Mercy

1 Timothy 12-15 -12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

Timothy was an evangelist that from a young age put his whole heart into chasing after God and sharing the good news of the gospel with other people. It is likely that he came in contact with Paul during Paul’s first missionary journey. In Paul’s letter to Timothy he urges the young evangelist to fully embrace the doctrine of grace giving full credit to God for any good work he has done. 

Grace is something that many of us have a difficult time applying to other people. Too often we have a mindset of revenge and punishment. Someone cuts you off in traffic and our reaction might be, “That person is driving like a maniac, I hope their car explodes!” However, we could be far more forgiving if we knew the whole story: maybe their wife is in labor, maybe their kid got hurt, or maybe they just really need to go to the bathroom.

We pass by so many strangers every day on the road, in a store, at work and we will most likely never get to hear their whole story. And that’s when we need to turn our accusing eyes back onto our own lives. We have all sinned in one way or another. And we are saved and forgiven because our Lord and savior overflows with faith and love.

Ask yourself who you need to forgive. Ask yourself what you can release because you know how much you have been forgiven. We all have had times that we have acted ignorantly, and we have all experienced grace beyond measure that we have not deserved. Forgiveness allows you lay down a burden you were never meant to carry in the first place

Lord have mercy on me a sinner / The biggest sinner of them all / Lord have mercy on me a sinner / A sinner since the day that I was born

This I Know

Jesus loves me! This I know / For the Bible tells me so / Little ones to Him belong / They are weak, but He is strong. If you went to church as a child you probably sang this song, maybe even did a few hand motions to go along with it. The message is simple and direct, and when the chorus says, “Yes, Jesus loves me!” three times it’s hard to miss the writer’s point. We should remember that we are loved by the creator of the universe.

These days if a worship leader were to bust this out on a Sunday morning many of us would smile nostalgically as we sing along wondering why we were singing a kid’s song in big church. What we need to remember though, is that this song contains truth that doesn’t change just because you got a little taller.

Ephesians 2 tells us, “…God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

It’s easy to lose focus in our modern world. It seems like everything wants our eyes and attention: buy this, click here, come to this meeting that should have been an email, and the list goes on an on. Even when the world is so noisy, we can still hum this little tune and be reminded of what is really important.

You are, and always will be, a child of God. You are loved even when you think you don’t deserve it. When you are deep in the muck and mire of life God comes over and says, “you can sit with me.”

Jesus loves me still today / Walking with me on my way / Wanting as a friend to give / Light and love to all who live.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Come All You Weary

Matthew 11:28-30 -  28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Where do you feel the safest? Who allows you to be the most authentic you? In Matthew 11 Jesus says, “come to me.” No conditions are set. He doesn’t say get your stuff together and then come find me. He doesn’t say get your life right and then we can talk. He simply sees your heavy burden and says let me help you with that.

In linguistics there is a concept called code-switching and it means that you change the way you talk based on who you’re talking to. For example, you’re not going to ask your toddler to check the specs on the end-line for the rotary girder, just like you’re not going to ask your boss if they went pee-pee in the potty. Code-switching usually serves the purpose of instructing us on how to meet expectations and be functioning members of society. However, it all goes awry when we don’t just change the way we talk, we try to change who we are.

We are communal creatures. We want to be loved and accepted. Unfortunately, this desire leads us to hiding who we truly are, and worse who we are called to be. We work so hard to be liked that we forget that we are loved. Jesus in Matthew 11 is letting us know that He wants us to understand that we can come to Him. Even when we’ve screwed up the most, we are welcome in His presence.

So, what do you do when you are taken by a weariness of the soul? Do you put on a mask and just pretend that everything is okay? Or do you reach out to the one who sees you just as you are and loves you deeply? 

Slow down. Take a breath. Find rest for your soul. 

FIGuring Out Prayer

Matthew 21:19 - And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.

