Archive for March, 2013


Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken awayg unless I drink it, your will be done.” When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!” (Matthew 26:36-46, NLT)

One cannot help but notice struggle Jesus experienced coming to terms with the cross. Just as the crushing press would be lowered three times on the olives, Jesus prayed three times. His prayer is simple yet sustained, “If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

The cup Jesus mentions is a reference to his crucifixion. If he drinks the cup he dies. If he does not drink the cup, we die. Can Jesus accept the Father’s will? His will is for the cup to pass. But the Father’s will is for him to drink the cup. I believe that the thing that enabled Jesus to accept the cup and drink it was his trust in the Father. Reason and rationale became secondary to his trust in God. In the words of my friend Tom Clegg, “You do not have a relationship unless your will can be crossed.” Clearly Jesus relationship with the Father is strong and his trust in the Father carries him through, in spite of what he knows.

We can identify with Jesus’ struggle. Adversity strikes and the challenges become difficult, often without notice. God does not ask us to “approve of” those things. But he may require that we accept those things. Our ability to accept adversity and grow through it is directly tied to our level of trust in God. Jesus was able to trust the Father in prayer because trust and prayer had been a habitual part of his entire earthly life. What if Jesus had never breathed a prayer until that dark night in Gethsemene? We cannot develop trust if the only time we pray is on the eve of crisis. Trust is cultivated through the daily disciplines of prayer, study, worship and reflection.

Categories : Gardens, Jesus, Prayer
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The first airing of The Bible on The History Channel reaped the highest non sports viewer response of 2013. Barna research has released new findings on American’s view of the Bible. Check it out HERE.

Categories : Barna Group, Bible
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According to Ken Stearn, the answer to the question is yes. According to his article published in The Atlantic, the top 20% wage earners in America give only 1.3% of their income to charity while the bottom 20% give 3.2%. Not only do America’s wealthiest give the lowest percentage of income to charity, they seldom give to poverty initiatives. Their gifts are more likely to be directed to private educational institutions, hospitals, et al. You can read the full article HERE.

Categories : Giving, Stewardship
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The warm light and brilliant colors of the Garden of Eden and the Garden of En Gedi give way to the darkness of the third biblical garden in my series, the Garden of Gethsemene. Gethsemene is an important garden because we immediately associate it with agony and suffering. It is not physical bodily suffering. That would come later in the chronology. Nonetheless, the suffering of Gethsemene is emotional, mental, and deeply spiritual.

I think Gethsemene is important because Jesus never appears more real and approachable than he is in that setting. Any doubts of his humanity are quickly erased as we try to understand what he experienced. If nothing else, we can at least appreciate his struggle, for in many ways his struggle is our struggle. The suffering of Gethsemene preceeds the suffering of Golgatha. I think it is, in a sense, the death before the death.

The word Gethsemene means “oil press.” In biblical times, olives were raised for their oil, and wherever you found an olive grove you could be sure to find an olive press nearby. The olives would be harvested and placed in a basket atop a flat surface. Then, a massive stone would be lowered onto the olives crushing them so that their precious oil could be extracted. This process would be repeated three times. The first rendering would produce the best oil. The final press would produce the poorest oil that would be used for fuel for lamps. This is important to our understanding of the text that I’ll get into tomorrow.

In the mean time, I pray that this week would be more than just another week. I pray that during each day of holy week you’ll experience Christ in a new, fresh way.

Categories : Gardens, Jesus, Prayer
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I stumbled upon this great post via Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog this afternoon and thought it was pretty good. While it is primarily focused on how educators can teach writing, I thought it had some great insight for pastors and teachers in the church. You can find the article HERE. Enjoy!

Categories : Preaching, Teaching
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A new study on religious trends has been published from the University of California–Berkeley, revealing that since 1972, the number of people who claim to be irreligious has increased from 5% to 20%. The specifics are probably no surprise to you, however the report is another voice in the choir of data sounding the alarm to this trend. You can read it for yourself HERE.

