’ve been wanting marriage or kids or recognition or success or church growth so badly but someone else gets it instead, rejoicing with those who rejoice can seem like an impossibility.

It’s good for our souls to rejoice when others rejoice…why? Because the alternative is having your soul eaten up with entitlement and envy. God is out for your good because he’s a good God. Rejoicing when others get promoted/blessed/favored/accepted is God’s invitation for us to flourish in goodness rather than be consumed with bitterness.

v16…16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be arrogant, but associate with the lowly. [That last phrase can also be translated as: “be willing to do lowly, menial work.”] Some of us want to change the world, but we’re unwilling to change a diaper. The absence of a servant-heart in a leader will corrupt the leader, no matter your level of skill. It’s good to be humble, it’s good to do the lowly work.

If there’s a need in Kids Church (which there is by the way), and you’ve been on the fence about helping out or even flat out said no, question your motives for why. By the way, if you want to find out more about how to serve in kids church, be sure to talk with Bethany after the service today and she’ll get you connected. Moving along.

“…Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” [No matter how badly someone treats you, don’t react with malice or contempt. That means no gossip, no rumors, no stealing, no silent treatment, no murder, you get the idea.] Then Paul says this in v18… “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

Do whatever you can in your own power to live at peace with others. In the words of Jesus, “Be a peace maker.” But I love how Paul adds this caveat: “If possible, as much as it depends on you,” because sometimes, no matter how hard you may try, you will not find peace with some people. And that’s hard for the people pleasers among us.

Some people just want conflict. Some people thrive on drama. Paul says, “It’s good to have peace with everybody, so do whatever you can. But otherwise, just leave it be.”

This summer I’m teaching music to elementary students and at the end of the day, we all get to go outside to the playground. If you’ve ever been around a group of kids long enough that are playing together, and something happens that one kid doesn’t like very much, you’ve probably heard this before: “Hey! That’s…not…fair!”

There’s something inside all of us that cries out, “No fair!” We want to see justice, especially when the unfair things are directed toward you… but look at v19…19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Let me say this, I think the whole “that’s not fair!” attitude is placed in us by God. It’s true, at times we may distort and misuse it, but really, it’s a God-given mentality. The horrible things that have been done to you aren’t fair. They’re not right. They’re not good. But we trust in a God who promises to make all things new one day.

He is coming back to restore order and bring about justice for the oppressed. He will avenge. He will right all wrongs. He will return for those He loves! The sense of injustice you feel… God. feels. that. too.

All wrongs will be paid for in one of two places: either by Jesus on the cross or by that person for eternity. God will settle it all. That means that I… don’t.

We often think retribution changes things, but it’s grace that changes things!
God didn’t change me by paying me back… His kindness leads us to repentance.

Paul goes on to say this in v20…20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…

Instead of vengeance, we’re called to show goodness! We’re called to go out of our way to outdo each other in love and good deeds. God might change the other person someday, but right now he wants to start by changing us. And in the meantime, it’s good to leave it in God’s hands, because He will settle it.

Now, there’s a final statement in this verse that we need to explore a bit. v20 starts by saying “if your enemy is hungry or thirsty, meet his need” then it continues: …for by doing so, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

That line seems to come out of nowhere. Heap burning coals? Is this a sort of future payback? Am I suppose to show goodness, knowing that God will drop hell’s fire on their heads at a later time? Is that really what’s going on here?

In moments like this, we need to pause and do the hard work of trying to understand what the writer and audience would’ve understood this phrase to have meant before we try to quickly apply it to our own lives.

In the 1st century, there was no air conditioning, so cooking inside the house was typically a bad idea. The tops of the houses were flat so they’d often cook on their rooftops. Since there weren’t gas stoves back then, they used to cook over hot coals. And so, sometimes when a neighbor saw you were cooking, they’d ask if they could borrow your coals since they were still hot.

You’d heap the burning coals up in a basket, and they’d carry the basket from your place to their place—get this—on. their. heads… then they’d be able to use the hot coals for themselves. With this historical context in mind, it seems that heaping coals on someone’s head has less to do with a delayed retribution, but was simply a cultural illustration of what showing goodness looks like.

That’s how I’ve come to understand this passage. Some may interpret it differently, maybe you do, but if so, let me ask you this: if this notion of overflowing goodness—even toward your enemies—upsets you, is it possible there are places in your heart where you’ve allowed your former way of thinking to determine what’s good, rather than allowing God to transform you to discern and grow in what he calls good?

Bring back v14 where it says to bless those who hurt us. When dying on the cross, Jesus said, “Father forgive them” to the ones who nailed him there, and Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies…why? Because something strange happens to us when we do.

When you open yourself in prayer to the God who loves the people that you don’t love, you triangulate the relationship—now it’s not just you and that person, because you’ve brought God into it. And since God loves that person and he’s for their good, and you’ve opened yourself to God about that person you don’t love, something will begin to happen in you, if you allow it: you will begin to love that person too.

Like Stephen, who was being martyred for his faith in Acts 7, he could echo the forgiving words of Jesus and plead, “God, don’t lay this sin against them.” This is the transforming power that God wants to work in your life too, if you let him. That, as Paul says to close out this entire passage on goodness in v21, we would “…not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

That’s Romans 12. That’s a list of what’s good, and if you live this out, you will overflow in goodness. Now here’s my challenge to you this week. Pick one—just one—of these statements, think of a particular area of your life, and begin to apply it.

Two examples: maybe for you, it’s time to start rejoicing with those who rejoice… specifically: at work or school. Rather than turning to jealousy when your colleague gets praise, start learning to celebrate the joys of others.

Here’s a personal one. Where it says “Outdo one another in showing honor,” I’m going to start working toward that in my marriage. Rather than wait for my wife Grace to serve me, I’m going to try to out serve her. Not because I’m trying to be a better spouse, but because I’ve seen just how much Jesus served me, so I want to serve her better now as a result.

Take one statement on what God calls good, pick a particular area of your life, and begin to apply it this week. Then the following week, pick another one and do the same thing. Then again. And again. Got it?

But now, a word of caution. Being a good mom, being a good husband, being a good student, being a good employee, a good friend, a good christian, none of those things are enough. Don’t chase goodness. You won’t find it. Well, you might, but it won’t be enough.

Here’s my fear. Some of you will look at this list, adopt it, and try to maintain it in your power. Just one big To-Do list, and I’m telling you: it won’t work. You know who else tried to do that? The Pharisees. They took all the laws of God—added a BUNCH MORE of their own so they wouldn’t accidentally break the real laws—and tried to find goodness that way. You know what Jesus had to say about them?

Matthew 5:20…Jesus said, “Unless your goodness exceeds that of the Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

The Pharisees were so serious about doing what’s good, and it still wasn’t enough. Don’t chase goodness; you won’t find it. Chase God, and goodness will find you.

Psalm 23 starts by saying “The Lord is my shepherd” and it closes with how, “goodness and mercy will follow” you for all of the days of your life. If you want goodness, you need to follow God. As you follow God, goodness will follow you. That’s why goodness is a fruit of the Spirit, not a requirement for the Spirit. Goodness won’t get you the Spirit, but getting the Spirit will give you goodness.

If you want to know how to live a good life, it starts with God. You can make all these surface level changes—you can serve the poor, you can honor others, you can heap prayers and burning coals of kindness on the heads of your enemies—but none of it is enough. It’ll never make you right with God. Goodness, on our own, is like Adam and Eve trying to cover up their nakedness with a fig leaf religion.

The foundation of our Goodness is the Goodness of God. This is what sets christianity apart from every other religion and worldview. Every other religion is built on the premise that you must do good things in order to attain God’s mercy, but look at Romans 12:1 again, which says…“1 I appeal to you therefore…in view of God’s mercy…”—then it goes on to talk about all the good things we do. Do you see that?

I appeal to you, in view of—NOT in lieu of—but in view of God’s mercy!
The world and all religion is built on the view of doing good to earn God’s mercy, but the God of the Bible says, “NO! You already have it! Now, walk in goodness.”

You could either do all of these things from a place of fear (where you fear you’re unworthy and you’re just trying to make it all up to God or your spouse or your friend or boss), OR you can do these things from a place of being loved, where you know God accepts and welcomes you in as a Son or Daughter.

Do you see how valuable you are to God? You are so valuable that he sent Jesus to die for you. You are so valuable that Jesus came—not to be served, but to serve—and gave his life as a ransom for you. You are so valuable to Jesus that even when all of sin, and death, and hell converged on him like a perfect storm, he overcame it with Good. You are so valuable to Jesus that he met us in our lowliest place so he could raise us up to the heavenlies and seat us with himself.

Do what is good, in view of God’s mercy. This really is the foundation of it all. Chase goodness, and you’ll miss God, but chase God, and you’ll find both.

This is what we see in communion—which we will celebrate together in a moment—that our goodness is not found in who we are or what we do, but in who Jesus is and what he has done. So now as we take this bread and dip it into the cup—visual reminders to us of his broken body and shed blood—we remember that because of Jesus, our goodness is no longer a requirement for God’s mercy, but a result instead.

As the band comes up, I want to speak this prayer over you…

I pray that your heart would rest in Jesus.

You no longer need to justify yourself
   for in Christ you have been justified.
You no longer need to strive toward status
   for in Christ you have been raised to heavenly places.
You no longer need to work to gain the approval of others
   for in Christ you have the smiles of the Father,
   the love of the Son, and the seal of the Spirit.

And then, in view of God’s mercy—on the foundation of Christ’s finished work—may you walk in the good works he has prepared for you to do as unto the Lord.

For He has gone before you, He is with you, He is in you.