I was searching through my sermon archives, thinking about prayer. I knew that I had done a series on prayer recently; I could have sworn it. Of course, “recently” is relative and in this case, it meant six years ago, with a series called “Bold Prayers”. That’s how I came across this passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus was walking into Jerusalem with his disciples and decided he wanted something to eat. Nearby was a rather unfortunate fig tree, which had failed to produce any fruit. (Mark’s account of this story tells us that it wasn’t even fig season!) Jesus curses the tree, and it immediately withers. 

At first glance, the passage appears to have nothing to do with prayer. Even his disciples didn’t think so. They were unfazed by Jesus’ apparent outburst and wondered instead how he made the tree wither. They probably wanted to know if it was the sort of trick that they could learn and potentially perform themselves. (One can imagine a motley crew of disciples wreaking havoc across the countryside, cursing out-of-season fruits and vegetables.)

Jesus explains the situation to his disciples. Far from being a magical incantation, the power that Jesus demonstrated over the fig tree is the same power that his disciples have access to through prayer. They could even say to a mountain, get up and throw yourself in the sea, and if they asked in faith, it would happen.

Whenever Jesus teaches on prayer, he teaches us to pray expectantly. Prayers in the Kingdom of God are not done half-heartedly, as if, given the right combination of words, phrases, and desires of God, He may respond. Rather, we are taught to pray boldly, with the expectation that God willrespond, and he will respond by doing what we had asked.

So how do you pray? Do you pray boldly, expecting God to move? Or do you pray measured, reasonable prayers, hoping–but not expecting–that God will respond?

Perhaps there is a better diagnostic question: have you ever prayed for that mountain to move, or do you avoid it, because you are certain that God doesn’t care about that type of thing?

It seems to me like that’s exactlywhat Jesus wants us to be praying about.

Season X of Fortnite is Here!

Psalm 102:25–28
            Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
                        and the heavens are the work of your hands.
            They will perish, but you will remain;
                        they will all wear out like a garment.
            You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
                        but you are the same, and your years have no end.
            The children of your servants shall dwell secure;
                        their offspring shall be established before you. (ESV)

A couple of weeks ago, it happened: season X of Fortnite was finally released. It had been at least several months since anyone in my house had played at all, but a serendipitous opening of the app on just the right day alerted us to this new development. With renewed interest we updated or reinstalled the Fortnite app on our iPhones, ready to once again engage the Battle Royale.

As with any new season, there were changes aplenty. New dance moves, new characters, new outfits, and new vehicles being introduced to the game meant that older ones were put in the vault. Anthony and Michael noticed the changes right away. “This is different!” They said. Some of the change were welcome, but others, not so much. More than once, I may have even heard them suggest that a decision made by the game-makers was downright stupid.

Most of us hate change, whether it’s a game update like Fortnite or change in our life. Even those of us who say that we enjoy change really mean that we enjoy change we can control. Unanticipated change makes us feel out of control and uncomfortable. Yet change, according to the Psalmist, is built into the fabric of the universe. The foundation of the earth and the heavens are fading and changing all around us, so that they wear out the same way last year’s shirt becomes this year’s old rag.

Recognizing change is what makes the security and steadfastness of God all the more stark. The universe changes around the God who made it as if he is changing robes from an old one to a new one; draped in change, even as he, himself, is unchanging. It is the unchanging nature of God that gives his children security, with the full knowledge that the unchanging God who cares and loves me will also love and care for my offspring. The world around them may change, but God will remain the same. The author of the letter to the Hebrews understood when he encouraged believers to continue to press on in the world with this one sentence: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

We may not like change, but we do not have to fear it, knowing that we serve a God who is steadfast in his character and in his love.

Dry Wells, Heat Waves, and AC

Philippians 4:19 - And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

My friend Rex had a rock on one of the shelves in his office, just behind his desk. Whenever I’d meet with him, I could see the rock sitting conspicuously behind him over his shoulder, with a painted inscription on it. It said something like, “when the well is dry, God provides.” Eventually I asked him about it.

The story was that he and his wife, Deb, and their two young children, were living in an older house while planting a church. They were serval years in to the church plant and things were going well, but they were still surviving on very little money, both personally and as a church. It was the middle of the summer when the very old well at their house dried up completely, and they were unsure of how they were going to come up with the funds to dig a new one. The church rallied, and soon a new well was dug at the house. The rock was a reminder to him of God’s provision.

