Saturday, March 19, 2016

Notes: The Real Reason We Are Members

The Real Reason We Are Members                                     3/20/16

Matthew 21:1-11, 28-32


In 2016, we’ve been talking about Membership:

--In the Body of Christ, with Jesus as Lord and Head of the Church

--with a Historical Presbyterian understanding, some 227 years old, which called upon Scripture and deeply-rooted theology.

Today, we lift up:

The real reason we can begin to speak about membership.

We are members of Christ’s body only because of:

The Will of God.  The work of Christ.  The wisdom of the Spirit.

We gather today at the start of Holy Week.  We speak today about membership in Christ’s body as we enter into

Triumphal Entry

Last Supper

The cross

Empty grave. 

Truly a Holy Week.

With great humility, we can start to understand ourselves.  We are members because of:

God’s Will

It is the will of God:

--To restore human beings to right relationship

--To bring back the children of God

--That we have a part and role in God’s will for the creation

--Membership is accomplished solely by and for the glory of God


 With great humility, we can start to understand ourselves.  We are members because of:

Christ’s Work

Christ’s work this Holy Week was

--to declare he was King to Israel and Rome.  (when he declared his kingship, people celebrated!)

--to offer himself to his Father’s will as the sacrifice for sins, as only he was able to be satisfactory

--To die

--To be raised to new life


With great humility, we can start to understand ourselves.  We are members because of:

The Spirit’s Wisdom

it is only the power of God's Spirit, we do not conjure up a relationship

Right relationship with God is not self-effort, good works or self-initiated.

The Holy Spirit reveals the knowledge of God.  No one knows the mind of God except the Spirit of God.

Psalm 118:
These things are marvelous in our eyes

I Corinthians 2:

No eye has seen, no ear has heard no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared…these things God has revealed to us by His Spirit.

Types of Responses

 21:6  The Disciples went and did as Jesus instructed them.

          The simplest and best response for Christian discipleship


21:32:   If you do not choose that model, we are still invited

          Repent and Believe


Two sons:   neither is a perfect son, but it is obvious that to repent and do something later is better than the second son’s behavior.  In this sense, a vow not fulfilled is inappropriate way to relate.

(via Marc Hays, Classical Conversations, Lent:  Baby Steps Toward Maturity)
Church seasons as a book within a room.  While focusing on reading, you might see other objects in a room out of the corner of your eye, but your focus remains in front of you.   Church seasons help us focus.

          Lent:  to pray and repent

          Holy Week:  to be still and silent before God.


Ecclesiastes 5:   let your words be few.


If this week, you look to the Son and believe, you will have life.  Stand in awe of God, and his wondrous works.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Race and the Prize

The Race and the Prize                   3/13/16
Hebrews 12:1-17, Matthew 13:52

You are startled awake, jumping up from your pillow, with sweat on your forehead and your heart racing.  That was a scary dream.  As you wipe your groggy eyes, a thick fog is causing clear thinking to elude you.  Your head hurts. You are confused and dazed, cloudy and discombobulated.  Something isn’t right, and you can’t quite seem to figure out what it is.  You feel lost, alone, and in a dark place.  The moment haunts you with how meaningless and scared you feel.  But it isn’t just a fleeting moment. Somewhere along the way, this is how you feel all the time.  This darkness and isolation has become your entire existence.

It is into that moment, from out of the darkness, comes a hand, reaching out to you.  “Follow me”, the voice says.  “Run the race that I have for you, and walk the path that is right, true, and good.  Don’t stray off the path, keep on following me, and I promise that something good will be at the end of the path.”

The choice is before you.  Continue in this awful state of stupor, or follow.   As you consider this choice, you decide to speak out to this voice that has come to you.

Is the path easy?  You ask.
Not always.  In fact, I know some of it is very difficult.

What if I fall down?  You inquire.
You probably will get bruised.

What if I take the wrong path? You wonder out loud.
If you follow me and listen to my voice, you won’t follow the wrong path.

What if I want to choose a path different than where you lead me?
If you do, at any point, ask for my help, I’ll lead you out of the wrong path back toward the path I chose for you.   Are you ready to make a decision?  Will you follow me?