Kindness will change the world .:. Borne Identity

This sermon was preached at the Church in Waldo.
You can find the recording here, or read the manuscript below:

“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.” (Matthew 25:31-34)

…these are the words of Jesus from Matthew chapter 25, depicting that great and terrible final day of judgment when we all will stand before Jesus Christ the King…

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’

“Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.” (Matthew 25:35-46)

That has to be one of the most unnerving passages in all the bible! Have you come to grips with what it’s saying? Why would the Bible, which so clearly states that we’re NOT saved by our own good works—that acts of kindness will NOT gain us entrance into the Kingdom of God, but we can only find eternal life when we place our faith in Jesus—why would the Bible also clearly say all of this too?

It can only be for this reason: kindness is the evidence of whether or not our faith is real, or it’s just lip service. Ephesians 2 emphatically tells us that the only way we’re saved is by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, and then following this, v10 continues to say: “now, do the good works that God created you to do.”

James 2 echoes this: “faith without works is dead,” meaning, if your faith doesn’t result in works, you got to check yourself because chances are, you’re not actually a christian despite what you’ve believed all along.

Galatians 5:22 explains that Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, because when you give your life to Jesus and the Spirit enters into your life and begins to go to war against every fleshly impulse of yours to wallow in self-pity and miserly living, the Spirit fights to turn your attention away from yourself, away from self-absorption and self-security, and turns you into a selfless, sacrificial individual overflowing with the kindness of Jesus to everyone.

If you looked at two trees—the first filled with leaves and fruit, and the other completely bare—which would you say is alive? The first one, absolutely. But the leaves and fruit don’t bring the tree life, they are simply the evidence of a tree that’s alive.

Same with kindness. Kindness—which is a concern for others that results in serving the needs of others—is the fruit of the Spirit at work in you. Romans 2:4 says it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. If there is no kindness overflowing from your life, it’s likely God’s Spirit is not in you, and therefore, you are still dead in your sin.

Talk about heavy. “C’mon, Peter, this is the week after mother’s day…”

This is serious, and I believe it’s of the utmost importance that we take some considerable time to deal with it. How do you know if you have eternal life? What can we do to inherit eternal life?

Let’s ask Jesus and see what he has to say about it. Turn with me to Luke chapter 10. Luke 10, and we’ll start with verses 25-29. We may not have Jesus right in front of us, but what we do have are the Scriptures which have been recorded and passed down to us, and in this case, they give us a glimpse into a story where Jesus actually answered that very question.

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But the man wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

A little context. This guy is trying to trap Jesus. Jesus has been spreading a message about love and hope and healing, and he’s sharing this good news with the sinners and prostitutes and tax collectors—the lowest of the low in society, so it’s gotten the attention of the more religious. It’s caused some to question if Jesus is soft on his understanding of God’s standard and law.

So he’s trying to trap Jesus, but Jesus turns it around in v26 by asking what the man thinks the law says. This was an answer any good jew would’ve given because if you could boil God’s standard of perfection into a single statement, it would be this: “love God with all that you are and love your neighbor with the same amount of love that you love yourself with.”

And Jesus responds: you’re right. “Do this and you’ll live.” In essence, Jesus is saying “you think I don’t think highly enough of the law and God’s standard? Are you kidding? I think so highly of it that I know it’s the only way to gain eternal life.”

But Jesus knows the impossibility of this standard, and so does the man. That’s why v29 is so interesting. Did you catch it? The man knows what’s required, he knows what the perfection of love that the Law of God demands, so it says he tries to justify himself, asking, “who is my neighbor?”

Who is my neighbor. “I’ll love these people. But not those. I’ll show kindness to this person, but never him. Never her.”

So in response, Jesus tells a story. verse 30.

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came to where the man was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”

This story reveals several things to us about what kindness is and what it does.

Kindness is motivated by compassion. v33 tells us when the samaritan saw the man hurt, he had compassion. But it didn’t stop there. Kindness is compassion in action. Kindness doesn’t stop with pure sentiment. Kindness takes action.

Four statements about what Kindness does, then we’ll look at each one: 
1) Kindness puts others first. 2) Kindness willingly risks. 3) Kindness absorbs the cost. And 4) Kindness follows up.

1. Kindness puts others first
The Priest and Levite walk on by, but the Samaritan stopped. The weight of this would have been felt. Priests were God’s way to connect with the people. The Levites were the only tribe of Israel where Priests came from. If neither a priest nor a levite would stop—neither a pastor nor a christian would stop—that was like being beyond hope.

Echoes from Isaiah 1 and 58 would’ve been heard, when God said “Why all these sacrifices? What about the poor and homeless and defenseless among you? That’s the fast that I require.”

Who knows what the Priest and Levite were up to. Maybe they were off to prep a sermon, maybe they were on their way to church or to small group. Maybe their minds were on something important they had to do. Point is, they had their own thing going on and they weren’t going to be inconvenienced by the needs of someone else.

And yet, we see the Samaritan, someone not from around here, someone who had no moral obligation to stop, as the only one who did, because he had compassion. He didn’t just see the man in need (the priest and levite saw and were unmoved), but the Samaritan saw him and was moved with a stomach-turning, gut-wrenching compassion, so he showed kindness by putting the needs of this man above his own.

We also see that:
2. Kindness willingly risks.
Jesus begins the story by telling us about a man who was robbed traveling between Jerusalem and Jericho. There was this particular stretch of the Jericho road known as the “Way of Blood” because so many people were robbed and killed there. The people listening would’ve instantly known the precise location Jesus was talking about in his story.

This is important because that’s no where near Samaria. “…we’re not in Kansas anymore…” The Samaritan is no where near home: he’s traveling in a horribly dangerous part of town and he has no idea if he’ll even make it back safely, but he still takes the risk and cares for this man anyway.

It’s also worth noting: he’s taking a dangerous risk by caring for a man who wants nothing to do with him.

You have to know: Jews hated Samaritans. They were thought of as lower life forms (they were half-bloods—half jew, half not—they were muggle born mud-bloods, for all you Harry Potter fans). Jews hated Samaritans so much, that the word Samaritan even became a derogatory term. In John 8, the pharisees are so mad with Jesus, they don’t even know what to call him, so they say, “You, you, you, Samaritan!”

That’s why Jesus is a genius for telling the story the way he did. It’s the parable of the Good Samaritan, not the Good Jew. Why?

If Jesus told the story of the Jew who walked passed the hurt and needy samaritan, the man might’ve responded, “What? No way. No good Jew would ever stop for such a person.” You may think, “That’s crazy, how can that be allowed?” but that became socially acceptable behavior. So Jesus forces his hand. He puts the lawyer in the place of the beat up man who is so in need that he’ll accept help from anyone, even a Samaritan.

Who are we unwilling to help because it doesn’t fit into our comfortable, safe, socially acceptable paradigm? What parts of town are we unwilling to travel to? What types of people do we, even subconsciously, avoid because that’s “just the way the world works”? Imagine the profound impact on our city if we cared for those outside our social circles?

There’s a great example of this from the 4th century. The Roman Emperor Julian tried to resurrect paganism by building better temples, doing better services…all in an attempt to destroy the influence of Christianity, but it never took off and Christianity still continued to spread. Why?

Here’s what he had to say about it: “Nothing has contributed to the progress of the superstitions of these Christians as their kindness to strangers. The impious
Galileans provide not only for their own poor, but for ours as well.”

Did you catch that? “[Those christians] take care of not only their own poor, but ours as well.” They’re generous with their kindness and are willing to risk for all and it had a profound effect on the world around them.

I also want you to see, that…
3. Kindness absorbs the cost
The Samaritan takes care of everything. verses 33-34 details what all that entailed: he bandages up the man’s wounds, he applies wine and oil as an antiseptic, lets him ride on his donkey and sets him up for a few nights at the Holiday Inn. He gives the concierge money to cover all costs and offers to reimburse any additional charges. Those tiny little sodas in the room’s mini fridge were just as expensive then as they are now.

This is the overwhelming, over-the-top, generosity of kindness, because kindness is compassion in action borne from love.

Love is the context of this story of compassion and kindness. “Love God with all you are, and love your neighbor with the same ferocity that you love yourself.” The word used here for love in the Greek is the word Agape. Agape love is a particular kind of love. It’s a love that is sacrificial and covenantal. It’s willing to lay down all that it is in order to see you become all that you were meant to be.

The Samaritan absorbs the cost entirely because he wants to see fullness and restoration take place in this man’s life. When you love God and love people in that kind of a way, and it sinks down deep enough, it creates a gut-wrenching compassion for others and overflows into acts of kindness for all.

If it doesn’t, then you know it’s not love. That’s what 1 John 3:17-18 says verbatim.

17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no compassion on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with [just] words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Kindness is compassion in action borne from love. It puts others first, it willingly risks, and it absorbs the cost. Kindness will cost you, but the alternative is far more costly.

Listen to how a Scottish minister from the 1800s named Robert Murray M’Cheyne put it:

“I fear there are some Christians among you to whom Christ will not say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ Your haughty dwelling rises in the midst of thousands who have scarce a fire to warm themselves at and have but little clothing to keep out the biting frost. You heave a sigh, perhaps, at a distance; but you do not visit them.

Ah, my dear friends! I am concerned for the poor, but more for you! I don’t know what Christ will say to you in the great day. You seem to be Christians and yet you don’t care for his poor. Oh, what a change will pass upon you as you enter the gates of heaven! You will be saved, but that will be all. There will be no abundant entrance for you, for ‘he that sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly.’

