Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Spiritual IT Policy

So at work, we have an IT policy--and I'm guessing you do, as well.

It exists to make sure the tools we are given are not misused to waste time ("don't play games on your company laptop"), and to protect the organization from viruses and attacks ("don't go to porn sites", "don't open files that are suspicious", etc.).

It occurred to me a few months ago that all of our personal lives are surrounded with IT as well (as a typical American, I have a smartphone, laptop, and tablet along with TVs with streaming media, a PS4, and have accounts with Facebook and Twitter--and that puts me on the lower end, as some might add smartwatches, FitBit, Instagram, Snapchat, and whatnot). (How is there not a social media site called "Whatnot" yet?)


But the question occurs to me: do we have a spiritual IT policy? Do we have a policy which protects our highly-connected online lives from SPIRITUAL attacks, viruses, or wasting time?


Caveat: Before I continue, let me start by saying this: I am not saying that you should do this. I am not putting any expectations or pressure on you. I have simply made some changes in my life which I thought some of my readers might find useful. Others will think I'm a Luddite. Fine - no harm, no foul.



I didn't intend to create an IT policy for my spiritual life, but inadvertently I ended up doing so over the past few months. To put it mildly: I have been amazed. I didn't think I had an issue--but since making these changes I am more relaxed, have far more free time, am more present at home, and even in times (like now) which would previously have been cripplingly busy at work are manageable--making me far more productive.


Here are the changes I have made to my life these past three months. I'm not saying that they apply to your life, but for me they have made a massive difference to my spiritual (and physical, frankly) health:


1.  Become Informed Actively, Not Passively

When the Internet first became popular (and I'm old enough to remember...), it was amazing:  the world at your fingertips! If you want to know something, log on and search it out! You can find anything you want and be SO informed.

But somewhere along the line, we have changed our attitude.

No longer do we seek out information on the Internet, as much as we tell the Internet to send us information that it deems appropriate.

I find it fascinating (and troubling) that Americans who would so quickly condemn a friend for saying "I just trust my pastor/husband/wife to tell me what I need to know" will turn around and do precisely the same thing, trusting a faceless algorithm from some Silicon Valley server to decide what is relevant to their lives.

Furthermore, not only do we trust someone else to figure out what we should know, but we become passive receivers rather than active searchers.

Here is what I mean. Before changing, my typical way of staying informed was:  I had a CNN app which would push notify breaking news; I had the Apple News app, which updated based on what it found appropriate and would fill up my feed; I had Feedly, where I followed various RSS feeds for others to compile information that they found relevant; and of course I could see whatever was trending on Facebook and (rarely) Twitter.

In other words:  I was informed...of what others thought I should be, and at their timing and request.  I basically sat around waiting on others to send me whatever they found relevant.

You will notice that this is a far cry from how the Internet started.


So, I made some changes. I deleted my CNN, Apple News, and Feedly apps. I have a series of bookmarks on my computer and phone of trusted sources, and when I feel that I need to be better informed about something, I actively research it.

When I hear about a shooting, if I want to know more--I seek out sources that I trust, when I think it appropriate. In other words, I might decide on the Ft. Lauderdale shooting, rather than follow every bit of rumor and breaking 'news' that comes out...I'm going to wait 48 hours and then read a news report. By then the actual journalism will have had time to look into things instead of people tweeting random speculations and this being passed off as news.


This has helped in four ways:

(1)  Since I am not constantly being "pinged" with updates, my general stress level is lower. It is not on my mind all the time, making me more present in my real, actual life.

(2)  I am not led astray by every latest rumor of the news cycle, thus making me less susceptible to fake news and the radical lack of perspective.

(3) I have many friends and colleagues around the world, and it is often impossible to get an idea of what important is happening around the world. By me taking control of what information I seek out, this is much easier.

(4) It has given me a tremendous amount of freedom to actually be better informed. Rather than spending 1 hour a day, every day, skimming a variety of random headlines and short articles, I can instead read deeply and truly understand an issue. Now I can use that hour per day to be BETTER informed, by reading books on key subjects. For example, I recently completed "Prisoners of Geography," which is the single most eye-opening book on politics I've ever read. It perfectly explains, for example, why you will never see China back off of Tibet (the source of much of Chinese waterways start in Tibet; to give up that higher ground would allow an enemy to cripple the country), and why you could easily predict that Putin would go into Crimea after the US led transition away to a pro-NATO government in Ukraine (Russia has only one warm-weather port, so control of Crimean peninsula is crucial for the ability to export and import needed goods during winter).


