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Monday, August 26, 2013

A Teenager's Sermon Notes

Had opportunity yesterday to preach on Isaiah 58 & a paradox walking with Jesus of Receiving Through Giving. In case you don't want to bother listening, one teenager gave me permission to share the notes she took.

That pretty much sums it up!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sun Follow-up - Ben Edwards: A Financial World Example of Work that Lasts & Lasting at Work

Yesterday we explored how Christ's final three words "It is finished" can help us both do work that lasts & last at our work. 

At Sunrise we are blessed with a number of amazingly hard workers in the financial sector. One man's story that might encourage you is Ben Edwards, former CEO of the former securities brokerage company, A.G. Edwards, which was based out of St. Louis and bought out by Wachovia in 2009. 

He did so well, he bought a sword.
I've read up a bit on this bloke. He felt free to take calculated risks in the securities realm because of His security in Christ. Including: (1) Being among the first brokerage firms to go public - in Nov 1971, offering 445,000 shares at $12 per share. But, despite being among the first, he didn't cave in the slightest to shareholder pressures and demands but rather (2) Kept to his established, golden rule of "do unto others" in the financial sector - putting clients first, employees second, and shareholders would glean any benefits left over. 

He lasted at his work staying - happily staying involved with the firm till he died in 2009.

Here's one of the better articles on him, including some lessons we can learn to do better & more lasting work to the glory of God.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Mud: A good movie for Men & Boys

I admit I'm partial to movies about boys growing up in the American South. In part, because it constituted most of my upbringing before my big 90210 move to Southern California that made me the pre-madonna I am today. 

The movie Mud (2013, PG-13, 130 mins, now out on DVD and stars Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon) is such a movie based in the American South and explores the ability of men to continue to hope in enduring love versus the alternative of hardening to it. Here's a fuller review and summary from a Christian point-of-view, I just want to mention 3 things that make this movie worth taking in - especially if you are a man and even more especially if you are a man with boys who are 13+. It is PG-13 so that should be fair warning about violence, language, etc.

1. Rural men who are not characterized by being tough & grizzled. This doesn't mean the four key men in the story (Mud, the boy, the father, the sniper) aren't these qualities to some extent - but it's not what characterizes them. In fact, writer/director Jeff Nichols does a brilliant job of characterizing these men primarily by love or, at least, their hope in love without making it come across as effeminate in the eyes of the typical male viewer. This is very refreshing and provides a visual, albeit imperfect (this is still Hollywood), for men in their 20s and 30s as well as boys for the expression of a robust and masculine love. 

2. Rural people who are not characterized by the hypocrisy or emptiness of religion/the church. Every line of Psalm 136 includes the refrain: "His steadfast love endures forever." This movie explores whether or not men can believe this even though their is no meaningful mention of "God" in the film (with the exception of one brutal man who asks his henchmen to pray for the death of man who killed his boy - but he's set apart by Nichols so explicitly as anti-God that his request is almost comical and not a significant commentary on rural religion). But the absence of a meaningful God-mention is refreshing - and I know it sounds strange for a pastor to say this. However, in these movies Southern and rural religion tends to have a role - and that role is typically destructive. Nichols avoids it altogether allowing the symbolism at the movie's final scene to stand out and can cause one to think on God's enduring love without us having to wonder: "Oh yeah, but remember from the earlier church/preacher scene that the writer/director is anti-church, anti-religion, anti-God." 

3. The final scene. Disclaimer: I won't give away anything of the plot in saying this. The movie makes a bold statement that despite years of heartache and disappointment with love, men can still hope that they are loved and have the ability to love. Men can be more than just responsible and hardworking as their highest potential. How? Through the large and small sacrifices of others and the sacrifice a man makes in response. Such that the movie ends how it does - with hope and a sunrise all brought about by sacrifice. All of which should remind us of THE Man who sacrificed it all that we might forever know we are loved.

Give it a watch. Would love to hear what you think.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Sunday Follow-Up: The Lingering ? about Abundance

Sunday we looked at a 2nd Paradox of Christian Living Abundance through Monogamy. Most people try to add to their life by seeking out and accumulating individual additions - be they pleasures/comforts, things, friends, security, power. One at a time so that they might eventually have a life of "abundance." Jesus flips this notion on its head - monogamy (a commitment to ONE above all others and for a lifetime) leads to abundance. So instead of "out of many, one" (E Pluribus Unum), "out of one, many" (do your own Latin!!). Jesus wasn't thinking of the U.S. motto, so here's how he put it:
[22] And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. [23] For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. [24] Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! [25] And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? [26] If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? [27] Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. [28] But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! [29] And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. [30] For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. [31] Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. [32] “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  (Luke 12:22-32 ESV)

Seek one King, one kingdom above all and God will graciously provide. Theo-monogamy leads to poly-provision. Faithfulness in seeking One lifelong God (theo-monogamy) leads to superabundance of provision (poly-provision). Here it is, Jesus promises.

I wrapped up Sun's message without getting to the last part of my notes - a lingering question that often comes up when talking abundance and God's promises. Namely: 

Okay, if I do seek God, how does God promise to bless me? And please give specifics.

