Learning To Walk In The Kingdom Of God: A Sermon Series: March 5th, 2017

Every faith community develops their own traditions.  I have to be honest that I’m ambivalent about traditions.  I like them because they give structure and a sense of familiarity to a church.  Traditions can be an easy way out.  Just because we do it last year doesn’t mean we do it this year. 

 

We have started a tradition of focusing on one of the four gospels during Lent.  We pour ourselves into reading the gospel, talking about the gospel and having a sermon series on the gospel.  Last year we read through the gospel of John.  This year we’re going to read through the gospel of Matthew.  We’re offering small groups on Matthew. 

 

Today I’m starting a sermon series called, “Learning to walk in the Kingdom of God.”  For six weeks we’re going to focus on what Matthew teaches us about walking in the Kingdom of God.”   

 

We have all sorts of resources to share.  One is this devotion.  This is a reading guide through Matthew.  Take this home and put it in your Bible.  I’ll put this on the Chain of Lakes Facebook page each day during Lent.  The second resource is the small groups that we are offering.  We’re offering five small groups on Matthew.  The small group corresponds with the sermon.  You might wonder, “why would I participate in a small group during Lent?  Matthew addresses many of the questions that we are addressing in our changing culture.  Matthew helps us understand, “who are we, what does it mean to be a person of faith in 2017.”  And we have the opportunity to look at Matthew with a group of people who have the same questions. 

 

The third resource is this sheet of sermon notes.  This is a teaching series, so I’ll share a lot of information about Matthew.  Save your own sermon notes.  It could be like your own personal Bible Study. 

 

The four resource is your own Bible.  I want to encourage you to bring your Bible to church during Lent.  We have Bibles, but bring your own.    

 

What Bible do I use?  The Bible I recommend is the Harper Collins NRSV Study Bible.  You can order it on-line and have it in a week.  Do a Google search. 

 

SLIDE             A Study Bible gives you introductions to each book of the Bible.  You can read three pages in the Study Bible on Matthew

 

SLIDE             And this Study Bible gives notes.  I love the notes.  Just in Matthew half of the pages are notes.  One of the biggest obstacles to reading the Bible is the Bible is confusing.  These notes will answer a lot of questions you have. 

 

This tradition of reading Matthew is part of a dream that the you and I at Chain of Lakes love the Bible.  We know the story line of the Bible, are comfortable reading the Bible, and are equipped to apply the Bible to their lives.  We don’t fall for false teaching on the Bible.  That’s why it’s so important to come to worship during Lent and participate in a small group.

 

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            Friday was my birthday.  Thanks for all of the birthday wishes that you shared with me.  I’ve celebrated a few birthdays.  The more birthdays I celebrate the more I reflect on my life purpose.  A life-purpose is the essence of who we want to be in life.  About 15 birthdays ago I came up with my life purpose.  It’s made up of four statements.  I encourage you to come up with your life-purpose.  If you had four statements that define you, what would they be?  I pray my life purpose at the end of my prayer time in the morning.  My life-purpose is this:

SLIDE Love as Jesus loved

            Grow to be like you

            Be a blessing to others

            Help bring in your kingdom.

 

These four life-purposes start with my family, go out to my work as a pastor, and then to the community.

            I want to help bring in the kingdom of God. 

            Bringing in the kingdom of God is part of our Purpose here at Chain of Lakes.  When we say that we want to be disciples who impact the world we are saying that we are part of a movement to bring in the kingdom. 

            Bringing in the kingdom is meant for everyone.  It’s not just meant for people with a Rev in front of their name.  It’s not just meant for people who have attended church all their life.  If you have hardly ever attended church in your life you can bring in the kingdom. 

            There are two basic criteria for anyone to bringing in the Kingdom.

            Our heart’s beat and our lungs pump. 

            Put your hand on your heart.  Is your heart beating? 

            Put your hand on your lungs.  Are your lungs working?

            You are candidates for bringing in the Kingdom.

 

            Brining in the kingdom is important to God.  If you have your Bibles turn to Matthew 3:2.  Pick up one of the read Bibles or one of the Blue Bibles.  In the red Bible turn to page 878; in the blue Bible turn to page 2 in the New Testament.  Let me set up this story.  The first two chapters of Matthew are about the birth of Jesus.  Matthew and Luke are the two gospels that have the birth of Jesus.  Mark and John don’t have the birth stories.  In chapter 3 Matthew moved from the birth story to about thirty years later. 

SLIDE             In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  Matthew 3:1-2

 

            Shortly after this we find the story of Jesus being baptized by John.  Then Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness—that is Matthew 4.  Then Jesus begins his ministry.  We come to Matthew 4:17.

SLIDE             From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  Matthew 4:17.

 

            What do you notice about the two passages?  The first words out of John the Baptist’s mouth as recorded in Matthew and the first words out of the mouth of Jesus as he started his ministry.

            It’s as if Matthew is setting up the theme of his gospel.

            The Kingdom is a significant theme in Matthew   

SLIDE

55 times the word, Kingdom appears in Matthew

20 times the word, Kingdom appears in Mark

43 times the word, Kingdom appears in Luke

5 times the word, Kingdom appears in John.

 

            Each of the four gospels has a theme.  One theme in Matthew is the Kingdom. 

            One of the focus of this series is to equip you to read and study the Scriptures.  We’re going to learn about the Kingdom and we’re going to learn about the Scriptures.  Some people are skeptical about the Bible.  We’re going to address some skepticisms about the Bible in this series.  If you’ve ever been skeptical about the Bible, share your story with me.  Send me an E-mail.  I might address your skepticism in a sermon.

            In my ministry I have often been asked the question, “why are there four gospels.”  Why can’t there be one gospel?  In fact critics of the faith have used the fact that there are four gospels as a criticism of faith.  People will say, “it says this in Matthew and this in Mark and they are different.”  So that leads me to question the truth of the story.

            If you’ve ever wondered why there are four gospels and not one gospel you are not alone.  SLIDE       A man by the name of Tatian who lived in the 2nd century wondered why there are four gospels.  He took the four gospels and tried to turn it into one story.  He took Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and created what is called the Diatessaron, or a harmony.    He tried to harmonize the four gospels.

            Having four gospels is much better than one harmonized gospel.  I think of a gospel as a perspective on a story.  There’s one story with four perspectives.  Having four different perspectives on the story doesn’t mean we need to question the story. 

Let me give you an example. 

            This past Thursday evening the Minnesota Gophers played Nebraska in basketball.  Minnesota is having a good season.  Minnesota won the game 88-73.  Gophers are rolling. 

SLIDE             Here is the headline for the St Paul Pioneer Press who was covering the game: “U makes it 8 straight”

SLIDE             Here is the headline for the Minneapolis Tribune who was covering the game: “Send ‘em home happy”

SLIDE             The game was covered by a reporter from the newspaper in Omaha.  Here was the headline for that newspaper “Rudderless Huskers blitzed by Gophers.  Coach Tim Miles cites needs for a quarterback”

            What is the story.  Is the story that the crowd went home happy; is the story that Minnesota won their 8th straight game; is the story how the Nebraska team needs a quarterback.  These are three different perspectives on what happened.   

            Now imagine if someone was reading these three headlines in 200 years.  What would that person think?  The person might wonder why there are such different perspectives.  Why are the people who wrote about the game looking at it so differently?   People look at this so differently I wonder if the game happened. 

            Do these different perspectives make us question the reality of what happened?  No.  I wasn’t at the game; I listened to it on the radio.  I didn’t see the game, but I believe the game happened.   

            One way to think of the four gospel writers is people who were reporters with a point of view.  They had a point of view.  They were writing the story of Jesus.  It is the same story.  Each of the writers had a perspective or an interpretation of what happened.  They shared that perspective as they wrote the story. 

            The perspective that they shared was meant for a particular group of people.    

            Let’s go back to the Gopher Basketball example.  The Omaha newspaper wrote for the perspective of the Nebraska fan.  ….  The Star Tribune & Pioneer Press wrote for the perspective of the Minnesota fan.

            Just knowing that helps us understand more clearly the story that was written. 

SLIDE             When we read each gospel we want to be familiar with the point of view of the person who wrote the gospel.  We want to be familiar with the community for whom the gospel was written. 

            For the first gospel, Matthew—what is the point of view of the person who wrote Matthew.  For the sake of today, let’s call him Matthew.  What was the community like for whom he wrote.  Each of the gospels was written for a group of people in order to pass on the message of Jesus.

            How do I figure out the point of view of Matthew?   How do I figure out the community for whom he was writing.

            It’s not that hard.  One way to learn the point of view of the gospel writer is to see how each gospel writer started the story.    

SLIDE             An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham Matthew 1:1

 

            Matthew then went on to share that Abraham was the father of Isaac.  Isaac was the father of Jacob.  Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.  It goes on and one.  Matthew closed his genealogy by writing this: 

SLIDE

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations;

And from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations;

And from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

Matthew 1:17

 

            Reading a genealogy is not interesting reading.  This could be an easy part of Matthew to skim.  Though it is important that Matthew included women in the genealogy and one prostitute. 

            But the genealogy becomes interesting when we ask the question, “why would Matthew start his story in this way?”  Why would people reading or hearing Matthew’s story find this interesting?

            Who would be interested in this genealogy?  The Jews would.  A person who was taught and trained about the stories of Israel.  A Jew would know the person in the genealogy.  The genealogy tells the story of Israel.  If we heard a listing of the United States Presidents that would tell us a story of our country. 

            Matthew was placing Jesus in a historical context.  Jesus is the continuation of this story that started with Abraham.  Matthew concluded the genealogy by saying that Jesus was the Messiah.  This term was important for the Jews.  They had been waiting for the Messiah ever since the prophets had predicted that a Messiah would come. 

            Another tip about Matthew and the community for whom he was writing.  When we read Matthew we’ll often notice how often he uses the Old Testament.  Often something will have happened and Matthew will write, “this is to fulfill what was predicted.  In the first chapter of Matthew we’ll read after the birth of Jesus was described:

SLIDE             “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:  ‘Look the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.”  Matthew 1:22-23. 

Fourteen times Matthew did this in his gospel.  Something happened and Matthew shared that what had happened fulfilled a prediction.

            These are three important tips that can help us understand the point of view of Matthew.  He started out with the genealogy; he wanted to emphasize that Jesus was the Messiah; and he showed how an event was a fulfillment of something that had happened in the Old Testament. 

            Matthew was writing for a group of people who were very familiar with Jewish customs.  Why is that important?  Most people think the people to whom Matthew wrote to a group of Jews who were now following Jesus.  Because they were following Jesus they had been kicked out of their local synagogue. 

            The people for whom Matthew wrote were wondering, “do I belong to this world?”  Have you ever asked that question.  Do I belong to this culture, to this country?  I know with the huge disagreements that are happening people are wondering, “do I belong to this place anymore?”  Matthew helps us understand to whom we belong.

            If Matthew was preaching to us today he would say “You first belong to the kingdom.”  It’s not easy to be part of the kingdom. 

            In his story Matthew acknowledged that frequently there was a clash between different kingdoms.  In the small groups we’re going to look at the first four chapters in Matthew.  In those four chapters there was an incredible clash between kingsoms.             

            As soon as Jesus was born the wise men came to Herod.  Herod wanted to find baby, Jesus.  Herod asked the wise men to tell him where the baby was.  The wise men found Jesus, but they didn’t go back to Herod.  Herod became enraged, and he immediately ordered that all the babies under two around Bethlehem be killed. 

            There was this clash of kingdoms.  Here’s the point.  Despite the clash of kingdoms, God prevails.   