So now, I use the internet as a tool to find information in directed ways, at my need.  As opposed to the habit I had gotten into, which was to ask the internet to send me an overwhelming flood of what an algorithm that I never programmed thinks I want to read.



2.  Remember Why You Got Certain Apps

It also occurred to me that we allow our apps to morph into something that we didn't originally anticipate. I made sure to adjust so that the apps stayed in the role I originally wanted.

For me, the three big ones (after getting rid of News and Reddit, for reason #1 above) were Facebook, Twitter, and my iPhone Podcast.

Facebook - I originally got on Facebook to keep up with friends I haven't seen in a while, and make it easy for others to keep up with our family. So this means ... I wanted to see and hear stories of kids, or graduations, or whatever. I never signed up for Facebook to hear people's political rants (there are message boards for that), nor to have people recommend to me things to read (for reason #1, above). And yet...I found myself obsessively checking the FB app every time my phone was in my hand, following notifications, etc., and constantly reading whatever others posted ("Amen"ing some, and "hate-reading" others).

Upon reflection, I found this spiritually damaging. It was making me judgmental of friends; it was taking up a lot of my time; and it was on Facebook memes that I found myself 'meditating' rather than the Word of God.

And so...I deleted my Facebook app.  It only takes about 15 seconds to log in through my Safari browser, but you'd be amazed how the extra 3 steps and 15 seconds makes you less addicted to checking it. I probably still check Facebook every day...but rarely more than once. Furthermore, I have "unfollowed" virtually everyone other than the closest of friends and family.

I haven't unfriended any...just unfollowed from my News Feed. Again, it is about being active rather than a passive receiver of algorithmic data: if I'm thinking, "Hey, I wonder what is going on with John Doe," then...I go see. Great! This is what Facebook is for, at least to me. But this way I DON'T have John Doe's every thought thrown at me.


Twitter - I was never really big on Twitter anyway: I rarely posted. But I did enjoy following a couple hundred accounts, mostly sports or humor related. But Twitter is, to a large extent, an outrage machine. (Read John Ronson's, "So You've Been Publicly Shamed"...it's amazing.) Basically I just followed it to vote on polls for a sports radio show. And yet...I found myself checking it at least 1-2 times per day.

Why? I literally never got any real enjoyment from Twitter other than an occasional chuckle...so why was I spend such time there? And why subjecting myself to watching a bunch of people try to out-outrage each other, drumming up anger and offended feelings over a variety of topics?

So I simply dropped Twitter. Nice and easy. Have not regretted it one single time.


Podcast - I do enjoy a good podcast when I drive, and follow several. But every day, perhaps 5 hours of content are produced on my podcast streams! It became serious work to try and keep up. So I had to ask myself, "Why do I follow this podcast?" for every single one. Some are for fun, some are for education, etc. And if I wasn't still getting that interest...I dropped it. For example, I found the Tanis podcast wonderful for season 1...and boring in season 2. So...I just stopped. Why power through it and force myself to do it, if it isn't meeting my original desires?

So I trimmed out many podcasts this way. In addition, I changed ALL podcasts settings so they do not automatically download. If I decide I want to listen to the Lebatard Show, then I go into the subscription feed and choose the one or two episodes I want to hear.

Again:  purposeful seeking of what I want, rather than passively receiving.



3.  Avoiding the Addictions

The main thing I came to realize is that the Internet can become a literal addiction. Our brains release the chemical dopamine during sex, or when we drink alcohol, or when we take drugs...and neurologists have found it does the same when we get a "ping" on social media.

This is why you want to check your social networks 30 times a day...you are literally getting a dopamine hit each time, because you are essentially taking a "shot." It is like an alcoholic walking around with a flask of whiskey on your hip 24/7.

So one thing I did was to view it just like alcohol:  as something I can truly enjoy, but in a controlled way.

