Monday, March 5, 2018

The Third Sunday of Lent: A Story of Self-Denial

Two texts demanded our attention yesterday and both of them told the same story of self-denial. The stories of Psalm 31 and Mark 8.31-38 are told in such a way that self-denial makes sense and is almost expected. In fact, all stories worth remembering pivot in some way around the theme of self-denial. No one tells a story, makes a film, or describes a worthy character that is not distinguished by self-denial. No one makes a war movie about a coward who refuses to risk his life for the cause. I can’t recall a good sports film about athletes who are lazy and refuse to work and sacrifice for their goals. No fairy tale tells the story of a prince who doesn’t love the girl enough to fight for her. Indeed, every good story revolves around the sacrifice and subsequent transformation of the characters. Sacrifice. Self-denial. Costly love. These are what make a story beautiful. Furthermore, these are what make a life beautiful. Donald Miller puts it like this. “If what we choose to do with our lives won't make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.” Brothers and sisters, the Almighty can accomplish great things through lives of sacrificial love. The Austrian Philosopher Ivan Illich was once asked about the most powerful way to change a society. His answer acknowledges the power of a life/story. 
Neither revolution nor reformation can ultimately change a society, rather you must tell a new powerful tale, one so persuasive that it sweeps away the old myths and becomes the preferred story, one so inclusive that it gathers all the bits of our past and our present into a coherent whole, one that even shines some light into our future so that we can take the next step... If you want to change a society, then you have to tell an alternative story  
The narratives of Psalm 31 and Mark 8.31-38 invite us into a transformative story in which self-denial makes sense. 
Into your hand I commit my spirit;    you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God. (Psalm 31.5, ESV) 
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8.34-38, ESV)
As Jesus quotes Psalm 31.5 from the cross and as he invites us to the path of self-denial, King Jesus describes a radical trust of our Father in Heaven such that we will continue to obey even if things aren’t going our way. He narrates a life of sacrifice.  

What kind of story does your manner of life tell? Do our lifestyles narrate an ethic of self-guardedness or self-denial? Are our choices characterized by demanding our way, getting what we want, and pursuing our agenda? Or, do we confess with the Psalmist, “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God. My times are in your hand.”

In every good story the main character is transformed through difficulty. No one remembers a story in which the protagonist gets everything she wants. Rather, we remember and want to emulate those characters who, somehow in loss and in sacrifice their story becomes beautiful and they are glorified. Through love that sacrifices our lives can tell such a beautiful story. Through not demanding our own way our lives can tell such a beautiful story. Through faithfully persevering with our loved ones, not as we wish they were but as they are, our lives can tell such a beautiful story.  By God’s Spirit may each of us tell a better story, so that on the last day we will hear our Savior say, “Well done. That was a good and faithful story.” 

Here you can listen to yesterday’s message, Entrust My Spirit.   

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Second Sunday of Lent: God on the Cross

What did God experience on the Cross and why does it matter? This question immediately brings two texts to mind. The first words come from the mouth of the Crucified One himself.
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” … And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17.1, 5, ESV)
When Jesus prays to the Father, “the hour has come,” he means that it is time for the cross. What’s more, Jesus describes his bloody, excruciating, and scandalous death as his glorification. This means that as Jesus’ body was broken, as his blood spilled onto the sandy soil outside Jerusalem, as his very life departed from him, the glory of God was being manifested. This is why Paul, quoting an early Christian hymn, proclaims to the Philippians,
Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus,
who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death —
even to death on a cross (Philippians 2.5-8, CSB). 
Why did Jesus empty himself? Why did Jesus assume the form of a servant? Why did Jesus, having assumed full humanity, humble himself to the point of death - even death on a cross? Paul’s answer - He existed in the form of God. In other words, to empty oneself in loving sacrifice for sinners is what it means to be in the form of God. It is not the form of God to exploit. It is the form of God to be poured out. It is not the form of God to demand service. It is the form to God to serve. While it should remain to us a mystery that the Immortal One become for us the Crucified One, it is important for us to grasp that on the cross each person of the Trinity is united in loving sacrifice for sinners.