            God prevailed.  An angel warned Joseph in a dream what was happening and the family escaped to Egypt.  They were safe.

            In the third chapter Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan river.  This was one of the most powerful scenes in Matthew.  It was an illustration of the power of the Kingdom.  Right after that Jesus went into the wilderness.  He fasted for 40 days.  He was tempted three times by the devil.  The Kingdom was in peril.  Jesus didn’t give in to his temptation.  God prevailed.  . 

            In the clash of Kingdoms, God always prevails.  Despite crucifixion there is resurrection.

            Some of us might feel that we are experiencing this clash of forces in our life.  Nothing goes right for us.  Perhaps you’re having a health problem that won’t go away.  Perhaps you’re discouraged about something that is happening in our family.  Perhaps you’re in a job that is not going well.   We can’t even find a job.

            Matthew teaches us that this clash is part of our human reality.  Matthew also says that in this clash God will prevail.   If we’re going through a hard time, don’t give up on God; don’t blame God.

            What would have happened if Joseph had said, “I’m too scared about what is happening.  You God should have never let this happen, I’m not going to Egypt.”  Jesus would have died shortly after he was born.  What would have happened if Jesus himself had said, “these tempations are too hard, why are you letting this happen Abba, Father.”  The devil could be our ruler today. 

            Pain, disappointment, discouragement shouldn’t lead us away from God; they should lead us to go deeper with God.  The Kingdom will always prevail. 

            Which leads me to close with a story about our own faith community, Chain of Lakes.  We’re getting closer to meeting the charter requirements for becoming a church.  Yay, God!  We have 74 signatures.  We only need 11 more.  Let’s be honest, It’s taken us a long time to get here.  It’s been eight years since we’ve started this church.  We’ve had many discouraging moments.  Here we are.  We’re very close to becoming a church.  That’s why we were started.  Our future is so incredibly glorious.  If you were here last Sunday when we were celebrating different foods from all the cultures at Chain of Lakes—wow!  That was awesome.  The energy that was here.  Wow!  It’s a tiny vision of who we are called to be. 

 

            Our story is an example of God prevailing.  I think there are spiritual forces who would have loved to see Chain of Lakes fail.  In our future who are going to be helped because of the witness of this faith community.  We are going to help people in faith and relationships and to be healed and to know their identity.  We are going to have people who lived out the Kingdom.  There was a clash of Kingdoms right here.  And guess who won?  The Kingdom of God. 



Learning To Walk In The Kingdom Of God: A Sermon Series: Feb 26th, 2017

There’s a word in church circles called chartered.  A charter is a piece of paper that allows a group of people to become an organized church.  This is what we’ve been working towards ever since seven families gathered in the Rice Lake Professional Building.  The Presbytery has told us that when 85 people sign the charter book in the Community Life Center we will be an organized church.  We’re at 68 signatures.  Yay, God! 

If you haven’t signed the charter book, do so today!

 

Our community is in a transition.  This transition is an opportunity to reflect deeply on our identity.  We have a Purpose Statement—our Purpose Statement answers the question, why do we exist

We have 8 Core values—each Core Values is a principle, quality, belief, and or/attitude that is foundational to our community. 

 

Could you go even deeper than that?  If we could distill our faith community down to three words which three words would you choose? 

 

I chose three in a three week sermon series called Identity.

 

Two weeks ago I looked at the word disciple. 

Last week I looked at the word Presbyterian.

Today I’m looking at the word citizen.

 

I want to encourage you to get out this brochure.  The Scriptures teach us that we are to love the alien.  That was quite a statement from the book of Leviticus.  That statement of loving the alien is consistently in the Scriptures.  You have the opportunity to read those Scriptures this week.  I encourage you to use this devotion.  In the middle is a place to take notes.  I believe God might say something to you that yo’ll want to remember.  On the back is a place for our congregation’s prayer requests. 

 

Worship—come to worship on Ash Wednesday.  Sally Narr and I have designed a beautiful service that will prepare us for Lent.  This is an Intergenerational service meaning that you are welcome to have your kids with you during worship. 

 

            Citizen is a person who is connected to something.  I did some research this week and found a citizen bank.  There are three in Minnesota.  There are citizen watches there is a citizen TV.  But likely if we say the word citizen we think of someone who is connected to a government.   

            It’s not just a Federal government.  Each of us are citizens of a city.  I went through the Chain of Lakes directory and made a list of all the cities of which we are citizens.  We’re citizens of Blaine, of course.  And we are also citizens of Lino Lakes and Coon Rapids and Anoka and Ham Lake and Centerville and Circle Pines and St. Paul and Roseville, and Chisago City and Forest Lake and Ham Lake and Little Canada and Bloomington and Fridley and Shoreview and Hugo and Columbia Heights and New Brighton, and Andover.  That’s 20 cities that are represented, and I might have missed one or two. 

            We are citizens of a county.  We come from Anoka, Washington, Ramsey, Hennepin & Chisago County. 

            We are citizens of a state.  We come from Minnesota.  Nobody on our directory is outside of Minnesota.  What this means is we vote in state elections, pay taxes, and receive services that the state of Minnesota offers us.

            We are citizens of a nation.  We come from the United States, though we were born in many different countries.  Cameroon, Mexico, Haiti, Ukriane, Vietnam, and England. 

            Being a citizen of the United States was certainly an issue in the last election.  Our views divide us.  There’s a lot more heat than light.  Our Outreach Team wants to provide light.  Our Outreach team is hosting a forum about Immigration a week from Wednesday.  We anticipate having speakers from International Institute of Minnesota, Minnesota Department of Health, Refugee Health Program, Department of Homeland Security, Advocates for Human Rights, and Center for Victims of Torture. 

            We can go even deeper than being a citizen of a country.  We’re going to read Matthew during Lent.  We want everyone to sign up for a small group.  One of the first words from Jesus as an adult in Matthew was Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.  Jesus came to bring heaven into earth.  When he left earth he asked his followers to continue this work.  As a gathered faith community we are called to bring in the Kingdom of God.  You and I are citizens of the Kingdom. 

            One way to think of the Bible is a manual for being a citizen of the Kingdom. 

            Not everyone likes to use the word “Kingdom” because the first part of the word is King which is gender exclusive.  I think of the word that way, and I don’t encourage you to think of the word that way.  A kingdom is an atmosphere.  We sing today—build your kingdom here. 

            As citizens in the kingdom we have leaders.  One of the first leaders of the Kingdom was Abraham.  God called Abraham—this call wasn’t on a phone it was a request that God made to Abraham, and at that time in his life his name was Abram.  God’s request was in this Scripture.   

 

“Go from your country and you kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”  Genesis 12:2

 

The three most significant religions in our country—Christianity, Islam, and Judaism—all look to Abraham or Abram as our first ancestor.  All three point to this story as a founding story.

            If we read about Abram it’s fascinating to see how Abram identified himself. 

            A was married to Sarah.  When Sarah died (his name was Abraham) he needed to find a place to bury his wife.  The story is significant for Abraham’s identity.  I’ll let story speak for itself. 

“Sarah lived one hundred twenty-seven years; this was the length of Sarah’s life.  And Sarah died … and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.  Abraham rose up from beside his dead, and said to the Hittites, ‘I am a stranger and an alien residing among you; give me property among you for a burying place, so that I may bury my dead [Sarah] out of my sight.” Genesis 23: 1-4

 

            Abraham identified himself as a stranger or an alien. 

            One more piece that will help us understand Abraham’s identity.  Fast forward to a book called Deuteronomy.  It’s the fifth book of the Old Testament.  It’s the most-quoted Old Testament book by Jesus.  We have a group who is reading through the Old Testament.  In  nine days we’re going to read through Deuteronomy.  In Deuteronomy the people were preparing to go into the Promised Land.  They were told how to worship.  God shared how God wanted people to bring their gifts to the altar.  People were to take their gift and give it to a religious leader who was a priest and the priest was to take the offering and put it on an altar.  And the priest was to say this:

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor [Abraham]; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, might and populous. Deuteronomy 26:5

 

            God wanted to remind the people that the first leader of their country was an alien.

            A little more Bible.  When the people who followed Abraham multiplied they lived in Egypt.  They were not citizens of that country—they were aliens.  That was a problem as the leaders of Egypt became afraid of the Israelites.  God reminded the people all throughout the Old Testament that they started as aliens—they were not citizens.  Their citizenship was with God.  God wanted them to remember that.  Their identity started as aliens. 

            This had implications had implications for how they would treat people.

We heard one of these reminders today in a reading that ___ shared.  The reading speaks for itself

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt:  I am the Lord your God.  Leviticus 19:33-34.

 

            We’ve been taught that the second part of  Great Commandment is “you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  Here we are called to love the alien as you love yourself.

            The word alien comes from the Hebrew word ger.  Another way to translate ger is sojourner.  I like this word better because the word “alien” has implications in our contemporary world that it didn’t in the world of the Bible.  These aliens were sojourners; they were travelers.  How are we called to treat the traveler?  With hospitality.  One of the Core Values of our faith community is hospitality.  We will go out of our way to welcome people as Jesus welcomed them with an open heart and an open mind.

            Jesus had a special place in his heart for sojourners.  Jesus was a Jew, of course, which meant he wasn’t a citizen of any country.  He lived in a territory that was governed by Romans.  He wasn’t a Roman citizen.  His citizenship went deeper than that.  He was a citizen of the Kingdom. 

            His own identity as a citizen of the Kingdom went to how his followers were called to treat the alien or the stranger or the person who was on the ouside of the in group.  In the NT story that Sally shared we heard that how we treat the least of the community mattered to Jesus.  How we treated the hungry and thirsty and naked and person who was sick or in prison mattered to Jesus.  And ultimately how we treated the stranger.  Jesus shared that his image was in the person who was on the margins of society.  We were to find his image in the stranger in the ger in the sojourner. 

            This has huge implications for us as citizens.  To say that we are citizens of the kingdom means that we go out of our way to treat people on the margins with love.  We go out of our way to love the least of the people in our world.  We go out of our way to love people who haven’t lived in our country—for people who have lived in Cameroon and Mexico, and Haiti, and Ukraine, and Vietnam and England.  Loving people who are different is fundamental to our identity.  That is what Jesus was teaching us.

            To be a citizen of the Kingdom means we love the sojourners—people who are on the margins.  We go out of our way to love the gay teenager who was kicked out of his or her house because the parents couldn’t accept their child’s sexual orientation; to be a citizen means we sleep in boxes on tennis courts to highlight the issues of youth who are homeless; to be a citizen of the kingdom means we dig deep to give our money to organizations who help homeless youth.  Guess how much money we gave to Hope 4 Youth last year–$14,000.  I don’t know for sure, but that’s probably the most money that any church in Anoka County gave to Hope 4 Youth.  In May Hope 4 Youth is going to have a fundraising luncheon.  At the luncheon they are going to honor a church in Anoka County who has helped them.  Guess which church in Anoka County is going to receive this award? 

SLIDE It’s a church with this logo.

            When we receive the award we’ll do it because we’re citizen of the Kingdom.           