With alcohol, I don't drink it all the time, only when socially appropriate. So with my smartphone, I turn it off before meetings (or even set it in my backpack), I put it on "Do Not Disturb" for 10 hours a day, and I turned off push notifications for anything, so that I am not pulled toward it when I am not wanting to be.

With alcohol, I avoid any types of drinks that are too addictive or alcoholic. So with my smartphone, I have blocked certain sites which have become too addictive for me, and which I end up surfing for hours at a time, accomplishing nothing but a waste of my time.

With alcohol, I don't drink too much of it. So with my smartphone, I try hard to minimize the times I use it:  again, use it WITH A PURPOSE rather than just because I have free time. I am doing better on this (because of the above)....but I still struggle a bit. Thankfully, because I've deleted all the other stuff, if I'm needing that "smartphone hit", I've made it a bit tougher to get it, and usually I end up reading books or the Bible on my kindle app instead (so at least it feels productive).




Again, I'm not saying that you guys should do this: I'm just sharing that I have done this, and found my life far, far better as a result.




Saturday, December 31, 2016

Finding the Gospel in Kubo and the Two Strings

Note:  this illustration was used as part of a Christmas sermon on Zechariah's Song in the Gospel of Luke. To listen to the full sermon, go here

_______________________________________________________________________



I have two sons, and when we want to hang out together, our favorite thing to do is go to the movies. We see a ridiculous amount of movies each year—it’s just how we roll. 

So a few months back, my boys desperately wanted to see a movie which I thought from the previews looked just awful. But they really wanted to see it, so we went.

It ended up being one of the four or five favorite experiences I’ve ever had at the movies. The movie was called, Kubo and the Two Strings.

(It is still a relatively new movie so I will try and stay a bit vague, so as to minimize spoilers.)









Kubo's Story

Kubo is a Japanese boy who lives outside a small village, with his mother who most of the time is mentally not-there, with occasionally moments of clarity.

So Kubo provides for their family by going down into the local village, where he tells stories and plays on his guitar. But Kubo has a magical power: as he tells a story, the origami creatures he has made come to life and act out his story. The villagers are enthralled, and Kubo has become a masterful storyteller. However, in the process he accidentally reveals himself to his grandfather—an evil spirit who (according to Kubo’s mom) stole one of Kubo’s eyes and now wants to finish the job and kill him completely.

I won’t ruin the movie, but an epic and thoroughly amazing adventure unfolds.

He learns to harness his power, and he gets help from a living monkey statue and a giant knight-in-bug armor. It’s all very weird and very fun. The movie goes on, and there is magic and there are battles and it’s super great. I highly recommend it (it is totally clean, though maybe a bit scary for younger kids.)



What I want to get to, though, is something which happens at the end.

At the end of the film, Kubo has found his magical armor, he has harnessed his magical powers, and he is facing off against the main villain.

Now, I’m sitting there in theater thinking—this is great, I love this movie...and of course, I know what is coming next.

I’ve seen this kind of movie a thousand times. So have you. And so I thought—and you would think—that you know what’s going to happen. The creature has turned into a big monster, and Kubo has released the full power of his magic…and so you expect that he is about to destroy the evil monster.


But instead something amazing happens—something which was both beautiful and wholly unexpected.


Kubo uses his magic not to destroy the bad guy, but instead … Kubo erases his memory of his past evil deeds.


And then…he tells him a story. 


He tells the bad guy a new story about himself.

Kubo tells the bad guy that he’s actually this really great person.

Kubo and the villagers tell him about how he helps the widows in the village.

That he sings to them every day.

They tell him a story of himself as a kind, generous, loving member of the community.

That he is always smiling.

(One little child in the village is quite clever, and she tells him that he gives the kids money every day.)


And you know what? The villain accepts that story.

His old identity dies, and instead he accepts a new identity, and lives it out.

His evil story is replaced:  he becomes the owner of a new story—a better story.


A New Story


When John the Baptist was at his naming ceremony in Luke 1:67-79, the people at the naming ceremony with John, they thought they knew John’s story.

In their culture, your story came from your birth details: who were your parents, what was your geneaology, and so on. John’s story was obvious. 

Like me in the movie, they thought they knew what Zechariah was going to sing—the story he would tell.

