Sunday, January 14, 2018

Deliverance: Finding Freedom in Jesus

When you face an important moral choice in your life, where do you turn for guidance?

Your teenage daughter comes to you one afternoon with fear and trembling. She is only seventeen years old—not quite an adult. Making decisions about her future, including college. All of that comes to a screeching halt when she tells you she is pregnant. You have a choice to make: how will you respond? You do not want to condone the activity that led her to this place. Yet, you do not want to say or do anything that will make matters worse. How will you respond? Or, better yet: when you face this decision, where do you turn for guidance?

A new law is passed by the federal government. This new law is designed to help the poorest members of the nation and of your community. The problem is that it will cost a lot of money, and it may cost you some money. This new law is shrouded in a lot of controversy. Some are adamantly for it. Others are adamantly against it. Rallies and petitions have been planned and created for both sides. You’ve been invited to help—by both sides. It is a difficult decision. You empathize with both sides. You understand the difficulties associated with both options. You have a choice to make: how will you respond? Or, better yet: when you face this decision, where do you turn for guidance?

Hypothetically speaking, the nation is trying to decide how to respond to an international refugee crisis. Over one million Syrian refugees are fleeing their country because of the violence. They are poor; they are homeless; many of them are Muslim. Some advocate opening the doors of America to allow these people a place to live. Others fear that opening up our borders to people coming from these specific regions of the world would lead to terrorist attacks. Both sides make convincing arguments. Both sides are passionate. You have a choice to make: how will you respond? Or, better yet: when you face this decision, where do you turn for guidance?

We are tempted, aren’t we, to say that we turn to God or we turn to Scripture for guidance when we have choices like these. But do we, really? Even though we want to be the kinds of people who consult the Word of God for Truth in matters like these, is that really the first place we go?

  • Do we not instead consult our friends?
  • Our family?
  • Our favorite politician?
  • Our favorite news station?
  • Our own past experiences?

In their commentary on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Glen Stassen and David Gushee write these words that are kind of difficult for us to hear:
Many Christians reflect their cultural and ideological captivity by failing to consider distinctive Christian sources of authority or by proving unable to reflect on either those or general sources of authority with eyes able to see and ears able to hear. Many carry the name Christian and yet habitually fail to live their lives within the moral horizon actually established by Christian faith." (Glen Stassen & David Gushee, Kingdom Ethics)
Do you understand what they are saying? Many of us in a room like this say we go to God first. We may even believe we go to God first in our discernment processes. But in actuality, many of us (in practice) do not.

Most of the time, we do not intend to leave God out. Consider the case of the German Christians of the mid-twentieth century. As it became more and more clear what was happening under the Nazi regime, German Christians had to decide how to respond.

  • “Should we support the state?”
  • “Should we revolt?”
  • “Should we just keep quiet?”
  • “Should we hide Jews in our home?”
  • “Should we join efforts to assassinate Adolf Hitler?”

Christian women and men had to consider their answers to these and many other questions. In their effort to answer these questions, many Christians failed to consider any particular Christian source of authority. They considered the risk to themselves. They considered the opinions of their neighbors. They considered their personal opinion of Jews—much of it shaped by Nazi propaganda. They even considered the behavior of their national leaders. Interestingly, this was true of those who stood with the Nazis and even among many who decided to risk their lives by saving Jews.

The reason I bring this up…In many ways, those Christians in Germany were a lot like us. They were not necessarily bad people. Many of them went to church every time the doors were open. They read the Bible to their children. But when they came face to face with those very important moral choices, many of them (like us) failed to fix their eyes on Jesus.

And speaking of fixing our eyes on Jesus…that is what this series is all about!

If we are serious about following Jesus, we need to ask these questions in light of His life. So, when faced with difficult moral choices, where did Jesus go in His process of discernment? Almost every single time, when Jesus was asked a tough question about life, He went to Scripture for His answer. Which is really ironic, because He was often accused of ignoring the Law. Listen to what Jesus said about this in His Sermon on the Mount.