We had a similar situation a few weeks ago when the Air Conditioning at the parsonage died during a heat wave. A new AC unit is arguably not as important as running water, but the house got uncomfortable quickly. And, of course, it happened during the summer, when people are gone and appeals to assist financially might go unheard. There was some anxiety about how to proceed, but then the people of Restore did what they always do and stepped up to help solve the problem, for which my family is eternally grateful.

The passage quoted above from Philippians is an interesting one, because it follows Paul’s expression of gratitude to the church for meeting his physical needs. That, in part, is why he can be so confident that God will meet theirs. Yet here is the key: the way that God meets any of our needs is almost always through the community of the church.

During the summer we can get disconnected from the church as we are all traveling and busy with family gatherings and events, but don’t let that dissuade you from getting reconnected when it’s back to the status quo. Eventually, you’ll have a need, and it’s important to remain connected to the vessel that God will use to meet that need: the Church.

I don’t have a rock in my office, but I do have a new thermostat in my hallway. Every time I look at it, I’ll remember the summer when the AC died, and God met our needs through the community of Restore.

…But I Love Gatherings!

As I sat on the beach, in Ocean Grove, yesterday, I remembered something my wife said to me days ago before we embarked. She said, “don’t freak out about the sand this time.” I love the beach and I do enjoy the sand on my own terms.However, I do my best to avoid getting sand in our beach bag or stuck to the side of our water bottles. I don’t like sand in my shorts and when I would watch our kids plop down in the sand after coming out of the water my eye twitches. I was reminded of an exchange from a movie. Two characters are bemoaning their workplace. The one refers to himself as a ‘people person.’ His friend points out, “you hate people!” To which the first guy replies, “but I love gatherings! Isn’t it ironic? 

The fact that I can love the beach but hate sand seems ridiculous. Hearing someone declare that they hate people, but love gatherings also makes no sense. You can’t have one without the other. What this highlights for me is the ease with which we can complain about things. When my wife asked that I not freak out about the sand, I thought how silly that made me sound. Is this really something I should spend time complaining about? 

The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2, Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world … As we navigate through this world as believers, we will encounter things that we do not prefer. But do not forget that you have been chosen. You have been saved by grace through faith. We should be grateful and should have the ability to view little annoyances in the light of all eternity. Having confidence in our eternal destination really should right size things for us.

There is no beach without sand, there are no gatherings without people, and there is no life without problems this side of eternity. Even Jesus tells us that we will have tribulation in this world, but we can take heart because He has overcome the world. That reality is what allows me to stick my feet in the sand and remember I am chosen and loved. 

Busy or Ineffective?

Do you ever have weeks where you look at your calendar and immediately feel anxious? I do. Just the other day I was trying to schedule an appointment and knew that I had time that day or the next. As I saw that they have openings when I did, I looked ahead in my calendar. I kept scanning further and further ahead for a free day and I was in mid-September! With a wife, two kids, and two jobs all contending for space on the same calendar I’m amazed I have time for anything! But I often wonder, “Am I busy? Or just ineffective?”

In the Gospel of Luke, we see a time when Jesus was visiting at the home of his dear friends, Mary and Martha. These were the sisters of Lazarus and there was a group of friends getting together for a meal. Luke tells us, “But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40-42)

Busyness can often distract us from what is important. Of course, there are things that we need to get done, and I’ll be the first to admit that my priorities are not always the most optimal. However, we all know people who seem to hide behind their hectic schedules. One author writes, “We wear our busyness like it’s a badge of honor when instead we should wear it as a big warning label that says, ‘Hey man, check this out: I’m disorganized!’”

Jesus did not completely disregard Martha’s contribution, but he did call out her anxiety over things that were not the most important. We give our focus and time to all sorts of things, but are we giving our Spiritual lives the same kind of attention? I know that I don’t. I do a terrible job of making time for prayer with my wife or quiet time alone with God. 