One last thing…Do you have one piece of advice for me?
Yes, Pay attention.  Now, will you follow me?

After a simple ‘yes’, you start to walk.

The voice then spoke to me again:  The path you will now walk will be called the race.  At the end of the race is the prize.  There will be times you should run with reckless abandon.  There will be times to consider your steps carefully.  But most of the time, a steady step forward, one step at a time, will do.  Most of the time, we will walk together.

Your first sense as you look at this path is wonder.  You behold majestic trees in a forest, which seem to clap their hands in praise.  Their roots are built into the soil and history. The trees are a large and stable presence along the path.  There is a diversity of shrubbery and plant life along either side of the path.  There is mostly quiet, and as you get into a rhythm of walking, the noise producing contraptions you’ve brought with you seem less meaningful.  You feel good as you experience all that is around you.  And in this place, you feel well enough to walk at a good pace.

But not all is wonder-filled on the race.  At one point, you stoop down to see some mushrooms.  Feeling hungry, you extend your hand to reach for them, when that hand that lifted you out of the muck and mire stops you, and the voice warns you:  Those are poisonous.  Putting them in your body will cause your body harm. 

Further on down the path, there is a cavern.  Feeling curious, I call out to the voice:  What is that cavern?

To me came this word:  It is the cavern of anger.  If you go in there, the darkness makes it hard to find your way out.  And the more you give your anger a voice, the volume increases and it sends sound bouncing from one wall to the next.  Each time the sound hits a wall, it fractures into further sounds.  The angrier you get, the paralyzed you will be by the volume of the fractured sounds.   Avoid the cavern of anger.  If you end up there, call to me, and ask for my help. I will help you.  But my help will require that you leave your anger in the cavern.

After this, the path became quite narrow.  There was a sharp, steep decline within inches of the edge of the path.  The voice speaks out to you:  This is where trouble lives.  You can sense and experience trouble even if you are running the race.  You don’t have to fall off the path in order to know trouble.  It is there.  To get through, hold my hand as you keep on stepping forward.

After walking through trouble, we enjoyed a time where the path was level.  It was kind to our feet and knees and backs.  On this respite of level walking, we were able to regain strength for the next part of the race.

Next, we came to a fork in the road.  There was a warning sign.  To the left, the arrow pointed “The race”, and to the right, the arrow pointed “The Trail of Fears”.   Having succeeded in my race so far, I decided to leave the path, and I chose the trail of fears.  A few steps onto the trail, I heard voices of other travelers.  We aren’t sure where this leads, we were forced upon this path.  It isn’t our fault.  We don’t want to go here. We are scared.  We feel all alone here, so let’s go down the path together. 

I didn’t think these travelers were correct.  I chose this path.  They could have chosen to stay on the race.  We brought ourselves here.  But perhaps there is comfort in the company of these travelers.

It turned out that this was not so.  

The trail taught us something.  That if we speak out every fear to every traveler, we become weaker rather than finding strength.  Our feet come to a halt.  Our feet become so heavy they are difficult to lift up.  Every fear that was voiced awoke the fears that were within us.  They fed off of each other, until we were at a stand still, not knowing where to go, with our souls almost devoured.  Then I remembered:  If you get lost, call out to me.

So I did.

As I called, I saw a terrible sight.  The trail was only 3 or 4 steps long.  At the end of those few steps was a horrible cliff that would have led to our death.  It turns out that our paralyzing fear caused such a slow movement that it distorted our sense of space. But because the trail was indeed short the return back was attainable.  The voice called to us.  I turned around, and went back to Race.  A few others joined me.  Others didn’t.

As I started back on the race, my legs felt a little weak from my wrong choice, but I knew that I could return to health because I was on the right path.

Continuing the race, the path left the forest and turned into a deep valley, darkened because of the setting sun behind us.  The voice said that this was the valley of the shadow of death.  It was then I understood that the prize might not always be won in this life, but the promise remained real.  And it was in this valley that I saw more clearly the hand that had reached out to me, and the voice which had spoken to me.  For this voice was the voice of the Lord.  And he was in charge even in this place.