Why does it matter? It matters because we are often tempted to sacrifice the glorious reality of a loving Triune God, on the altar of understanding “what is not meant to be understood.” In Western Culture we have a lot of sensible stories of angry kings demanding payment for crimes committed. That narrative then becomes the lens through which we understand the cross as Jesus, the faithful and loving Son, pacifying the wrath of the angry tyrannical Father. With these images in mind many of us nurture a hidden suspicion about the Father because on Good Friday he resembles Myra Gulch from the Wizard of Oz who demands Toto be destroyed, much like the Father in our minds who demands his Son be destroyed? Everyone loves Uncle Henry and Auntie Em, but we feel nothing but disdain for Myra Gulch because she’s angry, spiteful, and uses the law to get her way. Are these images true? Is God like Myra Gulch? Brothers and sisters, the Bible explicitly teaches that the already established love of God is what motivated the cross and is what is on display at the cross. The cross is not what made it possible for God to love us. The cross happened because God already loved us. Does the Bible teach that on the cross the Father turned his face away? No. Do the Scriptures teach that the Trinity was broken on the cross? Absolutely not! The cross is the place where God himself in love and sacrifice forgives sin. Thanks be to God.

Click here to stream Sunday’s sermon, Forsaken.

At the beginning of Sunday’s message, I referenced a line from a new song by Andrew Peterson. The line is: “As we try to believe what is not meant to be understood.” In fact, that song, Always Good, and another, Well Done, Good and Faithful, fed my soul full while I was writing the sermon. Both songs can be listened to below.            

Always Good

Well Done, Good and Faithful

Several of you also asked for the Brennan Manning quote that I shared as we explored Psalm 22.8.
If you could honestly say that God likes you, not only loves you, if you could say, “The Father is very fond of me,” there would come a relaxedness, a serenity, and a compassionate attitude toward yourself that is a reflection of God’s own tenderness (Brennan Manning).
Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The First Sunday of Lent: Takes Up Residence (Psalm 51)

When we take ownership of our sin, God takes up residence with us. This is counterintuitive because when I face my sin, it often feels that distance is created between God and me. When I hide my sin, it seems that I can at least pretend everything is alright. The plain teaching of Psalm 51 however, is that God will not despise a broken and contrite heart. In fact, facing our sin in the presence of our merciful God, invites God to face us with love. Psalm 51 promises that God refuses to condemn those who come to him for mercy - those who come to him in humility - those who come to him asking him to undo what they have done - those who come to him taking responsibility for their sin. Notice the bold request David offers after God has made atonement for and forgiven David’s sin. 

Do good to Zion in your good please;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then you will delight in right sacrifices, 
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar (Psalm 51.18-19, ESV) 

Brothers and sisters these are words of residence. These words describe the glorious promise that God dwells among penitent sinners. Indeed, Isaiah the prophet exclaims,  

Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy; “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite (Isaiah 57.15, ESV). 

Beloved, God longs to dwell with sinners in order that his presence may give them life. This should be the only motivation we need for regularly owning our sins through our own personal prayers of confession and also ancient prayers such as these. 

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. 
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. 

Click here to download and listen to part one of our Lenten Journey Through the PsalmsTakes Up Residence

Monday, February 12, 2018


This is how I work it out. The sufferings we go through in the present time are not worth putting in the scale alongside the glory that is going to be unveiled for us. Yes: creation itself is on tiptoe with expectation, eagerly awaiting the moment when God’s children will be revealed. … Let me explain. We know that the entire creation is groaning together, and going through labour pains together, up until the present time. Not only so: we too, we who have the first fruits of the spirit’s life within us, are groaning within ourselves, as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our body. We were saved, you see, in hope. But hope isn’t hope if you can see it! Who hopes for what they can see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it eagerly – but also patiently (Romans 8.18-19, 22-25, N.T. Wright, TKNT).

This helpful translation from N.T. Wright’s, The Kingdom New Testament, highlights a couple truths we touched on yesterday in our message, from Luke 9.18-27

Truth #1: Suffering is part of this present age. There is no denying that suffering is part of the deal. Indeed, much suffering comes our way because of our inability to grasp that presently, part of being human will involve unpleasant things. All creation groans because things are not as they should be. What’s more, the life of the Spirit within us leads us to groan with all creation for God to set things right. 

