Saturday, December 19, 2015

Traveling to the Hill Country

Traveling the Hill Country                                                   12/20/15

Micah 5:2-5, Luke 1:39-46


Background to Micah Reading:

          --his name means:  Who is like God?

          --prophesies during the Late 700’s, includes predictions of

                   Fall of Samaria in 722, and judgment of the people

                   during Hezekiah’s rule in 700.

          --3 Eras of Prophets:  Assyria, Babylon, Persia

          --Other Assyrian era prophets:  Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah

          --His 3:12 prophesy is quoted by people defending Jeremiah


During Advent, we remember two comings, that first coming of Jesus, when he was born in a cave outside of Bethlehem, as well as the second coming of Jesus, at the end of the age, when he reveals himself as King of kings and Lord of lords, glorious and One with the Father.

Bethlehem was a small city in the Hill Country of Judah, about 5 miles outside of Jerusalem.  Its original name was Ephrathah, given to it in the time of Jacob, with its meaning “fruitful”.  Bethlehem means “House of Bread”.  How fitting that the place where the Bread of Life was born was named the House of Bread, the place where the Vine of Life was born was named Fruitful.

Micah proclaims that it is this small clan of Bethlehem out of which the Messiah will proceed.  It is out of smallness that the ultimate power of God will come.  Strength comes not from the big city of Jerusalem, but rather, the small town of Bethlehem.

The Messiah’s lineage can be traced to this small town.  Bethlehem will be exalted because out of it is born the Savior.  The Messiah from Bethlehem will rule over Israel, and his origins are from eternity.  The modern translation says “from of old, from ancient times”, but it really means ‘before the creation’, and the same exact phrase is used in Proverbs 8:22-23, when wisdom proceeds to humanity from eternity.

C.F. Keil reminds us “man is bound to time and in his mode of thought, can only picture eternity as time without end”
(Keil, Commentary on the OT:  Minor Prophets.  Eerdmans, Grand Rapids.  1982.  pg. 480)
Eternity is not only time without end, but also time without beginning.  The Messiah that is comes out of Bethlehem is from eternity.

The Messiah enters human history by way of the small town of Bethlehem.

One thousand years before the Messiah came by way of this small town, a young shepherd named David watched over the fields outside Bethlehem.  He was destined to Jerusalem, anointed King by Samuel after being called in from the fields.

Bethlehem was on the highway.  It was a popular stop on the way to Egypt, and to the ancient city of Hebron.  There was an Inn there.  No, really, there was.

And there was also a cave outside the Inn.  This cave was used as a stable.

The Messiah would come to rule the world, by way of Bethlehem.  The Messiah would shepherd his people with strength.  The sheep would be secure.  The Shepherds greatness would reach the ends of the earth.  The Shepherd would be their peace.

The Messiah is from the family line of David the King.  David could not fulfill God’s justice, though he did love God with all of his heart.  The Messiah would come to rule the world; with truth and grace.  He would be our peace.


The teenaged Mary meets older Elizabeth in the hill country.  She endured the difficult travel to meet her relative.  Elizabeth praises Mary, for being chosen by God, and for believing in God’s word and God’s promise.

Mary was blessed to be the mother of the Messiah. She was blessed because she believed what the Lord had said to her, and that the Lord, the Strong Shepherd of his people, had the power to do what he said.

Mary and Elizabeth become models for our faith.  Elizabeth, and John the Baptist growing within her, are filled with the Holy Spirit when they encounter Jesus.   They proclaim with loud voice the wonders of God, the blessing of living in his ways, and she blesses Mary.  Mary is a model because she trusts in God. She remains humble and glorifies the Lord, not herself.

Mary traveled to the Hill Country.  We too, travel there.  Hill Country provides several images for our faith:  hills are not without slippery slopes, and have an element of danger to them.  Their heights offer perspective, and a deep sense of beauty.  You need stamina to climb the hills.

As Christians, our lives, when lived faithfully, are not without potential difficulty and danger.  Christian faith does provide perspective and a sense of beauty not offered by godlessness and faithlessness.  And you do need to be strong to be a Christian, it requires endurance, perseverance, and courage.