I fear there are many hearing me who may know well that they are not Christians because they do not love to give. To give largely and liberally—not grudging at all—requires a new heart; an old heart would rather part with its lifeblood than its money. O my friends! Enjoy your money—make the most of it—give none away, for I can tell you: you will be beggars throughout eternity.”

I read that quote because I don’t have the guts or the personal track record of kindness to say it myself. I look at my own life, at my own stinginess. I’d rather part with my lifeblood than my money. I hear Jesus say, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive,” but my life seems to reveal that I don’t believe it very much. I need a new heart, how about you?

The story continues. v35, the Samaritan has to leave, but says, “when I return—meaning, I’m coming back—when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”

Here’s the last thing we see, and I’ll mention it briefly:
4. Kindness follows up.
Kindness sticks around for the long-haul. It doesn’t just do its good deed for the day then walk away. No, it continues to build relationship and goes deeper than just throwing money at something from a distance.

Quick recap of what kindness is and what it does: Kindness is compassion in action borne from love for God and neighbor. Kindness puts others first, it willingly risks, it absorbs the cost and follows up.

After telling this story, Jesus asks the lawyer a question in v36:

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 [And] the man replies, “The one who showed kindness to him.” So Jesus tells him, “Go and do likewise.”

“If you want to inherit eternal life, here’s the standard,” Jesus says, “You have to love God with everything that you are, you have to love your neighbor as yourself, and that love will sink down so inside of you that you’ll be moved with compassion as you come across the needs of others, which will result in kindness to all you come in contact with: whether or not you’re of the same social class, socio-economic status, tax bracket, skin color, political affiliation, or religious belief system.”

Do you see just how impossible this standard is to maintain in our own power?

Like the lawyer, we try to box in God’s law by justifying ourselves, asking, “who really is my neighbor?” But Jesus says, “everybody.” That person who hates you, that person you can’t stand, that person who dares to vote differently or identifies different sexually that you would permit as biblical, Jesus says. Kindness knows no limit because love knowns no limit and if the love of God is in you, your love for others will know no bounds.

Place yourself in the shoes of the man who was beaten and left for dead.

If you were in a financial crunch with no work, would it matter to you whether it was Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton in office cutting you a welfare check? If you were completely devoid of hope and suicidal because you had no friend in the world, would you turn down friendship with Caitlyn Jenner because you didn’t agree with her lifestyle? If you were hanging on the edge of a cliff and someone with a turban on their head from my father’s homeland of Syria came to pull you up, would you slap his hand away because you don’t agree with his religion?

Flip the relationship around now. Someone who believes and acts differently than you is in dire need. What does it matter who the person is? Kindness puts others first, it risks, it absorbs the cost, and it follows up, and as Jesus says in Matthew 25, “Your kindness to all—even to the least of these—is kindness to me.”

When we learn to live in light of Christ’s Kingdom and values, the world flips on its head. It’s like that 4th Century Roman Emperor Julian said: “Nothing has contributed to the progress of the superstitions of these Christians as their kindness to strangers.”

If you asked Julian “what gave Christianity its power?” he didn’t say it was their worship, even though that was there. It wasn’t their fellowship or small group bible study, either. He says: the Jews take care of the Jewish poor, Greeks take care of the Greek poor, the Romans take care of the Roman poor, but these Christians are unbelievable: they take care of everybody.

Julian said it himself: “Nothing has given christians more power in culture than kindness,” because what gave christianity its teeth, was kindness.

So, we have to ask ourselves the question: “Why aren’t christians today impacting our culture like that?”

It seems the answer is staring us straight in the face.

Okay, so what are we going to do about this? Two choices, really: Repent and change, or remain the same. There are two ways to respond when you hear truth. Either repent—that is, confess your sin to God and let him change you—or walk away and stay the same.

James 1:22-24 tells us “Don’t just listen to God’s word. DO what it says.” If you don’t, James continues, that’d be like looking in a mirror, seeing you have spinach in your teeth, and walking away without doing anything about it.

For those of us who listen to this sermon today and choose to remain the exact same, James calls us “fools.” And like Solomon put it in Proverbs 26:11, you know you’re a fool if you keep going back to your foolishness, just like a dog goes back to his vomit.

Which choice will you make today? Repent and change, or remain the same?

It’s not guilt that changes us. After a sermon like this, it’s easy to say: “Okay, I’m going to be kinder now.” And you’ll last two or three days. Maybe two or three weeks. Some of you maybe have been going two or three months or even years in trying to be kinder. And here’s the thing, you’ve probably done an all right job, but eventually, you’ll slip up. Eventually, you’ll revert back to being unkind, or you’ll begin to reserve your kindness for those of your own choosing.

We all need to realize that just like the lawyer, Jesus has us trapped. But his traps are always and only for our good. God’s standard is nothing short of perfect love, to love others as much as we love ourselves, to love God even more than that. We cannot do it! We can’t! Try it. Try to love someone for one week in your own power and you’ll fail eventually. The only way we can learn to love in this way is to see that we’ve been loved in this way, first.

1 John 4:19 tells us “We love because God first loved us.”

The only thing that will change you, the only thing that will give you eternal life and teach you to live a life marked by kindness is to see the love of Jesus.

Looks at this: the word “compassion” that the Samaritan felt for the man in need is a word used more than any other word to describe the emotional state of Jesus. He was moved with compassion, so he wept for the city. He was moved with compassion, so he healed the sick. He was moved with compassion, so he fed the multitudes. He was moved with compassion, so he comforted those who wept. His compassion always led to kindness.

It’s not guilt that will result in lasting change. Romans 2:4 says “it’s only God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.” It’s his kindness that changes us—and it’s kindness that will change the world. I want you to see the kindness of Jesus now:

1. Jesus put others first by leaving the comforts of heaven for the rags of earth.
2. Jesus willingly risked everything by putting himself in the hands of angry sinners who in turn hung him on a cross to die.
3. Jesus absorbed the cost fully, because though he was rich, he became poor so that by his poverty, we might become rich. He bore our sins in his body, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
4. And finally, Jesus follows up. He doesn’t leave us alone as orphans but places in us his Spirit, so that we too would bear the fruit of Kindness in our lives for all to enjoy, that we would learn to put others first, to willingly risk, to absorb the cost, and follow up.

The only thing that will motivate you to live a life of kindness is experiencing the kindness of Jesus first. When you do, it will change you from the inside out. Embrace his kindness, and your heart will be so transformed by it that you won’t be able to help but extend kindness to all.

I was at home with the kids on Friday morning and for whatever reason, I was a bit of a grouch. Just short-tempered and not really in the most playful mood (obviously last week’s sermon on Patience hadn’t really sunk in yet). My two-year old Annie could tell something was up, so she brings over a bowl & spoon, and says, “Daddy, I make you eggs.” Thanks, kid. Girl knows a way to a man’s heart.

But then she says this: “Daddy, I want to serd (sic) you.”

It took me a second. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell with Toddlers what they’re trying to say, but given the context, this one was crystal clear. She was saying, “Daddy, I want to serve you.” She could see I was upset, or at least a little crabby. But in her childlike innocence, she says, “I want to serve you.”

I challenge you to keep those words in front of you this week“I want to serve you.” In your friendships, at work, in your marriages and families and wherever your week takes you, let those words shape your attitude and actions: “I want to serve you.”

When an individual does an act of kindness, it’s a beautiful moment;
but when a group of people partner and serve together, it can begin a movement.

The Salvation Army was built on “I want to serve you.” It began with a vision to bring salvation to the poor, destitute, and hungry by meeting both their “physical and spiritual needs,” and now they have a presence in over 125 countries. They run charity shops, shelters for the homeless, and provide disaster relief and humanitarian aid to developing countries.

Right now, the Kansas City Salvation Army is in dire need of donations, specifically nonperishable foods. As one way to join together as a church and serve the needs of our city, we will be collecting canned goods, peanut butter, whatever leftover ramen packs you’ve got in your dorm still as you’re cleaning it out, all of it! We’ll have a tub in the back between now and the last Sunday of June to collect all the food we bring.

I’ve seen our young church already step up in amazing ways. We started off our first month with #31goodthings which was all about individual acts of kindness.

Three times already this year, different groups in our church have prepared meals and fed families with sick kiddos in the Ronald McDonald Room at Children’s Mercy Hospital. I know care packages (stuffed with water bottles, granola bars, and socks) have been put together and distributed to the homeless. A group went just the other day to donate blood at the Community Blood Center, and in fact, we’re planning to host a blood drive together later this summer here at the church.

I’m not saying these things to brag. I just want to highlight some of the good things we’ve been a part of so far in the last few months so we can continue to build on them.

We set aside some money at the beginning of the year to start a food pantry of our own, but we’re not in the position building-wise to do this just yet. So as a church, we plan to give $200 to the Salvation Army toward feeding the hungry and clothing the homeless, along with all the nonperishable foods we collect between now and the end of June.

Because when an individual does an act of kindness, it’s a beautiful moment;
but when a group of people partner and serve together, it can begin a movement.

If the kindness of God could change us,
then the kindness of the church will change the world.

Bon Appétit .:. Borne Identity

This sermon was preached at the Church in Waldo.
You can listen to the recording here, or read the manuscript below:

We’re continuing today in our current series Borne Identity, because whose we are transforms who we are and changes what we do. We’ve been looking at the fruit of the Spirit, taking one each week and this morning, we’ve come to the fruit patience.

Let me just say this upfront. I am not the model christian when it comes to patience. I don’t like waiting. I want to: know things, say things, and do things the right way, right away.