Categories : Uncategorized
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Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. The LORD God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed from the land of Eden, watering the garden and then dividing into four branches (Genesis 2:8-10, NLT).

I cannot remember a year when my parents did not have a vegetable garden. Even in their late 80’s, they continue to till the soil, plant and water the seeds, and harvest the crop at the end of summer. As a kid, that was the image that came to mind whenever I heard the word “garden.” My first ministry assignment in St. Louis altered that mental picture. The church I served was across the street from the Missouri Botanical Gardens. One of the perks that came with pastoring that congregation was a key to the employee entrance located opposite our parking lot. Any time I wanted to go for a walk in the garden I simply let myself in. It was a different kind of garden, filled with exotic plants and trees from around the world. It was a sacred space in the midst of the steel and concrete of the city.

The Garden of Eden was certainly perfect, special and unique. The word garden is taken from a root that means “paradise,” referring to “an enclosed place.” In the strictest definition, a garden is a place that is set a part with unique boundaries, protected and distinct from the outside. So we can infer that the Garden of Eden was meant to be something special. The word Eden means “abundance” or “luxury.”

In one sense, all of creation became a garden in the galaxies. Yet in the midst of the goodness and perfection of creation, God planted a garden. It was not the garden of humankind, it was the garden of God; a sacred space where God could freely fellowship with the man and the woman. A holy place where God could demonstrate life as he intended, not unlike the holy of holies in the majestic Temple.

One can hardly begin to imagine such a place of beauty and abundance, where God crafted fellowship with human-kind and relationships between his created ones. I wonder if the language of Genesis can even begin to accurately describe what it was like. The verses read more like a definition than anything else. God placed the man and the woman he created in this garden.

But in the garden he also planted a choice. There was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. So what was the choice?
I don’t think the choice was between apples and oranges. I think at the core of the choice was the decision to be content to dwell in the image of God or to strive to become God. To make it about fruit is to miss the point of the story. To make it about contentment versus pride and ambition, however, hits pretty close to home, because that’s the stuff our daily decisions are made of.

As you know, Adam and Eve made the wrong choice. But the garden did not change, they changed. Their eyes were opened, they felt shame, and their innocence was lost. Death entered the picture. They were banished from the garden. Life outside the garden is no life. It is exile.

The good news is that in the midst of this tragic turn of events there is grace. God performed the first animal sacrifice and exchanged their humble fig leaves for animal skins. Even though they were evicted from the garden, God still cared for them and came to them. In his mercy God protected them from the tree they did not choose lest they live in their guilt forever. Their eviction was not punishment, it was protection. Neither was the image of God extinguished. Sometimes I think we’re so busy talking about the fall that we miss the grace that God immediately extended.

The first Eden fell, but the spiritual Eden is still with us. The story Adam and Eve, in a sense, is the story of the entire human race and all of creation. And the spirit of the original Eden is with us each time we sense that we were made for more than this; that there is more to life than this. We are trying to find Eden again. There’s a longing that aches and a hope that burns bright that there’s more to life that what we know and experience. We see glimpses of Eden from time to time. We hear it in a song or a story or even a smile. We see it in art and creation. We taste it in a meal shared over meaningful conversation.

All of these things are reminiscent of Eden, reminding us that we are not home, that we have been created for more, and that there’s more to come.
God created life and wants to be close to it. We have been exiled from Eden, yet we know it when we see it. That gives us hope, the hope that God is planting another garden and someday will put us in it.

Categories : Eden, Gardens, Genesis
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I’ve previously shared a couple of posts related to Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp. One of the helpful sections of the book relates to the subject of fear. Tripp contends that, “The dirty secret of ministry is that much is done out of fear, not faith.” Point well taken. Common debilitating fears include fear of myself, fear of others, fear of circumstances and fear of the future. I’m sure you can think of more to add to those broad headings.