Those who have faith enough to travel to the Hill country will meet Jesus Christ there.  Jesus’ birth and death, take place in the Hill Country.  The defining moments of human history take place on a hill.

Long ago, the hills surrounding Bethlehem hosted sheep, and shepherds, like David.  The hills watched throughout the generations as travelers passed by.  The hills welcomed the Messiah as he was born in that little town of Bethlehem.  The House of Bread gave the bread of life to the world.


Some 300 years after the life of Christ, a famous Christian named Jerome spent the last 30 years of his life in Bethlehem.  Living in a cave cell for most of that time, Jerome wrote extensively, including the Latin Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Scripture. He also served as a priest to a small number of followers there.  It is delightful to think that one of the church’s most important scholars had journeyed to many places and important cities throughout the world before traveling to the hill country of Bethlehem, to write near the place of his Lord’s birth.

Like Jerome, we should go to the place of Christ’s birth.  It is this wondrous story that leads us to salvation.

Like Jerome, we must spend time interacting with the Word of God, in human flesh Jesus, and in print, the Bible.  This word has the power to save and transform all human life, as well as all life throughout the cosmos.

Like Jerome, we should seek to understand God’s word in such a way that we can also translate to the common person.  Are we pointing people to the bread of life?  Do we walk alongside friend and neighbor and co-worker in order to point them to the Hill Country, where they too might seek and find Jesus Christ?

Are we traveling the Hill Country?  If so, we too will see and know the Messiah, Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, King of kings, Lord of Lords.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Mountains and Valleys: 2nd Week of Advent

Mountains and Valleys                                               12/6/15

Isaiah 40:1-5, Luke 3:1-6, Philippians 1:3-11

Slavery.  Freedom.   Look to your left and right, and each one stands opposed, both calling to you.
It is easy to say we would look to freedom, and easily choose her.  But the story of God’s people reminds us it isn’t always that simple. 

When faced with hunger, on the road to freedom, Israel recalled supposed ‘better days’.  The people recalled that in Egypt, “we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted” (Exodus 16:3).

God had provided his strong salvation in the Exodus story.  God’s mighty voice spoke through Moses, “Let my people go”.  The people left their slavery behind, and started the journey.  When brought to the Red Sea, with the repentant Pharoah having sent his army to right his wrong, God parted the sea, and sent the people on their way.  Egypt was judged.

It would be wonderful, if the Israelites had simply crossed and entered their new state of freedom. But in their preparing work, the false security of slavery beckoned with its reconstruction of the past:  You had all the food you needed, where are you traveling to?  Why not come back?

God had hoped the people would rely on his promise to bring them home.  If nothing else, the fire by night and the cloud by day should have served as a reminder that God would provide.

The people, in the wilderness, decided on a third option.  Recalling the supposed security that slavery had provided them, and not yet in the land of promise, Israel chooses to stay.  Israel chooses the wilderness. 

God’s offer of smooth paths, milk and honey, and a land for children and children’s children was rejected, for the wilderness.

Essentially, God, in his anger at the disobedience and shortsightedness of the people, gives them what they want.  They want wilderness?  You’ll get it.  None of the generation that led their children on the road to freedom would enter the land.

The New Testament Letter called Hebrews interprets this decision to choose wilderness:

So, as the Holy Spirit says:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
    during the time of testing in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested and tried me,

    though for forty years they saw what I did.
10 That is why I was angry with that generation;
    I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
    and they have not known my ways.’
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
    ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”
12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
    as you did in the rebellion.”

16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.
(Hebrews 3:7-19)


The wilderness ways have continued throughout history, and we find ourselves still traveling through the wilderness, having found it comfortable enough even to make our spiritual home in the wilderness.  From the wilderness, we see two dominant features within the landscape:  We look around, and see mountains and valleys.  It is our God who calls to them to make way for the Lord.  We are to prepare a path for the coming of the King.

And while we might imagine the scenery and loftiness of the mountains, where hiking to stunning views sounds positive, mountains in Scripture spoke of boundary (they separated people from people), and idolatry (the mountains were used to offer the sacrifices to idols).  The Psalmist says:  I look to the mountains, does my help come from them, no, my help comes from the Lord (Psalm 121:1)

The valleys hold within them the floods and the fallen rocks.  The valley becomes symbolic of the anger and bitterness that stays in our life when we don’t send it away.  It stays with us, and keeps us from the path of the Lord.  