For Jesus, the Bible served as the premier source of authority. So, why is it that He was accused of ignoring Scripture by so many of His contemporaries? Over and over again, the Pharisees and the scribes accused Jesus of breaking the Law or ignoring the Law. Listen, this is important to understand. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were not malicious people. I know our movies try to fit them into that mold. They didn’t walk around with scowls on their faces. They didn’t intentionally disobey God. Most of them probably thought they were doing exactly what God wanted them to do. They had, many of them, dedicated their lives to studying the Bible!

This brings us an important truth we need to be aware of. It is possible to go to Scripture to make your decisions and still completely miss the point. It is possible that someone’s Bible could be worn out, pages smeared, highlighted and underlined, binding coming apart, because they spend so much time in the Bible. It’s possible for someone like that to still completely miss the point. This is what made Jesus so “problematic” for the religious people of His day. They shared His love for Scripture. Do you understand that? The Pharisees loved the Word of God! But they interpreted Scripture much differently than Jesus did.

It is possible to believe Scripture is authoritative and at the same time to use Scripture in inappropriate ways. The German Christians—many of them—believed they were following the Bible when they supported the Nazis. Some of them actually used Scripture to prove that God was punishing the Jews for killing Jesus! They were Bible people! The defenders of American slavery used the Bible to support their positions. The Christian crusaders in the 10th century used the Bible to justify going to war against Muslims. Going to the Bible to make our decisions is important… but we need to understand that how we interpret the Bible is just as important!

Just like the religious leaders of His day, Jesus loved Scripture. They both went to the Bible to make their decisions. They both believed the Word of God was the first (and sometimes the last) place to go in their discernment processes. What got Jesus in trouble was the way He interpreted the Bible. Now, if we are going to fix our eyes on Jesus, if we are going to make every effort to be more like Him, if we want to experience the deliverance offered to us in the new kind of Kingdom Jesus talked about, we need to know how Jesus read and understood the Bible.

The easiest way to describe the way Jesus read the Bible is to say it this way: Jesus read the Bible like the prophets read the Bible. And that was radically different than the way the people of His generation were reading the Bible.

By the time Jesus lived, people read Scripture purely as “law,” as we might understand law. Scripture was a long list of dos and don’ts. People read the Bible with a focus on ritual purity. They wanted to know what they had to do to worship right. What did they need to do to stay ritually clean? They wanted to stay in God’s good graces, and they believed Scripture was the key to unlocking that mystery.

We could also say, the people of Jesus’ day were afraid of God. They viewed God as a Deity that was all about judgment. They were unholy; God was holy. If they followed Scripture to the letter, they would purify themselves and be able to be in God’s presence.

So, the passage I just read from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount could lead you to believe that Jesus meant for the people to be even more legalistic!

I didn’t come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it.

I tell you not one letter or even the smallest pen stroke will be erased from the law.

Your righteousness needs to surpass the Pharisees and legal experts.

So, what does this mean? Does this mean we need to be even more stringent in our following—even more than the Pharisees? No, it meant that the Pharisees and Scribes were interpreting Scripture wrongly. Whereas they put the emphasis on ritual purity and staying clean, Jesus put the emphasis on people. Righteousness for Jesus did not consist of worshiping correctly or in staying clean. Righteousness, for Jesus, consisted of doing deeds of love, mercy, and justice. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 22 that loving God and neighbor is more important than whole burnt offerings. In our language, that means loving God and neighbor is more important than anything else! Jesus’ way of reading Scripture was similar to the prophet Amos:

READ AMOS 5:21–24 The Message

God loves this world, and from the very beginning God has been trying to bless this world. Scripture is God’s gift to this world. It shows us the character and nature of God. It reveals to us the story of God’s love for this world! Out of love, God rescued His people from slavery in Egypt. Out of love, God gave His people, Israel, the Law—to show them a better way to live. Out of love, God sent the prophets to focus the people once again on justice and mercy and peace. And no matter how many times God attempts to redirect His people back to love, to mercy, to grace, we still focus on the rules and the laws, and every time we do that, we miss the point entirely!

There are many people in the world who claim to be people of the Bible. The Pharisees were people of the Bible. Church, the way we interpret the Bible matters. It changes everything!

Over the next several weeks, throughout this Sermon, we are going to be paying close attention to how Jesus interpreted the Bible. That is important for us. In fact, fewer things are more important! If we are going to be people like Jesus, we need to read like He read. We need to use Scripture like He used Scripture.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Deliverance: Fixing Our Eyes on Jesus

I’d like to ask you to close your eyes this morning and picture the person who has shaped your faith more than any other person.