            I would never say it’s easy being a citizen of the Kingdom.  Sometimes we do things that are controversial.  I remember a long, long time ago I worked with farm workers in California.  I’m thinking of this story because this Wednesday I’ve been asked by the Blaine/Ham Lake Rotary Club to share some of my stories of working with farm workers.  If any of you want to go with me you are welcome.  My task was to go to the religious community in California and tell them about the conditions of farm workers.  These beautiful people who would pick fruits and vegetables that show up in our grocery stores.  Behind every piece of fruit and vegetable was a story.  It was a story of a person—much of the time a person with brown skin—a story of a person who often would have to gather at 5:30 in the morning to work; who would have to work in fields that sometimes ahd been sprayed with pesticides; who would be paid a little more than minimum wage; who sometimes didn’t have citizenship papers.  They worked in temperatures that sometimes approached triple digits.  They did a job that many people who had lived in the area wouldn’t do.  Because of their stories we enjoyed beautiful fruits and vegetables in the grocery store

            I would tell their story to churches.  Sometimes people didn’t like what I had to say.  One night as I was speaking a man at a church—it was a Presbyterian church—squinted his eyes at me and said, “well you’re nothing but a rabble rouser.”  A rabble rouser, I questioned.  He was implying that what I was doing was very political.

            I was taken aback by the comment.  I’m not trying to be political.  This is moral and ethical work.  I’m trying to help people who are the least in the world.  I’m helping people who I’m know Jesus would go out of his way to help.  I didn’t say this but I thought it—have you ever read Matthew 25.    

            Being part of the kingdom can be controversial.  Our first allegiance is to God. 

            Which leads me to today.  This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time.  We’re celebrating that we are not a white congregation who exists in the white suburbs.  We are a mutli-racial church, in a way a church of many nations who is living out our call to be citizens in the north Metro of the Twin Cities.  We didn’t start this church thinking that so many people from different countries would connect.  This isn’t our work; this is God’s work.  For only God could have done this.  

            This community is a reflection of what it means to be citizens of the kingdom.

            It’s a hard time to be a citizen of the kingdom.  Many of you have told me that you are afraid right now because you know of people who are not citizens of the United States that might be deported.  I know this because you’ve told me.  The news is ominous. 

            There’s 80 to 90 thousand people in the state of Minnesota who are not citizens.  They are good people.  They cook our food; they pack our meat; they milk our cows; the can our vegetables.  They do mood that is hard and dirty and doesn’t pay a lot.  Despite what you’ve heard they as a whole they do not bring in drugs or crimes, and they certainly not rapists.

            They’re people.  Jesus talked about them.  “Whatever you do to the least of these my brethren you do it to me.” 

            I know not everyone agrees with these views.  If you don’t agree with these views, don’t get mad at me.  Come talk to me.  We have a Core Value called “Healthy Disagreement.”  This means we bear with each other.  We respect each other. 

            When I read articles in the newspaper that says the Federal Government is going to build more detention centers for undocumented people; that more Immigration agents are going to be hired; that local police might be deputized as Immigration officers; and that a wall is going to be built that could cost us 15 billion dollars.

            As a pastor I will accompany and help any person who is threatened with deportation.  At the last church I served the Immigration service did a raid of the people at the local canning company.  When I heard that I drove all over the Wabasha County trying to find them.  And I would do the same here—no matter if it’s the middle of the day or the middle of the night.

            Because ultimately Jesus doesn’t ask us if we’re citizens of a country.  It’s a joy to serve in the Kingdom.  Let’s be citizens. 

            Let’s celebrate what God has done in this faith community called Chain of Lakes.



Idenitiy a sermon series

Even though it was five weeks ago I want to keep lifting up our Christmas Eve worship service as a vision for Chain of Lakes Church. It was a vision because we were packed with people; it was a vision because all who were present made an impact in the community—we gave over $3,000 in gift cards to homeless youth through Hope 4 Youth. That amount was matched so a total of $6,200 was given away. And it was a vision because we gave people the opportunity to ask questions. Christmas Eve is a service that people who aren’t connected to a church attend. So we gave people outside the church the opportunity to ask questions about God. We encourage questions at Chain of Lakes. We especially encourage people who aren’t connected to God or the church to ask questions. We believe that faith is strong enough to receive questions—even the hardest questions. Sometimes our answers will be “I don’t know” but that doesn’t stop us from exploring. It’s this type of exploring faith that we encourage. And as we ask questions we don’t stay with the questions. Our faith is an exploration of questions that lead to a response. We’ve been looking at questions since Christmas Eve as I’ve shared a sermon series called, “The 1 Question.” It’s been a blast. You’ve told me this. Originally I was going to do this series for four weeks but because many of you shared that you enjoyed this series I extended it for another week. Today on Super Bowl Sunday I’m looking at a super question: SLIDE How do I keep the joy going—especially in trying times?” This question—like every question I’ve looked at—could be a six week sermon series. There is so much to say. Since I’m guessing you want to get home in time for the Super Bowl I can’t say everything I’d like. I’ve written a devotion for joy. Would you like more joy in your life? Use this devotion this week. IN the middle of this brochure is a place to take notes. I believe that God might say something to you that you’ll want to remember. On the back is a place for our congregation’s prayer requests. Let me tell you where we are going for the next three weeks in worship. Next Sunday I’m starting a three-week series called Identity. Our congregation is getting closer to meeting the Charter requirements of the Presbytery. When that happens we will become a church. This is a appropriate time for us to reflect on the question, “Who are we?” Or “What is our Identity?” At Chain of Lakes we have a Purpose Statement; we have eight Core Values. That’s our foundation. How will our foundation be lived out? Who are we as a community of people? We’re going to look at this. Our identity is not something that we just have as a community, each of us has a personal identity. During this series each of us I’ll encourage each of us to reflect on the question, “who am I?” In this series I’m going to take three words that are important to us and go deep into exploring what they mean in this context. The words are SLIDE Disciple—that’s next week. You don’t want to miss worship next week because Amanda Ellison is going to lead music. She is terrific. Presbyterian—that’s two weeks Citizen—that’s in three weeks. —————————————————————————————————————- Joy does not come naturally for many of us, especially those who have lived in Minnesota for a long time. In the 19th century a wave of Immigrants poured into this state from Europe—from Sweden and Norway and Germans. I don’t like to type cast groups of people, but I think it’s fair to say that when these Immigrants came to Minnesota they were not described as people of joy. These people were hard working, they were tough, they learned to endure, they were willing to help their neighbor. But joy didn’t describe them. SLIDE How many of you are familiar with Ole Rolvaag’s book, “Giants of the Earth.” I read this book in high school when I lived on the wind swept prairie of Worthington, Minnesota. This book opened up to me the culture of the land and the culture of the people where I grew up. Even if you haven’t read the book all of us know people who were in the book. Per Hansa was the main character. He was a Norwegian Immigrant who learned how to farm the prairie. He was consumed by all things a farmer in the 19th century would be consumed: rain and grasshoppers, loneliness and homesickness for his homeland, poverty and hunger. Just living. He worked hard to settle the land. Like I said we know people like Per Hansa. I think of my own grandfather Vinton who spent much of his working life on a farm. I shared a Facebook post about him this week. He graduated from Mantorville High School in 1931. He worked. He didn’t talk much. My grandmother shared a story of one time being with Vinton and his brothers. They spent much of the evening sitting on a couch hardly talking at all. And if someone had walked into my grandfather’s house or Per Hansa’s house or one of our ancestor’s house and said, “I’m full of joy,” that person would have viewed as someone from outer space. For many of us this is our ancestory. And it’s been passed to us. For many Midwesterners joy is not part of our inner landscape. At Chain of Lakes over 20 percent of us were not born in the United States—that is a Yay, God. If you weren’t born in the United States and are always wondering how to understand those of us with white skin and who had ancestors who grew up on the prairie you can by knowing that joy is not natural. SLIDE For many of us today’s question is a natural question: How do I keep the joy going even in trying times. Even if joy is not natural to many of us, experiencing and sharing joy is important for our faith life. We find this in the Bible I have a lot of books in my office. I have so many books that they don’t all fit in my book shelf. One of them is this one. It’s called a concordance. A concordance makes a list of every word that is in the Bible. Then it categorizes them. Concordances are helpful because we can learn more about specific words or even phrases. We can find a concordance on-line. SLIDE How many times is a form of the word joy in the Bible? 164. SLIDE Does a form of the word joy occur more in the Old Testament or New Testament? Not only does a form of the word joy occur more often in the Old Testament, it occurs in 22 books in the Old Testament and 18 books in the New Testament. What can we learn about joy in reading the Bible? SLIDE One of the words used in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word, simchah. It means gladness, pleasure, glee. Simchah is something that people would experience at a community celebration or holiday. SLIDE One of the words used in the New Testment is the Koine Greek word, chara. It means cheerfulness, gladness, delight. Joy is one of the nine parts of the Fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy … Joy is translated as chara. As the Fruit of the Spirit joy is an internal quality. We heard one Scripture today that describes this internal situation. SLIDE You show me the path of life In your presence there is fullness of joy; In your right hand are pleasures forevermore Psalm 16:11 These three lines are worth memorizing. These three lines teach us that we experience joy when we come into God’s presence. This is simple and yet profound. For at its core joy is a spiritual quality. So our joy is not dependent on what happens in our life. We can experience joy in all sorts of emotional situations. Even situations that are hard. This past Friday night I received a call from Kim Ward. She is the wife of Bill Ward. We’ve been praying for Bill for a long time. He’s fought pancreatic cancer for 22 months. I went to visit him in the hospital on Thursday. He wasn’t doing well on Thursday. On Friday night I got a call from Kim—Bill was doing worse. Could I come and anoint him or give him last rites. We don’t give last rites in the Presbyterian tradition. But we certainly pray for people and anoint people with oil at the end of their life. When Kim called me I was at a play with my Amy & Hannah. I told her that if she could wait I would be willing to come after the play. That was fine. So at 10:00 on Friday night I drove to University Hospital. Bill was asleep. I said don’t wake him up. I anointed his forehead with oil and prayed. Then Kim started sharing stories about Bill. She asked her three kids to share stories about Bill. They all did. We laughed and some cried. We were all very sad. But admist this sadness do you know what else we were experiencing? Chara. Joy. SLIDE You show me the path of life In your presence there is fullness of joy; In your right hand are pleasures forevermore Psalm 16:11 David wrote this Psalm. Notice what he didn’t say SLIDE If I get the job there is fullness of joy If I meet and marry the person of my dreams there is fullness of joy If my kids do well there is fullness of joy If I pay off all my credit cards there is fullness of joy If I become cancer-free there is fullness of joy I found out this morning that Bill passed away. He passed away amidst joy. We can experience joy when we come into God’s presence even when our external circumstances are hard. Joy is profoundly spiritual. Material life, external circumstances can lead to joy, but joy transcends the material. This transcendence of the material is why joy is misunderstood. As Americans we’ve been conditioned to think of joy as dependent on our material circumstances on external situations. This day in America is quite an example. It’s Super Bowl Sunday. Over 100 million people will watch the Super Bowl on television. There’s even a web site that has set the over/under of the number of people who will watch the Super Bowl at 116.5 million. Some of those, say 116.5 million people, watch the game for the ads. Last Super Bowl there were 96 ads shown during the game—up from 82 the year before. The price is five million dollars for thirty seconds. These ads are creative and funny and get us talking. The ads want to purchase a product or become familiar with a brand. In general you and I see a lot of advertisements. I did some research on this once to try to figure out how many ads we are exposed to in a day. The numbers vary widely. One study said 3,000 ads a day; another study said 1,600 a day; I found a web site that said we exposed to 150 ads a day. No one knows for sure, but let’s take the low number and say we’re exposed to 150 ads a day. If we are awake 16 hours a day that means we are exposed to about ten ads a hour. Ten times every hour you and I come into contact with a message that we need a product or we need to come into contact with a brand to be happy. You and I are smart people. We know that purchasing a product or becoming familiar with a brand is not going to make us happy. When we hear the basic form of the same message ten times a hour every hour we are awake, that does something to us. It teaches us that we need stuff or brands to be happy. We start thinking that to be happy we need a good house or a solid job, a huge TV or a great looking body. It’s easy to be unhappy. Research shows that even though Americans are one of the wealthiest countries in the world we are far from the top in being the happiest people in the world. So many things—but they don’t bring us happiness. . I’m guessing that many of us have anecdotal stories that back up this point. Last summer Amy & Hannah went to Guatemala. They served an orphanage that is near the big dump in Guatamela City. They told me about the life there. The houses are very small. They wouldn’t pass code in the north Metro. Amy & Hannah told me how they saw people spending much of their day at a garbage dump scavenging for food; they came into contact with hundreds of children who don’t know their biological parents. But they shared with me how people are full of joy. They had smiles on their face and their smiles were genuine. Their experience is the same experience that many who have traveled to Central America have shared with me. Even though the people in the United States have a much higher level of income than people in Central America we are not happier. I’m not saying that we should move to Guatemala or even stop watching ads. We have to be conscious and alert to what brings us joy. Let’s answer the question. How do we keep the joy going—especially in trying times? And let me say that I’m not talking about being clinically depressed. If we experience signs of depression, I would encourage us to see a counselor. I have a response. It’s not complicated. Be intentional about practicing our own relationship to God. I’ve often been with people who are not experiencing joy. Sometimes I’ll ask them—how is your spiritual life? How are you doing at worship, or prayer life, or reading the Scriptures, or serving others. Most of the time the person will say, “I’m not doing that well.” I don’t ask this question from judgment. It’s not like “ARE YOU PRAYING.” I think our spiritual practices can help. When we are engaged spiritually we are much more prone to experience joy. Certainly there are times when we are practicing our faith but God is absent to us. But one way to experience our joy when life is hard is to be more intentional about faith. Pray, worship, serve, be in a small group. Next week we are going to start publicizing our small groups during Lent. We’re going to read Matthew during Lent. Join one. I have a particular prayer I want to share with you. I’ve shared this story before. The story is about Frank Laubach. He was known for the amazing work he did in literacy. But even more important than these accomplishments was the condition of his heart. Frank Laubach said that his life changed when he tried to come into the presence of God for one second every minute. Every minute he tried to come into contact with God. When he did this over time he found himself experiencing blessings that he could have never imagined. He would try to say this prayer every minute SLIDE “God direct my head, heart, and feet. Help me experience joy.” Saying a prayer once a minute might seem to be like the PHD level of pursuing joy. But how about if we said a short prayer at the start of every hour. What if we said this prayer three times a day: I’m not saying that joy can be captured by a formula. But I do believe that if we are intentional about being directed by God that we will experience blessings that far surpass what we could have imagined. We will experience joy. Let me close with a story. I don’t know if you heard of the story of Bruce Kramer. He was a man who taught at St. Thomas business school. He had ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. I remember when I first heard the story I didn’t want to listen to it. I thought it would be depressing. But for some reason I kept the radio on I was drawn into this story. Minnesota Public Radio was sharing a series on him. He wrote about an experience had had with some teachers. He was suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease and he said this: SLIDE These meetings, so perfunctory in the past, have now taken on sweetness, morsels of shared appreciation, frustration, collective failure and success. I want to say more but the words are muted, inadequate to the privilege I feel working with these bright, talented, passionate, and even curmudgeonly individuals. He went on to say: SLIDE One of the gifts of ALS is recognition. As an educator, and a pretty good one I might add, I recognize great teaching when I see it, and ALS is a great, if unyielding teacher. And what have I learned? The cornerstone of my new knowledge is to accept failure as inevitable. I write about this a lot, because such recognition blesses and curses, confuses and clarifies, fragments yet unifies. You can build faith in failure. Faith and joy are almost synonyms. You can find joy in circumstances that our culture would call a failure. That’s a super message. That is a message that will last—even when the whistle blows to end the game.