But rather than looking at what seems insurmountable, or being kept down by what has come to us, the Scripture invites a different way:


Prepare the way for the LORD.

In the wilderness make the highway out.

The straight path called for by God makes way for God, for movement, and for the glory of the Lord to be revealed, so that all mankind together will see the glory of God.


Scripture teaches us of one who understood the voice of one calling:  John the Baptist:


How did John the Baptist prepare the way for the LORD?


John is first mentioned following a list of several rulers of different layers of the Roman government.  Some of these names sound familiar to us, others have been dismissed by time.  But all human government is bound by time, and the rule of men is but second when standing against the eternal authority of God Almighty.  These names, the names that we are familiar with in our time, they don’t last:  the rule of men does not last.


It is after these names are listed, because they do provide historical context, that we find the Word of God making its way to John.  This is why it is important that we know John.  He has been lifted out of the fading, futile rule of men, in order to announce the reign and realm of God Almighty.


John is given an identity that resonates with us: John is identified as son of Zechariah, not citizen of Rome


It is while in the desert that God’s word comes to John.  He was in the desert, and from there, went out into all the country


--preached the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins

--he challenged decision makers to share

--he challenged tax collectors to simply do their job

--he challenged soldiers to stop extorting and accusing, and to be content.

--He pointed people to the Way, our Lord Jesus Christ.

We find ourselves in a situation not that different than John the Baptist.


Like John the Baptist, we should be preaching repentance:  someone uses the name of the Lord in vain.  Do we say something?  After all, Jesus is our Lord, his name is important to us.  “excuse me, but the name you just took in vain is important to me, and I ask that you would chose different words to express your frustration”.  You are inviting someone to repent.


Like John the Baptist, we should be challenging decision makers to share:

You could write a letter to forsake to your congressman inviting our nation to forsake the sins of the fathers when it comes to helping those in dire situations.  I watched with fascination this week the PBS documentary: Roosevelt:  An Intimate History.  There was a section at the end of episode 5 which told of America’s hesitation to welcome jewish brothers and sisters who requested asylum from Nazi germany.  Though the historical contexts are different, should not we welcome Syrian refugees, especially mothers and children?

Like John the Baptist, we should encourage people to do their jobs.  Perhaps there is someone who might feel down, you can come alongside of them and encourage them to be diligent, and do their job.

Like John the Baptist, we should call people not to steal, but to be honest.

Like John the Baptist, we should point people to Jesus Christ:  This Christmas season, you could invite someone distracted or overwhelmed by the less important things of holiday season, and point them to the better gift of a grace-filled and simple life, and the best gift of Jesus Christ


Philippians:  How do we help prepare the way for the LORD?

 Thanking God for his goodness, the people we have had chance to walk alongside

To pray with joy because of how the gospel is at work, and when we are doing our job as a church—we are promoting the gospel.

To be assured of God’s completing work.

To have one another in our hearts, as we defend the gospel, regardless of circumstance

To long for what the LORD longs for.

That our love for one another may abound, and become more knowledgeable, have more depth of insight  (love isn’t just a feeling, it is a way of life, with a familiarity of the loved one based on knowledge)

To discern what is best

To be pure and blameless until the day that Jesus comes again.

To be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes from Jesus.

To give glory and praise to God.

Today’s candle points us to peace.  Peace essentially means wholeness.  The wilderness can’t provide us peace, so let’s not choose to live there, when God calls us to his promise.  Living simply and boldly provides peace, John the Baptist modeled that to us.  And praying for the church, and loving our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, that should bring us peace too.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Advent Week One: On Being Directed

On Being Directed                                          11/29/15

Jeremiah 33, I Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-36

Today is the start of the new year in the church calendar.  Last week, we culminated the year with Christ the King Sunday.  We lifted up Jesus Christ as the King of kings.  Just as the story of Scripture ends with Jesus Christ reigning on the throne of the new heavens and new earth, so our calendar year ends with the proclamation of Jesus Christ as King.