When I close my eyes, the first face I see is Freddie Moll. I never called him Freddie; I called him Poppy. He was my grandfather—my mother’s father. He was the most gentle, humble, godly man I’ve ever met. I never observed him say one unkind thing to anyone or about anyone. Instead, every time you left his presence you felt better about yourself. That was his spiritual gift.

I recall one specific moment from his life. My father had passed away. Several family members were staying in our house in Oklahoma awaiting the funeral. On the morning of the funeral, Poppy got up early in the morning to go to the restroom. On his way there, he fell. My brother and I heard him fall and immediately rushed in to find him. He was in bad shape—a cut on his ear, he couldn’t get up. We thought he might have broken his hip. We called the ambulance. As we waited there in that moment, my grandfather was undoubtedly in a lot of pain. Nevertheless, as we sat there with him on the floor, he looked up at me and said: “You know Wes, you have the most amazing little family.” That was my grandfather—always thinking of someone else. Always encouraging.

Another person I see when I close my eyes is his wife, Mildred Moll, or “Nana.” I had the opportunity—or blessing—to perform both of their funeral services. And when you do someone’s funeral, you get to hear a lot of stories about them—most of them good! As I was preparing to perform my grandmother’s funeral, I was reminded of just how strong she was. She was raised in a Christian home with Christian parents. But my grandfather was not. For years she took their three daughters to church without him. I never knew that! I cannot imagine a time when my grandfather did not go to church! But he didn’t, so my grandmother took their three daughters to church every week by herself. My grandmother was the sole spiritual leader of that family for a long time. It was my grandmother’s persistence and patience and love that finally convinced my grandfather to go to church. She was a strong, faithful, spiritual giant!

When you close your eyes, who do you see?

Some in this room might see Edwin Rasco, others might see Jim Welch: two great elders in the history of this church! I believe some in this room see Annie Pierce (or “Miss Annie”). I think it is important for us to remember the heroes of our faith. Doing so not only honors their memory, it also helps us aspire to greater heights in our own spiritual development.

When I remember my grandparents, I aspire to be better. I have a strong desire to leave the kind of legacy they left behind. I want my children (and someday my grandchildren) to remember me as a great spiritual example.

Whoever wrote Hebrews understood our need to remember heroes of the faith. The entire 11th chapter of Hebrews is filled with spiritual giants:
  • Abraham
  • Jacob
  • Moses
  • Rahab
  • Samson
And after the long list of names, he talks about an unnamed group of people—martyrs. People who had been tortured to death because of their faith. People who had been put in prison or were exiled because of their faith in God. And the first people who heard Hebrews read aloud would have heard those names and remembered! And I think they would have been inspired to follow their examples.

I want to read to you what the writer of Hebrews wrote immediately after that long list of names.
So then, let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter. (Hebrews 12:1-2a)
I confess to you that I wrote two separate sermons this week. The first sermon got to this point, and then went in a pretty predictable direction. Let’s remember the great people of the past. Let’s do what the writer of Hebrews says right here: “Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus…” And when we work really hard, read our Bible more, pray more, spend more time alone with God, New Year’s Resolution-type stuff. Then, one day, we can become like them: heroes of the faith. And know that we are not alone. We have a great cloud of witnesses to serve as our examples. They went before us, paving the way to our spiritual transformation.

That sermon was done. Finished. In the bag. It’s not a bad sermon. There is a lot of truth in those words. But something happened early last week that made it impossible for me to preach that sermon this week. I read an article posted on social media by Ray Vannoy. I want to say it was a message from God—but at this point, we’ll just say it was Ray that posted the article. The article caught my eye because of its title: “Pastors and Depression.” This is a catchy title, especially if you are a pastor! Studies show that most pastors (an overwhelming majority) suffer from bouts of depression. Including this one!

I was at a conference for preachers late last year. There were over 100 preachers in that three-day conference. Every single preacher I talked to suffers from depression. Most of that depression comes from the same place. We feel like it is our duty to be spiritual giants, but most of us aren’t spiritual giants. We feel like we need to be happy, energetic, optimistic all of the time. When most of the time we are tired, depleted of energy, and frustrated. We went into ministry because we love God and we want to change the world for good! We wanted to build strong churches that would produce strong Christians that would radically change our communities. But we are leading churches that always seem to be less than perfect, struggling with divisiveness, filled with people just like us: broken.