After traveling through the valley, we found that our legs had regained their strength.  To my surprise, there was a billboard along the path.  This was unusual, but the message provided hope:  Don’t grow weary and lose heart.  I chose to keep my diligence, and found my legs grow stronger with each step.  But at the same time, I noticed a sense of hunger. It was more than a sense;  I was really hungry. And it was getting dark.  What would we do?  Would we be okay?   I noticed another fork, with the same choices as before:   the race, or the trail of fears.  And this time I chose the race.

Immediately after my choice, I came to a lodge with tavern.  I met delightful travelers, some of whom looked familiar to me, and even an old friend or two.  But there was also many new travelers who I would now meet.  There was light so we could see one another and enjoy fellowship.  And there was food.  Plenty of food.  We celebrated together and then we rested for the night.   My choice reinforced a truth:  the path came equipped for everything I needed to run the race.

Looking back, there was that place of food and lodge every seven days throughout my entire journey on the race. 

Sometimes, I found the quiet of the race to be lonely.  I liked it being alone better than the loud noises. Most of the time, the quiet allowed me to think clearly.  While running the race, I would occasionally hear voices further up along the path, and they would be beckoning me to keep going.  And so when I received encouragement, I would beckon to those behind me in the race.  I would tell them to run and not grow weary.  I always tried to remember to call forward a thank you for the encouragement I had received.   I’m not sure if they heard me or not, but it seemed more important to say it than for the words to be heard.

All the while, through all the different opportunities and seasons, and all the different travelers I would get to know, and the voices from behind me or before me, there stayed with me that voice of the one who first helped me.  Sometimes the voice was a whisper, and sometimes a loud thunder, sometimes a voice and sometimes a sign.  But that voice always stayed with me, and it always called out to me, “Pay attention” and “Follow me”.

After a long time of travel, I came to a book that was placed upon a stump along the road.  The cover of that dusty, well used book said these words:   “My responsibilities”.  I opened the book and the first words I read were “Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.  Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.”   That indeed was something I was able to do.  Being responsible provided the discipline needed for the journey.

Sometimes when I would rest by the campfire, at the end of a days walk, I would think about some of the things that I had seen along the way.  Distance and further travel had allowed me to understand more clearly what I had seen earlier in the journey.  I thought back to the cavern of anger.  It turns out that while I was looking at the cavern, there was a sign above me that I had not given much notice. It read “Training ground”.  By staying in the race, I was receiving training in righteousness.   I would also recall those times of food and lodge.  They were such cherished times.  I look back at those gatherings, and they were called “peace”.

At one point, I had another dream.  This time it wasn’t a nightmare, but rather a healing rest.  When I awoke from it, rather than sweat and heart palpitations, I was complete.  I was whole.  What my eyes saw was new yet strangely familiar; I was home.   I cannot find the exact words to describe what I saw, but I do have one word:   Joy.   There before me was joy.  Not only for me; but for a countless number from every race and nation and village and tribe.  Abundant Joy!  In what seemed like seconds, I turned around to see my children enter this joy.  

After that, I heard that great voice which had once saved me from hell and was with me throughout the race; “Well done, good and faithful runner, enter into the joy of your master.”  It turns out, that the voice that I had heard was that of Jesus Christ  “For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross”.  Fix your eyes on Jesus.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

A New Openness to God

A New Openness to God                                                      3/6/16

Hebrews 10:19-39


F-1.0404 Openness

In Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all creation, the Church seeks a new openness to God’s mission in the world. In Christ, the triune God tends the least among us, suffers the curse of human sinfulness, raises up a new humanity, and promises a new future for all creation. In Christ, Church members share with all humanity the realities of creatureliness, sinfulness, brokenness, and suffering, as well as the future toward which God is drawing them. The mission of God pertains not only to the Church but also to people everywhere and to all creation. As it participates in God’s mission, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) seeks:

a new openness to the sovereign activity of God in the Church and in the world, to a more radical obedience to Christ, and to a more joyous celebration in worship and work;

a new openness in its own membership, becoming in fact as well as in faith a community of women and men of all ages, races, ethnicities, and worldly conditions, made one in Christ by the power of the Spirit, as a visible sign of the new humanity;

a new openness to see both the possibilities and perils of its institutional forms in order to ensure the faithfulness and usefulness of these forms to God’s activity in the world; and

a new openness to God’s continuing reformation of the Church ecumenical, that it might be more effective in its mission.