The 1 Question: Does God really have a plan? Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?

 


The 1 Question: Does God really have a plan? Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?

 


The 1 Question: Does God really have a plan? Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?

 


The 1 Question: Can a child or someone who hasn’t heard the Word go to Heaven?

 
SERMON 1/22/2017
 
 
Today I’m continuing a sermon series called the 1 Question.  At Christmas Eve I asked everyone present to ask a question about which they would like to hear a sermon.  Twenty-four questions were submitted.  I chose four.  So far we’ve looked at two questions—last week we looked at “what does it mean to be full of the Holy Spirit; two weeks ago we looked at can we be forgiven for all that we’ve done even if we’ve broken the 10 commandments.  This series has been so popular that I might add an additional question on February 5.  That is a Super Day, so why not have a super question.  

I shared that I was going to write a blog about all the questions that weren’t chosen for this sermon.  And I confess that my blog writing has been slow.  But I haven’t given up on it.  I am hopeful to write at least a blog a day this week.  

SLIDE

Today’s question is excellent.  “Can a child or someone who hasn’t heard the Word go to heaven?”  This questions connects all sorts of beliefs about God—salvation, heaven, eternal life.  I could share months of sermons just on this question.    

To help out I wrote a Bible Study on salvation.  I encourage you to get it out.  It’s in this brochure in the bulletin.  Salvation happens all throughout the Bible—Old and New Testament.  Put this devotion in your Bible and use it this week.  In the middle is a place to take notes.  I’m going to give you some teaching materials that you might want to write in this space.  On the back is the place for our congregation’s prayer requests.

SLIDE

Next week the question is Does God really have a plan?  Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?

SLIDE I attended seminary in New York City.  While there I worked as the Youth Director at the First Presbyterian Church in Babylon.  My duties often went beyond working with the youth.  One day I received a phone call from a woman who wanted to see me soon.  She was new to the church, and I had no idea what she wanted to talk about, but I’m always willing to talk.  Sure I’ll talk.

She came to the offices.  A friend of hers had recently passed away.  Her friend was Jewish.  The woman wanted to know from me—would her friend go to heaven.  This was a very important question to her and one over which she had been brooding since the funeral.  Would her friend go to heaven?  What do you think, Paul?

As I listened to her question the thought that I remember going through my mind was, “couldn’t you ask the senior pastor this question?  I’m just the Youth Director.  This question is way above my pay grade.”  Actually it’s above everyone’s pay grade.  

I’m guessing this question has passed through our mind before.  Someone passes away, and we wonder.  What was the person’s eternal destination?

There’s a lot at stake in how we respond to this question.  Our response reveals our identity.  It lets others know who we are as followers of Jesus Christ.  It lets the world know what type of disciples we intend to be.  There’s a lot at stake in the way we answer it, and I’m so glad this question was asked at Christmas Eve.

I’m going to provide an answer to this question, but what is just as important is the way we get to our answer.  

This question is the linchpin to many other questions.    

What is salvation?  

What is heaven?

Where is heaven?

How do I get to heaven?

Who decides if I’ll go?

Will I recognize people in heaven?

SLIDE

What is eternal life?

When does it start?

Is there really a Hell?

SLIDE

And how about someone who has done awful things—Adolph Hitler, Osama bin Laden—are they going to heaven.

And how about my Jewish friend or Muslim friend down the street—would they go to heaven?

What happens to a child who has never heard the Word?

SLIDE These questions tie together our beliefs about salvation, heaven, and eternal life.  When I hear these types of questions the same thought goes through my mind as it did when I was the Youth Director at the Presbyterian Church in Babylon, New York.

These questions are above my pay grade.  And I get paid a lot more now than I did as a Youth Director.  Even though these questions are hard, we need to have a response because these are the questions people ask.

SLIDE What is salvation and who gives it.  You’ll read more about this in the devotion I wrote for you.  The English word salvation comes from the Greek word, “Sozo.”  The word Sozo can be translated as saved or healed or made well.  

Salvation is a gift and God is the gift-giver.  To use an example from language, God is the noun, giving is the verb and salvation is what is given.  You and I as humans are the recipients of the gift.    We humans don’t save ourselves; salvation comes from God.  

John 3:16 is one of the best Bible verses of salvation.  Many of us might have it memorized.

SLIDE

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him

One way to think of salvation is deliverance.  We are delivered from a situation because of what God has done.  This deliverance happens not only when we die, but it happens here on earth.  

A story.  Part of the story is in this week’s devotion.  It’s a story about a man named Moses.  We have a group who is reading through the Bible.  This week we will be reading about Moses in a book of the Bible called Exodus.  The story I’m sharing is later in Exodus.  

Many of us might have learned about Moses in Sunday School or by watching Charleton Heston in the movie, the 10 Commandments.   Some context.

Pharaoh was the king of Egypt.  He was one of the most powerful men in the world.  The Hebrews or Israelites had been slaves in Egypt.  God asked Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.  After plenty of encouragement (including 10 plagues) Pharaoh decided to let the people go.  The Israelites left Egypt.    

Then Pharaoh changed his mind.  Pharaoh got in a chariot and he had 600 other chariots loaded with people.  They were going to find the Israelites and bring them back to Egypt.  Eventually the Israelites saw Pharaoh and his chariots.  They discovered that they were trapped.  Straight ahead was the Red Sea; behind them were Pharaoh and his chariots.  The Israelites had no where to go.    

The people were afraid.  And they were furious with Moses.  “You brought us out here to die, Moses,” they said.  

SLIDE It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.  Exodus 14:12

The people were at the end of their rope.  They had nowhere to go.  They had no options.  

Have you ever been there?  You are at the end of your rope, you have nowhere to go; you have no options.  If you’ve ever been there then this is you story.

Moses shared a powerful response to the people.  It’s a response worth knowing and perhaps even memorizing.  His response was this.

“Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again.  The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”  Exodus 14:13-14

This is one of my favorite verses of the Bible.  Read this with me.

Do you know what Moses was offering the Israelites at this moment in their life.  Deliverance.  Or another way to say it they were being offered salvation.  The Israelites were going to be delivered or saved by God from the Egyptians.  

SLIDE You remember what happened?  Moses raised his hands.  The Red Sea was parted.  The Israelites went through.  The Egyptians and all their chariots started going through.  The wheels of their chariots got bogged down.  Moses lowered his hands and the waters came upon the chariots and the Egyptians died.

The people were saved in a way they could not have imagined.  God saved them.  Believing God can deliver us or save us is called hope.  As followers of Jesus Christ we never give up on hope.  Even in a hopeless situation where we have no options we still have God.  

I know that many people in our country are very discouraged and are not hopeful because of the change of government in the United States.  It’s not for me to decide or judge whether you should feel that way or not.  Whatever your views about politics those are your views.  I respect that.

It’s amazing to me that millions of people took to the streets yesterday to march.  The two women who live with me were on the streets.  I would have been out there myself, but I was at a Presbytery meeting.

I know that at Chain of Lakes we have people who voted for Trump and people who were marching in the streets yesterday.  As a pastor I’m glad that we have different views about politics.  We have a Core Value called Healthy Disagreement.  It’s worth lifting up in the midst of our different views about politics.

SLIDE

When we disagree we will encourage discussion while valuing all opinions. We will speak truth in love, treat others respectfully with dignity, and seek to remain in community.  

No matter what our views about Trump we can agree that God always gives us hope.  God can deliver us—even our country—in ways that we can’t even imagine.  The deliverance is salvation.  Our belief in that deliverance is hope.  

Because of God you and I experience salvation when we die.  We recognize that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  

The Apostle Paul wrote about this: 

SLIDE

I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord

It’s as if God looks at each one of us and says, “this is my gift to you.”  

I need to talk about our role in salvation.  This is very important.    