John is a Levite. So obviously he is going to be a priest.

John was born miraculously, to old parents—so obviously, his story will START by Zechariah identifying John’s lineage, his place in society, and his identity and story come from that.


But it turns out…twist ending…that isn’t what happened.

Look with me here at the next verses, starting in verse 76:

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness, and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”


Zechariah looks at his baby boy, and the story He prophesies for him has nothing to do with the stories that their society told. 


John's story is – actually – a sub-plot in Jesus’ Grand Epic Adventure. 

John is given a story, but it isn’t SOCIETY’s story:  John’s story is actually a subplot of Jesus’ story.



Your Story's Author 

See, it turns out that we all have this deep, existential need inside, which we need to answer: What is my story?

In Zechariah’s time, the story was generally given to you by society. And it doesn’t work that way for us, but the way it works for us also isn’t Biblical.

In our society, we think that we write our own stories. We think that Zechariah should have said something like: “And you, my child, will have a wonderful life and I wish you all the blessings. You can achieve anything through God and I pray the best for you.”

In both cases, though, the story comes from our level. That is, the stories are horizontal in origin.

It either comes to us horizontally from society, or from us internally…but in either case, our story is earthly in origin.


And yet, the truth is this:  God has written a Grand Epic across the pages of history:  the story of a King, betrayed by His people, who came back and visited them—redeemed them—and saved them.


And IN THIS STORY—He has written a subplot just for you.


You have a story that the Creator of the universe wrote for you.

It has tragedy and triumph.

Times of mourning, and times of laughing.

And—if you choose to accept this story and follow it—then it also has a VERY happy ending.

An ending where NOT ONLY do you live eternally, but you are protected from the very presence of sin and suffering.


I told you earlier:  HE visited to create this. HE redeemed you. HE saved you.

So what is your part? 

(I mean…Jesus is kinda bearing the weight in this relationship, you know what I mean?)



Your part is—just like the villain in Kubo—to make a choice.


Which story will you accept?


Will you continue to write your own story? 

Will you continue to demand to control your life and your future and determine what comes your way?

Or will you accept God’s story for you instead?




Because really guys, this is what Christianity is.

Jesus – in His magic – through His resurrection – wipes clean your past. Absolutely wipes clean the story you’ve been writing for yourself. 

And then He does what Kubo did:  He writes you a new story. A subplot of his grand epic.

And the question is: do you accept it?




Being a Christian is not primarily about a belief system or a moral code (although, Christians of course do end up accepting new beliefs and living differently).

But that’s not what makes one a Christian.


Being a Christian is, primarily, about who gets permission to author the story of your life.  Is it you?  Or is it God?


When you are tempted by sin…who has permission to write your response?  

When you are hurt…who has permission to write how you grieve?

When you love...who has permission to write how you move forward?

Who gets to decide your worldview, your ideals, the things that bond you, your personality?



We all stand—like the villain—with someone else's work offering to erase your past and give us a new story.



And your only part in this is simply—to decide…who will be the author of your Story?


RebootChristianity Sermon Archive

Updated for the rest of 2016 sermons...



Title: Zechariah's Song ("The Songs of Christmas" series)
Date:  11 December 2016
Passage:  Luke 1:67-79
Summary:  In this series we were studying the songs of the Christmas story in Scripture, and we discussed the song of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist. We see a number of things in this passage, most notably the full scope of salvation: we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. But most key, we use the movie Kubo and the Two Strings to illustrate a major point of this passage:  being a disciple is really all about answering the question: who gets to author your story?
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20823106



Title: Joy in Contentment
Date:  20 November 2016
Passage:  Philippians 4:10-13
Summary:  "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." It is one of the most popular verses in Scripture, but what does it actually MEAN? Our society tells us to seek contentment in materialism and cynicism--but these are old Greek ideas, and as we see in this passage, Paul says clearly that he got his contentment from somewhere else. Where does Paul's "self-sufficiency", as he calls it, come from? How can we be content in our lives, no matter what happens? Where do we find this inner peace? In this sermon, we discover those answers.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20809447



