Aug
22

Moses: “I am Afraid”

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Moses stands apart from many Old Testament characters in that he served as the great deliverer and law giver of Israel. He is a picture of strength and courage in the face of incredible odds. His feats of faith would establish him as one of the most revered of all the leaders of God’s people. If Israel had a Mount Rushmore, he would certainly be included in the memorial.

But he didn’t start that way. His story begins with fear and reluctance, standing barefoot before a burning bush, making excuse after excuse as to why he could not return to Egypt (Exodus 3:1-4:17). On the surface we see his hesitation, but beneath the surface we observe a man overcome by fear.

Why is Moses so afraid? For one thing, he has a past. Prior to this encounter with God we have two small vignettes from his biography that are forty years apart. There’s the story of his birth, hidden in the reeds along the water’s edge then taken in by Pharaoh’s daughter. Then, four decades later, his curiosity drives him to try to re-connect with his true people, only to lose his temper and commit murder. This murder would cause him to flee for his life to the Midian desert. So you can understand why he would be afraid to return to Egypt. He has a past.

Another issue Moses has is the fact that at the time of God’s call he is 80 years old. When I think of being 80 years old I think of being in the twilight of my life. For Moses, 80 meant a brand new start.

Moses certainly has reason to be afraid, no doubt about it. But he doesn’t see in himself what God sees in him. This is often true of us as well. God invites us to become involved in his Kingdom mission because he sees in us something we can’t see in ourselves.

What does God give us in our moments of hesitation and reluctance? I’ll take that up in part two of this post.

Categories : Jars of Clay
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Aug
14

Paper or Plastic?

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For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not of ourselves. (2 Corinthians 4:6-7, NLT)

We keep an empty gallon milk jug in our pantry. No, its not full of milk. Its been rinsed out and has a hole cut in its side and we use it to store our empty plastic grocery bags. The “single use bag” was developed by a firm in Sweden back in the 1960’s and made its way across the Atlantic in 1979. While many companies were trying to figure out what to do with this new material, it was the grocery stores that saw the value. They discovered they could save as much as 20% in the bagging costs by switching to these plastic bags versus offering the traditional paper sacks. In 1982, Kroger Stores introduced them to customers, followed quickly by Safeway. By 1985, 75% of all super markets were asking the question, “paper or plastic?” Consumers like me don’t consider them single use bags by any stretch of the imagination. We reuse them for everyday purposes from toting lunch to work to cleaning up after our pets in the back yard.

The Apostle Paul’s first century world had no concept of single use bags. His world was familiar with jars made of clay. Jars of clay were readily available. They were unexceptional, affordable and mass produced. They had flaws and imperfections and were used in a wide variety of ways. It would appear that first century citizens would have held them in the same regard as we do our common grocery sacks.

Paul used this image as a metaphor for discipleship and life in the Kingdom of God. Clay symbolizes the frailty of our mortal nature and the weakness of our flesh. Like clay, we are prone to imperfections. We crack and crumble.

The great paradox is that God entrusts the treasure of Christ to these jars of clay. The concept seems absurd at first, but it is not without purpose. God does this so that the weakness of our platform will highlight and not diminish the surpassing treasure of Christ himself.

Each of us has our own unique imperfections. Life has chipped and scratched us. Cracks have formed. The importance of that realization is that these imperfections become the very platform that God uses to display his Son.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting about some of the jars of clay that God used in Scripture. We’ll look at their imperfections and weaknesses and see how God used those very things for his glory. I suspect that we will see ourselves once again reflected in the truth of God’s word.

Categories : Jars of Clay
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As many of us are reeling from the events that have unfolded in Charlottesville, VA – with stories, images, and reports whirling about and yet developing – words can be tough to come by. When there is so much that can be said, indeed, that must be said in the light of tragic events such … Continued

Source: A Congregational Prayer for Churches After Charlottesville – Missio Alliance

Categories : Uncategorized
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Aug
04

Who’s the G.O.A.T.?