I was driving home from work a couple weeks ago and as I was approaching an intersection the traffic light turns red, and instantly—I mean, without any cognitive thought whatsoever—I immediately hit my hand against the steering wheel out of frustration because I had to stop.

I’m a lane changer. If my lane is going slower than the next one, I figure out how to get over. I could blame my Jersey upbringing, or just call it out for what it is: I’m not a naturally patient person.

And lest you think that my impatience is contained within the confines of automotive transportation, let me tell you:

I have at least fifteen, no joke, fifteen tabs open on my browser at all times so I can keep up to date…with everything. Email, Facebook, Twitter, Email, Email, Email, Something on Personality, something else on personality, two bible gateway tabs, an article on leadership development, a couple of blogs, and four google searches.

And while I wait for one tab to load, I open three more and make a sandwich while I’m waiting so I won’t get bored in the meantime. Google Fiber is THE fastest internet available, and it’s still not fast enough for me.

…I realize this is a problem… Admitting is the first step, and all. So let me say it again: I am not—I repeat—I AM NOT a model for you on how to live a life of patience.

But…I will say this: because patience is not natural to me, I’ve had to learn over the years how to cultivate patience by looking at others. I can’t find it in me. It’s not there. It doesn’t exist in here. I have to look to something outside of me to find the capacity for patience.

I came across an incredible article published July 2009 in the New York Times by Laura Munson called “Those aren’t Fighting Words, Dear.” Look it up and read it on your own sometime. “Those aren’t Fighting Words, Dear.”

I’d like to read the opening paragraphs to you now:

LET’S say you have what you believe to be a healthy marriage. You’re still friends and lovers after spending more than half of your lives together. The dreams you set out to achieve in your 20s—gazing into each other’s eyes in candlelit city bistros when you were single and skinny—have for the most part come true.

Two decades later you have the 20 acres of land, the farmhouse, the children, the dogs and horses. You’re the parents you said you would be, full of love and guidance. You’ve done it all: Disneyland, camping, Hawaii, Mexico, city living, stargazing.

Sure, you have your marital issues, but on the whole you feel so self-satisfied about how things have worked out that you would never, in your wildest nightmares, think you would hear these words from your husband one fine summer day: “I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did. I’m moving out. The kids will understand. They’ll want me to be happy.”

Pause a moment. What are you feeling right now? Anger? Frustration? Betrayal?

Listen to how she continues:

“But wait. This isn’t the divorce story you think it is. Neither is it a begging-him-to-stay story. It’s a story about hearing your husband say “I don’t love you anymore” and deciding not to believe him. And what can happen as a result.

Sure enough: she never begs. And she doesn’t grumble or gossip despite the number of others who spoke poorly of him to her throughout the many months this went on. As best as possible, she didn’t personalize her husband’s words and actions but instead, patiently walked aside her husband through the entire process.

You’ll have to read it in its entirety on your own to see how it turns out, but what this story demonstrates is the transformative power of patience, which is what I’d like for us to consider with our remaining time today (and your first test of patience is to wait till after the service to search for the story on your phones).

Turn with me to James 5:7-11. For those impatient like me who want to know what the BIG IDEA is for today, here it is:

Patience is waiting… without release… because you trust in God.

That’s what we’ll see here in this passage and we’ll take the next 25 minutes or so to unpack that statement one phrase at a time.

James 5, starting with v7. It says this…
7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! 10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

I. Patience is waiting…
James begins with an illustration about a Farmer who must patiently wait for the Autumn and Spring rain. Now, most of us here aren’t farmers. And even for the farmers among us, the midwest provides a very different climate than James’ Mideast climate.

For a Palestinian farmer, there were really only two rains that had to come. You couldn’t plant till the autumn rain hit. After this long, very, very hot summer, it was the autumn rain that provided enough moisture in the soil so they could even plant. They had to wait. Of course there was always the danger of being impatient and saying, “I have to plant. I have to plant. Where’s the autumn rain? I have to plant!” If you went ahead and planted, nothing would come up at all.

But there was another temptation, and this one was far more subtle. It’s one thing to say at the end of summer, “I know the ground looks like dust and nothing will take root here, but I’m gonna plant anyway”—no, you can pretty easily resist that temptation…

but…if you have already planted and everything has come up but the spring rains haven’t shown up yet, and you begin to fear that they’ll never come, it’s much more difficult to wait patiently then.

If you harvested before the spring rains, your harvest would be almost nothing. The spring rains made the grain swell up and fill out. The great temptation was to say, “These rains are never going to come! We could lose everything if we don’t go out there and at least gather what we have,” but if you prematurely harvest what you had before the rains came, you’d have just a fraction of what you would’ve ended up with had you waited.

Where in your life have you been impatiently harvesting before the Spring Rains have come?

Are you speeding on the highway because you don’t want to wait any longer to get home? Are you cheating on your exams because you don’t want to wait to graduate the hard way? Are you having sex with your boyfriend because you don’t want to wait for marriage? Are you making sketchy business deals because you don’t want to wait for success? Are you looking at pornography because you’re tired of waiting for your spouse to put out?

These are just a few examples. Rather than waiting for things to happen at the right time, out of impatience, have you tried to harvest too quickly?

Really take time this week to consider that question: in what areas and in what ways are you prematurely harvesting before the Spring Rains come? The crazy thing: we often don’t realize we’ve settled for less until much, much later in life.

Patience is waiting. But it’s more than that.
II. Patience is waiting without release
James uses a particular greek word here for patience: makrothumos. It’s a compound word made up of two words: makros, meaning long (which is where we get our english prefix macro) and thumos, meaning the kind of anger that flares up like a flash in the pan. The King James bible translates that word this way: “long-suffering.” Meaning, it takes a lot for a patient person to react in anger.

Because at the heart of patience is someone who’s learned to deal with their anger, so if you want to grow in patience, you have to understand how to handle your anger first.

Turn with me to Ephesians 4:26-29, but keep a thumb in James because we’ll be back. If you’re looking to understand how to handle anger, Ephesians 4 is a huge help. We’ll start with verse 26 which says… 26 In your anger do not sin…

Anger is very a serious thing, and though anger may not necessarily be a sin in and of itself, we have to realize that if not dealt with properly, anger will lead to sin. I’ll say it this way: anger is not sin…yet.

I love how writer and theologian Frederick Buechner put it when he said to be angry is “to lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”

Journalist Maggie Scarf describes getting angry as “leaping into a wonderfully responsive sports car, gunning the motor, taking off at high speed and then discovering the brakes are out of order.”

Like Pringles: “Once you pop, the fun don’t stop.” 
Once you indulge anger, it don’t stop.

That’s why Paul continues v26 and 27 to say “…Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.”

When improperly dealt with, anger becomes a foothold for destruction. Anger is not sin…yet. That’s why Paul urges us to learn to deal with anger while it is still today. He says, “Don’t sit on it. If you’re upset, don’t bottle it up, because what’s inside always finds a way out.”

Verses 28-29 name two ways that built-up anger is released into destructive behavior: Cutting Corners through stealing and Cutting others down through speaking. Both are acts of impatience, fueled by anger.

We’ll start with v28…28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

If you’re angry about how long something is taking, you may try taking matters into your own hands. Rather than dealing with your anger rightly, it’s now released into cutting corners to get what you want in your own power and in your own time.

I confess, I picked up a fitbit recently. I jumped on the 10k steps a day
bandwagon. And it can be frustrating sometimes, because there are days where I thought I’d been pretty active, only to realize later I ended up with 3300 steps for the day and it’s like, “What?! Seriously?! How am I going to justify that fifth scoop of ice cream now?!”

(If you’re regularly having five scoops of ice cream, you’ve got bigger problems than hitting your daily 10k. And if you’re calling your fitbit 10K the same thing as a real 10K, you’ve got even bigger problems. You got 99 problems and a fitbit ain’t one.)

So a few weeks ago, I was tempted to cut corners. It was late at night, I’m about to go to sleep and I realized I’m only 250 steps away. But I’m already in bed. Now what? I can “cheat” the test and instead of getting up and finishing my steps, I can get to 10000 in the comfort of my bed and just shake it like a Polaroid until it tricks the fitbit to give me my steps.

…I won’t tell you which I did.

Silly example, perhaps, but that’s the essence of it. What are you angry about not having yet that you’re willing to cut corners in order to get it?

That’s the one. Here’s the other: if you’re angry at someone, you may use your words to cut them down. Maybe it’s because I’m a pastor but I get asked all the time if it’s okay to cuss. “Which words are allowed and which aren’t.” But listen to this, v29 says: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Don’t ask what words you should or shouldn’t say. The better question is this: are my words building people up? Because Paul says here any word spoken that isn’t helpful in that way, don’t even bother letting those words exit your mouth at all.

Have you attempted to—or been tempted to—cut corners or cut people down? If so, it’s likely there’s some anger rooted beneath the surface.

Actually, can we all just own up to the fact that sometimes we get angry? That’s okay. It’s okay to feel anger. But what you do with it makes all the difference in the world.

What’s so interesting to me is seeing how different people try to manage it, but it never works out. Typically, there are two responses to anger. Dish it out or swallow it up.

Those who dish it out attack with anger. Mikro-Thumos, if you will. It takes very little for them to explode with anger. You know them. They’re usually expressive with their hands and their words. We’d call them impatient. Or maybe just Italian.

Then there are those who swallow it up. You might think they’re patient, they may even think they’re patient because they have such a long-fuse, but if that long-fuse is attached to something so explosive that it’s reserved for only the rarest of occasions, I’m telling you, they’ve been swallowing anger, not really dealing with it properly.