Title: Joy in God's Plan
Date:  11 September 2016
Passage:  Philippians 1:12-26
Summary:  Continuing our series on Philippians and the joy of Christianity, we discuss what happens when our plans don't seem to align with God's plans. In this passage, Paul is overflowing with joy despite the fact that he is in chains, suffering greatly, and being denounced by other preachers. We discuss the root of where our joy truly comes from, and how we can not only bear, but rejoice, in times of suffering.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20760698



Title: Jesus Plus Nothing ("Core Values" series)
Date:  24 July 2016
Passage:  Ephesians 2:13-22
Summary:  In this series we were reviewing the core values of our local church, and in this sermon we discuss Ephesians 2:13-22 as we reviewed our second core value: Jesus Plus Nothing. We are passionate about seeking unity without uniformity: the only thing we need to bond us together is Christ Alone, and we can disagree about non-essentials without dividing over them.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20727365



Title: Jesus is the Ultimate Law ("Christ in the Old Testament" series)
Date:  05 June 2016
Passage:  Exodus/Leviticus/Deuteronomy
Summary:  In this series we were looking at how the Old Testament foreshadowed Jesus in the New Testament: not in terms of prophesy, but in every single page. This sermon demonstrates that Jesus not only fulfilled the Law, but WAS the Ultimate Law--a new covenant between God and mankind.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20698789



Title: Jesus is the Ultimate Adam ("Christ in the Old Testament" series)
Date:  22 May 2016
Passage:  Genesis 1-3
Summary:  In this series we were looking at how the Old Testament foreshadowed Jesus in the New Testament: not in terms of prophesy, but in every single page. This sermon sets the stage for the series overall, as well as showing how Jesus is the Ultimate Adam:  the Son of God who was tempted but succeeded rather than failed, and who through His obedience accepted the banishment from God which we deserve and--therefore--ends our exile.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20697024



Title: Spiritual Friendships
Date:  17 April 2016
Passage:  Acts 21: 1-36
Summary:  Spiritual friendships are one of the most overlooked and important aspects of our lives as believers. Our society enables us to form casual relationships easily, but true, deep, spiritual friendships fill a desperate need we all have. In this passage, as we see Paul walking into what very well may be his death, spiritual friendships are what sustain him along his journey.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20656739



Title: The Founding of the Corinthian Church
Date:  20 March 2016
Passage:  Acts 18: 1-28
Summary:  In this passage, we see Paul founding the church of Corinth, and the opposition he received from the Jews at the time.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20635320



Title: Q&A With the Apostles (The Council of Jerusalem)
Date:  21 February 2016
Passage:  Acts 15: 1-35
Summary:  In this passage, we cover the Council of Jerusalem in 49-51 AD. This was a meeting of all apostles and key missionaries to answer a question that plagues us still today--"What does the Old Testament Law have to do with modern Christianity?" This sermon answers the questions:  "Is the Law still relevant?"; "How do we know which Old Testament sins are important?" and "Why do we say homosexuality is a sin but not eating shellfish?"
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20614534



Title: Forget Not
Date:  27 December 2015
Passage:  Psalm 103:2-8
Summary:  This was our 2015 Year-In-Review, in which we discuss some of the many answered prayers at Grace Church for 2015. We use Psalm 103 as the "frame" for the discussion, and cover everything from the uplifting to the moving to the painful. It was accompanied by a meal, and went very well.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20571963



Title: Are You A Jesus Consumer, or a Jesus Disciple?
Date:  01 November 2015
Passage:  Acts 6:1-4
Summary:  As the first deacons are added, we spend some time exploring the idea of talmidim, or discipleship. What is the difference between someone who simply intellectually believes and someone who is an actual disciple?
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20528607



Title:  Every Story Whispers His Name
Date:  13 September 2015
Passage:  Acts 2:12-39
Summary:  On Pentecost, Peter delivers the first sermon in Christian history, and he shows everyone that the Old Testament is really all about Jesus. He is the center of everything. This was one of my favorite sermons I've written, and is hugely influenced by (or ripped off of, depending on your view) preacher Tim Keller.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20503395 