Some examples. (1) People will point to Old Testament examples of God's material blessing upon those who seek His interests and not their own. King Solomon is a great example and one I used this past Sunday. He sought God and His Kingdom until he eventually wants to worship God in his own way (1 Kings 3:3-4) which leads to Solomon trying to juggle the interests of two kingdoms - His kingdom + God's (1 Kings 3:1-2, 1 Kings 10:8) which leads to theo-polygamy (1 Kings 11:4-5). But when he was seeking God, God blessed him with riches & wisdom beyond compare (1 Kings 3:13). (2) Psalm 37:4 is a famous one often followed by mentally listing everything I desire; (3) John 10:10 is sometimes quoted when a person has obtained extra favor, pleasure or riches. 

In my still relatively brief experience as a pastor, I rarely find that someone just brings up this question upon reading the Bible for himself or herself nor does it come up out-of-the-blue from the new Christian. But rather, a preacher, teacher, author of some kind presents the possibility and then stirs it up in his/her audience (I've talked about the danger of this "Word of Faith" teaching elsewhere). Why not?  Because the one who realizes that a Holy God has forgiven, accepted and declared righteous someone like me (a rebel against God ill-deserving of even a glance in my direction) and at the cost of His Son, does not demand specifics but is grateful for acceptance.

Look again at the end of Jesus' promise about monogamous seeking. Having given the promise of "adding all these things unto you," he says: "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).  Isn't this interesting? Put yourself there. You can imagine some of the disciples and others listening in thinking: "Uh, dude that is not what we are worried about or fear. We are worried about getting 'all these things added to us'...what about the 'all these things'?" But Jesus is speaking to those who get it (which, by the way, is the main purpose of his parables - to separate those who get it from those who don't). He is speaking to those who recognize they are unworthy rebels but still want the gift of the King and who, upon getting the king, care only about the Father's pleasure. When the King becomes your #1 thing, your singular worry becomes your status in the Kingdom and with the King himself. Will he grant me forgiveness when I stumble? Will he accept me though I wander? Will He grant me fellowship before His throne though I served him less than wholeheartedly or acted with less than full faith? To this Jesus gives His answer: It's to the Father's good pleasure to give. He's constantly teetering on favoring you with His presence, His fellowship, His Holy Spirit - such that even faith the size of mustard seed will tip the scales in your favor.

Here's a challenge: Go back and look through the New Testament promises of Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, and the other apostles and writers. Might they be read in light of God giving himself to us in Jesus Christ rather than another "thing"? The peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7) - is it a necessarily feeling where all anxiety melts away or is it centrally located in Christ being our peace ensuring fellowship with God the Father? When Jesus promises abundant life (John 10:10), is He himself not the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). When I delight myself in the Lord, isn't it possible, even likely, that He Himself becomes the desire of my heart? As 18th c. poet Alexander Pope once said: "One master passion in the breast / like Aaron's serpent swallows up the rest."

Right now on my bathroom mirror hangs an old, smudgy notecard with the following words of Jesus upon leaving his disciples: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives; do not let your hearts be troubled, do not be afraid" (John 14:27). The truth that Jesus doesn't give peace or comfort as the world gives - does that trouble you or is it your antidote to fear and trouble? How you answer that question is likely a good indicator of whose Kingdom you are seeking. Jesus gives us Himself and the very Kingdom of the Father. He may give you more but he won't give you less - and that is a comforting thought.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Freedom Run Wild & Abundant Pleasures...mmm...YES, PLEASE!

On Sunday mornings under the Big Top we have been examining the Paradoxes of the Christian Life. God wants to give us all manner of graces but the way we access such grace is the opposite of what we'd expect (or want !!). Last Sunday's Paradox: Freedom through Slavery and this Sunday's will be Abundance through Monogamy

I ran across some of G.K. Chesterton's writings on the subject in his classic work Orthodoxy. Chesterton, like C.S. Lewis after him, had a wonderful way of putting things, especially big biblical truths. He beautifully summarizes both how total sold-out-ness (slavery) to the rule and order of a good God leads to freedom and how monogamy leads to the most abundant of pleasures.
The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.
Chesterton goes on to use the example of sex:
I could never mix in the common murmur of that rising generation against monogamy, because no restriction on sex seemed so odd and unexpected as sex itself...Keeping to one woman is a small price to pay so much as seeing one woman. To complain that I could only be married once was like complaining that I had only been born once. It was incommensurable with the terrible excitement of which one was talking. It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it. A man is a fool who complains he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once. Polygamy is a lack of the realization of sex; it is like a man plucking five pears in mere absence of mind.
One of the great difficulties of the Christian life is warding off the deception that the only way you are truly going to get personal freedom and get abundance of pleasure is to go out and get it yourself (e.g., making more $ to have more personal choices, climbing the ladder to get more personal time off, etc. and seeking multiple partners, multiple purchases, multiple social circles, multiple "good time activities" as primary means to personal pleasure).

Accordingly, I pray Chesterton helps you today: Submission to God's rule allows freedom to run wild & monogamy in marriage keeps us ever-sensitive and enjoying the truly strange and mysterious (and quite pleasurable!) gift of sex.