I’m too tired, or too busy, or any of a dozen other excuses. Maybe I need to admit that I’m just being ineffective and clogging my schedule with busy work, so I don’t need to sit and be vulnerable with God. Take a look at your calendar this week and ask the Holy Spirit to point out where you are just being ineffective and make some time for Him. I guarantee He can help you with that anxiety.

Don’t Get Cocky Kid

One of my favorite films is Star Wars. The first one, the real first one, 1977’s A New Hope.The film’s protagonist is a young man named Luke Skywalker. As the film progresses, he learns about who his father was and how that relates to who Luke is. As Luke learns and grows in his abilities, he finds himself on a mission to rescue Princess Leia. In one scene, he is defending the freighter ship he is on along with the ship’s captain, Han Solo. After some difficulty with the cannons, he hits and destroys an enemy ship. He shouts with jubilation and the captain’s response is, “don’t get cocky, kid!”

In 1 Peter 5:8, we are reminded to, “be of sober spirit, be on the alert Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Have you ever felt the dread described in this verse? These are times when you feel under attack and you press into God and seek to hear the Holy Spirit comforting and guiding you.

Then there are times when you feel joy and contentment with how things are going in your life. Why aren’t we pressing into God then? Why don’t we try and hear the Holy Spirit in those moments? This is what Peter is trying to remind the believer. Don’t let your guard down, don’t get cocky kid. When you are moving forward and living out your mission, Satan, our enemy, is seeking to immobilize you.

In my own life, when I allow myself to rely on my own abilities, I miss steps. I get too comfortable and focus too much on thinking, “I got this!” I need to be reminded to not get cocky because pride comes before a fall. Imagine you had a long-time best friend, but you only ever called them when you were going through struggles. How would that friend feel? Wouldn’t they want to share in your victories and hear about the amazing times in your life? Don’t only run to God when you are in your valley. There is no longevity in that. Remain abiding in Him and perhaps you can avoid some of those valleys. 

None of us are perfect. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 7, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” We can rest in the promise and confidence that Jesus bore our sin so we can be in right standing. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit to empower us. Let’s not rely on our own feeble ability. Don’t get cocky. God is always there for us in our valleys, but we can also run to God during your mountaintops.

Drop It Like It’s Heavy

Mark 10:17-22 - 17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Have you ever carried cinder blocks? They can be pretty heavy, usually about 35 pounds of dead weight. How long do you think you could run, at a full sprint, if you had to carry two or three cinder blocks with you? Around the block? A mile? 2 miles? Eventually the blocks would win, and you would need to stop. We all have rocks like these in our lives, things we carry with us that weigh us down. For some, like the rich young ruler in Mark 10, it is wealth; he was not willing to give up his extravagant life to follow Jesus. For others it might be our lack of wealth, or family problems, or physical abilities, anything that prevents us from following God with our whole heart.

We like to find excuses; we will lean into any reason we can think of to not do something. The call of Jesus is deceptively simple: put your past away and follow me. We have these things we carry around with us that only serve to slow us down. What can you let go of? What do you need to leave behind? What will give you the freedom to follow Christ with all your strength?

I Got This

Many of us have a really bad habit. A habit that keeps us from fully realizing the true meaning of being a part of the body of Christ. One phrase sums up this habit perfectly, “I got this.” We are taught from a young to revere and respect people that struck out on their own—the pioneers that made their own way. We honor this way of life so much that we begin to think of it as the ideal, as something we should be striving for. We think this is the way I should be in all aspects of my life.

However, the truth is that we were always meant to face life together. Call it community. Call it family. Call it the body of Christ. We were meant to share the hard times we face with those close to us, and at the same time we are supposed to be available for those close to us when they face hard times.

I love the way the Message puts Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:

It’s better to have a partner than go it alone.
Share the work, share the wealth.
And if one falls down, the other helps,
But if there’s no one to help, tough!
Two in a bed warm each other.
Alone, you shiver all night.
By yourself you’re unprotected.
With a friend you can face the worst.
Can you round up a third?
A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.