Title:  Science and The Bible Pt 2:  Is Christianity Anti-Science?
Date:  26 July 2015
Passage:  Psalm 19:1-4
Summary:  Is Christianity anti-science? I tell a bit of my story as an evolutionary Deist who came to Christianity in college. Specifically we address the fine-tuning of the universe, the heavy philosophical reliance that science has on Christianity, and the role of Christians in the history of science.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20453220



Title:  Science and The Bible Pt 1:  Understanding Genesis 1
Date:  19 July 2015
Passage:  Genesis 1:1-2:3
Summary:  Many people view Genesis 1 as a fairy tale which has been disproved; others see it as a scientific textbook of creation. In this sermon we correct both errors, instead reading Genesis 1 in its original context...how would it have read to an ancient Hebrew, ignorant of YHWH, recently freed from Egyptian slavery?
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20447410



Title:  The Problem of Suffering Pt 2:  The Emotional Problem
Date:  12 July 2015
Passage:  Psalm 6:3-7
Summary:  In our series on the Common Doubts of Christianity, we address the Problem of Suffering. This week we speak of the emotional problem of suffering--attempting to help those who say that they cannot worship a God who would allow so much pain and suffering to exist.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20443680



Title:  Knowing That You Know God
Date:  17 May 2015
Passage:  1 John 5:13-21
Summary:  As John wraps up his letter, he summarizes his main points of how we can know that we have a relationship with God. We also briefly deal with that sticky "unforgivable sin" thing. :-)
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20399603



Title:  Why We Fail John's Tests
Date:  15 March 2015
Passage:  1 John 2:12-17
Summary:  John has given us four tests which, if we pass them, will give us confidence in our salvation. But what about when we fail those tests? This passage tells the reason WHY we fail John's tests.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20346018



Title:  The Problem of Suffering
Date:  25 January 2015
Passage:  Topical:  Habakkuk
Summary:  Habakkuk was an unusual prophet who recorded his frustration with God's plan. This message is the opening overview of the new series on Habakkuk, and explores the Problem of Suffering--why does a good God allow suffering?
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20302162



Title:  The Promise of the Coming King
Date:  14 December 2014
Passage:  Topical: Christmas
Summary:  This is the first of a two-week Christmas series which explores the topic of Jesus' Kingship--what does it mean when we say Jesus is the Newborn King? This message explores the Old Testament expectations of the coming King of the Jews.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20274495



Title:  Humble planning
Date:  23 November 2014
Passage:  James 4:13-17
Summary:  In this passage, James explains how proper planning should be done--and how often all of our plans are just boasting in arrogance.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20252907



Title:  Who is going to teach you how to walk?
Date:  02 November 2014
Passage:  James 3:13-18
Summary:  In this passage, James is going to go into more detail on his claim in 3:1 that not many should be teachers. He will teach us what to look for when choosing the teachers of our faith.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20233191



Title:  God Transforms (Doctrines Series Lesson 7)
Date:  17 August 2014
Passage:  Topical:  Communion & Baptism
Summary:  In this lesson, we cover one of the key aspects of Grace's theology--Ordinances. We will discuss both communion and baptism, and how God transforms us. We will examine these through the lens of ancient suzerain covenants.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20166120



Title:  God Speaks (Doctrines Series Lesson 2)
Date:  13 July 2014
Passage:  Topical: Revelation
Summary:  In this lesson, we cover one of the key aspects of Grace's theology--Revelation. We explore how God reveals Himself to us, both through the books of Scripture (Special Revelation) and the book of nature (General Revelation).
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20138382



Title:  Debating Jesus
Date:  18 May 2014
Passage:  Luke 20:19-21:4
Summary:  In this lesson we cover two attempts--one by the Pharisees and one by the Sadducees--to trap Jesus in a debate. Jesus deftly avoids both topics and we find that neither purity (Pharisees) nor knowledge (Sadducees) are sufficient for salvation.
Link:  (No audio, text only): https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bzxgn9OKrQLDRlMwZ045dWhXdDg/view?usp=sharing



Title:  Two Pictures of Jesus
Date:  11 May 2014
Passage:  Luke 20:9-19
Summary:  Here we look at the Parable of the Vineyard, from which we get two distinct pictures of Jesus. These two pictures lead us into CS Lewis' Trilemma:  Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord: He cannot simply be a great moral teacher.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20076542



Title:  Jesus' Most Bizarre Parable
Date:  15 February 2014
Passage:  Luke 16:1-13
Summary:  Here we study what many consider Jesus' most bizarre parable--the Parable of the Dishonest Servant, in which Jesus seemingly praises an embezzling servant for his crafty dishonesty.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/10235315

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

My prayer for every Christian on Election Day

Many are hurting right now, in our election season. 