A story.  When I graduated from high school I was given a devotional book from the father of a close friend of mine.  He was the pastor of the Missouri Synod Church in town.  He was a great guy.  Beautiful gift

At the time I realized that I needed to start getting serious about my faith.  I had graduated from high school and was going to go to college.  It was time for me to get serious.    For some reason I started to wonder about going to heaven.  And I convinced myself that maybe if I read my devotional book every night that God would be pleased with this and maybe that would help me get into heaven.  

For some reason I came to believe that if I was good, then I would be rewarded.  

Have you ever thought that way?  I’m guessing you have.  It’s the thought or the belief that somehow when we are done with our life God will look over our life and say either, “yes,” you have been good.  Or he will say, “no” you haven’t been good.  The criteria for our salvation is our goodness. 

The idea makes sense on many levels.  Of course we want to be good.  

However tying our salvation to our own goodness puts us in a rabbit hole.    

We find ourselves in this rabbit hole because eventually we’re going to wonder, “how good do I have to be?”  How much goodness is enough?  

I found myself in this rabbit hole when I graduated from high school.  I’m guessing you might think that what I am going to say might seem a bit weird, but I think you might relate.  How many times do I need to read a devotional (being good) in order to be rewarded by God.  What if I miss a night and then die in a car accident.  Would I go—“down there?”

If I read a devotion once—that’s good.  But maybe I’ll truly be good if I read it five times.  But what if I read two devotions today can I skip tomorrow.  Maybe what I should do is really be good now—create like this bank of good will—so if I ever mess up in the future I can rely on this bank of goodness.  What happens when I want to go have some fun.  I’ll be good now so I can have fun later.

This way of thinking is very twisted.  We can twist ourselves up into knots if we come to believe that our salvation depends on our goodness.

SLIDE You’ve probably heard of a man by the name of Martin Luther.  Most people think of him as the father of Protestantism.  Protestantism is a branch of the church.  There are three branches to the Christian church.  Catholic branch; the Protestant branch; and the Orthodox branch.  We Presbyterians are part of the Protestant branch.

Martin Luther was going to be a lawyer, but the death of a classmate and a narrow escape from lighting led him to become a monk.  Luther did well as a monk.  He was eventually ordained to the Catholic priesthood.  But he had no peace.  His own sense of his sin overwhelmed him.  And no matter how often he confessed or fasted or prayed or give alms he did not have peace.  He didn’t have peace from his own goodness.

The church was saying just buy an indulgence and you’ll be forgiven; just say a few “Hail Mary’s” and everything will be okay.  That didn’t work for him.  Luther came to realize that he could not be good enough to put himself into a relationship with God.  No matter how good he tried to be he couldn’t be good enough.  Perfection was not possible.  He couldn’t earn his own salvation.  Luther came to believe that he couldn’t save himself.  He needed a savior.  

The good news is he had a savior.   What he needed to do was receive the gift.  And then respond to the gift in faith.  

The point is our goodness does not give us a ticket to heaven.

Two weeks ago—the bandit on the cross—he was a bad person—he was a lestai.

He didn’t read his devotionals at night—he probably skipped a few days.

When he asked for deliverance at the end of his life—what did Jesus say,

“Truly you will be with me in paradise.”

The point is basic and profound to our spiritual health.  WE can never be good enough.   This doesn’t mean we’re bad people.  What it does mean is we can’t save ourselves.  

This point says a lot about God and gives us a basis to answer today’s question.  God blesses us with salvation.  God blesses us even when we don’t deserve it.  

You know it’s quite a God that we serve.  God knows every part of us; God knows every molecule in our body.  God knows every thought before we think it.  God knows how good we are and God knows how much we fall short.  Even when we fall short, God looks at us and says, “I love you.”  God loves us so much that he decided to give us his Son.  Even though we killed him, he delivered him from death so that you and I can live.

This is the God we serve; this is the image of God we carry with us.  This is the God we can trust.  This is the God who offers us salvation.  

We can trust this God to make our eternal decisions.

That’s what I told a woman at the First Presbyterian Church in Babylon who came to me wondering if her Jewish friend was in heaven.  We can trust this God this decision.  That decision can give us peace.  I believe that everything is okay with your friend because I trust GodThat’s how I would answer today’s question.  I trust God to make decisions about salvation for a baby who hasn’t heard the Word.  I trust God to make decision about eternity for someone who grew up Jewish or a follower of Mohammed.  

Before anyone starts wondering if I am a Universalist, that is I believe if everyone goes to heaven.  I’m not.  I do not believe everyone goes to heaven.  I believe in Hell, but the topic doesn’t interest me that much.  What I’m most interested in sharing is how much God loves you; how much God cares for you.  And what that can do for your life.

And I get that many people in the wider community and the church will profoundly disagree with what I just said.  Maybe you do too.  Let’s talk about it.  

I think God goes way beyond what we can comprehend about salvation.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t have views or beliefs, but what it does mean is we trust God to make these decisions.  That trust gives us peace.

A final story.  At the church I previously served I got to know a woman by the name of Rachel.  She was quite a woman.  She lived on a farm for most of her entire life.  She didn’t have a lot of fear.  She had open heart surgery at the age of 93.  In the last year or so of her life she lived in a home health care setting in town.  I would visit her about once a month.  One day I asked her, “Rachel, do you think about heaven much?”  Yes.  What do you think about I asked her?  How can there be enough room for everyone.  I smiled.  God has it figured out.  There is enough room.  There’s a lot of mansions in that house.  I trust God to know who to let in.



The 1 Question: What does it mean to be full of the Holy Spirit?

 
SERMON January, 15th, 2017
 

When people talk about you when you are not around, what would you like them to say?  

Today we heard a story about Barnabas.  He had quite a story.  Barnabas traveled with Paul on one of his missionary journeys.  He had a lot of experience of going into villages and sharing the gospel.  He was an essential part of the working of the Holy Spirit.  

In the story we heard today Barnabas had been sent to a village named Antioch.  Some context.  The faith community in Antioch had been growing dramatically.  The people in Jerusalem wanted to hear about what was happening.  

Obviously this was a few years before cell phones or Snap Chat; no one could send a text.  The only way to find out what was happening was for someone in Jerusalem to walk to Antioch, observe what was happening, and then walk back and give a report.    

SLIDE

Here’s a map.  It was about 300 miles from Jerusalem to Antioch.

Barnabas was selected.  He walked to Antioch.  I’ll let Luke—who wrote the book of Acts—share what happened.    

SLIDE “When [Barnabas] came and saw the grace of God [in Antioch], he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion.”  Acts 11:23

And then Luke—who was an educated man and wanted to write an orderly account of the story of Jesus—couldn’t help but editorialize.  He wrote: 

SLIDE For [Barnabas] was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.  And a great many people were brought to the Lord.  Acts 11:24

Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit.  That is how we was described.  I would hope that we would want to be described this way too.  

This brings up the question—what does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?  That’s the question of the day.

Today I’m continuing a sermon series called “The 1 Question.”  At Christmas Eve I asked people to share questions about which they would like to hear a sermon.  I received 24 questions.  

SLIDE Last week the question was “Can we be forgiven for all if we are truly sorry for what we have done, even regarding the 10 Commandments?

Next Sunday the question is: Can a child or someone who has never heard the Word go to heaven?

Two weeks from today we’ll look at: Does God really have a plan?  Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?

SLIDE Today the question is “What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?”  

My hope in this sermon is to share a bit about what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  From the outset I have to share that I’m just scratching the surface.  This could easily be a six-week sermon series.  

Of the four gospel writers, The phrase “being filled with the Holy Spirit” was only used by Luke.  He described all sorts of people as being filled with the Holy Spirit.  Peter and Elizabeth, Zechariah, Stephen, Saul, John, Barnabas and of course Jesus.  But being filled with the Holy Spirit is not meant to describe people in the Bible.  It’s meant to describe you and me.  You and I can be filled with the Holy Spirit.

 

This week I wrote a devotion about many of these people Luke described and what it meant to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  I encourage you to use it this week.  In the middle is a place to take notes.  I believe God might say something to you that you’ll want to write down.  ON the back is a place for our congregation’s prayer requests.  

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The Holy Spirit is one of the most misunderstood ideas or doctrines of faith.  This is so sad because the Holy Spirit does not have to be complicated.  We humans have made it complicated.  I have many examples of what caused this confusion, but one I want to share comes from the Apostles’ Creed.  

We don’t say the Apostles’ Creed often at Chain of Lakes, but we certainly could.  

SLIDE   I believe in God the Father almighty maker of heaven and earth.  And Jesus Christ his only son our Lord.  Who was conceived by the Holy _____.

The Holy Ghost?  When I was growing up I was afraid of ghosts.  If I thought a ghost was coming I would put the blankets over my head and try to hide.  The last thing I would want is to have contact with a ghost, and I certainly wouldn’t have want to be filled with a Holy Ghost.  

Where did this come from?  The Holy Ghost is a phrase that was used by the King James translation of the Bible.  It’s a terrible translation of the greek word pneuma.  You open up the New Revised Standard Version and you won’t find the term Holy Ghost.  The Holy Spirit

Another part of our confusion is we’ve been taught that we primarily have experiences of the Holy Spirit.  And we do.  When I was in elementary school I went to Presbyterian camp on Lake Okibodji.  I loved going to camp.  The camp still exists.  One year on the last night of camp the counselors took us into a room.  It felt like the Upper Room.  A counselor started sharing her story.  At the end of her story she shared how she was happy that Christians weren’t persecuted for their faith like in the 1

st

century.  And she started crying.  And I kid you not, this wave of emotion hit the room.  All of a sudden many people were crying.  Not everyone.  I was a macho boy so I refused to cry.  I felt it.  Something entered that room.  I can’t prove it to you logically or with the tools of science, but there is no doubt in my mind that the Holy Spirit swept over us.    When we left the room many of us started hugging each other (which I liked because I was a adolescent boy).  It was an experience.    

The next year we were at Camp.  And the counselors had an end of camp worship service the night before we left.  We were in a different room.  And though my faith life wasn’t that deep, I decided that I wanted to have another experience of the Holy Spirit.  So as we sang songs and prayed I prayed with all of the energy that I had something like, “I want to experience you again.”  Those weren’t the exact words, but that was the idea.  This time I wanted to have an experience of the Holy Spirit.  I wanted to be touched.  I didn’t care if I couldn’t hug any girls.  I wanted to have that wave hit our room again and hit me.  I prayed; I clenched my eyes shut as if that would do anything.  I prayed and prayed.  And do you know what happened?

Nothing.  Nothing happened to me.  The music was good and the prayers were fervent and I have no doubt that God was in the room.  I didn’t have an experience like I had the year before..  

As I’ve reflected on these experiences I’ve learned that the Holy Spirit is more than an experience.  I’ve learned that the Holy Spirit was just as present that second year as it was the first year.  It was present in a different way.

What is the Holy Spirit?  The Holy Spirit is God.  We believe in the Trinity—God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  One God; three persons as the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy shared.  The math doesn’t work—3=1 or 1=3. But God goes beyond math.  The Holy Spirit is God.

What is so awesome is the Holy Spirit is inside of us.  You and I don’t have to do anything to get connected to the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is part of us.  Just as blood is part of us or our muscles are part of us.  We don’t have to do anything to have access to blood or muscles.  The Holy Spirit is like that.  

How do you know that the Holy Spirit is part of us.  I can say this because of our baptism.  Like many other denominations Presbyterians believe that baptism is a sacrament.  What this means it is a sign and seal of grace.  We believe that when someone is baptized we can practically see God.  It’s a sign of grace.  