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Sports has brought us an interesting new acronymn: G.O.A.T., which stands for Greatest Of All Time. As Americans, we’re interested in such debate.

For instance, what is the greatest television show of all time? Certainly we have our prejudices, but if you base the question on the longest running broadcast, the answer would be The Simpsons, which has aired for 28 seasons. If you base it on the most episodes ever, then the answer would be Gunsmoke, which aired 635 separate shows.

What is the greatest movie of all time? Again, we have our favorites. But if you look to the box office, the movie Avatar would be number one, grossing $2.7 billion including international ticket sales. If you don’t like that metric, you can choose one of three movies, each of which earned eleven Academy Awards: Ben Hur, Titanic, and the Lord of the Rings.

Can you guess the greatest Rock band of all time? Total record sales would indicate the Beatles are the G.O.A.T., amassing sales topping 271 million records. But if you base the question on Grammy Awards, you would have to tip your hat to the band U2’s 22 trophies.

We tend to measure greatness in terms of longest, biggest, best or most. But Jesus defined it in other terms. When asked about what constitutes greatness, Jesus picked up a child from the listener’s midst and began to teach. (Matthew 18:1-14)

Jesus used a child to illustrate greatness in the kingdom. It wasn’t because children are pure or innocent. Its because children in Jesus’ day had no status or significance. They were completely dependent upon adults. While the text contains certain applications to children and children’s ministry, children in this instance are a metaphor for the values of discipleship. Faithful disciples of Jesus are, by nature, vulnerable, powerless and dependent. Our path to Kingdom greatness is paved with such genuine humility.

In light of this truth, we need to be careful with how we estimate our spiritual progress and the progress of our fellow disciples. Are we self reliant or God reliant? Are we powerful or powerless? Do we walk in pride or in humility? Are we great by human standards or by the standard that God has set forth?

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Aug
03

Jars of Clay

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On Sunday I will begin a new sermon series titled, “Jars of Clay.” The goal of this series is to demonstrate how God uses our weakness as a platform to display his surpassing power. For example,

Moses said, “I am afraid.”
Deborah said, “I am unqualified.”
Gideon said, “I am uncertain.”
Samson said, “I am self reliant.”
Nehemiah said, “This is hard.”
David said, “I am inexperienced.”
Jonah said, “I don’t understand.”
Paul said, “I am weak.”

In the lives of familiar characters and stories, we’ll discover how God enables us to serve in the midst of the cracks and imperfections of our lives. I hope you’ll check in from week to week and find encouragement to let the treasure of Jesus shine through your jar of clay.

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Jul
31

Look to This Day

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“Look to this day,
For it is life,
The very best of life.
In its brief course lie all
The realities and verities of existence,
The bliss of growth,
The splendor of action,
The glory of power–

For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today, well lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day.”

Kalidasa, Fourth century A.D.

Categories : Vision
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Jun
26

Helpful Quote

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My sister shared the following quote as an introduction to a prayer she offered during worship yesterday. I liked it enough to share it with you today.

“I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all, to matter, to count, to stand for something, to make a difference that you lived at all.” — Leo Rosten

I hope it will inspire you today as it has me.

Categories : Uncategorized
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Jun
22

The Patience of Jesus

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Many people I know most readily identify with Peter more than any other apostle. For me, Peter represents the ongoing struggles I have with my personal discipleship. One day I’m “up,” and the next day, well, not so much.

Paul wrote of his struggles candidly in Romans 7:14-25, stating that he could not do the things he wanted to do and sometimes did the very things he didn’t want to do. Peter didn’t write about this paradox, he lived it publicly.

Recently I spoke from Matthew 16 and was struck by something I hadn’t given much attention. In Matthew 16:16, Peter offered what is arguably one of the most foundational confessions of the New Testament. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Because of this confession Jesus “blessed” him and proclaimed that his confession would be the foundation of the emerging church.