We Americans have hurt each other, bitter and angry and convinced that their choice is the only moral/ethical/rational choice.

Of course, some of this is to be expected:  any issues of disunity will cause people to lash out. Politics reveals so much about how you view the world in general, so it will bring our deep differences to the surface.

But then what really hurts is that the media, the parties, and the candidates—in an attempt to get out the vote—pour fuel on the fire, by claiming that “this is the most important election in our lifetime.”

(Interesting note:  if you search through Google Trends, you will notice that usage of the phrase “most important election in our lifetime” skyrockets every four years. It peaks to almost precisely the same level.
But this isn’t just an Internet age issue.  In 1864, the New York Times called it the most important election in history. Gerald Ford said it in 1976. Walter Mondale, in 1984. John Kerry, in 2004. Barack Obama, in 2008. Newt Gingrich, 2012. And on and on.

It is hard to believe it when every election is “the most important election of our lifetime”—don’t we all remember the story of the boy who cried wolf?)

 
And so it is that you are going to the polls today to do your civic duty. And chances are: you won’t be happy. People there will fuss and fight and argue. You will hold your nose and vote for someone you don’t really like. And you will be confused at those who see the world differently and vote differently. Don’t they see reality? you will say.

 
Christians, let me make a plea to you today, as you go to the polls.
 

It has nothing to do with whom you vote for. It has everything to do with how you vote for them.


When Jesus was talking to Israel, He said that God’s people were meant to be different from the others.

And He gave three analogies:  we are to be a city on a hill, a light in the darkness, and the salt of the earth.
 

In the dark, ancient times, when you were lost in the woods and darkness and desperately needing to find a place to stay, a city—lit up, on a hill, visible for miles around—was a sign of hope.
 
When you are in a dark room and scared, a light provides comfort and security.


When you salt meats, they have flavor and are preserved.

 
So Church, what I just prayed for us all today is that when we are at the polls or discussing the election, we will fulfill that role for society.
 
When people watch you, will they see a Hope that draws them? A Light that comforts them? A salt that preserves them and makes this world taste better?

 
That is our calling, and it is what I pray for all of us today.

 
For no, this isn’t the most important election of your lifetime. Your Election—voted on only by Jesus, paid for by His blood—that is the most important Election. 
And if that doesn’t give you comfort and strength and allow you to have hope in this election season, then I encourage you to re-read Philippians 3:15-4:1, and refocus our minds so that we can fulfill this much-needed role in our society.

 

God bless and with love,

 

Michael

Thursday, October 27, 2016

That moment when God gives America exactly what we asked for


Recently, I read to my kids the fantastic short story The Monkey’s Paw. (They were terrified; it was not a good choice for bedtime. Lesson learned.)

In The Monkey’s Paw, a magical – well – paw of a monkey shows up at a British family’s house. The Paw grants three wishes but it might not be the way you want it. When the family wishes for two hundred pounds to pay off their mortgage, their son dies in a factory accident and two hundred pounds is the payoff. When the mother wishes for the son to come back from the dead, up hops a zombified son.

You get the idea: be careful what you wish for…you just might get it.

In I Samuel 8, the people of Israel anger their prophet by bringing to him a request:  we want to stop being led directly by God’s chosen judges and prophets. Instead, we want a human political philosophy that seems to work so well for our neighbors (in their case, monarchy).

Samuel is furious, but God obviously knew this was coming, and says basically—“Sure, go ahead and choose a king…but beware that you will get what you ask for.” They wish for a King; they get a King; the result is an angry depressant on the throne and hordes of armies with giants at the gates.

I heard someone the other day saying, with regard to our current election, “Vote for candidate X or God will judge our country.”

And I couldn’t help but think:  we have gotten what we asked for.