This seems like an obvious truth but there are times it seems like we actively reject help. Have you ever helped a friend move and seen someone pick up a box that is clearly too heavy for them? They are sweating, struggling, and swearing under their breath; and when help is offered, they put on a brave face and lie through their teeth, “No thanks, I got this.” 

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Accepting help when it is offered is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign that you have faith in the body of Christ to come through for you. God never told us to do life alone. Jesus never told anyone that the solution to their problem is to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. We are in this together!

Faithful Thomas

In John 20, Jesus exited the tomb, chatted with Mary for a bit, and then went to visit his disciples. Because of what had happened to Jesus most of the disciples were in hiding when Jesus appeared and told them, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 

One of the disciples that was not hiding with the others was Thomas. Since we so often reduce people to their worst day he is commonly referred to as Doubting Thomas. We don’t know much about him. His name only comes up 8 times in the Bible and 4 of those only mention him as part of the list of people present. He was obviously Jewish, probably a Galilean, and he was twin.

If we only had Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels Thomas would just be a name on a list. However, in the gospel of John we see what type of person Thomas really was. Our first introduction is in John 11, Jesus’ friend Lazarus has just died, and Jesus was planning to go to Judea to be with the family (and raise him from the dead although we don’t know that yet). Jesus had been making waves in the Jewish community and had just escaped a group that was trying to stone him. The disciples, clearly afraid tried to talk him out of going, unfortunately for them Jesus was determined to go. Thomas said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Thomas didn’t know what was going to happen. He only knew that Jesus wanted to go to Judea, and he was all in. He had faith in Jesus’ leadership; he knew that where ever Jesus was going that’s where he wanted to be. Thomas’ faith was young, but he trusted that Jesus would do all that He had promised. 

Then after seeing his savior and friend crucified, the people he had spent the last few years with are now telling him that Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to them. Thomas missed it, didn’t believe them, and told them that unless he saw the marks and touched the wounds “he would never believe.”

A week later, Jesus appears to the disciples again, this time with Thomas in attendance. Jesus turns to Thomas and grants his requested opportunity to see the marks and feel the wounds. Thomas can only answer, “My Lord and my God!” 

Thomas represents all of us. Faith is not a switch that we turn on and off. There are times in our lives where our faith can wear a little thin, times when it we are tested, and times when we are so full that we can only shout “My Lord and my God!”

What's the Point

Deuteronomy 11:18–19 - “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

I was sitting at lunch the other day beginning to realize that my day was slipping away from me. I instinctually lifted up my wrist to check the time and found myself staring at my bare arm, trying to process what, exactly, I was trying to accomplish. My watch had broken a couple of months earlier, and now as I sat at the table staring at nothing, I found myself confused that I’d even bothered to check a watch that I knew would not be there.

There are probably a lot of habits that you have that you don’t even know that you have. Things like setting the coffee before bed, brushing your teeth, always preparing your lunch the same way, or the way you put your dishes in the dishwasher. Simple acts that you have done the same way for so long that you don’t even realize you are doing them–until they are no longer there to do. Suddenly your habits and routines become immediately obvious to you and you are reminded why they were important to you to begin with (or you discover that they weren’t that important).

God has something like this in mind with his word. God does not give us his word in vain as if some things were not necessary to say. What God says matters, and He expects that when he speaks to his people they will remember. The best way to remember is to make a habit out of it. For his people in the Old Testament, that meant keeping his word front and center at all times, teaching it daily to themselves and those around them. Of course, the danger is that when you’re doing it every day, or you’ve heard it from a very young age you begin to forget whythe thing you are doing is so important. You can begin to take even something as valuable as God’s word for granted.

One of the ways this forgetfulness was counteracted in church history was through the use of Catechisms, which are a set of questions and answers about God that are intended to be easy to remember summaries of the Christian faith. They were originally used as a means of helping pastors and congregations learn and properly teach God’s word. Unfortunately, like God’s word itself, it is easy for us to take the beautiful simplicity of these catechisms for granted. Sometimes keeping things front and center leads to looking right past them and forgetting they are there.