I read that article because the title caught my eye. But I finished it because of how much I related to what its author was saying throughout the rest of the article. Its author is Brandon Cox, a pastor. The article encourages all of us to quit playing the game and instead acknowledge our brokenness. Listen to what he wrote:
I spent at least a dozen years trying to be the best pastor I could be. I wanted to fit the role, lead well, and if I’m being honest, impress the church and keep everybody happy. So I wore my suit and my smile and tried to do all the pastor things people expect the pastor to do. And when criticism came or when conflict arose, I bottled it away so that I could later use it as an excuse to check out mentally and emotionally from real engagement with people. When Angie and I moved to southern California where I joined the staff as a pastor at Saddleback Church, I was badly broken and I didn’t even know it. Within the first couple of months of life in our new surroundings, various pressures brought my pain to the surface. Our marriage struggled under the weight of it until a couple of breaking points occurred. We joined a small group that embraced us, helped us to finally open up about our issues, and encouraged us in our walk. I also saw our staff counselor, who would provide counseling to any staff member in absolute confidence. Pastor Rick Warren encourages his staff members to seek out counseling without fear or shame, and for the first time, I told a fellow pastor about all of my deepest issues.
I’m convinced God moved us to southern California not simply to help Saddleback minister to leaders in the global church, but also because he wanted us to plant a church but knew I wasn’t ready on a spiritual and emotional level. When we started Grace Hills Church, we weren’t perfect or completely healed from all of our hurts, but we were absolutely committed to not faking it anymore. We would start a church as broken leaders, for broken people. It would be a safe place for people to come with their brokenness and find healing and restoration in the good news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection! Denying your brokenness can help you succeed—for a season. But if you want to thrive and become all that God has purposed for you to become, you’ll have to be broken.
After I read this full article, I went back to my sermon. I read and reread Hebrews 11-12, and I noticed something. All of the people in that list were broken—severely broken. Moses was a murderer and later in his life tried to take credit for God’s power. Abraham was so afraid he allowed his wife to be put in a harem to save his own neck. Sarah laughed in the face of God when she was told she would have a child in her old age. Rahab was a prostitute! David broke just about every major sin in the book. Samson was a womanizer and a bully! The list goes on and on and on. And then I was forced to remember that my personal heroes of faith—they were not perfect either. My grandfather, my grandmother, Edwin Rasco, Jim Welch, Miss Annie, the person you see when you close your eyes. We are all broken, everyone of us.

This morning we are picking up where we left off before Advent with our series on Jesus. The title of this series is “Deliverance.” I want deliverance! I want to be radically transformed from where I am now to where God wants me to be. I am more convinced than ever that the first step I must take—the first step we all must take—is to acknowledge our brokenness. So, I admit to you this morning: I am broken. I am addicted to success. I am scared of your criticism. Even though I am the preacher and I am supposed to be super-religious, I go through seasons when I do not want to pray, so I don’t. As the preacher, I get tired of “doing church” a lot of the time. I can be honest with you about these very private issues in my life because I know I am not alone. I am not the only broken person in this room.

We are a community of broken people who have good news for a broken world. And here is the good news: You do not have to be perfect. And the more you try to make people around you think you are perfect, the more unhappy you will be, and the more you will fall short in your quest to become the person God made you to become.

This series is all about deliverance. If you fix your eyes on Jesus, you will be delivered. But not in the way you might expect to be delivered. Not in the way many of us talk about deliverance in church sometimes. Your family may never get it all together, even if you come to church! Your marriage may always struggle. Even if you fix your eyes on Jesus, you will still struggle with sin and brokenness. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, when we come to Jesus vulnerable and open, when we come acknowledging our brokenness, that is when Jesus can do some pretty amazing things through us.

When Abraham came broken, God established Israel. When Moses came broken, God delivered His people from slavery. When David came broken, God established a dynasty. When Rahab came broken, God delivered the promised land into Israel’s hands. When Mary came broken—a scared, pregnant, teenage girl—God came into the world through her!