So, happy new year to you!  Today, is the start of a new year.  It is advent, which speaks to the Lord’s coming.  We celebrate 2 advents in the church:  the first when Mary gave birth to Jesus, the second when Jesus Christ comes again from the heavens.  As Christians, Advent gives us the gift of looking back and forward, while rooted in the present.

As we start this new year, I’d like to lift up a goal that has been birthed out of observation.  We need to talk more about The Lord.  Especially as we come together as a family of God.  Heat, building, bodies, our personal comfort levels in following the Lord:  these conversations are wasteful of the breath that God has given us.  The Lord is our life.  The Lord is our salvation.  I’d like us to become more comfortable talking about God, and about what Scripture says about God.  This implies that we need to spend more time in our lives reading from the Holy Bible, so that we can speak of what and whom we know.

I sometimes worry that some Christians and congregations have become godless.  What I mean is the absence of God in our conversations, our prayers, our dreams and hopes and the why of why we gather to do what we do.  The Lord should be at the center.  Imagine going to an open house this Christmas season, and not giving any compliments to your host, or offering any kind words, or asking any interesting questions about your host and how they arrived at that home.  Instead, you go around frothing your opinions of why you don’t like the paint color they’ve chosen, or give suggestions as to how they should place their furniture.  Do we do these types of things with the Lord God?  Or worse yet, do we not even speak to him when in his house?

The good news is that today is the start of a new year.  So we can go back to the very core of Christian faith:  Christ has come, Christ  has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.  This is why we come to this house of worship, to give praise to the Lord God, and to seek his will, not our own, for our lives.  And we come first and foremost, not for ourselves, but for our brothers and sisters in the faith.  We come to bear witness to the truth:  God’s past work in history, and his promise of future presence.

Today’s Scriptures are taken from the lectionary, chosen for how they speak to us during Advent.   The Jeremiah passage reminds us of God’s will for the people of God, and the creation.   The Luke passage speaks to the world, the church and the believer about the future.  Thessalonians is a reminder of the big themes of Christian faith in the familiar routines of being a congregation.

Jeremiah is a prophet, nicknamed the Weeping Prophet, for he spoke against Israel to repent, promised that if they did not repent that God would them by sending foreign armies, watched the people reject him and his message, and watched as the Babylonians carried most of the population off to exile.  Jeremiah stayed in Israel as the people reaped the consequences of their actions.  In dark times, the prophet was able to speak to the people about the future.  This includes today’s reading from chapter 33.

This is the word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

 G. Campbell Morgan, a pastor in London at the beginning of the 20th century describes God’s restoring work in this way:

“The processes of realization are described thus:  first, destruction in order to rebuilding; secondly, moral cleaning in order to spiritual joy; and thirdly, spiritual joy in order to material prosperity. “


“We constantly begin our attempt at restoration  by endeavoring to secure material prosperity.  God never begins so.  He begins with the destruction of the things that are evil, but proceeds through the moral cleansing of human life, to the creation of spiritual joy; and wherever there is spiritual joy in human life, all the forces of the life are freed for their finest activity, and there results true and lasting material prosperity.”


“There is then to be within the heart of the people a moral cleansing, creating a spiritual joy, energizing the life along new direction”

 (Studies in the Prophecy of Jeremiah, G. Campbell Morgan, Fleming H. Revell, 1994, pages 203-210)

This passage is called upon for Advent because we see the promised Messiah in this passage. 

In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sproud from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.  In those days Judah willll be saved and Jersualem will live in safety.  This is the name by which it will be called:  The LORD our Righteousness.

A few minutes ago, I expressed a call that we speak about the Lord more.  Do you see what happens in this passage when the land and the people embrace the Messiah?  What is that place called:  The  LORD is our Righteousness.   The place is literally named for who God is and what God wants for us.  The creation is united to heaven’s command in this prophecy.  The Lord is directing his people toward the place where we live in the righteousness of God.  Faith moves upon this directive, and toward this direction.

The Gospel passage is called upon because it speaks to Jesus’ words on his second advent.  In his message, he speaks to the Jewish people in the verses that immediately precede our morning passage.  Today’s reading then calls upon the world, God’s people, and individual believers to watch and pray, which is some of our most honored work as Christians, to watch the works of God and to pray to the Lord.  Listen now as Jesus’ words are first directed to all people, then to the body of believers who is looking for that great day of redemption, and finally, to how we should live.