And we believe that baptism is a seal of grace.  We believe that grace is sealed inside of us for all of eternity.  Once you have been sealed with grace it can never be taken away from you.  No matter what you do, grace is inside of you.  That is why baptism is so important.

Another way to say this is the Holy Spirit is inside of you.  The Holy Spirit is more than grace, of course, but at baptism we believe that the Holy Spirit is sealed inside of us forever.  It’s part of our spiritual reality.  

So though we can have experiences of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is much more than an experience.  

What happens is we good, stoic Midwesterners aren’t good with emotions and experiences, so we’re unsure or even afraid of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is more than a ghost; the Holy Spirit is more than an experience.  The Holy Spirit loves us; the Holy Spirit wants the best for us.  

What does it mean to be full of the Spirit?  Again—I’m just touching briefly on this.  I have a phrase that answers the question.  I’ve shared this before.  The phrase is the Inspirational Intersection.  

SLIDE

The Inspirational Intersection is the intersection between what God wants us to do and be and what we want to do and be.  

Say this with me.  

Say this line is what God wants us to do and be; say this line is what we want to do and be.  We want to discover the intersection.  When we find that intersection we ware full of the Spirit.    

When we discover this intersection we discover a tremendous amount of energy and passion and imagination.  It’s as if we’ve found ourselves.  At this intersection we often say we were made to be at this place.  Everything is natural and flows.  

The Inspirational Intersection is not a place where God wants us to be and we don’t want to be.  We can exist at this place for a while, but we don’t find energy there.  This is a place of should and oughts and have tos.  This is doing things that we’re supposed to do.  Sometimes the church compels people to be at this place.  We send a message “you really should be doing this,” or “you really ought to do that.”  This is a place of going through the motions.  There’s not a lot of joy at this place.

I don’t believe that God wants us at this place for a long period of time.  

The Inspirational Intersection is not doing and being what we want and what God doesn’t want.  This turns us into God.  That place doesn’t work because God is not going to let us be God. 

We have to discover the intersection.  Quite frankly this is one of my goals as a pastor for us at Chain of Lakes.  I want Chain of Lakes to be full of people who are living at each of our Inspirational Intersection.  Because the energy can’t be contained.  We will be so full of the Spirit.  It will be overflowing.

John Ortberg wrote a book called “the me I want to be.”   We did a study on this many years ago.  The me I want to be is God’s best version of us.  This is being filled with the Holy Spirit.  Being the best of who we want to be connects to our mind and our heart and our spirit.  We are operating at place of wonderful energy.  

Notice what John Ortberg didn’t way.    

SLIDE

The Me I don’t want to be 

The Me I Pretend to be

This one is hard for people in church because we think there an image of Christians that we’re supposed to live into.  One of the beauties of Chain of lakes Church is we don’t try to pretend.  We have a call to be an authentic, Chritian community.  Don’t pretend.  Be yourself.

BUR doesn’t mean

The Me I think I should be

There’s no shoulds when it is coming to be full of the Holy Spirit.  

The Inspirational Intersection.  How do we find that place.  

One way is to talk and reflect with God.  Let me give you three simple reflection questions.  This week spend some time reflecting on three questions:

SLIDE

What does God want me to do and be?

What do I want to do and be?

Where is the Intersection?  

Another way is to worship weekly.  When we worship a spiritual energy field is created.  When we worship well we are lifted up to experience God.  We connect to a supernatural reality.  Worship forms us.  We forget for a time the challenges that might weigh us down.  When we worship well we leave worship a different place than when we enter.   

If worship isn’t full of the Spirit then we will change.  I think worship at Chain of Lakes is full of the Spirit.  But we constantly are evaluating worship here at Chain of lakes.  With my encouragement our worship team decided to hand our evaluation forms about worship.  We started doing this last week.  I read an evaluation that one person filled out.  It was really helpful.  

Worship is the most important ministry that we have.  Worship weekly.

Two ways to discover our Inspirational Intersection.  Reflect and talk to God; worship weekly.

Let me go in a different direction.  There’s one part of the Holy Spirit that it’s important to talk about and that is talking about the charismatic parts of the Spirit.  This is speaking in tongues or being slain in the Spirit or other practices.  

Presbyterians have not always been comfortable with these dimensions of the Spirit.  Let me share some history.  

SLIDE It’s a story about William J Seymour.  He was an African American minister, the son of a freed slave.  He preached that speaking in tongues was evidence of the Holy Spirit.  He got kicked out of his first church.  He kept preaching.  Eventually crowds began to gather when he preached on Azusa Street, in a run-down building in downtown Los Angeles.  When he preached at Azusa Street something incredible happened.  It was a revival.  People came from all over the world to participate in this revival.  The revival last for three years.  It started the Pentecostal movement.  The Azusa Street revival was multi-racial, welcomed poor people and encouraged the leadership of this revival launched Pentecostalism.

Part of Pentecostalism is speaking in tongues.  The Greek word is glossalia.    

A story.  I first came into contact with speaking in tongues when I was in college.  I was in a group called Intervarsity.  I had a friend who was a few years older than me.  One day we prayed together.  As we prayed together he started speaking in a language that I didn’t understand.  He was uttering different syllables and vowels.  I had no understanding of what that was.  I wasn’t threatened by it.  I was more curious.  When we were done I asked him if he was speaking in Hebrew.  No—he said that he was speaking in tongues.

That was my first experience of being with someone who spoke in tongues.  In my ministry I’ve had many friends who speak in tongues.  I love to pray with people who speak in tongues.  We have people at Chain of lakes who speak in tongues.  All the people I’ve known who speak in tongues approach their gift with a tremendous amount of humility.

We don’t need to be afraid of people speaking in tongues.  Admittedly it’s a bit strange at first to hear someone speak in tongues.  But once we get used to it, it’s not that strange to pray with someone who speaks in tongues.

I don’t speak in tongues myself.  Speaking in tongues is a gift.  God hasn’t given me this gift.  Speaking in tongues doesn’t mean a person is a Christian on steroids.  What it means is we have a gift.  I don’t look at a person who speaks in tongues as a better Christian.  I look at the person as having a gift.  Just as I have gifts.  Just as you have gifts.   No gift is better than another or makes us a super Christian.  

We can be filled with the Spirit and not speak in tongues.

We can be filled with  the Spirit and speak in tongues.

If you know of people who speak in tongues I would encourage you to talk to the person about their gift.

When we are filled with the Spirit we are living at a really cool place.  We live with less anxiety and much more contentment.  Let me close with this.  

Imagine a day of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

We get up a little late, but it doesn’t bother us.  We needed the rest.  

Our kids get out of bed and we give them a big hug.  When you are hugging your kids you are experiencing love.  Life might be crazy at breakfast if you even have breakfast together.  You’re not sweating the small stuff.  When your kids leave for school, you’re not yelling at them about forgetting something or nagging them to remember something.  You’re telling them you love them.

As you drive to work you get caught in a traffic jam.  It doesn’t bother you.  As you’re driving to work someone cuts you off.  Instead of responding in a nasty way, you just smile.  

When you’re at work someone tells you the latest bit of gossip—a real juicy tidbit of information.  You listen and smile.  You don’t’ feed the desire of your workmate to pass on something that is not helpful.

You decide to read your Bible during a break.  It doesn’t matter that some of your workmates want to call you a goody two shoes.  You’re comfortable with who you are.  You know the truth.  You like your relationship with God and the criticism of others doesn’t bother you.

You come home at night and your spouse does something dumb.    It bounces off your heart—you’re full of the Spirit.  You don’t condone what your spouse did and don’t encourage it.  You say, “honey I love you, but don’t do that anymore.”  Your spouse appreciates the love that you shared.

What a difference your day is when we are filled with the Spirit.  You encounter the same problems that you always have.  But they don’t’ affect you.  You are filled.  You are filled.  You are filled.  Let’s be filled.



The 1 Question: A new series.

I will be responding to the many questions that were shared at the Chain of Lakes Christmas Eve service.  This response was the sermon that was shared yesterday, January 8 at Chain of Lakes Church.

Question:  Can we be forgiven for all if we are truly sorry for what we have done?  Even regarding the 10 Commandments?

Today I’m beginning a January sermon series called the “The 1 Question.”  At Christmas Eve worship I asked each person present to share one question about God, the church, or personal faith.  

I was personally thrilled that 24 questions were submitted.

I was also a bit dazed that 24 questions were submitted.  

When our worship team was talking about this series, they suggested I write a blog about each question.  I said “yes.”  I said “yes” before I knew that 24 questions would be submitted.  This series is going for four weeks.  That means I have 20 blogs to write.  

Lord, in your mercy!!  Would you pray for me.

I encourage you to read these blogs.  You can find links for them from the Chain of Lakes web site and the Chain of Lakes Facebook page.  You can find a listing of all 24 questions on the blog.

This series is significant because illustrates the point that we value questions at Chain of Lakes.  We’re authentic, so we’re willing to listen to people’s questions.  

If you have questions about God, personal faith, why things happen the way they do in a church, relationships, please ask the question.  Don’t be Minnesota Nice about your questions.  Ask hard ones.  

These are the questions we are going to look at in this series.  

 

Sunday, January 15     What does it mean to be “full of the Spirit?”  

Sunday, January 22     Can a child or someone who has never heard the Word go to heaven?”

Sunday, January 29     Does God really have a plan?  Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?

Today the question is: “Can we be forgiven for all if we are truly sorry for what we have done?  Even regarding the 10 Commandments.”  

The answer to this question has everything to do with our view of grace.  G-R-A-C-E.  To help all of us understand G-R-A-C-E I wrote a Bible Study on G-R-A-C-E.  I strongly encourage you to use it this week.  I know that many of us are reading through the Bible.  Put this devotion in your Bible and read these readings.  In the middle is a place to take notes.  I believe God will say something today that you’ll want to remember.  On the back is our congregation’s prayer requests. 

I just gave the answer to this question.  But there’s something more important than the answer.  What’s more important is how we get to the answer.  I’m going to spend the rest of this sermon sharing how we land on G-R-A-C-E.

At Chain of Lakes we want to help everyone who comes here in four ways.  We want to help you:

 

In your faith life

In your relationship life

To recover from past wounds

To discover your Inspirational Intersection or your identity in Christ.

To have a rich faith life, we must understand grace—G-R-A-C-E.  

I can’t help reflect on grace without thinking about a traditional song.  We sang a contemporary version of the song today.  The traditional version

SLIDE

Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found

Was blind, but now I see..

            The words to the song were written by John Newton.  Newton served the Episcopal tradition as a priest.  He collaborated with the poet William Cowper to write these words.  They were a sermon illustration at his church New Year’s Day of 1773.  The congregation probably didn’t sing the words that day.  Most likely they chanted the words. 

            

It wasn’t until 1835 that the words were combined with the tune.  

Amazing Grace is a song of Extraordinary Blessing.  It has been big and bold.  

It’s performed about 10 million times every year.  During times of crisis—during the Civil War & the Vietnam War—it had a surge of popularity.  A lot of people recorded a version of the song—Judy Collins’ Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson—even Elvis. President Obama sang the song at a funeral for a victim of the church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina.

The song provides the answer to today’s question.  The answer, of course, is grace.  G-R-

A-C-E.  

 

Grace that is FREE—grace is a gift and costs us nothing.   

Grace that is unconditional—God offers it to us at any point in our life no matter what we’ve done.  There are no strings attached to grace.

Grace that is undeserved.  The point of grace is none of us deserves it—and grace is still given by God to us.    

One controversial lyric is “it saved a wretch like me.”    