Instead of hiding your brokenness, maybe you should try to consider how God might use your brokenness to bless this world. Have you gone through the pain of a divorce? God might use that broken piece of your life to help someone else. There are folks going through the same thing.

Can you use your brokenness to walk alongside someone else to provide healing? Have you struggled with alcoholism? You are not alone. There are others who share that struggle. If you are transparent about that broken piece of your life, you might be a blessing to someone else.

Are you addicted to pornography? Have you gone through periods of anger? Have you experienced betrayal? Have you experienced depression?

The first words of Hebrews 12 tell us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. I don’t think the writer was talking only about the folks mentioned in Chapter 11! And as we share our stories with one another, we find deliverance through the power of Jesus.

Let me tell you my dream for this church. I’ve heard some folks say: I want us to fill these empty seats. That may or may not happen; that is not my dream. My dream is that we will become a church that is filled with people who are being transformed more and more into the image of God all the time. That our faith is going deeper. That we are becoming more mature. I think that can only happen if we are courageous enough to be open about our brokenness.

This year, I want us to tell more stories. If you are willing to stand up here and tell your story, come see me. It could be that your story could help someone else on their road toward transformation. You know, church, God has a long history of doing some pretty extraordinary things with people who were brave enough to admit their brokenness.

What do you suppose He can do with you?
What do you suppose He can do with this church?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Deliverance: Blessed Are the Persecuted

After Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” He said this…
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12 NRSV)
Let me ask you a strange question: What did Jesus do for a living?

No, He was not a carpenter. His father was a carpenter. But we have no record of Jesus ever being a carpenter. As far as we know, Jesus was unemployed (which may be why He always seemed so eager to eat with anyone that was having a meal). Another question: Where did Jesus live? Not only "In what city did Jesus live?" But, where did Jesus live?

Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told the crowds:
Foxes have holes, and birds have nests; but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head. (Matthew 8:20)
Now, this is important for us to know. This is not just a nice, quaint saying of Jesus. This tells us how Jesus lived. Jesus was homeless! Why do I bring up these basic questions about Jesus? Sometimes I think we sanitize Jesus. We create Jesus in our own image. We picture Jesus as a light-skinned European. Surely, Jesus was polite and had great social skills. Surely, Jesus fit in well with people and got along with everyone, right? We sometimes forget the way Scripture describes Jesus. Jesus was a homeless, unemployed, poor man. This is the Jesus most of us picture in our minds:

But, actually, Jesus more likely looked like this:

Because we sanitize Jesus, we also sanitize what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I think this is especially true in the time and place in which we live. In our southern, American culture, being Christian is so much a part of our culture that it is sometimes difficult to know where culture ends and Christianity begins. If you were to ask the average Tylerite, "What does a Christian look like?" what do you suppose folks would say?
  • Stable family
  • Nice
  • Helpful
  • Middle Class
That is the "picture" of a Christian we have in our minds. We sometimes forget that standing at the center of our faith is a homeless, unemployed, poor man. Not only that but a homeless, unemployed poor man who didn’t get along with people. You know, they didn’t kill Jesus because He was nice. They killed Jesus because He was so counter-cultural. He was a homeless, unemployed, poor man. And His value system constantly put Him at odds with people in power. The religious leaders didn’t like Him. The political leaders didn’t like Him. Why? Because a homeless, unemployed, poor man says and does things that are offensive to people in power.

When I read this last Beatitude through the lens of our times, these words do not make a lot of sense. The average person on the street in Tyler, Texas, might ask: "Why would anyone be persecuted for being righteous? Why would people utter all kinds of evil against a person:"
  • With a stable family
  • Or who is nice
  • Or who is helpful
"Why would anyone ever persecute someone like that?"

Jesus’ life and teachings have caused friction with every culture in the history of the world. If we read these words of Jesus and think to ourselves, "Why would anyone persecute a Christian in our world?" There are really only two options at that point: either we have finally created the Kingdom of God on Earth, and the values of Tyler are so aligned with Jesus that our culture and the Kingdom of God are indistinguishable; or we have a faulty image of what a Christian is supposed to be.