It’s no secret, I make some funny noises…especially from my nose. I’m discovering more and more that it’s actually a sort of release of nervous energy. It’s an outward evidence of anxiety and frustration that’s built up inside of me and I’ve only begun to realize how bad it is.

Some of you are like, “uhhh you only just started noticing it?” Ha, no, don’t worry. I’ve known about this for a long time…I’ve been dealing with it since I was a kid, but here’s what I’ve started to realize more and more: when I feel afraid about what’s coming up ahead, those noises get noticeably worse.

Whether it was an exam, or a presentation, or a new social situation, I would experience such intense anxiety…but I didn’t want people to know, so I suppressed it. I wasn’t dealing with my fear, I was stuffing it away deep inside but it still built up. And like that little spinning top on the pressure cooker, those noises became a release of energy. Some people get ulcers that annoy them, I make noises that annoy people.

Just because you can swallow it up for a while doesn’t mean you’ve learned how to deal with your anger. A long-fuse is still attached to a bomb.

Patience is waiting without release. Whether you’re dishing anger out and swallowing it up, neither way actually deals with anger.

What Paul calls cutting corners, James calls premature harvesting.
What Paul calls cutting people down, James calls grumbling against others.

Which brings us back to James 5:9 which says “Don’t grumble against others.” Why? Because it’s a release of anger. You can’t harvest prematurely AND be patient, you can’t grumble AND be patient, because those behaviors overflow from an anger with the present situation. Impatience is a symptom of anger in your heart, but if you learn to deal with your anger rightly, you’ll find patience growing in its place.

So, how do we deal with our anger problem? How do we learn to wait patiently, without release?

James 5 gives us examples to model our lives after if we desire to grow in patience: the prophets of old, and Job. Amazing stories for us that I encourage you to read, especially the story of Job: a man called blameless, who remains entirely blameless when he lost everything he had and even his friends were telling him he must’ve done something wrong to deserve this, and his wife told him to just curse God and die).

But Job, and the prophets, remained patient. How? They trusted in God.

III. Patience is waiting without release because you trust in God
They were patient because they knew the character of God. They didn’t have Romans 8:28, but they trusted the God who “works all things together for the good of those who love him.” They didn’t have James 1:16, but they trusted the God who gives “every good and perfect gift.” They didn’t have 2 Corinthians 1:20, but they trusted the God whose promises are all “yes and Amen in Christ.” They could patiently wait without release because they trusted in God.

James tells us to pattern our lives after theirs at the end of v11, because we “have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”

And Hebrews 12:1-3 adds to this when it says, 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance [also translated PATIENCE] the race marked out for us, [HOW?] 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

We have something that even the prophets of old and Job himself didn’t have. We can look straight to Jesus. And as you look at Jesus, you will start to look like Jesus.

Watch Jesus run, and you’ll learn to run. Watch Jesus endure the cross, and you’ll endure whatever cross is weighing you down now. You’ll stop harboring anger, you’ll stop dishing it out and swallowing it up. You’ll learn to do what Ephesians 4:31-32 says to do: to “31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice [and you’ll] 32 be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

That’s the key. The only way to stop dishing out and swallowing up anger is to get rid of it entirely, which can only be done by seeing God get rid of it all for you. If someone had the right to remain angry, it was God. We were his creation yet we rebelled against him and have raped and pillaged the world he’s created for us to steward. He had every right to harbor anger and wipe us out, but instead he chose to forgive us.

It was God’s will that Jesus would come to us, emptied of all but love, to extend to us a grace so far beyond our comprehension that we will spend the rest of eternity plumbing its depths. Jesus is the ultimate example of patience who waited, without release, because he trusted in God.

As you look at Jesus, you’ll start to look like Jesus…and you’ll learn to look for Jesus. Which really brings us back to the main point of our passage in James 5, found in v8. It says: “Be patient…because the Lord’s coming is near.”

Feeding a Toddler can be a troubling thing at times. I remember this one night, Annie didn’t want her spaghetti dinner, until she realized what was for dessert. Anyone can take pasta when you know strawberries and cream’s coming up next.

As you look at Jesus, you’ll start to look like Jesus, and learn to look for Jesus. You’ll patiently endure whatever you find yourself in because you know what’s coming. Whatever difficulty you find yourself in, you know you can endure it because Christ is coming again and that changes everything.

You might remember: over a year ago, christians were lined up on the shore to be killed by ISIS. They were young, as young as 20 and no older than 25. And leading up to this horrific scene on the beach, these 21 captives patiently endured—tortured and tormented for the God they believed in. They refused to give in to every attempt ISIS made to persuade them to deny their faith in Jesus and in return be set free to live.

They would not budge. They remained, as James put it, “established in their hearts.” They each died that day, martyred for their faith, with nothing on their lips but songs of praise to their Savior.

These 21 did not die as mere victims, for they are “more than conquerors” as Romans 8:37 declares, and their sacrifice is a powerfully transformative testimony of such a vibrant faith in Christ.

To close our service, we’re going to sing a song called “Even Unto Death,” which was written by Audrey Assad in response to watching this scene unfold and asking the question: “What would I pray, if it were me kneeling on that beach?”

What would you pray—what would I pray—if it were us kneeling on that beach?

Would we sing: “Jesus, the very thought of You, it fills my heart with love…”
Lover of my soul, even unto death, with my every breath, I will love you.”

Every day, we kneel on the beaches of our workplaces and neighborhoods, our friendships and our marriages, our families and church planting, our hobbies and parenting. And we release what’s inside. Is your heart filled with integrity and love or have you been harboring something far more destructive in nature? What’s inside must come out.

But patience is waiting without release because you trust in God. It’s saying, in every moment, “Jesus, the very thought of you fills my heart with love. Even unto death, I will love you.”

If you want to live a life of patience, it all starts by fixing your eyes on Jesus, because as you look at Jesus, you’ll start to look like Jesus, and you’ll learn to look for Jesus in every situation, awaiting his return because he is coming again.

Which is what we celebrate each week in communion. As you take a piece of the bread representing Christ’s body broken for us and dip it into the cup representing Christ’s blood shed for us, together, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Use this time to reflect, to repent where you’ve dished it out and where you’ve swallowed it up. But don’t wallow there forever. Confess it. Grieve over it, then leave it. For every look at your sin, take 10 looks at your Savior. Look at him. Stare at Jesus. See him for who he is and trust in Him, and you’ll learn to wait patiently without release. Let’s pray.

Ctrl+Alt+Del .:. Borne Identity

This sermon was preached at the Church in Waldo.
You can listen to the recording here, or read the manuscript below:

In the Chicago Fire of 1871, an American Businessman by the name of Horatio Spafford watched as his entire business—all of his papers and documents and office—literally went up in flames. Then, not even two years later, his wife Anna and their four daughters were headed to England by ship, when they collided with another ship in the middle of the Atlantic.

All four daughters drowned.

Anna was found unconscious but somehow alive, floating off the coast of England. When she came to, she wired a telegram to her husband with nothing but these two words: “Saved alone.”

Horatio was devastated. He got on the first ship he could to go join his grieving wife, and while on the way, supposedly as he passed the very place where his daughters died, he penned these words. Words to a hymn. Perhaps you’ve heard it before.

“When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say: it is well, it is well with my soul.”

How, in the midst of such a storm, could he find such peace?

Turn with me to Philippians 4:4-9. Once again, that’s Philippians, chapter 4, starting with v4.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

This passage names for us a number of positive qualities and actions here. It describes a person who rejoices, who is reasonable, someone who is thankful and spends time thinking about things that are true, honorable, pure, commendable, and so forth.

And notice, sandwiched in the middle—v6—is a negative, the only negative: “do not be anxious…about anything.” Do not be anxious.

Anxiety will rob you of your joy, it will make you unreasonable and irrational, it’ll sap you of your grateful heart and can make you into a bitter person who only thinks about the worst. Anxiety, worry, fear…these things keep you from thinking positively, and leave you lying awake at night plagued by thoughts of: “What if… what if… what if…” This is the essence of anxiety.

So it’s no wonder Paul connects and contrasts the two within these few verses, because an anxious heart finds it difficult to rejoice, to be reasonable, to express gratitude or to think positively at all.

But above all else, what anxiety keeps us from, is peace.

Peace, as Paul writes here in v7, is “of God,” it’s “beyond our understanding,” it “guards our hearts” and our “minds,” which leads to: joy, moderation, gratitude, and positivity.

And the word Paul uses for “guard” in the original Greek is a very specific word. It means “to garrison, to protect by a military guard, to prevent any form of hostile invasion.”

The peace of man must be guarded, but the peace of God guards us (as we heard in the unbelievable story of the hymn writer). We go to all lengths to find and guard our own peace, but once you’ve found God’s peace, Paul says, it guards you.

A caged lion doesn’t need to be protected; let it out of its cage and it will protect itself and you. That’s real peace. Peace doesn’t need to be guarded, real peace guards you. So we have to ask ourselves: do we have real peace or have we settled for a fake?

Can this unfathomable peace of God be obtained? And if so, how?

Before we look at how to cultivate peace, we need to consider what keeps us from it. There are two options Paul gives us here: either we can have the peace of God (meaning, it’s peace that originates from Him), or anxiety as we take on the stress of life and try to manage it in our own power.

I’ll say that again. Two options: either we can receive the God’s peace, or we’re left desperately trying to find our own peace as we anxiously attempt to manage the stresses of this life on our own.

I’d like us to spend a considerable amount of time working through three ways we try to find peace in our own power, then we’ll look at how the Bible says real peace is found. So if it’s a help to you, here are two hooks—two phrases—to hang everything on that we’ll be talking about today: 1) Counterfeit Peace and 2) Cultivate Peace.