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus teaches us to be careful, and to not be trapped.  He puts personal responsibility on each listener to live above the trappings such as dissipation, drunkenness and anxiety.

Of particular interest is the word dissipate.  Do you know what it means?

Webster’s defines the word as such: 

  1. to break up and drive off
  2. b.  to cause to spread out or spread thin to the point of vanishing.
  3. To lose irrecoverably
  4. To expend aimlessly or foolishly
Our call is to something much more important:  to be always on the watch and to pray.  While we can certainly do this individually in the privacy of our home or the obscurity of our walk along the street, is it not best, to watch and pray together, as we wait for the Lord?

The words from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians are delightful.  They encourage us to be God’s people together.

The word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

We really live, when we stand firm in the Lord.

We can’t thank God enough for our brothers and sisters.

We have joy in God’s presence because of our brothers and sisters in the faith.

We desire to see one another, and help one another in our lives of faith.

And then Paul prays:

That the Lord God will direct him to come to them.  He asks the Lord of the Church will allow for this union, and life together. 

That the Lord make your love increase for your brothers and sisters in the faith

That the Lord will strengthen your hearts.

That you will be blameless and holy in the presence of God when Jesus comes again.

I have homework for you.  I hope you take this work seriously.  I’d like you to read the copy of Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that came to you today.  The underlines are from years ago, and none were made for today’s distribution.  I’d like you to read it, and consider how you can be your best in this new year.  And perhaps you should pass it along when you are done to someone from the congregation who has chosen to not live life together here, and is thus hurting the congregation, and by extension, themselves.  Not that you should lead with that line, but if you feel the Spirit of the Lord speak to you through this reading, to pass it along with your prayer for the brother or sister that comes to mind.


Happy new year!  Here is one final quote from G. Campbell Morgan, on God’s desire for his creation:

“If the Biblical Revelation, the whole Biblical revelation—and by that I mean the whole unveiling of God in the Divine Library—teaches us anything, it teaches us that God’s will for the human race is that of abounding joy, and perfect happiness, and persistent merriment.  Tears are in the Bible from beginning to end, sorrows are multiplied to the sons of men.  The ways along which they walk are shadowed ways, and ways of darkness; but when we follow through the processes as suggested and revealed in the wonderful literature, we come at last to the final truth, and it is this, uttered in the word of the prophetic age, and finally repeated amid the glow of the morning as John saw it in Revelation; that God shall wipe away all tears from human eyes, that sorrow and sighing shall flee away, and no more place shall be found for them.  Human joy, and human gladness, human laughter and human singing, human merriment, these are never to pass.  They constitute the ultimate purpose of God for humanity.  But in order for such spiritual joy, there must be the purification of life.  Life must be purified at its springs, at is sources, at the places from which all its streams flow, those intellectual, emotional and volitional sources, which constitute the essential things of human life,; then the life becomes joyous, then the life becomes glad.”

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Glory and Goodness of God

The Glory and Goodness of God                                                  11/15/15

Exodus 13:17-22, I Timothy 6:11-16


Exodus:  God will lead his people to the promised land.  Follow the glory of God!

Timothy:  Take hold of the eternal life found in our confession of Jesus Christ as Lord.  Proclaim the goodness of God!


What is our responsibility in seeking God, in all his glory and goodness?

Hebrews:  Make level ground for your feet.  

The Israelites must not have believed their ears.  Did Pharaoh really let us go?  We’ve been slaves for 400 years.  My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great- grandparents were first slaves in Egypt.  And every generation since them longed to go back home.  Did Pharaoh really let us go?

The story tells of two escape routes.  The first through Philistine country:  Israel’s enemies.  The second was the desert Road toward the Red Sea.  The first could prove too much for the nation on the run.  God says that if they were to face battle, they might wish for the lure of security that slavery might have provided them.  We see this in other places in Israel’s story, where they wonder why they left Egypt, “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted” (Exodus 16:3).

Israel is led through the wilderness as it moves towards the Promised Land.  And as it moves towards the Promised Land, they move alongside the One Who Promised.  The LORD leads his people with a cloud by day and fire by night.  The LORD went ahead of his people.  What an assuring thought that is:  we are bound by time.  God is not.  The Lord prepares the way.  The Lord prepares the promised land.  The people are but to walk when the cloud or fire moves.  You and I, whatever we might face this week:  the Lord went ahead of them.