When we are baptized, we are making a commitment. We are saying before each other and God…
  • I promise to take up my cross and follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
  • I will do what Jesus did.
  • I will go where Jesus went.
  • I will say what Jesus said.
Baptism takes only a few minutes to receive. But it takes a lifetime to live out. I told you at the beginning of this series that if we took Jesus’ words seriously, this would be a challenging study. Because there is no way to follow Jesus and be at home in our world.

I told you several weeks ago that these beatitudes are not supposed to heap on more guilt. These words of Jesus are not a call for us to be more meek or pure in heart or persecuted. These words are meant to bring comfort to those living out the Kingdom ethics of Jesus. Because those folks already are meek and pure in heart. If you live out the Kingdom ethics of Jesus you will be persecuted. And to those who are being persecuted for standing against the culture, Jesus has these words of encouragement:
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven—and remember, they persecuted the prophets before they persecuted you…
Yes, the faithful will one day receive a great reward in heaven. But don’t overlook this second blessing. Remember, you are not alone. Sometimes I think we believe that standing with Jesus means standing against the problems of culture: the values of Hollywood, abortion, etc. Do you know what was one of the most radical things Jesus ever did? This thing surely got Jesus in more trouble than anything else. Jesus stood with people. He stood with people when no one else would. We are most like Jesus when we do that same thing. Here is what I want you to know about this church:
  • If you have had an abortion in your life, you are welcome here.
  • If you have cheated on your spouse, you are welcome here.
  • If you struggle with same sex attraction, you are welcome here.
  • If you struggle with depression, you are welcome here.
  • If you are an alcoholic, you are welcome here.
  • If you are a lousy, selfish human being, you are welcome here with us.
And what’s more, you are not alone. This room is filled with people just like you. And contrary to what our world says about you, you are welcome here with us, as we all celebrate together that Jesus stands with us too.

When persecution comes, and it will, I pray we will stand shoulder to shoulder, loving each other and lifting each other up.

When you were baptized, you did not join a social club; you joined a revolution. I’ll say this: When you take Jesus seriously, Christianity becomes much more interesting! Christianity becomes an adventure! So God, give us strength for the adventure ahead!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Deliverance: Blessed Are the Peacemakers


Peace seems to be the thing the world craves the most, but has the least amount of. New York City, once again this week, is asking if there will ever be peace in this world. People living in Israel and Iraq and Syria—they’ve been looking for peace their entire lives. There are families looking for peace. Husbands and wives longing to return to the days when they first met each other—before the fighting began. Children longing for the day when mom and dad quit yelling at each other. Parents desperately wanting to have the relationship with their children that they once had. There are even churches looking for peace. Everyone wants peace, but there seems to be so little of it to go around.

You know, the Bible is filled with passages about peace. In fact, the word “peace” occurs nearly 300 times in the Bible. And many of those occurrences declare God’s desire for peace.
If you follow my statutes… I will grant peace in the land… (Leviticus 26:6)
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24–26)
After God appeared to Gideon in the book of Judges, the Text says, "Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord, and called it, The Lord is Peace." (Judges 6:24)
The Lord blesses His people with peace. (Psalm 29:11)
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: "May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers." For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, "Peace be with you." (Psalm 122:6–8)
And if this is not enough, think of the many times Jesus Himself spoke of peace:
Go in peace and be freed from your suffering. (Mark 5:34)
Peace be with you. (Luke 24:36)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. (John 14:27)
Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you.’ (John 20:21)
And what about this one?
Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another. (Mark 9:50)
Here is my question, church: How is this possible? How can we both bring salt to the world AND be at peace with one another? Because to bring salt into the world means you bring something new…something different. Salt challenges the norm. How can you challenge the norm and have peace? This passage convicts me of something. I think we have a faulty view of peace. Peace is not the absence of conflict. Because here is the thing…it is impossible to bring salt into the world and avoid conflict. And Scripture bears witness to this fact as well. As much as the Bible speaks about peace, there sure is a lot of conflict in the Bible. Have you ever noticed that? And what’s more, God sure does seem to initiate a lot of that conflict. Have you ever noticed that? Think about the Old Testament prophets. Think about Jesus!


For someone who spoke so much about peace, Jesus sure does embrace a lot of conflict! So what is peace if it is not the absence of conflict? In order to understand what Jesus meant by peace, it is helpful to remember that Jesus was a Jew!