Tripp continues his section on fear by helping the reader understand how to address it. He believes that in a fallen world filled with fallen people there are legitimate reasons to be afraid. He writes, “Faith does not require you to deny reality, so there are things that should concern and sober you and cause you grief.” Even though we should acknowledge the reality of fear, at the same time we cannot be governed by fear. Even though fear is real, it can be a good and godly thing. The problem comes when a person allows fear to overshadow what we know and lose sight of who we are.

So what’s the solution? Tripp offers five things.

1. Humbly own your fears. They will never be overcome by denying their existence.
2. Confess those places in your life where fear has produced bad decisions and wrong responses.
3. Pay close attention to your thought life.
4. Preach the gospel to yourself. Tripp states, “No pit in life is so deep that Jesus isn’t deeper.”
5. Cultivate an awe for God.

The only thing that can overcome our fears, according to the author, is our awe of God. Awe of God overcomes our mediocrity and presses us to excellence. The glory of God will cause us to do things we would never expect of ourselves.

Categories : Books, Fear
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Creating a Gospel Culture

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Over the past five weeks I’ve shared a sermon series designed to answer the question, “What is the Gospel?” During these weeks I’ve expressed some thoughts on how we need a Jesus shaped gospel that speaks to our needs beyond getting our sins forgiven so we can go to heaven when we die and having help in solving our problems.

This past Sunday I concluded the series with a talk on our need to create a gospelling culture based on Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21.

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (NLT)

Each of us begin life in “the kingdom of me” where our will is done. God’s invitation to us is that we leave the “kingdom of me” and enter the Kingdom of God, where his will is done on earth as it is in heaven. But how do we make that transition? Paul wrote that God was in Christ in the world, reconciling people to himself. In other words, Christ is the means that makes it possible for us to leave our kingdom for the Kingdom of God. Now the interesting thing about what Paul said is that Christ has delegated to his believers the ongoing responsibility of helping people with their transitions. (Notice the word “us” in the text.) So how does that work?

First, we have to love as Jesus loved. Jesus loved people unconditionally, accepting them for who they were, where they were. We cannot love people we judge, criticize, or condemn. We cannot, as I like to say, love people conjunctively. Conjunctive love says, “I love you, but…”

Next, we have to learn to listen. It’s hard to connect with people when we do all of the talking. When we listen, we learn about people’s brokenness and struggles and gain insight as to how we can serve them and their needs.

Then, we have to be willing to invest in their lives by serving them at their point of need, not what we think they need. (Which, by the way, is what good missionaries do!)

Finally, we need to invite them to take a step toward Jesus. People seldom transition from their kingdom to God’s kingdom after one hearing. So we invite them to take a step. That step could be by way of asking how you can pray for them, or offering to serve them in some tangible way. It could be as simple as inviting them to church. But the thing about taking a step, if you think about it, is that when you take one step the next one becomes necessary.

Rather than developing programs we need cultures. Gospelling cultures are cultures filled with people that have hearts that love, ears that listen, eyes that discover needs, hands that serve needs, and mouths that invite people to take one step at a time. And I believe it happens in that particular order.

Categories : Gospel
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The Gardens of God

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On Sunday I will begin a new sermon series on the five major gardens found in Scripture. The series is based on a book by Murray Andrew Pura titled, Rooted: Reflections on the Gardens in Scripture. Here’s my speaking schedule:
March 10: Eden: The Garden of Birth
March 17: En Gedi: The Garden of Love
March 24: Gethsemene: The Garden of Death
March 31: The Tomb: The Garden of Immortality
April 7: The New Heaven and Earth: The Garden of the New World

I’d like to thank Mark Marturello for providing the graphic artwork for our worship folders during this series. I hope you’ll join us for worship. You can access sermon recordings from our website, if you cannot attend our services.

Categories : Preaching, Worship
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