Did the people realize they were watching a daily glimpse of the glory of God?  Did they cease to marvel that this pillar led the people and beckoned them toward the promise that was theirs?  There may have been pots of food in Egypt, but it was not to be compared with what God had wanted for the people. 

As the people walked toward the promise of God, they also carried with them the stories that shaped who they were.  Joseph, favored Son of Jacob, ruler of Egypt by Pharoah’s command, had long ago died.  He died not having returned home to the land of promise.  But as the reading today says, He made his children promise that one day, they would return his bones to their proper resting place.  That promise is preserved throughout the generations, anywhere from 215 to 400 years, depending on biblical scholarship.  They kept his bones, so that they too might follow the glory of God all the way home.

This verse is outstanding in its call to us.  We carry the message of the generations that precede us.  We continue the heritage that came to us. The gospel message made its way to you and me.  It is anti-Christ to think that the message stops with us.  And even if we do not accomplish the promised land in this lifetime, we preserve the message for the next generation.  

 The pillar of cloud by day.  The pillar of fire by night.  The glory of God before the people, calling them from Egypt, calling them to the promised land.  Walking alongside of them in the wildnerness.  Follow the glory of God!

As we follow the glory of God, we see and proclaim the goodness of God.

Today’s reading from Paul instructs Timothy to flee from all of this, and pursue righteousness.  What is the “all of this” that Paul wants Timothy to flee from?

false doctrines, conceit, lack of understanding, unhealthy interests, quarreling about words, envy strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions, constant friction, temptations, traps, foolish and harmful desires, wandering from the faith, piercing oneself with all types of grief.

Did the list just read speak more about you than the Bible’s instructions for who we are called to be in Christ?   If so, you are responsible for making unlevel ground by which your feet and faith have slipped.  It isn’t too late to make level ground.   Be reconciled to God.  Make peace with your neighbor.  Be the family of God for God’s glory, and for our communities.

What is the life that Paul instructs Timothy to embrace?

*the pursuit of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness:  the good race!

*fighting the good fight and taking hold of the eternal life in Jesus Christ that starts with our confession of him as Lord.   The good fight!

*a life that mirrors Jesus Christ, who also made the good confession.  The good example.

*to live as blameless and spotless, and to keep the command as best we can until Jesus Christ appears:   the good call.

Paul is writing about the goodness of God:   we have purpose, we have meaning and direction, and a call to run after.  We have a race to run well, a fight to fight well, an example to emulate well, a life to follow after God.

We know the goodness of God when we know God.  Paul describes the Lord who long before had used cloud and fire to make his presence known.

God the blessed one

God the only Ruler

God the King of kings

God the Lord of Lords,

God the immortal one

God the unapproachable light

God the honored and strong one, forever and ever.

This is the goodness of God:  that we can know God, and can love God, and can run after God.  

The appropriate response to God’s goodness is to help others know about it.  In this sense, we have a real responsibility as a congregation, and in our individual Christian lives, to make level ground by which people may also walk toward God.   We shouldn’t be creating grueling hills, nor lead people to dangerous slopes where rocks can gash and falls can break bones.  We are to do our best to proclaim the God we read about in Scripture.  Tell people about God’s glory.  Tell people about God’s goodness.  Invite people to take one step of faith on the level ground.  And if they take one step, they are moving toward all the glory and goodness of God.  They are moving in the right direction.

Christ the King Sunday: Jesus Christ is the King of kings

Jesus Christ is the King of kings                                                         11/22/115

I Samuel 12, I Timothy 1:15-20

It is hard for us as Americans; to hear this word King.  We are a nation born out of revolution against a King.  It is in our national dna.

But we do not approach this word today as Americans, or as 21st century citizens, but as Christians.  Christian is our most deeply embedded identity, if God’s Holy Spirit lives in us, how much more important is the Holy Spirit, than the spirit of any nation, or any culture, or any way of life.  From the Scripture’s teaching, being Christian should shape every thought, every word, every deed.  All of us, all of who we are, must be in service to the King.