This summer, I’m going to start a summer sermon series on the Heidelberg Catechism. We’ll only get through a small portion of it this summer and will continue on through subsequent summers. My hope is that as we open up this ancient text together, we’ll remember why it was written in the first place and why saints before us made it part of their routine. I hope we’ll rediscover its truth and warmth, and most of all, I hope we’ll grow closer to Jesus–which was the point of the catechism all along.

Signifcance

Psalm 8:3–4

            When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
                        the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
            what is man that you are mindful of him,
                        and the son of man that you care for him? (ESV)

How would you respond if someone asked you whether you were significant?

I think that most of us would say that we are not very significant. We’d look at all the metrics of success–career influence, economic status, community influence, social media followers–and conclude that we really haven’t made much of a mark on the world. If we wanted to be extra pious, we could even quote a few Bible verses to back up our theory. My guess is we’d mention Job.

Job’s story is that he endures what appears to be some unjust suffering. He can’t figure it out. He wants to confront God about it. His friends give tell him it’s probably his fault and Job disagrees. Finally, God himself responds and turns the tables back on Job, essentially asking him, who do you think you are?Job gets the picture and acknowledges that he may not have had a full grasp on the situation. Paul even quotes from the book of Job in his letter to the Romans asking the rhetorical question “who are you oh man to question God?” Obviously, the moral of the story is that we are insignificant.

Except it’s not. It’s actually just the opposite.

There is no question that the story of Job and Paul’s quotation of it in Romans are intended to put a stark contrast between who God is and who we are. Our understanding of why things are a certain way is limited, God’s is not. Our capacity is limited, God’s is not. Our reach is limited, God’s is not. Acknowledging that we are not God, however, is not the same thing as saying that we are insignificant. In fact, it is in our acknowledgement that we are not God that we receiveour significance.

This is what David is getting at in Psalm 8. We are nothing in comparison to God, and yet God pays attention to us. He listens to us and is mindful of us. Despite our humanity and our seeming lack of anything that would make us special, God treats us as if we are incredibly significant, because we areincredibly significant to him.

Don’t miss the fact that God respondsto Job. Job needed correction because Job is not God. The fact that God gave it to him reveals just how significant Job actually was.

The next time you wonder whether you are significant remember that the God of the universe thinks you are.

Party Invitations

Matthew 22:8–10 -Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

I want to tell you up front that what I’m about to say may seem pretty harsh, but I think it’s worth pondering. You’ve been warned. Ready for it?

Most Christians would probably not have liked Jesus very much.

Not too long-ago Christi came across an article in which the author pointed out that American Christians tend to try to “keep the peace” by avoiding difficult topics. This mindset ends up producing the very division it is seeking to avoid because issues are buried rather than worked through. One of the consistent themes of the Bible is that more often than not peace only comes when we are willing to walk through conflict.

Jesus wasn’t afraid to step into conflict, particularly when it came to the religious people of his day. In Matthew 22 he tells a parable that is specifically designed to send a message to the religious people: God is having a party, and you are no longer invited. Not only are they no longer invited, but the people who will be taking their place are effectively random. The servants are asked to invite anyone they can find, regardless of their personal credentials.

This is why I don’t think we’d like the real Jesus if we met him. We’d be offended if Jesus was going around telling people they weren’t invited to God’s party, let alone if Jesus said it to us. That’s just not how good, decent people talk. In fact, if we saw Jesus walking around talking that way, it’s likely that we’d want to remove him from our communities, which is exactly what the religious leaders ultimately tried to do.

Some people loved Jesus, even as they met him and walked with him and saw the way he confronted things that were wrong and spoke bold truth when necessary. Those people were the outcasts, the marginalized, the people who also were kicked out of the community, the people just going through life as if they were walking up and down the main road. The reason they loved Jesus is because they realized that they were the ones who received an invitation to God’s party, even though they knew that they didn’t deserve it.

How we would have felt about Jesus is dependent on what we think about ourselves. Do you think you deserve an invite to God’s party, or are you overjoyed that a messenger found you on the road and brought you to the feast?