The Hebrew word of peace was shalom. This word has deep and rich meaning in the Jewish culture. It means wholeness. It means a world where things are as they should be. And church, that is what God has always wanted for us. God does not necessarily hope we will experience a conflict-free life. God hopes that we will live in a world where things are as they should be. Where justice wins over injustice. Where husbands and wives stay together. Where children grow up in homes with loving committed parents. Where leaders of the world’s nations can work out their conflicts at the table rather than the battlefield. That is what God has always wanted for us!

So, let’s come full circle: What does Jesus mean in this beatitude? Why does Jesus say, “Blessed are the peacemakers”? Why will peacemakers be called children of God? I think these words grew out of God’s understanding of just how difficult the life of a peacemaker can be. God knows that the life of a peacemaker is difficult life. Think of the people in our world who have dedicated their lives to bring “peace”—in the fullest sense of that word. I think of people like the biblical prophets. They were unpopular. They were ridiculed. Many of them were killed. And why? They were trying to help the world become what God always wanted it to be. They were working for peace.

I think of people like Nelson Mandela. He was imprisoned for 27 years. He also was trying to help the world become what God always wanted it to be. He spent his life working for peace. I think of people like: Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill, and Mother Teresa. These people appear on just about every “most admired people” list ever created. Do you know what they have in common? They all are remembered and honored for the ways they brought peace to the world. And do you know what else? They all instigated conflict for the sake of peace.

In this room, we should all readily remember the quintessential example of this type of person. Jesus came to bring the ultimate peace to this world. And He did it through extreme conflict. Jesus challenged the religious leaders of his day to their face, in public, because they were barriers to peace. Jesus initiated conflict to bring about peace. You know what? I’m sure Jesus didn’t like conflict. I’m not sure anyone enjoys conflict. But Jesus modeled for us something really important. There are some things in this world worth conflict. And one of those things is peace, real peace— God’s justice in the world, setting things right, and partnering with God in creating a world of Shalom. There is a peace that only comes on the other side of conflict! And God has always longed for His world to experience that kind of peace.

Where is God calling us to bring peace? Are there places in this world (or your world) that need to experience God’s wholeness? As you look around, do you notice things that are not as they should be? Where is the injustice around us (around you)? Where are the oppressed? Where is the brokenness? A peacemaker is not someone who sees those things and walks away, hoping time will fix it, hoping someone else will fix it, hoping to avoid confrontation at all costs. A peacemaker is someone who stands when others sit. A peacemaker is someone who stands in the lineage of Jesus, and until Jesus returns. May we be a people who go forward with courage and wisdom and faithfulness and humility as peacemakers in a world that is searching for and desperately needs peace.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Deliverance: Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

In the movie Cinderella Man, we learn of a true story about boxing legend James J. Braddock (played by Russell Crowe). Braddock was a successful boxer in the latter 1920s. But a few years into the Depression, he appeared to be a washed up “has been." Injured and arthritic, Braddock's promising career was cut short. He even had to go on public assistance when he couldn't get work at the docks in New Jersey. During this time of need, his son, Jay, steals a salami from the butcher to help feed the family. When Jim gets back from another unsuccessful day of trying to find work, he finds out what his son has done.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Deliverance: Blessed Are the Meek

In an article for Decision magazine, Samuel Kamaleson tells a Christian folk story from South India. There are several versions of it, but here it opens with a young boy who loved to play marbles. He regularly walked through his neighborhood with a pocketful of his best marbles, hoping to find opponents to play against. One marble in particular, his special blue marble, had won him many matches. During one walk he encountered a young girl who was eating a bag of chocolate candy. Though the boy's first love was marbles, he (like many of us) had a weakness for chocolate. As he stood there interacting with the young girl, his salivary glands kicked in, and the rumbling in his stomach became uncontrollable. He thought to himself “I have got to get my hands on those chocolates!”

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Deliverance: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:1–4 NRSV)
What does it mean to “mourn”? Mourning is kind of like “poor in spirit” that we talked about last week. It has a double meaning. Mourning can mean grief, the sadness that comes from losing something or someone we love. But mourning can also mean repentance. Sinners mourn for their own sins and sins of their community. They mourn because they long for the day when their sin and the sins of their community will end. They long for God to intervene.