The 1st Samuel passage warns us to not divert from our God, who chose to reveal himself as King to the people throughout Scripture.  God, in his Holy Word, calls himself a King.  In fact, God says that he is King with a capital K, over anyone who calls him or herself a ruler, king with a lower case k.

 I Timothy will help us see how to return to a reverence for God as King.

The Lord made promises to the patriarchs, like Abraham, like Jacob.  He made covenant with them.  And throughout the generations, God would give the people what they needed, when they needed it:  Moses to lead, Aaron to speak, Miriam to bear witness, Joshua to succeed Moses, the Judges to lead locally, the prophets to speak when the people needed correction.  But none of these people were ever more important than God, who had made promises to Israel.  And God alone had the power to fulfill these promises:  of land, and hope, and peace.

God has told the people, through the mouths of prophets, that he would be the King, and the people would be provided for.  We see this in the story of the manna and quails, when a supernatural provision occurs that no human being could conjure.

One of the prophets is Samuel; whose two most important acts from Israel’s history were the anointing of kings.  First, the first king of Israel, Saul, essentially a story of colossal failure.  Second, anointing of young Shepherd named David.   But we must remember that anointing these kings was not the will of God.  The people lacked faith, and didn’t trust in God, who said he was king.

 As Samuel says farewell to the people, he calls them to bear witness, and speak publically about their relationship with him, and with their God.


The LORD had appointed leaders like Moses and Aaron.

The LORD had performed all the righteous acts of the Israel’s forefathers.

Moses and Aaron were an answer to Jacob’s cry for help.

But the people forgot the LORD their God.

The LORD punished the people, by selling them into the hands of Israel’s enemies.

The people cried for help when they were in trouble.

The people acknowledged that they had forsaken their King and turned to idols.

The LORD sent judges to help the people.

The LORD’s representatives delivered the people and returned them to security.

The people panicked yet again when a new enemy rose to power.

The people demanded a king and chose to ignore God’s teaching that he was king.

Samuel reminded the people that they best continue to do good.

Samuel reminded the people that God’s hand would be against them if they did not.

The LORD reminded the people of his power by commanding thunder and rain.

Samuel reminded the people of the great evil of forsaking God as King.

The people stood in awe of the works of God.

The people ask Samuel to intercede, acknowledging their sin of asking for a king when God was their king.

Samuel invites them past fear, into repentance:  “YOU have done all this evil, yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart.

Samuel warns the people against returning to idolatry.

Samuel reminds the people of the promises made by God. 

The LORD was pleased to make Israel his people.

The LORD’s great name, and his promise allows for mercy.

Samuel chooses not to sin against God, and promises to pray and teach.

Samuel closes his speech with a caution:  to fear the Lord, to serve him faithfully with all of your heart, to consider the greatness of God the King, and his goodness in all he has done.

If you do not do these things, then you will not endure and continue.

(I highly recommend Walter Brueggeman's Intepretation commentary on I and II Samuel, specifically pages 95, his summer of Chapter 12.  I will share the highlights of his thoughts with the congregation on Sunday morning...)

That is a really wonderful and inspiring description.  It moves me toward our I Timothy passage.

My take on Paul’s writing is that final phrase of verse 15 is the only verse in Scripture that is completely wrong. 

Paul wasn’t the worst of sinners.  I am.   Kenneth Good:  the worst of sinners.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, writes

If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way less detestable in comparison, I am still not recognizing my sin at all.  My sin is of necessity the worst, the most grievious, the most reprehensible.  Brotherly love will find any number of extenuations for the sin of others, only for mysin is there no apology whatsoever.


What I am trying to say, is that each of you should disagree with what I just said.  I put my name in place of Paul’s.  You should put your name in place of Paul’s.

It has to be that way.  We each need to disagree with Paul in his last phrase of verse 15.  It is the only way.   How does the passage read when we put ourselves as the worst?  Most of it stays the same!


  • Jesus Christ remains the Savior, willing to save anybody and everybody.
  • Jesus Christ remains the author of mercy and unlimited patience.
  • Jesus Christ remains the Lord of the Church, directing his followers as salt and light in this world.  We become messengers of the King.
  • Jesus Christ remains King, immortal, invisible, the only God, honored and glorified, forever and  ever.
Understanding ourselves as rescued by the King himself, for his service instantly puts all of life in proper light.