First, we’ll look at the ways we counterfeit peace, then we’ll consider how God tells us to cultivate peace. Join me in a word of prayer as we ask for God’s help in this time.

Lord, we invite you here to speak to us. We can’t effect change in our own lives, we need your Spirit to transform us—this is His fruit that you desire and are willing to grow in our lives, so I pray your Spirit would open our hearts to seek you, to find you, and to be redeemed and refined to identically match the likeness of your Son Jesus, in whose name we now pray, Amen.

I. Counterfeit Peace
My first laptop was a PC, which means I became very accustomed to hitting three keys in succession on a regular basis. Any guess what those three keys might be?

Control. Alt. Delete.

When there were too many programs running and it forced my computer to a halt, “Ctrl+Alt+Del” and I’d start all over again.

Sometimes we treat our lives like PCs. What we want is peace, and we try to find it by hitting “Control. Alt. Delete” as if life’s a computer that’s overloaded and about to crash… “Control, Alt, Delete!”—“maybe life will work like it’s supposed to now!”

These three keys represent 3 distinct strategies we use at times to try and find peace, but they don’t actually work. They each result in a counterfeit peace. We’ll take a look at each one.

1st, Control.
Some of us try to find peace by attempting to CONTROL the chaos around us.

What we want is peace, and what we settle for is control…and you know it’s control because anxiety is killing you.

Maybe you’re experiencing the physical effects of it. If you ever have trouble sleeping because your mind is always racing, or you’ve developed high blood pressure as a result of trying to maintain your high level of stress, it’s likely you’ve been trying to control things as a means of overcoming your anxiety.

Anxiety can drive you to get a lot of things done, but it’ll never get you peace (which is, ironically, the very thing you’re after).

This is why Paul says in Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything…”

The Greek word he uses here for anxiety is a word that literally means “to be in pieces.” It’s to have your mind divided. There’s a great little play on this word in the story about Mary and Martha from Luke 10 that illustrates this so well. Luke 10:38-42.

Mary and Martha are two sisters who invite Jesus over for dinner. Mary’s sitting at his feet, listening to him while he’s with them, but Martha’s running all around the house, trying to get things done. v40 tells us she was “anxious (same word)—distracted and divided in pieces—with much serving.”

My son Wesley just turned one on Friday. I was feeding him his bottle Wednesday morning, just a couple days away from his birthday, and I was overwhelmed with how quickly time flies.

As I was thinking about my love for my son, the reality of what all needed to get done that morning set in. “Uh oh, got to empty the dishwasher, then I’ve got to wash the bottles, and…oh, there’s a couple morning meetings on the agenda so I’ll have to leave early to start my sermon prep, because if I don’t, then everything will get backed up, and…”—I wanted to spend time with my son, but there was just so much to do.

Martha’s saying “I can’t spend time with Jesus because there’s still so much to do,” and her mind’s in pieces about it. “Can’t take a break till it’s all over!”

There’s just too much to do. Have you ever felt that? Have you gotten anxious over it? Are you in pieces over what all needs to get done?

Anxiety stems from a heart that tries to control everything. And when you try to control everything, your attention becomes divided among all these different areas—there’s no focus. Life becomes reactive instead of proactive.

Like trying to spin dozens and dozens of plates, keeping them all up in the air—“oh, now this one needs my attention, and this one, uh oh, can’t forget my homework, ugh the dishes! Oh no! I forgot about my marriage, now it’s spiraling, and my relationship with Jesus, oh and then there’s that friendship and that project, and…”

If you can’t stop for a second to catch a breath, or if you feel horrible amounts of guilt and shame when you do finally collapse out of sheer exhaustion, chances are you’ve been trying to control everything to quell your anxiety and find peace.

Then what often eventually happens is you begin to realize it’s too big of a job—there’s so much to do—so you end up trying to control others to get the job done too.

End of v40 is indicative of this—Martha goes to Jesus and I’ll paraphrase it: she says, “Hey Jesus, Mary’s got work to do but she’s too busy having her quiet time.”

People who try to find peace through control, often end up becoming controlling of
others as well. And it’s because they feel so out of control. The world is chaotic, I must control it to fix it and find peace.

In your desire to control anxiety, has anxiety begun to control you?

Jesus replies to her in v41: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things [there’s that word again], 42 but one thing [one thing, he says] is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion.”

Some of us try to find peace by attempting to CONTROL the chaos around us, because we feel out of control about the chaos inside us.

Jesus is saying, “Martha, your mind is divided over so many things…but Mary has found the one thing she needs. Mary is single-minded. Mary has one thing she is looking at. You have one HUNDRED things, and I’m one of them. That’s nice, Martha, I’m not offended. But you’ll be anxious until I become the ONE thing for you.”

Who do you relate to? Are you single-minded like Mary, or is your mind scattered into a million pieces like Martha?

As it’s been so famously said, “Anxiety doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it robs today of its strength.” (Corrie Ten Boom)

Anxiety can drive you to get a lot of things done, but it’ll never get you the peace you’re looking for.

So that’s Control. Next… Alt.
Some of us try to find peace by distracting ourselves from what we need to do by ALTernating it with what we want to do instead.

Proverbs 12:25 says “Anxiety weighs down the heart.” And it does. So to lighten the heart, some of us try to distract ourselves from the heaviness of what needs to get done by doing the things we want to do instead.

“I need to write this paper… or I could watch a dozen Jimmy Fallen lip-sync battles…”

If you try to find peace through distraction, or avoid the things that might lead to pain or intense work so you can have a good time, I’m telling you, you won’t find peace that way either! Denying the presence of anxiety doesn’t actually deal with anxiety.

Anxiety will catch up to you…it knows when it’s being fooled.

Listen to these words from Proverbs 6:6-11
6 Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
7 It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
8 yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.
9 How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
When will you get up from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
11 and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man.

As a recovering procrastinator myself, let me tell you—and some of you really need to hear this—as much as you try to avoid them, deadlines still have this funny way of arriving on time.

The ALT key doesn’t work. Deadlines still come. At least when you try to CONTROL anxiety, it drives you to get things done. ALT just distracts you from what you need to do. Control tries to fix the universe, ALT runs to an alternate universe, and that won’t work to help you find peace either.

So whether it’s video games or netflix, the news or the endless world of wikipedia, are you attempting to bypass your anxiety by running into an ALTernate world?

You can’t fool anxiety. If you’re trying to CONTROL reality or running to an ALTernate reality, neither strategy will really help you find peace.

And then, there’s this third thing we try to do, too… Delete.
Some of us try to find peace by DELETE-ing our own desires and wishes in order to maintain a facade of peace in our relationships. “Nothing bothers me. I’m not phased by this. I’ll just pretend nothing’s wrong. Delete. Delete. Delete.”

Sometimes we delete and suppress our own dreams in order to create peace with others, because we’re afraid of the conflict that would stem if we brought up what we really wanted. You want something, but you know they don’t, so you remain quiet about it…but all the while, you’re stewing and brooding about it.

You have a dream to be a performer, but you know your family doesn’t support that decision, so you never mention it anymore but the dream still has a deep place in your heart and what ends up building there instead is an even deeper resentment.

You may be dating someone who’s consistently overlooking you—maybe their behavior is even borderline neglect—but you don’t dare bring up anything for fear they might leave you entirely.

You may be a naturally patient individual which is why you’ve been able to wait it out for so long, but the thing about having a long-fuse is: it’s still attached to something explosive.

“Ctrl, Alt, Del” …three ways we try to counterfeit peace in our own power, but none of them really do what they promise.

So how do we cultivate the real peace of God?

II. Cultivate Peace
The great Thomas Merton (poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion who was ordained as a priest and pioneered dialogues with major eastern spiritual figures such as the Dalai Lama) once said this…

“We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.”

Peace with others, peace with ourselves, and peace with God.

Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Meaning: do everything in your power to be at peace with others.

And in Matthew 5:9, Jesus adds to this when he says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. That’s scary verse, if I’m honest. I’m a much better peace breaker—and even a better peace-faker—than I am a peacemaker. But Jesus says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

“We want peace in our lives, but we often have war in our hearts” (Adam Breckenridge), especially against those who hurt us. Some of us here, some of you in this room right now, are not at peace with others. There’s conflict. There’s disunity. And whether the issue is petty or serious, something has broken the peace between you and someone else.

It may be a spouse or a former friend, an ex or a co-worker or neighbor or parent or in-laws, fill in the blank. But whoever it’s with, I’m telling you, this kind of division is the work of the devil, not of the Spirit of God.

Okay, so practically: how do we become a peace-maker in our relationships with others? Two statements from Jesus and a quote.

Matthew 5:23-24 says “23 If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

You could literally be at church, about to take communion, about to tithe, about to preach or lead worship or do kids church, and if God brings to your mind the face of someone that YOU have offended, you are required to leave and reconcile first, then come back and finish what you came here to do.

Then Matthew 18:15 says…15 “If someone sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” [then it continues to lay out the rest of Christ’s reconciliation protocol]

Now the quotation. Tim Keller writes:
“Matthew 5 tells us we should approach someone if we know they have something against us. Matthew 18 says we should approach someone if we have something against them. In short, if any relationship has cooled off or has weakened in any way, it is always your move. It doesn’t matter ‘who started it:’ God always holds you responsible to reach out to repair a tattered relationship.”

Whether you’re the offend-ed or the offend-er, God says, “It’s your move.” It’s your responsibility to go to them and begin the process of reconciliation.

Who do you need to make peace with, today?