Truth #2: This present age of suffering will not last forever. This groaning that characterizes we who have the life of the Spirit, is a hopeful groaning. It is a groaning that pulls us into the future, toward our adoption, that is, the redemption of our bodies. That for which we groan is not a body-less existence in heaven. Rather, we long by the Spirit, for resurrection, and when that glory is restored to us, all creation will rejoice. The trees of the field will clap their hands (Isaiah 55.12), because the glory and knowledge of the Lord will cover the EARTH as the water covers the sea (Isaiah 11.9)!

Truth #3: The suffering of this present age is not meaningless. Paul describes our groaning with all creation as labor pains. This means faithful suffering will produce life in the age to come. Beloved, the faithful suffering of this present age has glorious results to be enjoyed in the age to come. The sufferings of this age “are not worth putting in the scale alongside the glory” for which we wait! Amen! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!! 

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8.16-17, ESV). 

Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
    like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
    shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
    bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
    bringing his sheaves with him (Psalm 126.4-6, ESV).

Click here to listen to yesterday’s message, Self-Denial.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Weekly Communion: An Ancient Path to the Future

Jesus desires an active encounter with us through the weekly breaking of bread. In fact the first thing Jesus wants to do if the church in Laodicea will welcome him back into their gathering, is to come in and eat (see Revelation 3.20). Most of us are familiar with the idea that King Jesus is active among us when the Scriptures are proclaimed. However, in our tradition we have often failed to recognize that the Holy Scriptures teach that Jesus is also made known to us through the breaking of bread. 
When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24.30–35, ESV)
Brothers and sisters, our prayer is for Jesus to be made known to us more and more so that he will be made known more and more in Somonauk, Sandwich, and the surrounding communities. We believe one of the primary ways he is made known is through our weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper. This is the first reason to come to the Lord’s Table at our regular worship gathering - because the breaking of bread is one of the ways Jesus is present to his people. Secondly, all New Testament churches received the Lord’s Supper weekly. This is established in passages such as 1 Corinthians 11.17-20 as well many references in the book of Acts (2.42-46; 20.7-11). What’s more, not celebrating weekly not only puts a church out of step with New Testament congregations, but also with the church of the first five centuries of the Christian Era. This is established by documents such as the Didache. The Didache was a first century document some historians argue was produced by the Apostles to help leaders establish congregations that are faithful to the instructions of Jesus and the Apostles. In the section titled, “On the Lord’s Day,” These simple instructions from around the time John wrote his Gospel are given. 
On the Lord’s day, gather yourselves together and break bread, give thanks (Gk: eucharisteo), but first confess your sins that your sacrifice may be pure (Didache, 14.1). 
Beloved, the society in which we live is changing even more rapidly than we are able to recognize. This means the message our congregation proclaims to our community must be fresh. That is, our gospel must address questions and issues that our culture is raising. Not only must our message be fresh, even more importantly our message must be faithful. As we move into the challenges of the future, we are wise to make sure our faith is rooted in the same faith of those who have gone before us. As we move toward a worship gathering that more faithfully reflects the gatherings of the early church, our prayer is that we will find the good way into the future and and the life promised by the Prophet Jeremiah. 
Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look,  and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it,  and find rest for your souls (Jeremiah 6.16, ESV)
Take to heart this encouragement from the late Robert Webber. 
How do you deliver the authentic faith and great wisdom of the past into the new cultural situation of the twenty-first century? The way into the future, I argue, is not an innovative new start for the church; rather, the road to the future runs through the past.

Click here to listen to yesterday’s message, A Meal.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Jesus' Table