From that point, Jesus made his first, clear prediction regarding his passion and resurrection. Peter, according to Scripture, pulled Jesus aside and reprimanded him for “saying such things” (Matthew 16:22). Jesus response? “Get away from me Satan!” (Matthew 16:23).

Wow! Within a span of six verses Peter went from “blessed” to being (basically) called Satan. I don’t know about you, but I can identify with that.

But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus was patient with Peter. Six days later he is invited to participate in an incredible experience we call the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1ff).

I’m thankful that the Bible portrays its characters complete with their flaws and character defects. More than that, I’m grateful that alongside their transparency and vulnerability comes the patience of God. Jesus was patient with Peter, and he’s still patient with Peters today.

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Jun
19

When to Say “No”

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Last week I was presented with two requests within two hours. Within two minutes of each one, I said the word, “no.” Let me explain.

The first request came from a man who came to my office requesting permission to rent our facility for a four day conference that would welcome between 600-800 people. “Six to eight hundred?,” I said. “Yes,” he replied. I then responded by saying, “Our sanctuary only seats 500. I’m sorry, but we cannot do that. You’ll need to find another venue.” “But your building is so tall!, he pressed. I smiled and said, “Unless you plan to stack them, you’ll need to find another venue.” We shook hands and he left. This no came from a place of inability. We could not accommodate the request, so the answer was easy. “No.”

The second request came from a missionary who was looking for financial partners for his family’s call to serve overseas. He had left a voice mail stating his desire to present his ministry to our congregation. So before I returned his call I did a bit of research. I had looked at his statement of faith on his website, and within 30 seconds realized his personal theological values were significantly inconsistent with our church’s theological values. I returned his call and quickly expressed that we were not interested in partnering with him, wishing him the best as he solicited supporters. This no came from a place of inconsistency. His ministry’s mission and values were inconsistent with our ministry’s mission and values, so again, the answer was easy. “No.”

The point is that when you know what you can and cannot do, you can easily say no. And when you know what you believe and value, you can also easily say no. But if you’re not sure of your personal ability, or what you believe and value, you’ll continue to struggle with saying the word “no.”

Categories : Uncategorized
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On Sunday’s I’ve been working through the Gospel of Matthew. Its been good for me and hopefully it has been beneficial to my listeners. I’m always intrigued by how I continue to learn from passages that I thought I was fairly familiar. Recently, I came across a “story within a story” in Matthew 16 that struck a nerve. With me anyway.

In Matthew 16:1-4 Jesus was embroiled in yet another controversy with the religious leaders. For the first time the Pharisees and Sadducees have teamed up and demanded a sign to authenticate Jesus’ claims. After he departed with his disciples, Jesus began to provide a warning to the twelve about the teaching of these religious leaders using the metaphor of leaven (or yeast). The warning flows fairly naturally to the reader, but to my surprise, the disciples missed it. They had forgotten to take bread for the journey and immediately assumed they were being reprimanded for their forgetfulness. Its at that point that Jesus pauses to express his concern for their spiritual amnesia.

“Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, ‘You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it that you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread?'” (Matthew 16:8-10, NIV)

It appears that the disciples had indeed forgotten to pack bread, but even more, they had forgotten where the bread had come from in the first place. Jesus had fed two multitudes in the period of about four months by multiplying loaves and fish, yet the disciples were concerned about the source of their next meal. With Jesus, no bread is no problem!

Before I judge the disciples too quickly, I must confess that I find myself guilty of the same forgetfulness. Too often I forget what God has done in the past. I forget that he’s always been faithful. I forget that he is able to bring anything he pleases into existence from nothing. God is faithful to me, and if I pause to give thanks and praise and count my blessings I am quickly reminded that whatever it is I face today, he is able and willing.

The size of my God may very well be in the direct proportion of my memory.

Categories : Thanksgiving
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