But maybe it’s possible you’re unable to make peace with others, because you are not at peace yourself. You’ve been using Ctrl+Alt+Del for so long but all it’s done is crash your life. Is it possible to obtain the peace Phil 4:7 describes: a peace beyond our comprehension, that doesn’t need to be guarded, but one that guards you?

Back up to v6, which says “Do not be anxious…but” …what? “…but in everything by prayer, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. If you want the peace of God, you have to do three things 1) Pray to God, 2) Give Thanks to God, and 3) Make
your requests known to God.

If you want three P’s to Peace, here they are: Prayers, Praises, and Petitions.
1. Pray. Take the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer Jesus gave us himself. Begin with that. Let that prayer orient your will around God’s will. If you want to break the pattern of control in your life, begin by Praying the Lord’s Prayer, found in Matt. 6, every day and night.

2. Next, learn to praise God—to give thanks. This will take practice, which, interestingly enough, is what Paul says in v9. He says “practice these things,”—we’re not naturally thankful. Also, we need to learn to be mindful. “Think about such things,” Paul says in v8. What things? Things that are true, honorable, right, pure,” and so on. Meditate on the beauty of a sunrise, the miracle of birth, the smell of flowers blooming, and budding friendships that bring value into your life. Think about the honor of having a job that pays the bills if you have one, rather than the stress it brings at times. When you practice praise by focusing on the positive things around you and thank God for them when the storms of life aren’t there, you’ll learn to spot the good things in the midst of trouble as well.

3. Lastly, petitions. Prayer is submission; Praise is expression; Petitions are supplications. You’re not boycotting God to get stuff. You’re asking him to supply your needs, because you trust him. You love him. And you know he loves you and wants to hear your voice.

When you trust God’s control through prayer, you relinquish the need to Ctrl.
When you learn to praise God for what brings, you break the urge to Alt.
When you make your petitions known to God, you’ll stop Del-eting yourself.

But, before you can have the peace of God, you must first have peace with God.

The New Testament talks about two kinds of peace. The Peace of God and Peace with God, and before you can find the peace of God, you must first find peace with God.

Romans 5:10 describes that at one time, we were “enemies with God”—that’s where we all start. That’s our former identity and that’s the identity of anyone who is still at war with God. We were enemies with God…But have you ever noticed, there are two kinds of enemies: those against you and those you are against. Sometimes there’s overlap, but not in this case. God is the latter. He isn’t against us. He’s never been against us. He’s for us, but we were against him.

Col. 1:21 describes this so well, where it says… “21 At one time, we were alienated from God and were enemies in. our. minds [did you see that? we were enemies with God: in. our. own. minds]

Like when you thought your friend or boss or spouse or whomever was upset with you, but they actually weren’t, there was just some sort of misunderstanding. Colossians 1 tells us we were enemies with God in our own minds.

We were against him, but he was never against us. That’s why v22 continues and says, “But now he has reconciled us. by. Christ…”

Romans 5:8 echoes this, “God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners [while we were STILL sinners!], Christ. died. for. us.”

We pitted ourselves against God, but God proves he is for us by sending Jesus.

I read the story once of a cat that was thrown into a raging river. Somehow it
managed to stay afloat through a storm by latching onto a rock, holding on for dear life. After the storm passed, some kids were playing outside and they heard a cat meowing in the distance—they saw this poor cat on a little rock, frightened as the water raged past her.

They waded through the river to go get it, but the frightened cat thought they were against her—she thought they were coming to throw her in—so she bit and clawed at the kids, not knowing they were coming to save her.

We were once enemies with God in our minds—clawing and biting at him…thinking He came to get back at us, not realizing he came to get us back. Jesus comes to us, like the kids seeing that frightened cat, and He picks us up and he takes all the bites and scratches on himself because he loves us and is for us, not against us.

Jesus took on the sin and death that we deserved so that in him, we could find new life, so that as Isaiah 53 says, “By his wounds, we are healed.” Have you accepted his offer for peace…or are you still waging war against the one who says, “It doesn’t matter who started it, I’ll make it My move.”

When you embrace peace with God, you’ll begin to experience the peace of God in your life and extend this peace to others as well.

If anyone experienced the peace of God in his life, it was our boy Horatio, who wrote that amazing hymn even after finding out about his four daughters drowning. How could he say “it is well with my soul” no matter what came his way? Because of this reality…

I want you to notice it in Philippians 4. It’s so easily missed. Before Paul talks about the antidote to anxiety and God’s peace—before ANY of that—look at this little phrase Paul includes at the end of v5. He says: “The Lord is at hand” (meaning: Jesus is coming again”) and THEN he continues: “Do not be anxious… the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds.”

That’s why Horatio Stafford could close the hymn with this verse:

“And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trumpets shall sound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.”

Jesus is coming again. Do you know him? If you do, then the thought of him will bring you peace amid the storm, because you know the one who calmed the storm is coming again for you.

Now as we approach our time of communion together, 1 Corinthians 11 tells us this: that as we take the bread representing the body of Christ and dip it into the cup representing his blood shed for us, we proclaim the Lord’s death until. he. comes, because: he is coming again. Let that truth wash over you now and bring you peace.

Use this time to confess where you have tried to Ctrl+Alt+Del to find peace. Use this time to ask the Lord who you need to reconcile with. I’ll be by the doors if you would like someone to talk with as you work through these things.

Embrace peace with God, experience the peace of God, and extend this peace to others as well.

Let’s pray.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
For Yours is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Joy to pass the test .:. Borne Identity

This sermon was preached at the Church in Waldo.
You can listen to the recording here, or read the manuscript below:

I want to read John 15:9-11 to you. It’s a staggering passage that’s really messed me up this week.

John 15:9, Jesus says “9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

Do you want the joy of Jesus? Do you want a joy that the only word Jesus uses to describe it is this: full. It’s a joy that is full. Jesus says, “It’s my joy, it’s full, and I want you to have it.”

Are you hearing this?! Jesus offers to us his joy! His joy! A joy that Hebrews 12 says was set before him so he was able to endure the torment of the cross. A joy that the Spirit of God wants to bear as fruit in our lives. Jesus offers to us his joy.

Doesn’t that sound awesome?!

So why is it that so many of us don’t seem to be living lives full of joy?

I used to help out in the summers at a Boys Camp. One of the 9 year olds asked me this question: “If God is bigger than me…and Jesus is in my heart, then shouldn’t I be able to see him?”

If the Spirit of God is in me—and the fruit of the Spirit is joy—then why isn’t my life filled with it? What keeps us from living lives full of joy?

If I asked you to put together a list of the top ten things in life that bring you joy, what would you include on it? What would make the list? …family? Music? Nature? A friend or mentor? Fogo De Chao (that’d be on mine) Think about it…what would make your top ten?

If we went around the room comparing lists, I’d venture to say that none of our top tens would include this particular thing. Listen to what James writes about joy in James 1:2.

He says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when: you meet trials of various kinds…”

Yeah, that wasn’t gonna make my top 10. Why would he say “Consider it all joy—pure joy (some translations say)—Consider it pure, unadulterated, everlasting joy when trials come your way.”

In fact, so often, what we think keeps us from joy are trials. Life’s tough. There’s so much suffering…it’s hard to stay above it, right? Trials steal our joy, we often think.

So what does James know that I don’t? The word “trial” that James uses can also be translated as “test.” Think of a court trial, for example. The Judge and Jury are testing to see what’s real and what’s not. A test reveals what is real. A trial can be any situation that tests your faith and character to see what you can handle, and I don’t know about you but I never liked tests. Not at all.

I remember my first day of college: one of my professors stood in front of the class and said, “I know how you guys think this works. You think you can goof off for most of the semester then try to cram it all in at the end, but you won’t be able to master the material that way; it can only be learned incrementally. So…I’m not gonna tell you when any of the exams are.”

That was her opening line…and she wasn’t kidding. There was no participation grade. There was no homework grade. There were no quizzes or papers or anything like that; only four tests. Four random, pop-quiz like exams. It was her way of saying, “You’d better come to class, and you’d better keep up,” because the tests can come at anytime.

James says, “Count it all joy, WHEN—not IF, but WHEN—they come.”

So the tests are coming. That’s what James tells us. Trials are coming, but not just any one kind. Notice, he writes trials of “trials of various kinds.” That word “various” can be translated as “multicolored.” So not only do we not know when the tests are coming, but we don’t even know what the tests will look like.

You won’t just get hit with red trials, life’s gonna throw some pink and blue ones in there too. Trials suck, but at least they’re not redundant—at least they’re not bland and boring. Life’s gonna be creative when it messes with you. Today was brown; tomorrow’s green. The next day might be orange and violet. “How’s your week been?” Ah, you know, just getting hit with a: double rainbow.”

Yesterday was a flat tire, but tomorrow might be a head on collision. Yesterday was a malicious rumor being spread about you by a close friend, but tomorrow you’ll get fired from your job for no substantial reason. Yesterday, you discovered your spouse has been hiding a 5 year porn addiction. Tomorrow, your dad dies.

Trials come, and they don’t always look the same. That means we don’t always recognize them as tests, but they’re tests nonetheless. So remember: the tests are coming, and they don’t always look the same, but above all else, here’s what a test does and here’s what I think James is getting at when he says count it all joy.

A test reveals what’s real.

Take my college class. As bad as random tests might be, here’s the thing: if you did keep up, the tests weren’t so bad. At least in the sense that they kept you honest: they showed when you were making progress and where you still needed work…they held you accountable and even kept you going in a way because you were constantly coming prepared, no matter what.

But: if you were letting it slide, if you were trying to bluff your way through it, well, it showed you where you really were, because a test reveals what’s real.