David Fitch writes these helpful words regarding the role Jesus' table is intended to play in our broken world:
We are a mass of disconnected souls with too many tasks to do and too much stress to do them. Nonetheless, our world starves for presence. After work is over, after we arrive home on the train, we swarm to restaurants and bars just to share a beverage or a meal in hope of making contact. Whole train cars on the Chicago Metro commuter train are segregated for those who want to bring a beverage and share a conversation at the end of a long day. It's not much but it's something. People everywhere long to be known. Our culture bears the signs of people wanting to share life meaningfully with one another. The world longs for Eucharist.
In our exploration of Jesus' Table in Luke 5.27-39, we learned that one of the things that got Jesus in trouble with the religious authorities was his table habits. It wasn't only his preaching that led to Jesus' crucifixion, it was also his eating. More specifically, the cast of characters with whom he chose to eat. Tables, you see, tell stories. They tell the story of who's in and who's out - of who belongs with whom - and the basis of our mutual acceptance. Think for a moment about the cafeteria tables in high school. The jocks sit with the jocks, the cheerleaders with the cheerleaders, the FFA students with the FFA students, the preps with the preps, the gothic with the gothic, etc. Jesus' table tells quite a different story. "For Jesus the table was to be a place of fellowship and inclusion and acceptance" (Scot McKnight). According to Jesus, if you have recognized your ultimate need, forgiveness and restoration to God and others, and have turned to him to meet that need, then you belong to Jesus, to God, and to all who have likewise turned to Jesus. This means that Jesus doesn't require purity or certain earthly identity markers before he will share a meal with us. Rather, when we share a meal with Jesus, the meal has a mysterious way of creating purity within us, of shaping us into the image of what God created us to be.

Indeed, "we are a mass of disconnected souls," What evidence of disconnection do you see in your life? Are you feeling disconnected in your relationship with God. What human relationships fee disconnected? Jesus responds to disconnection by inviting us to a meal. Most often that meal is what we call communion - bread and wine shared by Christians after the Word of God has been proclaimed. If you sense a disconnect in your relationship with God, Jesus is inviting you to this sacred meal that he longs to share with you (Luke 22.14-16). If you feel a disconnect in relationships with others, Jesus is inviting you to share a meal with those persons so that his healing touch can restore connection to those relationships. At both tables Jesus is present to forgive, heal, and restore. What's more, it is at these tables we learn to sense where Jesus is present elsewhere in this world. Be encouraged to perceive the restoring presence of Jesus among this mass of disconnected souls.
The next time you walk down the street, take a good look at every face you pass and in your mind say, "Christ died for thee." That girl. That slob. That phony. That crook. That saint. That damned fool. “Christ died for thee.” Take and eat this in remembrance that “Christ died for thee” (Frederick Buechner)
Click here to download and listen to our message, Jesus' Table


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Gentleness Rules the World

Jesus was a gentle king.

In our text this past Sunday, Luke emphasized the authority of King Jesus who came into the world and through words wrestled this world back to God. As Jesus proclaims the reign of God in the synagogues of Nazareth and Capernaum, Luke reports again and again that the people were "amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority" (Luke 4.31-32). For our purposes it is important to note that in the same context Luke records that Jesus' authoritative words - words that can exorcise demons and restore life to an older woman on the verge of death - are also words that are full of grace (Luke 4.22). Brothers and sisters, Jesus' words changed the world. His life and ministry divide history into B.C. and A.D. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. And he was gentle. 

In the second half of Isaiah's ministry he promises a Spirit-anointed Servant who will bring justice to the nations in a quite unexpected way. Listen to the prophet's promise. 

He will not shout or cry out,
    or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
    In his teaching the islands will put their hope (Isaiah 42.2-4, NIV). 

Did you catch that? This King who will bring justice to nations like Assyria, Babylon, Persia, North Korea, and the United States, will do so through gentleness. In Matthew 12, this chosen and Spirit-anointed King is being chased down by religious leaders who want him dead (See Matthew 12.15-21). What does Jesus do in response to this threat? He withdraws. Why? In order to fulfill Isaiah's promise recorded above. 

Each of us inhabits a certain sphere of authority. Maybe in home, or school, or work, or a baseball diamond, each of us is blessed with the opportunity to influence others from a place of power. As followers of Jesus we are called to inhabit this place of power with gentleness. And that doesn't mean less influence. In fact, it means more, better, stronger, and more lasting influence. Dallas Willard helpfully writes: 
Is gentleness an absence of power or a power born through the spirit and found in wisdom? Matthew 12.20 says Jesus would not even break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick, and yet his gentleness launched a worldwide revolution. In many ways, Jesus' impact seems to be not in spite of his gentleness, but because of it.
May each of one us gently influence each one we encounter today.

Click here to download and listen to our message, "Words That Heal."