We as a country have idolized American democracy. We have given lip service to God, but placed our trust in Supreme Court appointments and elected officials and the law as the appropriate method to enforce morality in the world. We have assigned to politics things which only God can provide—conviction, guidance, ethics, morality, wisdom, and compassion. And we have commoditized and packaged this democracy and sold it around the world (and forced it into the places that didn’t want it.)

Now I’m not hating on democracy—as Winston Churchill once said, it is the worst form of government except for all the others. I think democracy is by far the best human form of government to ensure that rights are upheld; and I think that a democratic state is the most likely to be able to provide long-term religious liberty.

But the greatest strength of democracy—rule of the people by the people—is also its greatest weakness. As the great philosopher Tommy Lee Jones said in Men In Black:  “A person is smart…people are dumb.” Once a critical mass of people exist in a democracy who think democracy is the source of their good rather than God, they will (by virtue of being the citizen-rulers) be able to take actions to reinforce this everywhere.

And as a result, democracy is flawed—but we seem to have forgotten that. Over the past fifty years we have created a civil religion in which we idolize America and Democracy and act as though our Constitution was written on stone tablets and delivered to Moses on Sinai.

The result of this idolization has resulted in this:  we Americans have made exactly the same mistake that the Israelites made.  We have told God, “Please give us Your blessings, but when it comes to politics, stay away—Democracy has got this.”

And God has replied, as He did before:  “Sure, go ahead…but be careful. You’ll get what you asked for.”

We asked for the right to choose our leaders. And we got this election.

Understand, folks (and this is just my opinion, but I think it’s valid):  God won’t judge us if we choose the wrong candidate. God has already judged us, and it comes in the form of Clinton vs. Trump. 

God has said to us—you are so in love with this idea of choosing everything in your life, including your leaders? Fine… then choose!

And so through primaries, we chose. And we are now facing the terrible reality of choosing as our leader either a hotheaded, prideful, highly immoral, failed businessman or a lying, warmongering, strongly pro-abortion, politico.

This is what we asked for, right?

There is silver lining in this cloud. CS Lewis once said that there are two kinds of people in the world—those who say to God “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Fine, then have it your way.” If we are dead-set on having our freedom, even to our own destruction, God will give it to us.

And He has:  Trump v. Clinton is our judgment. It is our choice. The parties didn’t do this to us. We did this to us.

But as I said: silver lining.

Millennials, who have grown up in an era of income inequality, reeling from the effects of decades of war, and seeing high-definition ultrasound pictures, are increasingly anti-war, anti-poverty, and anti-abortion. These are all great things for the future.

This election is forcing Christians to look at themselves and be really honest about where their hope lies: for Christian liberals weren’t generally hoping for Clinton, and Christian conservatives weren’t hoping for Trump. In both cases, they are being forced to admit that their party allegiances have not led to a Christlike country.

And at Liberty University—one of the fortresses of the Moral Majority/Religious Right movement—thousands of students are saying that what they are being taught in Scripture courses is not aligning to the political actions of many religious leaders.

This election is a judgment on us. But—God’s mercies are new each day. And these silver linings, I think, show us a path forward.

If we will recommit ourselves to trusting only in Him—not a party, or a system of government—but only in Him, then I think we will see the country grow more Christlike.

We are learning the same painful lesson that the Church had to learn during the Roman Empire, during the Byzantine Empire, during the Holy Roman Empire (which was neither holy, nor Roman, nor really an empire), during medieval Catholicism, and during post-Reformation Britain: namely, that every time the Church becomes too wrapped up in State, the Church ends up damaged and corrupted.

We are, painfully, being forced to accept the fact that Democracy will neither save us nor sanctify us nor protect us; only God can do so. We are, painfully, being forced to remember that our hope is not in a politician’s promises of what they will do, but a Promise already fulfilled by One in our past. We are, painfully, being forced to remember that our kingdom is not here—no matter whom we elect—but in heaven. We are, painfully, learning that ages-old lesson that no matter how great a man’s politics are, he cannot remove sinfulness through law but rather, sinfulness against the only Law which matters was already paid for once and for all time.

There is a silver lining—but only if we learn our lesson from this election:  to destroy not democracy, but our Civil Religion, and return to the One True Religion. Fail to learn it, and we will all be right back here in four years.