Presents to Open

When I was a kid, I made an amazing discovery. I discovered early birthday presents. At Christmas, I was accustomed to opening presents on Christmas Eve, and to some that constitutes ‘early.’ However, birthdays were a whole new ball game! 

I could not wait to get my presents. I would beg, bargain, and plea with my parents for an early birthday gift. Maybe you were more patient when you were young and if so, you were better than me. Could you imagine being at your birthday party, sitting next to a pile of gifts and NOT wanting to tear into them?

At the beginning of 1 Corinthians 14, the Apostle Paul encourages us to “desire earnestly spiritual gifts.” Later on, in verse 12 he writes, “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” When it comes to spiritual gifts, do you have that same eagerness? Compared to any gift you’ve received; God’s gifts far outlast and outshine. Why do we seem to neglect or take for granted these gifts? 

If we stay with the Christmas and birthday theme, have you ever found the perfect gift for someone you care about? Think about how you feel when you give the perfect gift to someone. How did it feel when they opened the gift? What did you think when you saw the look of joy on their face? THAT is how God looks at us when we use our spiritual gifts. As you unwrap and examine your own spiritual gifts, the gifts God has given you, ask yourself a question. Am I pursuing the one who has given me these gifts? We know God is pursuing us! 

God created us for good works. He also has equipped us to carry these out. You are uniquely gifted to operate in this world; to bring order to chaos. This charge is exciting and seeing God’s plan carried out in the world is exhilarating. “But you are…a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Well, that makes sense!

When we talk about gifts, or talents, or abilities we often forget that God has given them to us. We can hone these abilities and grow in our mastery of them, but let’s also remember who those gifts came from. Our individual gifts are an expression of different aspects of God and when you understand that you also understand that when we all come together with our unique gifts, we are able to operate together.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11)

Peter is giving believers context for the use of our gifts - to serve others. We need to be vigilant and not allow our gifts and talents to be primarily about self-fulfillment. Our gifts are intended to reveal God and to serve one another. In addition to assessments, like the one we all received a couple weeks ago, another good way to identify your gifts is to ask yourself how you like to help others. What brand of service flows out of you most naturally? Ask those who know you best and fill out the assessment if you haven’t already. Get engaged!

Since we started our ‘Engage’ series here at church, I have had a number of great conversations. People are excited to see where they fit with the abilities God has blessed them with. To be honest, I have not heard much surprise when people see the results from their assessments. Most people see confirmation, like they were hard-wired to lean towards certain gifts. Knowing where the gift came from should give us confidence that we will be able to thrive in it. When God’s people are engaged, it is amazing what can happen. There is a lot of excitement when we find purpose.

Let your prayer today be that God helps motivate you to bless and encourage the people that He has set into your life. We are empowered to use our unique gifts to serve and to help bring peace to the chaos of this world.

Climb Like a Duck?

A story is told about a group of animals deciding to improve their general welfare by starting a school. The curriculum included swimming, running, climbing and flying. Duck, an excellent swimmer, wanted more so he focused on climbing and running—much to the detriment of his swimming. Rabbit, a superior runner, spent so much time in other classrooms that he soon lost much of his famed speed. Squirrel, who had been rated an A+ climber, dropped to a Cbecause he spent hours trying to swim and fly. Eagle was disciplined for soaring to the treetops, when he had been told to learn how to climb, even though flying was most natural for him.

This parable circulated for years in educational circles as a reminder that we are different people with different gifts and abilities. That’s the genius as well as the frustration of being a human being. Some of us go through life banging our heads on the wall trying to have success in areas we simply are not meant to be. Others of us exploit our gifts to the neglect of those whom we could serve.

The apostle Paul, writing to the specific mindsets and habits of the Corinthian church, shares insights just as relevant for us today.He observes a community fragmented by those who had elevated their particular gift in a way that belittled the gifts held by others. They viewed themselves as more important. 

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:14-20, “For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”

As we continue through our Engage series, and as you fill out your gifts survey, pray that the Holy Spirit guides you to where you can use your unique qualities to serve.