John Newton identified himself as a wretch.  It’s worth knowing some of his story.  His mom died two weeks before his seventh birthday.  His dad was a sailor, so he ended up living with his step-mother.  Unfortunately John Newton’s step-mother was like the step-mother in Cinderella.  It didn’t go well.   He was sent to boarding school.  At the age of eleven he was sent to spend time with his father at sea.  JN became a tough, raunchy, and disgusting sailor.  At 18 he tried to desert from the crew he was serving.  He was caught and punished.  He was stripped to the waist, tied to the ship and whipped 96 times.  He responded by simultaneously wanting to murder the captain and kill himself.

            

Five years later, at 23, he was part of a crew sailing off the coast of Ireland.  There was a terrible storm.  John Newton awoke in the middle of the night.  The storm caused a hole in the ship.  The ship was filling with water.  It seemed like it would sink.  John Newton cried out to God.  The cargo shifted and filled the hole.  The ship drifted to safety.  He and the crew were saved.  

This was the beginning of his shift to the faith.  He eventually became a priest.

John Newton always knew he was a wretched man.

I have a question.  How do you think God viewed John Newton?  God viewed John Newton in the same way God views all of us.  God knew everything about John Newton.  God knew the worst and raunchy and filthy desires of his spirit he had.   God judged John Newton.  Do you know what the judgment was?  Forgiven.  

It’s fair to ask the question—and remember we encourage questions—how do I, Paul Moore, know that God forgave John Newton.  This question is tied into today’s question.  

            Can we be forgiven for all if we are truly sorry for what we have done?  Even regarding the 10 Commandments.    I know this because Jesus came to share and illustrate Grace-G-R-A-C-E.    

When Jesus died he died between two people.  The gospel writers, Matthew and Mark called the two people on the other crosses, bandits.  

The Greek word was lestai.  I’m not trying to teach you Greek, but I’m trying to teach you the type of person that these two people were.  A lestai is a person who  plunders and pillages – an unscrupulous marauder (malefactor), who exploits the vulnerable and doesn’t hesitate to use violence.  The gospel writer Luke called them criminals.  

            

“One of the criminals who was hanged there kept deriding [Jesus] and saying, “Are you not the Messiah?  Save yourself and us!”  But the other [criminal] rebuked him saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then [the criminal] said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’  [Jesus] replied “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” Luke 23:39-42

According to Luke these were the last words that Jesus said to a human being.  The last words that Jesus said to a human being were words of forgiveness.  Grace!

            

Another story about Jesus.      

Two men were praying in the Temple.  One was a Pharisee.  

 

“God I thank you that I am not like the other people:  thieves, rogues, adulterers or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”

Tax collectors were hated in the days of Jesus.  We might have opinions about the IRS, but our opinions are nothing like the opinions of Jews towards tax collectors when Jesus was alive.  Tax collectors operated like independent contractors for Rome.  They gave a certain amount of money to Rome, and then they were free to collect money.  in that they would give money to Rome and then collect money.  As long as they gave the money to Rome, they were free to collect as much as they wanted.  Often tax collectors were unscrupulous.  They would do whatever they could to get as much money as they could.  Not only that a tax collector represented a foreign country that was hated by most people.  The tax collector was a wretch.

            

The tax collector had something that the Pharisee didn’t have.  The tax collector knew he needed grace—or mercy.  The tax collector knew he needed forgiveness. 

‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Maybe we’ve heard this story often.  If we’ve heard the story often we run the risk of losing the astonishment of the story.  Who was the hero of the story?  

Was the pious man or the wretch?  

The righteous man or the unrighteous man

The follower of the law (what we might call the 10 commandments) or the breaker of the law.

            

The hero was the tax collector.  

 

“I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”  Luke 18:14

To truly have a rich and robust faith we have to start with having an understanding of our own need for grace.  If we don’t have an understanding of our own need for grace, then we will always run the risk of being like the Pharisee.  

God gives grace freely.   The answer to today’s question is grace.   To take it to the next step we have to ask ourselves—how deep is my own understanding of my need for grace.   John Newton, and the lestai and the tax collector knew that they needed grace.  For them grace wasn’t an academic exercise they debated in their minds.  Grace was burning in their heart because they knew they needed it.  The question that I want each of us to ponder about ourselves is how deep do each of us know that we need grace.  

We can’t talk about grace without bringing in some other words about faith that have tripped people up.  One of the words is sin.  

Unfortunately the church has done a poor job of talking about sin.  In general when preachers talk about sin we’ve made one of two terrible errors

We’ve made people feel so bad about their sins that they won’t approach God

We’ve made people feel so good about themselves that we never talk about sin.  Then people believe that they don’t need God.  

The reality is that each one of us have been given wonderful gifts and are capable of being an extraordinary blessing.  We are good.  And the reality is that each one of us is capable of doing terrible things and even doing evil.  We sin.

One of the reasons that we exist at Chain of Lakes is to be authentic.  Part of being authentic is acknowledging that we sin—that we fall short.  We miss the mark.  Sometimes we sin even when we don’t know that we sin.    Acknowledge our own sins prevents us from living as prideful people.  We won’t be like the Pharisee.  

The key is recognizing we fall short—we sin—without beating ourselves up.          

I pray in the morning and use a prayer sheet.   On my prayer sheet is a place where I list the ways that I messed up the previous day—the ways that I sin.  I’ll either write these sins down or reflect on them.  Sometimes it’s hard.  I’m putting a mirror in front of my own spirit and take a hard look at what is happening.  

I do this not with a sense of dread, but with a spirit of anticipation.  I’m not happy that I sin or fall short, but I don’t bludgeon myself.  I’m very sorry that I mess up.  But I look at confession as opportunity to grow.  Through my own acknowledgment I anticipate becoming more like Christ, that’s one goal of faith to become more like Christ.    

There’s no secret formula to confession.  It’s very simple.  I find three words to work.  “I have sinned.”  The Apostle Paul put it this way:

“For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Jesus gave us access to grace.

If we go back to the question.  And here it is:

            QUESTION

We can go down all sorts of rabbit holes when we think about confession that don’t ultimately help us.  What happens if we confess and aren’t truly sorry; or how do we know if we are truly sorry.  Do we need to confess something more than once.  Or is there a magic number in confessing.  Am I truly sorry if I confess something twenty times instead of once; or do I need to confess something a thousand times.  Do I need to prove myself to God.

Here’s the thing.  God is on our side.  God is not against us; God is not waiting to pounce on us for and make us prove that we are truly sorry; God never created a litmus test for sorrow.  God is on our side.  Grace.  G-R-A-C-E. 

Grace leads us to think about our own image of God.  This is an important question for our faith life.  

            What is your image of God.

Is God like our worst critic waiting to jump on us when we mess up?

Is God like a bad teacher waiting to go through the lessons of our life and say, “uh, uh, uh” you didn’t confess this sin?

Or instead is God like Jesus on the cross.  Looking at the bandit who waited until the end of his life.  Jesus responded to the bandit by saying, “today you will join me in paradise.”  Essentially saying, “I forgive you.”

I hope that our image of God is Jesus giving grace on the cross.  

In the Scripture that ___ read, the Apostle Paul said that at the right time Jesus died for us.  What this means to me is not matter what we’ve done in our life, Jesus wants to forgive us.  That’s the image that we carry with us.

In my work on this sermon I reaquainted myself with the story of Jeffrey Dahmer.  Jeffrey Dahmer was one of the worst serial killers in the history of the United States.  I went to his Wikipedia page and had to stop reading it.  It was horrible.

One part of his story that is worth lifting up is at the end of his life, while he was in jail Jeffrey Dahmer started a conversation with Roy Ratcliff.  Roy Ratcliff is a pastor.  He started having a weekly conversation with Jeffrey Dahmer in jail.  Jeffrey Dahmer confessed his sins.  He was baptized at the end of his life.  Ultimately Dahmer was killed by another inmate.  At the funeral service Roy Ratcliff said this about Jeffrey Dahmer.

 

“Jeff confessed to me his great remorse for his crimes.  He wished he could do something for the families of his victims to make it right, but there was nothing he could do.  He turned to God because there was no one else to turn to, but he showed great courage in his daring to ask the question, ‘Is heaven for me too?’  I think many people are resentful of him for asking that question.  But he dared to ask, and he dared to believe the answer.”  

Did God forgive Jeffrey Dahmer.  I think he did.  I don’t say that easily.  JD was the worst of the wretches.  I can understand if people could never forgive JD for what he did.  If I was a family member of one of JD’s victims, it probably would take me a lot of therapy to forgive him.  I’m not God.  Jesus looked at the bandit shortly before his death and said, you will join me in paradise.  You are forgiven.  

The task is how do we let this forgiveness/grace/G-R-A-C-E infuse our life.  

Let me close with this story.  How many of you have seen the movie, “Rogue 1.”  Amy and I saw it a week ago.  There is a scene in the movie where a character named “Chirut” has to make an extraordinary action.  He risked his life in order to advance the cause of the rebels.  And as he took this action he said to himself, “I am one with the Force; the force is with me.”  He said this over and over and over.  It was his mantra.

I’d like to leave you with a mantra.  I’d like to encourage you to say this mantra this week.  I want to encourage you to say it over and over and over again during your week.  The mantra is this:

            I am forgiven; I am forgive; I am forgiven; I am forgiven.

Take this mantra; say it many times this week; experience the power of grace.  I am forgiven.

 

SERMON January 15,2017

When people talk about you when you are not around, what would you like them to say?  

Today we heard a story about Barnabas.  He had quite a story.  Barnabas traveled with Paul on one of his missionary journeys.  He had a lot of experience of going into villages and sharing the gospel.  He was an essential part of the working of the Holy Spirit.  

In the story we heard today Barnabas had been sent to a village named Antioch.  Some context.  The faith community in Antioch had been growing dramatically.  The people in Jerusalem wanted to hear about what was happening.  

Obviously this was a few years before cell phones or Snap Chat; no one could send a text.  The only way to find out what was happening was for someone in Jerusalem to walk to Antioch, observe what was happening, and then walk back and give a report.    

SLIDE

Here’s a map.  It was about 300 miles from Jerusalem to Antioch.

Barnabas was selected.  He walked to Antioch.  I’ll let Luke—who wrote the book of Acts—share what happened.    

SLIDE “When [Barnabas] came and saw the grace of God [in Antioch], he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion.”  Acts 11:23

And then Luke—who was an educated man and wanted to write an orderly account of the story of Jesus—couldn’t help but editorialize.  He wrote: 

SLIDE For [Barnabas] was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.  And a great many people were brought to the Lord.  Acts 11:24

Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit.  That is how we was described.  I would hope that we would want to be described this way too.  

This brings up the question—what does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?  That’s the question of the day.

Today I’m continuing a sermon series called “The 1 Question.”  At Christmas Eve I asked people to share questions about which they would like to hear a sermon.  I received 24 questions.  

SLIDE Last week the question was “Can we be forgiven for all if we are truly sorry for what we have done, even regarding the 10 Commandments?

Next Sunday the question is: Can a child or someone who has never heard the Word go to heaven?

Two weeks from today we’ll look at: Does God really have a plan?  Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?

SLIDE Today the question is “What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?”  

My hope in this sermon is to share a bit about what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  From the outset I have to share that I’m just scratching the surface.  This could easily be a six-week sermon series.  

Of the four gospel writers, The phrase “being filled with the Holy Spirit” was only used by Luke.  He described all sorts of people as being filled with the Holy Spirit.  Peter and Elizabeth, Zechariah, Stephen, Saul, John, Barnabas and of course Jesus.  But being filled with the Holy Spirit is not meant to describe people in the Bible.  It’s meant to describe you and me.  You and I can be filled with the Holy Spirit.