We have breath, a gift from a merciful God.

We have purpose, to lift up the King of kings.

We have strength, to leave wrong and move toward right.

We have work:  to be examples to those around us.


The question then becomes:  what happens if we don’t view Jesus as King?

We have breath, which has come to us by chance.

There is no purpose, and life is meaningless.

There is no moral imperative.

There is no reason to be concerned with anything or anyone other than self.

When we do not view Jesus as King, we are the ones who suffer.  Jesus doesn’t change.  God the Father doesn’t change.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t change.   We suffer.

Rejecting Christ as King, if done often enough, and willingly enough, shipwrecks our faith.  Paul warns us of two that chose shipwreck.   Perhaps it would be better to choose a ship that sails toward discovery, light, adventure, and an eternity of goodness and praise.  Jesus Christ is the Captain of this faith.  Only, there is a far greater title:  Jesus Christ is the King of kings.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Church Has Left the Building Sermon Notes: Living Outside for Good

Living Outside for Good                       11/8/15

Acts 10:1-48


Some Possible Common Elements of Moving Towards God’s Call

As seen through Peter’s vision story in Acts 10

Vs 14:  Objecting to God’s call by naming personal piety and


Vs. 15:  Paying attention to the voice that calls, even if that voice

               disagrees with what we find comfortable.

Vs 16:  Beware to heed when God speaks, and not assume we

             control the timeline for response

Vs 17:  Faith allows for wondering about what God is doing

Vs. 19:  Still wondering

Vs 21:  We takes step of faith even as we continue to wonder

Vs 28:  Taking the step creates the space to acknowledge and/or

             agree with what God is trying to teach us.

Vs 35:   We always learn and grow when we walk by faith

The Gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ   (10:34-43)

·       Jesus is Savior for people from all nations

·       Jesus is Israel’s Messiah (and fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel)

·       Jesus is Lord of all

·       Jesus is humanity’s peace

·       Jesus anointed by God the Father

--validated by the Spirit’s presence

--with God’s power

--doing good

--healing the lost

--God was with him

·       Jesus dies on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins

·       Jesus rises from the dead on the 3rd Day

·       Jesus is seen by witnesses as alive

·       Jesus is Judge of the Living and the Dead


We are commanded to {preach} about him

We preach by our words, actions, thoughts

We preach together as a community by our love.

Conclusion:  We are to live outside the box.

Inside the box are those things which are dark, trapping and suffocating.







          --ourselves  (we are called to live outside ourselves by putting God first)

          We are invited to living outside of that way of life, in the way of life God calls us to:  for good.  God is good.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Church Has Left the Building Sermon Notes: Living Outside Yourself

Living Outside Yourself                            10/25/15

Acts 9:1-31


Living Outside:  Assumptions, Barriers, Fears, Materialism, Conflict, Rejection


Today:  Outside Yourself

          --putting God first

          --understanding who you are in light of what God has spoken

                You are a son or daughter of the King of kings.

                You are redeemed by Jesus Christ.

                You are a temple where the Holy Spirit dwells.

                We belong to God.

What lessons do we learn from the disciple Ananias?

1.  vs 10   He was a disciple

2.  vs 10   He is close enough to God that he responds when God calls

3.  vs 11   God has a specific job for him, one that involves details.

4.  vs 12   The person Ananias is to help is being prepared for his visit

5.  vs 13-14 Ananias’ excuses are very rational and reasonable

6.  vs 15   God the Father responds with “Go!”

7.  vs 15-16  There is a reason that Ananias is to help.

8.  vs 17   Ananias did what God commanded him to do.

9.  vs 17   Ananias announces in prayer the exact way that God will work

10. vs 18  Saul is helped because Ananias listened and obeyed.

11. vs 19  Saul’s life is restored and renewed because he listened to God.


Romans 14:  The Truth About Moving Outside of Yourself:

We are servants of God and will stand by God’s strength (1-4)

We live to the Lord (7-8)

We will be judged by God (9-12)

We should live our faith with our brothers and sisters in mind (13-15)

We should make every effort to work for peace and mutual edification (19)