Challenges

1 Peter 4:10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.

One of my favorite things to do when I’m camping is get the fire started. To be clear, I’m not saying have a lit fire. What I’m saying is that I enjoy the process of taking random scraps of wood, pinecones, or whatever else I can find, and use it to create a campfire. I have the most fun when the challenge is the greatest: when the logs might be slightly wet, when I don’t have enough small sticks, or when I don’t have paper or dry pine needles to create my starter.

This challenge is also unnecessary, though. I’ve had people watch me try to light a fire under less than optimal circumstances with less than optimal resources and they’d question whether I knew how to light a fire at all, or whether I even knew how fire worked. They question why I’d make things more complicated when 9 times out of 10, I had access to the proper tools to get the job done quickly and efficiently. They make a valid point.

Too often in our lives we attempt to accomplish tasks that we are not properly equipped to take on. We try to get by without the proper resources or tools. You may enjoy the challenge when you are trying to build a campfire, but it’s almost never enjoyable when it happens in real life.

The main idea of the sermon from this past Sunday was that we need to “arrange the wood” of our lives to give God the opportunity to show up. If I can press the analogy a bit further, we must also know what kind of wood we are working with. Our goal with the Engage series is to get you thinking about that second question: what gifts, skills, and abilities do you have that you can arrange to have maximum engagement in the mission of God?

I want to offer you a resource to help you discover how you are wired, so you can have that sort of maximum engagement. The New Testament tells us about spiritual gifts that all Christians have to help us accomplish the mission of God. Sometime in the next week, everyone at Restore will receive an email inviting you to take an online quiz that will help you discern which of these spiritual gifts you have received, and which ones you might not have received. My hope is that having a better understanding of those gifts will give you greater clarity on which challenges you should pursue, and which ones you may not have the resources to accomplish.

Together we will discover where we fit in the mission of God.

Many Other Things

John 21:25 - Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The week post-Easter in the church is generally one big sigh of relief.

The Sunday when we celebrate the day that everything began anew, Easter Sunday, is the pinnacle of the church calendar. In some ways, Easter is the culmination of everything that we’ve been working towards. We anticipate one of the biggest crowds of the year to celebrate the most important event of the year. That can also make it the most stressful Sunday of the year; when church workers say “hallelujah” after an Easter Service, it’s just as likely they are celebrating the resurrection as they are thanking God that Sunday is over. Monday comes, and everyone exhales, and it can feel a little bit like, well, a letdown.

The four accounts of Jesus life have a sense of that, as well. Every one of them ends with the resurrection, with only a few notes wrapping up some loose ends. The earliest manuscripts of Mark’s account, for example, end with the disciples running away from the tomb, scared out of their mind that it was empty. Matthew ends with Jesus final words to the disciples. Luke includes a couple of witness-events of the post-resurrection Jesus. And John closes his account with a significant reminder of how Jesus changed a group of fishermen into fishers-of-men. All in all, it feels like a bit empty.

Wouldn’t it have been way better if Jesus rose from the grave, had big muscles, long hair, maybe a hammer to reign down swift justice on his enemies, okay, I’m describing Thor. The point is, if the resurrection is everything it’s supposed to be, shouldn’t Jesus have done moreafter his resurrection than before? With the newfound power of the resurrection, shouldn’t Jesus have walked into Jerusalem and declared himself eternal king, sending his enemies running? Now thatwould have been an ending!

Actually, now that I think about it, that is the ending. We’re just not there yet.

I think the reason the Gospel accounts end with his resurrection is because in the next phase of the story Jesus is going to send out average, not-yet-resurrected messengers into the world to tell everyone that the kingdom of God is here. Luke is the only one who comes close to telling us about this phase in his account of the early church called Acts. For the most part the message was spread through unnamed, unrecognized voices who we never read about in our Bible.

Maybe the post-Easter problem is that the everyday messenger-work of the Kingdom doesn’t look all that exciting. It doesn’t look like huge crowds and important days. It probably looks more like the “many other things Jesus did” that John mentions as he closes his account. But that is precisely the way that the kingdom of God spreads until the day Jesus returns to complete the victory that was announced at the Resurrection.