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.