Are you Open to God?  Today, we talk about a new openness to God.

OPEN Definition

Adjective   Allowing access, passage, or a view through an empty space, not closed or blocked up

exposed to the air or to view; not covered.


Antonym:   closed, shut


Verb   move or adjust (a door or window) so as to leave a space allowing access and view.

In our relationship with God, the definition of “open” is very helpful:

Do we allow God access into our hearts and souls?  (He already has it, for the record, Psalm 139 teaches us this…but from a human perspective). 

Have we closed God off from any part of our existence?  Heart, mind, soul, strength, words, thoughts, deeds?

Have we lived with an understanding that everything we are is clear and known by God?  Nothing is hidden.  Nothing is covered up.  The Spirit of God can transform the heart that is exposed before God.

When open is used as a verb:  Do we move our hearts and minds toward God, so that God can help us see more clearly?  Do we let our perspectives be opened to how God looks at the world, existence and life?

The Book of Order calls for a new openness to God.  It calls us to make sure we are always letting God have first place in our lives.  Not second, not third, not last or left over.  First.  It calls us to display openness to the Lord in four specific ways:
·       Openness in our relationship with God.

·       Openness to how we see the community of faith

·       Openness to looking at how we structure ourselves for effectiveness in God’s kingdom

·       Openness in how we relate to God’s work throughout his Church


Are you closed?  Or are you open?  What is the Holy Spirit saying to you in this moment?  Closed?  Open?

Is our spiritual life reflected more in the Pharisee, or the tax collector?  Before God’s presence, do you feel entitled or self reliant?  Or humble?

 The Letter to the Hebrews gives us Biblical thought on Openness to God

 What does Being Open to God Mean?  Vs 19-25

 What is the Alternative to Being Open?  Vs 26-31

 Recalling when we have been open to God in our past.  Vs 32-39

What Does Being Open to God mean?  Vs 19-25

Jesus has opened the door for you and I to have a right relationship with God the Father.  The imagery from Israel’s Sacrificial system is drawn upon here.   In the temple, the curtain separated people from the Most Holy Place where God dwelt. The high priest would offer the animal sacrifice, whose blood was an atonement for the sins of the people..  Some of the blood is sprinkled throughout the temple furniture to remind all of the cost of sin.  Water was always present to wash and make clean after the sacrifice.

Christianity teaches us that Jesus Christ is the sacrifice for our sins.  It is the blood of Christ that allows us into the Holy Place to meet God.  Jesus bodily sacrifice tears down the wall of separation that distanced humanity from God.  Jesus is the priest, who rather than offering a sacrifice of an animal, offers himself. Jesus, our high priest then speaks on our behalf before God. Our hearts are cleansed by the sprinkled blood, and allow us to be pure, washed clean.

The imagery of Christ as sacrifice shows us the open door to the Lord.  Being open is being in a right relationship with God.  Our life is rooted in Jesus Christ.  He is the Lord.  He is our Savior.  No one else, including ourselves, can rescue us from the stain of our sins.  In Christ, we can have confidence, that Jesus has opened the way. We can live life sincerely, and with assurance from God.  In Christ we can draw near, we don’t have to be distant anymore.  In Christ, we can have hope, and hold onto that hope without swerving or wavering.  In Christ, we can encourage our family of faith.  In Christ, we should never give up on one another, and not give up the practice of being together. 

Is your spiritual life confident in what Scripture says Jesus did?  Is your life sincere, assured because of God’s promises?  Are you open, or closed?  Do you have hope?  Do you encourage one another?  If you are open to God, these descriptions should be true of you.