 

This week I wrote a devotion about many of these people Luke described and what it meant to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  I encourage you to use it this week.  In the middle is a place to take notes.  I believe God might say something to you that you’ll want to write down.  ON the back is a place for our congregation’s prayer requests.  

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The Holy Spirit is one of the most misunderstood ideas or doctrines of faith.  This is so sad because the Holy Spirit does not have to be complicated.  We humans have made it complicated.  I have many examples of what caused this confusion, but one I want to share comes from the Apostles’ Creed.  

We don’t say the Apostles’ Creed often at Chain of Lakes, but we certainly could.  

SLIDE   I believe in God the Father almighty maker of heaven and earth.  And Jesus Christ his only son our Lord.  Who was conceived by the Holy _____.

The Holy Ghost?  When I was growing up I was afraid of ghosts.  If I thought a ghost was coming I would put the blankets over my head and try to hide.  The last thing I would want is to have contact with a ghost, and I certainly wouldn’t have want to be filled with a Holy Ghost.  

Where did this come from?  The Holy Ghost is a phrase that was used by the King James translation of the Bible.  It’s a terrible translation of the greek word pneuma.  You open up the New Revised Standard Version and you won’t find the term Holy Ghost.  The Holy Spirit

Another part of our confusion is we’ve been taught that we primarily have experiences of the Holy Spirit.  And we do.  When I was in elementary school I went to Presbyterian camp on Lake Okibodji.  I loved going to camp.  The camp still exists.  One year on the last night of camp the counselors took us into a room.  It felt like the Upper Room.  A counselor started sharing her story.  At the end of her story she shared how she was happy that Christians weren’t persecuted for their faith like in the 1

st

century.  And she started crying.  And I kid you not, this wave of emotion hit the room.  All of a sudden many people were crying.  Not everyone.  I was a macho boy so I refused to cry.  I felt it.  Something entered that room.  I can’t prove it to you logically or with the tools of science, but there is no doubt in my mind that the Holy Spirit swept over us.    When we left the room many of us started hugging each other (which I liked because I was a adolescent boy).  It was an experience.    

The next year we were at Camp.  And the counselors had an end of camp worship service the night before we left.  We were in a different room.  And though my faith life wasn’t that deep, I decided that I wanted to have another experience of the Holy Spirit.  So as we sang songs and prayed I prayed with all of the energy that I had something like, “I want to experience you again.”  Those weren’t the exact words, but that was the idea.  This time I wanted to have an experience of the Holy Spirit.  I wanted to be touched.  I didn’t care if I couldn’t hug any girls.  I wanted to have that wave hit our room again and hit me.  I prayed; I clenched my eyes shut as if that would do anything.  I prayed and prayed.  And do you know what happened?

Nothing.  Nothing happened to me.  The music was good and the prayers were fervent and I have no doubt that God was in the room.  I didn’t have an experience like I had the year before..  

As I’ve reflected on these experiences I’ve learned that the Holy Spirit is more than an experience.  I’ve learned that the Holy Spirit was just as present that second year as it was the first year.  It was present in a different way.

What is the Holy Spirit?  The Holy Spirit is God.  We believe in the Trinity—God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  One God; three persons as the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy shared.  The math doesn’t work—3=1 or 1=3. But God goes beyond math.  The Holy Spirit is God.

What is so awesome is the Holy Spirit is inside of us.  You and I don’t have to do anything to get connected to the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is part of us.  Just as blood is part of us or our muscles are part of us.  We don’t have to do anything to have access to blood or muscles.  The Holy Spirit is like that.  

How do you know that the Holy Spirit is part of us.  I can say this because of our baptism.  Like many other denominations Presbyterians believe that baptism is a sacrament.  What this means it is a sign and seal of grace.  We believe that when someone is baptized we can practically see God.  It’s a sign of grace.  

And we believe that baptism is a seal of grace.  We believe that grace is sealed inside of us for all of eternity.  Once you have been sealed with grace it can never be taken away from you.  No matter what you do, grace is inside of you.  That is why baptism is so important.

Another way to say this is the Holy Spirit is inside of you.  The Holy Spirit is more than grace, of course, but at baptism we believe that the Holy Spirit is sealed inside of us forever.  It’s part of our spiritual reality.  

So though we can have experiences of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is much more than an experience.  

What happens is we good, stoic Midwesterners aren’t good with emotions and experiences, so we’re unsure or even afraid of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is more than a ghost; the Holy Spirit is more than an experience.  The Holy Spirit loves us; the Holy Spirit wants the best for us.  

What does it mean to be full of the Spirit?  Again—I’m just touching briefly on this.  I have a phrase that answers the question.  I’ve shared this before.  The phrase is the Inspirational Intersection.  

SLIDE

The Inspirational Intersection is the intersection between what God wants us to do and be and what we want to do and be.  

Say this with me.  

Say this line is what God wants us to do and be; say this line is what we want to do and be.  We want to discover the intersection.  When we find that intersection we ware full of the Spirit.    

When we discover this intersection we discover a tremendous amount of energy and passion and imagination.  It’s as if we’ve found ourselves.  At this intersection we often say we were made to be at this place.  Everything is natural and flows.  

The Inspirational Intersection is not a place where God wants us to be and we don’t want to be.  We can exist at this place for a while, but we don’t find energy there.  This is a place of should and oughts and have tos.  This is doing things that we’re supposed to do.  Sometimes the church compels people to be at this place.  We send a message “you really should be doing this,” or “you really ought to do that.”  This is a place of going through the motions.  There’s not a lot of joy at this place.

I don’t believe that God wants us at this place for a long period of time.  

The Inspirational Intersection is not doing and being what we want and what God doesn’t want.  This turns us into God.  That place doesn’t work because God is not going to let us be God. 

We have to discover the intersection.  Quite frankly this is one of my goals as a pastor for us at Chain of Lakes.  I want Chain of Lakes to be full of people who are living at each of our Inspirational Intersection.  Because the energy can’t be contained.  We will be so full of the Spirit.  It will be overflowing.

John Ortberg wrote a book called “the me I want to be.”   We did a study on this many years ago.  The me I want to be is God’s best version of us.  This is being filled with the Holy Spirit.  Being the best of who we want to be connects to our mind and our heart and our spirit.  We are operating at place of wonderful energy.  

Notice what John Ortberg didn’t way.    

SLIDE

The Me I don’t want to be 

The Me I Pretend to be

This one is hard for people in church because we think there an image of Christians that we’re supposed to live into.  One of the beauties of Chain of lakes Church is we don’t try to pretend.  We have a call to be an authentic, Chritian community.  Don’t pretend.  Be yourself.

BUR doesn’t mean

The Me I think I should be

There’s no shoulds when it is coming to be full of the Holy Spirit.  

The Inspirational Intersection.  How do we find that place.  

One way is to talk and reflect with God.  Let me give you three simple reflection questions.  This week spend some time reflecting on three questions:

SLIDE

What does God want me to do and be?

What do I want to do and be?

Where is the Intersection?  

Another way is to worship weekly.  When we worship a spiritual energy field is created.  When we worship well we are lifted up to experience God.  We connect to a supernatural reality.  Worship forms us.  We forget for a time the challenges that might weigh us down.  When we worship well we leave worship a different place than when we enter.   

If worship isn’t full of the Spirit then we will change.  I think worship at Chain of Lakes is full of the Spirit.  But we constantly are evaluating worship here at Chain of lakes.  With my encouragement our worship team decided to hand our evaluation forms about worship.  We started doing this last week.  I read an evaluation that one person filled out.  It was really helpful.  

Worship is the most important ministry that we have.  Worship weekly.

Two ways to discover our Inspirational Intersection.  Reflect and talk to God; worship weekly.

Let me go in a different direction.  There’s one part of the Holy Spirit that it’s important to talk about and that is talking about the charismatic parts of the Spirit.  This is speaking in tongues or being slain in the Spirit or other practices.  

Presbyterians have not always been comfortable with these dimensions of the Spirit.  Let me share some history.  

SLIDE It’s a story about William J Seymour.  He was an African American minister, the son of a freed slave.  He preached that speaking in tongues was evidence of the Holy Spirit.  He got kicked out of his first church.  He kept preaching.  Eventually crowds began to gather when he preached on Azusa Street, in a run-down building in downtown Los Angeles.  When he preached at Azusa Street something incredible happened.  It was a revival.  People came from all over the world to participate in this revival.  The revival last for three years.  It started the Pentecostal movement.  The Azusa Street revival was multi-racial, welcomed poor people and encouraged the leadership of this revival launched Pentecostalism.

Part of Pentecostalism is speaking in tongues.  The Greek word is glossalia.    

A story.  I first came into contact with speaking in tongues when I was in college.  I was in a group called Intervarsity.  I had a friend who was a few years older than me.  One day we prayed together.  As we prayed together he started speaking in a language that I didn’t understand.  He was uttering different syllables and vowels.  I had no understanding of what that was.  I wasn’t threatened by it.  I was more curious.  When we were done I asked him if he was speaking in Hebrew.  No—he said that he was speaking in tongues.

That was my first experience of being with someone who spoke in tongues.  In my ministry I’ve had many friends who speak in tongues.  I love to pray with people who speak in tongues.  We have people at Chain of lakes who speak in tongues.  All the people I’ve known who speak in tongues approach their gift with a tremendous amount of humility.

We don’t need to be afraid of people speaking in tongues.  Admittedly it’s a bit strange at first to hear someone speak in tongues.  But once we get used to it, it’s not that strange to pray with someone who speaks in tongues.

I don’t speak in tongues myself.  Speaking in tongues is a gift.  God hasn’t given me this gift.  Speaking in tongues doesn’t mean a person is a Christian on steroids.  What it means is we have a gift.  I don’t look at a person who speaks in tongues as a better Christian.  I look at the person as having a gift.  Just as I have gifts.  Just as you have gifts.   No gift is better than another or makes us a super Christian.  

We can be filled with the Spirit and not speak in tongues.

We can be filled with  the Spirit and speak in tongues.

If you know of people who speak in tongues I would encourage you to talk to the person about their gift.

When we are filled with the Spirit we are living at a really cool place.  We live with less anxiety and much more contentment.  Let me close with this.  

Imagine a day of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

We get up a little late, but it doesn’t bother us.  We needed the rest.  

Our kids get out of bed and we give them a big hug.  When you are hugging your kids you are experiencing love.  Life might be crazy at breakfast if you even have breakfast together.  You’re not sweating the small stuff.  When your kids leave for school, you’re not yelling at them about forgetting something or nagging them to remember something.  You’re telling them you love them.

As you drive to work you get caught in a traffic jam.  It doesn’t bother you.  As you’re driving to work someone cuts you off.  Instead of responding in a nasty way, you just smile.  

When you’re at work someone tells you the latest bit of gossip—a real juicy tidbit of information.  You listen and smile.  You don’t’ feed the desire of your workmate to pass on something that is not helpful.

You decide to read your Bible during a break.  It doesn’t matter that some of your workmates want to call you a goody two shoes.  You’re comfortable with who you are.  You know the truth.  You like your relationship with God and the criticism of others doesn’t bother you.

You come home at night and your spouse does something dumb.    It bounces off your heart—you’re full of the Spirit.  You don’t condone what your spouse did and don’t encourage it.  You say, “honey I love you, but don’t do that anymore.”  Your spouse appreciates the love that you shared.

What a difference your day is when we are filled with the Spirit.  You encounter the same problems that you always have.  But they don’t’ affect you.  You are filled.  You are filled.  You are filled.  Let’s be filled.