“Count it all joy” James says, “when you meet trials,” because the tests are coming and you have no idea when, but they are coming—a wide spectrum of colorful tests will be thrown at you, and despite what it may feel like, trials don’t steal your joy; they merely reveal where your joy has been coming from.

Now, up until this point, I may have given the impression that it’s joy being tested—and it is, in a way—but really, what’s being tested is what’s underneath joy. Joy is seen on the surface, but what’s below is: faith. Trials are tests of our faith.

Look at how James finishes the thought. He starts by saying “Count it all joy, when various trials come… [then continues in v3-4] …because you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. Let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Joy is linked to faith. In fact, Joy stems from faith. Look up these other passages sometime on your own: Paul says this in Romans 5:1-5; Peter says it in 1 Peter 1:6-7; and as we’ve seen already, James says it here—that our joy is the by-product of what we place our faith in. Where your faith is, there your joy will be.

What you find your joy in reveals where you’ve placed your faith.

If your joy rises and falls with the stock market, that’s where you’ve placed your faith. If your joy is contingent on what people say about you, or what your boss thinks of you, or what the government or a business deems as acceptable, then I’m telling you, that’s where you’ve placed your faith.

And when you have faith in something and that something gives out, your joy does to. Trials test our joy because they test our faith. Metal is tested and strengthened through fiery trials. Same with faith… Where is your faith? That’s where your joy is too.

That means Joy only endures if our Faith is in something enduring. Real Joy is not borne out of a faulty or even a blind faith…and that’s where the tests come in. Trials don’t steal your joy, they simply reveal whether or not your faith is in something lasting. Joy then, is the observable overflow of our unseen faith.

So, if you’re here this morning and you find that there’s a lack of joy, it’s a likely sign and symptom that your faith has been misplaced into something that was never meant to bear that kind of weight. Missing joy reveals misplaced faith.

On top of this, tests also show us that it’s not about the size of our faith, but the object of our faith. It’s not about how much faith you have, but where you place your faith.

I may have a WHOLE lot of faith in this table vs. your little faith in this table, but if we both stood on it and the table crumbled beneath us; we’d both be on the ground despite the amounts of our faith. Trials don’t test the size of our faith, they test the object of our faith and help us see if we’ve misplaced our faith.

Joy, then, is like the thermometer reading what’s going on in the situation. Faith is the thermostat, joy is the thermometer. The thermometer of joy only reads what’s going on according to the thermostat of Faith. Joy simply gives us a read on where our faith has been set.

If your joy goes missing in the midst of a trial, it’s likely you’ve misplaced your faith. So tests don’t steal your joy, they reveal where your faith is placed.

Matt. 4:1-11 tells us about the time Jesus was tested 3 times. He had just finished a 40 day fast. No eating for 40 days and 40 nights. I can hardly make it 4 hours between meals sometimes. And here, in this moment of all moments of weakness, Jesus somehow passes the tests. 3 of them. Aced with flying colors.

How was Jesus able to do this? We often say “Well he was God, so…” as if that dismisses it. Yeah, he’s fully God, but you know what else: he was also fully man, and as a man, he knew what it was like to be so hungry—so empty—you’d do anything to satisfy and fill it.

As a man, he knew what it was like to have his own dreams and passions to pursue that could have pulled him away from doing his Father’s will (if anyone could have used God to achieve his own purposes, it would have been Jesus, but he didn’t!).

As a man, he knew what it was like to want to bypass pain—to bypass effort—in order to attain your inevitable destiny. He knew what those things were like and yet he was able to pass the test, each time. How?

Think back to the first passage we read. Jesus said, “As the father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” He continues to say how he “kept his Father’s commandments and abides in his love,” then offers his full joy to anyone who abides in his love.

You want the full joy of Jesus? Here’s the secret. Look at this. In the verses directly preceding the 3 tests from Matt 4, in Matthew 3:16-17—look what it says: as soon as Jesus was baptized and he got out of the water—at that very moment: heaven opened…and the Spirit of God descended like a dove and rested on him. And then, this voice from heaven—this massive voice from God the Father, himself—declared these words, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Then, Matt. 4:1 tells us, then Jesus was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil.”

God had JUST confirmed his love for Jesus, THEN(!), Jesus ends up surrounded by various trials. If you find yourself in the desert and far from green pastures—in a situation that sounds more like a fiery furnace than a day at the beach—I want you to hear me speaking this truth over you…let this truth liberate you and free you now:

God. is. not. mad at you.
—Suffering doesn’t mean God hates you…
—The desert doesn’t mean God stopped loving you…

We often think tests are God’s way of trying to get back at us for something we’ve done, but like Ethan Williamson so aptly shared with us a month ago:

“God did not cause your child to be born blind or with some other disability because of your sin. God did not send your car off the road causing you to be paralyzed for the rest of your life because of your sin. God did not give you cancer because of your sin. God did not cause you to live your life in toil and poverty because of your sin.

God’s only answer to our sin is a baby in a manger,
a man on a cross, and an empty tomb. Period.”

God is not mad at you… if anything, he’s mad about you.
 He loves you and He is with you in the wilderness and in the fire.

Jesus may have been starved of food, but he wasn’t starved of God’s love. That’s the secret. He had just been assured of the Father’s love before any of this started and because he chose to abide in and place his faith in the love of God—something enduring—his joy was full and he didn’t feel the need to look into something temporal to find it.

If you’re going to have lasting joy—a joy to pass the test—you need to be absolutely convinced of God’s love for you; a love that Paul urges us in Ephesians 3 not only to be rooted and grounded in, but also to give all of our lives to knowing more fully just how deep and wide and high and vast it is; a love that no matter what we have done, no matter what we do, and no matter what we ever will do—Romans 8 assures us that we can never ever EVER be separated from it if we are in Christ; a love that no power of hell or death or fire could ever take away… That’s the very thing the tests are trying to reveal, if our faith is in this love, because if so, our joy will be full.

Is this your joy?

Again, listen to the words of Jesus from John 15:9…
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” And v11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

If you are not certain of God’s love for you, then you’ll fail the test. But if you see his love as the foundation of your faith, then your joy will last because God’s love is everlasting. Your joy will endure because his love endures forever. Your joy will never end or change no matter the fiery storms of hell that come because God’s love is unending and unchanging and eternally the same.

One last thing that needs to be addressed:
Does all this mean you shouldn’t find joy in what you do? if you’re a teacher, should you not enjoy teaching? Or if you’re a mom, that you shouldn’t ever enjoy being a mom? Of course not. That’s ludicrous.

Of course you should be able to find joy in those things…and when you rest ALL of your joy in God’s love, it protects you from resting all of your joy in any one of those things, which then frees you to enjoy them for what they are instead of demanding they satisfy more than they were ever meant to.

To paraphrase one author, learn to “trace the sunbeam back to the Sun,”—enjoy the sunbeam, but realize where it came from. Don’t get caught up so much in the blessing that you miss the Blesser, who is the source of all blessing. Trace the sunbeam back to the Sun. Enjoy these things. But see them for what they are, little signs—little joys—all pointing to the greater and greatest Joy.

I really do enjoy Fogo de Chao. I mentioned it twice now in this sermon. Big fan. For those who don’t know what it is, it’s a brazilian steakhouse where they bring you endless meat. All-you can eat. Lamb, ribs, bacon wrapped chicken, filet mignon, you name it. Just endless.

And no matter what you’re craving, it won’t run out, because it’s all you can eat. But it’s a lesser joy. I’m not supposed to find all my joy in it. But, to trace the sunbeam back to the sun looks like this: every time I eat it, I don’t have to indulge, but can appreciate it for what it is. It becomes a visual reminder for me of the all you can eat love of God that he invites me to feast my heart on.

Feast your heart on the love of God. It’s not running out. There’s filet here, and strip, and lamb, and when you get tired of those, there’s more than you can imagine because his love is endless.

I mentioned earlier about the 9 year old from the Boys Camp I used to help out. His name was Daniel. It was free time, he’s playing tetherball and after getting beaten, he blew up. Which was a fairly normal thing for him. It seemed every hour or so, something else went wrong.

Joy was an elusive reality for him. Daniel dealt with some serious demons. He was constantly bitter. Always angry. He was so easily agitated and highly aggressive toward other kids. So when I saw the fight about to go down, I intervened. I pulled him aside and starting talking with him.

I won’t bore you right now with all the details of the conversation, but after twenty minutes or so of walking around the campgrounds—seeing the magnificence of the mountain range and the dazzling sun shining brightly above them—Daniel gave his life to Jesus.

It was after this, that he asked: “If God is bigger than me…and Jesus is in my heart, then shouldn’t I be able to see him?”

Well, not two minutes later, as we’re lining up for dinner, a frisbee comes flying out of nowhere and hits him in the back of the head. He quickly clenches his fists, turns around, and then—I saw it: a change in his eyes. It’s like he was so used to responding a certain way that it was his body’s default, but then something happened. Something—or Someone—took over. His eyes…were soft. His fists…loosened.

He picked up the frisbee, walked over to the kid who threw it & said, “…can I play?”

Because of his newfound faith in God, he found a joy to pass the test.

So, Daniel, to answer your question: “If God is bigger than me and Jesus is in my heart, then shouldn’t I be able to see him?”

Believe me, kid, Jesus is showing through.

Place your faith in God, feast on his endless unwavering love, and when the trials of life fly out at you like frisbees, you’ll have a joy to pass the test. And as you do this, you’ll come to appreciate the little joys of life as they were meant to be enjoyed. You’ll live a more joyful life, because your faith will be set on the bedrock of God’s enduring love.