What is the Alternative to Being Open?
Closed.  Verses 26-31 provide us with caution.  The sacrifice that Jesus made is the utmost serious and important event.  And to toss it out, or disregard its meaning for our lives has a costly consequence to our faith.  The author tells us if we deliberately keep on sinning and ignoring God after we have claimed Christ as Lord, that “no sacrifice for sins is left”.  May these not be haunting words for us:  Do not trample on Jesus Christ.  Do not treat as unholy that most holy sacrifice of Jesus.  Do not insult the spirit of grace.  It will be a terrible thing for you if you do.   The paragraph in Hebrews is not written to unbelievers, but believers who have discarded Christ. 

Recalling when we were open.  Vs 32-39
Presumably, there have been times when you’ve felt open to God, that you’ve felt close because you walked with the Lord.  Don’t forget those times.  What was it about those seasons in your life that was different?  Has it been so long that you can’t remember?  Maybe you’ve never been open to God?  Today, is the day that can change.  The righteous shall live by faith.  And faith doesn’t shrink back.  God takes no pleasure when your faith shrinks back and is destroyed.  He takes pleasure in those who have faith, and rewards them with salvation. 

If you can’t remember a time when you were open to God, and you want to be, then let today be the first day. Find out today what God’s will is, do it today, and then do it again tomorrow.  And then do it again the day after that.  “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what God has promised.”

 Are you closed?  Or are you open?


Matthew 7:21, Mark 3:35, John 6:40,  John 7:17, Acts 20:27, Acts 22:14

Romans 1:10, Romans 8:27, Romans 9:19, Romans 12:2, II Corinthians 8:5

Galatians 1:4, Ephesians 5:17, Ephesians 6:6, Colossians 1:9, Colossians 4:12, I Thessalonians 4:3-5, Hebrews 2:4, Hebrews 10:36, James 4:15,

I Peter 2:15,I Peter 4:2,I John 2:17


As well as when Paul references this phrase in his introductions:

I Corinthians 1:1, II Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, II Timothy 1:1



Big Important Words Notes

Big Important Words                                       2/28/16
I Peter 1:1-2

I've been lifting up the Biblical and Presbyterian understanding of membership (in that order).  This sermon lifted up the Marks of the Church.  The Book of Order (BOO) is referenced for the marks.

I Peter Introduction

Congregations where in the provinces of Modern day Turkey. They highlight the importance of place and geography.

God’s elect:  he has you in place for a purpose

God has purpose for the church in all places, and all times.


Chosen by God

Through the sanctifying work of the Spirit

For the purpose of obeying Jesus Christ, sprinkled with his blood




Chosen according to the foreknowledge of God.

“unity is God’s gift to the church in Jesus Christ”  (BOO)

It is God’s call upon us that is our unity.  It isn’t the demonstration of being united.  We already are united in Christ.  We are a body, one.  If we don’t feel unity, we should look only to ourselves, what should I do to help affirm something that God has declared to be true. 


As a body, we are to care for our members, fellow parts of the body.

“to become priests for one another, praying fore the world and for one another and sharing the various gifts God has given to each Christian for the benefit of the whole community”  (BOO)



The sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit

“holiness if God’s gift to the Church in Jesus Christ”

holy means:  To be set apart

“Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written, “Be holy, because I am holy”  (quote from Leviticus)

How are we made holy?  Sprinkled with the blood of Christ



“on the whole”

Universal, widespread

“the whole being represented in each local church”

A term of contrast to describe a faith that is not heretical.

“what is believed everywhere, always and by all”  ---Vincent of Lerins

          --often, scripture, creeds, sacraments, ministry


 (Catholic notes taken from Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology)




Christ sent his disciples,  Tertullian, “the churches come from the apostles, as the apostles had come from Christ and Christ from God”  (WDCT)

Continue the faithfulness of the witness to Christ first done by the Apostles

“sent”   Jesus said, “Peace be with you!  As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “receive the Holy Spirit”.


“For the purpose of obeying Jesus Christ”




The jobs of Members:   live the unity that is in Jesus Christ

To be holy, so that we also live as a holy congregation

Faith isn’t just our faith, we are part of a faith bigger than us

Message has made its way to us, who are we getting the message to?